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  • Variations on a Painting-Event

    João Fernandes, “João Paulo Feliciano: Variations on a Painting-Event”, 2004
    in João Paulo Feliciano, Porto: Museu de Arte Contemporãnea de Serralves, pp. 8-9 / 10-11 (solo exhibition catalogue)

    João Paulo Feliciano has always explored the limits and possible interferences between the nature of artistic languages and different aspects of urban popular culture. Either when these shape contemporary attitudes and life styles, namely those based on experimental manifestations of design or music, or when they result from a proposed intersection between art and a particular concept of community. In his work, the artist has used painting, sculpture, video, light, sound and graphic arts to construct objects or situations that subvert the viewer’s expectations and perceptions. Often involving the latter in such a way that challenges him sensorially to face a redefinition of the traditional problems of artistic genres or pre-existing concepts about a work of art.

    In this exhibition, João Paulo Feliciano uses light and colour as the basis for all the works. In its immateriality, light gives rise to a particular relationship with space, transforming it; while colour frequently being introduced
    as an exploration of possibilities for coating and metamorphosing architectural spaces. In some of the projects now being shown, light and colour are generated by electronic devices, such as digital video systems, different types of screens, or dynamic light projectors, programmed in a way that combines their generative possibilities with a particular compositional approach. In other cases, light shines through colour filters installed on windows, altering the chromatic nature of the spaces they illuminate. The whole exhibition seemingly challenges the perception of painting, questioning the limits of its recognition. The projects presented may be divided into two general categories, oscillating between the reciprocal tension they manifest: painting within its frame and painting outside its frame, opening up to space and architecture the marking out of its boundaries.

    In either case, we are faced with an event-painting that becomes autonomous, as an occurrence or situation, depending on its spatial or objectual configuration. Painting becomes a referent and an intertext, through non-pictorial supports such as video and light. Thus, all the exhibited works are, to a greater or lesser extent, related to eminently pictorial issues such as colour and composition, abstraction and representation. At times, the intertextual reference to highly recognizable pictorial works seems evident. Whilst photography has given rise to a new perception and reflections about painting, João Paulo Feliciano combines lighting, electronics and video to question some of the pictorial premises, based on the possibilities opened up by these new media, such as movement, projections in space, a new kind of light and a new palette of chromatic variations.

    In Newtron or Flow Motion, a painting in movement takes place within the limits defined by the objectual nature of the support that presents it: a fragment of a large modular video screen (Newtron) or a plasma screen (Flow Motion). In the first of these, excerpts of football matches recorded on video, are displayed, yet all that is visible is a fragment of the whole image that could be generated. The detail supersedes the whole, and the materiality of the pixels takes on an abstract visibility, turning its referent into a less significant redundancy than the final plastic result. The nature of the detail oscillates between precision and imprecision, as if our gaze had rested on the fragment of a painting, regardless of its relationship with the whole of the picture. In Flow Motion, it becomes impossible not to recall Gerhard Richter’s Abstrakte Bilde. Similarly, the pictorial abstractness materialises colour as a referent of its autonomy. But here Feliciano introduces movement, by means of a slow choreography, like a kaleidoscope that generates many possible chromatic compositions and variations in an ever changing picture. The picture-effect, reinforced by the frame that delimits the image and hides the technological appearance of the plasma screen, is subverted by the progression of the movement which takes place within it, questioning the possibilities of painting on the basis of a new optic and hypnotic domain that is brought to life by digital video. Painting is transformed by the intertextuality of the screen saver: movement imprints the dimension of ephemerality, in a state of continuous variation, as if the image were defined somewhere between its virtual “freezing” and its permanent disappearance.

    This continuous questioning of painting based on the new possibilities for chromatic construction and transformation is also to be seen in projects such as Colour Building #1 and Glow Wow. Here, the image appropriates the place where it appears. Painting opens up to space, and colour becomes an immaterial coating, allowing for a compositional approach reminiscent of musical variations, expressed through the silent nature of colour. In Colour Building #1, architecture is taken as a support for this electronic and luminous painting. One of the building’s walls becomes a large plane on which geometry inscribes colour, in a minimalistic variation of its possibilities, through the projection of rectangular surfaces of light, side by side, without ever overlapping or mixing; as if the whole building had combined its architectural features in an immaterial mural for painting to undertake the ephemeral programme of permanent transitory mutability.

