Humanity’s Suspension

Carlos No can sometimes be found at Rua da Amizade in Baleia, Ericeira. Our friendship (amizade), helped me to write this piece, without the constraints that friendship sometimes brings. I enjoy the challenges presented by Carlos’s art and so took on this project eagerly. We spoke on the phone, I looked at drawings of the installation before it was mounted, I saw a maquette of the work. I learned that the title was “Suspension.”  I then sent this blunt question by email, “What’s the point of this work?”  Carlos’s thoughtful reply arrived in my inbox:
“This arose from ideas I’ve been developing for several years through other works made possible across a variety of opportunities, contexts and spaces available to me, but also from inspirations emerging in the specific moment. This work, for example, has more to do with a theme I’ve been exploring recently—Freedom or its absence—and has a strong connection to the idea of oppression, prison, or even torture. But these are my motivations. As a work, I’d rather leave it open to new interpretations and readings.”

At first glance, it is a telephone pole turned upside down. With wires cut or broken. And with the end pointing skyward showing the scars of a fire. I don’t know how you will see this object, installed as it is outside any referential context. What’s the point of destroying a telephone connection? Where Carlos No sees “oppression, prison, or even torture,” I see the archeological future of our time. We’re living in an historical moment where the “suspension” of Humanity has never been more real. On the one hand, we promote our own self-destruction by assuming that progress comes only with growth, even as it is leading to the extinction of the human species. And on the other hand we have defined as the most essential human rights those that meet the desires of the consumer, of business, and the State, dehumanising that part of Humanity that tries to see beyond the daily lottery.

This is an attentive, thoughtful artist, looking beyond the obvious. Carlos No’s earlier creations explore themes of the nonsense of borders, where migration becomes clandestine because of dehumanising laws. Now, with this work, I see the torture of our living confined within a seeming freedom, knowing that we do so thanks to slave labor, and to the annihilation of our resources.

Now we come to the elephant in the room. Carlos clearly loves symbols. And I see here one of the most recognisable and ancient symbols in the world. Perhaps one sees this so clearly because the gallery is so close to the Lisbon Cathedral, a symbol of Catholicism’s persecution of other religions in Portugal from the time of the kingdom until today. We have more recent abuses too, whether of the sexual assaults covered up by the Church, or the systematic belittling of women. In this time and place, we can’t forget the scars of the ancient fires of the holy Inquisition, nor the more recent vestiges of colonialism practiced under the umbrella of sanctity. With this upside down cross, Carlos No is making a political statement visible with the spectacles that we must use more often, acting as full-fledged and free citizens in this European democracy, given over so much to football, religion, and fear.

This is a cross that can be used neither to crucify nor to communicate. The marks of the dead fire suggest the ravages of guilt. It is not likely that the head of the Church will visit the gallery this summer, despite the fact that the exhibit will still be up during his stay in Lisbon. One can, if desired, see many coincidences in the pieces of this puzzle. But life is made up of coincidences. It’s the powerful exertions of artists like Carlos No that remind us to pay attention.

João Pacheco
Lisbon, June 2023


(Translated from portuguese: Christopher Sigur)