Miguel Leal: Bunker Project (1996-99)

Cecilia Casorati

publicado em http://www.anamnese.pt (2005)

According to Ludwig Wittgenstein, the only task possible for contemporary philosophy has to do with language. Without being afraid of seeming to be categorical, if this is valid for philosophy it may equally perfectly be applied to contemporary art.
As in all apparently closed systems, the system of art will thus also have the linguistic experimentation of its means as an origin, object and verisimilar aim.
In his famous essay Le degré zéro de l'écriture - published at the end of the nineteen-fifties - Roland Barthes foresaw a sort of new Revelation of Literature (a paradoxically sceptical presage in that it was bound within the space of Utopia), that was preparing its coming through a writing that shifted its game into a neutral field.
Writing - and naturally art also - was passing through a cul-de-sac, or at least one in which it seemed that all exits were closed off to it. Indeed, on the one hand a corpus of rules and conventions ("the myth of Literature") which drove the writer away from the present; on the other hand, if the writer wished to make his writing available to the "current freshness" of the world he was only able to use "a splendid and dead language".
Since the sixties the artist's tragic nature and instrumental inadequateness in relation to the world (the outside) has been seen through "neutral" linguistic methodologies we all know, such as Conceptual Art, Minimal Art and Pop Art.
After the eighties, in which that neutrality was once again mixed with languages from the "past", leading to anachronistic and incongruous elaborations, more significant experimentations emerged attempting to revitalise the splendid and dead language of art in the direction of the neutral.
Barthes's utopian belief was that the problem of writing would be solved through a higher moralising work that would read to a "universality" in which writing and society would be capable of living together in a homogenous manner.
More realistically, and with the advantage of time, the artist - who is not able to linguistically achieve the "freshness of the world" (accepting that it possesses this) and the alienation of history (but is it necessary after all?) - took to reinforcing the autonomy and difference of his own linguistic system, reformulating it in a transitive manner.
In the catalogue published with the exhibition "Bunker Project" (1966-99) at the Coimbra Plastic Arts Circle, Miguel Leal writes: "And if art is still an interesting territory to inhabit, this is largely due to its capacity for constantly eluding corpselike rigidity, (...) Just like life, art adds an elastic variability to a determined conceptual rigor and this is one of its virtues: the way it makes its own life increasingly organic."
This is an unusual and intelligent statement that demonstrates that current art, having long since abandoned its avant-garde role as a guide and as an instrument of seeing, no longer occupies an other position - albeit adjacent - in relation to the world, but is located in the gaps in reality, or, rather, on the horizontal line of reality.
Miguel Leal's Bunker Project is placed consciously inside this horizontal nature, this space "stretched between the logic of its ideas and the substance of its presence"; a space that springs out from the works and which is immanent to the world in the contemporary sense. With Merleau-Ponty, we may state that this horizontal nature today presents us with the object and the subject, allowing us - once again - to redefine the world without falling into the characteristic dichotomies of tradition/modernity, real/virtual and the universal/local, and so on, yet acting on the inside.
In his work Miguel Leal does not re-propose the worn-out relationship between art and reality; he does not exhibit the real, but rather speaks of it through concrete, non-symbolic, details, often which are apparently unusual or dispensable for the system of images that dominates the world. In this manner the work is opened up to reflection on the meaning of the image as an essential moment in research; it becomes an inhabited place and not only a simple means of "information"; or to use Derrida's words: "In this supplementary space of duplicity - and not plurality - the image becomes presence and at the same time delegation, and the sign empties and integrates nature."

Cecilia Casorati

Translation from Portuguese by David Alan Prescott