Habitat is a selection of works by Angolan born Portuguese artist Pedro Pires. Using mediums such as paper, fire and sculpture, this show is a continuation of Pires’ ongoing research into migration, nationality, and identity construction. The works in this exhibition interrogate the human form, mostly his own, to address issues of displacement, hyphenated identity, and the concept of home and belonging. Habitat sees works that come from different bodies of work, Doppelganger (2018) and Six of one and half a dozen of the other (2019), shown together for the first time. Together, there is a close relationship between the scale of the sculptures and drawings that didn’t exist up until now. Shown together, the works from these different bodies are new and dynamic creating space for new relations, meanings and paths of interpretation.
In Doppelganger (2018), Pires sculpted human-like figures from everyday objects found in the social context of Johannesburg such as gum boots, plastic buckets and wrought iron to question the intimate relationship we share with objects and how our identities are defined by the interactions we have with these objects. Created while the artist was on residency in Johannesburg, Umtshanyelo is sculpted from several grass brooms, an object that is common in streets, shops and domestic environments – township and suburban – around the city. With an interest in the banality of these brooms, Pires reorganised them into large figures with the intention of confronting the audience with reflections or doppelgängers of themselves. In turn he also reflects on himself and his own relationship with nationality that seems to be in a liminal space between Angola and Portugal.
The sculpture is shown together with large “fire-drawings” or what the artist calls an “intervention on paper” previously shown in Six of one and half a dozen of the other (2019). The technique required to make the drawings developed more than a decade ago. The artist was grinding and welding in his studio to create a metal sculpture when he noticed the marks left on the floor by the flying sparks. From then on he started making his drawings by applying fire to paper. It is a contradictory idea required to make the works; Pires destroys the fragile paper in the process of creating the drawings.
The large-scale drawings shows bodies that are cut up into segments, bodies joined together and bodies that explode beyond the skin. This is a metaphor for Pires’ sense of displacement and his search for identity across Portugal and Angola. The drawings are concerned with how the body can be located in two places at the same time. These works epitomise contrast: Pires plays with concepts of destruction and re-construction where bodies seem to appear and disappear, paralleling the ways in which identity is fashioned, negotiated, and remade.
The artist’s anthropomorphic shapes emerge from partially destroyed material and are reminiscent of the process of burning dry grass for dormant fynbos seeds to germinate. It’s one of nature’s most powerful allegories: that out of something violent and destructive, can come something so beautiful.