SHE and ‘the nude’

Being a teacher is an everyday learning experience. We’re challenged in very different ways: either because we need to learn how to teach, either because we need to find ways to potentiate their vision. They trust us and that’s a huge responsibility. When I started at it, 6 years ago, I struggled to find my place, but students helped me figure out how I could be most helpful and since then I’ve tried to push them (I’m aware sometimes in a harsh manner), to help bring to light what seems to be, at the time, most truthful to them. Of course this happens only with a few: those I’m able to understand. I think when we fail to understand our students, we also fail at teaching. Although I try my best to help them articulate their voices, at the end of the day I still fail to understand some of them.

As I’ve mentioned here before, some themes are recurrent amidst visual art students and the nude is one of those. Often we start to see some nudity when students are asked to create self-portraits. It’s not gender specific, both boys and girls seem to equate nudity with what they consider to be “most authentic” about them. Having said that, it’s more common to see that kind of nudity in female self portraits. Talking to a friend and colleague, a couple of days ago, we were precisely acknowledging how much we, as women, are taking a step backwards in our understanding of how the notion of empowerment relates to the promotion of our nude selves. If we have a quick look at facebook profile imagery, we’ll quickly realize how nudity plays a decisive role in it. 

In general, I’m very empathetic with the self-portrait of the nude, for I was one of those students – for years obsessed with the idea that portraying the nude was somehow a way to a more universal representation of me, as a young female struggling to find her place; mainly because clothes have the particularity of situating us in a more deterministic dimension. Clothes have the power of giving us a cultural identity as if, somehow, without them, we were suddenly undressed of (part of) that cultural burden.

Although I’ve stopped showcasing photographs of the nude, I never stopped photographing my undressed body and I still feel, when looking at those portraits, that they are the most genuine representations of how that corporeal matter relates to who I am. But this is just one side of the relation with the nude, meaning: the relation of the author with the representation of his/her own body.

© Sofia Silva, Land of branches, from The Orchestra, 2011.

In one of the schools where I teach, students are given an assignment (by another tutor) to photograph a stranger, nude, in a studio setting. They often end up showing me what they do and not once was their approach anything but unoriginal and, sometimes, awkward. Could it be any different? Maybe, considering that particular setting, the answer would have to be ‘no’, but in a different school, a student has proven that photographing the nude can be done in a very different way.

Bárbara is a fragile figure, with her long face and hair hovering over her tinny body. Last year she showed us a series of photographs she had made with her mother and grandmother (four of those photographs are reproduced bellow) and it was one of those challenging moments, for we were forced to consider HER, in all seriousness, maybe for the first time. Who was her? How could that girl express herself with such honesty? How could she relate to those familiar bodies in such a truthful way? What was she able to see that the majority of us don’t? We ended up helping her transform those photographs into very dark and dense platinum & palladium prints, wish we feel highlighted some of the darker qualities that are characteristic to her approach to the nude.

What surprised me (us) in these photographs is how soulful this tension is and how fragile it becomes in the darker images. How dramatic, yet simple. And yes, I feel they sort of replicate an idea of fading. Not death, per se, but an idea that something is on the verge of being lost or decaying. As far as I see it, whether these bodies are fading into shadow or into light, they all fade into blue.

This year, Bárbara came back with a different project about the nude. This time she decided to address the objectification of the male body, mainly in advertisement. She felt disgusted by those artificial shapes and so she decided to photograph the male nude, to challenge her perspective and see what she could see. What is featured below is just a very small glimpse into that work, but enough to showcase her approach. To sum it up, in a way Bárbara ended up projecting female forms into the male body (the framing, the color cast, etc.) and that posed another set of questions about the various dimensions that are contained in the representation of the nude.

Although this is not disruptive work, in respect to the specificities of the medium itself, I’ll try to argue why her perspective challenges our notions about the photographic representation of the nude. 

In the West, most of us live in a phallocentric society, where cultural myths associate man with life and woman with death. Eroticism is a dimension that we also associate with vitality, whether it tends to promote desire, to act as a subversive social critic or if it is intended to disrupt political concepts. Whether we’re talking about female or male bodies, in the sphere of the public eye, that gaze is almost always a male one. It’s not our fault, though that doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for it. When I mean it’ not our fault is because both genres grew up seeing women’s bodies objectified, though the consequences for men and women are quite different. For women it creates pressure. For some women, who fall victim of that stereotype and who aren’t given the opportunity to have a critical approach to their existence, it also sets their place in society, in a submissive position to the male gaze. For men, on the other hand, growing up in a culture that promotes the objectification of women legitimates their dominant position towards them (of course, a critical make existence will be emancipated as well).

In an article by Griselda Pollock, entitled Photographing Atrocity: Becoming Iconic?, the author evokes Freud, Aby Warburg and Didi-Huberman to argue that some of the most iconic photographic registers of atrocity are “bearable” because they equate death with the feminine. Reflecting on the imagery that survived the concentration camps, Pollock questions the “erotic connotations” that seam to make a photograph of naked women about to die, a “bearable tragedy” (instead of “an unbearable horror”, as she puts it). At some point, calling to mind Kevin Carter’s famous Pulitzer image of the vulture and the famine Sudanese girl, Pollock suggests that the phallocentric myth that is encrusted in our society is also present in the “gender relations” that are usually depicted in Photographs of suffering and/or atrocity. 

It may seem that I’m deviating from the subject – the subject being the nude and, in particular, Bárbara‘s take on it -, but I’ll soon make my point. Throughout the (yet) brief history of photographic expression, the portrait of the nude has served different ends, but rarely does one come across a representation whose dynamics aren’t based on the idea of desire, being that the dynamics of such desire are mainly masculine. Even if we think about the cliché of the maternal portrait or the pregnant woman, I think it’s fair to say that the subjective eye usually falls on the male gaze. I also think it’s fair to say that the portrait of the nude has been tinted by an invisible problematic, that of nude bodies being objects that “belong” to someone. Let’s try and look at two examples: 1) Alfons Walde‘s portraits of naked women, c. 1940; 2) Jodi Bieber‘s project Real Beauty, c. 2008.

In an article by Rebekka Reuter about Walde’s photographs of the female body (You’d have to dance first), Reuter states that he used the camera “not only to interpret, but to stage, indeed to a certain extent to penetrate”. The author goes on to contextualize Walde’s approach to his subjects (his wives and lovers), stating that in his Agfacolor portraits we can see the artist’s critical take on “monogamous, strictly bourgeois conventions” but, as she then adds, “awareness of this comes more with knowledge of Walde’s relationship to women than in what is depicted itself, which, for all its eccentricity, is characterized by a peculiarly cranky conservativeness”. What Reuter calls “conservativeness” is precisely the phallocentric symbolism that is all over his photographs. In her own words:

The appearances of these women, their anticipation of the image in putting their bodies on show, can be taken as classic examples of the gender-specific differentiation of the gaze, of the dichotomy of gazing male subject on the one hand, and of observed female subject on the other.

So what can one find in Walde’s photographs that could exist beyond that dimension of the male gaze? What aesthetic qualities make these portraits original besides the novelty of the color? Are they “authentic” works of art or should we see them as artifacts that serve a specific finality, namely his erotic desire?

Jodi Bieber‘s project Real Beauty proposes a reflection around the stereotypes that tend to dictate how women “should look like”. She sets on to do a collection of portraits of women of different ages, ethnicity and body shapes. But what does she accomplish? Is the intention to make the viewer think that they all look alike, that “all woman” have “the right to feel sexy, that mature human can be beautiful in very different manners? But what about those poses and that lingerie, what stereotypes are those choices intended to question? And why are they trapped in a domestic environment, against wardrobes, over their couches and beds or lying on the ground? Doesn’t this construction replicate the male voyeur? Isn’t the distance between the photographer and the subject just too ordinary? Shouldn’t the framing of these bodies matter and be a statement?

To cut this short, my perspective is that Bárbara is able to do something that for her is “just natural” (it really is) and for the majority of us proves to be quite difficult: she is able to live outside the phallocentric dimension. In doing that, not only does SHE reject (in an unconscious level) the capitalization of the nude and the power relationships that derive from that, but SHE also manages not to project a feminist take that could easily provoke a need to emphasize the female body and its sexuality. On that note, something that is also very clear in Bárbara‘s photographs is that they live beyond the erotic, their soul and truth may be potentiated by the nude, but it’s almost as if the nude was not its subject. It’s about mutation, transformation, tension to arise and to fall, but it’s not about a sexual energy, albeit the dynamics are sometimes the same.

I grew up in a very masculine environment and today I’m very much aware of how that impacted my relationship to other women. My father was and still is a well-intentioned man but with very low emotional intelligence. I have a brother and most of my friends were men. My brother’s friends, with whom I spent a considerable amount of time, were and still are mostly men. I was part of two all-men bands. At some point during my teenage years I became more comfortable dressing like a man, smoking like a man, drinking like a man. I used to enjoy this connections to the male universe, as if that was proof that I wasn’t interested in girl’s issues (now  I understand the meaning of all-girls schools). What I see now is that being around boys all the time brought me to internalize the male gaze and how sexual desire is such a big part of it. That gaze goes between us women. Well, some of us.

Bárbara, being from a different generation, context, etc., seems to live beyond this male gaze. It’s as if she escaped the realm of male desire. One doesn’t need to be an object of that desire to make sense of it. It’s everywhere in our society, but somehow SHE escaped that realm. What stance is she in then? We don’t know, but we’re hoping SHE continues to challenge our perspective on the nude.

Appropriation: a matter of intimacy, not authorship

The other day, while being guided through an exhibition by its own curator, I asked him why a particular work was being showcased as a slideshow when the author in question is exceptional at photographic printing processes. The answer was clear: “I really don’t care about the materiality of the work”. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, for what interests the curator is the photographic discourse, not the authenticity of the works. For me, both as viewer as well as an image-maker, I care about the materiality and the sensuous tone of the work.

The popularity of the photographic discourse is not new and the digital era is not to blame for its success. It may be true that the virtual nature of the images helps promote its lack of material appreciation, but the reasons for the cult of the discourse run deeper, and they affect all the realms of the art.

I found myself thinking about this today because of a particular event that has to do with appropriation. So let me explain: a while back I wrote a post about a project that had won a photographic competition here in Portugal. Today I find myself surprisingly going back to that same competition, but because of another author, who at the time won an honorable mention with a project named Atlas. The author is Flávio Nuno Joaquim. We did our undergraduate course at the same school, though in different years. When the awards came out I didn’t pay much attention to his work, for it doesn’t really interest me, but for chance today I came across a link to his newest book featuring that project and I decided to take a peek.

For my surprise, I found some photographs of me, naked, full frontal, in his book. I did know that Atlas was a collection of images found in the trash in the labs, at the school where we once studied and I now teach. The panels I had seen had scraps from different processual origins, but they mainly alluded to the repetition and methodology at work, when dealing with photographic printing processes.

So when, in the middle of those scraps, I saw these images of an old work of mine I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell where they doing there, and how the hell did he have them. In the presentation text to his work, we can read that his gathering of works started in 2010, something which is not true in the case relating to my work, for I left school earlier than that.

