Exhibition: João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva – On the Movement of the Fried Egg and Other Astronomical Bodies, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, until March 21 2010
After representing Portugal in Venice at the 2009 Biennale, João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva have pitched up in Birmingham for their first UK solo show.
In near total darkness at Ikon the walls flicker with their grainy 16mm films. The whirr of projectors only deepens the silence.
Nothing distracts from your consideration of the loops of footage. So when an egg yolk slides into a pan, it carries the weight of an astronomical body, as promised by the show’s title.
Given the apparent age of the film, you feel anything could happen. The movies look to have come from the vault of some museum or research institute.
Indeed, many are structured like formal experiments. One man tries to stack eggs. Another appears to eat glass. A rigid body is impossibly suspended between two chairs.
According to the Lisbon-based pair, these are pieces of “poetic philosophical fiction”. The set ups are designed to explore philosophical and mythical ideas, many of them esoteric.
So the fried egg questions the ancient belief in Atomism. The stacked eggs illustrate an anecdote about Christopher Columbus. Falling water in slow motion plays around with Plato’s Theory of Form. Yet all are treated to a reduction ad absurdum.
They even seem to question their own means of investigation. One voluble Brazilian uses a hole in the sole of his boot as a viewfinder or a telescope as if to cast doubt on all forms of epistemology.
In a later film, we find him chasing a brick which slides away from him through the dust. It is tempting to see this as a metaphor for all of the scientific researches in the show.
Along with film, Gusmão and Paivis write and compile texts for their own periodical, Efflúvio Magnético. Magnetic effluvia, in case you were wondering, is the cosmic force which impels the earth’s winds and waves, as mentioned in The Man That Laughs by Victor Hugo.
Most comic of all is a film in which five men gather in a clearing, smear themselves in dirt and take turns drinking from a giant pitcher which ends up inverted on one of their heads. Now, he too is ready to explore the darkness.
Written for Culture24.