Conversation Piece: 4 Settings

Maria José Cavaco

10 May | 09 June, 2018


Press release

Conversation and soliloquy settings

Within the tradition of 18th-century English painting (as, for instance, in the work of William Hogarth, 1697-1764),‘conversation pieces’ were paintings focused on family scenes or group portraits in informal poses, in social surroundings or in gardens, having as a backdrop a Romantic depiction of landscape. At their time, the ‘conversation pieces’ were a painting genre that was greatly popular with the ascending bourgeoisie, a counterpoint to the majestic royal or imperial portraits until then favoured by the exalted aristocracy.

As both a subject and a genre of painting, the ‘conversation pieces’ are a repository of the history of representation with strong social expression. However, the concept underlying a depiction of two or more figures that are expressive of a relationship has persisted in artistic practice, expanding itself into a collaborative, and sometimes contextual, action that does not relinquish its ties to art history, as previously mentioned. It is in this point that Maria José Cavaco’s exhibition confronts and  challenges us, with these double and multiple conversation and dialogue pieces that abstract and absent themselves from the depiction of the human as a figuration that is prospective of a relational scene.

The exhibition’s title is Conversation Piece: 4 Settings, and in these words we find the contextual concept of her work, where the word rehabilitates the viewers’ gaze as it moves over the landscapes, painted and drawn in a great variety of materials in the form of diptychs or polyptychs (the latter as a number of panels or as linear series), thus playing with the viewers’ route and the exhibition space, as is the case with ‘Rota de todos os dias’ [Everyday route] (2010).

But another work reinforces the duality of presence, under the title ‘Não sei onde estou (por favor fica comigo)’ [I do not know where I am (please stay with me)] (2011), which may lead us to that concept of a double representation, but only as the projection of the individual who gazes, like an image we associate to the paintings, in their dense layers, luminous and chromatic fluxes which the subtle mirrored line conveys as a fleeting appearance in the diptych that confronts itself, confining us to an anachronic dialogue. All the elements in this piece, which must be viewed as a construction in space, restore in us a permeability to the presence of the other through the word as a device and agent contained in the title.

The works entitled “Conversation Piece”, I and II (more recent: 2017 and 2018) are made up of sheets that support a variety of techniques and materials, like accrochagesthat on the one hand add depth to the image of the landscape (these gardens are memories that are historical and self-referential at the same time), but on the other obnubilate that same reference by turning into objects of contemplation for the viewer. In this manner, Maria José Cavaco opens a field of possible dialogues between who sees and what is seen, these objects that construct a discursive itinerary over the visual, and thus physical, transit of those who people the exhibition space, who are subject to a material, haptic and texturally rich condition that the materials used here, which include the word, deconstruct in order to re-actualise both subject and genre by means of an operative immersion in the context and temporal memory these works contain. Finally, we return to the title of the exhibition, Conversation Piece: 4 Settings, and we find ourselves confronted with the double and with the number 4, which can be read immediately as such or as the conjunction ‘for’. For whom?   For us, as presences before the dialogue between a variety of ‘settings’. Between the idea of the double and the amplitude of others who wait for us.

João Silvério


Tradução do texto por José Gabriel Flores