A constant feature of the works of Nuno Ramos constantly point at an imagination without images – the confusing background from which, in thought and in dream, things emerge, and that we know of just because, once formed, they maintain something of the original non-definition. In dream, a vague presence becomes something when we say: “it is a house, it is a dog, it is my uncle.” Things come to existence when named, but if we name them it is because somehow they were already there. Naming looks like waking up, even if we go on sleeping.
Brazilian art holds a long tradition of things and spaces suspended between the real and the imaginary: Goeldi and Guignard, for example. But, while Guignard’s things dissolve in the air, Goeldi’s darkness turns solid. Nuno Ramos, without doubt and reportedly, is closer to Goeldi than to Guignard. The battered earth itself, which since Luz Negra (Black Light – 2002) has been one of the artist’s favorite materials, is almost a hardened half-light that identifies itself with the thing itself. In fact, in thought and memory, things do not react to light. The color, in general lowered as if carrying a half light that is substantial to it, does not reach it from the outside.
On the other hand, the act of naming, and the consequent appearance of something recognizable, has progressively become more and more important in the artist’s work – in an explicit way from Craca (Barnacle) and Caixas de areia (Sand Boxes) in 1995, but maybe even before in the complex allegory of 111 (1992). But then individuation exceeds the name: what is molded in Barnacle and in Sand Boxes are not animals in general, but exactly this bird and that fish. The possibility of extracting forms and concepts from things is once again emptied, this time for excessive determination. “I don’t know how such disparate things come together by the name”, writes Nuno Ramos in Cujo (Whose), his first book of prose.
Little by little, even so, a repertoire of archetypal figures was forming: houses (since Desabadas ( Collapsed) and Arabia, 1995), boats (from Shackleton, 1999 onwards), planes Fruto Estranho (Strange Fruit), 2010); vultures, donkeys and dogs; phrases – usually excerpts or fragments of either songs or poems. They are things, however, that remain on the threshold of existence, between the real and the mental. It is true that they are gigantic sometimes and almost always heavy: but exactly so, it is proper of images of the mind not to have measurements and to be recorded by an inertia that makes them slow. When we think of an object, we do not think of it in its actual dimensions, but as absolute, as if the world were it alone. And when things get mixed up, either in memory or in dream, they lose their scale, their relative size is from then on determined by criteria we do not control. A mountain can fit into a building (Bandeira Branca (White Flag) in the version shown at the Sao Paulo Biannual, 2010), three houses in a room.
In this sense, Ai, pareciam eternas (três lamas), (Ai, they seemed eternal (three muds), marks one extreme, and who knows a flexion point: what is shown here are specific houses, reproduced in detail and in real size – exact models of places where the artist lived. The tanks in which they sink reproduce in turn the contours of their vertical projections, also in actual size. There are also other references: a mud volcano that is devouring entire cities in Indonesia, according to what was reported by newspapers some time ago; the poem by Drummond de Andrade from which the title was taken (Death of the houses of Ouro Preto, in Claro Enigma (Clear Enigma), which describes the slow collapsing of houses in the rain; more indirectly, Goeldi’s engravings, which devour or swallow houses and people in dark ink – that Nuno had already submitted to a similar procedure in Três Lamas (Three Muds) in Para Goeldi 2 (For Goeldi 2 – 2000), when he reproduced a work of the artist on the ground in large dimensions, and filled the grooves of burned oil.
But the work’s main articulation lies in the fact that each house is associated to a color, which is also determining of the choice of materials. The first house sinks in an indefinite color, neither liquid nor solid earth, almost a pure substance without accidents. The earth itself seems more undifferentiated and softer. The second and third are one white, the other black, light and shadow, and go as far as details in granite or marble. But, in fact, granite and marble are hardened mud. Muds are the walls and battered earth tiles; day and night, light, darkness and substance, memories are muds. It is mud, after all, warm and shapeless magma that springs from the ground, the originating presence from which we name things.
It is necessary that this presence is not completely accessible; that it is otherwise a hindrance; that it does not leave much space for the subject move about. That part of it is submerged and that, even in the parts that emerge, it is not possible to see it deeply. For anything let us take up uncomfortable positions to look closely, there is always a point in which the interior of the houses mingles with the mud. On the other hand, the way in which Ai, pareciam eternas displays its making up in its open machinery, in its craftsmanship of the absurd, there is something of a Fellinian set (certainly the gloomy Fellini of Casanova, not the sunny Fellini of Amarcord). There is a certain kinship or relationship between the sea of mud and the sea of plastic in which Casanova flees by boat, or between the semi- sunk houses and the huge head that, in the film, partially emerges from the Venice lagoon. It is not the imagination of Matthew Barney, who bets on an almost unlimited power of illusion. Is a “truly untrue” that, as it shows part of its bowels, refers to a deeper layer of reality. The actual depth of those tanks is not in the gallery, but somewhere in the depths of our being. The scenario only suggests it. We make it up.
English version by Fernando Pimenta Marques.