In his most recent exhibition with Rooster Gallery, ‘The Wall of Pleasure,’ Portuguese artist Tiago Estrada (b. 1967) confronts the contingencies of expression and the boundaries of language. The title refers to the central work occupying the ground floor of the gallery. Repetitive onomatopoeias are scrawled across the walls in a neat handwritten text. The ‘sounds’ are guttural and animalistic, “OOOOOOHHHHHH” and “URRRRR,” cartoon sound effects of physical exertion, undoubtedly those associated with sex. The arrangement of the handwritten sounds comes filtered through an intellectual construct – the deviations of scale and arrangement are evocative of an organic and almost cellular pattern, possibly meant to suggest the non-linear evolution and architecture of language itself.
It seems that the silence of the space indicates this linguistic experiment is to remain a purely intellectual instantiation of the onomatopoeia; an exercise to show that within language as a large form, smaller forms of language and expression coexist. Those notions are soon swept away as the audio component of Estrada’s work is introduced. The space is quickly thrust into a new situation as waves of heavy breathing, percussion, animalistic grunts and moans reverberate throughout the space. The piece was composed by Mão Morta bandmembers Adolfo Luxúria Canibal and António Rafael, in collaboration with Estrada.
The sound is so dense and overwhelming that the ground floor of the gallery transforms into a mental interior of a recorded breathing, grunting human. We look out from inside the physicality of that experience and gaze upon these onomatopoeias which hang on the walls. The white gallery is rendered invisible by the invasive sound, leaving the words to seemingly hang in the air itself, some letters contracting and diminishing while others grow larger.
As the recording plays on the exhibition continues in the basement space. The descent feels corporeal; the trip to the subterranean gallery is correlative to Estrada’s more expressionistic and automatic visual explorations of language on display there. Language becomes fuzzy in this cloistered space, we hear the muffled (though still specific) sounds of the ‘body’ above us, but below we are witness to language pulled apart and less constructed. The six watercolor and graphite works downstairs are representative of the artist’s earlier trajectory: pale but clear passages of color stain paper that contain fragmented and non-descript drawings. Estrada is composing images but with more of an automatic touch, and in combination with the installation and sound piece a parallel between his practice and the Surrealist and Dada movements emerges.
I believe that part of Estrada’s interest lays in questioning automatism’s validity as a creative practice: his own attempts at creating seemingly random pictures are never truly free from the pattern recognition software hardwired in his (and his audience’s) brain. Here a connection materializes to some of the artist’s earlier work which was concerned with trying to upset this very same pattern (in this case, text) recognition process by making marks that mimicked the visual form of handwritten language yet devoid of linguistic information. Again, he uses drawing to undermine language and dissect communication.
The Wall of Pleasure is the beginning of Estrada negotiating the spatial possibilities woven into visual communication and internalizing considerations of scale and translation in relationship between site specific and smaller, independent works. While small conflicts arise between the mechanical style of the handwritten onomatopoeias and the organic and fluid appearance of his previous work, this wrinkle does not diminish the emergent sensate experience that arises from the total experience of the exhibition.
Tiago Estrada is represented by Rooster Gallery, graduated in painting at the School of Fine Arts of Oporto, completed an MFA in Painting at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is represented at MoMA Archives, Drawing Center’s Digital Archive Online, Culturgest (Lisbon), Colecção ECO (Marvão). “The Wall of Pleasure” also comprises the launch of a limited edition vinyl record – which includes the sound piece and three original drawings – and a live performance by Adolfo Luxúria Canibal and António Rafael on April 20th at Rooster Gallery.
Adolfo Luxúria Canibal is a founding member and lead singer of Mão Morta, a published poet, lawyer by trade, and an agitator. António Rafael joined Mão Morta in 1990 and is the band’s keyboard and guitar player.
To view more of Tiago’s work: http://www.tiagoestrada.com
Rooster Gallery – www.RoosterGallery.com
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Jonathan Beer is a New York-based artist and writer. He began to write critically in 2010 while attending the New York Academy of Art for his MFA in Painting. His paintings have been exhibited at Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts, Flowers Gallery, Boltax Gallery and Sotheby’s in New York. Jon is also a contributing writer for The Brooklyn Rail, ArtWrit and for Art Observed.