May 26–September 18, 2016: Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Rua D. João de Castro, 210, Porto – Portugal

Silvestre Pestana (1949, Funchal, Madeira) is one of the most radical and least known figures in Portuguese contemporary art. A poet, artist, and performer, Pestana has created a singular body of work in a variety of media since the late 1960s. The first major presentation of his work, this exhibition brings together over 100 rarely seen works with documentation and archival materials to highlight the artist’s pioneering use of drawing, collage, photography, sculpture, installation, video and performance to confront the relation between society, art and technology.
Emerging from a group of experimental poets in the 1960s, Pestana combined the visual arts with poetry as a form of resistance against censorship in early drawings, collages, and sculptures. Between 1969 and 1974, as a political exile in Sweden, he created public interventions in the form of gardens and performance-based actions that suggested the fragile ecological and social conditions of contemporary life. Returning to Portugal after the 1974 Revolution, Pestana developed a unique visual grammar using light, language, and visual forms that conceived of the human body as a social, ideological, and technological circuit. The politicized actions, collages, and photographs from 1970s and 1980s use his body to activate linguistic and non-linguistic codes, while attempting to expand poetry into a spatial and choreographic practice.
The artist’s polemical performances of the 1970s and 1980s — documented in a few remaining images — presciently addressed how technologies of the third industrial revolution could elicit both horror and fascination, offering both forms of entertainment and control. Biometrics, militarization, and the extension of the human into a vast information network mark his photography, video, and installation work of the 1980s. Using the moving image as a tool for performative and poetic action, Pestana became one of the pioneering figures of video art in Portugal. Always an early adopter of novel technologies, he has utilized computing, gaming software, and drones in recent decades to develop new expressions of artistic resistance, continuing his decades-long engagement with various political and technological systems that permeate contemporary life.
To accompany the exhibition, Serralves will publish a fully illustrated catalogue with new commissioned essays. António Preto offers a crucial insight on the influence of experimental poetry in Pestana’s work, Verónica Metello gives an overview of the artist’s career and Adam Kleinman adds a fresh perception around Pestana’s works in relation to today’s technologies and their social effects. The book also features a conversation with the artist conducted by curator João Ribas and artist Mauro Cerqueira that sheds light on Pestana’s influences and processes.
‘Silvestre Pestana: Techno-form’ is curated by João Ribas, Deputy Director and Senior Curator of the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto, assisted by curator Paula Fernandes.