I asked Flávio how he got hold of them and he explained that he found them in the garbage. And, I confess, I am really bothered by this. Not because I “shot” the photographs (I couldn’t care less about proprietary issues), but because my naked self is portrayed in those images. At some point I thought I had the right to decide whether or not I still want to show these images, and I don’t.

The fact that he allegedly found these proofs in the garbage raises another issue, for I wasn’t the one throwing them out. That wouldn’t happen. Whether I’m throwing mine or someone else’s work out, first I tear it apart. I hope this gesture prevents the appropriation of some intimate space one wants to keep to oneself. So apparently (I can’t see how it can be any different) my former teachers were the ones throwing these photographs into the garbage, and Flávio did nothing more that grab them.

Then what goes thru a person’s mind when he/she decides to include an image of someone’s naked body in his/her book without approaching the “owner” of the body herself? Is it that hard to understand that the performer and the person are not two different universes? Is it that hard to understand that a self-portrait is, in fact, a portrait of the self? Has the self lost the right to preserve the interior space that’s his/hers?

Let me repeat: I really don’t give a damn about copyrights and authorship, but I believe in dialogue and in respecting the other. Some time ago an author I had showcased here at Nihilsentimentalgia emailed me asking if I could take down her work, for she no longer recognized herself in that particular series. It really doesn’t matter what I think of her request, what matters is that she reached out to me and the right thing to do is to respect her wishes.

The funny thing about those images Flávio appropriated from me is that they were themselves appropriated. I titled them “After Saudek”, for they were inspired by Jan Saudek’s work. But not only were they born out of this referentiality, they were also a turning point in the way I photograph my body. In those days, I used to tell myself that the body in the picture was not really mine, but a general body, a referent. Having to look at the images for quite some time, for I had to prepare them for an exhibition, I started to see myself in them. In therapy, those images became an issue. I ended up burning the negatives. So, you see, they are part of my interior space, my intimacy and the history of my affections and it’s hard to see them included in a catalogue of repetitions, a catalogue deeply rooted into the photographic discourse, not the work.

The author and the work are not two different things. True it happens when only the artistic discourse it at play. It’s not that in “authentic art” the work mirrors the author or is in some way autobiographical. What happens is that the work of art takes the place of the author. The problem here is Flávio’s ethos, or lack thereof. Because Flávio decided to omit to me that my undressed body would be on display in his Atlas (not for lack of opportunity, one should stress), I am now, once again confronted with those photographs traveling the space of internet, exhibitions and so on.

Fortunately, this is no fatality. Authorship is one question, but privacy is another and it doesn’t really matter who took those photographs of my naked body or if they have copyrights or not, I do have the right to defend my privacy and no one should have the right to appropriate it and turn it into a public object without my consent.

Do they know of Salazar?

April, 2015: Público, a daily newspaper, published an article by author Vítor Belanciano entitled Esqueçam as grandes marcas, o verdadeiro luxo é a autenticidade (“Forget the big brand, the real luxury is authenticity”), following a conference organized by Monocle, which brought together, in Lisbon, an elite of market groupies from all over the world, ready to discuss the ingredients of the so called “tourism of authenticity”. The title of the article was apparently justified by a statement from Monocle’s director Tyler Brûlé, who said that “[t]he new definition of luxury is not big brands, which are similar everywhere, but the authenticity, the history, the memory, that’s what brings people to the cities” (n. p.). Monocle is both a trend magazine and a brand, whose success interferes directly on the markets. Belanciano mentions the existence of “an environment where one can breathe authenticity”, i.e., a context where what is most appreciated is the affective value of commodities. In other words, that “environment of authenticity” is dependent on the narrowing of the gap that separates capitalist and libertarian ideologies: the mediated consumption is labeled as inauthentic and the more direct trade is elevated to the ideal of authenticity, even if that market is mediated by the capitalist society all the same.

Tyler Brûlé is Monocle”, wrote another portuguese newspaper, following the same conference. The “trends’ guru” apparently discovered what is so trendy about Lisbon. According to him, “the grass needs to keep on growing in the portuguese cobblestone […] for it reveals personality, otherwise it would be as if the city had too much botox. If the cities go through excessive plastic surgery they start to gain a different personality, and the authenticity is lost” (n. p.). So imperfection is marketable as long as it is also prone to gentrification. The values evoked in this simplified view of what is marketable and touristic are not that different from the romantic perspective that ruled over the eighteen century: one keeps on associating authenticity with manufacturing and proximity, as one keeps on allocating the aura in singularity; on the other hand inauthenticity is equated with mechanical reproduction and the mediation that separates the producer from the consumer.

Monocle’s strategy is to celebrate a cool life, and for that they associate the idea of coolness with the ideal of authenticity. Dedicated to celebrate and promote and healthy living, right in the middle of the neighborhoods, with access to local produce, Monocle has dedicated several articles to the so called portugalidade (“portuguese flare”?) and this is where Catarina Portas comes in.

Note: let me had that I live right in the lion’s mouth, Campo de Ourique, the Lisbon neighborhood Monocle can’t stop promoting.
Patricia de Melo Moreira for The New York Times
© Patrícia de Melo Moreira, photograph published in “The New York Times”.

A Vida Portuguesa (understood as “The Portuguese Life” or “Portuguese Way of Living”), is Portas’ enterprise. Created in 2007, it is a brand that aims to resurrect the traditional market and promote historical products. As Portas herself states to Monocle, her target audience is both the elderly people who can no longer find their products in the local stores (called Drogarias), as well as “fine-art students who enjoy the atmosphere”. A Vida Portuguesa’s blog highlights the fact that Catarina Portas has been promoted by Monocle to the category of “global hero”. In fact, Monocle has countless articles praising Portas’ market vision. But this is what troubles me: is it possible that because many of the products promoted by her brand reference the portuguese dictatorship (the period known as Estado Novo) that they also suggest a conservative and nostalgic understanding of the concept behind that “portuguese way of living”? I think the answer is a plain yes.

In the Manifest made available in the brand’s site one mentions identity, saudade “(that nostalgic and untranslatable longing)” and the power of memory, and of the products one concludes that “[t]hey are trademarked in our memories and represent a way of life. They evoke the everyday life of another time and reveal the soul of a country. These are our products. This is who we are”. Although there are similarities between this “manifest” and the kind of fundamentalist discourse that tends to praise the “national values”, when asked by Monocle, Portas states that her project “is tied to identity, not nostalgia, which is very different”. Is it?

livros a vida portuguesa
Books sold by “A Vida Portuguesa”. Some are promoted with the following statement: “These books, of the ancient primary school, evoke the childhood times of a senior portuguese generation.”

Historian Pedro Duarte reflects upon a possible connection between capitalism and fascism by looking at the Vida Portuguesa brand and highlights the importance of identity, authority and myth for such a reflection. On one side, Duarte places the “makers of identity”, obsessed with the conquest of a secure lexicon of identity related symbols; on the opposite site, Duarte places the “destroyers of identity”, who contest any form that goes against the natural dynamics that the passing of time brings upon the different notions of identity. Portas isn’t comfortable in none of these sides: she doesn’t shy away from the chance to promote the importance of memory for the conservation of the concept of “national identity”, but she also plays the game of neoliberals, promoting the economy of tourism and the importance of innovation.

These “trademarks of our memory”, consumed both by locals and by tourists, find in A Vida Portuguesa the perfect “way of being portuguese”. However, if and while addressing tourism Portas’ strategy doesn’t seem to offend, being innovative only as far as she manages to bring together a manufacturing industry that is spread across the country; while addressing the local consumers I immediately question their selective memory. Duarte sums it up:

Fascism was an historical period where the construction of an identity was placed at the core of political action, that way attaining the media, architecture, city planning, art, school curriculum, history books, dictionaries and encyclopedias. National identity reproduced itself […] the political power went deep into the lives and individual consciences. And with it, “a vida portuguesa”, that inventive idea of the duo Salazar/Ferro, of which all the material work of the regime constituted an active propaganda. (my translation)

CatalogoAVP_Natal2015
From “A Vida Portuguesa” catalog.

Concerning design, the term authenticity designates the conformity between a style of a product and the period it references, being that a work will be labeled as authentic if it abides by the premises of its origins. But besides that stylistic concordance, the authenticity of a design also abides by a barometer of nostalgic induction, meaning the success of that design will be valued in retrospect to its capacity to arise sensations and feelings that are dated, from the period the product evokes.

The gentrification promoted by the Portas Empire is not a problem of its own, as the third store of A Vida Portuguesa, located in Intendente, suggests. Intendente is the capital’s most gentrified neighborhood (debatable). It used to be a marginalized neighborhood, mainly because of its drugs and sex markets. I studied there, by night, during those times, and although I witnessed a lot of fucked up things, its fame was always worse that what really went on in the streets. The neighborhood’s recent gentrification, with the promotion of retro/vintage/manufacturing markets, brought in a different population and dynamics to Intendente. Of course, the housing prizes went up and a communal feeling apparently took over the individualization that the neighborhood “used to promote”. It’s true, Indentende today is a place of gathering, but what it continues to leave outside of its “campus” is everything that does not abide by the ideal of “a portuguese way of living”.

CatalogoAVP_Natal20151
From “A Vida Portuguesa” catalog.

February 2016: the New York Times places Intendente in the map and urges Americans to travel to Lisbon and visit Portas’ store. But do they know of Salazar? What gives them the right to praise the importance of local stores without addressing the history of Salazar and its traces, printed all over the city? Is this our inheritance? Do we sleep next to Portas’ products and throw away the history books and the echoes of a colonial war?

As more and more entrepreneurs take over the discourse of authenticity and go for the revival of the traditional market place, I have the feeling we keep going back in time and what we are in fact witnessing is a reactionary and neoliberal movement which mistakes the need to preserve history with a nostalgic way of living…

What’s wrong with photography competitions?

Everything’s wrong with this sort of competitions, yet they’re necessary to keep the art market alive. There are very few art prizes in Portugal and they tend to promote the most conceptual approach to contemporary art practices, one of the reasons the results are always controversial.

This week (or the week before, it’s fuzzy) Fnac announced the winners of their Photography competition. They named the prize “Novos Talentos Fnac Fotografia”, (Emerging talents Fnac Photography), and for the past years they’ve been promoting the work of people who are taking their first steps in the artistic field of photography. That is not the case this year and the problems start there. Is it dramatic? I guess not, but it is serious and needs to be addressed.

I need to make a brief declaration of interests and mention that I know this year’s winner, João, so I hesitated before writing this, for I know his intentions are on the right track.

João is not an emerging talent and it is my opinion that the jury* should justify his choice in relation to that point. Him not being an emerging talent has nothing to do with his age (emerging doesn’t equal youngster), but with the fact that he has been active in the artistic field of photography for quite some years. In 2009 we were both considered emerging talents in the biggest festival of Photography in Portugal (Encontros da Imagem), so why is he still considered a newcomer?

In the social networks, this year’s results have given us a lot to read, although very little has been said. However, people are not addressing the fact that he is not an emerging talent, but the quality of the work and the statement that João chose to give to promote the work, so let’s talk about School Affairs:

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© João Henriques, from the series “School Affairs”.
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© João Henriques, from the series “School Affairs”.
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© João Henriques, from the series “School Affairs”.
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© João Henriques, from the series “School Affairs”.

