Flashback alludes to Julião Sarmento’s (Lisbon, 1948) most recent work -included in this exhibition- as well as the general concept that structures this collection. It is not a retrospective, but a tour of the artist's work over twenty-five years (1974-1999) which is arranged as a loop on the margins of a strict chronological arrangement. Flashback (1999) is a fragmentary biography, during the eighty slides that it is composed of dates and locations without a specific narrative logic and mixed together. The photographs are from Sarmento’s personal archive, and are accompanied by a soundtrack composed by musician Arto Lindsay.
This unsystematic exhibition model -in which certain shapes and gestures appear on a recurring basis throughout the images, such as leitmotiv- extends to the rest of the exhibition. In this way the more than one hundred and twenty pieces which it is composed of -photographs, works on paper and canvas, sculptures and Super 8 films- are organised from the so-called "white paintings". As noted by James Lingwood, curator of the exhibition, "the halls of the white paintings from the 90s are illuminated by flashbacks of minor constellations of works, or individual works from the mid-70s, mid-80s and late 80s".
The purpose is to show the process and bring out the basis on which Sarmento’s work is established, so that the exhibition as a whole is a narrative that is not resolved. The trajectory is generated by the constant references to his own work, as the artist confirmed in an interview with the museum curator and art critic Germano Celant "What I do today is part of what I did yesterday ... and what I did twenty five years ago and of what I will do tomorrow."
On the other hand, the use of loop is evidence that the simultaneity between the past and present keeps the notion of desire active -and that of not completion- in his work. Actions do not conclude, as with a woman’s steps when walking, seen from behind in the film Untitled (1999). The imaginary is made from women in danger by hands that grab or strike at their necks in Mehr Licht (1985) and The House With The upstairs in it (19) (1997); that hold her or push her from the back in Being Forced Into something else (1991) or which put a rope around her neck. In other occasions, they chase her in a dark night as in the Quatre mouvements de la peur (1978) or they suck, bite or inflict pain, like in Touching and Bruising (1995-1996).
In the words of art critic Adrian Searle, Sarmento's work "is not about emotions but of actions." He does not resort to identifiable faces endowed with exaggerated, theatrical expressions, but stages "supremely understated sexual tension, the tension on the surface of and between things."
Centro de Arte Moderna - Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisboa (February 24 - May 15, 2000)
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