(essay written about the work Como interromper a eternidade? (Intervalos para a dúvida) [How to cease eternity? (Gaps for doubt)] present at the show Prémio Novos Artistas Fundação EDP at MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon, Portugal)

AnaMary Bilbao’s with Como interromper a eternidade? (Intervalos para a dúvida) [How to cease eternity? (Gaps for doubt)] ponders the passing of time, electing as its starting point a documented moment in the life of socialist French writer and thinker Louis-Auguste Blanqui (1805 - 1881). Blanqui took part in a series of attempted revolutions, such as the French July Revolution of 1830, and he spent part of his life in prison, where he wrote extensively on politics, while also focusing on social theory and philosophy. One such work was L’éternité par les astres: hypothèse astronomique, written in 1871 during his imprisonment in Brittany, at Château du Taureau, where he spent one hundred and fifty three days locked in a cell. That episode in the life of this nineteenth-century character captured Bilbao’s imagination, it was the artist’s set-up for a meditation on time transcending historical fact — that is, all the days and months Blanqui spent in imprisonment —, finding a core in his work as a revolutionary and philosopher, but also on all the aesthetical and poetical threads coming off his writings.

Bilbao collected documentation from different sources and periods including photography, movie features, 16mm film, while also transcribing written work and audio recorded in situ. The research stage encompassed all the manual, technical and technological tools and resources that feature in her finished pieces. Como interromper a eternidade? (Intervalos para a dúvida) is a collection of all these details and specifics, and that you can spot them in the finished piece only adds to its many riches. In its final form, the installation now shown articulates photography, drawings, moving images, and sound.

In Blanqui’s writings, Bilbao found ground to explore a new set of possibilities for her work. Visiting the prison in Morlaix was a key to understand how important it is to register the memory of a specific place, as there are sounds coming in and a landscape surrounding it. Bilbao then used photographic materials dating back to the early stages of the art of photography, evoking the existing technical solutions at the time. These are images rendered on glass plate dating from the nineteenth century — landscapes that the artist then duplicated in large format, evoking the big-screen aesthetic, but also landscape painting. Bilbao goes beyond the archival, documental approach; she explores time and space as they change from a real, recognizable landscape to an abstract one. For the first instance, two suspended images outline the cliffs and the mighty inscrutable sea on an oxidized dark canvas. Both images were duplicated with no touch-ups. The other four images suggest abstract paintings, or maybe cosmic landscapes. What you see becomes undefined and unrecognizable, “reduced” to graphic elements — dots — which Blanqui equates with the universe and its continually changing structure. For these vision-like landscapes, Bilbao uses a “vernacular” approach — scratching and eroding the original images with implements created for the occasion, so there’s manual skill — a constant of her work — intervening, interpreting, suspending — ultimately setting free — time and space. The scratched — erased — negatives blur the original time-eroded images and rethink them as pure visual matter. From the actual, existing place, all that is left is a sound loop coming from an analog device — a 16mm movie projector — intruding between the viewer and the suspended images. So an object becomes a visual scar of sorts, a gash interrupting our experiencing of Blanqui’s tragic legacy and forcing us to come back to it again and again — the eternal recurrence Friedrich Nietzsche would write about. The projected light — a dynamic image in itself — leads to another visual cycle, defining an open ground for doubt and utopia (what could be more human than that?), and confronting the duplicated landscapes in all their density. The element of sound underlines that timeless circularity where that which is recognizable and that which can’t be defined meld in a purely visual landscape existing somewhere between the outer space and the visual memory of the very tangible Château du Taureau surrounded by sea and coves.

The low rumble of the ocean combines with a recorded phrase — a single stroke of spoken language in all of Bilbao’s piece. That phrase is the first verse from “L’Éternité”, a poem Arthur Rimbaud wrote in 1872, the same year Louis-Auguste Blanqui published his book — his final appeal to Versailles court. That same verse can be heard in Jean Luc-Godard’s Pierrot le Fou — “Elle est retrouvée,” says Anna Karina to Jean-Paul Belmondo.

This almost-inaudible verse evokes for these images a circularity possibly tragic, but still, as large as the cosmos — reshaping as ars combinatoria, as pause for thought — a gap in the inexorability of time, of which we all are made. Bilbao’s piece materializes our conscience of being finite — not as a fragment of, or a fully-rendered image, but transcending visual depiction. Elle est retrouvée.


João Silvério, May 2019
Translated by Christopher Foster

© 2024 AnaMary Bilbao – All Rights Reserved