sexta-feira, 25 de outubro de 2013

Miguel Palma

MIGUEL PALMA, Grey Matter, #1, 2013
Collage, acrylic and ink marker on paper
46 x 60 cm


“One Arizona man thought he had year-round allergies when his nose continued to run. He was shocked to find out after years of suffering, his runny nose was actually his brain leaking fluid, FOX 10 reported” (1).


Forty eight ‘collages’ punctuated by cropped sentences and cropped images under/over a variable old ©Pantone selection of tones and black ink drippings, that’s what it is. These drawings remind me of a nostalgic visitation to European modern times, when art, poetry and literature were scattered in thousand pieces by the liberty cry of the new revolutionary and independent citizens. It looks to me like a humble Dada excursion to the foundations of post representation, when doing portraits of kings, queens and their horses, princes and princesses and their puppies, successful bourgeois and their lovers, ladies at Ascot, was left behind for a no compromising and very erotic freedom. These drawings remind me of pages from a scrapbook, from a travelling album, even from a map. As I know many other drawings and collages by Miguel Palma I should perhaps point to the fact that they actually play a fundamental role in the perlaboration of his other and more complex, material and functional artworks: sculptures, installations, machines about machines, delirious nostalgia in a time that is leaking fast and everywhere.

As I have written before (2007), “Glancing at Miguel Palma’s oeuvre, as it has developed from 1989 until today, it might well be said that it has been gradually architected and existentially suffered as an archaeology of lost time [...]. Or it could also be described as the personal archaeology of a time that is promising, seductive and fantastic… but lost! Time; the speed with which time passes; the price of the irresistible adrenalin, rendered commonplace by the technologies of the 19th and 20th centuries; the memory and nostalgia of those incredible illusions and good moments lived in the frightening vortex of the decades; in a word, progress! In short, the foam of a time that this artist’s work seeks desperately to hurl into a kind of fossilized aesthetics, faithful to the passage of time, but more durable than time itself. Than our own time, naturally.”


Photons, like words, can start an image process inside the brain by exciting that marvelous 1300 cc of whitish, grayish and pinkish pudding. The result of any such interaction is that some kind of external or internal perception, substantiated by content, is actually seen as the visual properties of the given object of perception. By the way, this given object is neither “given” nor “object” in a materialistic sense of “given object”, but rather a moving shadow, to use a Platonic analogy. What we see is nothing but a fragment of the all-photogenic hologram generated by the collision between light and what we then call the perceived object. The vision of such and such a thing, that whether by accident or design we perceive as “seeing”, is nothing more than the beginning of an epistemological process, that may or may not evolve as a historical accumulation of knowledge, esthetic sublimation and moral convictions. From the day we start building an internal library of visual entries, to that anxious night that will shut our eyes forever, every image evolves inside of us like a philosophical category, oscillating between the theatrical surprise of its scandalous appearance and the metaphysical contemplation of its possible truth. If there is anything the digital image has cleared up, then it’s certainly the obsolete debate about the origin of any image. Is it a sensational event or, on the contrary, a purely mental performance? Well, it seems to be something in between...

We build images the same way as we build concepts: with constant effort and attention! What is most important, and rather Marxist, is that until now pictures have been bloody frozen moments of historical class struggles upon which all human identities and narratives rest. Any digital image —that’s the novelty of it— is only a potential image, preserved as code, far from being an actual image until the day some genetic order arrives: “Be that image!” Any computer geek can give this order whilst knowing absolutely nothing about the process he has just triggered. So when one says that the computer can play the role of a new and more productive model for understanding visual arts and its potential stumbling blocks this means that one has to take into consideration both its common use and its nature.

As soon as computer art becomes common sense, leaving behind it all the cheap metaphysics of progress that defined the commercial and urban aura of Information Technology, we will have the time and opportunity to concentrate on its inner novelty, as something much bigger than just a sophisticated and very productive tool. To work properly with computers, artists will have to co-evolve with them in a kind of a symbiotic process. Learning from computers is not the next but actually the latest big thing in “post-modern”, “post-human”, co-generative, “collaborative”, or as Bruno Latour might put it: “actor-network” art.

I insist that I am not thinking of some new way to opportunistically abuse technology. What really matters now is that there is the possibility of some kind of co-evolution into a completely new art paradigm, based on a human expanded reality.


We can examine the modern and contemporary era and its sequels in the light of the energies which gave birth to them. If there had been no coal or steam engines, what would it have been like? And what if there had been no petrol or natural gas? And if these carbon-based resources, which guaranteed the expansion of the industrial revolution, allowing the planet’s population to grow from a hundred million to 6.5 billion souls in the space of only 200 years, had already begun down the slippery slope of unavoidable decline? What would happen to our intellectual optimism if within 20 or 30 years the majority had to live without light sweet oil, without natural gas, and without the richest varieties of coal (or with drastically limited and extremely expensive access to these movable energies)? Worse still, what would happen if 20% of the world’s population, around the year 2050 (which by then would be about 1.8 billion struggling alpha souls), made the decision to sacrifice the other 80% of humanity and abandon 7.2 billion human creatures to hunger, thirst, continuous bad weather-related disasters, viral epidemics and permanent war, in the name of the survival of the species? There is nothing delirious about these pondering. The modern condition based itself upon an unconscious hypothesis, which we only discovered to be mistaken far too late: that of the unlimited and abundant availability of natural resources which corresponded to an ideology of continuous growth of the economy, consumerism and “welfare state”.

