Weights and Measurements: Paulo Nenflidio

4 September - 4 October 2018
Weights and Measurements | Paulo Nenflidio
 
Critical Text
Weights, Measurements and Silences
By Henrique P. Xavier

  1. 4,33x


Entering the door of the gallery, you immediately encounter a crystal glass filled with 
water and a long pendulum, which moves in a straight line, precisely towards the glass and you. Will the pendulum hit the glass and spill the water on you? Luckily, it touches the glass gentilly. You step sideways, out of shot, and realize that the back and forth movement seems to have been calculated so that the extremity of the pendulum only slightly touches the glass. 
Could the swinging movement variate, causing the unexpected fall? You get closer - by the side, obviously - and carefully observe the delicate encounter that repeats itself with each swing. You notice the surface of the water in the glass delicately react to the pendulum’s touch on the glass, producing circular ripples (the pendulum’s light touch transmits the dynamic force of the movement to the surface of the water). 
You discover that the name of the work is 4,33 x, making a reference to the prominent musical piece of the composer John Cage, in which silence is “played” for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The exhibit where you are is of Paulo Nenflidio, artist who among other characteristics is known for creating ingenious works of sound art. Why then the silent work? Do the concentric waves translate the image of silence being “played”? Would the long pendulum be a sort of enormous inverted and silenced metro- nome? Would the ever iminent possible sound of encounter (but never realized), in other words, would the sound of spilled water and shattered glass potentially be contained in the delicate, silent and almost imperceptible images of ripples that are formed in the water? 
 
II. onda/wave
 
Walking in a straight line in the same direction of the extremity of the pendulum’s movement you encounter a second silent wave. An audio wave carved in an extense piece of cedarwood. Is this once again the visually silent materialization of the sound? The name of the work is onda/wave, the word that literally translates the image in wood and the physical phenomenon of the undulation that conducts the sound in the air. The image of the wave carved in the wood has two big undulations, which each are composed by countless smaller ones. 
You then discover, - perhaps by talking with someone in the gallery, or maybe, at this exact moment, reading this text - that each of the two big undulations respectively correspond to the sound of two syllables: “on” and “da”. The sonorous aspect of the word that verbally translates the physical phenomenon of the undulation was translated to its visual form, in other words, we see the drawing of the acoustic aspect of the pronunciation of the word onda/wave. Another silent image, which potentially carries its sound? The visible sound that enunciates: Uma onda é uma onda é uma onda?/ A wave is a wave is a wave? 
If instead we tried to take this carved wave and literally tried to turn it, piece by piece, into its acoustic nature, would we once again find the precise voice of the artist who pro- nounced the words? Would all the losses, or better, the gains be felt in new pronunciation? Would we have mixed with the new sound, the timbre of the cedarwood fibres that in an inevitable way contort the lines of the wave? Would we also hear the timbre of imprecision, of the careful act of the hand of the artist carefully etching the piece of cedarwood? In summary, would it be possible to hear all the materiality and acts of creation process in a new timbre, which would return the sound of the word “onda”/ “wave”, once again in the original voice of the artist, but altered by the countless procedures of his own art? Would we hear the voice of the artist changed by the micro flaws, from that which is won and lost while making his art? 
 
III Granulometry
 
Precisely, from what is left over, what is lost and remains from the wood in his works is from where the four works of granulometry emerge. 
Marcel Duchamp (who was very close to John Cage) once left one of his works during months on a table in his studio, where dust settled; then the artist cleaned part of it and invited Man Ray to take a photo of the work, and that is how dust breeding was conceived in 1920. 
granulometry presents the precise millimetric measurement of the leftovers of the process of wood straightening and smoothing, which is done everyday in a diversity of carpentry works. Being an artist that personally works on all the carpentry in his pieces, he was able to realize the gathering of fine scraps of the day-to-day work. From those scraps, from that which is left over, what is almost nothing and is naturally thrown away, came the conception of the four works. 
The fine woods of Pink Cedar, Pau Marfim, Freijó and Imbuia were smoothened and straightened many times by a precision machine, which enabled the artist to make five different levels of fine layers of scraps, in a scale of 0,1; 0,2; 0,3; 0,5 and 0,8 millimetres. The dust, or chips that were left over of this process were carefully classified, according to their width and were framed by the same wood used in the machine. 
In front of the piece of work you ask yourself: why does the fine wood become the frame for the pulverized material of same nature? But paying careful attention to the chaotic dust it is possible to see how it is carefully handled and thought by the artist. A sensation of aesthetic pleasure surges from this arrangement. However, you are uncertain if it comes from the effect of the contradiction between form and content or, form the beautiful progression of organized chaos contained in the five columns of scraps. (It is a fact that the artist chose a progression for the columns, which is known, since Ancient Greece, as the golden ratio, used in art as a synonym of beauty’s proportion). 
Has the traditional frame negated itself, transforming itself into dust, in small chips, and at same time, has it become in itself an unprecedented form of painting? 
 
