“Such are the simpler forms that create strong gestalt sensations.” Robert Morris Notes on Sculpture 1-3
“If one notices one´s immediate visual field, what is seen? Neither order nor disorder. Where does the field terminate? In an indeterminate peripheral zone, none the less actual or unexperienced for its indeterminacy, that shifts with each movement of the eyes.”
Robert Morris, Notes on Sculpture 4: Beyond objects
The Expanded View
The photography work of Daniel Malhão (Lisbon, 1971) has thus far been characterized by the relationship between photography and architecture. To this equation one must add landscape and sculpting. For this artist, these concepts are united in a unique range within which not disciplinary purity but rather the attitude before what is captured is relevant; this is the result of a determined lineage pertinent to the contemporaneity inhabited by hybrid and flexible forms.
In these works one sees the photographer use photography in its stance as monument, by working around concepts such as work/ruin and construction/reconstruction, among other opposing poles. Photography, here, materializes the locus by flagging it. This is characteristic of Daniel’s images, and can be understood as site-specific (other designations, such as marked sites and site constructions, would also be pertinent). The Unfinished Project 2010/2011 series arises from these preoccupations. This is a set of images of unfinished houses near Cape Espichel, from whence one may extract several layers of understanding, in which the sense of monument is absolutely defining. Its installation in the gallery space follows the lay of the land, reinterpreting it, and through it one can observe many interesting details relating to the construction typology, among others. In the same series one may also observe a sense of evolution, from a nearly finished house to a bare-bones structure, as the images move towards the sea, resembling roman temples where the idea of foundation becomes relevant. This idea of foundation is also present in Oceanário de Lisboa, Expansão. 2010, where the presence of water is artificial; a reminder of another opposing pole, presiding over the cultural/natural duality and the architecture/landscape relationship. Beyond the underlying irony, this series brings forth questions pertaining to the political and social spectrums, as these are illegal constructions built on protected landscape areas.
Yet another approximation to the theme of nature is found in Corta.Mina de São Domingos, 2010, where the approach to landscape as sculpture is clear. However, unlike a sculptor, the photographer does not have to intervene upon the object or otherwise change the landscape in any way, as it possesses, per se, enough sculptural characteristics. The photographer merely registers the form and the output is charged with pictorial characteristics, thus bringing to the table a questioning regarding means used and results obtained.
The attention given to perception and the construction of vision or, ultimately, the act of seeing itself, is another relevant factor in Daniel’s work. Porto de Sines, 2008, is an example of this. It is part of a theme that explores the diptych format and plays with the observer’s perception; this, in turn, refers to and builds upon previous works, such as As far as I can see, 2008, a reflection on the line of horizon, the relation to time (inherent to every photograph) and also on distance and the limits of the reach of sight. In this picture of the seaport of Sines, the composition and strength lines of the image’s construction play a more relevant part in the way in which the observers must organize their perception. Simultaneously, these works are not confined to the act of observing, but rather question the very choices of the photographer himself. Why is this frame chosen and not the one next to it or the one after that? What formal decisions preside over these choices? From this point of view, both images are formally autonomous, but play with their complementarities, one accruing from the other as well as from the alternation between the choices of different framings. This left/right duality is also visible in other elements: vertical and horizontal axes, near and far, the two towers in each of the images, and others.
However, what is more relevant yet to this dialectic is what is in and off camera, calling for the expansion of one’s sight. What is off-camera is also, in a certain way, expressed in the gap between these images as, while they may be construed as a panorama, they remain separate entities. This gap may be interpreted as a virtual space calling for the observers’ capacity to project, and this is indeed where their performance is requested. In Posto de Abastecimento, Quinta da Mougueta Mafra, 2010, we find a different approach to off-camera, and, in a broader sense, the concept of expansion. This picture is the result of the exploration of the vernacular theme of contemporary art that are gas stations (which is not self-evident and whose singular character and architectural value were essential factors for choosing this particular picture). The off-camera is introduced here fundamentally by two elements, both of which are directed towards a space outside the frame: the cctv camera and the gaze of the character inside.
The “open” character of Daniel Malhão’s work plays a large part in all of the above considerations; this is perhaps most evident in the picture chosen to illustrate this show. Campo de Jogos Zona Industrial Massamá, 2010, underlines the artist’s penchant for simple architectural forms, and, by choosing a “cage” of sorts, provides a metaphor for the permeability of the various artistic areas. The act of delimiting space is in itself architectural, but also sculptural. In spite of the very concrete and very rich frame provided, to understand the work of Daniel Malhão we must expand our own mental and visual field; for, in the words of Anton Ehrenzweig, “Our attempt at focusing must give way to the vacant all-embracing stare.”
(1) Morris, Robert, “Notes on Sculpture 1-3”, in Art in Theory 1900-2000, an anthology of changing ideas, ed. Charles Harrison & Paul Wood, London: Blackwell, 2003, p. 829
(2) Id., “ Notes on Sculpture 4: Beyond Objects”, ibid. p. 881
(3) Ehrenzweig, Anton, ibid., p. 881