School Affairs is a collection of photographs from the time João spent in Tomar, doing a Master in Photography. João chose to promote these photographs as the result of a middle age crisis which led him back to school. That statement, which I find quite cynical, guides the narrative of this group of images: the skin, the breasts, the shoulder, the invisibility, the gaze… Yet the author’s statement functions as a walking stick: it’s white noise.

School Affairs promotes the so called authenticity of spontaneity, of the snapshot, of the tension that exists between the photographer (as predator) and the object of his desire (the prey), and it would be quite successful if it was a “true doing”. The problem is that I can see the effort, can identify and immediately get stuck in the semicolons that interrupt the work.

School Affairs reflects the impact of the academic milieu, in several dimensions. As the photographs started to circulate, a lot of vicious comments hit the streets of facebook. A photographer and colleague of ours wrote, in João’s defense, that “João Henriques achieved what is expected of a photographer worthy of such a name, namely to promote a dialogue, a narrative and question the observers, to the point they get angry and rebel!

As expected, I contest this interpretation of what a photographer “worthy of such a name” needs to achieve. Is art about communication? Does it have to be about an intellectual understanding of things? As far as I see it, the answer is no. If that was the case, it wouldn’t matter what the so called artist actually produces. It is my opinion that what has the potential to be transformative and permanent needs to be about the qualities of the work, qualities that are a clear extension of the way the artist creates, and “that way” is existential, psychological ethical, metaphysical and so on.

So, to wrap up this argument, the reason I don’t think of School Affairs as a successful work is precisely because I find no other way in except to conceptualize it, because it lacks originality, for the photographs don’t attain the self-sufficiency and aesthetic qualities that would “come to them” if they weren’t chosen to abide by a too conceptual premise.

Interestingly enough, the controversy keeps on escalating. João’s most commercially appealing photograph (of course this is debatable) in School Affairs is the photograph of a public outdoor depicting one portuguese actress. The original photograph is by another portuguese photographer. I think for most of us who live immersed in the visual arts field, we don’t even think of this as an issue, but rather as something that came to be part of our visual language: to appropriate public discourses, public strategies of seduction and consumption appeal.

But as we are often remembered, a big part of the observers don’t feel the same way and think of reproduction as appropriation and then equate appropriation with theft. It’s easy to call out these observers for their lack of knowledge of cultural discourses, but where does it lead us? Isn’t it more fruitful to actually reflect upon this huge gap?

The actress called out João’s work on facebook, saying he “had won the prize […] with a photograph of [her] person, taken by photographer André Brito in 2013”. Most of the comments that followed are pure gems. People insult the photographer, the jury, revealing the fussiness that exists between the commercial and the artistic world of photography. The language is the same, scaffolded on semiotics, but the aim is very different. Commercial photography is only successful if its finality is achieved, and once that is done, the photograph consumes itself, it dies. On the other hand, artistic photography need to rely on its aesthetic qualities and on its power to trigger the viewer’s imagination. Does João’s photographs do the former, the latter or both?

I rest my case for now. Hopefully the controversial will pass on and he will go on to address the photographic specificities that interest us.

* This year’s jury comprised the following personalities:
Margarida Medeiros, author and lecturer; Augusto Brázio
, photographer; Mário Teixeira da Silva, owner at Módulo; Sérgio B. Gomes, jornalist and editor for the blog Arte Photographica.
João’s work can be seen here.

⁞ Cliff Andrade’s ‘profound internalisation of longing’ ⁞

cliff1all images © Cliff Andrade, from the project Saudade.

Although I enjoy landscape photography very much, I often get bored by the way some photographers build their documentary projects around it, as if the mountain and its goats spoke the same language. They don’t. On this note, Cliff Andrade’s project Saudade (about Madeira) was a good surprise, not because I think the work is outstanding, but because it is filled with discrepancies that got me thinking: there are images, like the one above and others below, which really add something to the core of the project, and then there is a series of portraits which completely miss the mark, that are distant and cold and aesthetically disjointed from the rest of the project.

I usually find statements about projects redundant and unnecessary but in Cliff’s case (and it’s not a short text), his words are enlightening and sincere, so I’ll be posting the entire text here.

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“My childhood memories of the homeland of my parents are of a land very much other worldly. In those years, the early years following Portugal’s accession to the E.U. (then the E.C.), Madeira was, in most respects, still the same island my parents had known as children and young adults. An ochre earthed, tree covered volcanic mountain poking out of the ocean. Fresh air full of the scent of pine trees. Early mornings greeted by the cockerel’s sonorous cock-a-doodle. This was a world apart from the inner cities of Europe’s largest metropolises where most of our parents had ended up, and as a young child I revelled in it. I revelled in the nature. I revelled in the eternal sunshine. I revelled in the difference between that world, untainted by the obligation of school, and the drab grey world in which we existed for the years between summer visits.

Even if at times this difference meant frustration. Frustration at the availability of only one television channel. Frustration at the fear you felt sitting in the makeshift wooden outhouse as the family pigs ran around beneath you. Frustration at the lack of recognisable brands in the locally run shops. Supermarkets and chain stores did not exist here. For this was a land yet to be reached by mass-market consumer capitalism. I revelled in this difference and I revelled in feeling part of an extended family, re-united, a feeling all too rare for us filhos de emigrados, ‘sons of emigrants’, dispersed around the globe. And I revelled in my parents’ visible joy at being reconnected to their homeland.

The experiences of a child are buffered from the harsher realities of the world, and as such the reality of life in Madeira at this time should not be romanticised. It was a poor place, the majority of the population agricultural peasants. Basic infrastructure was lacking. Alcoholism a major problem. A day to day existence as mundane as any small rural community anywhere. But it was also a place full of laughter. Full of community. All this I was to come to realise years later through my mother’s stories. For all its faults, it was a place for which my parents would always feel that most Portuguese of emotions – a place for which they would always have saudade.

Saudade. How does one explain a concept that goes to the very core of the Portuguese national character? No direct translation exists into the English language. Tenho saudades tuas (lit. I have saudades for you) is often translated as ‘I miss you’, but this is misleading. It fails to communicate the profound depth of longing present with saudade. To miss is to feel the absence of something. To have saudade is to bear the additional sorrow of knowing that that absent something may never return. Others have described it as a deep emotional state of melancholic longing; but longing stares outward, to the horizon. Saudade is a profound internalisation of longing, drawing it deep into the soul. And there is a profound paradox at the heart of saudade – the melancholy is accompanied by joy; joy at the memory of having experienced that for which you now pine.

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Despite those handful of visits as a child, as my adult years progressed I became increasingly aware that Madeira was a place I hardly knew. And it knew even less of me. Why did I, then, a ‘second generationer’ from a foreign land across the vast ocean, also feel saudade for that land? Was it saudade I felt, or merely a nostalgia for fond childhood memories?

There is a saudade felt by the offspring of all those who left their home for a new land. A saudade that comes not from an absence for a place once known, but from a need to fill a gap within that has always existed. For to not know the home of our parents is to not know a place to which we are inextricably linked. That land formed them, in turn leaving its imprint upon us. To never know it is to never know a part of ourselves. Its water flows in our blood.

What is this human compulsion to know the past? Logic tells us there is no point in looking back. Time moves only forward. The future lies that way. But saudade knows nothing of logic. It yearns only for what is missing, fuelled by the human desire to know where we come from in the hope we can better understand who we are and where we are going. Perhaps by knowing the land of our parents, we hope in turn to know them better. Maybe out there amongst the pines and laurisilva, between levada and ribeira, serra and calhau, I will find some of the reasons for their joy, their sorrow, their insecurities and their strength.

In my personal case the need to know has become all the more pertinent in recent years. While they survive, our parents exist as the link to such a key part of our identity. What happens when that link is severed, as is its inescapable fate? Then we return to the land of our fathers increasingly as an outsider. As time passes our disconnection deepens. We are viewed with the benevolent and pitying looks reserved for tourists. For, in truth, we know nothing of that place and its people. Our families are ever more comprised of strangers. Things that were once held dear immediately begin to be forgotten, the guardians of that knowledge no longer present to preserve its memory. And what will be the effect on the grandchildren who never knew their avôs, their grandparents? How will they react when they receive that quizzical look that accompanies the question ‘Whereabouts are your parents from?’. For them, will the answer ‘my grandparents on my dad’s side were Portuguese but I never knew them’ suffice?

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During two visits spread over the end of 2013 and early 2014, I returned to the land of my parents for the first time in my adult life in an attempt to heal the disconnection I felt with it. In the build up to my trip, my thoughts often turned to the first Portuguese to arrive on the island. What must they have thought at the first sight of that vast tree covered rock, rising two thousand metres straight up out of the Atlantic Ocean, as if to sneak a peek over the horizon at its neighbour Africa? They arrived there in 1419. So awed were they by the dense forest that covered every centimetre of its surface that they called it simply Madeira, ‘wood’. What I discovered on my own personal voyage of (re)discovery was a place drastically altered from the one I had known through the stories of my parents.

Shortly after my childhood visits ceased, a massive influx of money began to arrive in Madeira from the E.U. as part of a European periphery development programme. The aim was to close the gap in development between Portugal and the leading Western European nations which had opened up over years of underdevelopment during Portugal’s authoritarian Salazar regime. It seems the autonomous Madeiran government decided this was best achieved through mass construction projects, specifically targeting road infrastructure. The network of old roads, painfully following the mountainside, snaking in and out of the island’s sheer sided valleys, were left frozen in time as they were replaced at lightning speed by a vast high speed dual carriageway network, blazing a straight path through the landscape, over bridges and through tunnels. Modern engineering showing all its might. Development in fast forward.

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In an attempt to know the island as my parents would have known it, I decided to travel along these old main roads. Due to the island’s topography, both old and new roads follow a similar route, and I often found the old road taking me under or up and over its modern successor.

What I discovered as I journeyed through the landscape was a land very much at odds with itself about the development of the last 20 years. Family homes sit abandoned under huge stilted flyovers, waiting silently in the vain hope of their owners return. But their occupants have long since gone, forced to move to make way for progress. Those who refused to move find themselves living on a traffic island, a domestic oasis in a concrete and tarmac desert.

The new roads were accompanied by other large scale construction projects. Shopping centres in every town centre. Marinas. Small towns graced with olympic sized swimming pools. Whilst times were good few worried about the wider implications of what was being done, but Madeira was hit particularly hard by 2008’s economic collapse, known there simply as a crise, ‘the crisis’. Now critical voices are ubiquitous.

No ones disagrees that the island was in dire need of development. What they ask is whether this development was pursued in the best way? And who really stood to gain from it – where did all the money go (and into whose pockets)? Was the desire for huge construction projects so all consuming that there was no time to stop and ask whether this was actually the best way to achieve progress? And was all this construction absolutely necessary? As one young man I spoke to along the way told me: ‘What we needed was balanced investment to create a sustainable economy based on our traditions and heritage. What we got was concrete’.

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Shopping centres sit empty. Seafront developments sit disused, sentinels for the yawning blue mouths of empty swimming pools. Sections of old roads rot as no money survives for their upkeep. The irony. The coastline, restructured to accommodate this break neck development, gives way under the force of altered erosion patterns. A new leisure port built in the shadow of the new road sits destroyed. A reminder of the consequences of failing to respect the power of water.

