A glossy, glazed office development has just sprung up outside Camden Arts Centre, looking spanking new beside the soot-covered shops alongside. And, visible through the windows, it makes an instructive comparison with Pedro Cabrita Reis' Back Door - as indeed it does with all his work in this, his first solo exhibition in London. For there is an enticing tangle of old and new, outside and inside, in his sculptures; an ambiguity as to whether they are shards of the real world or metaphors for melancholy states of mind.
Back Door may suggest an entrance or an exit, but the door in question is a small shutter, distressed with age (though also shiny with a creamy coat of paint), and it sits hinged on to a thick pane of new glass. This structure, in turn, is hoisted just off the floor by a T-shaped tripod of rusted girders. The length of girder is angled to create a vertiginous feeling of perspective as you enter the gallery, while the glazing frames your view of the door; and both things conspire to make the door seem less a found object than a fantastical one.
The same ambiguities surround Meeting Point, the large work in the first-floor central gallery. Here a long steel beam skewers a heavy, tattered old table, heaving it off the ground, and also supports another window-like construction, this one framed in aluminium and painted in a coat of bright yellow. (This same type of painted 'window' - framed in wood or aluminium, and obscured with colour - forms the basis of the three 'paintings' that Reis exhibits alongside these installations. ) Reis has a genius for placement, and while the impact of Meeting Point is dampened by being shown in what amounts to a corridor, that isn't a problem with Stillness in the largest gallery - a simple, four-legged erection of rusted girders, lit by dirty striplights affixed to the central beam. Once again the construction seems to be telescoped, and its linearity is lent a clever foil by the black flex that powers the lights, and winds in a curve from the wall.
Reis, who represented Portugal at the Venice Biennale in 2003 with a magnificent silver shed full of strip lights, has been making works since the 1980s that resemble tableaux for theatre - domestic scenes in particular. These new pieces certainly have drama, but Reis' interests have moved outside to the city, and in the process his formal language has become more linear - where once he did boxes, now he does lines.
The smell of age, rust, and ramshackle fabrication all suggest that he is still preoccupied at some level with Portugal's slum housing, but this new linearity makes his strange constructions seem more imagined than real. If Duchamp, Dada and collage are in Reis' lexicon of influences, so too are the metaphysical concerns of artists such as Malevich. 'I am a gatherer of memories, mostly, ' Reis has said.
And very pungent ones too.
Morgan Falconer is a writer in London. A monograph on Pedro Cabrita Reis was reviewed in AJ 6.5.04