Exhibition, Noé Sendas: Neither. Galerie Blickensdorff, Berlin, 08.04.-20.5.2005
The Portuguese artist Noé Sendas (born 1972) has meanwhile become one of those who are setting the tone of his generation.
That he regularly returns to Berlin has not least to do with the fact that he has often lived and presented his work here, e.g. in the decidedly poetic group exhibition Ein Leuchtturm ist ein trauriger und glücklicher Ort (1) in the Akademie der Künste in 1998, and at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in 2000, where he was a guest of the studio programme and where I had the good fortune of getting to know him better in the course of in-depth conversation and discussion.
Sendas – alongside artists such as James Coleman, Douglas Gordon, Stan Douglas or Janet Cardiff – has in video projections and installations undertaken an anti-illusionist examination of the cinema and its modes of reception – in relationship both to the cinematographic apparatus and to the classic feature film.
The temporal aspect of the filmic experience (i.e. both the time portrayed and the time of the portrayal) plays a central role in works such as Impulses and Hesitations (1997/1998), I am the Dog that Chases Me (1999), Beyond Transparency (1999) and Claudia (2000).
Sendas developed the idea of the “fake bodies” – those apparently waiting artificial figures in everyday clothes, two of which can be seen here in the exhibition – in 2000 with reference to the permanent, curiosity-arousing duality of body and spirit that is one of his continually recurrent themes.
The present exhibition, containing four image complexes of differing materiality, is entitled Neither.
The implicit negation – a reference to a poem written in 1976 by Samuel Beckett – is the intellectual arch straddling the exhibition’s most eye-catching object, bearing the subtitle Only Silence Remains (2004/2005), 12 Polaroids (2005, also entitled Neither), the video loop Macbeth (2004), with quotations from films by Orson Welles and Roman Polanski, and eight holographs subtitled Sleep no More (2005).
Beckett’s poem Neither has a direct connection to a meeting between Samuel Beckett and Morton Feldman in Berlin at the Schiller-Theater, where the two exceptional artists met on business during rehearsals for two Beckett plays. Feldman was hoping to gain Beckett’s services for an opera libretto, and the meeting seems to have proceeded to the complete satisfaction of both opera-haters, since Beckett put a text at Feldman’s disposal without ever having heard a note of his music. This was the poem Neither.
The connections that arise between Beckett’s poem and Sendas’s intentions, and further to James Joyce and Shakespeare, inhabit the exhibition space like a mysterious network.
“James Joyce was a synthesiser, trying to bring in as much as he could. I am an analyser, trying to leave out as much as I can,” said Samuel Beckett.
Beckett’s texts evoke disturbing visual images. What Sendas has staged here, however, is not a mini Beckett spectacle, but the making audible and visible of spaces, pervaded by voices, that are as restrictive as the rooms in which Beckett’s figures find, or lose, themselves. They are as expansive and undefined – “too vast for search to be in vain” – as the darkened stage upon which only a speaking mouth can be seen.
“Beckett’s plays have the characteristics of armoured cars and idiots,” wrote the director Peter Brook. “You can shoot at them, you can throw cream cakes at them, but they go calmly on their way. Leaving aside other astounding advantages, they are immune against critics. Beckett always annoys people with his honesty. He fabricates objects. He presents them to us. And what he presents us is terrible. And because it is terrible it is also funny.”
Sendas’s bitter comedy seeks its place in the body of those maintaining silence in space, surface and time – and because he often works with his own body, he himself is at once silent and answering.
What remains with Becket, and what Sendas refers to, are rituals of language and of speech, at once an exorcism, and a conjuring-up, of meaning.
With Beckett we sense that his figures have been touched by the void. The gradual decay of the body begins once we start to lose our spatial mobility, and it is in their immobility that we recognise Beckett’s branded heroes.
With Sendas too the spatial evokes a feeling of self-isolation. Beyond time, outside an empirically safeguarded reality. There in the darkness – that cipher of formlessness, of the origin and vanishing point of the body – imaginary images and landscapes arise out of the incessant flow of speech of his figures.
As in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Sendas’s dual-figure Only Silence Remains is a typical example of a modern “open work of art” (Eco) that does not impose anything on its viewers, but includes them as interpreters to open up a variety of responses.
It is up to you to apply theological, existential, Marxist or psychoanalytical interpretative approaches.
Back to back, their respective positions reflected in mirrors, the figures are in a “to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow / from impenetrable self to
impenetrable unself / by way of neither.”
Sendas describes an in-between state, a kind of contrasting couple in no-man’s land. The self in the non-self; language and silence; life and death.
In his Polaroid series and the holographs it is the totality of the element of uncertainty, which envelops the coming and going of our existence, which cannot directly be expressed in words, so that we are neither in a position to grasp a something nor its opposite, which cannot directly be expressed in words.
A figure (is it the artist?) on an unsteady ladder searches for a hold, for form, for words, discards expression, direction, method – and starts again (serially) from the beginning.
This search for language, the desire to formulate the big uncertainties, in the long run leads to the absurd.
To come back to the duality of self and other:
Duality is a decisive aspect of being. Its basis is the idea of separation, which directly results in the apparent existence of the self. This self is always attached to forms, i.e. to surfaces.
One might at first think that the body was the most basic form, but it can be seen again and again that the actual attachment is to something quite different: it occurs where love is sought as confirmation.
This is an emotional complex that has further consequences in thoughts and mental structures (views, opinions, interpretations). The search for confirmation gives rise to communication and the desire for unity and understanding.
Which brings us to the central aspect of Sendas’s examination of involvement and entanglement.
Here it should be remembered that every form is a self-created mirror. Duality is a mirror. The others who appear in it, in particular, are a mirror.
Judgements about others are judgements about oneself. In a mirror we do not see ourselves, but the others – and they are us. What I say about them I say about myself, or rather I say it about what I hold to be myself.
Although it does not need to be communicated. In silence duality is dissolved.
What looks back at us from the mirror – or from the art work as a mirror of the artistic self-image – is actually the self. Those who look see their deepest desire.
If the self-image is lacking, we see nothing. Then the mirror is empty.
(1) A Lighthouse is a Sad and Happy Place
(2) Beckett, Samuel, Neither, 1976