Turn towards the interior. Leave the populated coast and wander up into the lush and misty hills. Here the pace of development has been slower, but is visible nonetheless. Ancient rock, loosened by explosives carelessly used to blow holes in the basalt for road tunnels, cascades down the mountainside. Earth loosened by the mass removal of trees comes cascading with it, blocking roads. Disconnecting.

Up here, Madeira’s winters are wet. In February 2010 Madeira experienced its worst flood damage in living memory. Without the tree coverage to keep the soil together, torrents rushed down the mountainside and down the ribeiras, the steep sided river valleys, taking earth, rock, home and life with it. Four years later, reconstruction is still ongoing. A lonely broken pylon stands isolated in the middle of what were once houses, like a ghost from the past. A reminder of the consequences of failing to respect the power of water.

In the present day recession, when jobs and money are scarce, the myopia of the recent past looks even worse. Back in 2008 when the E.U. money stopped flowing almost overnight, the failure to create a sustainable economy, to enable the island to stand on its own two feet, was immediately cruelly exposed. All wonder whether history is set to repeat itself. Will another generation of young Madeirans be forced to disconnect from their homeland as they have no choice but to look abroad for brighter prospects?

As the European Union project seeks to expand itself ever eastwards, forging into other lands in need of development and unaccustomed to commercial capitalism, there may be a valuable lesson to be taken from Madeira’s experience. Change needs to be managed with careful consideration. Simply providing money is simply not enough.

There is hope. Madeira is endowed with an extremely beautiful and varied landscape and a vibrant and unique culture, full of potential. By western European standards, the level of crime is low. The sense of community high. One huge positive result of the development of the last twenty years is that the young are better educated and more internationally mobile than ever before. Hopefully, they will learn from the mistakes of the previous generations and build a sustainable future, reconnecting the island to itself and its heritage in the process.

Small moves in this direction can already be seen. The economic problems have forced many to return to the land through hardship – but in the process they have had the chance to re-evaluate the path they were taking towards progress. The poios, sloped terraced farm plots, abandoned in the rush to modernise, live again with fresh produce and activity. Small businesses have sprung up as those made redundant in the city return to their villages to pursue alternative ways of making a go of things. There are sparks of regeneration. Like a forest after a fire, charred trunks are soon surrounded by a carpet of new life.

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In the densely wooded mountain ranges, the serra, there hides another secret network of connections. Long before even the old roads were constructed, an intricate network of levadas, ‘water takers’, and veredas, ‘paths’, linked the island’s numerous agricultural settlements. Even in my parents’ time, these were the main form of communication. The sealed road to their village did not arrive until after they had already departed. It would have made little difference. No one owned a car.

First constructed in the 16th century to bring water from the wet north to the drier but more farmable south, levadas are small water canals about a foot across and a foot deep, accompanied on one side by an earth path. Often carved straight out of the mountainside, they were the engineering marvels of their day, bringing life, livelihood and connection.

In the same way that the new roads usurped the old roads in the 21st century, the old roads had usurped the levadas and veredas in the 20th. The more practical veredas survive, used mainly as access to homes and farms. The more picturesque have been appropriated as routes for tourists and extreme sports enthusiasts. Some levadas still fulfil their irrigation purposes. But many of these old routes are slowly fading into history, gradually being reclaimed by the laurisilva.

During my return to Madeira, I traversed the width of the the island along these ancient paths and waterways; a route that took me from coast to coast, south to north, over the island’s mountainous central spine in the process. Through this literal act of following in my ancestors centuries-old footsteps, I hoped that a physical discovery of the land would in turn lead me to an emotional reconnection with it, and a better understanding of the lives that had trodden those paths before me.

I had one more personal motivation in my pursuit of reconnection with my parents’ homeland. When I was still too young to know my father with anything other than a child’s mind, he ‘went with God’, as the Portuguese say. My links to his Madeira, always fragile, were all but severed. When my children ask about their avô, what will I say? Of their avó I can tell them much. I can tell them of a rural childhood. Of bare feet on red earth steps. Of leaving school aged eleven to work weaving wicker baskets. Of emigration, naturalisation and anglicisation. Of hard work, starched aprons and shy smiles.

But of him, only blurred memories. A big laugh. Plates piled with over-salted chouriço macaroni. Asleep on the sofa. I knew none of the members of his side of the family. As I crossed Madeira’s terrain in order to know it better, I decided to at the same time tackle the unknown terrain of my father’s family. Seeking them out before it was too late. And in doing so I hoped to know him better. After all, we leave vestiges, traces of ourselves, in everyone we know and have met. I hoped in them I would find traces of the man.”

Cliff, May, 2014

⁞ L’Hasard Photographique ⁞

hasard photographique_1Sofia Silva, Untitled, from L’Hasard Photographique, 2013/2014

hasard photographique_5Sofia Silva, Untitled, from L’Hasard Photographique, 2013/2014

hasard photographique_2Sofia Silva, Untitled, from L’Hasard Photographique, 2013/2014

hasard photographique_8Sofia Silva, Untitled, from L’Hasard Photographique, 2013/2014

hasard photographique_6Sofia Silva, Untitled, from L’Hasard Photographique, 2013/2014

hasard photographique_3Sofia Silva, Untitled, from L’Hasard Photographique, 2013/2014

hasard photographique_4Sofia Silva, Untitled, from L’Hasard Photographique, 2013/2014

hasard photographique_7Sofia Silva, Untitled, from L’Hasard Photographique, 2013/2014

⁞ From the mountains to the sea: a conversation with Márcio Vilela ⁞

This conversation took place in July 2014, over the virtual space of Lisbon and Brazil. The original, portuguese version, of this conversation, can be seen HERE.

Sofia: This conversation is driven by your recent book featuring the work done in Azores. I have a few questions about the images, but I’ll pose them later on. For now, what intrigues me is the object-book, namely your options regarding the fabrication, production and distribution of the book. Before I go into more specific questions, can you give us an idea of the reasons behind such choices?

Márcio: In my projects I always try to leave behind an object that speaks about the creative process. In Mono there was the box of Polaroides, accounting for the two years of production, in another project I’m currently working on it’s a transfers notebook… it’s always like this, there’s always something that stays.
I’ve always wanted to make a book, but had never manage to reach a successful compromise between the personal and manual labor of such objects and an industrially printed book. I then started to research an object that could be made by hand, like a book… and look like it was handmade.
I’m the one doing the printing, using the same method (inkjet) I use when doing the exhibit prints, this time in a continuous 5m print. This wouldn’t be possible in a Print Shop, the book would have to be bound with glue. The book’s cover is made on wooden paper, cut with its specific measures. I spent a lot of time searching for this paper, it had to be something really special. The inscriptions on the cover and the back (‘Azores’ and the map of São Miguel) are handmade, by transferring a pigment (a process I also use in other works).
The book is inside a card box which is also handmade. I wanted whoever opened the box to feel like he/she was being gifted something special, I wanted them to feel that what is inside is a part of me and it is unique.
Inside the book there is a text by Eder Chiodetto and an extra print that is not part of the exhibition of the series Azores. This extra print tells the story of what I went through during those 4 weeks in São Miguel, the extreme beauty, the freedom, the loneliness and the fear… a powerful mix of emotions. Eder’s text is beautiful, a result of conversations we had about such emotions. I think he was able to account for things I had felt, before I had thought about them.
Since it is a very limited edition, 100 copies, the distribution is also made by hand. People come to me to get the books, we talk, it’s all personal. There will be no mass distribution of the book. Besides myself, only three places will be selling copies: Photo Book Korner and Carpe Diem, in Lisbon, and Madalena’s bookstore in São Paulo. Meanwhile there are no more than 10 copies in these places. I really want people to come to me.

Sofia: Are you the one doing the handwork?

Márcio: Not anymore… in the beginning I chose the materials, the model, the box, everything. After that I asked a designer, Joana Durães, for help with the layout of the pages. As soon as the process was tuned, I started on the final books but it was taking me an entire day to finish each copy and at such a pace the project would never be over. So I decided to speak to Luís Rendeiro, in Tomar, in order for him to help me. He folds and cuts the 5m prints, and he also does the boxes, all by hand.
I then bring everything to my studio in Lisbon and finish the process, do the transfers, print and cut the extra image that comes with the book, fold in the text booklet, sign and number everything. Then I put it inside the box and it’s done.

Sofia: And why the preference for the handmade process over the industrial one? Are those options a result of an emotional connection, of an idea on ‘affective labor’ or is it a way to enhance the product with qualities than potentiate its economic value, such as singularity, rarity, amongst other things?

Márcio: It’s only a very strong emotional process, I’m not sure if the fact that it is made by hand can effectively potentiate the objects’ economic value. I think that happens more naturally because of the content and the way things develop inside a book, than because of its materials and its fabrication process. Besides, the exchange value of the book is relatively low, close to the production costs. My interest here was to move from the objects I used to make to a book, with losing control over the manual aspect of things.

Sofia: I think the value of a book, as with almost everything else, is greatly dependent on the nominal value of the author. If you have that authority, everything you produce has its value. But what interests me in this case is that your book is coming at a time when the handmade product is being overvalued, besides being trendy. To my knowledge, this is the result of a process of alienation between author and work that has been escalating since the Industrial Revolution in the XVIII century and is now reaching a peak with the notion of ‘virtual labour’ introduced by all the new technologies. Anyway, my question is: although it is not a strategy, do you care that your emotion connection to the handmade process is translated in an economic value?

Márcio: Yes, I do agree a book can depend, in part, of the author’s nominal value, but I also think the art public is more attentive than we think, people don’t say they like or dislike something based on a signature on the corner of the artwork.
I think the artwork needs to circulate, reach people. Those who can’t afford to do a professional high cost book, do it by hand… in the end what is judged is the consistency of the work.
An artists ruled by trends is a hostage of that strategy, and is always looking for references outside of himself, waiting for the marker’s approval. I always thought a true artists creates because he/she needs to, even without the monetary reward or the recognition… like food for your soul. I know a lot of people like this and have always admire them for it.
In regards to your question, I can say I care about the economic value of my works, but that isn’t a goal.

Azores_06© Márcio Vilela, from the series Azores. Courtesy of the artist.

Azores_05© Márcio Vilela, from the series Azores. Courtesy of the artist.

Sofia: And regarding this project, how do you think the handmade aspect of the book meets the images? I suppose the book wouldn’t lose its meaning if it was made through industrial processes, so in your understanding what does this personalized approach to the object adds to the photographs?

Márcio: These images are relatively big, 120x150cm. When on a wall, the set of these 6 images has a different relation with the spectator, you can have a distant look at them to get an overall perception of the composition but you can also get closer to see the details… but it ends up being an object with a very strong presence.
I think this book would lose its sense if made by industrial processes, I’m addressing this book in particular. I’m not sure if it’s the object-book that adds something to the photographs or the other way around, maybe in the end they are one unique thing.
The relation one establishes with the book is very different from that one establishes with the image on a gallery wall, it is more personal. When we hold a manufactures object on our hands that relation is even more intimate, there is the notion that the thing we’re holding is delicate, that we need to hold it with care, that it needs time to be looked at. This time, this wait, they are important.
For me this book brings very strong sensorial experiences, there are the different textures of the papers, the smell of the cardboard… with careful attention we can also smell the solvent used in the pigment transference. It is an object one keeps rediscovering and that only strengthens that affective relationship I’ve been talking about.

