The words ‘material’ and ‘materiality’ carry ambivalent meanings in English. On the one hand, ‘material’ is defined as ‘things that are material’, which emphasises the physical aspect of stuff; on the other hand, it means something which can be worked up or elaborated.
The definition of ‘materiality’ can be also differentiated into two major meanings: something material is that which pertains to a body, formed or consisting of matter, corporeal. Thus, although material designates physical matter, it also assumes potential from its association with non-physicality.
In ‘Future Nothingness’ material and materiality are merged together by Portuguese artist João Biscainho in a well-choreographed display at SE8 Gallery. The exhibition presents a series of works from 2013 – 2015 that take us into a series of marine references, using fluids as the main vehicle to transport the meaning of the works in the semi-dark space of the gallery. For instance, the work ‘Uncanny River (The Crossing)’, is a video installation that displays an endless image of convulsing water, a movement generated by the turbine of a ship which remains invisible to the camera. The horizontal image is projected on to a sheet of black glass which has a mirror set at its right angle, duplicating the image and creating an echoed picture bringing to mind depictions of the Charon’s domain, the ferryman of the Hades who carries the souls of the dead in Greek mythology.
Among the various philosophical and literary references that the exhibition booklet – published by The Mulberry Tree Press – notes, Zygmunt Bauman’s idea of modern liquidity is relevant. Bauman holds that we have moved from a solid to a fluid phase of modernity, in which nothing keeps its shape and social forms are constantly changing at great speed, radically transforming the experience of being human. Biscainho’s practice has an ongoing interest in these conditions and his works are the resulting images of the historical and philosophical entanglement between past, present and future. Instable tenses, like flows of water.
Such a crossing of events is exemplified in ‘Through the liquid, which also moves, (your immortality is the end of democracy)’, in which a black and white image of a robotic octopus is depicted on a portable television; the animal moves repeatedly in a phantasmagorical dance which creates an uneasy feeling of strange familiarity. We know it has been artificially created yet it could be a ‘real’ animal. This makes us aware of our slippery position within biotechnology.
The current of the space takes us to the back of the gallery where a last work ‘The Illusion of Disillusion’ is shown in one of the display cabinets along with a series of visual references curated by the artist. These act as archival materials and include a vintage advertisement of the portable television in which one of the works is shown. Acting as a marker of time, the images in the cabinet and the works in this show suggest a persistent historical movement of endurance and a return towards a future that might hold the promise of our own demise.