Faraway, so close
“I seek new parfums, ampler blossoms, untried pleasures.”
Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature (À Rebours)
Affection can be manifested in the most diverse of ways. With the body, with words, written or spoken, with music, with images. Photographs convey emotions by encapsulating life, expressing abstractions, evoking furtive ideas and desires coalesced under the all-so-many symbolic layers that adhere to the image’s skin — and whenever aroused by the visual stimuli prompted by photography, the other concurring senses exceed vision itself in order to conjure unsuspected patterns of listening, smelling, tasting or even touching.
Carolina Pimenta’s photographic work envelops affections in a haptic atmosphere: it unfolds visual narratives through the most elementary affective technology within human nature: touch, a sense that imposes itself on the others so as to grant the skin absolute sovereignty over desire. And if we conceive of the body as a sui generis form of technology — simultaneously engendered by nature and transformed by culture — one invariably ends up understanding the limbs and their epidermis as playful tools of affection and pleasure.
Like its etymological root — the Latin word affectus — the English affect has this double meaning of experienced emotion and to act on or change someone or something (“Affect: touch the feelings of; move emotionally; have an effect on; make a difference to”). Affects or feelings are capable of changing things. Notwithstanding, the word has other connotations and meanings that go from disease (affections of the body and mind), a display of likings and vanities (affections) to feelings and preferences. Affections can be commotions, states of spirit and flesh that produce an effect upon us, our souls, bodies and hearts.
This Side of Nowhere is a two-fold exhibition that leads both to the body — this “implacable topia” from which one can never escape, as defined by Michel Foucault — and to its outer nature, the space from which we came from and where we belong. Nature and humanity, one affecting the other, transforming themselves, giving rise to new technologies which enable one to see, to feel and touch differently, to represent — hence photography, a device that is foreign to the body, a kind of prosthesis that allows us to give form to the sensible realm, to depict it so that we can better understand it.
In Tactile Afferents, one of the acts of Carolina Pimenta’s solo show at Nuno Centeno Gallery, we are faced with a fractional, compartmentalized, perhaps even fractured anatomy — organic angles shaping geometries and visual compositions, a sort of typology of the human design, so to speak. These bodies that emerges from the artist’s recent work respond to a nature deeply affected by the pandemic; they are bodies whose responses to the environment inevitably took place in terms of isolation (the risk of contagion) and the absence of physical contact — the warmth that protects them from the pains of love, although not from virulent superhuman diseases. Faced with such a world in which manifestations of affection — hugs, kisses, sexual intercourse — have become surreptitious lethal signs, Carolina’s set of photographs emerge as a “tableau-vivant” of a Humanity eager for contact, which seeks to assuage melancholy and loneliness in the fortuitous encounter between bodies, affecting each other. Therefore, the present exhibition is inscribed as a powerful ode to affective freedom, to love, to the exchange of “hugs and kisses, and endless caresses / So there will be no more such a thing / As you being far away from me”, echoing the romantic Bossa Nova tune by Tom Jobim.
In this series of works by Carolina, the passe-par-tout veils the identities of her characters in the name of a universal sensual-affective choreography, of a dance between men and women rocked by the unstoppable tactile instinct, an expression of the curiosity for the other, but also of the inordinate desire to receive love. In a kind of erratic exercise of zoom-in (or voyeurism?), our gaze traverses a vast human topography and its primary technologies of affection: hands, arms and legs, intertwined, entangled with each other. “Under the other’s fingers running over you, all the invisible parts of your body begin to exist. […] This is why love is so closely related to the illusion of the mirror and the menace of death. And if, despite these two perilous figures that surround it, we love so much to make love, it is because, in love, the body is here.” Michel Foucault in “Utopian Body”, Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology, and Contemporary Art, edited by Caroline A. Jones, translated by Lucia Allais, 229–34. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
If in the black and white room, Tactile Affects, we navigated the physical undulations and modulations of pleasure with our eyes, in the adjoining gallery — in another time, in another space — we find ourselves en plein air, in a world of colours, affected by the different hues with which nature contemplates us, ideally removed from human construction, decidedly deprived of its presence. In the eyes of the West, however, nature is invariably a cultural construction, if not the result of hands working the earth, a romantic projection: idyll or redemption, an escape from the tortuous ailments of an inhabited, transformed, and manufactured world. And this very idea of a nature that we want untouched is opposed by another, that of a second nature — a sphere of life informed by culture and technology, by social conventions — which will mirror the first, nonetheless. It is in this spirit that we turn on the lights to make it day whenever we are immersed in darkness; so we simulate nature in our prosaic everyday actions, or we represent it, as in impressionist painting, which captures the movements produced by air and light, the change of colour as time passes by.
Broad images of fields and flowers photographically “painted” by Carolina open windows to exterior landscapes, and to the natural phenomena that impose themselves on the human horizon. Plein air will expand the artist’s pictorial investigation from the realm of body/culture toward the one of nature/culture, but not implying that both are at diametrically opposite poles, as this series of bucolic scenes is also the product of affections aroused by the artist’s immediate reality, that is, the pandemic and its irremediable impact on our psyches, our routines and worldviews. Just as this malaise made us doubly hostage, to our bodies and our homes, it also removed us from them, forcing us to experience the passage of time in the virtual space of telepresence — digitally connected to the world, experiencing reality as a kind of nefarious fiction, however evident and brutal it might present itself to us. That is why this anticipated encounter with nature gains its impressionist hues, its greater-than-life momentum, a perfume of its own, a plastic force that counteracts the immediate sterility of confinement.
This Side of Nowhere deals with the potential, phenomenological and contingent encounter of men and women with nature and its many forms of life, more or less human, artificial on a smaller or larger scale, invested with the beauty that the gaze pours over the landscape, that the body experiences on the sensitive plane. Behold, in the impossibility of abandoning our own body, we observe and apprehend reality always transfigured by the strength of affection, by its vicissitudes, ecstasy and extravagant expressions of love.
The body is a party!
Text by Bernardo José de Souz