Portuguese artist João Biscainho’s exhibition Future Nothingness adapts simple optical devices to draw our attention to the process of visual representation. Accordingly, the German writer and critic Carl Einstein argued that art is ‘a constant wrestling with optical experiments and invented space considering it essential to ‘eliminate rigid objects, conventional receptacles’ and thus ‘call into question the view itself.’
The video installation Uncanny River (The Crossing), chronicles the voyage across a wide river from shore to shore. The projection shows a continuous image of churning water, made by the turbulent wake of a ship, whilst the vessel itself, and the riverbank from which it has departed remain out of shot. The horizontal camera position is rotated, presenting a vertical picture, which is then back-projected onto a sheet of black glass, set at a right angle to a mirror, duplicating the swirling liquid. The lugubrious double image has the hypnotic quality of a maelstrom, drawing our attention into its depths. The title of the work references Sigmund Freud’s term ‘uncanny’, which describes a sensation of dread, rooted in an unresolved past.
The Contemporary might be described as an epoch marked by the speed and simultaneity of digital technologies, in which material considerations of the past appear largely superseded. When all things diverge from the real towards the simulacrum, the resulting repetitive, iterative, and quotational tendencies would appear to reject materiality. Though such developments largely hold sway, they are paralleled by a resurgent interest in what philosopher Jean-François Lyotard entitled ‘the new materials’; these refer both to new technologies, but also an affirmation of older materials in an altered format – a dematerialized materiality.
The work Through the liquid, which also moves, (your immortality is the end of democracy), features a short video loop on a portable vintage television monitor chronicling the life phases of a ‘Medusoid’ or artificial jellyfish. The footage, edited from the internet, shows the creature’s development in a mold, its transfer from the receptacle, to moving freely in water. The miniature TV set recalls an era when live transmission was a novel development, pointing at an acceleration towards the future, yet, as evidenced by the depiction of the entirely simulated creature shown in the footage, the future is already present in our post-human era. We seesaw between the nostalgia for a past in which the future appeared to be another country, and the paradox of the contemporary, when the present and future become one and the same. The speculative position evidenced by Science Fiction is especially present in these works, and the artist asserts that fragments of the future are already embedded in our present reality; the future of course also holds the promise of our own demise.
In The illusion of disillusion, a swordfish bill is engraved with the nouns of the title; the words are set against each other, reflecting and opposing in turns. The sculpture plays with the relationship between materiality and language by applying a synecdoche – a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole – to an object. The gruesomely truncated swordfish’s blade represents the entire animal, it invites the viewer to conjure up its absent, massive body. The status of the fragment is that of something marvelous, a relic from a mythical, submerged realm. Hereby the artist alludes to the early collecting and classifying practices inherent in the Cabinets of Curiosity of past centuries, which featured naturalia and artificialia alongside one another, while the engraving recalls the practice of Scrimshaw, the carving of images and text by mariners of whale and fishbone on their long sea voyages. It is notable that often these engravings show the very event of capturing the creatures displayed on their own teeth and bones – a chilling duplication.
The preoccupation with dualism continues in the slide projection work Rock Interior, which shows a sequence of photographs taken in a calcite micro-cave forming part of a much larger network of subterranean caverns. Each small grotto is a scaled replica of a larger cave, and consists of accretions of speleothems, crystal deposits which form on the ceiling, walls and floor. These forms are produced by the combination of rainwater and carbon dioxide, through a perennial cycle of liquefaction and solidification, a space that is at the same time origin and destiny.
This text is an excerpt from The Missing Subject by Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley from their publication Future Nothingness that accompanies the exhibition.