Sofia: That’s why I mention alienation, because the great majority of people create more immediate empathies with objects in which the extension of the author’s body is easily recognizable, but I don’t think that empathy is more or less natural than any other (I don’t support the essentialist discourse), rather it is a reaction to a sincere discourse and that sincerity can manifest itself either in manufactured or industrial discourses. As a spectator, how are you, do you also create empathy with artworks in which you recognize the author’s footprint, or is that irrelevant?

Márcio: Certainly there’s an expectation when I go and see the work of someone I really like, be it a cinematographer, a plastic artist, a musician… I’m always curious and open to absorbing that experience. There have been exhibitions where I stayed for over an hour without talking to anyone, or I didn’t want further visual stimuli (as much as possible), I wanted to take it all in very slowly… I’ve spent over an hour sitting on the floor of a dark room at TATE looking at a Da Vinci’s sketch (and they have chairs)… I was stagnant on the floor, couldn’t get that out of my mind. This had happened a few times and some of these experiences have been with author’s I had never before heard about. Being unaware of the author’s footprint has only accentuated that experience, as if I had just discovered a new color.
When I know the artist I’m very emotional in my analyses, I can either enjoy the work very much and end up in a sort of “sensorial blockage” state I mentioned or I can be really disappointed by what I see… really sad, as if they had disappointed me. When I go to see a work I’m not expecting the artist’s success or failure (because sometimes I feel people root against you), I go out looking for a surprise and hoping that such experience can open another door in my mind.

Sofia: It’s curious that photography is precisely the most polarizing medium, its process is profoundly subjective and its presentation tendentiously objective. This seems quite clear in this series: on the one hand you have the installation of the photographs, public, with no anomalies, forcing the spectator to maintain a certain distance in order to contemplate; on the other hand you have the manufactured book that calls out for an intimate sensorial experience. Does this bipolarity between the private and public discourse suit you?

Márcio: It doesn’t bother me, I think they’re different situations. The exhibition is always the presentation of an end result, I like seeing people’s reactions to the artworks, sometimes I pass by a spectator and join a group in order to share that experience. At the Bird Eye View exhibition I even stood by a couple and asked what they thought was the white spot in the middle of the blue image… after thinking for a while they said they thought it was an aeroplane. I told them it was a ship, and suddenly the expressions on their faces changed completely, in that moment the sky was converted in the sea. It was a very special moment for me.
On the other hand, openings always give me a mix of emotions, a part of me is happy because the work is done, another is deeply sad because it is over… In Açores this was very strong.
I’m more interested in the process that in the end result, it’s the experience that counts, to allow myself the failure and the dream.
Regarding the objects I make, as the book Azores, this relation is quite different. The object will last, every time I open it, it is “new”, it ceases to be a memory and becomes something you touch.

backstage MONO_11© Márcio Vilela, from the series Mono. Courtesy of the artist.

backstage MONO_02© Márcio Vilela, from the series Mono. Courtesy of the artist.

Sofia: In reality, photography has always been associated with wandering and you seem particularly drawn to the contrast between the infinitude of the landscape and the limits of the human dimension. For that matter and because your discourse over this conversation has been one of proximity, I’d like to finish with a question I know will be hard to answer but that I find inevitable: what are you looking for?

Márcio: Problems… inevitably I’m always looking for problems. Not in terms of difficulties, confusions or suffering, mas in terms of challenges that are on the verge of being impossible. I get bored very easily and routine has a harmful effect on my life, while it comforts me (grants me security and stability) it prevents me from moving on.
It’s funny that you ask this question at this point in my life, because I’m in the middle of big changes, once again. I’m not going to lengthen these stories, nor do I pretend to appear like a fearless and detached human being… which I’m not.
In 2002 I was in an extremely comfortable position in Brazil. I was finishing the third year of my studies in Veterinary Medicine, with a stable emotional and financial life, I had many friends and my family close to me. It as a perfect scenery for someone wanting to be “someone”… that thing that frightens our parents to death: the possibility of us not succeeding. I wasn’t unhappy, but was tremendously bored and annoyed. The “happiness pack” was right there, but there was something missing… I needed to break the routine. “Still water rots”, my brother used to tell me. He has total influence in my decisions regarding art.
When I discovered photography, in 2001, was as if I was discovering the world once again. Instead of “discovering a color”, I felt I had been seeing the world in black and white… it was overwhelming, out of control. So profound that in less than a year I had packed two suitcases and was at my hometown’s airport, in Recife, on my way to Tomar… I knew they had a graduate course in Photography and not much else.
Time in Tomar was very harsh, though also very productive, I learned a lot.
Being detached brought me here. In Recife the weather was good, there was the beach, friends, financial freedom, and an “eternal” love… but so what?!
I mentioned your question is very pertinent in this moment for the same reason, because I’m bored again… extremely accommodated and bored. I’ve been teaching photography for the past 8 years, I love classes, but it’s taking up all the time and mental capacity that I have, even if it is also a great comfort. I am “someone”, a graduate school teacher. I know that on the 23rd of each month there’s this salve alleviates the pain and calms the tedium. It’s like “I have a car to go to work to pay my car”, or something like that. So I’m out, I won’t be teaching anymore.
I love to teach, I feel alive when I’m inside the classroom with my students, but all the extra-curricular problems kill me. I decided to become “no one”, I decided to be what I’ve always wanted but had never had the corage to fully become… an artist. When I’m involved with my projects there is never boredom, there’s never anxiety…
I think this constant dissatisfaction is the result of an extremely boring childhood, spent inside an apartment with few friends and little to do besides the daily suffering at school… I’ve sort of always been a terrible student. That only changed in Tomar, when I started studying what I really liked, that’s when I discovered that the secret to success is to be doing what one enjoys, I’ll never let anyone take that away from me again.
This sense of boredom is very noticeable on my work, everything that seems too easy causes my disinterest. This raises several problems, either financial or emotional. During the residency in Azores that was very simple, I would have four weeks to photograph and enjoy the island… to work and to relax at the same time. Of course I had to make things harder for myself, so I woke up early every day and coursed through the island from one side to the other without stopping, eating sandwiches and chocolate milk from Azores. I worked till nightfall, went to extremely remote places, always on my one, I took full advantage of the power a Jipe gives to be transported from point A to point B… drove into roads where there could have be no way out. I went up, down, then reversed… There was no music in the car, no travel companion. There was the silence, an eternal silence I had never experienced before… I went looking for the mountains and the cows, people simply weren’t around. I felt like coursing through a deserted island most of the time. When I returned home at the end of the day there was no one to share the adventures of the day with. It might seem strange, but I met no one in the island, I kept outside, on my one… maybe due to a social inability, lack of time for it… I’m not sure.
It’s obvious this has caused me physical problems and by the end of the third week I was taken to the emergency room in São Miguel during the night, I must have been dehydrated, hypoglycaemic… in chock even. My body was simply refusing to continue… I was on serum for hours. That day I had reached my physical limit, the landscape had literally crushed me. After spending two days at home resting I started it all over. I can’t do it differently.
The other day I was talking with Daniel Blaukfus about chess and I was telling him how boring it was to play against me because I had a suicide strategy when playing games. In jest he answered I had a suicide approach at life. I smiled, I take it as a compliment, specially coming from a friend.
I don’t think of myself as a strong person because of these things, on the contrary, my body gives me clear signs when I cross the line, but at the same time that’s what makes me wanting to be “here”.
In another recent event, this modus operandi has led me to a big discussion with a great friend and curator, Lourenço Egreja. He invited me to an artistic residency in Berlengas, the idea was to stay in the island for a period of ten days producing work in the archipelago, working and relaxing once again. This time I took the project to an extreme, I simply decided not to stay in the island… “I’ll get out of there”, I thought. I bought a life raft, one of those you throw at the sea when a ship sinks and is automatically inflated. I’ll turn myself into a voluntary castaway, stay adrift in the sea till one day I reach land… always alone. The scale of this project caused him to worry a lot, understandably, no one wants to feel responsible for the death of a friend… that was the base for the discussion: “It is my decision, you can’t stop me”, on the one hand, and “I won’t let you do that, I don’t want you to die”, on the other. It’s hard to hear a friend saying “you can’t stop me”. I’m deeply sorry that I cause this sort of anguish on people… but I can’t avoid it, I do it because I need to… I will do it. There’s a curiousity that makes me move forward anyway, when I make a decision it’s almost impossible to stop me. When I decided to come to Portugal it was the same thing, “you can’t stop me”… and here I am.
A very good friend from Germany, Jessica Lennan, once called me a “trouble maker”… I loved it, we laughed a lot about it. This is it, I like to go looking for problems for me to solve, I think that’s what I’m looking for. As if this problems were mazes invented by me… there is always a way out, I know there is. This is what drives me, no matter how difficult it is I know there is always a way out of there. This is why, going back to your question, I think I’m looking for a way to dream freely… and dreaming causes this problems.

Sofia: Thank you for being so prompt and willing to make yourself known and to expose your strengths and fragilities. Thanks for this conversation. All the best with the drift away project, no doubt you will succeed, as much in the more immediate dimension of breaking with the daily routine and go out on a limb, as in the spiritual dimension. One day, in a PhD class where we were discussing that same old question of how to define ‘art’ a colleague suggest that an artist is a ‘problem solver’… I suspect you can identify with such description.
See you soon, Márcio.

⁞ The complex task of seeing through Photography: a conversation with Isaac Pereira ⁞

1012600_643410882417254_4043574406647253164_nall images © Isaac Pereira. Courtesy of the artist.

This conversation took place in July 2014, over the virtual space that unites Macau and Lisboa. The original, portuguese version, of this conversation, can be seen HERE.

Sofia: We’re having this conversation mainly because of your exhibition, Tree, now held in Macau. Although I couldn’t be there, I find the way you are imposing installation and performance on the photographic matter very interesting. In an article about the exhibition, published in South China Morning Post, you named what seems to be the keyword for this project: contamination. Tell me about that contamination.

Isaac: The idea of “contamination” in this work, comes due to a problem that has been on my mind about Photography and my own work: Is it still possible today, given the level of profusion of visual information and the speed at which such information circulates, to “retain the look” of the other, and your own look, on the images we create? Let us assume, driven by a mere hypothesis, that is the result of a direct observation, the “act of retention” is close to a breaking point. I call this “the crisis of the look”. So what remains? Or, in other words, in what manner can images, or certain images, survive this crisis? A simple argument, frequently used in this debate, is the argument on the idea of the “strong image”. But, in this context, what is now a “strong image”? My quest is only to ask if, from the point of view of my own practice of photography, and the practice of photography in general, and given the classical definition of Photography as “the act of killing time”, would it be plausible to pass this idea to an installation, in the sense of “an action”. This “act” presupposes the existence of an effective relation between an image and its site specific reading – the space of the installation – a “combat mode” relationship, of a fair challenge between the one lending his eyes to the possibility of another look. Or, alternately, to a look as a vehicle of reflection and thought. For me, this “combat-challenge” is an attempt to, by means of such relation, overcome the “crisis of the look” or, at least, it matches my desire to leave it outside this crisis. Even if it is a paradox, I call “contamination” to the appeal to a mode of survival that is motivated by the experience of thought as a look “over a time that has already lived through its end.”

