Ouvido No Deserto

Marco Pires operates in the interstices of the image, disclosing to us its flaws and contradictions,  revelations and deviations as forms of representing and presenting reality, as mediating repositories of our experience and certainties in the world. To say that the map acts as a lever for the whole of his work will, then, amount to saying a lot and, at the same time, very little about this artistic practice – however, levers are very useful tools for unblocking.

The map is looked at and taken in its untruth, in its deviation as fiction, as an abstract play of forms whose scientific and iconographic imposition – a tool of possession and power over the geography it circumscribes and surveys – dematerialises and encloses, or, more precisely, plans a kind of full experience of the environment it describes and condenses. (But what can still be qualified as a full experience?) Its present will always be a present that never materialises itself – a would have been, a shall be with no great certainty of ever being. A once was that never happened.

(And I shall not dwell on the political and social implications we may find in these topographic constructions. I will simply note that Marco draws the hemispheres).

On the gallery’s walls, these maps form landscapes, but these are divergent landscapes, deferred images, diachronic in the reasons that justify them through the non-association between their images and the territories they reference. The land changes over time, but the map remains – doomed to falsehood right from the start.

Ouvido No Deserto (Heard In The Desert) incites us to wander across the twilit areas of the images it presents, to relinquish the most immediate references, imposed by a knowledge that is already so separate from the materiality of reality and to make the gallery space the space in which our memory and experience are cumulatively built (like the strata of the graphite layers are laid on the drawings superimposed on maps).

World Maps And Landscape Photographs (For Drawings Of Nowhere)

Even before we realize what the work of Marco Pires is about, we are seduced by its plastic and visual qualities. The artist forces us to a displacement in which we call upon all we know about landscapes (as the sense of strangeness and not of familiarity / neighborhood) and the ways of representing it.

The works are composed of disparate elements that require us to perform a multitude of perceptive / interpretative operations. On the one hand, we have works that gather, on the same paper, in a space precisely divided in two overlapping rectangles, always on top, mechanical impressions of maps (satellite photos of the US territory) collected from an old Atlas and, always at the bottom, a design that seems to appear as an echo of the same map - but we can later ask ourselves whether we should not instead explore the reverse idea: that the map (testimony of a scientific knowledge) is the echo of the drawing (testimony of the drift caused by subjective knowledge). On the other hand, we have a set (smaller in number) of black and white photos that register different aspects of the same landscape.
The first sensation is that there is a strange unity between all these images, after all so different from each other, both in terms of what they depict and of the technique used to obtain them. And that is the feeling we should follow in the more objective assessment of this series. We can then think of it, not as a confrontation between separate elements (map/drawing on one hand, photo on the other) but as a set of triptychs, which we must try to construct out of their disposition in the exhibition space – a whole subjected to precise operations/games of echoes and mirrors, distortions and aberrations, inversions and deformations.

Marco Pires presents to us three different ways of perceiving reality, highlighting in each of them, through its reinterpretative operations, the level of subjectivity that, to varying degrees, each one already holds.
The Map is an abstraction – as Borges tells us, only in a 1/1 scale could a map be an image of reality. The Map is therefore supported by a set of representational conventions, which, within the historical and cultural times of which it is a part, guarantee the universality of its interpretation. We can follow this evolution from the early descriptions of the landscapes by the aboriginal or Amerindian peoples, to the Portulan maps of the Portuguese navigators, to the technical advances in the nineteenth-century or to satellite photographs, to which the maps in this series bear witness. But at any time, no matter how objective (precise) it may seem, the Map is a field of dreams and romantic or political fictions, of ambitions and projects for the future, of conquest or defeat, of evasion.
Drawing puts us in a privileged field of subjectivity but, after all, it is the only real element of this set of images. Being the outcome of layering sediments of pure graphite on the paper, every one of the photographer’s actions generates a chain of chance events that, in turn, creates a number of different images associated with the map picture/aerial photograph displayed above. By working in the diptych format, Marco Pires preserves the suggestion that both photographs and drawings are mirror images of each other, erasing their differences or, better, amplifying their similarities.
Finally, photography. As a historical technique, photography has enveloped itself in an aura of objectivity and resemblance to reality that we have long known to be as fallible as any other representational convention. Here, Marco Pires introduces an additional tension: between the verisimilitude of the photos of the Joshua Tree desert (California), which he visited, and the mythic memories (especially derived from film: John Ford and Antonioni) these images evoke. Photography arises, thus, as a fiction (our fiction of the American West): a subjective construction that distorts any possibility of realistic reading.

