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Joao Onofre

Ghost, 2009

Lisbon, Portugal, 1976

Ghost, 2009/2012
HD Video, colour, sound
Edition 5/6

Over the past two decades, João Onofre has been unfolding a body of work using primarily drawing, sound, and video; his work within this last-mentioned medium mostly documents staged actions that border on the absurd, with a deliberate existential underpinning. As such, they offer a humorous yet serious look at the human condition.

In this particular case, Onofre chose to place a rare tropical palm tree on a raft that resembles an improbable sailing boat or a tropical desert island complete with white sandy shores, awaiting its Robinson Crusoe. He then filmed it drifting down the Tagus river. An evanescent or ghostly presence passing by the city of Lisbon and under its two emblematic bridges, it appeared from upstream, to eventually disappear into the horizon as it reached the delta of the river at sunset. This incongruous vessel evokes isolation or removal; yet, it happens to sail down a waterway with heavy traffic, used by cargo and leisure boats alike, and surrounded by densely inhabited banks. Its constant movement also evokes a flight that could be read as a metaphor for migration, or the singularity of a human being in the middle of a large crowd. Yet the palm tree can also be understood as a symbol of faraway paradise, on an island away from everyday life, usually associated with leisure and pleasure. However, the constant movement of this peculiar craft may also signal that Paradise is a moving target, hence difficult, if not impossible to attain.

As often in Onofre’s work, sound is an important component. In this instance, it is as if it has been captured aboard the ‘drifting island’, and functions as a testimony of its movement in the landscape. As it approaches the bridges, the sound of crossing cars and trucks increases, only to then decrease as it continues on its journey, arriving at almost complete silence as the vessel disappears into the horizon.

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The artist

Joao Onofre

Lisbon, Portugal, 1976

Mainly dedicated to the creation of videos with a strong performance element, Onofre also uses photography and text. His videos show an interest in what effects they have on persons certain extreme physical situations, usually dealing with resistance. He often involves groups of individuals in contest of interpretation or collective portrait, thus exploring the complexities of group dynamics.

Related works

Centro Botín

Albareda Dock no/d,

Peredas gardens

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