Confronting the work of Portuguese artist Ricardo Jacinto might initially call to mind Robert Smithson’s pet Pascalism: ‘Nature is an infinite sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’ However, in the case of Jacinto, the reverse occurs: his highly structured work has no centre, nothing to grab onto, but it is nonetheless rich in rhizomatic activity. Trained as a visual artist, a musician and an architect, Jacinto enlists all of his skills and interests to produce modest yet disorienting Gesamtkunstwerke. The artist’s first major survey, entitled ‘Earworm’ – which the wall text describes as ‘a song, or part of a song, that gets stuck in your head and goes on and on and on’ – was comprised of a selection of works that dated from 1999 to the present, and included ongoing projects, complimented by the staging of another of Jacinto’s projects, ‘Les Voisins’ in Culturgest’s northern outpost in Porto. The notion of the earworm played out through the survey in the repetition and meme-like persistence of certain motifs, making the exhibition a complex affair in which works mingled to form a nervously dynamic and obliquely networking whole.
One of the earlier works in the show, O (de Eco a Narciso) [O (from Echo to Narcissus), 1999], is a sculptural installation that consists of a microphone hung by a chord, swiftly rotating in a broad circle above three peripherally placed modes of self-replication: a round mirror; a closed-circuit video camera and television screen; and a speaker, which was registered through brief, violent blips of feedback. With the auto-erotic self-involvement true to its mythological title, this tautology didn’t seem to need a viewer to fulfil its own desires; in fact, the swinging microphone made the work hard to access. The difficulty of focusing on any given aspect of its parts, and the impossibility of ignoring such a kinetic, clangorous entity, set up a repulsion–attraction scenario that resisted resolution.
The multi-part installation L3 D23 R-3 (2007) was more physically spread out and varied in its themes and components. L3 D23 R-3 refers to a subterranean coordinate in Portugal’s Panasqueira mine, one of the largest tungsten mines in the world. The work comprised three sculptural installations, a wall painting, music, a drawing and a wall text. Each of the sculptural installations suggested the perceptual experience of being in the mine. For instance, Mine was a 1:1,000 scale maquette of the mine’s galleries, made of wood, two-way mirrors and a strobe light placed at head height. The reflection of the blinking light upon the mirrors created a mise-en-abyme of the space, vastly extending it. Meanwhile a speeded-up recording of the artist practising Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suites (1717–23) was broadcast throughout the space. Its antic tempo corresponded to the pace of the strobe light, while a wall painting of a black striation, which wrapped around the majority of the exhibition, doubled as the literal contour of Bach’s score and the negative representation of a white quartz seam as seen along the walls of the mine. Bach’s mathematical modes of composition were here juxtaposed with the systematic parcelling and dismantling of earth – both capable of multiplying indefinitely. Combined with the strobe lights, music and numerous physical parts, the work successfully overwhelmed the senses.
A collaborative project Parque (Park, 2001–ongoing), consisted of a performance involving musicians, architecture, Dan Graham-esque two-way mirrors and the audience, in which the spectator is simultaneously surrounded by the work and displaced by its two way mirrors. Parque is typical of Jacinto’s oeuvre, which solicits, divides and privileges the viewer’s attention in sometimes conflicting ways through different modes of perception (aural, visual and even spatial). To complicate matters, most of Jacinto’s work, albeit thoughtfully composed, is constructed ad hoc (and liable to evolve and become more complex from presentation to presentation): facture plays a decidedly secondary role. And while the work is process-based in so far as it often reveals its own process in the disunity of its parts, it is not about process per se. So you can’t hang your hat on either of those interpretive standbys. What Jacinto’s art requires is an almost total reconfiguration of how one looks, and the verbs one uses to do it (hearing, sensing, feeling – in one white, laboratory-like room containing three maquettes of different projects, the temperature was significantly lowered – in addition to seeing). As trite as it might sound, this work didn’t make much sense until I intellectually and physically ‘abandoned’ myself to it. Only then did my body start looking for me.