Despite the objective data provided by maps and photos and their captions, these images by Marco Pires create (in three times / ways) the feeling of a place that is impossible to situate accurately in space and in history. On the one hand, they create the idea of an uncertain place: If the drawings and maps are derivative images, we quickly also realize that the maps and photos do not mirror each other, because the places that they represent are not coincident with each other. On the other, this approach is not conducive to the illustration of Marc Augé’s non-place, since it does not aim to represent the anonymous banality of cities, but rather the fiction of a non-place, putting us in a kind of Neverland - in that it makes us share a figment of Western imagination (made universal by mass culture) on a Far West location (the North American West).
It is the paradigm of land art, as a declination of conceptual art, that the work of Marco Pires invokes and simultaneously denies - precisely because it assumes nature not as palpable reality but as a fiction that, presenting itself as liberating (since it allows to think of a place where everything can be / happen), ultimately appears as restrictive (limited by the very fact that it only exists as utopia).

At the end of our route (evocative of a journey), we recover and justify our initial impression of seduction; realizing that it is born of the tension between the three directions proposed and how drawing imposes itself on the map, while the photos ensure an interpretative solution for the whole – in such a way that I venture to say that Marco Pires uses the maps as an echo of the drawings (and not the reverse) and the photos as a “sorciere”, a convex mirror capable of containing in itself all the surrounding space (rather than as an appendix or complement of the set). But we could also have started this text, by noticing the picture where the artist simulates a less rigorous composition, comparatively to the sobriety of all the remaining images, letting his own photographer's shadow appear at the bottom of the landscape. This most discreet of self-portraits is both a map and a deposition of his body at the center of those places that do not exist.

Marco Pires

Marco Pires focuses his attention on issues inherent to the understanding and representation of space. With that in mind, his work ponders the nature and efficiency of language, deconstructing in playful, unexpected ways the codes and expectations that communicate its existence to us.

While the knowledge of space is a cognitive process that involves the combination of various senses into the experience of a whole, our explanation of it relies mostly on a mental process that abstractises ideas and concepts. In fact, the representation of space amounts to a translation into a set of codes and rules that conveys to us a vague notion of it. Vague, because every translation is just an approximation, culturally filtered by both its author and its decipherer. 
It seems, then, that these codes and rules, which tend to change with time and context, adopt various logics (scientific, poetic, allegorical, etc.) in accordance with the communication they are trying to achieve and the context in which they emerge. See, for example, the differences that exist between the geometric understanding of perspective, the emotional sequences of Guy Debord's Dérive or the spiritual paths of Aboriginal songlines.
All these codes are, in their specificity, tools that allow us to understand that which surrounds us; yet, it would seem that the need to represent, organise and measure space, independently from how they do it, is something subjacent to them. Something that in its nature pre-dates writing itself and holds a universal quality.
The cartography we presently use, assimilate and accept as exact, the one that scientifically attempts to describe the space we see, is currently adopted by many cultures.  However, such concepts as map, planisphere or hemisphere, among others, are abstractions that, while being a part of that outlook, alter reality. 
According to geographer Franco Farinelli, the strategy employed by Western civilisation in its attempt to control the world consisted in reducing the Earth to an infinite number of maps that nullified the planet's three-dimensionality. In fact, the map defines an edge or limit; it differs from the globe through its strategical (or political) definition of a centre and a periphery. Within the limits it manages, the map hierarchises information, and hence its certainty is a fabrication. Or, as Marco Pires points out, its truth is relative and, as is the case with other tools for the representation of space, its nature is illusory. 


