A role play, the centrepiece of Roberto Winter’s exhibition Default, is a fake documentary, a kind of mockumentary. Not entirely parodic because it is full of analytical moments that are serious or even solemn and disturbing, something I imagine to be evident as part of the fable-like construction. But it is still the most captivating thing about the video, which goes from moments of mockery and ridicule to moments of revolt that are almost ceremonial.

Two aspects that seem important in his work are a complex game between the excess of information and the lack thereof - when one gets an understanding of the affluence and complexity of where the ideas are coming from his detachment towards them is confusing –; Winter emphasises a strange relationship between mockery, simulation, and formal and conceptual dissimulation (which leaves one wondering if this circumspection is not just some joke) and the seriousness in dealing with issues and inquiries, especially in regards to politics and the metalinguistics from where his projects arise. The use of the word “parody” is problematic because the works in their materiality usually carry a sobriety that can be oppressive. These works create an expectation and therefore frustration, because few are the clues tracing back to the conceptual origins of the exercise of deconstruction, synthesis or the pure perverted re-presentation of the artist’s propositions and research.

By showing the video alluding to the documentary form alongside the other works, the viewer expects it to offer some sort of explanation or shed light on the other pieces. Still, it does not make the other works less hermetic. Whoever is accustomed to the work of Winter knows that the starting points his works suggest become transparent to the point of almost disappearing, leading us gradually elsewhere. Some pieces more than others, but they all seem to be charged with excessively complex discourse that, even for the most experienced viewer, approaching the supposed original intention or design, can seem like a challenging undertaking.

What is this, this object? Let’s look at it.

The play or disruption between complexity and synthesis also need not be addressed in order to present itself as an essential intention that connects and permeates the artworks. In conversation with the artist, we came to the conclusion that this intention seems not worth worrying about, as if he were actually throwing care out the window. Much like a Fort-da game allowing many possible different interpretations. In an earlier video, Revolution institution, Winter says, “Tracing a history of the Guy Fawkes mask may have become useless. Useless not because it leads nowhere, but because it would probably lead to too many places.”

All I wanted was to understand that.

Some aspects that pervade the works... conspiracy theories for example... (I write this based on the video, because it would be very reductive to focus on conspiracies as the key to interpretation) or even running the risk of infantilising the work. The very term “conspiracy theory” seems to be trivial and banal, even though today, contradictorily, it seems like a legitimate possibility to a worldview.

If it was only natural in the not-so-distant past to raise doubt when conspiratorial documentaries were marginalised because of their exaggeration and dismantling of traditional political discourse, becoming evermore aimless while still maintaining a certain uniformity and contradictorily losing their sense of verisimilitude, today this has simply become increasingly standardised, in line with inevitable paranoia, and an “engaged alienation”, for such characteristics have become prevalent in ordinary contemporary discourse.

They (psychopaths) convince you of things, things that are not real.

A role play coincides with Adam Curtis’s documentary HyperNormalization. The title comes from a term coined in the 70’s/80’s by the writer Alexei Yurchak in the Soviet Union and refers to a phenomenon of tacit agreement between men, one of complete loss of credibility in both government and media discourses and the paradoxical detached acceptance that comes with it as the only possibility of a shared and “understandable”, “acceptable” reality. Curtis’s documentary suggests we have been living a sick trajectory for some time, in which the exaggeration of the unreal, fictive and hyperbolic constitute factuality. The English director is famous for his deliberate conspiratorial tone, giving us the constant feeling, especially in his flirtations with persecutory delusions, that  everything, even the documentary itself, is no more than a joke.

In A role play we’re presented a parade of contemporary informational devices and strategies as well as a representation of how paranoid environments are created (only the catastrophic is plausible).

Amplification (an ambiguos exaggeration... in the vast majority abating but thought out) appears in excessive and histrionic manner – the amount of information and its minutiae inform us of its uselessness when the video’s farce and comedy come into even more glaring play.

The pseudoscientificism and the abundance of technical terms in Curtis’s documentary seem to be even more efficiently woven into A role play with its meticulous use of the revolutionary prosody such as that of Tiqqun and a number of other subversive fantasies. Think of Joaquim K and the narrator's confusion in its complex sphere of references, almost always disconnected and lost like the other characters: journalist, conductor(?), hacker, lawyer, etc.

They want you to think that you are capable of understanding, and they do it by explaining everything in a such an idiotic way that you will certainly never understand anything at all.

It is interesting to see A role play alongside other pieces in the exhibition because of the possibility of multiple readings not necessarily using the video as a starting point. That is, pushing it a little bit, we could assume the first-person narrator as a possible alter-ego of the artist himself, as if he were rambling on a dubiously allegorical parallel between the art world and that of politics. For example the insistence in the diatribe over real versus fictional in its different layers of truth is entangled in such a way that it is inevitable that they lose relevance as such. Uncertainty as to the authorship, as to its goal, the legitimacy of intrinsic processes to maintain the system itself (that is, the artistic system)... and even doubt as to its relevance… as quoted at the end of A role play: and you’re fine with it… aren’t you?

The most sensible thing to do is to see it all as a childish and inconsequential game.

— Tiago Santinho, 2017

originally published on the occasion of
Default, exhibition by Roberto Winter
at Mendes Wood DM
12/8 – 16/9 2017.