Edson Chagas’ new body of work entitled ‘Factory of Disposable Feelings’ left me feeling like I was caught in an aftermath. His arrangement of visual information from the Irmãos Careneiro Factory has a strong sense of gravity and arrests the gaze as if one is witnessing the damage and incidental beauty that has come after the monumental storm that was Angolan colonialism.
Chagas’ calls his photographic exercise, of repeatedly returning to the site, looking, selecting and composing the subject matter, a poetic exploration. Like a poet selects words, he actively employs the use of the crop – photography’s mechanism of isolating information – to make very clear and considered decisions, framing and cutting out what objects, surfaces, lines and textures he chooses.
In doing so he draws attention to signs and codes. He isolates details of dated industrial machinery, scraped paint, stained walls, piles of discarded timber and sheets of corrugated iron all pointing to degradation and obsolete systems.In many of his images he employs the rule of thirds, a photographic compositional technique where an image is divided into proportional strips. In the Untitled, Irmãos Carneiro Factory, Cazenga, Luanda, Angola, 2017 [S2A5828], Chagas uses this technique however he interferes with the structure by throwing it off slightly. In this image there is a stripe of white paint at the top, below it a beige wall and the third strip is the ground. On the ground and in the foreground of the composition there are chaotic lines of broken and abandoned furniture, which break the formalism.
The playing with rigid photographic technical rules-of-thumb against a more chaotic use of line is a paradox of style which breaks any kind of notion of order or perfectionism. He creates an interplay between the concepts of order and chaos. The order that a colonial power is perceived to have brought to African countries and the chaos it inflicted both during colonial rule and when the power withdrew.
The industrial plant in Luanda was established during the time of Portuguese rule and manufactured textiles for the use of domestic as well as military uses. In this body of photographic studies it stands as a metaphor for colonial Angola. A space that was deeply exploited and then abandoned.Untitled, Irmãos Carneiro Factory, Cazenga, Luanda, Angola, 2017 [S2A4318] is composed of a concrete brick wall in the background with a window spewing out a piece of cloth, which is draped over a two tone wall in the foreground. Again Chagas uses the formal compositional tool of banding, however, in this image the top third is half in shadow and the sun illuminates the remainder of the image.
Referencing shadow play he points to Western Art canons and the intentional use of compositional, chiaroscuro and symbolic devices. The cloth, in this context, flowing out of the window renders the image into a still life; a momento mori reflecting the morality, vanitas and transient nature of colonial systems of trade and coercion. It was ultimately the forced cotton cultivation which led to the war independence in Angola. It signifies the way in which the Portuguese used Angola’s resources to better its own status.
Untitled, Irmãos Carneiro Factory, Cazenga, Luanda, Angola, 2018 [S2A7802] presents the viewer with the straightforward documentation of a concrete wall painted light blue, covered in small white tiles (some of which have been replaced and are of a different hue of white) and crack in the wall has crudely been filled with concrete.
Here Chagas has chosen to frame the image so that the crack is almost central and a wire runs from the right out of an insulation cable and droops down the wall. On either side of the image there are parts of old industrial machines.
There are shadows cast on the tiled wall that makes me wonder if a florescent light that one would normally find in a factory was on when he was taking the image. This photograph, as a document of a space, could not be more straightforward.
It is, on one level a simple record. On another level, however, if one considers the framework in which the image is shown; the size it is printed, how it is mounted, the gallery in which it is hung this changes the engagement. In this context the simple photographic document is transformed into a symbolic enquiry and a by extension a discursive artwork.This body of photographs are not, at first glance, beautiful they are not a love poem or an ode to a serene natural environment. They are an observation of the traces of history and the marks and scars left behind. They are a confession of the previous employees of the factory and while Chagas repeatedly interacts with the current and past workers at the plant the images he does not include any of these characters. Their absence creates a ghostly environment and an empty space in which to stare into and reflect.
Photography as a medium gives both the artist and the viewer the reason to stand still and look in detail. It requests the time of the person looking and it is in this time that the objects shift towards a more metaphorical meaning. After a while you, the viewer, are no longer looking at a wall and a door and discarded part of industrial furniture but you are looking at an arrangement much like a poem. You are looking at blocks of time, stains from the past that become indexical of colonial history and the lives that experienced it.