THYLACINUS CYNOCEPHALUS, João Louro
7 July – 10 September 2022
Galeria Vera Cortês, Lisbon
Video Production: Guilherme Proença
Text: Excerpt from Joshua Decter’s essay “João Louro: The end [FIM] of art is the beginning of art”.
Galeria Vera Cortês, 2022
João Louro: The end [Fim] of art is the beginning of art
Essay by Joshua Decter
João Louro’s shapeshifting work – comprising paintings, sculptures, installations, objects, books – is infused with ideas and references sourced from art histories, film histories, literary histories, philosophical histories, linguistic histories, political histories, and scientific histories. Louro approaches art as a platform through which to explore that which exists beyond the realm of art. In this way, he participates in a long tradition of artists who have sought to reinvent the language of visual art by mining other cultural disciplines. For example, Louro’s longstanding fascination with cinema has provided him with a means of renegotiating the codes of painting, in an acknowledgement that as apparatuses of seeing, visualization, representation, abstraction, reproduction and perception, painting and cinema (as with photography) have been intersecting for well over a century.
João Louro, Interstellar, 2022. Acrylic paint, plexiglass. 200 x 135 cm. Unique
João Louro, Fast Radio Bursts #04, 2022. Acrylic paint, canvas, graphite, plexiglass. 65 x 81 cm. Unique
When Louro makes a painting, he is also making a painting about making a painting. Painting as meta-painting as painting. Louro’s paintings index – on both material and conceptual terms – the dialectic of painting and not-painting.
João Louro, Hades, 2022. Iron grid, glass feet. 110 x 270 cm. Unique
João Louro, L’Origine du monde, 2020. Wooden type alphabet. 37,5 x 55,5 cm. Unique
This leads me to one of my favorite works by this artist: “Blind Image #168 (Mark Rothko),” from 2010. It is Louro’s remake (to borrow a film term) of a 1969 Rothko painting. One cannot see the Rothko, but one can imagine it. Rothko degree-zero. In a sense, Louro has obliterated the [image of] the Rothko; it is an act of iconoclasm, of art historical heresy. Perhaps conceptually linked to Rauschenberg’s erasure of a de Kooning drawing, and Sherrie Levine’s appropriation and/or remaking of the work of other artists, Louro has appropriated the idea of a Rothko painting, yet does not disclose the image of the Rothko. The viewer is asked to imagine the missing Rothko painting, or perhaps to reassemble it from memory.
A different kind of obliteration can be found in “From Left to Right #16” (2022), a painting that references a book documenting the testing of the first atomic bomb. The left panel of the work resembles a kind of mediated neo-gestural abstraction that might connote isotopes or radioactive fallout. Louro paints on the back of Plexiglas and then scrapes away the pigment, so that we are seeing the paint on the other side of the Plexiglas, which we perceive, somewhat paradoxically, as the front of the painting. At the bottom of the left panel, Louro has transposed the original image caption from the book, which reads: “BASE CAMP TRINITY TEST: A portion of the Alamogordo Bombing Range was chosen as the site for the Trinity Test. This section of the test site was located at McDonald Ranch (RIGHT).” When we look to the right side of the painting/page, there is only a white monochrome, a void, a double obliteration: the image of the bomb test has been subtracted (literally through the removal of paint and the removal of imagery), which in turn allegorizes the destruction wrought by the bomb itself. And let us not forget that Louro produced a sculpture that replicates “Little Boy”: the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The bomb as an aesthetic object; the bomb as the ultimate anti-creative act.
“Interstellar” (2022) takes as its source material a film still from the 2014 sci-fi movie, “Interstellar,” invoking a key scene in which Cooper has traveled through a black hole and has arrived at a four-dimensional space, referred to as a tesseract. Using the same painting technique as in “From Left to Right #16,” Louro does not provide us with a literal re-representation of the film’s imagery film, opting instead for a fragmented, abstract field into/onto which we can project. The caption at the bottom reads: “Cooper: No. No, not yet. But one day. Not you and me, but a people, a civilization that’s evolved beyond the four dimensions we know. [The tesseract closes around him in a brilliant flash of light]” Is painting that brilliant flash of light that takes us from one dimension into another realm? Can art blind us… like an aesthetic atomic blast?
João Louro, From Left to Right #16, 2022. Acrylic paint, plexiglass. 200 x 271 cm. Unique
João Louro, Alfred Jarry’s Bicycle, 2022. Bike tire. 33 x 72 cm. Unique
In 2022, there are still subtle tremors of the aesthetic earthquake triggered by Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades, such as the 1913 “Bicycle Wheel” (technically an Assisted Readymade). One irony is that this profound reconceptualizing of art was not actually seen by the public at the time of its making, and the original was eventually lost. Duchamp remade it in 1951 for a show at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, in a sense appropriating his own authorship. Likewise, “Fountain” (1917) never made it to public view in a bricks-and-mortar space, although the urinal was photographed by Stieglitz and published in the May 1917 edition of The Blind Man journal, thereby inserting the work into the world as a copy of an original may not have existed (to paraphrase Baudrillard), and indeed the authorship of “Fountain” is disputed. Duchamp did help to inaugurate what might be described as art in the age of conceptual reproduction (to paraphrase Walter Benjamin), a progenitor of meta-art: i.e., art that asks us to rethink received concepts of art.
Louro’s art embodies this ethos, as evidenced by artworks that partake of the genealogy of Readymades such as “Hades” (2022), which is a structure that one might find on the street to protect a construction site, or as an instrument used for crowd control. Is Louro’s object a portal between earth and the underworld of Greek mythology? And consider the bicycle tire reconfigured as an infinity loop in Louro’s “Bicicleta de Alfred Jarry” (Alfred Jarry’s Bicycle) (2022), which conjures the eccentric early avant-gardist Jarry’s preoccupation with biking and alludes to his “pataphysics” (the science of imaginary solutions), perhaps suggesting that art is a non-science of imaginary solutions. This loops us back [to the future] of Duchamp’s bicycle wheel. Today, we can assuredly say that art itself – and art history – had become a kind of readymade material that can be used to make art.
João Louro, Shroud, 2015-2022. Silkscreen on 1500 sheets of Albus paper. 96 x 70 x 100 cm. Unique
How to represent the unrepresentable? How to un-represent the representable? Such questions come to mind when considering Louro’s enigmatic object, “Sudário/Shroud” (2022), composed of 1500 sheets of stacked paper. A reproduction of The Shroud of Turin is printed on the edges of the sheets, so that the image that we perceive on one side of the stack is comprised of 1500 distinct units of paper. Louro has merged photographic reproduction, printing, and sculpture into a hybrid object that eludes easy categorization. The Shroud of Turin bears the image of a man, which some believe was created by the dead body of Jesus somehow being physically imprinted on the fabric when it was used as his burial shroud after crucifixion. While it is conceivable that the shroud was used to wrap someone’s body, it cannot be Christ, because carbon dating and material/forensic analyses have concluded that the shroud dates from the 13th or 14th Century. And yet the shroud is a mystifying thing. There are various hypotheses regarding how the image came to be: painting, acid pigmentation, a medieval proto-photographic technique, dust-transfer technique, bas-relief, or Maillard reaction. Per Wikipedia: “The first possible historical record of the Shroud of Turin dates from 1353 or 1357, and the first certain record is from 1390 when Bishop Pierre d’Arcis in Lirey, France wrote a memorandum to Antipope Clement VII (Avignon Obedience), stating that the shroud was a forgery and that the artist had confessed.” It would be rather ironic if the Shroud was made by an artist to fool the world into believing that it not only carries the imprinted image of Jesus, but that it also holds biological traces of his body; in other words, the real blessed sacrament that supposedly offers proof of the historical Christ’s demise. Is it possible that the fiction of art has provided false evidence of the fiction of god? For believers, though, fiction is fact. In “Sudário/Shroud,” is Louro suggesting that the resurrection is just an infinitely reproducible image? We understand that while the photographic condition is in some way always related to death, the logic of reproduction also defies death, for the dead live on in/as images. The Readymade obliterated a traditional paradigm of art so that art could rise again as the idea that anything is potentially art. And, as Louro reminds us, art allows us to travel through imaginary black holes, and survive.
– Joshua Decter
João Louro, Gotta Light, 2022. Acrylic paint, plexiglass. 200 x 135 cm. Unique
João Louro, Walk in the Park, Kiss in the Dark, 2022. Metal knife. Variable dimensions.
João Louro, FIM, 2022. Metallic letters, enamel. 52 x 105 cm. Unique