CLARA FERREIRA ALVES, 2010 APRIL
This body is whatever we wish to see in it. It can be a landscape. It can be an object, a building. It can be the moonlit desert. A ship’s rigging. A triumphant arch. It can be a square, a circle, a straight line.
In certain photographs by Miguel Ribeiro I see time. Not the passing of time, but the time needed to dig furrows, tracks, ruts and wrinkles. In certain phases of the body, the body itself is invisible. What remains is only a hint of an idea, which keeps forming and fading in one’s head until fixing upon a recognizable physical entity.
Some would call this abstraction, but abstraction which carries no trace of an idea or doubt is not abstraction, it is emptiness. And man, like nature, is terrified of emptiness. Miguel Ribeiro began the work of these representations many years ago, in an obsessive and primordial way, as if there were no other reason for living but to photograph a specific intimate life of the body in fact, his own — for being the one most at hand, which he could call upon, display, and intimately invade without danger of rejection or exhaustion. A body which would accept being worked over by light and shade, by speech and silence, until expressing every possible conjugation of the verb “transform.” Because the subject of this photography is also transformation; the transformation of the visible and the invisible, which is to say, God’s work.
Skin-dunes and finger-valleys, mouth- and eye-caves; here a forehead crumpled like worn cloth, there the creases and cracks of bare skin; or thick knots, as if an inside-out body were being exposed: distilling the image over and over again until resolving the problem of bodily motion, which is the natural tendency to cover up or fool our fear of repose. For the body, immobility — not a mere pause in movement, but the total absence of movement — is the moment of death, the moment preceding decomposition. The moment when the body still “lives” before its extinction. The moment of absolute finiteness and all termination of strength.
To fleetingly capture this absence of dynamism in a living body is to force the body against nature, to consign it to an instant of absolute solitude. The photography of Miguel Ribeiro immerses itself in these contradictions, which, being a physician is not surprising; as a physician he has with the body —including his own body — an abstract relationship. He uses abstraction as a clinical phase of the evaluation process, as an exercise which is represented abstractly through symbols, words, numbers, or notes more easily than by concrete and tangible means. To write the algorithm or the musical score of the body, to decipher the algebraic equation, establish the grammatical norm, or the applicable trigonometry is something that an artist, however, can do more easily when he is not obliged to use the body as practical or scientific subject matter.
The task: to plasticize the body, sculpt and aestheticize it until finally renouncing the desire to find in it any signs whatsoever of its decrepitude or youth, beauty or health, or its immediate integration in a recognizable, human whole.
Which is not to say that the physician does not come to the aid of the artist, using his body-wisdom to aid his art, even as art has a wider scope than medicine. In medicine, the body is precisely this: the extent of its breakdown into material components. In art, a body can be everything: its progressive spiritual deconstruction into angles and peaks, planes and counter-planes. An analytical geometry achieved by the lens and the eye, machine and thought.
It is as if this photography were telling us that a body can be whatever we wish to make of it. It can contain a sermon. A hair can hide a glacier, skin can flow into an abyss, a mouth can silence a scream. A beard can be the beginning of a thorny path, and the gentle curve of a membrane an eclipsed moon. And through this multiple body we navigate, with our compass and astrolabe, that is, with our intelligence and senses.