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The noise of a Papagaio in a cathedral in the desert

The noise of a Papagaio in a cathedral in the desert
Installation image of 'Papagaio' exhibition, Hangar Bicocca, Milan

art:i:curate contributor Ludovica Capobianco reviews 'Papagaio' exhibition featuring work by João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva at Hangar Bicocca in Milan. 


Milan’s periphery.. Not a noise, if not that of cars.. A long road behind me and a big warehouse before my eyes.. A Fausto Melotti sculpture shines in the sun, a bronze wall, as I walk around it and enter Hangar Bicocca, one of the biggest and best known exhibition spaces in town.


I don’t know what to expect and it’s quite exciting. The show is curated by Vicente Todolì, former director of Tate Modern in London and is supposed to be João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva’s most complete retrospective.

Passing through the black curtain feels like walking in a sort of profane cathedral, a chapel for the contemporary art’s ritual.


Everything is silent, mute, aside from the projectors’ buzz, a faint rustling. Thirty-five videos are scattered around in the dark space, sometimes facing each other, sometimes standing by themselves along a labyrinth of walls and dark rooms.


Inspired, among others, by Alfred Jarry’s “pataphysic” and René Daumal’s interest in spiritual doctrines and extrasensory experiences, the duo creates exotic and esoteric works dense of literal references, although employing humble people, everyday situations and animals as leading characters. Therefore, the process of making handmade croissants, two cross-eyed men playing ping-pong, and monkeys cooking and eating boiled potatoes become subjects of an hypnotic dance, where the temporal and the ethereal melt together. The slow-motion effect, the vintage patina on the films, the obsessive repetitiveness of gestures and movements, attract and engage the viewer both visually and sensorially, even though the sight is the only sense concretely employed in the experience.


The central piece, a 46 minutes long movie, the longest in the artists’ career so far, welcomes me. It’s “Papagaio”, parrots in Portuguese, and introduces the exhibition both nominally and conceptually. Moving away from the rest of the show, the movie represents a further step in Gusmão + Paiva’s practice.


Shot in the archipelago of São Tomé and Principe, a former Portuguese colony in the Gulf of Guinea and one of the artists’ favorite locations, it portrays an animist ritual, similar to a Voodoo dance, where through a shared state of trance the tribe and the dancers achieve the exorcism of evil and so the purification of their-self. In an era where everything seems already said and experienced, there are still personalities able to go over the border.








'Papagaio' is currently on show until October 26th at Hangar Bicocca, Milan.


For more information, visit http://www.hangarbicocca.org. 



All installation images courtesy of Ludovica Capobianco

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