Sofia: Where you speak of “an action”, I speak of “a doing”, let me explain: in Kant’s Critique of Judgement, he distinguishes between agree and facere, explaining that “to do” is related to the artistic practice – it entails intention and finality; while “to act” relates to nature – a natural effect, with no intention. It seems to me that what you purpose is based on your intentions and ability to act, the spectator is able to do more than contemplate. But in such a context, where through installation you are setting an atmosphere that guides the experience of the spectator, what relevance do the images presented really have?

Isaac: I understand and respect the kantian stand, but here I do not make any distinction between the resolute nature of the categories. Nowadays, the concepts are expanding and acquiring different meanings and in the rhetoric of the aesthetic discourse, “to do-to act” is not that opposed to “to act-to do”.
Let me just add a final consideration about the idea of “contamination” because it pertains to your question. During the creative process, I wanted to embrace that idea in the editing process. I don’t know the exact number, but I must have gone through over 10 thousand negatives, some long forgotten. During that revisitation some images grabbed my thoughts but some failed to have that energy. So I started to separate them. It was like I was looking at something for the first time, something that had already lost the seal of ownership and was free from me. I then decided that in some way this idea should come through in the installation and that the images, though from different times and spaces, should “look at each other”. I thought that contamination, exposed through the installation, should give the spectator the opportunity “to act”. At the same time, I showed the final edition to a couple of creators – a music composer and a filmmaker – and asked them to create their own works parting from that body of images. This idea then culminates with a request to the visitor: that he/she chooses three of his/her photographs – which he/she thinks dialogue with what he/she saw – and “lend” them to this project in order for them to be edited and placed in the installation space where there’s a wall with 25 empty wooden boxes, the end place for the images that will be “lend” and chosen by those visitors wanting to associate with the exhibition.
Now in terms of your question. The relevance of the images chosen for the exhibition is that of having been chosen with the limits I set for myself. During the creative process, I decided these were more connected with the nature of this exhibition and with whom I am as a photographer, but what interests me is that these images are not definitive, they can disappear and be replaced by others. In fact, in a way this can be noticed in the installation. I was interested in some images that had to be left out precisely because they dialogue with each other and with the overall idea of the work. The idea of a work enclosed on itself is frightening. Between a void and an aura, there is a never ending field of action. More than the possibility to look at each of the images in this installation, the spectator has the choice not to see all of them and to interact with them.

Sofia: Meaning, it isn’t the photographs, those photographs, that make the exhibition, but the autonomy you are choosing to give to the work exhibited, in order for it to remain open, in an internal and external dialogue. You call for a very strong image, that of seeing the work being set free from the father, which makes me think of two, somehow conflicting, ideas: firstly, the “death of the author”, given you are suggesting to erase intentions of property and authority and hand in the autonomy to the artwork; on the other side, there is a kind of obsessive control over the format and the selective power, even if the interaction between the spectator and the work can be dynamic. Do you really think that opening the range of possibilities to the spectator will allow him/her an experience that is more suitable for the subject?

Isaac: I wouldn’t go that far. The photographs make the exhibition, but not only them. I would say what makes the exhibition is the relation, full of possibilities, people establish with the images that are integrated in the physiognomy of the space. What I suggest is not really an “effacement” of the author – because the trace is there – but an extension of the way I experienced the installation in the autonomy of the other, given his/her choice not to look at some of the images and appropriate them as a selective, exercise of memory. The possibility to overlook some images and through a range of options establishes new relations. The spectator’s reactions tend to highlight that aspect, meaning: although I’m aware that I am the one who created the images, that is as an original selection and pre-set format. In the end it is very interesting to see the experience of the spectator being able to explore other meanings in his/her relation to the work. My proposal is to further investigate otherness. The door is slightly opened to an interactive proposal that goes beyond a deferred act of looking that is imposed by the totality of the visible.

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Sofia: I was trying to avoid making this reference and evoke other names in this conversation, but the way you describe this extension of the space of the author to the space of the spectator and your reflection on otherness make me think of Marina Abramovic’s latest performance in London, at the Serpentine Gallery, where I find that by insisting on the opening of the field of possibilities she is actually imposing control over such field of experiences. I’m not saying your example is the same, what I question is if, instead of offering the world to the spectator, the interactive nature of a work is not a practice that ends up constraining the freedom of the spectator’s aesthetic experience. How are people reacting to your exhibition?

Isaac: My main concern is not to obtain a certain reaction, in that sense I can agree there would be some kind of control force involved. My quest is for the opening of the spectator’s field of action, presenting him/her with a proposition that stands between “yes”, or “no” or a “maybe”. I’m more interested in that “maybe” because, as I’ve said before, it gives the spectator “time and space” to act. This “maybe” or, if you will, I insist, the possibility to find different paths parting from mine, is the way I try to “offer the world” to the spectator (to quote your phrasing) liberating from the more conventional ways to look at an exhibition. In this sense, I confess, the reactions have been surprising. People ask questions such as: How does one see this exhibition? Which section do I start from? My response is that the order is arbitrary. I think this installation – that is accompanied by a “map” – urges, because of something I call “positive provocation”, to repeat the entering process, more than once and in a different way. Because this work has a different psychological time, people are free to start from different “endings” and stop at different “beginnings”. People say they need to come again one more time, preferably on their own, which I think is symptomatic and at the same time gratifying.

Sofia: Some time ago, we exchanged some words about our frustration with the way people are creating and showing art. I was pleasantly surprised by this exhibition, precisely because it proposes something new and you didn’t confine yourself to installing a bunch of photographs on the wall hoping someone can make a more or less linear understanding of them. What was the moment that triggered this exhibition?

Isaac: I’ve been thinking about what Photography means today and what is its role in our contemporary society, a reflection I hope to further develop. I’ve been thinking seriously on my work, or about what it could be. You and me, every one of us, we see lots of things. In museums, galleries, virtual sites. I feel that, in some way, our eyes are tired. Tired of looking, tired of the “photographable”. I only think everything is photographable from the moment the “photographable” wins over the weariness of looking, from the moment there is “a way of looking”. I counteracted the way of looking with “a way to make visible”, because although I’m sure about what this set of images “say”, the look of the other does not necessarily imply the same “references” and the same care, particularly because the images exhibited allude to other significances beyond their apparent meaning. But, today, as a creator, this is not satisfying enough. The excess of the visible has in itself an excess of light that obscures. Maybe, this is what you were previously referring to as “the obsessive control of the format”. I wanted to protect this body of images from that linear reading, from that excess of the visible. I thought, I assume that “yes, I want, wish for people to see this work”; but in order to achieve this, I had to assume a personal rupture with the way I’ve been choosing to make things visible. I think this is the role of the form in Tree. From the conception of the space to the organization and presentation of the images, going through the boxes where people leave their feedback in the form of a word, to the lightning design itself. I wanted that, in the end, people could retain a memory of the way they experienced the exhibition. Altogether, these aspects culminated in a call for intimacy in the experience of the exhibition, and that is the moment you call “the trigger”.

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Sofia: That idea of an “intimacy in the experience of the exhibition” is, by itself, an impossible premise when we’re dealing with photography. It seems to me that you are going through a process of reflection that is common to those who mature with photography, for it becomes inevitable to think about the medium, even if the value of auto-referential art is tendentiously instrumental.
With this exhibition you called for the participation of the public, for them to send photographs with which you would then make a new Tree with universal associations. Is that it? I couldn’t help but notice that you mention notions usually assigned to authorship, using words such as “property”, “signature” and “author”. Where does the need for that rhetoric come from?

Isaac: I don’t agree that the fruition of an intimate time with an object such as this exhibition is an impossibility. I’d never thought about what maturing with photography could be. In any case, yes, there will always be a place for a reflection upon the medium that I find important and necessary.
Yes, I’m inviting people to send me photographs that are their property, to work upon them. It’s not a call for photographers, but a shout out for everyone who owns photographs. My proposal is to challenge the readers of these images to locate in them traces of their subjectivity. And after finding those traces, they go to search in their own archive – it looks to me as if today, everyone owns a photographic archive, even if unconsciously – an image that appeals to that relation.
The images within this exhibition don’t demand an enclosed and objective reading. The premise for the invitation is that people authorize me to work on those images, in case I feel the need. The end result will be an open session for the installation of the images received – at least 25 –, in the physical space of the exhibition. I’m asking people to think about the images in terms of memory and their biography. Once again, I associate this idea with the notion of “contamination” we were talking about earlier. On the other hand, when I speak of propriety, authorship, signature, that is not fundamental. I don’t hold that question in terms of a rhetoric on photography. It’s solely a way to say that even the vagrant is left about in the desert for a reason. Someone left it there. And that has a story that I’m interested in. Suddenly, I thought it could be interesting to unite the brunches, those personal stories, to the same trunk, to this tree of Photography, infinite and immense, and see how a dialogue between things coming from such different places and experiences, could work in itself and with me. I’ve already received some images and the results are surprising.

Sofia: I see the idea of this tree as a kind of otherness within you, I mean, the part of the “collective identity” that participates in your “individual identity”. When I speak of the impossibility of an intimate experience in a photography exhibition is not in relation to your show but in general, because it’s my opinion that photography more rapidly deviates than brings closer: it is part of the universe of representation, it is plain and rarely does it survive by appealing to any other sense than the visual one, even if it has a very unique potential to evoke memories. After this collective experience of reuniting stories and the exhibition is over, is there any project in mind?

Isaac: A cultural sociologist, whom I’m very fond of, McLuhan, talks about Photography as being a hot medium. To my knowledge, some contemporary art critique that is less prone to reflect on contemporary Culture, tend to overlook, as I see it unfairly, his thoughts about the media, although McLuhan has only dedicated a small part of his reflection to Photography as a medium. In any way, I still find it his thoughts on the media as an extension of the body relevant, although he only focuses on his “socially structuring” character. I mention this because you referred to as characteristic of Photography. In his book “Understanding Media”, McLuhan defends that Photography is a “hot medium” because it “extends a singular sense and in high definition”, understanding “high definition” as a “state of high saturation of data”. This author says that “visually, a photography is distinguished by its high definition”. I am particularly interested in this issue. It’s worth to notice that the “state of the medium” is not definitive and can be “overheated” or “cooled down”, depending if we’re facing a “hot culture” or a “cold” one. It’s a discussion worth developing.
Some days ago, while visiting the space of the installation, someone was telling me that this exhibition is “a provocation”. I responded that I agreed. In my opinion, what is happening in the Photography domain is an overheating that is maybe tending to a cold cycle. It’s an open question. But here I find a connection with our conversation at the beginning about the need to “retain the look”, very much because of that “data saturation”. I wanted a composer to work on a music score based on the images – music may be a cold medium – in order to make way for that synesthetic experience. We can argue about all of this and that is why I find a need for a necessary discussion. But, of course, further ahead when he refers to Photography as a “Brothel with no Walls”, McLuhan says that “no one can enjoy a photograph on its one” and that the work “The Balcony” by Jean Genet was inspired by Photography. For all we’ve talked about, this is where my provocation, a positive provocation, comes in, because there is a space and time, or it could be, for in a first encounter to enjoy a photograph in solitude, with all that it implies.
I would like to take this work to Portugal and to other places in Asia. To be able to work on this idea and develop it. I don’t think the process is over. I will read and reflect upon the words left behind and the images that were given to me and work on that material, on their stories. Maybe the result will be a “Ode-Manifest-to-Photography”. Perhaps, it will be possible to develop this work in the form of a book. For now, no new exhibitions. Probably in two or three years. I feel the need to look at it again, after some months of absence.