IV Tools to measure the horizon
 
Through the entire exhibit, the manual work of Nenflídio is more than present, the passage between artist and artificer is inseparable in his production, always highlighting that in his “artwork”, there is a lot of work inside his art. In tools to measure the horizon there is an explicit aesthetic short-circuit between the ordinary day-to-day work and the “autonomous” field of art. 
The piece of work emerges from the reinvention of a common tool. A construction worker who was making some changes in Nenflidio’s studio asks the artist if he could fix a broken level, in other words, if he could fix that simple tool of construction sites, in which a bubble of air in a tube filled with liquid, is attached to a straight support, to assess if a surface is or not, as its name suggests, leveled. In the hands of the artist the mere object of measurement is transformed into a poetic machine, in which wood unfolds it- self into a set of cogs, which transfer among themselves each time slighter movements, allowing a very fine adjustment in the angulation of the bubble tube. Here we see not a level, but a leveler of level. A rare utilitarian object, which at the same time, encompasses an exquisite care in the aesthetic choice of wood colors, dimensions and layering of cogs that form a singular drawing in the piece that, even in its contemporaneity, is reminiscent of certain wood machines of the Renaissance, as those of Leonardo da Vinci. 
There are certainly no two objects similar to it in the world. The artist’s piece of work given to the construction worker, is once again an ordinary tool, returned to the world in hands that might not realize its aesthetic potentiality to measure horizons. Could we think of tools to measure the horizon as a type of inverted ready-made, in which the piece of art returns to be an utilitarian tool in the field of work? 
From the original object, which (by gaining the world) lost itself from the art field, three new singular tools were created, hung on the wall of the gallery. Returned to the universe of art, which horizons can these peculiar objects measure? They will certainly be able to measure horizons in imaginary landscapes. But more than that, will they be able to measure the horizon between art and life and between work and art?
 
V Experiment of nearly short (circuit) 
The last work of the exhibit presents a risky experiment. Once again the swinging of the pendular movement is present, although now there are two pendulums, which symmetrically approach and distance themselves in a synchronized way. Behind a glass surface, they almost clash. Watching carefully it is able to see that on the edge of each pendulum there is a bare wire. Wires that are even closer to touching each other. The name of the piece of work then becomes clear: experiment of nearly short (circuit). When the pendulums touch they will produce a short circuit! Will they burn the power grid of the work, burning the ten soft incandescent lamps around it? Will the work in short circuit, connected to the gallery, put the power grid out, leaving you and everyone else there in the dark? Is there a potential risk of an aesthetic blackout experience? 
During the whole exposition we saw the limit of the almost touch, or the almost short-circuit of incompassible spheres: i - The short-circuit between sound and image, in the silent ripple of water produced by the big pendulum and by the crystal glass? ii - Between image and sound, in the impossible translation between the wave of the wave of the wave where the word, the wood, the manual act and audio are visually mixed? iii - Between object and waste, between form and inform in the aesthetically calogued wood based on the organization of its scraps? iv - Between artifice and artist, between art and life in tools to measure the horizon? 
Always the risk of two worlds in short circuit. Now, v, a work that leads to a potential short circuit of itself? An artwork that almost leads us to darkness? The imminence of the risk and the tension, which more than screaming leaves you in silence? The same silence of the experience of admiration in front of the art, which if effectively experienced would have always put us in risk?