    In Glow Wow, geometry changes its paradigm, positioning itself outside the Euclidean tradition that we recognise in Colour Building #1 and takes on a clear fractal visuality. Here, geometry is revealed by the changes in coloured light, caught by droplets of water that form a semi-spherical cloud of fog outside the museum. An immaterial object, playfully transformed into a “luminous fountain”, is added to the architectural nature of the space, materialising an intervention in its landscape. This fountain is nothing but a support for the variations obtained through the combination of RGB (red, green and blue) colours, a mixture which gives rise to a surprising chromatic kaleidoscope. Time and space come together in the composition of the almost musical rhythms configured by this spatial set-up. The three primary colours are converted into a dematerialised palette, whose synthesis favours infinite variations in its ever-changing symphonic nature.

    Intervention in the architecture is also shown in a simple and effective way in projects such as Yellow Pink Red Window and Green Window. Two of the museum’s windows are transformed through the installation of coloured filters. The chromatic nature of the filters is intensified by the combination of natural and artificial light produced by high-intensity light projectors installed on the outside. In both cases, painting intersects with the tradition of the stained-glass window or the light-box. Whilst in Yellow Pink Red Window, the perception of the museum’s interior space is changed by the light emanating from the window, colouring its surfaces, in Green Window, the change in the perception of the museum’s outdoor space supersedes the chromatic changes that take place indoors. Here, Feliciano takes advantage of the green lawn that can be seen through the window, marking it and intensifying it with projected light, in an unreal immateriality; “anti-shade”, as the artist calls it in his notes about these projects.

    In some of João Paulo Feliciano’s works, the sensorial stimulation of the viewer results in his complicit involvement in the spaces created by the artist. If Duchamp opened the way for the spectator’s sensory distancing from painting through his “celibate machines”, Feliciano proposes a perceptive reapproximation brought about by his congregating and communal set-ups, where the history and experience of installation art and “environment” play a relevant role. The overcoming of the work of art’s claim for autonomy from the observer; the latter’s participation in the artistic process both as subject and object, interpreter and interpretant, acquires the dimension of a performative complicity. Something that could already be observed in many of his earlier projects.

    Dazed & Confused gives continuity to this performativeness. A room is completely and permanently filled with a dense white mist, produced by fog-machines. More or less irregularly or randomly programmed, several strobe lights flash very brightly, dazzling and fully paralyzing the viewer’s movements inside the space. However, the room can be seen from outside through a large window in one of its walls, like yet another screen, lit by the sudden flashes that break through the white of the fog, paradoxically making it more luminous and more opaque. The viewer thus has the choice of participating or not participating, entering or not entering the room.

    It is interesting to point out some of the differences and similarities existing between Feliciano’s project and a historical work by James Rosenquist, produced in the 1960s, in which his famous pop paintings were drowned in a mist of liquid ice, which also hid the visitors’ legs. Rosenquist was always seduced by the mural effect of his painting. Expanding its domain into unusual scales and introducing the question of painting as a structural element of the space where is has to be installed. The construction of a pictorial place in which the humour and playfulness of the audience’s performative participation in the making of the work were some of the leading features turned Rosenquist’s project into a classical example of uncommon relationships between painting and installation or a no less unexpected convergence of painting and performance.

    Feliciano gives continuity to this idea of a painting escaping the possible limits of its frame. He too brings on a possible performative situation. But he does not follow a recognisable pictorial grammar as in the case of Rosenquist. Dazed & Confused challenges the viewer to abandon his spatial points of reference and, to a certain extent, his cultural ones too, so that he dissolves into the white of the lights that suddenly blind him, while at the same time illuminating him. When our vision changes because of the flashing of the strobe lights, new colours, forms, patterns, lights and shades form inside the eyes of each of us. As if it were only in the inner gaze that light is made possible, opening up another reality of obvious psychedelic resonances.

    The transgression of the real through an intensification of possible perceptive experiences in a given spatial and temporal situation envelops the spectator, disorienting him from his prior expectations, while, at the same time, stimulating participation as an accomplice. Therein lies the challenge for a particular communal effect that this work calls for, questioning painting and performance by producing an event. This exhibition brings together a whole series of events-paintings, which blur art genres and their grammars through the transformation of the evidences of light that confront and surprise us. This is why each project appears as the anchor of a journey into this “twilight zone”, in which light, time and space merge together in the intimate architecture of perceptions that João Paulo Feliciano once again invites us to experience.

    João Fernandes