The short films, sculptures, and installations by João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva move in the area between myth and science, and they tell of nature’s magic and mysteries. The spatial combination and juxtaposition of documentaries dealing with simple, quasi scientific experiments, observations on nature, short wondrous narrations and extrasensory phenomena challenges the usual perception of the world and moves in metaphysical dimensions. The pieces contain references to alchemy and the occult, positivistic experiments and speculative philosophy as well as the Theater of the Absurd and Science Fiction literature.
The films were made on 16-mm celluloid film material, and their aesthetics and choreography combine references to early silent films with borrowings from scientific educational films from the nineteen sixties and seventies. They mostly visualize brief experiments without creating an entity between the occurrence and possible interpretations. The aesthetics of the 16-mm film convey an impression of the authenticity of the filmed events that is, however, simultaneously undermined by means of the omission of sound even when the participants are seemingly explaining their actions.
João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva transform the exhibition space into a kind of alchemistic laboratory where technologically oriented, rational search for knowledge is displaced by a mythic, phenomenal and paranormal perception. A series of films thus references the non-existing science of Abissology taken from the novel La Grand Beuverie (1938) by René Daumals. Abissology is described there as the study of non-perceivable infinity that forms a contradictory antithesis to the perceivable world. With their cinematic allegories, Gusmão and Paiva reintegrate amazement and reverence for the unexplainable into the rational present. The linking of diverse cultural and historical approaches in dealing with fundamental questions of human existence points to the origins of our culture and emphasizes the originally close link between science, philosophy, and religion.
The works of João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva are on view for the first time in Germany. In 2009, the artist duo will represent Portugal at the 53rd Venice Biennial.