João Pedro Vale +
Nuno Alexandre Ferreira
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Between installation and words

The relationship between object and text is explored in the works of João Pedro Vale often referring to themes as body, nature and (pop) culture. Engaging short sentences as part of his installations, these deal not only with presence in the room, but they also create a very direct approach to the viewer. A spatial play is an ongoing process in Vale’s works where pieces literally take up the room using words as free-movers between work, viewer and space.

In A culpa não é minha (2003) an immense trunk of an old tree is all tied up in neatly swung white ropes and placed in a gallery. The cords fling around the body of the tree as a strangler killing its victim or a twining plant growing as a parasite eventually causing the host’s death. It is a natural process that new vegetation emerges while the old decomposes, but in this case an uncanny feeling occurs, maybe because Vale combines beauty and cruelty in this act that is done extremely elegantly with order and precision. Underlying topics as control and influence on others are found in A culpa não é minha, a theme Vale explores more explicitly in I Want to be Your Dog (2001) portraying master and servant relations through sex games.

In most of Vale’s works it is possible to see the crafting process of the work, as in the hand-sewed flag Too Much Love will Kill You (2000) or the skillful order of cords in the case of A culpa não é minha. By showing the working process, Vale brings attention to the installation as object and the artist as creator. However, a plate with the inscription "mea culpa non est" is placed apart from the trunk in the latter piece, indicating a passive behavior, a submission without resistance. This attitude reflects not only a resignation to the law of nature, but also a complementary to the creative role of the artist. Normally, this kind of black iron plates are used for categorizing trees in botanical gardens, letting the display grow into the tree, but here it is disconnected from the source, pointed out as a monolith in the white room or a tombstone for a fallen tree.

A gothic feeling characterized by gloom, darkness and supernatural powers comes into existence by investigating A culpa não é minha. The correspondence between the small solid black box and the log’s light bonds - that untie and gutter on the floor as wax from a candle - create a sublime sensation between minimal and complex structures. As in a requiem where loftiness is consisted with grief, A culpa não é minha combines counterparts and melts them into one, determined by a sentence engraved into heavy cold iron. This might be how a memento mori of today would look like.

Former times’ symbolic scull, painted as a reminder of the fact that humans die, no longer exist. However, it is like the inscription "mea culpa non est" in black metal tells us a warning before entering the room where the powerful pale log is situated. Here, an enchanting universe is formed through branches poetically entangled in a sporadic and systematic framework of loose ends. This could be a set for fairy-tales or adventurous dreams, a spellbound autonomous universe supported by the bond´s white web. But nothing lasts forever, and the spell breaks as soon as we remember that we all have to die. Seen in retrospect, the writing on the wall already warned us before coming into the place. Maybe.

Clear sentences turn into complex indications when attached to installations in Vale’s pieces. Texts work as keywords that alter perception and detect the very existence of the installation. Initially, the letters articulate a language that decodes the object´s primary appearance and adds new significance. By discovering the content of the sentences, the context of the installation reaches another dimension putting words into our mind.

This is for instance to be seen in We all Feel Better in the Dark (2000). Here, a mini trampoline with all parts dressed in black has the sentence ‘We All Feel Better in the Dark’ embroidered in italics exactly on the jump center. The glossy letters shine lightly against the matte rubber of the jump pad as if they were ready for a take-off out of the context. In this way, Vale extends the space around the installation by letting the artwork reach out of its own form in a successful and intellectual way. The sentence ‘We all Feel Better in the Dark’ simply is thrown into the air by the power of the trampoline’s jump pad. Of course, this is only an imaginary mind experiment and not necessarily to be seen, but if one chooses to do so, the question ‘do we all feel better in the dark?’ vanishes into the thin air and remains in space.

The close connection between installation and words results in an investigation of reality and language in an almost Wittgensteinian way. However, it never becomes a 1:1 reflection because the sentences form an isolated meaning that easily escapes the physics of the piece, and sets up a new order of the work.

Vale’s installations are conspicuous in their beauty and powerful presence and thus they melt into imaginary acts in spite of literary connotations. Maybe, the artworks of Vale try to escape their physical existence in the moment one brings them into attention? In that case, the quotes connected to the pieces serve as a confirmation of the material form and suggest a take-off at random. Creating a complex paradigm between installation and words, the artworks of João Pedro Vale magnificently explore and extend the space in both literal and metaphysical ways.

Helene Nyborg Andrersen