One of the most internationally acclaimed contemporary Portuguese artists, resident in London for over thirty years, Joćo Penalva (Lisbon, 1949) brings a mid-career exhibition of his work to CAM. The exhibition aims to throw light on the multiple facets of his work, from the paintings of the 1990s to the installations and films that have brought him to the public's attention since the late 1990s. Theatre, cinema, narrativity and text are key points of reference in a body of work that is as complex as it is minutely researched, as amusing as it is laconic.
The denotative and descriptive title "Works with texts and images" shows one of the authorial, distinctive features of the artist Joćo Penalva. In other words, the leitmotif of his anthological exhibition is precisely that: works with texts.
Sometimes, the text and the letters are the only image, as in Saloon, S (1992) or Faussone (1996), or they may be the narrative-subtitles of a single-shot video, as in 336 PEK (2001).
Enumeration and description have also been present in his works since the very beginning; in the captions to his paintings from the 1990s, rather than a reference to "mixed media" or "mixed materials", there is an inventory of the materials and techniques used in the works - see, for example, the caption to F (1994): "acrylic, pumice powder, marble powder, and pigment on canvas and wood". This drive to write is deepened and radicalized in the artist's subsequent video works.
Reading and seeing, reading or seeing, are therefore fundamental elements in Penalva's work. They both imply interpretation from the very beginning: we interpret an image in the same way that we interpret a sentence in a text. The context determines both types of interpretation. We interpret an image according to the one that we see before it or after it or the duration of the shot; by adding voice or text, the possibilities for interpretation increase exponentially.
Penalva's work keeps drawing our attention to the mechanisms involved in perception and interpretation, taking them to pieces, isolating them, making us see and think about that which we usually take for granted and which we neither see nor think about.
As in Hitchcock's films, nothing is what it seems, or rather, nothing that we think we are seeing or reading is, in fact, what is there before our eyes.
Illusionistic and manipulative, this artistic universe plays with our memory, commonplaces, and perceptive clichés, and constantly forces us to question reality, the world, human relationships, time, and space.
The use of translation and a variety of languages, from Esperanto to Russian, Japanese, and, of course, Portuguese and English, are also key elements in Penalva's work, a point which must certainly be related to the fact that Joćo Penalva has lived for more than forty years away from his birth country. London has become his home. The autobiographical dimension of his work must also inevitably be considered if we are to fully understand it, since it is characterized by both complexity and apparently simple acts: a sign, a word, a landscape.
Dancer, painter, actor, writer, translator, graphic artist, curator, filmmaker, and photographer - Joćo Penalva plays all of these roles and, by extension, moves between the world of writing and the world of the image, creating a unique and simultaneously universal place. It is this unique place that this exhibition intends to show.
A part of this exhibition will be shown at the Kunsthallen Brandts, Denmark, from 2 March to 28 May, 2012.