Anyone familiar with Mauro Cerqueira’s previous work may be surprised by the new route it seems to take in his current show. Known for his critical awareness, his subversion of his hometown of Porto’s raging urban homogenization, Cerqueira makes use of a vast array of found material to assemble installations and sculptures aimed to preserve the memory of his surroundings. He directs gestures of warmth at detritus and derelict spaces in an attempt to sustain that which is ineluctably bound to vanish. Resistance becomes almost literal, as local traditions and personal stories are brought to bear. Inasmuch as he denounces the branding of his city, he makes here a radical turn to similarly elude the commodification of his art.
A stark introspection now underlies Cequeira’s signature analysis of public space, in the form of large format mirrors that register not as paintings but as wall works—and very rough ones too. The mirror’s usual gleaming allure is upset by Cerqueira’s poignant material interventions, which ponder the critical condition to which humankind has driven itself. These are thus powerful yet disquieting images of ourselves. Looking at the works’ hirsute surfaces—created by materials like wax and shellac—seems painful, and viewers’ reflections are entangled in dense colorful wax drips. Candles are regular elements in Porto’s abandoned homes and somber alleys, and we picture Cerqueira observing their slow melt in a pitch-dark studio. If these light sources suggest both enlightenment and mourning, it is the latter governing the show’s atmosphere. A plain mirror near the entrance seems to confirms all our predictions. This is all about us and our role in the entropic forces consuming our cities.
Text written by Javier Hontoria, Critics Picks, Artforum