٠ Duarte Amaral Netto: It’s all real, you just need to give up on your anguish (III of III) ٠

Part I of essay here and part II here

Duarte Amaral Netto4© Duarte Amaral Netto, Z (France, April 1940), 2012
65×50 cm Framed, Inkjet on Fine Art, Ed. 2 + 1 AP

Storytelling isn’t far from the discursive play, on the contrary. Martha Langford would call it an oral-photographic method of telling stories, in the sense that works using family photographs and historical documents trigger our day-to-day ways of interpreting the world and having conversations with one another. It’s my opinion that is why Z saw the light of day: to set up a rhizomatic dialogue that inevitably speaks to our collective memory by being on display as the personal story of the doctor, through whose eyes we are invited to (re)count, (re)member or (re)live multiple singular and universal narratives.

Rosalind Krauss defined Sculpture as an Expanded Field (1979), somehow located in between two negative polls: that of the non-architecture and that of non-landscape. George Backer then located Photography’s Expanded Field (2005) in a neutral zone in between non-narrative and non-static. In fact they don’t put forward this negative tension, but that’s what I understand from a definition that goes around the inclusion to locate by exclusion. Both Krauss and Baker want to relocate sculpture and photography, respectively, to the periphery of the polls they firstly entailed them in, arguing that’s the way to realize their full potential and interact with the culture field.

And then comes Kuhn, also referring to Marianne Hirsch, arguing about such cultural potential, saying that the power of the combination between memory work and photography stems “from the very everydayness of photography – from the ways photography and photographs figure in most people’s daily lives and in the apparently ordinary stories we tell about ourselves and those closest to us.“ (2007, p.285) And we’re back to the everyday.

Duarte Amaral Netto5© Duarte Amaral Netto, Z (Ballerina), 2012
65×50 cm Framed, Inkjet on Fine Art, Ed. 2 + 1 AP

Before talking about Duarte’s latest exhibition, I’d like to take a moment to draw a connection between this everydayness quality, which is now proved to be a sub-thread throughout all of his work, and the idea of the voyeur. Going about Wittgenstein’s thoughts, Michael Fried highlights a passage from a manuscript dating back to 1930. In it, Wittgestein tells “Nothing could be more remarkable than seeing someone who thinks himself unobserved engaged in some quite simple everyday activity”, (Fried, 2008, p.76) to sustain his idea that the way we go about the works – what we expect from them, how we looked at them – is what graduates them from their everydayness to art.

In a recent article, Boris Groys defines the contemporary subject as “primarily a keeper of a secret”. (2013, p.2) What both these claims put forward is the idea that value exists only where there is exclusiveness, so it’s not that the scenes depicted are mundane or that the archival photographs have been traveling the world for ages and have been seen by various people, but the fact that this or that is being shown to us. The image plane and the observer’s plane coincide, so the image is only completed when fully formed inside my eye. I am the sole testifier of Z’s portrait, as I am the sole testifier of Luda’s introspective moment.  At least I need to be sold on a narrative where this relation is possible.

Duarte Amaral Netto6© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Installation view at Baginski, Lisbon, 2013

Duarte Amaral Netto7© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Installation view at Baginski, Lisbon, 2013

Selective Affinities, Duarte’s last work I’ll be focusing on, has a bigger diaphragm than Z: it takes longer breaths and it breaths better, deeper. It also exacerbates something I thought I had seen in Z: the joy at play. It brings together a big collection of Polaroid transfers presented as diaries; another collection of Polaroids displayed in a continuum, and a triple projection of slides from different sources. It could be that our smile is ripped apart because of all the kids running around in the photographs or because we are reminded of the punctum arisen by similar family portraits, but in fact the major qualities of the work lie with the use of the medium specificities. Don’t forget Duarte is first, foremost or also, a photographer, and a really good one.

