28 Oct. 2006 // 30 Dec. 2006

Victor Costa Travelling

Victor Costa

Sala de Exposições Temporárias | Temporary Exhibitions Room

In 1928, Hans Richter directed a film with the title “Ghosts before breakfast”. The film does not last more than eight minutes and it is a eulogy to nonsense and dadaist irony. There are unrealistic situations in it, some that we may even consider absurd, however, what touches us today, almost eight decades later, is the fascination that we feel there is in its author for the cinema as artistic medium. As other seemingly contemporary films, “Ghosts before breakfast” reveals one of the first looks of cinema, of its director over his own work. We may say he marks the beginning of modern cinema, already entirely free from theatre parenthood.
During those eight minutes, we thus see the exhibition of almost everything that cinema setting could do for the film. There are saucers and cups that break and after a little while go back to their original state by an inversion of movement. There are four hats that waltz in the sky and play with the trees and grass in the gardens. There is somebody that walks behind a tree and does not appear on the other side. There are now and then abstract images, rectangles and squares obviously grey, black and white, which interfere with the sense of reality that the spectator may still have. Because all the scenes and all Richter’s film enhances a fact, which though obvious, is not always present in the spectator’s mind: cinema is fiction, in the sense that the setting removes all its possible connection with real images, absurd scenes and abstract fragments aim to enhance this original message.
As we mentioned above, one feels that Richter already considered cinema as an artistic form. In the twenties, this attitude was not usual. Cinema was considered to be entertainment only. Walter Benjamin would only write: “The work of art in its technical reproduction” ten years later, that fundamental essay for modernity that included cinema among visual arts. In that text, besides other considerations, Benjamin makes a difference between the cinema that we now call” a director’s film” from mass cinema and theatre; by doing so, he thinks about the modern works, of which Richter’s film could be a good example. Globally, he isolates cinema in the way of artistic practices of his time, such as photography and painting. More than that difference, which we won’t detail at the moment, is the found relationship. Cinema is as painting. Or in this case, painting is as cinema.
This introduction aims to explain Victor Costa’s most recent works on paper that he now shows at Fundação Julio Resende (Julio Resende’s Foundation). We are dealing with pieces where length prevails over height, displayed in such way that they visually cover the rooms perimeter where they are shown.. The disposition reminds us of the traditional, pre-digital cinematographic film; and, as it happens in cinema, the setting of the exhibition organises the reading of the works as a whole, suggesting approaches, clarifying distances. One may even state undoubtedly that the setting is vital for the understanding of the work. Without it, it would be something else.
At the spectator’s level, what happens before his eyes is not only a visual narrative but also a mental one. His painting, now in its full maturity, exhibits a series of material data of his doing that force its viewers and its careful viewers, to make a permanent trip between present and past, between the shapes that repeat themselves without being the same, between matter and its remains. This is no longer about shapes as it happens in the cinema but a real physical trip, to which Victor Costa permanently invites us.

The “travelling”, that movement of the filming camera that accompanies the actor and the filmed scene, is the analogy that we choose to visit these series of works. Since there is here a slow pace, like the pace of the cameraman that sets his pace by that of the actor.
In this “travelling”, the path is made from the back to the front, towards the present and towards the past and inside the interior of the painting’s own skin, the pencil or graphite over the sheet of paper. Maybe all art is like this or should be like this: a permanent trip between present and what gives it the possibility to exist, that world of shapes and colours that came up unconsciously, which became a conscious statement, which has never crystallized because it is rooted in the artist’s deepest life.
By carefully considering that world of shapes that characterises Victor Costa’s work, we shall see that they articulate in prime dualities. We can even name some of them: the informal and geometric, the figurative and the abstract, the open shape and the closed shape, the erased and the defined, the mistake and the certainty, the brilliant and the opaque. The first of these dualities has got to do with the definition of space itself: either the geometrical shapes break through over the colourful spot, limiting the fields of colour of the sequence of paintings (was not the sequence of paintings of the old Christian altars the first attempt to introduce the cinematographic time in painting?) and the certainty of conducting narratives united in the same plan.. As to the figurative and the abstract, according to a classification that is established by the history of art; it is rooted in the own basis of Victor Costa’s work: the definition of a series of signs originates the shapes that we can or can not associate to the world of western images that is transmitted by the own history of painting. A masculine head, a feminine symbol, are identified as such by us because the visual culture that surrounds us, so allows it. To fulfil this process, the spectator of a work of art should plunge into the whole of History, as if it were always available in its conservation place, the museum, and from there to take the visual references that are necessary.
A visual form is, by definition, closed, something that you always foresee against a background that is non shape. However, when looking at these works by Victor Costa, we notice that closeness is frequently just an illusion: there is the work by the hand of the artist over the backgrounds that distinguish gradations, tones, opacities and shines on that shape support that the background always is. This work generates ambiguity; and what perhaps best symbolizes it is a spiral that unwinds, almost erased here and there. In the series of works that are our object – because this process is old and the work of Victor Costa is a permanent re-beginning of what he did in times, as if painting told him that he never ends himself- the use of shine as opposed to opaque introduces a new dimension: it is that the use of varnishes and their capacity of reflection always appeals, in a certain way, to the spectator and facilitates the reading of the work. A shiny surface is always a mirror, maybe the most important mirror of all.
In reality, Victor Costa’s work brings us or better still, exhibits us a metaphor of the thought itself. Thought is never linear; it is made by returns and advances, by frights and flights, by stops and rests. And it always plunges into the original and shapeless chaos, from where all words, shapes and colours, from which it is fed, come out. Source of amazement, it is from that chaos that the most elaborate concept is born, the most authentic cry, the most powerful joy, like the most humble and unpretentious observation. It is something of that discontinued, cinematographic process that the artist shows us. As if he performed, in the literal sense of the word, one “travelling”.

Luisa Soares de Oliveira
September 2006

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