Portuguese artists João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva presented a magical, immersive film installation for their first major show in London.
The kaleidoscopic world created by 27 16mm films and two camera obscura installations took viewers on an imaginative journey into science, philosophy and religion.
Each film examined a particular subject – a treatise on material, animal or human behaviour that probes at the nature of truth and perception. Shot with a high-speed camera but projected in slow motion, the films reveal ordinarily imperceptible detail with ghostly effect. Starting from journeys, stories, anecdotes or cinematic allegories and with few contextual cues to enable the enigmatic scenarios to be located in a specific time or place, the veracity of each film is ambiguous.
Whirring mechanics of projectors created a soundscape that drew attention to the absence of sound in the films themselves. Concerned with ‘analogue’ approaches and technologies, any editing was done ‘in camera’ and several films contained multiple exposures within the same frame. The two camera obscura installations directly investigated and displayed the behaviour of vision and light, and the aperture motif which was reiterated in other works, connected representations of the eye to the camera.
A major new 16mm film work Papagaio (Djambi) 2014, shot in São Tomé and Príncipe (a Portuguese speaking Island nation off the western coast of Central Africa), bore witness to a West African voodoo ritual, known locally as D’Jambi. Whilst intoxicated, the participants dance and enter a state of trance in which they channel the spirits of the dead. At times the footage was shot by the artists, and at other moments the camera became an alibi, held and manoeuvred by one of the participants.
With an emphasis on materiality and aesthetic immediacy, Gusmão + Paiva’s work drew attention to the paradoxes in the appearance of reality and probed at the nature of truth, perception and the objectivity of vision.
The exhibition was accompanied by a new artists’ book, assembling meditations on philosophical subjects including Taoism, Buddhism, Decartes and Wittgenstein.