Amongst traces of the contemporary
paulo cesar duque-estrada

AMONGST THE COUNTLESS possibilities that become available when moving through the Calmon-Stock Collection, one of them is seeing ourselves suddenly thrust into a place where, paradoxically, we already find ourselves.

The pieces gathered here under the title Bodies, letters and some animals tune us in to an event that imprints a certain form or distinctive feature to contemporary existence. An event that doesn’t allow the when or where of its occurrence to be recorded – which, incidentally, is characteristic of any “nameworthy” event, as Jacques Derrida would say – but that propagates everywhere, in an overflow, so as not to say collapse, of the merely demonstrative function of signs.

An indissociable side to the progressive fading of their function, or intent, to bring out, make patent or make something seen, signs ended up releasing another dynamic which was, nevertheless, always there, operating within themselves and by themselves, as their most unique reality. A dynamic of turning, until dropping out of sight, to what has always been already gone and, therefore, was never present, never, ever finding itself as a given thing – in the past, in the present or in the future. A double return befalls this dynamic. A return of indication, repressed by the authority of demonstration, of manifestation, of revelation, of making something visible. A return of the maybe, constrained by the authority, or authoritarianism, of certainty.

And thus a contemporary mode of being or existing in the world is outlined.

The Calmon-Stock Collection positions, or repositions, us in this opening of the contemporary. This is not to say that, with it, we find ourselves amidst a celebration, in painting, of nihilism, but rather of unvarnished veracity. We do not journey across the emptiness of nothing here, but rather across the signs, across the marks, traces and indications left as remains that affect us and move us; “remnancies” of a presence that is never present and that, always and once more, calls upon us and puts us on our way. A veracity, therefore, that also does not allow itself to be replaced – that never stops, never reaches a final or arrival point – upon encounter with something supposedly true. A veracity that’s loose, in progress, free from the authority, or authoritarianism, of the true.

Take, for instance, Fernando de La Rocque in Cortejo do Pavão and Ninho do Pavão (Peacock Courtship and Nest) (a diptych), as well as in Anatogeografia [Anatogeography]. There, an erotica marked less by possession and more by a kind of bonheur des corps spreads and condenses, giving form to a network of relationships. The units which grant stability to the form as a whole only exist as relational units, they themselves existing only insofar as they are linked to other relational units. A mutual recepticity, rather than appropriation of the other, seems to dictate the motif that configures the totalities de La Rocque depicts in painting. Totalities, it is worth noting, configured much more by the dispersion of the relationships between its units than by actually gathering them in a present, self-identical whole.

AND WHAT TO SAY of de La Rocque’s insects? Astounding symbolons from the urban underground that enable narcissistic acknowledgement. After all, who – or perhaps, what – made them, such creatures, this special? A gift from the self, faced with the mutual deferral between the refined and the abject, in the crawling scintillation of antennae, legs and crusty wings. To see oneself in the middle of the night when coming across a scintillating cockroach; the pleasure of a recognition originating in gutters, pipes and drains. Wonderment as elevated as it is minute; sublime and insignificant, love is narcissistic.

Even if we had all the space in the world at our disposal here, there would still be much left to say about de La Rocque’s work and that of all other artists who are part of this collection. The title itself, incidentally, is quite representative of the dynamic present in the composition of the pieces, and that these few lines attempt to indicate. A dynamic, once more, of turning, without end, to that which has always already gone. Each of its words, “bodies”, “letters”, “animals”, points to a sense of encountering oneself that is decayed, detached, ripped, divorced from, respectively, whom or what?, what language?, which environment or habitat? The figures of bodies, letters and animals are traces here, indications of an origin, that has always been no longer present. Indications that give rise to endless forms of restitution, that is, of interpretations, commentaries, enquiries, perceptions, transactions that are imaginary, utilitarian, decorative, market-related etc.

THIS IS THE CASE WITH omar Salomão’s utensils, marked by fragmented textual inscriptions, equally ripped from their supposed context of origin. And a whole explosion of the representation is verified there, in one single movement: emancipation from what, on canvas, is inscribed and projected, beyond all rooting, as meaning interdicted to the dogmatic somnolence of any form of comprehension. A movement that, in turn, is intrinsic to an opening taking place.

Opening in which and thanks to which a movement is put into action towards an encounter that is always and already interdicted. A paradigm of relationships, a power of veracity, the irrepresentability of this opening epiphanizes itself in the enormous Vulva metálica redonda [Round metallic Vulva] by Franklin Cassaro. The violence in this dynamic allows itself to be captured in Camila Soato’s animals and miniatures, in their cruelly hybrid figures, coined by fantasy, knife and blood, hurled to a “beyond” whatever is currently given, by the force of an equally detached, raving, “out-of-joint” sexual drive, both mortal and lively at the same time.

There is not enough space to talk about what we could call a native, subtle and radical decontextualisation, found in Gabriel Centurion’s figures. Or in the refined recombinings proposed by Julia Debasse. And nothing could be more tuned in to the contemporary experience than the profusion of cut-out singularities in Deambulação e divagação [Deambulation and digression] by José Damasceno. Same as in Cabelo’s overlapping outlines, or in Monica Piloni’s thought-provoking and uncomfortable Retrato [Portrait], a monument to the traumatic and inexhaustible strength of restitution.

And many others who will not be mentioned here, simply due to lack of space, and to whom I promptly apologize for the enormous injustice. There would be so much left to say even about those I have mentioned. In any case, even with all space, there would still not be space.

In the face of Bodies, letters and some animals, there is a lot of journeying to do.

PAULO CESAR DUQUE-ESTRADA is a professor at the Department of Philosophy in puc-Rio (Pontifical Catholic University). He holds a doctorate in Philosophy (Boston College) and a Postdoctorate from the New School University (New York). He works and has publications in the areas of phenomenology, hermeneutics and deconstruction