Pedro Cabrita Reis “The Silence Within”


Prologue by David Neuman, director and Richard Julin, curator Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.
Pedro Cabrita Reis interview by Doris von Drathen, art historian and critic, Paris (2001).

Exhibition catalogue no 23. ISBN 91-972986-7-0
56 pages, color, illustrated, soft cover. Texts in Swedish/English.
Published 2001 by Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.
Price: 150 SEK (approx. 16 EUR)

Pedro Cabrita Reis in conversation with Doris von Drathen

In preparation for the interview in Lisbon we first go down to the harbour. In Pedro Cabrita Reis’s opinion I will not be able to properly understand his work if I have not first been on the pier and felt the ‘saudade’, that inexplicable emotional melange of wanderlust and homesickness that can beset you as your gaze sweeps the broad vista of the Tagus river. He also insists on showing me the tramlines running down in a wide arc from the old bridge where, in the curve opposite the little church, Pedro Cabrita Reis has his studio. As we are talking he constantly switches between French, English, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese; language spills out from his flood of words, yet all around him is a great bank of silence. He thinks in constructed emotions, builds edifices from passionate intuition – but only because this brings him closer to reality.

Doris von Drathen: You built those watchtowers out of steel – it is easy to imagine them manned by state officials with glassy eyes monitoring everything that happens within their scope. ‘Olhar, olhar, sempre’ (2000) – ‘Watching, always watching’ – is the title of this work. Is there a danger of going blind when one is forced to look at it? Can one maintain an open gaze only once one is free?

Pedro Cabrita Reis: Being blind can signify an extremely rich capacity to see. This particular work is about desensitization. It is not the eye that goes blind, but the living capacity to see, a certain generosity and open-heartedness that are lacking. The eye continues to look, but it sees nothing. Presence of mind expires and the awareness of perceiving reality closes in on itself.

DvD: Why do you refer to generosity in this context?

PCR: Because perception, or really seeing, in fact means welcoming something that is alien. Only someone who is open-minded and capable of perceiving actually manages to see anything. This is about a form of being that manages to forget its ‘being-there’. ‘Ser sim estar’, as we would say in Portuguese, in other words a form of being that is not rooted in a ‘there-ness’ and capable of forgetting the place where one momentarily happens to be. Being-there, ‘estar’ (a specific, time-and place-related sense of being) means recognizing the territory where one is. Being, or ‘ser’ (a more general existential state of being), means becoming aware of oneself, in oneself and with oneself, means being at peace with oneself. These are two quite different existential states. I believe that it is only in this fundamental state of being (‘ser’) that one properly opens up; only then does one become accessible for the new that one’s gaze apprehends. It is only here that one experiences not just the ability, but also the desire, to register and absorb, as if one had become a kind of sanctuary for the alien ‘other’ that I am now able to perceive.

DvD: Does one first have to forget in order to see something new?

PCR: Forgetting is in fact an aptitude. Every person has within him his own territory composed of experiences, knowledge, dreams, desires, of how he would like to see himself, which is marked by travel and a yearning for distant places, a kind of intimate and extremely personal geography. This is what lends form to a possible world. But if such an approach to constructing the world is to evolve without inhibiting constraint, one has to be prepared to relinquish one’s own security and simply make room for the wish to be open to something new. In order to gain a new view of the world you actually have to become blind to all conventions; you need to abandon your intellectually ascertained knowledge and learn the precision of a different register. This is not a precision you can learn. It can only be intimated because it evolves out of intuition.

DvD: Might this perhaps correspond to that very brief and highly elusive moment of unity between oneself and the universe, a moment of absolute presence of mind?

PCR: I would prefer to call it ‘clarté’. In fact I have even called some of my works inner clarity. It is all about a certain blindness towards the exterior world. In any attempt to seek insight it is necessary – if you have the courage – -to sustain the chaos, the crossed lines, the intimation, the ignorance and the unintelligible which represents the very source of your existence, as long as you are able to disregard the measuredness and the geometry of the outside world and instead pursue smells, associations, fragmented ideas and unorganized flashes of inspiration. This will allow you to step beyond all that is familiar and to achieve new insights. This can bring forth entirely fresh perspectives and correspondences. Our conventional understanding is to a large extent determined by ideology. But our cognition attempts to penetrate those areas of our existence that prefigure intellectually acquired knowledge and assumed cultural norms.

DvD: So rather than depicting reality in relation to reality, you are…

PCR: …creating a reality in its own right, instead of reproducing it mimetically. I do construct — but not a different world, as was Dürer’s intention. I establish a system of referential coordinates for a reality. For me, an artwork is a produced reality that focuses the experience of reality as insight. Whoever is contemplating a work of art will sense a new wish to open himself up to reality. And once you have embraced the alien reality of a work of art, you can correspondingly also embrace reality as something alien, which for the first time allows you to perceive it. A work of art offers orientation for experiencing reality as truly new terrain. (…)

(Excerpt from the catalogue text “Pedro Cabrita Reis” by Doris von Drathen, 2001.)