“Pavão adopts the title of the 1959 book by writer Robert Daley, which explores the myth of crocodiles existing in the city's sewer system (1) and delineates an oeuvre that discusses fictional situations through the use of real images. The myth suggests that the specific conditions of the sewers, characterized by the absence of light, foul water, junk food, and other remnants of the city, allowed these creatures to grow larger and change the color of their skin. The facts and fables pointing to the existence of giant albino (2) crocodiles permeated popular culture, making it a recurring theme in the press, books, comic book series, as well as television programs and the film industry. However, one could argue that everything underlying this web of hypothetical events reveals a fear of losing control and dominion over the environment.
In this work, Pavão juxtaposes sounds and images that interpolate, contradict, and complement each other, layer by layer, promising the possibility of a narrative without actually providing a straightforward account.
What we ear originates from the sampling of a song, Trojan Blue by the band Icehouse, leading us to the sound of brakes on New York City subway trains. The resulting composition acquires a hypnotic quality that permeates different moments and aggregates the images we observe.
What we see is marked by a convergence of distinct historical and geographical relationships, where the enigmatic figure of the crocodile is delineated from different origins - including its veneration in ancient Egypt (as evidenced by the figures depicted in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art); through the travelling gaze of the artist's shot of a live albino crocodile (filmed in the Florida area); or by images displaying these creatures in their natural habitat. Other recordings show us how these animals are tamed by humans in a strange and immersive convergence, such as the iconic image of a cowboy holding the animal by its own head and then closing on its gaze. Additionally, there are sequences that establish the density of urban culture, marked by the fervor of construction, the expression of its infrastructures, and the presence of heavy industry, once again asserting a position of control or supremacy through force.
All considered, if on one hand we have the striking figure of a hypnotic animal (3) that, in between danger and curiosity stands out by its dimension, antiquity, and appearance, and despite being part of an assortment of legends, still exists as a living albino being; On the other hand, we have the mark of the human species, affirmed in an imbalanced relationship with the environment, where the paradigm of extraction, overlap, and dominance, bests a collaborative logic of respect for the integrity of other beings and the planet itself.
In truth, at the intersection of all these different aspects, the work emanates a mixture of enchantment and disillusionment with a society that history romanticized, and was presented as a utopian new world, but today reveals itself in decline with the logic of the financial system and the importance of capital in governing the nature of all relationships.”
Sérgio Fazenda Rodrigues, 2023
(1) The first records corroborating this belief emerged in the early 1930s through campaigns by the New York Police aimed at exterminating these animals. However, it was only later, in the 1950s, that the myth gained widespread expression. Based on reports of several families who kept newly hatched crocodiles in their homes and the danger posed by their growth, many of these animals were dumped into the sewers, perpetuating a set of fears that moved out of sight.
(2) Albinism is characterized by the dilution of skin color and is based on a genetic alteration that reduces an enzyme involved in melanin production. Its origin is not related to a lack of sunlight exposure, as the mentioned myth proposes, nor is it a sacred condition as it has sometimes been suggested throughout history, where albino individuals have been given names such as "sun grandchildren" or "moon children." In fact, over time, albinism has alternated between receiving particular attention and being stigmatized, simultaneously highlighting and isolating the individual. Albinism is also present in the animal kingdom, where animals with similar altered pigmentations can be found.
(3) Symbolically, throughout centuries, the crocodile has been seen as an animal that inhabits the space between two worlds. It is simultaneously ancient and contemporary, dangerous and enchanting, wild and tamed. It’s a being that exists within a state of transition, both below and above the water, on the threshold between the subconscious and reality.
The World Beneath The City, 2023
HD video (colour, sound, continuous loop)
Soundtrack - Henrique Pavão & João Pimenta Gomes
Sound Mix & Master - Pedro Abecasis