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Rui Calçada Bastos - Foreword

Rui Calçada Bastos is a nomad. Thus, travel, dislocation, homelessness and a lack of sense of belonging are prominent issues in his work.

To a certain extend this is also echoed in his visual language. In fact, it is the remarkable coherence of formal, visual qualities and the content and subject matter that make Rui Calçada Bastos’ work so convincing. Techniques such as the reflection, doubling or juxtaposition of images are variations on a leitmotiv running through his videos, photographs and installations – in the real as well as in the metaphorical sense. They are about self and other, inner and outer, here and there. The artist continually changes position, in the perpetual attempt to find self-assurance or anchorage, but never seems to succeed. An underlying feeling of existing between fixed abodes lingers on.

Calçada Bastos’ approach to places and things past and present is measured and careful. He circles around himself and his surroundings, as if everything could disappear at any moment, as if a direct gaze at a place or a person might change them into a fata morgana. People are often shown from behind, as if he does not want to come too close, and yet it is exactly this that creates an atmosphere of intimacy, but also of melancholic exclusion.
Perhaps one of the works which best portray this is the black-and-white video The Mirror Suitcase Man. Its film noir aesthetics create a nostalgic effect, as does the rhythmic rustling of the soundtrack, which only a few of the speaker’s words are able to pierce. Neither the protagonist nor the city, through which he wanders as a flâneur, move directly into our field of vision. Instead everything appears doubled; the camera shows the place the Mirror Suitcase Man is just passing, and at the same time, a fragment of the place opposite, reflected on the mirrored suitcase the protagonist carries with him. Of the man himself we rarely see more than the hand carrying the suitcase. It is almost as if the nameless man were only a vehicle, as if he were not really present, in no place anywhere. And the viewer’s gaze is also condemned to remain forever ‘in between’. The city, almost invisible, appears as a mental or projected reflection, not as a picturesque panorama.

Calçada Bastos’ view on the world is poetic, sometimes even reverie-like and through all of it shines a poised awareness of the futility of most endeavours. Accordingly, even when a twist of humour in a scene or moment is captured, it never feels sarcastic or bitter. Bits and pieces found and recorded, either of city or of someone’s personal effects, become part of an archaeology, which attempts, in a Sisyphean mode, to uncover a precarious history. This becomes so absurdly intriguing that one cannot avoid wanting to join the search. And this is precisely what will make this book such an enjoyable experience.

Sabrina van der Ley in As Far as I Can See, by Rui Calçada Bastos 2013