© Vasco Stocker Vilhena
Colours, vanishing lines and the very lines of modern geometry are confronted with their own modification, with everything that makes them unsuitable for their original purpose. Interior spaces are degraded or requalified by their vernacular use. The reality of their future disqualifies urban planning projects. A world of inadequacy, often foul and unspeakable, is on the march. Silhouettes are lost in the perspectives surrounding them, heavy gazes stubbornly detached from light and shadow.
The specific quality of André Cepeda’s work is perhaps this obstinacy in giving form to what has precisely lost its quality or can, at any rate, hardly be described. Precise images, rigorously organised and, one might say, architected, open up a world that is no longer so. Undoubtedly, a great deal of care is required to ensure that the space opened by the photographic framing so methodically highlights an elusive object that is in every way antagonistic to it. In the sharpness of its spatial geometry, suspending a model within the exhibition precisely brings into tension these two poles of the work’s form and what it shows. And in so doing, it doubles the representation.
In this way, the work gives rise to a genuine concern about the doubling of our mathematical and societal modernity, with all their faults, cracks and shocks, with all their left-behinds and after-effects. And the images’ rigour helps avoid complacency about these ruins or our miserabilist voyeurism. Their backs turned, eyes closed, while others face each other with a hint of weariness or defiance. A whole anthropological range of human presence echoes the emptiness of the places and the enigma of their closed perspectives or degradation. There is something of the chilling, empathetic proximity of Pedro Costa’s neglected neighbourhoods.
A modernity shaped by contemporary economic violence thus resonates with the pre-industrial modernity described by Baudelaire, whose poem “The Swan”, included in 1857 in his The Flowers of Evil, combines the theme of the great Parisian building sites launched at the time by the Prefect of Police of Paris, with that of exile. The exile of those who no longer recognise the places where they wander, compared to the metropolitan exile of colonised natives:
The old Paris is gone (the form a city takes
More quickly shifts, alas, than does the mortal heart);
I think of a negress, thin and tubercular,
Treading in the mire, searching with haggard eye
For palm trees she recalls from splendid Africa,
Somewhere behind a giant barrier of fog; […]1
This disappointing modernity, like the ancient Atlas grimacing with effort in one of the photo-graphs, struggles to bear the crushing weight of its own foundations. And André Cepeda’s work is entirely constructed of these disproportions and misalignments, which link the experience of everyday space to the upheavals of global history. From contemporary Portugal, subject to the violence of corruption and the intrusion of foreign powers, to colonial Portugal at the origin of modernity in the sixteenth century; from the triumphant Portugal of the eighteenth century to the proto-fascist Portugal of the mid-twentieth century, a history of Europe takes shape, which is also told, outside the rural world, by the history of cities and the future of their urban planning.
André Cepeda’s work - a child of the “Carnation Revolution” which, in the mid-1970s, put an end to Portuguese dictatorship and colonialism - is, in fact, and through this history, also a vehicle for saudade, a mixture of hope and melancholy that has been associated with Portuguese culture for centuries. It is a work that lends its unique aesthetic colouring to a deceptive modernity that knows no boundaries.
In 1979, Michel Foucault wrote about the hopes and disappointments of the Iranian revolution:
People do revolt; that is a fact. And that is how subjectivity […] is brought into history, breathing life into it. […] No one is obliged to find that these confused voices sing better than the others and speak the truth itself. It is enough that they exist and that they have against them everything that is dead set on shutting them up for there to be a sense in listening to them and in seeing what they mean to say. […] All the disenchantments of history won’t alter the fact of the matter […]2
We should keep this last sentence in mind so that our view of Cepeda's work does not lead to complacency and disenchantment but remains, through his work's very rigour, turned towards a horizon of unexplored possibilities. Because to grasp, to the extent that his images do, the impossible adequacy of the present is indeed - at the very least - to open the mental space to the critical need for other spaces of social life to which to give shape.
Paris, January 2024
1. Baudelaire, C. (1998), The Flowers of Evil (J. Mcgowan, Trans.), Oxford University Press.
2. Foucault, M. (2002), Power (Vol. 3, p. 452), Penguin.