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Homo Kosmos (cough cough)

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José Marmeleira

Restless body and spirit

Such is what the visitor might experience as they enter Tiago Borges and Yonamine's Homo Kosmos (cough cough), at Galeria Avenida da Índia. Images from different places are projected onto the viewer's body, while the sound of an acoustic instrument flows throughout the space, asserting the distress of a trance which only seldom subsides. The works on display describe a non-geometric, fragmented, scattered path composed of small open spaces where shadows, imagens, drawings, objects sprout. In fact, it is not exactly accurate to speak of "works." Homo Kosmos (cough cough) is one work alone; or rather, one environment alone, where the signature of the two artists blurs. Continuing the collaboration that began in São Paulo with the AfroUFO project, Tiago Borges (Luanda, 1973) and Yonamine (Luanda, 1975) put forth a political, aesthetic, and visual worldview. Racism, technology, the histories of the history of Africa in the 2nd half of the 20th century, the end or the unpredictable mutation of the human are topics subject to a sudden, almost chaotic consideration that materialises in space, with no clear directions or orientation. There is no discernible thesis in Homo Kosmos.

There are, however, two elements that stand out very discreetly. The autobiographic allusion to the Angolan Civil War, which pushed the artists into a life of confinement and exile, to personal experiences of racism (with the subsequent trauma), and to the miscegenated encounters with other cultures and imaginaries, mainly the Soviet one. And the insistent reference to the human in a world dominated and transfigured by the processes of technique and technology. So, it is between past and future, in a diffuse, complex presentism, that Tiago Borges and Yonamine's Homo Kosmos (cough cough) emerges.

The homo kosmos is a figure that often pops up throughout the exhibition, too. We find it in the form of a violated puppet, a disfigured doll, a fragilised totem, a ubiquitous but shy presence. Despite its inhuman appearance, it signals a potency, a promise: that of a non-predatory, kind humanity aware of its humility before the cosmos and, within the latter, before the home that is Planet Earth.

Let us not look for extraplanetary utopianisms, missions to Planet Mars, trans-human delusions. The world evoked by the suspended rock that the visitor comes across is a terrestrial, familiar, natural one. That of water, of the sea, of the river, of the reflected sun, of the land, in images that circulate along the walls, on the ceiling. Indeed, the artists have turned the whole space into a kaleidoscope of apparitions, movements, lights, shadows that smoothly invade the visitor. A Gesamtkunstwerk consisting of several Lichtspieles. That rock—a threatening but immobile object—gathers and projects images that fall on our bodies. In fact, they follow us throughout the exhibition for the most part; elusive and restless, they move. But the artists allow us to unwind in front of strategically placed glass frames. Observatories, capsules in which we watch images ahead (in the future) and behind (in the past).

On one of those glass frames, one finds reflections of the suspended spectres from one of the exhibition's open spaces. They proceed from Ku Klux Klan-inspired robes and hoods; the transparent plastic Yonamine used to make such sinister garments transforms those figures into sloppy, aseptic, always insidious demons. On the walls, other images whirl, now from Africa: cities, bodies, colours, in a trance-inducing vertigo under the sound of the instrument (a hungu, predecessor of the berimbau, played by Angolan musician and capoeira master Kabuenha). The transparent hoods and those images mix together; some are surfaces to others; they fuse into one another. It is (almost) impossible to separate them.

While racism-derived psychological and physical violence is suggested in the installation, allowing for a polysemy that becomes ever more pressing amid the current sanitary circumstances, the graphic work conveys a more syncretic symbolism. A transparency projection imprints a drawing series on the wall: hands whose fingers culminate in flames and in digital-culture pictograms, a frightening Mickey Mouse—metaphor for Western modernity as disseminated via the communication techniques of the first decades of the 20th century—and yet again the homo kosmos figure. These are images that reappear later in the exhibition as screen-prints, especially on the walls of a black box. And, in front of them, it is as though the viewer took to the streets.


Indeed, one of the most remarkable qualities of the exhibition lies in the punk energy of the graffiti, of the urban art which, in a spark of irony and youthfulness, in mantras and slogans, bursts into the venue.


Their anger is not a nihilistic one; rather, it is directed at the destruction of the Amazon, at all fascist drifts, at destructive, unstoppable capitalist accumulation. In their visual and pictorial expressive, they are the antithesis of the images on the rock, which already hint at a devastated world, burnt by war and land exploitation. Around the black branches and trunks, either on the floor or hanging from the ceiling, only the images of water that circulate along the walls seem to have a soothing sense.

Most of the screen-prints cover the surface of the black box, within which the strongest work in the exhibition lies. It is an installation upon which all the images, all the drawings, all the inscriptions converge: illuminated by neon tubes, we contemplate them in the dark. Halfway between a cave and a dance club, it is a space of catharsis and revelation the artists invite us into. At the centre, a video stirs a stream of memories, superimpositions, collages, temporalities. The collective and the individual meet, the individual narratives dissolve within historical time. It briefly feels as though we are inside the artists' brains, approaching their souls, touching their anxieties, fears, hopes, and dreams (references to post-colonial experience, to the Soviet imaginary, to the conquest of space, to pop appropriations). And, at the centre of such a vortex, we seem to catch a glimpse—just a glimpse—of the shape of this homo kosmos.


Tiago Borges


Galeria Avenida da Índia


José Marmeleira. Master in Comunicação, Cultura e Tecnologias da Informação (ISCTE), he is a grant holder from Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT) and a PhD candidate in Filosofia da Ciência, Tecnologia, Arte e Sociedade at Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, in the context of which he is currently writing a dissertation on Hannah Arendt's thought on art and culture. He is also an independent journalist and cultural critic for several publications (Público supplement Ípsilon, Contemporânea, and Ler).


Translation PT-EN: Diogo Montenegro.


2020-08-Homos Kosmos-©guillaume-vieira-005
2020-08-Homos Kosmos-©guillaume-vieira-004

Homo Kosmos (cough, cough). Exhibition views at Galeria Avenida da Índia, Lisbon. Photos: Guillaume Vieira. Courtesy of the artists and Galerias Municipais/Egeac.

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