Nuno Rodrigues de Sousa: At the centre of all things
1 June - 30 June, 2018
Review by Andrew Robert Ward
Nuno Rodrigues de Sousa’s current show, presented by CHAUFFEUR, Sydney, builds upon the long history of abstraction, reuniting abstract form with its ancient mathematical and architectural precedents.
Four black squares shift upon the wall, as if sequential manifestations of one and the same form. Each square sits in the centre of a white canvas, its outline extending beyond each corner of the square, to the corners of the canvas. Mondrian, Malevich, I wonder? Yet something else seems to be at play here. The outlines lead the eye out beyond each canvas to establish an experience of sequence between them, as well as with the surrounding architraves of the gallery. This expansive operation sets up a sort of simultaneous dissonance and unity between the four works – a kind of unanswered question in the form of a fragmented whole. In this sense, the work commences on the picture plane, but extends beyond, to the space in-between. Such was my experience of Nuno Rodrigues de Sousa’s series, ‘Ascending Theorem’ (2018), which trades upon the deductive logic of Euclidean geometry, employing it to posit decidedly aesthetic hypotheses.
This reimagining of geometric precepts extends to Rodrigues de Sousa’s wider project of re-visioning architectural structures and designs from the past. In representing these structures, Rodrigues de Sousa retains their original integrity while subsuming these forms into an art historical narrative of abstraction. This is exemplified by Rodrigues de Sousa’s floor work, ‘House of Vice and Virtue (Filarete)’ (2017), which reinterprets Renaissance architect Filarete’s plan for the ideal city – Sforzinda. While Filarete’s Sforzinda was never realised in architectural form, it is detailed in his treatise Libro architettonico of circa 1464.
Rodrigues de Sousa’s installation consists of an ink drawing of the plan for Sforzinda set within a shallow clay pot. Interestingly, the title of the work takes its name from one of the buildings described in Filarete’s treatise. The ‘House of Vice and Virtue’ was conceived by Filarete as a ten-storey structure, vertically organised in an ascending fashion in terms of power and morality, with a brothel on the lowest level, and an academy on the highest levels. The verticality of this organisational model seems to stand at odds with Rodrigues de Sousa’s revision of Filarete’s plan, set as it is within the base of the earthly clay pot. As with ‘Ascending Theorem’, illusionistic depth is at once flattened, but expanded outward, constituting an experience of imagined space and place, carrying with it all of its social and political associations. Other works in the show such as the labyrinthine, ‘Conímbriga’ (2017), and, ‘A place in the sky 1’ (2016), represent lost, unseen, and utopic structures, which Rodrigues de Sousa integrates into a refined abstract vocabulary.
Throughout the history of modern abstraction, there has been a marked drive toward aesthetic purity or autonomy. We might think of Mondrian’s disavowal of reality in favour of the spiritual. The triumph of Rodrigues de Sousa’s work lies in its integration of the formal, the scientific, and the social into productive dialogue, while foregrounding the Ancient principles that often stand behind contemporary abstraction.