Immersion in the perpetual present
Let's imagine the following situation: we walk alone down a deserted street at night. There is absolute silence and we can even hear our own breathing. Our steps set the pace of a unique and continuous sound, guiding the physical experience of movement. Thoughts flow inexorably. They wander in circles that, in every sense, contrast with the straight line we are walking. Timeless, syncopated precisely by the inevitable sound of the panting machinery and our encounter with matter on the street.
What is more real, the windows, doors and lamp posts that absently come one after another before our eyes or the torrential magma of thoughts that assail us?
What is the weight of a thought?
What is the weight of an image?
You'd think an image would weigh a world. In fact, it weighs as much as what it could have been and will never be. Paradoxically, it weighs as much as the eradication of all the images already created, the condensation of all those images that have not been admired yet.
Rui Moreira is a timeless yet not contemporary artist. If the last hundred years of humanity were affected by a catastrophic loss of memory and, in a later stage, we had to order, catalogue and sequence what we conventionally call artistic production, his works would be like those we leave for last in order to better understand the possible contexts of our reassuring vicinity.
And in an almost mythical reality, a charming story that transforms a misunderstanding into proof of a truth that is yet to come: in the middle of the region of Trás-os-Montes, in inland Portugal, the first drawings that the artist probably saw as a child where those that his grandmother showed him: stone inscriptions probably made by some shepherd.
The disappearance of a reservoir at the end of the last century led to the "discovery" of one of the most significant collections of Palaeolithic art in Portugal. Drawings-inscriptions that date back more than twenty thousand years. In the end, it turned out that the shepherd was not a man, but a transhistorial entity instead, which would most likely laugh at that child who believed that the shepherds he ran into languidly spent their time engraving animal figures on that fundamental shale.
In this case, time is as divergent as the weight of a thought. And of images: of Rui Moreira's images. The artist's work refers to situations he has lived, life experiences and cultural interpretation processes that have later resulted in a labyrinthine and cyclical journey where figures, landscapes and abstractions unfold in a rhizomatic way.
The image plane is never explained based on linear situations. The artist despises hermeneutic univocality. His paintings of landscapes in the desert, where he hides in extreme seasons, probably bring a seascape to the viewer's mind. But aren't seas hidden beneath that Moroccan desert? Just like with the engravings, scientific reality confirmed that this is true: fossils of sea animals can be found there, encapsulated in a territory that now also belongs to them.
The limit-experience that the development of much of the artist's work represents does not arise from any dark, masochistic sacrificial desire, as if exhaustion was a consumer good, a commodity to feed the vultures of suffering. No, it is a question of knowing which limit-experiences hold the truth of the great illusion of life. That is why Werner Herzog was so insistent in Fitzcarraldo on the boat crossing the Amazon impossibility, because only then would every minute, every hour, every day and every year of waiting and working bring truth to the scene.
According to Rui Moreira, the limit-experience is an experience close to trance, which provides him with a spiritual state and a physical numbness that can lead either to absolute stillness or to creative frenzy. The same happens with the tradition that he likes so much in the above mentioned region of Trás-os-Montes, where the so-called Caretos, which are age-old pagan characters¸ play the main part and Christian guilt and inebriated depravity merge together through celebrations in which he has also taken part. The masks, the costumes, the bells and other ornaments act as veils of unreality for the collective trance of villagers who know each other but who, in this ritual, lose their identity and embody the cyclical movement between good and evil, sickness and health, important moments of an ancestral rurality. The mask as an opportunity to look inward, which is precisely what the exteriority of many of the artist's images seems to demand from the viewer. An introspection that becomes symbolic evidence, a landscape that becomes cartography without metrics or time.
The great Portuguese poet Herberto Helder never stopped editing his poems and texts. He re-wrote them permanently, as if all his production was a single poem in constant development. The same happens with Rui Moreira. When we look at his pieces, we get the feeling that his work is not structured by series, that it is an infinite polyptych that shapes a continuous winding present. Herberto Helder's poem A máquina de emaranhar paisagens (The Machine for Entangling Landscapes) is based on fragments of the Book of Revelation, François Villon, Dante, Camões and himself, which he later defragments and amalgamates into a textual continuum of reversed and inverted meanings, into a landscape of words sown in an unprecedented rhythmic organicity and in a barely whispered trance.
Rui Moreira is also an appropriationist landscape painter: of conventional cartography, of tense and immersive experiences, of the cumulative density of an impossible geography.
Or improbable anatomy. Rui Moreira's interest in the octopus (a devotion he shares with the great American artist Joan Jonas) is metaphorically explained by its sensory intelligence, where the brain would be a tentacular organ. Thus, the octopus would be the animal most similar to the artist, a thinking being with all its senses. Feeling as thoughts and, once again, without weight. And again, proximity as understanding: his love for these animals comes from when he interacts with them when enjoying one of his hobbies, diving. Everything in the practice of this artist presupposes proximity, patience and Herzoguian resilience. Just like the admiration of a painting, which can result from watching a film and then walking in the footsteps of the main characters. This is how one of the works in the exhibition, from the series Nossa Senhora do Aborto (Our Lady of Abortion) came to fruition. Countless concrete, fictitious or lived references converge in it: from Hitchcock's The Birds to potentially Islamic veils, and finally from the discussions on the first referendum on abortion in Portugal to the incandescent reference to Tarkovsky's Nostalgia. When the character Gorchakov travels to Italy, he visits Monterchi at one point to see Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto. In the end, the character does not enter the chapel, only his travel companion, the translator, who perceives the continuity of fertility and related rituals in that place. Then, in the pre-Christian era, a rock located in that same place became a site of pilgrimage for the same purpose. Again, times, ways and beliefs that collapse in the history, fiction and experience that the artist didn't want to stop reconstructing. And all that converges in his paintings. Without any hint of moralism. As a confirmation of the exciting exemplary ambiguity that his representations evoke.
A labyrinth that makes ourselves accomplices of a more complex world, in permanent self-questioning about the immanence of the transcendence — if I may be allowed the oxymoron — of an absorbing art that attracts us, that forces us to delve into every intimate detail and simultaneously makes us want to become aware of all its complexity. Like a fluctuating and evanescent yet strangely monumentalised relationship. A monument without a past and without a future, without weight, but which remains in the infinity of the present time.
Miguel von Hafe Pérez