Monday, October 27, 2014

Intergalático by Guilherme Gerais

My review of Intergalático by Guilherme Gerais (Avalanche, 2014) is now available on photo-eye. You can get the book here.


The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me – Blaise Pascal (Pensées, 1669)

The cosmos is a perfect foil for our terrestrial yearnings and limitations. We measure and construct our position in relation to the stars and their expansive reach. Space is the place. Yet, with our eyes most often turned downward, we’ve lost sense of both the humbling expanse and knowledge we’ve gained of our universe. For all we know of the world, we seem to want to forget, to reanimate it, or construct mysteries. Guilherme Gerais’ Intergaláctico playfully creates and explores a magical world and offers an invitation. As much a disjointed guide map as it is a cryptic game with shifting rules, Intergalático mixes diagrams with abstracted still-lifes, and landscapes, as well as collaged images and graphics by Arthur Duarte, to lead the viewer down an often confusing path.

Photography has always maintained a persistent affair with the magical. Fleeing from its insistent, but nevertheless ambiguous indexicality, photographers have bent their images to reveal worlds out of reach—a stubborn disavowal or a heretical declaration of photography’s true nature. Over the past couple of years, this mystical assertion has made a comeback. Rainbows, crystals, smoke and mute rocks, have become part of a new language in much the same way that Minor White and his followers in the ‘60s and ‘70s crafted their own esoteric language from the abstracted natural world. Although distinct, these two creative developments share a desire to move beyond the apparent world and reveal deeper meanings than “straight” photographs seem to offer. Emphasizing the spiritual over the rational, this impulse has always been there and rises up occasionally.

All images © Guilherme Gerais
All images © Guilherme Gerais

Our first clue that this is a game is the cover. Resembling a game board, the cover’s wheel-like graphic has spokes and dots with a cratered planet or asteroid in the center—a final destination with multiple paths. While the cover suggests a game, we are never told the rules. Built on associative clues that point to New Age and cosmic fantasies, the book is neither manual nor rulebook. Divided into several chapters that each begin with an invented symbol set against a black field, the book includes images of cards being flung in the air, ancient tomes that have turned to dust, spiders lined up in a row, and French fries scattered on concrete steps. While visually consistent, there is little clarity, and with no key to decipher these different sections, it is difficult to know what Gerais intends. At times, it’s hard to take Gerais seriously with so many seemingly absurd and parodic symbols and signs.

All images © Guilherme Gerais
All images © Guilherme Gerais

While the book’s overall design is compelling, the book’s ambition is a bit undercut by the printing. However, in a strange way, this works. The merely average printing of the work enhances its underground/self-published look. Resembling an ornate tome you might pull from the dusty back-shelf of a New Age store, perhaps shelved between TAROT and COSMOLOGY, Intergalático feels like a manifesto of some unknown outsider artist—the photocopied ramblings of a self-taught mystic. The back of the book also contains a small inserted booklet. Printed on matte paper, the images look like roughly photocopied fragments from larger images—silhouetted branches, light trails, blurred light and distant stars. As an addendum, it is again unclear the sections relation to the rest of the book.

Pascal’s posthumous text Pensée was in part an attempt to resolve existential and religious doubt in the face of a potentially godless universe. In the end, the silence within the cosmos terrified him into faith, and his eponymous wager erred on the side of caution. Yet within the silence of the empty spaces, we now know there are answers and scientific explanations. Dark matter, strings and more. While few people may doubt their validity, the answers paradoxically create their own mysteries, and do little to quell any existential fear we may have about our significance. For most people, it is best not to think about it. Yet, we still want answers. We invent symbols in their absence and craft new meanings to spite reason. After all, we’ve always relied on (or tolerated) cosmic fortune-tellers, visionaries and weirdos to reinterpret the heavens and space, to tell us what we’re really seeing and can’t see. As maniacal or far-fetched as their ideas may be, they’re telling a different story. Adherence to the rules or science is secondary and beyond the point. They may be at least partially right, if not in this world, then perhaps another.

Please note: This review originally appeared on photo-eye on Oct. 27th, 2014.