Sofia: I agree this work is provocative, but fortunately that’s not the reason it was born, lives or breaths. And even if some of my questions may reveal my pessimism towards the process of interaction in art, I feel that your questioning can only potentiate change.
Thank you very much for being so prompt and for your patience in accounting for your creative process.
All the best to you Isaac.

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٠ The issue may be semantic but… what else is there? ٠

The important thing is that the photograph possesses an evidential force; and that its testimony bears not on the object but on time. From a phenomenological viewpoint, in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation. R. Barthes

Last week, after a tv news report, I came across a story about a Portuguese photographer/blogger who had this big project photographing “the ruins of our country” (abandoned buildings and so on). The conversation going on between the journalist and the photographer, Gastão de Brito e Silva, was irritating enough (though I can understand that the reasons for that may be extremely personal), but what really chocked me were the photographs themselves – their composition, style, overall aesthetics and consequent meaning.

To sum it up, aesthetically the photographs have that post-apocalyptic feel that a sort of digital post-producers and photographers value. I often find these aesthetics in amateur photography magazines, in photo-blogs and photo-sharing web platforms and in the discourse of a certain kind of photographers that are very keen on the latest technological achievement and in discussing the kind of material you have, prices and all that technicality. The final photographs tend to be a mix of black & white (or should I say “desaturated”) and vibrant tones, with highlighted objects or areas within the composition. This sort of aesthetic creeps me out, but still, that is not a problem, for one just has to avoid coming across such aesthetics.

In one interview, the photographer/collector of ruins, told how the project – the blog called Ruin’arte, started out as a photographic survey and went on to become something bigger, with exhibitions and so on. I don’t question his premise, I do agree it’s worth having a visual documentation of our architectonic heritage, nor do I care about his bad taste, but two aspects really bother me: firstly, regarding the discourse about the work, there’s a clear abuse of nostalgic feelings and of terms such as cultural patrimony, historical patrimony, patrimony, patrimony (you see the picture), that leads to a reverence to history that sets an authoritative tone which ultimately rests with the nanny state; secondly, there is the confusion with the role of this particular photographer, the issue coming down to the confusion between the characteristics that make up an artist and those that identify a photographer whose work is to “survey”. The question is: if you want to compromise, be a photographer that is engaged with a social cause and expose the so-called public atrocities to “our cultural heritage”, why this kind of post-production?

The so-called documentary photographer is attached to representation, he establishes a relation with its pre-photographic reference but guarantees nothing about its significance. Art, on the other hand, in which photography can be included, has no compromise with reality and it is not structured on an utilitarian function, like documenting or adorning, though it can also have one as such.

dois© Gastão de Brito e Silva, Mosteiro de Seiça, Figueira da Foz.

Documentary photography traded on the status of the official document as proof and inscribed relations of power in representation which were structured like those of earlier practices of photo documentation: both speaking to those with relative power about those positioned as lacking, as the ‘feminised’ Other, as passive but pathetic objects capable only of offering themselves up to a benevolent, transcendent gaze – the gaze of the camera and the gaze of the paternal state. But in its mode of address, documentary transformed the flat rhetoric of evidence into an emotionalized drama of experience that worked to effect an imaginary identification of viewer and image, reader and representation, which would suppress difference and seal them into the paternalistic relations of domination and subordination on which documentary’s truth effects depended. John Tagg, in “The Drama of Representation”

Some years ago, I saw a documentary by portuguese filmaker Manuel Mozos, called Ruins, which portrayed the inhabited man-altered landscapes and decadence of our country. At the time, and although I liked the photographic approach very much, I was not convinced by choices. Gastão’s photographs made me take a second look at Mozos documentary. After watching it I found myself wondering if a comparison between Mozos and Gastão’s approach to ruins could lead to some sort of conclusion about the characteristics of a documentary. Though they are very different objects, one particular thing stands out, namely that Mozos’ ruins relate to the present tense and Gastão’s ruins relate to the past.

It’s not an easy task to argument for this, or is it? Ruins has a sense of poetry throughout its 60 minutes. As I see it, this comes out mainly because it speaks about the echoes of the past, how the history once contained within buildings and spaces went beyond their physic presence and lives in storytelling, letters, memories, family albums, etc. Gastãos photographs of abandoned buildings seem to pretend to something else: to call for attention for the responsibility of the state to care for his children. In that sense, it pretends to be a document, to exist as proof.

Photojournalists and those who work with documentary photography are guided by a set of rules that aim to guarantee some ethics to their work. It’s only good that we question them and try to push forward, but what often happens when someone negates those “rules” is that the work, in this case the photographs, maintain their indexical nature to what is portrayed but fail in representing them.

What exceeds representations, however, cannot, by definition, be articulated. (J.Tagg, in The Burden of Representation)

٠ ‘The Evidence of the Natural’ in Nádia Rodrigues Ribero’s work ٠

#05© Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro, Sem título (Untitled) – 11.07.12, from Flora. Negative in chromogenic paper, chromogenic process, unique print 12x9cm.

#06© Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro, Sem título (Untitled) – 20.07.12, from Flora. Negative in chromogenic paper, chromogenic process, unique print 12x9cm.

#09© Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro, 215 Horas (215 Hours), from Flora, 2013. Diasec Print, 90x60cm.

Sofia Raquel Silva: Given your training at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon, to what extent are your painting studies reflected in your work?

Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro: I could talk about the influence of painting in terms of the construction of the photographic image at a formal level, but there are other aspects that have been important in the development of my work. […] I consider that the key aspect is the constant persistence of the gaze, a trained perspective that I have progressively developed through the discipline of drawing. The act of looking and grasping that which stands in front of us, confrontation with the mirror, daily recording, drawing as an instrument for thinking — and as a record of memory — have all been important within my working methodology: providing important (or unimportant) notes about the images compiled in my notebooks. […]

#04© Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro, Sem título (Untitled) – 10.07.12 to 20.07.12, from Flora. Silver paper negatives with Sabatier effect, gelatine and silver, unique prints 12x9cm each.

#03© Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro, Sem título (Untitled) – 10.07.12 (15h30? to 16.07.12 (13h10), from Flora. Silver contact prints of infrared film, unique prints, 12x9cm each.

SRS: The project that you are presenting within the framework of the BES Revelação Award constitutes a kind of treatise on photographic morphology, intimately related to temporal aspects, such as photographic exposure and processing times. Your knowledge of this area has derived primarily from Paula Lourenço and Luís Pavão, who taught you alternative processes during your photography course in Tomar. When I asked Paula to describe this project in technical terms, she said: ‘The project is constituted by silver paper negatives, chromogenic negatives, silver paper negatives with application of the Sabatier effect, silver contact sheets, silver contact sheets obtained from infrared-sensitive, chromogenic contract sheets and cross-processed contract sheets.’ Could this painstaking attention to detail reveal a superhuman dimension, that ‘hides’ the artist’s sensitive gesture, leaving less room for error and anomalies, elements that establish a bridge between the beautiful and the sublime?

Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro: I know what you mean when you refer to extreme attention to detail and the quasi-eradication of margin of error and the manner in which this can conceal the artist’s ‘sensitive gesture’. Error and anomaly are essential in any artistic practice. I believe that they are always present, although they’re sometimes not visible. Errors will occur throughout the artistic process that lead to a moment of reflection and sometimes a reformulation of a work. In my case (and I’m not solely talking about this specific project, but my work in general) I develop an intense laboratory practice, not only in the sense of regularity, but also involving a certain element of exhaustion — even, physical exhaustion, although I often don’t realize my own fatigue — perhaps it’s a question of love.

[…] error and anomaly and sometimes the related process of discovery constitute an integral part of my working process. I’m aware of the risk of paying excessive attention to form, that’s why you talk about Kantian greatness and smallness, in the passage from the beautiful to the sublime. The trajectory that is attained through practice, with continuous learning, with constant reshaping and restructuring of the work, or the artist, in a maturation process… is also attained with time.

#10#11© Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro, Sem título (Untitled) – Test Pannel #1 front and back, 2013. Photographs by Flávio Nuno Joaquim.

SRS: Your work testifies to a strong desire to structure that which is apparently obvious — nature — as if this organizational gesture underpinned the construction of your own identity. There’s a curious tension between the simplicity of the represented object (such as a vase of flowers, a leaf or an animal skeleton) and the fragility of the individual that presents it. What do you think?

Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro: Several questions arise during development of the work. However, there isn’t an overriding concern to find answers to everything. I try to ensure that this doesn’t become an obstacle during the process that is I avoid extreme
rationalization or justification for each step, and make sure that this doesn’t become an attempt to insert biographical or hereditary aspects as a justification.

My goal is to establish a relationship of confrontation with my work, to understand what interests me, think about the recurrent approach to nature, death and as a consequence to repetition and memory, perhaps thereby enabling this rooting of identity.

Behind my organized and methodical approach, perhaps there’s another chaotic and somewhat unstructured method, which explains the fragility of the individual that you referred to.

SRS: We’ve used some terminologies that provide a link to the work Autenticità Riflessiva, by the Italian philosopher Alessandro Ferrara, who, in the search for a definition of authenticity suggests four attributes that must be present in a work of art: coherence, maturity, depth and vitality. It seems to me that the first three can be fairly easily located in your work, so I suggest that you think about vitality as the ability to enhance new associations and other perceptions of reality. Considering this project and others, such as Herbarium (in which you present plants through various forms of contact printing), how do you think that a mimetic representation of reality can make room for the imagination?

Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro: I don’t believe that humans have the ability to create from nothing, or from a void. Thinking about mimesis and its relationship with art, I think that however much representation has been associated with the idea of copying or imitating reality, it’s not actually a question of a relationship between art and reality (in the sense of representation), but rather of a practice that mediates them and that has more to do with a question of proximity or remoteness of the individual in relation to reality. This degree of distancing is related to the degree of familiarity or oddness that reality will have for the viewer.

[…]

excerpt from a conversation between Sofia Silva and Nádia Rodrigues Ribeiro, published in Bes Revelação 2013, cat.exp., Porto: Fundação de Serralves, 2013.

expo view_03exhibition view. Nádia’s exhibition Flora in the context of Bes Revelação 2013 will be on show until January 19th in Serralves, Porto.

٠ Isaac Pereira & the monstrosity of the shadows ٠

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When I first met Isaac’s work, one of my immediate deductions was regarding his very deep use of blacks and whites. After some years, I now know that his work is not defined by the use of black & white, but rather by the absence of colour, which in turn leads to very defined areas/lines/figures within his photographs.

Isaac’s work is very much about what I would characterize as a way of being in time that is quite paradoxical: it leaves traces of a poetic voice, in the most romantic/existentialist sense; but it also shines a light to a place of anger. A paradox, in this context as well as in others, is not a negative qualification of a choice, an act or a discourse. If we, human, are to move forward, we will always be incoherent and often not sincere; for being is a dynamic thing and if we rule by the voice of consciousness we need to be able to go with the flow.

