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The Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea has discretely begun to celebrate its twentieth anniversary (without any exhibitions that fill the exhibition spaces with avid consumers of art, searching with their mobile phones for snapshots to place on social networks), but with an interesting venture, one with less well known names that is triggering good vibrations in a centre that is only just withstanding the crisis. One of these exhibitions is that of the Portuguese artist Miguel Palma, that until next 26 May will continue to perturb any visit with his thundering, electromechanical devices.
That said, the work of Miguel Palma doesn’t ascribe to the luminous signage of technological art; his machines are in many cases simple and one finds a greater interest in the symbolism of certain devices than any search for technical advances. Palma is more of a historian than a treasure hunter.
We come across a thematic exhibition, where the evolution of technology and the way it conditions human beings establish points in common. The absurdity of many of his mechanisms can remind one of some of the situations that occur in “Mon oncle”, by Jacques Tati or even in “Playtime”. A sort of bureaucratization of the mechanical process takes place. From the moment in which a machine develops the action, even if this development borders on the crazy, it is left totally justified, with the human being at its mercy. Each one of the actions that his machines carry out is lineal, interrupted, but could continue in time, endlessly.
We start with “Bypass”, this continuous flux of water that hides a background of progress at the cost of nature, but it’s still a closed cycle of water. A fountain from a Chinese bazaar with a false everything flows. Once again it’s an eternal return. This eternal return can also be verified in the series of photomontages “Up and down” that narrate the great feat of arriving at the moon as the ascent and descent from the stratosphere. Going up and coming down.
At times it recalls the work of Roman Signer; though he fixes an ending that doesn’t usually happen with Miguel Palma. The relation with Signer is therefore based more on the comic than in the procedural. This is seen clearly in “Suspense”, the performance that he opened the exhibition with. In it, dragged along by a motor, Palma glided across the hall until the wall forced him to change direction. Halfway, the motor stopped and suspended from a harness, he remained impassive in front of the public who waited for something to happen. Nothing happened. He could have remained hanging there for hours; the message would have been the same. After this disconcerting action, we accessed the main room and came across an airplane loaded with bombs that turns like a merry-go-round, without a beginning or an end. “Suspenso” talks about this detained time, but also of clear precedents. It talks of the origins of ‘happenings’, of the archaeology that museums practice today with these past actions. We continue to conserve the objects involved in the action and all sorts of documentation. Here, after the action, all that’s left is the video and the harness that hangs on the wall, as if a piece of work.
One of the strong points of Miguel Palma is undoubtedly his treatment of the support, of the plinth as an intrinsic part. From the “blue boxes” that he chooses in order to display the kart of “Gravidade”, to the one he uses in his “Already made”, granting this category of art object to a large ball of tyre stickers, elaborated over three years and bought from the mechanics in a garage.
Palma has also occupied the dreaded Doble Espacio with “Plataforma”, an installation of large dimensions, to the indisputable monumentality of which he adds a detail that ends up being vital. The space, that has functioned over the last twenty years is a poisoned chalice, leading to great interventions and others that have literally consumed the artist. Probably one of its conditioning features, beyond its enormous proportions, is the existence of the gangway that if ignored can totally supplant the artist and his proposal. In the case of Miguel Palma, the mere fact of using it as a nexus, fixing an electric supply cable between it and the work, facilitates the generation of a dialogue, granting the gangway a leading role.
An interesting declaration of principles. Palma doesn’t use technology as a way of generating machinery based on technical grandiloquence. He aims for the spectator to understand the construction of the object, a bit like in a science museum. He acts like the mechanic, explaining to us the nature of a fault and its repair. It’s by no means anecdotic we are currently experiencing an extreme encryption of the work of the artist. Miguel Palma invites us to enter into the work, access the workshop of a mad inventor and discover the working keys of a child, who though he is no longer a child still plays at being an astronaut, entertaining himself with absurd mechanisms or watching airplanes in a daydream. With that twinkle in his eyes, of someone who does it as a vital necessity.