Words don’t come easy

A word is only a skin,
A thin film of human lots,
And any line in your poem
Can sharpen the knife of your fate [1].

The return is necessary, it is the eternal path, without an end. Everything that happens, happens because of an invisible point or line drawn in the past – it is thus the only present time. The year is 1994, the piece 9 days 140 km. Rui Calçada Bastos (Lisbon, 1971) presents a slide of the mountains of Tibet sealed inside a tracing paper envelope, superimposed over a light box on the wall of an old warehouse in the port area of Lisbon. It is the first time that this rectangular image with pinpointed edges appears in his work, unconsciously deciding on a motto that would forever be present in his œuvre. A new encounter follows in 1999, in the video Rendezvous, where a letter slides under a door and an anonymous figure receives it, only to discover its empty interior. During the following decades, the motif was subtly incorporated into varied works and media, appearing in painting (in the series Correspondences with...), in video (in the installation Return to Sender) and in sculpture (Moi et Toi – Ne pas séparer les mots d’une syllabe). We may well intuit, as in an internal and constant leitmotiv, the key moment of this memory – both personal and materialized – if we return to that missive of a master – When we are just an empty envelope the making is without vertex like the path of water. Think about it [2].

Words don’t come easy marks Rui Calçada Bastos’s third solo show at the gallery and, compiled from a profoundly intimate and reflective gesture, it also marks what is the culminating moment of the meeting of the idea of envelope and correspondence in the artist’s work – whether it being the object itself or merely its suggestion. The absence of answers is mirrored in the author himself, and the hesitation inherent in the seeker is evident in the exhibition’s luminous limbo, as well as in the ethereal, almost levitational quality that some of the works present. In an attempt to decode this presence in his imaginary, the search for a truth that coincides with the genesis of this ghost is clear, whose aura quality runs through the artist’s installation and sculpture – which simultaneously shows and hides from itself. This unveiling and veiling, language and silence, intrinsically symbolise the evidence of life and death – the experience of a message whose content is illuminated in the clearing – thus, the disclosure of the apparently sealed truth [3].

Let us begin by approaching each work individually, in the humble hope of being able to outline the sensitive path that determines this exhibition. Love letter, love letter, go tell her, go tell her, homonymous for the chorus of Nick Cave’s Love Letter, presents us with the transparency of five envelopes born from a possible reflection between a mirror and a light. In fact, we could say that it is only one envelope, a secret materialized in five moments of its movement mapped in a half-moon, sometimes declining, sometimes rising, here possibly as the hand of a clock, caught in a loop of temporal precision. This clarity, whose metaphysical awakening guarantees nothing but a certainty in its encounter, slowly illuminates the remaining peripheries of the gallery. We are then guided to Heavy Weightlessness, a sculpture that introduces language into the exhibition. The verses Still is the unspoken word / the word unheard [4] read mirrored inside the envelope that lightly rests upon an old post office scale. Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, these words precede the conclusion of the excerpt, which performs Where shall the word be found, where shall the word / Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence [5]. By reflecting on the (material) weight of the word as a (spiritual) decisive moment, the artist summons up the haptic condition of the poetics of a gesture in oblivion – even suppressed. Recalling a classic author, spoken words are the signs of the soul’s experiences, and written words are the sign of spoken words [6].

Punctuating two ends of this timeless writing room are two sculptures whose bases derive from old travelling salesman’s tables, often used as portable bases for writing correspondence. In one of them, North, an ajar envelope is suspended, crossed by the verticality of a standing compass that points directly at the viewer, who is looking at it from the front. Returning to his perpetual chain of self-referential perspectives (which are as much his own as the gaze of those who confront the work) the artist raises, in a final instance, an orientational device whose direction is both different – varying according to its position – and permanent – always indicating who is facing it. There may exist, in this enigma masquerading as certainty, an immediate relation with the second work originating from these moveable tables, Bullet Point. Flickering from a distance, a small, blinding light similar to that of a lighthouse in the darkness of the night at sea, reflects the spectator’s face when approaching the surface that emanates it – a mirror with the outline of a letter, shattered and yet gleaming. Curiously facing the direction of the previous evoked north, both contain their decipherment in the moment (image) of reflection – the bullet point is then announced – There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in [7].

There is also a last moment in this secret room of messages and lights, the final declaration of an act of complicity and union. Four photographs record an immutable gesture, the sealing of a letter inside the gallery wall. Inside it, a message – There are no walls between us. The artist thus claims the decisive vulnerability in the relationship between the artist and the work, as much as between the artist and the spectator. Reiterating the permanence of the honesty of ideas, of unshakeable certainties – or, we could even say, of the apex in which we find ourselves – this exhibition grants us only a post scriptum: we are sealed in silence, the invisible link that unites us – and nothing more.

I hold this letter in my hand
A plea, a petition, a kind of prayer
I hope it does as I have planned… [8]

Eva Mendes


[1] Tarkovsky, Arseny, The Word, I Burned at the Feast: Selected poems of Arseny Tarkovsky, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2015
[2] Morais, Pedro, missive delivered to the students of At.(re) – Atelier livre
[3] Heidegger, Martin, The Origin of the Work of Art, Edições 70, 2020
[4] Eliot, T.S., Ash Wednesday, T.S. Eliot Collected Poems 1909-1962, Faber and Faber, 1963
[5] Ibidem.
[6] Aristotle, On Interpretation, Marquette University Press, 1962
[7] Cohen, Leonard, Anthem, Columbia Records, 1992
[8] Cave, Nick, Love Letter, Nick Cave The Complete Lyrics 1978-2013, Penguin Books, 2013