The works shown are based on the notion that, even in a scientific approach, there is a distance between representation and reality. Consequently, Marco Pires is not concerned with the image's reliability, but with exploring the rules inherent to it. It is through the process of recognising, understanding and deconstructing the image that its codes of action are inverted and subverted. 
Let us look, for instance, at the works titled after the Bellman's Map (from Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark - An Agony in 8 Fits). What they set forward is the notion of a cartography of the void, or of the desire to grasp something that cannot actually be fixated, because it simply does not exist or is absent.
This notion of void or absence runs through the exhibition, echoing in all works. Absence is revealed in the photographic images of the Navarre desert, in the objects, paintings and drawings that suggest impossible maps, and also in the objects and paintings that develop the notion of hemisphere.
One must keep in mind, however, that this condition does not mirror some late Romantic uneasiness, nor some other experience of plenitude.
Absence, here, is not linked to a state of loss and anxiety, so typical of Western culture, in the wake of Heidegger's Angst, nor to a state of renouncement and liberation, so typical of Eastern culture, with its Buddhist condition of emptiness. Instead, it is the driving force of a fresh will that, through multiple essays and variations, playfully, inquisitively and uncommitedly dissects, analyses and questions the certainty of things. This absence summoned by Marco Pires is also the premise behind our distance, a distance that is analytical but also contemplative. 
All this is present in his work. In the cinematic ambition of the photographs, with their echoes of the deserts of John Ford, Antonioni and Wim Wenders; in the suspended time evoked by the drawings, where, like in the desert, things are born from layerings of matter/graphite dust (annuling the momentum of some brusquer gesture); or yet in the dichotomy between reflection and opaqueness some objects explore, multiplying the image beyond its support, in order to blur the boundaries between representational and real space.

The EDP Foundation New Artists Prize (Cat. EDP Foundation / Documenta)

The attention to the issues concerning the perception of the territory and the processes inherent to cartographic representation have been a constant in Marco Pires’s work. Proof of that, the presence of maps in the various series that comprise his artistic career. This is, however, a concern based on an epistemological problem: the factitious character of these maps and their inadequacy (resulting from processes of synthesis, subtraction or adulteration) in what concerns the different aspects and dimensions that compose a geographic reality.

Far from being limited to the field of Geography, this is an issue that raises questions which refer to the practices of representation – a recurring theme in the art and image theory – and recovers the arguments of a critical approach that, especially after the surge of post-structuralism, focused on the scrutiny of the processes and contexts involved in the institutionalization of knowledge. A map – as a representation – is not objective by itself. The categories of objectivity and representability are created, defined and sanctioned in the context of certain fields of contemporary discourse (scientific, political, judiciary, etc.) and conform to their particular modes of conveying knowledge and truth. Within the context of this dialectic between 
the institutionalized rules and modes of documenting and their critical rejection, Marco Pires investigates and tries to instigate other levels of visual experience and perception, animated by a logic in the tradition of the psychogeographic derive.

This is the second series the artist dedicates to a desert. If the first was focused on Joshua Tree, California, this one looks at Bardenas Reales, in the province of Navarra, Northern Spain. Titled Dust, the series includes black and white photos (shot during a four day trip in the area of Bardena Reales), powdered graphite monochrome drawings, two color printed orthophotomaps representing the region, a small map dating from 1944, and a glass sculpture – whose shape refers 
to the molecular structure of dust. In a first moment, one is struck by the antagonism between the representational character of the photographs and orthophotomaps and the abstract quality of the sculpture and drawings. The photos and the orthophotomaps stand out because of the iconic and indexical value ascribed to them: representing real places, they transmit visual information that is specific, within a certain temporal and spatial frame, to those same places.

On the other hand, the sculpture and (especially) the drawings call for a completely different experience. The drawings were produced by vertical deposition (of the graphite powder), i.e. a technique that replicates the natural phenomena of sedimentation of soil and dust on the desert’s surface. Using this technique, several shades of gray are produced on the paper’s surface, ranging from dark to extremely dark, and interrupted only by small white fissures.

As one sees these monochromes alongside the photos, and especially the orthophotomaps, they are inevitably contaminated by a geographic imagination: stirred by our persistent imaginal desire (the impulse to adjust everything to the shapes we already know), tone and density variations seem to induce soil configurations, and the fissures geological depressions. Looking from another perspective, we can also admit that the distance provided by aerial vision gives these photos a graphical emphasis that is potentially abstract. We are surrounded by a virtual game of suggestive perceptual, aesthetic, and conceptual oscillations that gives us an idea of the countless possibilities of representing and imagining 
a territory or a landscape.

In this context, Dust is also a series about the spectator’s experience of the image. We know that between a place and its image there is always an ambiguous, nonconcurrent and fragile relation. We also know that the experience of a place is not coincident with
the experience of its image. It is within the range of these discontinuities between reality and the images of reality that Marco Pires identifies 
a creative and sensitive territory where he can explore other modes of physicality and visuality. A territory that is also the result of a significant shift from the scientific to the artistic, of a search for a different perceptual and experiential recep- tiveness to the images, rethinking their possible mediations and generative potential in the always pertinent effort to liberate image from the measure of similarity and verity – an image is never fully truthful – in order to emphasize its fundamentally dynamic character, its mobile and expressive nature.

