Text by Luisa Santos
Nuno Cera is part of a generation of Portuguese artists who have been developing work internationally. His first international experience, in 2001, was in Berlin with the support of Gulbenkian Foundation. At the time, he was running a small company for photography and post-production in video and it was getting difficult to find the time and income for developing authorial work. The residendy at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien allowed the artist to creat a solid professional and personal network in Berlin, while at the same time, exhibiting regularly in Lisbon. During that time, Cera produced several works exploring characteristics of Germany as “Berlin - A super-8 movie” (2002); “The Prora Complex” (2005); “The Lost Soul” (2006); “Ultra-Ruhr” (2006); “Unité d’Habitation” (2006); and “Sans-Souci” (2008).
The work of Nuno Cera is a singular example of the integration of memory and imagination expressed in images that stay between reality and fantasy. In “The Lost Soul #1” from his photographic series and video “The Lost Soul” (2006), the only human in the abandoned space has a ghostly appearance, with a bright light in contrast with deep shadows. Trying to describe this one-meter long photograph is a bit like trying to describe a dream. Is this a real building or some place in the imagination? In this first image of the series, the woman on the white dress is immersed in a look of intensity towards us. In the next photographs of the same series, the story continues and we are given more details of this woman in a dead building.
This relation to death is more direct in the video “Unité d’Habitation” (2006). With “Shivers” (David Cronenberg, 1975) as inspiration, which can be seen in the relation with architecture and the modern world, Cera tells a story within another story. Having as background the iconic disused Berlin building complex from 1959 by the architect Le Corbusier, the plot evolves from a documentary tone to a horror fiction punctuated by a soundtrack that emphatises the horror characteristic of the video. The initial voice off informs on the technical charteristics of the building and, suddenly, with the visual emphasis on the corridor and the change in the sound, the documented story turns into a case of murder.
Death is not personified in most of Cera’s works, like in the 2006 “Unité d’Habitation”, because the artist prefers urban spaces emptied of human presence as in “Prora Complex” (2005). In Nuno Cera’s words “The representation of the architecture becomes more pure in this way. There also exists a romantic fascination for the “ruine” and “a future from the past” that makes me explore and represent spaces that have lost their functionality as places of death like the cemeteries of Modena by architect Aldo Rossi and in The Prora Complex.”
The Prora Complex’s construction was ordered three years before the outbreak of World War II, by Adolf Hitler’s substitutes and was portrayed as a remarkable bonus for the working masses of the Third Reich — a holiday complex on the island of Rügen, Germany with 10 000 rooms with sea-view in eight identical six-story blocks of concrete, each one the length of five football fields. Cera portrays its decadence and abandonment in what could be a documentary but rapidly becomes space for fictional stories. The corridors appear in front of us as if we are behind the camera or walking them in a never-ending search.
In “News from Nowhere” (2007), Cera continues a reflection about cities. In this work, London, Berlin, Barcelona and Lisbon are explored in what could be a glimpse into memories. To Cera, the trip exists always with a specific goal in opposition to photographers who travelled alone as Raymond Depardon or Bernard Plossu. For “Futureland” (2010), Cera chose the cities due to the number of inhabitants and the statistics of urban growth. But it wasn’t just a rational choice it was a personal choice as well as some of the cities, as Jakarta, were chosen out of curiosity to discover a city. It’s this combination of rational and subjective that makes the series rich in diversity giving room for the unexpected as the image of this series where a girl appears in the foreground gazing the city in the background, in a cinematographic composition.
Nuno Cera shows various references to cinema in his video and photographic work. The diversity of the photographic field is not surprising, but the degree to which artists continue to reinvent the form and the use of video is something to consider. In recent years, it is arguably cinema that has been foregrounded as a source of inspiration and ground for exploration. Nuno Cera’s “Berlin - a super-8 movie” (2002) marks a point in this context showing 4 200 photographs in movement, in a rhythm of twenty-four images per second, in a personal way of seeing the city. Cinema is very present in the work of Cera, inspired specially in the cinema made in the 1970s by filmmakers representing horror as Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Jesus Franco, Jean Rollin and the Asian Gore.
“LOST, LOST, LOST” (2005) which takes the title from the film from 1976 by the Lithuanian film director Jonas Mekas, plays around with the idea of memory. In Cera’s words, “It is an intimate photographic journal of abandonment, of loss, of fragments of reality. The differences between places, continents, present, past are all diluted. Everything becomes memory.” Nuno Cera explores the idea of a memory in fragments of bodies, details, close-ups, urban spaces, objects, emptied beds or deserted and blurred places draw the line between fiction and reality.
Besides the dichotomy fiction and reality, Cera plays with the dichotomy architecture and nature. Where architecture appears as pure conception of space and its life (and death), nature is shown with an intense stillness. Architecture and nature, in Cera’s work share the thought of the inescapability of death in life as in the video “Dark Forces” (2004), shot in Viseu after a fire, showing slowly the once green forest with the now burnt trees standing almost as if it were painted on a canvas. Here, again, the soundtrack (the symphony of Góreckui) plays an important role in terms of adding a layer to the images.
The choices of sound in Cera are always coherent with his images. In the video “O Passageiro” (2011), the sound is crucial to create the conditions for contemplation that this work requires. About his last video from 2012, Cera explains: “I worked with João Ferro Martins in the musical conception and it was an interesting process but also very demanding. The choices of the sounds were made in a permanent dialogue. On one hand, I knew very well what kind of sound I needed and João, on the other hand, had to adjust the material various times until this dialogue was synchronized.”
In 2013, Nuno Cera’s plans are drawn accross travels, a fund from Fundacion Botin (Santander), new projects, and the International Residence Recollets, in Paris, where he will develop work about relationships and dialogues between complementary concepts as space and time; identity and anonymity; utopia and ruins; architectural layers of sociality and the edifice complex; transience of built political and social ideals.