17 July–26 September, 2010, Spike Island, Bristol
Stretched across the width of Spike Island’s central gallery, bisecting it into equal halves, is an imposing wall constructed from hollow plaster bricks. Although it is possible to gaze through this stark white partition and observe the space and visitors beyond, it is impossible to pass to the other side without leaving the gallery and walking around its outer perimeter. This is ‘Blind Wall’, 2010, the centrepiece of Jorge Santos’ elegantly restrained solo show the world appeared to her reflected by pure inwardness. Open brick walls like this one are a familiar sight in Santos’ home country of Portugal, where they are often used to separate the back of one apartment from another. Its presence here in the gallery continues the artist’s characteristic strategy of displacing architectural elements from one context to another as part of his investigation into notions of borders, boundaries and thresholds.
Lines of demarcation, which separate us from our neighbours and offer us security or establish the difference between private and public space, are central to Santos’ quiet, minimal works. Fences, gates and walls appear throughout the gallery, as they did at Spike Island last year during his Gulbenkian Production Residency from which this solo exhibition—his first in the UK—was developed. While in residence, Santos presented several works around Spike Island’s building, including the site-specific installation ‘View Point #2’, 2009, in which an upstairs corridor was clad with a white stucco relief pattern based on austere railings seen during the artist’s many wanderings around Bristol. The railings are revisited here in ‘Paper Marked’, 2009–10, which comprises three slick monochromatic relief prints featuring a simple pattern of vertical, arrow-tipped bars. These elegant works display what Filipa Oliveira describes as a ‘ghostly romantic minimalism’.
Santos’ desire to bring the outside in continues in the gallery’s perimeter space where, hanging on opposite walls, are ‘Blind Gate #1’ and ‘Blind Gate #2’, both 2010. These enormous embossed prints feature simple, pared down forms echoing the kind of wrought iron gates found at the entrance to a city park or perhaps a well-to-do townhouse. From a distance they merely appear to be blank sheets of white paper; move closer however, and their subtle, reductive geometries come into view. As with much of the work on display here, these works create for viewers a locus of ambivalence, in which the gates can be read as either hemming them in or shutting them out. This indeterminacy is also present in ‘Untitled’, 2010, Santos’ exquisitely rendered line drawing of a chain-link fence. Drawn with white ink onto four sheets of grey paper, Santos disrupts the familiar pattern by leaving gaping holes. Appearing like a moth-eaten sweater, it’s as if the fence were being dissolved by some corrosive force, providing either our chance to escape its confines or perhaps access a previously restricted territory.
The impression of being on the threshold of another realm altogether is evoked by the second major work here, ‘Spring Cage’, 2010. Displayed in an adjacent gallery, this sophisticated double video projection is presented on a large free-standing, domestic-scale wall complete with skirting board. A shifting, mutating kaleidoscope of animated patterns featuring vines, flowers and birds fill the wall like some kind of hallucinogenic wallpaper. Although Santos found inspiration for this piece in the print department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the work immediately brings to mind Ray Bradbury’s short sci-fi story ‘The Veldt’, 1950, in which virtual reality wallpaper installed in a nursery becomes the gateway into a menacing landscape. Also evoked is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, 1892, where a woman incarcerated within a bedroom becomes obsessed with its wallpaper; the longer she stays in the bedroom, the more the wallpaper appears to mutate as she descends into psychosis.
Jorge Santos’ unique brand of romantic minimalism, which has been intelligently installed throughout every area of Spike Island’s gallery, inhabits a domain that is at once highly accessible and thoroughly idiosyncratic. There are few artists able to pull off a show which is as confident and mature as this and with only six works on display, the world appeared to her reflected by pure inwardness is not only testament to the brilliance of this young Portuguese artist, but also to the benefit Spike Island’s residencies bring to both participating artists and the institution itself.
David Trigg is a writer based in Bristol