File Note #12: Pedro Cabrita Reis - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Gerrit Vermeiren


Pedro Cabrita Reis Images Quote Biography References

Pedro Cabrita Reis

The position and attitude of Pedro Cabrita Reis in contemporary art is complex — as opposed to complicated — and balanced. He moves through art and life with considerable ease. Cabrita Reis does not seem to care much about that old and problematic division between art and life, which artists usually approach with almost surgical care. Obviously, Cabrita Reis chooses life — in this sense, one might hope that the coinciding of Cabrita Reis’ exhibition with that of Francis Picabia at Camden Arts Centre is not sheer chance — but it is certainly not a matter of, in the words of Yves Klein, a ‘dépassement de la problématique de l’art’. 

Considering Klein’s naïve / utopian / paranoid / megalomaniac / ironic enterprises, it even remains questionable whether Klein himself surpassed the issue of art. However, the work of Cabrita Reis testifies to fundamentally different intentions. Cabrita Reis wishes to formulate things within the artistic domain, from a deep understanding of the capacity, the consequences and perhaps especially, the limitations of such a formulation and he engages himself expressly in a ‘problématique de l’art’. Formally, he leans towards
a period in which modernism got stuck in its self-referential desire. It is clear that Cabrita Reis does not entirely agree with art as art’s context. The ‘what you see is what you get’ attitude in his work is not minimalist dogma, but just plain knowledge, affording a means of navigating skilfully the alleyways of life. He trades the minimal art object and its transcendent qualities for 
an immanent construction, and its speculative nature, for a metaphorical or poetic order. In a total absence of didactic strategies or hints, which makes the oeuvre of Cabrita Reis a true relief in contemporary culture, he negotiates the elements that define space as place, time as now, abstraction as immanence and meaning as individual thought.

The perspective in the output of that negotiation subtly changed over the years, from a concern about the basic, material conditions of human existence, to a more philosophical or mental positioning within an existential problem. It is difficult to draw a sharp chronological or typological line, but there is a significant difference between the works that in their quality as construction site are aimed at geographical orientation, shelter and water supply (a lot of works refer to or ‘are’ houses, cities, aqueducts, wells, observatories, planetariums) and those works that on a more elliptical level, deal with abstract notions of time, space and experience. 

In this last category, it is striking how Cabrita Reis’ work has shifted from the impression of a construction site that dominates much of the earlier work, to its opposite condition: that of the building in decline. Rather than opting for the easy and romantic aesthetics of the ruin, the more recent works seem to be affected by time, or seem to represent short-circuited systems of which the elements of construction are inverted in their functions. Supporting structures are weak and damaged, hanging like wings on a solid construction that in fact needs no support. Immaterial light (in the form of standard strip lights, one of the icons of minimalism) becomes tangible and an important element in the construction: it does not simply reveal, but rather constitutes the spatial conditions of a piece. Despite the matter-of-factness and the concreteness of the standard building materials that Cabrita Reis uses, a lot of the recent work seems to hover a few inches above the ground, in a sort of timeless ambition. That timeless ambition is counteracted by the battered nature of the pieces, a relationship that in the end draws attention to the existential condition of time irreversibly passing by. In these more recent works, like Scent (2004) or the big outdoor piece The Passage of the Hours (2004) (“my first church”), Cabrita Reis basically uses the same vocabulary as in his older work, but his syntax has drastically changed. It is more about the mental consequence of a construction; about experiencing solitude in a place where one expects other people; about inaccessibility where one expects a passageway and about the impossibility of regaining the white sheet after drawing a line. 

This more cerebral aspect in the work of Cabrita Reis is translated into an experience of time and space that is not unfamiliar in the arts. Through sculpture and installation art he has recreated pictorial time and space. The silence and stillness that is so common in the oeuvre of Cabrita Reis generates a slowing down of time and a distancing we usually associate with the pictorial image. The spatial parameters in the sculptures and installations dominate the place and give a direction, like lines in a perspective drawing. Like his sculptures, Reis’ paintings or painterly objects seem to be an attempt to reach this pictorial vacuum in which a non-ironic poetry of life can emerge. The strange hovering or suspended character of the pieces intensifies the pictorial rendering of space and time. In a paradoxical relationship with Cabrita Reis’ objectified vision of artistic creation in general, and painting in particular, this pictorial presence that defies didactic or immediate meaning, connects to real life as an attempt to orientate within the endless fragmentation of everyday life. Cabrita Reis’ aesthetics of place is driven by the memory of human presence and generates a holistic ‘here and now’, as part of a poesis that makes us realise that the only limit to our thinking is the limit of our memory and that translates human futility into a more or less manageable loss. Although inevitably connected to melancholy, it is clear that Cabrita Reis, while wandering through Blind Cities, True Gardens and Favourite Places, is celebrating life with that magnificent orange that, after International Klein Blue, took over the role of life’s emblematic colour.

I’m not interested in illustrating feelings, anxieties or littlemoments of happiness. I bring silence with me into my work.’ Pedro Cabrita Reis


Pedro Cabrita Reis was born in 1956 in Lisbon, Portugal, where he continues to live today. He has risen to prominence over the past decade for a body of work that embraces painting, sculpture and installation. At the centre of his practice is an interest in architecture as a means of defining territories and a repository of memories and associations: ‘architecture is the only form that makes the world comprehensible. [It] is more about defining territories than actually building houses.

Pedro Cabrita Reis has exhibited extensively internationally since the early 1990s. His numerous recent solo exhibitions include Kunsthalle Bern; Le Grand Café, Saint-Nazaire; Frac Bourgogne, Dijon; Tracy Williams Ltd, New York (2004); Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover; BALTIC, Gateshead (2002); Magasin 3, Stockholm and Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Torino (2001). In 2003 he represented Portugal at the 50th Venice Biennale, with the installation Longer Journeys while in the international section at the Giardini he installed Absent Names. This exhibition at Camden Arts Centre is the artist’s first one-person exhibition in London. 

Recent group shows in which Cabrita Reis has participated include ‘Arti & Architettura 1900/2000’, Palazzo Ducale, Genova (2004/05), curated by Germano Celant and ‘The Joy of my Dreams’ (October–December 2004), the 1st Seville International Biennial of Contemporary Art, curated by Harald Szeeman. A major monograph on the artist, with texts by João Fernandes, José M. Miranda Justo, Adrian Searle and Michael Tarantino, was published by Hatje Cantz in 2003. Pedro Cabrita Reis is represented by Haunch of Venison, London; Tracy Williams, Ltd., New York; Galerie Nelson, Paris; Galleria Persano, Torino and Mai 36, Zurich. 


Ordet / The Word Carl Theodore Dreyer (dir.) (1955)

Voyage au bout de la nuit Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Editions Flammarion (2000) ISBN 2070360288

Die Streichquartete / String Quartets Nos 1 – 16 Ludwig van Beethoven, EMI Classics (1999) DVD ASIN B00002604 

Selected Bibliography

Pedro Cabrita Reis Texts by João Fernandes, José M. Miranda Justo, Michael Tarantino and Adrian Searle, Hatje Cantz (2003), ISBN 3775713735

Pedro Cabrita Reis — Giving Heed to Silence Hopefulmonster (2001) ISBN 8877571195

Pedro Cabrita Reis — On Light and Space Edizione Charta (1999)  ISBN 8881582546

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