Even a Rusty Pipe without a Function has a Twin Brother



The mirror itself is not subject to duration, because it is an ongoing abstraction that is always available and timeless. The reflections on the other hand are fleeting instances that evade measure. Space is the remains, or corpse of time. It has dimensions. “Objects” are “sham space”, the excrement of thought and language. Once you start seeing objects in a positive negative way you are on the road to derangement.[i]


You have found yourself on the backseat being driven through a repetitive landscape. Did you ever try to change it by drawing or writing on top of it? I want you to stay in this seat, look through the window and read the words on the damp glass.

From Overton, NV follow Mormon Mesa Road to the top of the mesa eastward. As you come to the top of the mesa, you will pass a cattle guard. Continue east across the mesa for 2.7 miles. Do not leave the mesa. Just before you come to a second cattle guard at the east edge of the mesa, there will be a less-traveled road/path that extends along the rim of the mesa. Turn left onto this rim trail and follow it north 1.3 miles.[ii]

Double Negative is an earthwork conceived by artist Michael Heizer in a remote area of the Nevada desert in 1969. This intervention is almost invisible although has a great deal of presence. It consists of two duplicated slots, each forty feet deep and a hundred feet long, excavated into the tops of two mesas. Sited right in front of each other, these elevations are divided by a negative space, a deep ravine. Standing in one of the slots and looking across the chasm to the second slot the concept of spatial duplication becomes clear.

Last August I was driving in a rush between the Algarve and Lisbon. Caught between destinations clouded my thoughts, but while pressing the trigger of the fuel delivery gun at a service station, I had the strange feeling of having been in the same place not so long ago. Though, something was wrong with the location of things, it seemed everything was flipped.

In front of me vivid colors invaded the kiosk’s mechanical framing, hiding its ugliness. Behind, weekenders and truck drivers stretched and scratched their balls while resting their vehicles. I was surrounded by starved machinery. I turned my head towards the highway and looked through the rush-hour rain of headlights at the other side; I noticed the same vivid colors. I could also see that the metal awning corresponded to the one above my head and the number of fuel pumps was the same.

What I was experiencing made me suspect the existence of a mirror-site, but such qualities could never be proved without having access to both locations at the same time. I was in a need of another person, a mirror-me that could confirm those similarities.

If one saw a mirror as an ongoing abstraction and a reflection as a glance of this abstraction, what would happen if the mirror became the reflection itself? What would happen between two mirrors placed exactly opposite one another?  If my suspicion was right my location allowed me, not only a full understanding of my spatial position, but also the feeling of controlling time. I was travelling backwards in a place where present and past faced and repelled each other. The image of my location was on the site I had been at three days ago on my way to the South and the place I stood would be the place reflecting my image on my next trip. 

Located in a place of inversions without end upon other men’s journeys”[iii], side road stations are considered by many junkspaces or non-places. For architect and theorist Rem Koolhaas “junkspace makes you uncertain where you are, obscures where you go, undoes where you were’ and ‘cannot be remembered”[iv]. I think these places are in fact stripped of any meaning, fulfilling a single function: the ironic task of linking meanings. I see junkspace as a temporary condition; it only exists when we are in its presence. In other words, junkspace is a discontinuous position.
The location of one’s body is irrelevant; it melts with the site, becoming part of it. The desire of reaching a known destination blurs the idea of perception and real time is temporarily put aside. But once out of it, the body splits from the site and junkspace vanishes. The arrival at journey’s end gives a meaning to where one had passed through to get there. Consequently, I only consider Rem Koolhaas’s idea of junkspace possible if one remains trapped in it.

In J.G. Ballard’s novel Concrete Islandthe main protagonist Robert Maitland crashed his car through the highway’s metal barriers and found himself trapped between motorways, viaducts and headlights. After several unsuccessful attempts to move his injured body, he realized that he was entirely cut off since “the island was sealed off from the world around it by the high embankments on two sides and the wire mesh fence on its third”.[v]He remained marooned on his island, surrounded by cars yet invisible to their drivers focused only on their destinations.

In my research journey I felt like Robert Maitland. Our quest implied travelling nowhere while simultaneously remaining in the junk. Two hundred and forty kilometers of asphalt, makes the A2 the second main highway of Portugal. Every forty kilometers there are two service stations sited right in front of each other with the exception of the first, which is unpaired. To succeed in our hunt we needed to find a pair of stations with the exact same qualities.

Lisboa

        Seixal
        Palmela-Palmela
        Alcáçer do Sal- Alcáçer do Sal
A2   Grandola- Grandola
        Aljustrel-Aljustrel
        Almodôvar-Almodôvar

Algarve

We started our enantiomorphic journey from Lisbon. I was left to examine the stations located on the western side, while my collaborator compared them to those on the eastern side.  Our mission was to catalogue the physical qualities of the premises, and communicating them to my east side stand-in. We were divided by six tracks of high-volume car traffic, a place in where human presence is only allowed inside vehicles. Even though we were separated by a thirty minute ride we were still able to say “Hi” to each other by lifting our arms.

