AUTHOR: IVO MARTINS
EDITION: (Catalogue) Centro Cultural Vila Flor DATE: October 2015
Paulo Mendes’ oeuvre speculates about the disquiet caused by presence at a post-mortem. In order to foster
critical questioning about the traumatic effects of a political regime, the artist combines different visual
elements, in a visionary and segmented disposition, thereby reactivating that which has historically succumbed
to vulgarity and indifference.
"Mr. S" - the protagonist of the exhibition - emerges as an iconoclastic rehabilitation of Robert Musil’s “The Man
without Qualities”. The lack of humanistic legitimacy that traces the dictator’s historical path plunges his image
into an enigmatic abyss; a sphinx-like and pathological shadow, a specular reflection, a symptomatic apparition,
challenges the viewer who, through recognition of the “other”, recognises himself in this inner dialogue. The
elusive, diffuse, and meandering silhouette of "Mr. S" wanders through the pile of artefacts preserved in the attic
of repressed memories. Silent, almost inert, he panoptically contemplates fears, anxieties, uncertainties,
weaknesses and insecurities, while scorning danger, ambivalence or relativity of opinions, arguments and
"When a delusional dictator is able to socially enforce his delirium, he won’t go to the madhouse, instead society
is transformed into a madhouse, sometimes almost imperceptibly," remarks José Gil in Em Busca de Identidade,
o desnorte (In Search of Identity, the disorientation).
The exhibition suggests an enclosed space, sealed for decades, in which "Mr. S" emerges as the repository of cruel
acts. The works are mixed with everyday objects - abandoned, forgotten and randomly distributed - that evoke
the cultural landscape of the ghostly character; thereby constituting a peculiar sign system, exposing the
semantic game between visual elements and objects, to which an extra-linguistic intuitive code assigns a kind of
historicist and fictional "enlightenment". So, each meaning corresponds to multiple hypotheses of enlightenment
- to evocations, allusions, imaginative simulations in the colour or fragrance of a thought. According to George
Steiner, in Extraterritorial "Observing is about transforming; defining and understanding, even if in more
neutral and abstract terms. It means incorporating evidence in a particular array of human choices, images and
In this "memory storehouse", the fictional escape route of subjective experience reflects a momentary flight from
the obvious, poor and homogeneous - the foundations of single, monolithic thinking. Surrounded by his
distinctive expressive traits, condemned to a suffocating loneliness in the labyrinth of epochal artefacts, "Mr. S"
initiates a second life, inducing a sensorial, surrealist dialectic, rooted in a tragic irony, that endows the message
with a grotesque and absurd dimension.
The dictatorship that revives its history on a rubbish heap of junk, although in comatose immobility, threatens to
resurface from the obscure background of complete oblivion. The installed chaos and disorder invoke
persecution of free paths of thought; the control and misrepresentation of language; injustice; censorship;
decadence; excessive bureaucracy and paperwork; the agitating hysteria of old nationalist and patriotic
proclamations, together with the rewriting of history into delirious fiction. The numerous formal variables, visual
combinations, associations or substitutions between the political programme and reality are testimonies to the
intractable interface of a civilizational crisis.
The "S" indicates an initial, an acronym, an abbreviation, or a priori the summary of a paternalistic tutelage,
which sowed fears and insecurities. The party leader threw citizens into a nameless unidentified grey area of
individual and ideological differentiation, because it withheld their past from them, while formatting their
future. The totalitarian project overrides the imagination, while the memory is constantly manipulated. The
letter "S" assumes various fearsome connotations. It seals the path to knowledge, transforming facts into
absolutes; it stigmatises the elements that are alien to the system; it erases and deletes the names, deeds and
thoughts of the unwanted dead; it forces inhabitants to live in a community without echoes and unconditionally
pay heed to the discipline of the leader ... in order, in this amorphous indulgence, to guarantee survival without
Given that disbelief in human values ??and disillusionment with liberal democracy has led to a re-emergence of
nostalgic responses and signs of intolerance, as a form of protest, "Mr. S." has his place guaranteed.
Restless and disturbed by the ghosts of violence that haunt him, the spectator is thrust towards an imaginative
field of totalitarian referents, ready to hatch at any time - before a transparent and similar "Mr. S.", everyone is a
This body of work mirrors a sense of distrust in relation to all forms of expression and also disillusionment in
relation to the hope of reshaping the human condition in new forms - disaggregation of the concept of the good
life, as envisaged by the philosophers of classical antiquity, has been accelerating ever since the First World War.
This artistic experience explores the contradiction of the semiotic potential of any object, phrase, or image.
Recreated in its ambiguities, repetitions, metamorphoses, resonances ... Balance or alienation, dynamism or
inertia, harmony or contradiction, must be respected in order to enable language to rediscover "the charms of
TRANSLATION: MARTIN DALE