Terrae incognita

There are no set coordinates for this journey. In Marco Pires’ geographic routes, several directions are possible and destinations are indeterminable. The map generates an itinerary for those who travel in it and offers an interpretative crossing of life to those who navigate its landscape.

Ever since the “Geographic Lessons” of the 1600s and 1700s, which were largely condensations of geographic allegories, through the 17th-century emotional cartography of Madeleine de Scudéry’s Carte de Tendre and the map-based art by such modern-day creators as Guillermo Kuitca, maps have increasingly become the subject of artistic exploration. Scudéry’s project (which, more than an artistic atlas, can be seen as an act of social defiance regarding women’s position in the world) may not have been the first map of affections to take on the form of a landscape, but it was certainly the forerunner of various cartographic endeavours connected to affections and the intensity of images.

Freedom to journey over the images, in combination with the ease with which these maps quickly disengage themselves from the precision of their scientific codes, allows us to go an aesthetic expedition across them; an expedition similar to the one of historian Aby Warburg. His Atlas took the form of maps or layouts of pictures to create the basis for a historiography that enables us to connect and retrace cultural history and geography as a whole.

Besides these instances of intertextuality that focus themselves on the concept of exploring representational terrains – geographies, territories, topography, means, images, emotions – they can also activate other associations. The map is a system of representation that organises itself, in accordance with a more or less faithful logic, as a depiction of itineraries. It is always a place through which its bearer travels, eventually becoming inscribed into it.

The localisation experience is guided by the eye as if through a mechanism that activates the senses by constructing an emotional sequence of mental responses that affect the territory of associations, memories and emotions. That eye feeds on memory’s archive, searching for references there, and turns into a travelling explorer that, like a film director, is able to move forwards and backwards, create borders, accelerate, examine moments in slow motion, search for connections and even stop. The explorer/viewer may wander across the map but also outside of it: stand before, above, within, among the map.

Traditionally, the map’s physical limits are determined by the size of its paper support, but they are never fully closed. The map encloses areas, but its borders, however, never correspond to the amplitude of the territory it refers to. In this sense, it can be seen as constantly open, concealing a terra incognita. In artistic representation, cartography mixes with the revelation of an intimate realm, within which passages between the outside world and the interior landscape occur, in a bilateral motion that affects both the person experiencing that phenomenon and the configuration of the map itself, to which supplementary information and reinvestments are added.

In Marco Pires’ maps, localisation is not a determinant, and the information they contain is rarely decodable at the end of the artistic process. At this point, it is essential to clarify Marco Pires’ approach. Having amassed a collection of about 400 maps, the artist selects a number of them, which share a number of visual and compositional affinities, as his starting-point. Thus, deviation is unleashed right at the start of the process, meaning that at the moment of the images’ selection, any precise correspondence between geographical location and its depiction is relinquished. Thus, with the real coordinates of the place lost – the artist himself reminds us that maps are a “lie”, at the very least because the physical territory is constantly changing – our attention finds itself focused on a location that has no parallel in reality. As Foucault suggests, in his famous “Des espaces autres” (1967), these places are socially unacknowledged existences – heterotopias. In fact, you could say that such is art’s proper place: places in which social rules are avoided; tropes that, while being effectively real, lack tangible or consensual representation.

Then, Marco Pires works on the paper-printed map, an intervention that may cover an extended period of time and take place alongside a number of other works. During that interval, as he inscribes new geographies on top of an already abstract geography, a level of damage occurs, caused by the materials used, a deviation that can be seen as part and parcel of the work.

