This Silence for a New Society...   (2023)

João Biscainho, Uncanny River (the crossing) 2014-2016

This silence for a new society... (that makes me want to go back in time), (2023), by João Biscainho. Mirror Drumming, exhibition view, at Appleton [Square], Lisboa, February 2024. Photograph by Pedro Tropa. Courtesy by Appleton.

João Biscainho, Uncanny River (the crossing) 2014-2016
João Biscainho, Uncanny River (the crossing) 2014-2016
João Biscainho, Uncanny River (the crossing) 2014-2016

This silence for a new society... (that makes me want to go back in time), (2023), by João Biscainho (details). Mirror Drumming, exhibition view, at Appleton [Square], Lisboa, February 2024. Photographs by Pedro Tropa. Courtesy by Appleton.

What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, or ever rarer, the thing that might be worth saying.

Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972-1990.

Looking towards the limits of the human or, to put it another way, of the humanity in that which is human, the references in João Biscainho’s work to silence and language, to knowledge and consciousness, to interpretation and relationship with others, as well as to the distortion of identity and subversion, at the opposite extreme, have been a constant without, however, being subjected to a separation or an opposition between an ‘us’ and a ‘them’. In his work as an artist, but also as a curator, these references, often provocatively, refer to a fundamental investigation into the body and into art, where the ideas of progress, mechanisms of perception and inducement of mental states are of particular importance. 

Demonstrating how body and consciousness are inextricably linked to their social and technological context and how, since the dawn of the 20th century, technological acceleration has marked human evolution, we find in Biscainho’s work a constant and inescapable confrontation between internal and external space.

In an exercise of particularly rigorous correspondence between the materials used and the subject of the work, Biscainho uses Mirror Drumming to question the notion of limits. Social and human limits, ethical and technological limits, limits that relate to a whole and not just to a part. On the walls of Appleton, we find photographs from the series Landscapes for a Free Field, their reflections trembling, vibrating and distorting on the surface of percussion instruments, where the skin has been swapped for a high-definition mirrored film. The vibrations are caused by a sound, with short phrases of percussion recorded earlier, played by Marco Franco, interspersed with random periods of silence. These photographs show interior details of some of the most advanced anechoic chambers currently in existence, made in California, which Biscainho visited and photographed in 2014. An anechoic chamber, that is, a chamber without echoes, is a room where the reflection of sound waves and electromagnetic waves is eliminated. Here, any interference is absorbed when it collides with the walls, which are lined with foam pyramids, and consequently this interior space can be defined as a free field. An anechoic chamber simulates an infinite open space. Beside the images in which we can see these anechoic chambers, Biscainho installs various panels painted with black pigments and graphene, which block radio frequencies and the emission of electromagnetic waves (RF protection). What is the artist protecting us from?

The exhibition continues with This silence for a new society... (that makes me want to go back in time): a copper jaw partially submerged in milk on top of a plinth built by the artist. Everything in this piece, of a dazzling beauty, questions me. It makes me think about the characterisation of this silence. The world — and its relationships, in the sense of both caring and conservation — is maintained through a scrupulous use of silence. That which is silenced has power to the extent that it forms an identity and defines the elasticity of a bond. Language is shown to be particularly inadequate and ineffective to deal with that which is developed within individual sensibility and silence becomes our opportunity to face up to our inherent incompleteness and contradiction. It is categories like these — fissure, imperfection, inconvenience — that situate us in relation to others. There are things that, once said, would ruin a relationship. Those same things also allow us to examine their foundations. Silence is an interactive process that responds to the behaviour of other human beings. As enslaved people learned, sometimes it is the only form of response and resistance against the oppressor.

The entire field of human activity is invested with language. “There is no society without language, any more than there is society without communication.”1 One condition: speech is, according to Saussure’s definition, “an individual act of will and intelligence”.2 The existence of discourse implies the active participation of the subject, meaning that discourse is always intentional. This is the main reason why language is the territory of psychoanalysis. Mastering language is mastering humankind and the dominant classes were able to explore the art of oratory to consolidate their supremacy. In the same way, the subjugated classes develop a sense of unity and resistance through the language they perfect, cultivating signs through which it is possible to recognise their insubordination or surrender. The mode of speaking is not, therefore, unaffected by the content of the speech; on the contrary, the mode of speaking structures the ideological content.

But having an idea is not the same as communicating.

The modern man is immersed in signs, gestures and images. But ideas are not necessarily made visible. The silence to which Mirror Drumming alludes is a relationship between the present moment and the development of certain technological devices. With a clinical trial currently accepting participants, developed by Elon Musk, Neuralink3 will be installed in the brain and be able to influence its functioning, particularly in relation to emotions (inducing sadness, pleasure, etc.). The hypothesis underlying it is in the same vein as what has been implemented through algorithmic manipulation and will make it possible to read an individual’s thoughts without that person producing a sound or externalising any kind of thought. Created by the scientist Arnav Kapur, Alter Ego4 is simply attached to the chin and makes a real-time reading of the vibrations emitted through the lower human jaw when the test subject thinks about something, without verbalising any sound. It is a thought-reading device that works by reading micro neurovibrations which are in turn translated by an algorithm into our conventional written language.

The copper square hanging next to the jaw — a material with high conductivity that allows for the capture and transmission of signals and energy — is a means of earthing, frequently used as a safety device for electric discharge. In this case, linked to the jaw immersed in the bed of milk, also made from copper, it serves as an antenna that captures the electromagnetic activity of the cosmos (background noise). The copper square is not here because the artist seeks to translate the cosmos. In his own words, ‘the cosmos is overwhelming.’ Instead, it is a non-meaning that is added to the technology of physiological and intimate vibrations. Essentially, this adapted antenna will capture and transmit noise over the copper jaw, camouflaging the peripheral neural signs sent by the thoughts to the jawbone, thus making it impossible for the algorithm to read. What we are thinking can no longer be read. This silence for a new society... (that makes me want to go back in time) is an object of political intervention. João Biscainho created an instrument of resistance.

If subordination to the moment is the trump card of ethics, overcoming it is that of power. Power plays with the most elementary interests of daily life and in due course it establishes its mechanisms of control. Those who know master. Those who believe are mastered. And it is also here that the border emerges: between silence and language, between act and power, we find this closed zone, impenetrable to observation, reflection and theory, as the border is neither silence nor language, neither conscious nor unconscious. What acts are represented in Mirror Drumming? Primitive acts that indicate the presence of certain rites. Communicating. Celebrating. Hunger. It is this relationship between the idea and the invisible act expressing it that produces a unity and not a distinction, a simultaneity of cause and effect rather than a succession of actions and reactions. It is this absence of history that marks the critical positioning of the artist’s works.

Marta Rema, January 2024.

in Mirror Drumming, text for the exhibition presented at Appleton [Square], Lisboa, 2024.

1 Julia Kristeva, História da Linguagem [Le language, cet inconnu], Edições 70, col. Signos, Lisboa, 1969, p. 18.

2 Ferdinand de Saussure, Cours de linguistique gnérale, Paris: Payot, 1949, 30–1.

3 Neuralink:

4 Alter Ego:

This Silence for a New Society...  (that makes me want to go back in time), was produced with the support of the art foundry

MÃO DE FOGO in Montemor-o-Novo (Portugal)

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