Imagine a stage where at the same time are performed Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, where Visconti’s Death in Venice is screened with a James Bond film, while a Kurt Cobain concert is taking place. It could be an immense stage, or a small space in a chamber theatre, or neither one nor the other, just the unlimited stage of memory, imagination or desire. And we ask ourselves what all these characters have in common, what their fate is, what threads of a secret (and perverse) complicity joins them to each other, what brought them together in the mind of an artist, to project themselves into his work. What is proposed to us here is doubtless a challenge (a provocation?). Yet what is art, in its superior manifestations, if not that very thing – a challenge, provocation and transgression?
Transgression of all borders: of reason and madness, good and evil, reality and dream, scream and silence, time and space, life and death. Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler in 1890, Wilde his Salomé a year later, and Thomas Mann Death in Venice in 1911. The 20th century was already well under way when Visconti transposed the latter to cinema and James Bond moved from Ian Fleming’s novels onto the big screen. And it was nearly over when Kurt ended his life (in 1994). But these dates mean absolutely nothing, they are not reference points for anything at all, because everything to do with them happened, is happening, at the same time. Who can be sure that the pistol of Ibsen’s heroine is not the same one used by Fleming’s detective, or the one with which Kurt killed himself? That his blood is not the same as that from the decapitated Jokanaan? That it’s not the prophet, but Tadzio, whom Salomé’s lips seek? Or that Salomé is a transvestite Tadzio, narcissistically kissing herself? And that the death lying over Venice is in the end not the same one that insidiously involves them all (and us, us as well!)? “Everything is in everything”, were the words of Hermes Trismegistus, as Almada recalled in his brilliant Invention of the Clear Day, by putting it under the aegis of Rimbaud (of whom Tadzio could be, in this unending game of masks and mirrors, one of the many possible metamorphoses).
The art of João Vilhena is built (and unbuilt) from these queries, ideas and approximations. He is increasingly sure of his craft, increasingly replete with invention in notions and processes, ambiguity of themes, handling of materials, domination of technique. His is an art at the same time hidden and unhidden, which inquires of us, disturbs and provokes us, returning to us intact the drunken taste of discovery. One feels like saying, to paraphrase Pessoa: “Feel? He who sees feels.”
Luiz Francisco Rebello, 2001
For Joao Vilhena
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