Eu fui espićo / I was a spy
Artistbook. Epson Micro Piezo TFP printing with UltraChrome K3 inks on Moab Legion Entrada Rag
Natural 300g paper, 39,5 x 31 cm, 64pp. Ed. 3 + 1AP
«In his works Joćo Penalva deals with actual events which he researches, right down to the smallest detail, in order to associate them with fictitious discourses and notions that he conveys mostly through texts. The references he incorporates are subtly thought through, whether they be people, places, films, texts or themes. It is with similar subtlety that Penalva deploys his artistic resources, which always include a reflection on the medium itself, whether it be photography, film or writing.
Woven into this complex web of relationships between images and words are reality and fiction, so that the public finds itself in a transitional, imaginary zone constructed by the artist, one that is charged with narrative. This undefined space oscillates between contemplation, melancholy and dreamy nostalgia, between fetishist desire and voyeurism, between distance and proximity. It is a virtual space in which the artist evokes emotions, perceptions and stories - his own blending with those stemming from the memories and fantasies of the viewer. They are staged productions which fascinate, but also disturb, or, in the words of Isabel Carlos: "They are about a temptation to which no-one faced with these works fails to succumb since they offer a diversity of possible interpretations and meanings, an almost infinite succession of versions and narrative perspectives. It is a world of coincidences upon which the disbeliever stumbles, a world of danger zones where the real and the unreal criss-cross continually."1
A series of photographs taken by Joćo Penalva in the costume store houses of the Hessisches Landestheater in Wiesbaden, in 2007, brings in theatre through the medium of photography in a highly suggestive process. The photographs are arranged in tableaux, placing the public in a performative relationship with the objects - the shoes, the items of clothing, a feather boa, but also a fabric cover that fails to reveal anything of the object beneath, captured on film merely as a fragment.
Under Penalva's stage direction, through his choice of angle, detail or light, it is all a matter of howing and concealing, the suggestion as well as the disclosure of a possible story, drama or mini-drama, depending on the viewer's imagination. The Wizard of Oz springs to mind here, as does the scene with Jeffrey Beaumont inside Dorothy Vallens's wardrobe in David Lynch's Blue Velvet.
The composition of the photo tableaux, the formats of the images, and the old-fashioned, display case-like design of their frames place the viewer not only in a visual relationship but also in a physical one. Structural means such as superimposition, transference, displacement, retrospection or flashback, that photography and film have in common with the concept of psychoanalysis, lie behind Penalva's artistic thinking and determine the content and methodology of his work. By disassembling, detailing, editing or specifically highlighting particular object, for instance, through magnification - one of the garments is oversized in relation to the others - and the use of colour, he initiates a process which triggers something quite different from a documentary-style insight into a theatre store. Penalva photographed the costumes in colour, subsequently toning them down almost to a monochrome state, a slightly disturbing effect further enhanced by the fact that some of the objects - a few shoes, for instance, or the dots on a patterned costume, are indeed very much in colour. They look as if they have been filled in by hand; both are reversal processes in the history of photographic methods which afford the objects the subtle sheen of transience.
As Roland Barthes once noted, it is not painting where photography "touches upon art", but the theatre, and he sees that point of contact in connection with death. The actor characterizes himself through his make-up "both as a living and a dead entity", and Barthes also notes that relationship in photography, which he believes to be 'a kind of primitive theatre', a kind of "tableau vivant": "a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead." In photography, death has always manifested itself as a death anticipated, and, as Barthes writes, "the frenzy to be lifelike can only be our mythic denial of an apprehension of death".2
In Joćo Penalva's art, in his visual and linguistic poetics, it is always about transcending this knowledge of death. He adopts as his theme the transience structurally inscribed in photography by transforming the objects or the people featured in his works and transposing them to another place, one in which time appears to be suspended. He displaces them aesthetically into a state of limbo in which fascination, melancholy and a longing for the ideal state are inextricably interlinked».
The writer and art historian Carl-Mikael Lagerström, who also wrote about these works, observed that:
«These photographic images bear an uncomfortable, almost obscene ambivalence. If the hanging garment displays the absence of the body without drama, shoes, and in particular anonymous piles of them, enunciate the tragic squalor of human catastrophes. That these images should, in turn, lead the viewer to both the signs through which one reads the aesthetics of fashion photography or, without any particular change of emotion, to those of the documentary of horror, may well be the measure of indifference, or immunity, one has developed towards the camera's view of the theatrical, be it real or staged.»3
Regarding the artist books shown here in the same space as the photographic works, Katharine Stout wrote:
«We are once again invited to look carefully and slow down our gaze, this time to actually touch and feel the images as we study them in book form. These books present different types of image. One of them, for instance, lays out a sequence of photographs taken of people on Taipei streets, the style reminiscent of a 1970s surveillance film. Another series reproduces details from a still taken from a 1930s spy film made at Shepherd's Bush Film Studios. What would normally pass by in the fraction of a second is now dissected and thoroughly examined as if for forensic evidence of an actual war scene that took place. Another shows an early twentieth-century image of an office desk with two men sitting either side, holding office work-like poses. [...] All of these images are presented out of time and out of place, and each one requires a different pace and mode of looking. They portray a certain kind of space, one for which Henri Lefebvre's description of what he calls 'Representational space' seems particularly apt, "space as directly lived through its associative images and symbols
space which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate."» 4
In Space 2, the artist presents the installation On the stage, a fig tree, 2009 and Petit Verre, an automated shadow theater with sound, realized in 2007.
Joćo Penalva had his last solo exhibition with the gallery in 2006. Since then he had solo exhibitions at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, in 2006; DAAD Galerie, Berlin, and Mead Gallery, University of Warwick, United Ki8ngdom, 2007; Solar - Galeria de Arte Cinemįtica, Vila do Conde, and Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin, 2008; and Barbara Gross Galerie, Munich, 2009.
Group exhibitions in which Joćo Penalva took part between 2006 and 2009 include the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporįnea, Santiago de Compostela; Museu da Electricidade, Lisbon; Museu Serralves, Porto; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Ludwig Museum, Budapest; Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxemburg; Frac Languedoc-Roussillon, Montpellier; Museu da Cidade, Lisbon; New Langton Arts, San Francisco; Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; Frac Ile-de-France, Le Plateau, Paris; Espace EDF/Electra, Paris.
Joćo Penalva was recently awarded the Bryan Robertson Award, in London. His next solo exhibition will take place in Sweden, in January 2010, at the Lunds Konsthall, Lund.
JOĆO PENALVA Press Release as pdf-File