In fact, this set of works is marked by the contrast between the original cartography’s relatively restrained lines and the viscerality of the organic interventions. The inscriptions, strokes and colour patches that emerge amongst the cartographic lines offer us the rates that attest to the depth of the image, as they break through its surface and partially or fully cover it, obliterating its readability and, more than that: suggesting that something has moved from the back to the front (of the image), or, perhaps, from the inside to the outside (of the artist). The next activity involves photographing the various stages of intervention, now laid on the surface of the image by means of drawing and painting tools. This process, called “flattening”, is reverted in the image as a way of unifying its layers, so that each different level is condensed in the final surface. By being photographed, the artist’s intervention, which has left on the support a variety of material textures and reliefs, becomes synthesised. This process of fusing various layers, and even two different languages (the pre-existing map and the drawing action superimposed by the artist on it), demands a prolonged viewing time, one that causes the eye to linger on the piece and lavish attention upon it, but also to glide across the surface of the image, perceiving it as a continuum. Equally important to this process is the framing applied to the work. To frame the image, giving it proper scale and size, amounts to giving it back geography, spatiality and localisation. 
But this has nothing to do with its real localisation. What is at stake here is giving back to the image its place within the representational system. To find for it a map or territory of its own within the chain of artistic representation means, more specifically, to place the work within the interstices between drawing, photography, painting and film. It is a matter of giving scale to the photograph, thus allowing it to fully disengage itself from the documentary realm and acquire artwork status. In this manner, the object develops a relational condition with both the space and the viewer, who positions himself within it, revising his own angle or stance. The work’s scale forces the viewer to define his own positioning in space, eventually reinforcing the aerial point of view enhanced by the work’s content. However, the artist is not intent on clarifying the nature of the work itself. What is important here? The process? The deviation or the passage from one medium to another? Or is it on the plane of photography that the intensity of the work is condensed? In this work by Marco Pires, more than in others – even though it could be said that all of his work is a single, continuous painting or artwork – we find ourselves confronted with an interrogation of the nature of what we see.

His approach includes bringing into the reproductive medium accident or deviation, something that can apparently be read as a contradiction in terms or an adverse element. In fact, only gesturality, the intensity of the organic gesture, can counter the computational system’s reproducibility and exactitude. Can space be reduced to a projection, in other words, to an “objectification” of knowledge? Space is real and concrete, instrumental but also unregulable. It can be represented, but not fully conveyed, by logical-mathematical languages. To deconstruct its codes is to analyse something that is, first and foremost, a produced space (Lefebvre).
 These incisive gestures, like others before by other artists, are gestures that violate the nature of two-dimensionality, more specifically the pictorial nature of the image. Indeed, it is not necessary to go back very far in the history of art to remember Lucio Fontana’s slashes through the painting’s surface; Helena Almeida’s early fusions of canvas, body and photography; and also Fernando Calhau’s drawings on photographs. Rather than simply questioning artistic forms, these violations put into question the system of representation itself: an issue that is central to contemporary artistic practice. We know that from very early on Marco Pires’ career has been associated with painting and the issue of two-dimensionality, rather than with three-dimensionality. This violation, however, has nothing to do with questioning the possibility of painting, a supposition that is no longer relevant. Maybe this gesture can be understood as a destabilization of the possibility of representation, that is to say, of the image’s discursive potential. More than that, before all that, it is concerned with exploring what the image has silenced, the space it has opened, the voids it has left unfilled. In short: the intervals generated by the image and representation. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the most complex problems concerning the contemporary image, regardless of the media that sustains it, and thus constitutes one of the work’s possibilities of critical specificity, considering that the work opens an unresolved space, revealing a vein of artistic development that focuses on its indefiniteness. This kind of artistic practice explores the levels of signification/representation the image can truncate into itself. These levels can be retained in various topological layers and thus can be accessed in time. In fact, experiencing the work of 
Marco Pires is something that demands duration. An interval of time in which we find ourselves suspended or freed from linear succession. We are, it could be said, projected onto more than just a geographic-spatial, or transversal, axis. We spend time on this work; we consume layers, digging into the verticality of the image, as if it possessed depth. This principle of depth and duration in which his images seem to exist appears to contradict the previously mentioned effect of flattening or unification of layers. However, it is precisely within the range of this tension that Marco Pires’ works survive. The intensity of organic inscription interposes something like a fissure, detaining us over those images. Gesturality cuts into the abstract substratum of the maps, whose coordinates are now lost to us – if we ever had them. This means that, at the very moment when centre and periphery, abstract and concrete, thing and object are simultaneously distinguished and apprehended, we find ourselves abducted. It is through these intervals, these unresolved areas in the image, that the image’s visceral layers emerge. In this manner it is suggested to us that there is a “here” and a “there” of representation; a “there” that is behind what we see, but which sometimes pierces through the thin film of the image, rising to the surface. This action destroys that phantom that asks to be seen even if its image does not exist yet. What we are given to see is just a tiny fraction of a vast unknown area.

The tension areas in the image ask us to examine it, in order to discover – not the exact location, not the spatial coordinate, not its correspondence with reality, not what has obliterated the possibility of revisiting something before it, but to detect in it the deviation or its unfulfilled potential.