So there’s a lot of rawness in Isaac’s work. His photographs are a genuine trace of his photographic act, since I, as the spectator, am given the space necessary to travel to his reality and imagine my own emotional being in such situations – the smell, the temperature, the smoke… I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we are all allowed to see the same punctum in his images but, because of is simplicity and formal references, we are allowed to acknowledge it as an act of communication, even if in the poetic form.

akr_01© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#1 Displaced)

akr_02© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#1 Displaced)

The work here showed is part of an exhibition that Isaac held in Macau last December. Isaac called it Akhromatopia, referring to the places without colour, being that those places can be subjective or objective, internal or external, real or imaginary. In a short story Isaac wrote about this work, one paragraph goes like this:

Slowly, in whatever way, a kind of discoloration was occurring. It was as if everything became pale. The lost pigment colors, saturation, became indecipherable. He had to stop, dazed. What he saw then, was completely white, pure white, the total absence of shapes, contours, as if everything had been invisible and transparent. He rubbed his eyes with the indicators. It was all white; light only. For several minutes, he sat on a huge rock, listening, smelling everything around. Then, fell asleep.

akr_05© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#2 Discarded)

Isaac’s work denotes strong literary influences and even if the medium of photography has always been very akin to storytelling, to narratives and allegories, Isaac’s point of view is more that of a nihilist and a wanderer, rather than a dreamer, though this doesn’t mean that he is not aware of the world of possibilities in front of him. In an interview given to João Henriques some years ago, Isaac spoke of his feelings about the media:

The media are machines. We live in the middle of automated ‘mediums’. Means for construction? Yes. But of what sort of construction? Endless constructions. But not all the same. No. Fortunately. That is the fear: that everything has the same repeated construction. How does one avoid that? Making sure your feelings and your thoughts go between the camera and its construction, automatically. Making sure that the image is an image ‘of you’ and not an image ‘from the camera’. It’s the same old question. (my translation)

akr_09© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#3 Dislocated)

akr_010© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#3 Dislocated)

As much as there are parallel and juxtaposed worlds in his photographs – for Isaac has an unusual capacity to work with the monstrosity of the shadows -, denoting his affinity with surrealism and non-linearity, Isaac is also a traditionalist in the way he deals with the medium. Although his photographs manifest his beliefs in immediacy and automatism, they also denote some sort of commitment with concepts such as “truth” and “time”, which remind me of classic street photography. There is no problem with the classic, but there is surely one with tradition, for it prevents us for looking out for our own singular point of view.

Amidst the underground nature of Isaac’s photographs and within the deepness of his blacks I see thoughts about ‘authenticity’ and ‘aura’. Even if concepts sometimes are reduced to their status as a word (as his the case both with ‘aura’ and ‘authenticity’), I find it possible to say that Akhromatopia works as a genuine plastic expression of Isaac’s intimate journey to ‘be what he is’ and ‘see what he sees’.

akr_013© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#4 Disturbed)

exp10

┐ roots & fruits #15 – Nuno Venâncio └

141_1it reads: We are looking for the sky in between the leafs. Text by Boris.

6913_13it reads: Here, the sun gives us no light, only new shadows. Different ways to face the darkness. Text by Boris.

19217_7it reads: People insist on coming to meet our gaze, invading it. Text by Boris.

2329© Nuno Venâncio, from the series 10 Metros de Cabo/10 Meters of Cable.

Here, easy beauty is eliminated, fulminated, by force, through chock and discontinuity.
Here, there’s no attempt to make sense. We try for symmetry not in the form but in the content – there are casual symmetries in the photographic objects, particularly in those where there is no such deliberation – the irony of everyday events (the symmetry with people is something no one looks out for in the everydayness, except in a staging situation or with some pervert god).
Photographs per se are not symmetrical, there’s no effort to achieve such a valance. In fact, they are askew. The relations between the objects. Everything with its notorious everydayness: each image the start of a journey, coming from a primary need to find out what is around us, in front of us, and grasp it, so that it helps with location, knowing where to go and understanding other places.
There is a constant demand, a quest for something to call our own or something we miss; there is also a searching for a moment, that special visual glimpse, that we can keep before it turns into something else. As if hastily looking for a piece of paper where to hastily scribble in order not to lose a single detail.

Text by Boris, 2013; translation by Sofia Silva.

٠ Christopher Marques: working-through the postmemory trauma ٠

01_chtistophermarques copy04_chtistophermarques copy06_chtistophermarques copy09_chtistophermarques copy27_chtistophermarques copy31_chtistophermarques copy40_chtistophermarques copy44_chtistophermarques copy48_chtistophermarques copy49_chtistophermarques copyall photographs © Christopher Marques, from the project O Álbum/The Album, 2013

Christopher’s work revolves around the quest for identity. It’s a postmodern symptom. The industrialization and the instant access to difference places, languages, faces and times, tends to confuse people. As we grow up, it’s inevitable to go through a phase where we find ourselves being defined by the look of others, by the way we relate to the collective identity. It’s a way to find a social recognition, but as we come to understand later on, nothing is more important that our individual identity and the quest for it can be a life-long journey, very demanding and often overwhelming and consuming.

Christopher is sort of a victim of this malady. He was born in France where he spent the first thirteen years of his life and has been living in Portugal since then. It might not be his case, but changing countries at that age can be a ticket to a more autonomous thinking about identity, given that there’s an immediate split between the notion of “individual identity” and “national identity”, which we all know is a complex and dangerous concept, as both “Portuguese” and “French” can testify for.

This split (or any other able to separate the I from the We) turns the focus of the quest to a more intimate level. Who am I? What features are my own? What will I be? , these are questions that cannot be answered without recognizing and working through the impact of the collective identity, the past, the family heritage and the historical events. But who authenticates all of these? How can we choose from these references, which belong and are of interest and which not?

In this project, Christopher sets out to look for his identity in the midst of long lost family photographs. Yes, we all know the family album, the archive and the digital manipulation of memory related documents is fashionable nowadays and very high rated in the art market, but I’d like to suggest there’s something more authentic (maybe therapeutic, definitely fragile) in the way Christopher engages with the digital brush as he repeatedly erases everyone faces.

I do think the excessive use of archival images says something about the inability of the artist to create something new. On the other hand, I don’t think that is a bad thing. As artists work through their memories, they make space for new things and they prepare for a world of imagination. Everyone needs to get rid of the weight of history, traditions and heritage, in order to be able to fully express their creativity. I see it as a generous gift the fact that Christopher “chooses” to show us the moment of his dwelling.

Marianne Hirsch defines “postmemory” as a connection to the past that “is mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation.”[i] The fragmented, often fake memories, with which we all grew up, are intensified by a world cemented over an unforgiving visual culture. Instead of the daily-readings, the nightly reading, the weekend and the holiday readings which nurtured an affirmative imagination, we now watch series and movies almost on a daily basis. Without realizing, our individual memories are forced to identify with the collective memory. Instead of working through our personal narratives we build upon our stories, we write new roles for ourselves, roles that fit dramatic plots, where heroic and inhuman characters always succeed.

As Christopher, the narrator, projects his non-identification, we, as viewers, go through the opposite process, since because of all the disappearing faces we easily remember similar moments from our family albums. The non-personalized figures presented in the album manage to be representations of our own family members because their anonymity erases the distance created by the fact that their time and location differs from ours.

Hirsch says something about Christian Boltanski’s work that I’ll here appropriate to describe Christopher’s work: “Each of his works aims not toward particularity but toward anonymity, not toward an individual but toward a collective identity. He often speaks of the effort to erase himself, so as to be able to reach a communal memorial layer, an amalgam of unconscious reminiscences and archetypes through which viewers can supply their own stories as they look at his images.”[ii] However, even though both Christopher and Boltanski were born in France, exactly forty-four years separate them, so the focus on anonymity, putting the collective in front of the particular (the former through erosion, the latter through repetition), has very different references.

On this subject, I want to suggest that Christopher’s erased faces are akin to the use of the Guy Fawkes’ mask by the anonymous movement. They both accomplish the same effect: by erosion or repetition, we are left with a collective identity that gazes us, instead of us being the ones whose gazes undress the individual nature of an identity that is forced to be resumed in a single face.

The non association of A face with A identity (and thus the questioning of the theatricality behind traditional portraiture) is an anti-authoritarian and anti-propriety statement, even if this is a marginal symptom of how important are the roles played by visibility and invisibility in what is made visible. [iii] So I’m left with this question: is it possible that there aren’t a lot of differences between the use of the balaclava, as a way to protest against a superficial and coercive identification by the authoritarian force, and the use of the digital eraser, as a way to work through fictional memories, deny the postmemory and embrace the remembering of “real events”?


[ii] HIRSCH, M. (1996) “Past Lives: Postmemories in Exile”. Poetics Today, Vol. 17, No. 4, Creativity and Exile: European/American Perspectives II, pp.659-686

 

10_chtistophermarques copy© Christopher Marques, from the project O Álbum/The Album, 2013

To see the full “Album” click here. For more of Christopher’s work here.

٠ Duarte Amaral Netto: It’s all real, you just need to give up on your anguish (III of III) ٠

Part I of essay here and part II here

Duarte Amaral Netto4© Duarte Amaral Netto, Z (France, April 1940), 2012
65×50 cm Framed, Inkjet on Fine Art, Ed. 2 + 1 AP

Storytelling isn’t far from the discursive play, on the contrary. Martha Langford would call it an oral-photographic method of telling stories, in the sense that works using family photographs and historical documents trigger our day-to-day ways of interpreting the world and having conversations with one another. It’s my opinion that is why Z saw the light of day: to set up a rhizomatic dialogue that inevitably speaks to our collective memory by being on display as the personal story of the doctor, through whose eyes we are invited to (re)count, (re)member or (re)live multiple singular and universal narratives.

Rosalind Krauss defined Sculpture as an Expanded Field (1979), somehow located in between two negative polls: that of the non-architecture and that of non-landscape. George Backer then located Photography’s Expanded Field (2005) in a neutral zone in between non-narrative and non-static. In fact they don’t put forward this negative tension, but that’s what I understand from a definition that goes around the inclusion to locate by exclusion. Both Krauss and Baker want to relocate sculpture and photography, respectively, to the periphery of the polls they firstly entailed them in, arguing that’s the way to realize their full potential and interact with the culture field.

And then comes Kuhn, also referring to Marianne Hirsch, arguing about such cultural potential, saying that the power of the combination between memory work and photography stems “from the very everydayness of photography – from the ways photography and photographs figure in most people’s daily lives and in the apparently ordinary stories we tell about ourselves and those closest to us.“ (2007, p.285) And we’re back to the everyday.

Duarte Amaral Netto5© Duarte Amaral Netto, Z (Ballerina), 2012
65×50 cm Framed, Inkjet on Fine Art, Ed. 2 + 1 AP

Before talking about Duarte’s latest exhibition, I’d like to take a moment to draw a connection between this everydayness quality, which is now proved to be a sub-thread throughout all of his work, and the idea of the voyeur. Going about Wittgenstein’s thoughts, Michael Fried highlights a passage from a manuscript dating back to 1930. In it, Wittgestein tells “Nothing could be more remarkable than seeing someone who thinks himself unobserved engaged in some quite simple everyday activity”, (Fried, 2008, p.76) to sustain his idea that the way we go about the works – what we expect from them, how we looked at them – is what graduates them from their everydayness to art.

In a recent article, