Something imminent in immanence: the chant of muted objects

Camilla Bonzanigo

I first entered the Pavilhão Branco during the last days of installation for João Ferro Martins’ “Eternally Collapsing Objects”. It was my first encounter with his work. I found myself walking in what seemed the backstage of an absurd and explosive sound piece yet to be performed.
Once the exhibition had opened to the public, I returned. The space was not so different from what I experienced during my prior visit. The exhibition seemed to be on the verge of potential activation. The silence was bewildering, particularly when considered in contrast with the surrounding gardens buzzing from the sounds of birds and peacocks.
As I continued to explore the space, it seemed that the silence acquired physical presence. One was to encounter the leftovers from a conference, a party, or who knows. It appeared unimportant, as the remnants are there, autonomously there, and that is our landscape right now. There was no way to hold onto something, as the viewer was somehow not needed; the viewer was certainly welcome in, or free to interpret, but otherwise dysfunctional in defining a meaning or sense.
The content was not explicit, yet outrageously and simply there.
There were unplugged sound devices, neatly arranged, observing us.
Through the artist’s experiential revision of the guts and postures of bulky soundless devices (or suggested forms derived thereof), we did not stand in front of the objects themselves but in front of the rough acknowledgment of their forms containing infinite compositions.
Learning about previous works and actions by João Ferro Martins some days later, I started picturing the wide variety of tools he uses to work out the same mysterious point, without truly aiming towards a resolution, which once again becomes irrelevant. It is a state of being.
His frequent use of the circular form, for example, the perfectionist geometrical statement initially derived from the 33rpm record perimeter, reveals a form of porthole that depicts a subjective rearrangement of nature, a human build-up throughout dismantlement.
By way of over positioning images taken from the encyclopaedia, the artist creates new patterns in nature, revealing an otherwise impossible transparency. Associating with that transparency the formal behaviour of natural images, Ferro Martins creates a form of new nature, a subjective composition that implies an innumerable set of possibilities, yet his sharp imposed gaze sets an intriguing univocal perimeter on the otherwise mutating bodies of natural living characters.

On the upper floor of Pavilhão Branco, one encountered an installation composed of 22 record covers from the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden – Archiv der Avantgarden. The artist selected the LP’s via intuitive and graphic associations, almost as an emptied posture towards the recordings contained therein. The covers were nailed to their aesthetic mute presentation, drastically inaudible, compacted into a spatial sculptural atmosphere, where they act almost as a line of paint, a graphic resonance. They revealed an order to João as much as they revealed an order to us. Yet, the present symphony had no time.
I wonder what happens if, for instance, as very well described by Didi-Huberman in his text Gestes d’air et de pierre (2006), we linger in the space between words, in the air that carries its origin and destination, yet sounds like neither origin nor destination, as it IS the pause that carries its own presence and time.

The word text comes from the Latin for textile, textus. Upon visiting João Ferro Martins’ exhibition one could subtly perceive a silent narrative, a theatrical adaptation. We inadvertently participate in the sensation of something imminent; there is an instance that is ready to take off, yet extremely and clearly static, fixed within immanence.
This sensorial catapult holds its surface in front of our eyes, moving between different frames of time, while immersed in a still observation. Once entering this seemingly frozen atmosphere, a narrative fabric covers and uncovers the ongoing artist’s quest, knitting elements of a state of things, resonant to its own alarming clarity and enigmatic unquestioning. Furthermore the objects do not search for an area of categorization, they stand above the mutant potential of all things. There is no definition in a direction of becoming; instead Ferro Martins’ works have been liberated from their original belonging and contextual placement. They are recognizable in the mnemonic archives through simplified associations, yet they translate our attention as they change medium, inter-relational patterns and scenario. The presence of his work radically stands in its own position, spatially and time wise, its content abstracted to the point of disappearance. The artist is also a viewer in front of his own manufactured compositions, which, as he has stated, stand calmly in front of him. João’s investigation thus seems to work as a continuous presentation of presence, or presence of the present, as experienced in a chamber of mirrors where one is to assist ones own multifaceted position, in which even monumental landscapes such as nature, or history, or sound, condensate between the mirrors ahead of reflection.
The puzzling quality of a play that never takes place, appears in the mind of Ferro Martins who is able to depict one of the infinite cards in the deck of the solid masses scattered in the gallery space he intervenes onto. It is not banal to figure out if the artist is orchestrating or being orchestrated, if the limbo arisen from the frozen presence is a cause or an effect of the process of creation. Continuity stops making sense, the objects take the lead and present themselves, re-contextualize their own mass, as picking up a metamorphic rock in a run of its own transformation, freezing its molecules in a moment of mutual attention.

One turns around, becoming, and then one turns back and assists an artificial stasis, an ever-deforming portrait of immanence. In Ferro Martins music compositions the tension of stasis unfolds, releases, yet once again it proudly holds no head and no tail.
The tracks featured on the catalogue-LP that accompanies the exhibition “Eternally Collapsing Objects” at Pavilhão Branco, reveal glimpses of the intricate chamber of that process we can participate in, particularly when positioned in front of his physical compositions. Yet the compositions could be considered an acoustic continuation of the physical state of the objects in the show.
Perhaps revealing the shape of a backstage, an autonomous alphabet to the rest of his practice, the infinite potential of the record explodes an array of possibilities, between theatrical and meditative landscapes, between electronic and vocal distortions. During the track LEFT RIGHT, the dialogue between the two speakers ironically touches political, emotional and self-centred, never-ending limbos. The element of dialogue is performed among a blind stubborn self, quite indicative of the present human state.
In Infinite Density, one dives into the disintegration of matter and into a black hole, as if the mass of matter exists in measuring itself with its own potential destruction, absorption, and its very own end. The synthetized sounds take off right towards the centre of the black entropic vortex. One hears something rhythmically circular, akin to ancient meditative chants. A short circuit solidifies to a point of circular motion. One could think of an orbiting decomposition recomposing itself, lost in feedback. Another image that occurs is the wisdom of an ouroborus that did not catch its tail, and therefore keeps orbiting in search for it.
In 29 words on J.S. Bach, another alphabet illustrates quite clearly the scope of abilities from the artist to translate and self-produce the narrative at any stage and in any form and material. Here the artist-composer writes the sentence “If I speak so little it is because words have a bigger mouth than mine and I am the one who is consumed by their immense thirst and joy”. Ferro Martins then proceeds by triggering each word to the 29 notes found in J.S. Bach – BWV 802 – Duetto No.1 e-moll / E minor. Adapting the composition to a pace where words are rendered audible, the composition dismantles the sense of a narrative, putting each word into a performative state of intra-dependent autonomous unity. We listen to a slowed down version of Bach, performing two voices in composition, decomposition, re-composition, yet it is ultimately sound.
After the complexity of this classical adaptation follows the last track, Resonant Events. One is invited to let loose into an emotional resonance of a poetical body. A rough and physical rock piece, that one could imagine in a jam session, suddenly takes us back to a build-up stage, a theatre with no ceiling, a strong existential wind, a poetic and ironically angry recitement of a young confident and anonymous voice.

The artist’s work seems to subtly, and critically, comment on humans’ positioning within their own unfolding history. Ferro Martins catches the soul of each fragment, allowing for one direction, and the natural pace of creation and decadence to comment upon itself.
There are suggestions of such directions, as by the law of nature things go to ruin: time turns things into dust, creates wrinkles, collapses. I can imagine João as a hunter of the moments where this direction is unquestioned, somehow round and clear, in a walk where what is in front of us is also all around us. Similarly to what would happen if the sun stopped circulating, and standing still in the sky, his practice is tinted by the feeling of a light apocalypse. There is a form of tragedy, which is so constant that it turns almost ironic. It is as if the objects on view could secretly comment on the dazzled look of the viewer, who is expecting to be fed sense, while inevitably participating in the whole being of things. The viewer thus witnesses an inexorable participation in metamorphosis, flashing through an intrinsic invisible white noise dithering.


Click here and listen to the track Infinite Density


Curated by
– 24.01.2021
Eternally Collapsing Objects
João Ferro Martins
Tobi Maier
Pavilhão Branco