Henrique Pavão

Almodôvar Mirror Site

8 Jun — 6 July 2019

The Portuguese artist Henrique Pavão’s Almodôvar Mirror Site shows a synchronized pair of slide projections of seemingly identical motorway service stations located on opposite sides of the route between Lisbon and the Algarve, each serving a different destination. The artist and a collaborator, facing in opposite directions, had examined the 11 petrol stations along the road while in mobile phone contact to ascertain the similarities between the pairs; they concluded that only a single pairing was in fact identical, offering itself as a ‘mirror-site’, chiming with American artist Robert Smithson’s Yucatan Mirror Displacements close to half a century earlier.

As the slides flash up the experience of being in two places at the same time is highlighted. In practice however, the twinned images can only be taken in together through extreme peripheral vision as they are projected onto screens at opposite sides of the gallery. Pavão sets out to demonstrate the mechanics of time and place; to accomplish this feat analogue technology is employed as an analogy – in which the input and the output largely correspond like the mechanical minute hand on a clock that performs an entire circle to describe the hour. And yet, the mechanical performance of these prosaic images that demonstrate similitude, displaces a quasi-mystical quest for a lost domain that can never be attained – the complete mirror site, the Aleph, the place of all places – masking ’the unsatisfied desire for that which is always missing and found wanting in modern rationalist society: the miraculous’.

As with Smithson and other Minimal and Land Art pioneers, Pavão’s work here is underpinned by the journey undertaken, by exchanging the epic landscapes of the American West for the rather more compact setting of the Portuguese South. In his scrutiny of identical pairs of buildings the very thing that defines them, the road, is never actually shown. We rely on the gap between the images of the petrol stations to describe where the road ought to be. The banal near identical images fit into an aesthetic of doubling especially associated with postmodernity in the 1970s and 1980s typified by artists such as Sherrie Levine. She considered her images as ‘ghosts of ghosts’ and underscored ‘the space in the middle where there is no picture, rather an emptiness, an oblivion’.

The cognitive dissonance that underpins abjection, according to philosopher Julia Kristeva, comes about through the loss of distinction between subject and object, or self and other, heralded by the mirror stage; the disturbance of the system of order results in a wholesale collapse of meaning. Accordingly, the artist’s discovery and activation of matching buildings creates a place of dissonance since there is nothing as unsettling to our understanding as indistinction. This architectural uncanny is typified by a perpetual return of an image, which unsettles the observer who is accustomed to progression from one place to another, rather than being trapped in a perpetual oscillation between identical locations.

In the work time is sliced into metronomic segments that narrow the chasm between now and then. The sonic aspect promotes an impression of time as a malleable, material substance, separated into portions by the slides dropping rhythmically into place. Mechanical technology is barely technological by today’s digital standards that are governed by abstraction, silence and seamlessness; its deliberate use in the work has the advantage of revealing the sleight of hand, rendering the process verifiable. Images quite literally fall into place like the pieces of a puzzle or the resolution to a problem; once in place they are illuminated by the bulb of the projector and sharpened by the lens.

This text is an excerpt from An Escape Attempt by Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley from the publication Almodôvar Mirror Site that accompanies the exhibition.

The exhibition was guest-curated by Sérgio Fazenda Rodrigues.