Review of Hugo Canoilas: Someone a long time ago, now, Cooper Gallery, Dundee

The late American artist Jason Rhoades said that parking a car was like “placing a sculpture” then Vienna-based Portuguese artist Hugo Canoilas crashing a car must be an act of performance. His current solo show, which starts with the image of an overturned car, is a collision of paintings, wall fresco drawings, hand painted texts, suspensions, comic books and photographs projected onto draped painted canvasses. A sense of disproportionate scale, like scenes from Gulliver’s Travels, see large-scale imagery offset by small tree bark stool sculptures, floor-level painted metal objects, pairs of stuffed penguins and tiny angular hurdle-like frames.

The downstairs space is dominated by overhead projections shone onto highly coloured canvasses. One says: “was life that beautifull”) [sic] and so begins a series of hand painted quotations and subtitles that mediate on society, time and its images that appear throughout the exhibition. A staircase space projects further texts rendered in black ink, that like slogans or protest statements, are more incendiary or confrontational. The principal gallery space hosts a series of monumental scale paintings of dinosaurs and extinct mammals whose “socially” realistic look is reminiscent of children’s books of adventures in pre-historic worlds and educationally imaginative encyclopaedia illustrations. These ancient creatures are given the task of reciting phrases from political philosophy, morality, faith and the law. Extracts from Rimbaud, Derrida, Heidegger and Fernando Pessao appear in humid swamps in a “land before time”. Meanwhile references to contemporary and modern art history points to Berlin artist Andy Hope 1930’s exhibition When Dinosaurs Became Modernists at Inverleith House, Edinburgh in 2012 and to Swiss artist Urs Fischer’s suspended cast wax feet, giant footwear, fruit and tongues. While a double eye illustration uses a motif found in American Philip Guston’s painting Aggressor from 1978.

During the opening night performance Canoilas appears as his alter-ego, Jeremy Babcock, an American hippy film curator living and working in Amsterdam. Replete with straggly beard and bandanna, Jeremy recites poetry and makes observations on our “cultures of visual cannibalism”. He says: “I am the result of many deaths”, paying respect to art history, socio-political movements and revolution. He also vocalises in this sentiment a sense of the ends of arguments, conclusions or the termination of discourse. “I aim to be what I am not” examines his acts of appropriation, multiple identities and use of pretence. While his comedic gesturing as Jeremy – tall as Gulliver and part philosopher part street preacher – highlights some of “the absurdities of these texts” cast adrift in a violent world of mammoths and Pterodactyls. Settling the performance on an anti-capitalist note he declares that “philosophy is just another commodity”. While in a moment of self-referencing, pastiche and self-reflecting Hugo as Jeremy says: “Hugo is just like a surfer”. This statement of self-examination and act of understanding is further played out in Canoilas’ collaboration with comic book artist Francisco Sousa Lobo. Their publication I Like Your Art Much made for the exhibition takes its subjects and its protagonist into a new adventure – a fictionalised world of speech captions and ink and trace illustrations.

Hugo Canoilas: Someone a long time ago, now, Cooper Gallery, until 10 April 2015, Coope Gallery, 13 Perth Road, Dundee DD1 4HT.

Alex Hetherington