The Path of the Gaze is the title of the exhibition the Spanish artist Damià Díaz is presenting at Palácio Nacional da Ajuda in Lisbon, curated by Rosina Gómez-Baeza and Lucia Ybarra.
The son and grandson of artists, from a very early age Díaz learned in a very natural way to work with printmaking, drawing, painting, sculpture and then later with graphic design and stage design, becoming a multidisciplinary artist as he expanded his practice to incorporate video, installation and site-specific interventions.
A group of works fills the halls of the nineteenth-century neoclassical palace, the former residence of the Portuguese royal family now converted into a historic museum, establishing a dialogue between two worlds: a gaze on the past from the perspective of an artist who constantly observes the relationship between the human being and his world. In Damià’s work the human figure is an observer of his surroundings.
A selection of sculptures in painted resin, digital prints on ceramics and works in augmented reality enable the artist to intervene in singular spaces and transform rooms where the beholder can interact with the work. Thanks to the use of new technologies, the artist discovers and offers audiences new immersive possibilities. When coupled with a series of smaller format sculptures, drawings and sketches, the body of work as a whole evinces the creative processes and evolution of Damià’s practice. His work reflects an interest in the human being, in investigating and exploring the world in which he lives, a constant search to learn and to obtain new knowledge and new values that will help to defend himself against the present isolation of society today.
Damià Díaz has already made interventions in spaces of highly valuable historical and artistic heritage such as Saint Louis de l’Hôpital Salt-Pêtrière, in Paris in 2002; the Erasmus museum in Rotterdam; in Brussels in 2012 and Capilla de la Sapiencia in Valencia in 2005. But, on this occasion, the artist establishes a dialogue between contemporary art and artistic heritage by forging a bond between the architecture and the work on exhibit in it. Damià’s work is the result of ongoing study and experimentation, truly critical for his creative process, which enables him to create a language of his own based on childhood memories and accumulated experiences in which one can denote three constants: time, thought and movement.
Following months of intense work, Damià has produced for this exhibition, included within the framework of the Mostra Espanha 2019 biennial, seven sculptures and two augmented reality works divided between a total of eight halls on the two floors of the palace, concluding with Sala de la Capela, where a selection of small sculptures and drawings give us an insight into his artistic process. The palace’s rich artistic heritage includes one of the best collections of decorative arts in Portugal, comprising tapestries, porcelains, paintings, sculptures as well as furniture and everyday objects. Co-opting the visual memory of the building and its collection, with his works Damià outlines a path in dialogue with the history of the palace.
Co-curator of the exhibition
CREATING AND GLIMPSING NEW WORLDS
As Aristotle rightly observed in the Golden Age of Athens, man is by nature a social creature. Over the course of the time, human experience has been and continues to be the driving force behind representation, study and reflection. All artistic and scientific disciplines focus on the human being, his place in the cosmos, his relation with all things that exist, and his dialogue with the Other.
Damià Díaz is part of that illustrious group of artists whose research is centred on the human species, in line with the English poet Alexander Pope’s dictum that “the proper study of mankind is man.” Perhaps more than any other living being, at birth man is vulnerable and less adapted to his environment. While animal species naturally identify from birth with their surrounding habitat, for humans the animal instinct is superseded by intelligence and reason, the bearers of uncertainty, doubt and indecision, and the fruit of interaction with society and its rules.
In his works, Damià Díaz identifies the dominant states of the human being, namely lack of freedom, rootlessness, abandonment, disorientation, uncertain identity and so on. His works also speak to us of deceit and lies, that stage rigging which we so often drag around with us. And also the weight of conventions… the “baggage” that weighs down our lives.
Is the artist seeking to regenerate society? Perhaps not necessarily but one can make out in his work the voice of the oppressed and downtrodden. Is he looking for the postmodernist liberation of the individual? That too, because one can perceive the infinite solitude of the human being in the face of his own destiny, his inability to forge bonds with society.
I believe that the work of this artist, straddling classicism of forms and the angst of present-day man, not only reflects the underprivileged of this Earth but also the crudeness of existence when it becomes circular and self-referential.
Maybe art cannot transform society but it can afford new critical readings that help us to become aware of everything that goes against human dignity, against the Other. For Damià Díaz, the Other is a subject with whom to create and glimpse new worlds. And that is, in itself, a splendid aspiration.
Co-curator of the exhibition