Palmela was the first pair being analysed, located on the 31st Kilometer, this one was in fact not so ugly. A pale orange structure wrapped the glass cafeteria - which I read was due for replacement, probably by a standardized, colourful building more faithful to its function. An equivalent structure was confirmed by my partner on the eastern side, the building having exactly the same qualities while the parking lot could hold the same amount of cars. On the other hand the car wash exist only on my side, upsetting the symmetry. Similarities were also missing on the next four gas stations we examined. I had hope for perfect reflection but found only divergence.

You can only see the differences between the objects when they are close together, because they are sometimes very subtle.[vi]

All phone calls had been recorded; a catalogue of similarities and differences was the soundtrack as we journeyed onward to the last remaining destination. The horizon was constantly being crossed by our wheels, leaving hopeless tracks on the wet tarmac. The clock revealed we were in the junk for almost ten hours – though we had perceived it subjectively as being several times that duration.

Suspended in this galactic time-perception, ancient myths started to invade my senses, driving me to a state of pessimistic delirium. As I looked at the rear-view mirror, I saw Robert Smithson as my reflection reading The Gods of Mexico in the backseat. He read aloud the chapter about the journey of Quetzalcoatl[vii], the morning star of Venus towards Tlapallan,where he would find the sun and resurrect his image. He was particularly interested in the episode of Uceutlatitlan, referenced in his ninth mirror display in the Yucatan. 
Quetzalcoatl rested near a tree, looked into his obsidian mirror and said Now I become aged” andsuddenly he seized stones from the path and threw them against the unlucky tree. For many years thereafter the stones remained encrusted in the ancient tree.”[viii]To Smithson “if one wished to be ingenious enough to erase time one requires mirrors, not rocks.”[ix]Smithson told me about Quetzal’s journey as a failed search for an enantiomorphic half of a “mirror looking for its reflection but never quite finding it.”[x] Smithson and Quetzal bumped into my way as evil magicians from the old times but I was lucid enough to refuse their Teometl.[xi]If I believed in Aztec gods I would have turned around and given up, but I had to find the other half of my Quetzalcoatl.

Still stuck in the junk we reached 187th Kilometer, the location of our final service station at Almodôvar. It was around 7 pm when we started our examination in the empty building.  A small house of unknown function, located a couple of meters from the gas station, was the first one on the list; the only apparent difference was a crack on the wall of the west façade, something that we deemed irrelevant – since the weight of time in a timeless location will not affect reflections. We compared fuel pumps, kiosk, gigantic green brushes in the carwash garage, the garage itself, cafeteria, picnic area, flags, poles, benches, sculptures (if that is what they really were), floor lines, car parks, metal coverings, playground, fire hydrants, trashcans, grass, blue, red, yellow, traffic signs, showers and neon signs. Every aspect was submitted to a meticulous dissection and – to our relief - the same qualities were present at both sites.

From Lisbon, take Av. da Liberdade, at the roundabout take the 2nd exit onto R. Joaquim António de Aguiar heading to A2/A5-Cascais, continue onto Av. Eng Duarte Pacheco, take the exit toward Setúbal/Almada, merge onto IP7, continue onto A2/IP7, stay on the left at the fork to continue on A2/E1, follow signs for Algarve/Alcácer, continue on A2 for 137 Km, take the exit and the destination will be on your left.

These are the directions to find Almodôvar’s Mirror-Site, a place where even a rusty pipe without a function has a twin, a random piece of wire mesh covers the exact same windows and even the storks are cautious enough to make nests on the same electricity poles.

It was a dark night and there were no lights or shoulder markers, lines, railings or anything at all except the dark pavement moving through the landscape of the flats, rimmed by hills in the distance, but punctuated by stacks, towers, fumes and colored lights.[xii]

The return drive through the dark night was tough; although a new meaning had been given to a charmless pair of service stations, nothing was settled and we didn’t get out of the junk. It was like travelling on an unfinished highway, without a destination, where the departure was the destination itself.

I have never experienced Spiral Jetty, but somehow I felt close to it. I returned to Lisbon in the same way I would return to the Spiral’s tail.


