First Look: Pedro Neves Marques

Pedro Neves Marques: If the Mosquito Can Kill, It Can’t Be Born, 2018, video transfer from Super 16mm film, 2 minutes. Courtesy Galleria Umberto di Marino, Naples.

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DIGITIZED ANIMALS, trans lab technicians, androids that can communicate with plants: these are some of the characters that populate the films and writings of Lisbon-born, New York–based Pedro Neves Marques. Research is the bedrock of Marques’s works, but speculation is the loam from which they grow. The artist, who has an MA from Goldsmiths, University of London, makes subtle, ominous science-fiction films driven by postcolonial and queer politics. His works have screened at venues such as Tate Modern, London, and Anthology Film Archives, New York.

Commissioned by the Pérez Art Museum Miami and included in a multimedia solo exhibition currently at Gasworks in London, the two-channel film installation A Mordida (The Bite, 2018) is inspired by a genetics lab in São Paulo. In a bid to stop the spread of the Zika virus, the lab developed a gene for a lethal disease that kills mosquitoes before they reach reproductive age. In the film, three lab techs detachedly discuss their work and have a languid threesome; the action is occasionally interrupted by intertitles that show poetry by Marques probing the militaristic language of medical discourse.

In Semente Exterminadora (Exterminator Seed, 2017), a man named Capivara and a woman named Ywy talk about working on an oil platform off the coast of Brazil before a spill toxified the area. Capivara longs to go back, while Ywy, played by a member of the Indigenous Guajajara nation, expresses worry. Capivara reveals that she is an android when he tells her: “a computer can’t have a cancer.” They trade stark reflections on the molecular colonialism of industrial agriculture, and how nature, humans, and culture are in many ways already automated and viruslike.

The characters in Marques’s essayistic fictions might seem cold as they wax philosophical. Indeed, the artist is after a feeling of estrangement. Although the works are shot on location, the sites—mountains overlooking cityscapes, soy farms, dusty rural dwellings—are identifiable but made alien through a mix of exegesis and restraint. Long shots of hypnotically operating farm equipment and herons hunting in jungles defamiliarize notions of industry and the environment.

Along with artist Mariana Silva, Marques runs Inhabitants, an online platform for experimental documentaries and reportage. Scientific objectivity and anthropological fieldwork are both method and subject for the artist; he scrutinizes the colonialist and sexist tendencies of these fields even as he deploys them as tools of inquiry. Though Marques’s works draw on cinematic realism, they have an ambient, weird menace. Watching them, one gets the feeling that past, present, and future pollute one another. But there’s a softness to his work too, a reverence for language and sensuality.