The “post-modern condition”, upon foreseeing the overtaking of the utopia of growth by a utopia of knowledge, nevertheless still retains a strong belief in the possibilities of world economic expansion. The post-contemporary condition, on the other hand, already takes into account evidence that there will be a dramatic rupture of the current global energetic paradigm around 2030-50, which will bring in its awake inevitable social decomposition on a planetary scale. What still needs to be known is if a dramatic cut-back in current levels of waste of energy and prime materials, combined with a genuine techno-cultural revolution, can possibly avoid the disaster and allow humanity to continue its evolution. One way or another, we will have to prepare ourselves for this rapidly approaching shock.

Some theoreticians argue that the overshooting of humanity has already begun, and that we will inevitably fall into the great pit of energetic scarcity, lack of drinking water, deterioration of agricultural land, the depletion of various basic prime materials, the inviability of continuing to create and manufacture synthetics derived from petrol and natural gas (plastics, fertilizers, dyes, varnishes, medicines, etc…), chains of environmental disasters, uncontrollable epidemics and new wars of mass destruction. What is to be done? What place is there for art and museums in a scenario of this magnitude?

I asked in a seminar on “audio-visualization in art” promoted by the Caixa Foundation in Barcelona, what would happen to the artistic heritage of the 20th and 21st centuries in a future in which the scarcity of energy and basic resources determined the entropy of the technological systems which currently support not only the continuing production of the virtual and enhanced reality in which we are immersed but also its electronic conservation. What will happen to Bill Gates’ photo-digital repository, to recorded music or to cinema and television archives, on the day that it ceases to be economically viable to produce new equipment and means of storage and digital reading and all analogical equipment has been permanently discontinued? Who among us has not seen, on a small domestic scale, the harmful effects of technological obsolescence: the hundreds of video cassettes lovingly collected over the course of the last 20 years are about to pass their sell-by date and DVDs will not even last that long! Computers go into the rubbish bins every four years or so, mobile phones every two years or so. It is easy to imagine this phenomenon on a global scale: the whole technological civilization suddenly hit by an unprecedented energetic and ecological rupture.

Alarming! The next big, fat “black swan” can not only freeze all our beloved technological gizmos, but also collapse the entire model of so-called post-industrial society itself. The service economy, great cities and their suburbs would cave in, and the return to subsistence-based socio-economic models would end up being imposed upon humanity. Following a catastrophic and violent interim, the survivors would have to rise up from the ashes to re-embark upon the long and difficult journey of human development. Where is the new starting point? How to restart? Which tools would be appropriate? In the name of what knowledge? Based on what moral convictions?

Will we return by the end of this century to a regime of low-intensity techne [τέχνη]? Will we revert to the times of wandering storytellers, aesthetic religious rituals based around crop seasons, or to anti-cataclysmic votive offerings? What will happen to the cognitive and technological heritage of the commercial and philosophical arts from the two centuries marked out by the invention of photography and Walter Benjamin’s reproducibility paradigm?

Philosophy and art will need to be reinvented in the light of radical changes in the anthropological model looming on the horizon. For this reason it would perhaps be worth considering the transformation of the world’s museums into real community centres dedicated to simulations of the approaching scenarios of change. The time has come to consider the idea of technological monasteries. Places where to prepare for a strategic withdrawal. Refugee labs consecrated to reflect with absolute honesty on possible ways to safeguard knowledge and art.


Reality is larger than it’s model, but only scientific models can define reality with accuracy.

Roberto Trotta: “I think it’s hopeless to ask of science to give us a ‘true reflection of reality’ [...] because science itself, in its becoming, is mindless” (2).

Contra-intuitive proposition: the universe is 95% flat and dark, and we only experience and see a tiny portion of its 5% bright 3d corner. That is here where we became an evolutionary speculation. The cosmological “view” of the universe is in this sense very much like Plato’s cave. In the open void there is a vast “a priori”: dark matter and dark energy.

Corollary: only a very small fraction of reality is and can be perceived as intuition; intuition btw is mostly a cybernetic interaction between sensorial bodies and information-stimuli.

Humans, like most organisms —bacteria, fungus, plants and animals— are not selfish individuals but live collective minds. Selfish genes can only prosper in collaborative environments.

Qualia is what allows any leaving creature to identify the world as a motive of attention, attraction and love.

Art is a continuous and concrete manifestation of subjectivity, made of time, attraction, qualia, body, language and τέχνη.

  1. “Man’s runny nose was brain leaking fluid”. Published May 07, 2013, FoxNews.
  2.  “Dark Matter: Probing the Arche-Fossil”, Interview with Roberto Trotta, Collapse, Volume II, Urbanomic, 2Óxford, 2007.
  • I wrote this text for Grey Matter, a book by Miguel Palma published by Stolen Books (2013). Grey Matter is also the title of the exhibition that I have curated for Galeria Luís Serpa Projectos (Lisboa).