primeira desordem at Monitor / Lisbon

primeira desordem, The Kids Are Alright

23/09/2022 — 29/10/2022

Rua Dom João V 17A, Lisboa

PHOTOS: Bruno Lopes

Humour and the mechanisms that activate it guide the practice of primeira desordem, as both their final horizon and as their starting point - encompassing various forms, whether more politicised or uncompromising, serious or playful. If humour can be used as a weapon, tool or field of action, this duo (composed of Hugo Gomes and João Marques) is interested in precisely the possibility of altering a state of mind through their artistic interventions. This alteration takes place not only within those who see and interact with their work, but more importantly within the spirit of the materials, objects and images they work with. If, in their practice, there is a powerful performativity (of gestures, scales, productivities and relations), it emerges as the revelation of a liminal, ambiguous, and previously unimagined zone, actualised in a prismatic and multidisciplinary way within the artist’s works, aiming to contradict previously stabilised expectations, hierarchies, meanings, fixed positions and representations of all kinds and natures.

Even so, for all this to be effectively accomplished - for the triggers that these artists construct to be immediate without being explicitly evident - if humour is their operative matter, crime is their preferred method. There is always something that is stolen, subtracted, defrauded, and that sneaks out in the small, distracted loopholes implicit within every form of control: either our subjective mechanisms of material reality or those of the systems of History [in all its social, political, cultural, economic productions and incarnations].

We know, however, that the best thief is the one who knows perfectly the place he is invading, who studies the habits of his victims and mentally keeps a map with all the secret passages so as to move smoothly through these spaces. Hugo and João are excellent in all these aspects. They have memorised the codes of the metaphorical alarms that guard the objects of our attention, and they know how to surgically sever these connections. This is when the crime happens, and when it is committed, it instigates - as you might expect - a small, big, disorder. The naming of this duo of artists as ‘primeira desordem’ (in English ‘first disorder’) is therefore not casual: it encapsulates all of their poetics: reordering a disorder in action that presses and destabilises the previously instituted order - modifying it with new connections, in greater or lesser numbers.

The Kids Are Alright, their new project presented at Monitor Lisbon, could not be more in line with all those conditions that make primeira desordem a name already identifiable by a particular style, rooted in a multiplicity of languages and in a wide range of mediums. In this exhibition humour is therefore both evident and subtle, mirroring the crimes that have been deliberately orchestrated for it. How can one not smile or laugh when looking at these figures? Playful little ghosts, wonky stickmen, phalluses and dripping rifles... Characters with hats and sharp teeth, smiling or grinning, or even smoking a "magic cigarette"... How can you not find the titles that name them funny? Punx Not Dead (Zona i), Teenage Mutant Ninja Mushroom, Legalize Alverca... The vocabulary touches slang and popular expressions, allowing us to sense what kind of crime is being committed. The fact is that these images are not originally from Hugo or João. They are reappropriated drawings, graffiti, anonymous scribblings found on walls, posts and columns from the most varied areas of Lisbon. The duo started collecting these drawings by re-tracing them, and later on transformed them into these kind of high-reliefs, three-dimensional objects, sculptures, that question not only authorship, but also identity and its representations, feelings of belonging or linearities of time. The ambiguity of the whole project begins there, in its presentation within an exhibition context, and with its apparently enigmatic title.

The Kids Are Alright, written in 1965 by Peter Townshend of The Who (that iconic English band), was an anthem for London's Mod subculture that was composed of middle-class youth who, in the 1960s, coming of age in tandem with the post-war economic boom were stabilised and literally had “money in their pockets”. They practised a bohemian lifestyle, guided by a special appreciation for fashion, music, nightclubs, cosmopolitan life and everything that was considered modern.

However, the distinctive image of someone with well combed hair, tailored suit and sunglasses, riding a Vespa while singing "the kids are alright", is a vision we would not immediately associate with the authors of the figures we now see before us. João and Hugo create an ironic and paradoxical friction: social, probably political, no doubt cultural. It is true that the rescue and repurposing of these figures and drawings is not without a certain sense of homage to all those artists who never wanted to become one: individuals we will never meet and who will certainly have come from different times, generations and social backgrounds. Even so, all these works assert themselves, above all, as moments of implicit attention to that which remains on the fringes, to that which is produced in a zone of diffuse clarity, contrary to good practices and regimented behaviour, rebellious against a centre - any centre - of hegemony, mobilisation, normativity and power.

These figures, in their complete whiteness, become almost indistinguishable from the walls from which they were themselves cut from in order to advance on us. All these figures are the ghosts, parodic and moribund, that history has always left behind and that we have always failed to face, to integrate, to reconcile. Perhaps they will come now, from inside all those suspended times, superimposed within this gallery space, to say that they are all right, that they were all right, that everything is all right. We know, however, deep down, that this will be highly unlikely.

David Revés