This entry was written in collaboration with the PO.EX. Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature.
Published in 2001, A Essência dos Sentidos [The Essence of the Senses] is a book by Fernando Aguiar that materializes itself as a photographic record of more than 86 poetic live interventions that took place between 1983 and 1999. Beyond the visual documentation of performances, installations, live paintings, and collages, the book also contains several critical texts about Aguiar's works. These citations appear here as excerpts, written by Egídio Álvaro, Ana Hatherly, Giancarlo Cavallo, Jorge Lima Barreto, Alberto Pimenta, R. Ballester Añon, Emilio Morandi, Enzo Minarelli, Chévere, Enrico Mascelloni, Johanna Drucker, and Hugo Pontes, among others.
In the book we can also find five essays written by Aguiar on topics such as performance art and the poetic intervention. Published in catalogues and, later, in cultural newspapers and art magazines, the texts and statements collected in this volume include: “Performance: The Live Intervention” (1984), “Performance: The Essence of the Senses” (1985), “The Poetic In(ter)vention” (1987), “Formas da Performance” [Forms of Performance] (1986) and “Globalization and Interaction” (1999). This last text results from an oral communication given at the International Symposium Localization & Globalization in Art, organized by the 4th Sharjah International Arts Biennial, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
In his essays, Aguiar makes an approach to the debate of disciplinary and medial hybridism in contemporary art, establishing a connection between these topics and other fields of knowledge such as communication and semiotics. Aguiar defines performance as an artistic object that deals with the notion of presence, being the performances constituted by the positioning of a body in a time and space. "The physical presence of the aesthetically operator is one of the essential factors of 'live art'. Live because it contains precisely the living form of its creator. Live because the (propulsion) pulsation / the movement / the breathing of the body makes up an integrand part of the artistic intervention as an instigator of the development and formulation of the same" (8).
In the wake of performance studies, an emergent field at that time, the artist's own perspective is that performance integrates three axes: the body, understood as a writing tool; space and time, ephemeral supports of live inscription; and the participation of the audience, implied as a constituent of the artwork due to the interactive relation that is established with the audience by the performer and by the variable objects that compose a given poetic intervention. The body is the element that unites all of these constituents: "The body has a structural function and instigates action in a complex created and put in motion by it. [...] There is also a very specific relationship between the performer and the materials, objects and situations surrounding him. These, and other props used throughout the performance are part of a narrative context that activates and transforms itself” (22).
Similar to what occurs with the introductory text written by Aguiar (5-6), each essay has an English version sided with the original Portuguese version. This is evidence of the internationalization of Aguiar's actions.
In the Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature, each of these essays has a dedicated page, with the exception of the experimental essay “Formas de Performance” [Forms of Performance]. The direct link to these individual texts is provided at the beginning of each structural section of the remediated book. Thus, the digital representation is bound to the physical structure of the book, enabling the indexation of each of Aguiar's essays to the theoretical corpus available in the PO.EX Digital Archive.
The photographs of The Essence of the Senses allow us to witness the profuse performative work developed by Aguiar since the 1980s. Aguiar begins his activity as an experimental and visual poet in 1972, with his first poetry book being published in 1974, Poemas + ou – Histo(é)ricos [Poems more (+) or less (-) hi(y)sto(e)rical]. In 1983, he started working in the field of poetic performance with the intervention “Escrevo o que está dentro de mim” [I write what is inside me], performed at III Festival Internacional de Arte Viva in Almada, Portugal. The photographic archive of this performance is displayed in the very beginning of The Essence of the Senses (11). The book shows the evolution of the performative, as well as aesthetic, practices by Aguiar – and the paths that the author has chosen to walk.
This path takes us from the first performances of the author until the most recent ones. The document makes it possible to see the connection between the theoretical principles outlined by Aguiar in his essays and his effective practice. As an example, we can observe the conception of the body as a central element in poetical interventions. Sometimes the body comes out as a link between elements that constitute the performance, sometimes it arises as the support of writing itself. For instance: in the performance “Poetical Installation”, at the 4th International Festival of Performance Art in Hiroshima (1997), the body of Nenad Bogdanovic serves as a surface for the fixation, by Aguiar, of alphabet letters printed in stickers, thus producing a poetical installation in which the medium breaths.
Actions are unstoppable and the body and objects' motions are treated as signifying matter. In the performance “Writings” (93-95), from 1997, the author brings to the stage several objects of everyday life (apples, spray, wine glass, bell, candles, among others), re-contextualizing their uses in a sonnet whose visual structure is created by the gestures that manipulate these same objects.
We should highlight two things here. On the one hand, Aguiar appropriates the traditional sonnet structure as the skeleton for several of his performative pieces. This strategy is also profusely used in artist's visual works. On the other hand, the 'lettrist' style of his scenarios jump out, as well as the use of letters as objects, and the actions that interconnect them. In Aguiar's poetics, the word does not have a central place, but the letter does. Letters of many dimensions, and multiple colors, built in cardboard, PVC or stickers, are always present. In a given performance, letters can form words on the floor, while in other they can be thrown to the air, or even to the audience. In yet other performances, letters are stuck in clothes or in the wall, as the performer paints the surface on top of them, or above them, and lets the paint drop until it reaches the letters. We are in the presence of a dynamic experimentation of the plastic nature of language.
Apart from the cases of radical decentralization of verbality in which the letter is an expressive signifier in itself, this book documents poetical actions that allow us to recognize words, not only in Portuguese, but also in Spanish and English. Thus, we have another evidence of how much diverse are the contexts of Aguiar's actions. The collaborations with other artists are also varied. Besides Nenad Bogdanovic, we can also find references to works realized with Alberto Pimenta, Enzo Minarelli, Rui Zink, and Ruggero Maggi.
The Essence of the Senses is a crucial book in order to know and understand the trajectory of Fernando Aguiar in the field of performance and poetical live intervention. Even if the paper medium cannot provide the perfect archive for the sound dimension of his performances, the visual impact of Aguiar's interventions are well flagged in the book. The essays and the critical excerpts from other authors cannot be seen as little extras, as they acquire extreme relevance in the process of understanding the artist's work in the 1980s and 1990s. In the author's own words, “The Essence of the Senses registers a walk for demand, experimentation and theoretical reflection, in which the letters reflect a conducing wire and where several concepts such as time, space, movement, volume, color, sound an the diversity of materials and objects enlarge the verbal/vocal/sound and visual exploration of the poetics, closely relating the word with the contemporary visual arts” (6). By doing so, Aguiar also inscribes Portuguese literature in the international history of experimental practices of the late 20th century.