I will argue that this work is about blurriness and about what is left behind when the absence of material relevance gives way to time. Back to Baker’s location of photography between the narrative and the static, we could maybe agree that static in cinema is less organic than in photography, though they both struggle with it. The time given to an image, on the other hand, can trigger imagination, allowing us to project our desires. So what really differentiates the photographic from the cinematic moment is the time of the experience. Light, in photography, allows the capture of moments never seen before, it builds from nothing; in cinema, the same light giving us the images is the same that kills them in a split-second. Having said this, it doesn’t matter how many frames are killing each other in front of us, nor how much time we can stare at a single photograph, for their mechanical time in not our biological time. In between narrative and static there is an aesthetic attribute stronger than them – temporality, and that is what will influence the eco of the image’s spirit in us.

The tenderness and affection in Duarte’s polaroids shown in Selective Affinities is overwhelming. It’s raw. It implies a romantic notion of immediacy, only interrupted by his selection of which we are able to see and which not. Again, we are made believe we are witnesses to exclusiveness – unique moments of his private life. And because this everyday life draws innumerous parallels to our singular and collective memory, our imagination is triggered, for these images resonate with what we remember, or know about ourselves.

I too belong to a generation whose fado is to wander, who has no sense of community and no true willing to find freedom. Our generation has played a very special role as passive viewers, particularly regarding cinema and photography. We understood that as passive spectators we were actively participating in cultivating an impossible ideal of what the ideal life would be, how families should behave, how lovers should kiss, how you are supposed to feel at every moment of your life. This living in between our own non-linear narratives and the fictional ones – the ones Others were apparently living – has seriously compromised our identitary structure, our ability  to  avoid lying,  our capacity  to   remember  our  memories  instead   of building new ones that would suite us better. Not being able to distinguish between a documentary narrative and a fictional narrative impaired our judgment. Suddenly we had to choose between to be or not to be when we could have chosen to be and not to be.

Duarte Amaral Netto9© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Transfers Reproductions, 2013

Duarte Amaral Netto10© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Transfers Reproductions, 2013

So as I go through Duarte’s Selective Affinities with the eyes of an image-maker, I have the feeling that he mastered the fusion of the real and the fictional within his own personal life. These are not snapshots, these are not Polaroid transfers, these are not family moments, this is not a family album. This is an archive. I do doubt whether it was made conscious to Duarte that these images reveal the history of a generation, for all that is there, for all that it stands for – our day-dreams, our nightly-dreams, our fears, our world of possibilities, our sense of joy, our sense of structure, of identity, of family.

It is the blurriness of the photographs that convince us of the barthesian that-has-been. A green rabbit could be inserted next to one of the kids in the photographs and we would still believe the verity of the photograph. We believe because we want to, because we were made to believe, brought-up as individuals in a post-modernist world, where everything that matters has to be about achieving, conquering, becoming, when instead our sense of daily sharing should have been taken care of. Because we are loners, wanderers, drifters, we become the characters to whom we write scripts that we then play in our lives, both as narrators and having a lead role.

Lastly, I’ll finish by explaining the title of this article – It’s all real, you just need to give up on your anguish – by saying that the term “anguish” was chosen for its relation to the Heideggerian notion that anguish enables an inauthentic life and, consequently, prevents us to potentiate reality. So this is what I say (sort of as a wishful-thinking): let go on the idea that you can define things by exclusion. Instead, exclude the non-fact and the non-artifact; the non-static and the non-narrative; the non-real and the non-fiction. Anguish is the acceptance of frontiers; it stops the realm of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary, to fully realize its potential to become reality.

text by Sofia Silva

Baker, G. (2005) Photography’s Expanded Field. October, Vol. 114, pp.120-140

Fried, M. (2008) Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, London: Yale University Press

Groys, B. (2013) Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive. [online] E-flux journal, #45, Maio
Krauss, R. (1979) Sculpture in the Expanded Field. October, Vol. 8, pp.30-44

Kuhn, A. (2007) Photography and cultural memory: a methodological exploration. Visual Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp.283-292

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