Silvestre Pestana’s retrospective ‘Tecnoforma’ at Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art – Porto, Portugal

‘Technoforma’ takes visitors on an engaging interrogation of the relationship between technology and the body. For myself it was a beautiful and poetic retrospective introduction to an artist in his 5th decade of activism, generally unknown outside of Portugal. Consisting of a dynamic and diverse practice with works ranging from collages, film to installation and sculpture, I feel a little out of my depths attempting to talk about an artist as intelligent as Pestana, so please forgive me if this writing does not do his work justice.

serralves-museum-2016-silvestre-pestana-inst-views-by-filipe-braga-9-800x533
Installation view of ‘Tecnoforma'(2016) – (‘The invisible worker’ can be seen in action)

With most of the works having been made 30-50 years ago it is astounding how relevant their ideas remain in the Internet age of today. The political and social focus of the changing relationship between the body and technology echoes ideas presented in works and writings by internationally acclaimed artist Nam June Paik, which leaves Pestana’s worldwide anonymity a bit of a mystery.

This focus on the relationship between technology and the body was showcased quite brilliantly in the recently realised kinetic work: ‘The invisible worker’ (2016). This consisted of several small, circular robots whirring around the gallery, moving at a speed much faster than the average human pace. These domestic robots chased and tripped the audience, creating a tension between annoyance and humour, but most importantly they reminded us of the precarious nature of contemporary work.

serralves-museum-2016-silvestre-pestana-inst-views-by-filipe-braga-24-800x533
Installation view of ‘Tecnoforma’ (2016) – (‘The invisible worker’ can be seen stationary)

Earlier works focused predominantly on Pestana’s ‘Biovirtual’ (1981-1987) series made in the 80’s, with black and white images of the artist contrasted with white neon lights dominating the last room of the exhibition. These works present a very literal contrast between the organic organism of the body and the industrial materials of technology.

serralves-museum-2016-silvestre-pestana-inst-views-by-filipe-braga-26-1024x683
‘Biovirtual’ works (1981-1987)

‘Necro Eco Pietá’, (1979) a photographic series of 10 images near the end of the exhibition also uses the form of contrast to interrogate the modern human’s relationship with death. This is one of the most striking works of photography I have ever seen and living in a world of over abundant imagery this is quite a triumph. Beautifully composed, the artist holds a skeleton against his body along with the props of a gas mask and a cigarette. The symbolism in this series for me represents the ridiculous-ness of the life we have made for ourselves; the protection we will one day need from the environment that created us and the self inflicting damage caused by addiction, bringing us closer to our death whilst bringing others into a monetary profit…but only in this life.

silvestre-pestana-13
1/10 of the series ‘Necro Eco Pieta” (1979)

 

The most interesting thing I found in this exhibition was the emphasis on the body, the performative side of the art and the presence of the artist himself in many of the works. It started making me think about how the body is the one thing that we don’t have to pay for, but it is the only thing that we truly own, and our physical organism is a constant reminder of how unnatural trade is as this process of ownership does not involve a single transaction.

Presenting written word within Art, a look at Plath, Emin and Gibson.

In my recent work I have found it of particular importance to include my own written word within my art in order to fully represent thoughts that I feel cannot be refined into imagery. As I aim to include some of my own poetry in my work I looked at how different practitioners have previously presented thier written work to a wider audience. Starting with Sylvia Plath who’s poetry can be found in books such as ‘Ariel’ which I was able to take out of the library this week. Although it is undeniable that Plath’s written word is nothing less than extraordinary in the way that she executes her pain through a 2D medium, I felt that often her writing is so obscure that it was almost impossible to access the whole emotion of the poetry without having to do further research to understand them fully. Obviously this is because of the sophistication and complexity of her poetry because it is so perfectly formed, but I want the written word in my work to be painfully blunt, left raw and unrefined so that anyone who reads it is hit with the honest brutality of it.

This is similar to how Tracey Emin occasionally presents her written word in her monoprints, occasionally including a single line from a longer piece of written text in a print accompanied by illustrations.  I think these drawings are vital for obscure text, for example her monoprint that reads: ‘I need art like I need god’ is completely changed by the inclusion of a nude woman at the bottom of the page with her arm outstretched, changing from a statement about faith to a desperate plea concerning addiction and vulnerability. When reading a book on Emin this week I came across a printed version of ‘why I never became a dancer’ which I had previously read in Emin ‘ s book ‘One thousand drawings’ where it was written in Emin’s handwriting. I found this handwritten version much more interactive because I felt that it conveyed much more of the writers emotion. I 

think this may be because the process of typing this confessional style of writing, I feel, makes it seem refined in a way, it gets rid of the visable hurry of the original text, where it seems that the writer has tried to scrawl the emotion out of her without having time to regret publicising such a personal event.

 

Another practitioner I decided to look at because of the way they approach the presentation of written word was Andrea Gibson, whose poetry books are often accompanied by an audio version. Although this completely takes away the visual aspect of written word it instantly makes it more personal and intimate for the audience because Gibson is able to express emotions and emohasise words as she intends us to read them. I found this approach the most effective of all the examples that I looked at, being able to put my headphones on and have the writer read poetry to me describing very personal experiences from their past made a most intimate and impacting experience that I do not feel can be created when onky being able to read written text. So I think that if I am to include my own poetry in this project I will do it through the medium of audio.

 

I have started thinking about how I could start doing this within my work,  and this week, after doing some really in depth research into Emin’s practice and I realised that the reason why her work is so shocking is because her audience is so huge, whereas my own work is only going to be seen by a very small ammount of people in comparison so I thought it may be relevant to findways of exploiting myself to the public. I thought I could do this by disguising my phone number as something that people would actually call (possibly offering a servuce such as a sex chat line) and then when I get a caller I would instead read my poetry to them. A very inyimate experience where words I have slaved over but never spoken out loaud are suddenly thrust into the grasp of a stranger. This is to represent the idea thatby putting my personal details about myself into the public sphere and having random members of the public call me they are probing into my personal space and I shall comoly by revealing my most personal thoughts and feelings.