Henrique Pavão, 2016

(text edited by Nicola Oxley and Nicolas de Oliveira 2019)




[i] Robert Smithson, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan”, in The writings of Robert Smithson, ed. Nancy Holt (New York: New York University Press, 1979), 94-103.
[ii] “Double Negative (artwork),” last modified October 31, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_Negative_(artwork)
[iii] Cormac Mcarthy, Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West (London: Picador, 1989)
[iv] Rem Koolhaas,Junkspace,” October 100 (2002): 175-190.
[v] J.G. Ballard, Concrete Island, (London. Fourth State, 2011), 13.
[vi] Lingwood, James, “The Weight of Time” Bernd & Hilla Becher Robert SmithsonField Trips (Porto: Museu Serralves, 2002), 73.
[vii] Among the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl the feathered serpent, carried the inner meaning of the Most Precious Twin, since Quetzal was loosely used as a term for precious and beautiful things, and coatlmeans twin
[viii] C. A. Burland, “The Mystery of Quetzalcoatl” in The Gods Of Mexico, (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967), 148-164.
[ix] Robert Smithson, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan”, ibid.
[x] ibid.
[xi] White wine made from maguey sap that was given to Quetzalcoatl in order to trouble his journey. The same black medicine, offered by Tezcatlipoca, was also what distorted his perception and made him leave Tollan.
[xii] Tony Smith. “Conversations with Samuel Wagstraff Jr.” In Theories And Documents Of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings, ed. Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2012), 149..






Wherever I am not is the Place Where I am Myself


3.77 Seconds + Unfinished Past


An oily dark cloud engulfs everything, blending water, earth and sky with such perfection that distinguishing them is not possible anymore. Everything is wet and black. The horizon is finally touchable. Space is at last homogenized. An oversized kaleidoscope where every object is out of scale reflecting and deflecting one another on an immensity of angles. By this time everything had to be moveable so as to avoid destruction,[I] It was with this premise that the tanks were created, in contrast to the bunkers, which almost seem to have been placed there as if begging to be pierced, exploded and cracked. I doubt that these monoliths were ever meant to survive throughout time; one can easily imagine the power of the enemy’s impact, just by glancing at the thickness of their walls.

It is relevant to mention the artist’s desire for his works to be destroyed, as it is the only way to progress. However, giving stillness to the things created means the artist needs to be in constant movement. The collapsing of a work means the rising of the next one, forcing him to move in between them - his mobility exists on behalf of the one mobility of the works.

By destruction he loses. That is all that matters. His steps are moved by the desire of constant loss. Nostalgia is what keeps his work awake. After all, is there anything more powerful than what we can no longer access?
Absence draws a path leading to an emptiness that needs to be filled. It is a mode of travelling in which clean footprints are left behind by the irreversibility of his steps, driven by the need for recovery. As he walks through the ruins of his past he sees a future built out of the same mental cinders. It strikes me how much we can destroy and build just by travelling. This liminal act is where creation takes place. It is alongside this travel that interment comes into play; it is also when seeds are thrown through the window of a car and left alone on a fertile ground for something to grow.

Did you ever find yourself digging up something you have buried a few years before? If so I should tell you for sure that its history will never be fully recovered because the past always stays silent and never wants to be disturbed, but I guess you will reach the conclusion that you are acting dangerously by yourself. However, if you do want to take that risk, then the fulfilment of being reminded of its absence might help you to bury it again but this time in an impenetrable, bulletproof grave. We can only forget by being reminded of the absence of things.

A massive grave was found on the outskirts of the city, more than 100 hectares of vertical destruction accumulated over 130 years, allowed for the vertical construction of the adjacent architecture. The quarry is surrounded by luxury condominiums, built around its rim, and its inhabitants face perpetually onto a steep canyon, probably unaware that the place they stand on was taken from the place they look at.


The quarry was once a loud and dusty place, a limestone theatre whose play was endlessly sound tracked by rubber and cement. After leaving it behind one would constantly hear the feathers of the pillow drumming the sound of the traffic over the rusty bridge.

It rests now neglected and exposed to emptiness, like the bunkers on the Atlantic coast, where destruction acts calmly, echoing over a vast sea of drowned memories. In such places, there is always a fraction being consumed by the absence of men’s hands, because the hands of man delay space’s intentions for objects, postponing their natural deterioration.

Now, picture this: a tall Scandinavian man wearing a bathrobe and having a coffee on the balcony of his luxury apartment, doomed with a view of a dusty dungeon beneath his feet. The hole works as a reminder of his foundations, as a monumental vacancy that defines, without trying, the memory traces of an abandoned set of futures.[II]Is this giant cupola a monument to the past, or is it a monument to the future? A romantic ruin or a ruin in reverse?

It is hard to tell.


Henrique Pavão, 2017



[I] Paul Virilio, Bunker Archeology (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994), 41.

[II] Robert Smithson, “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey” in The Writings of Robert Smithson, ed. Nancy Holt (New York: New York University Press, 1979), 55.



Mark
© 2019 Henrique Pavão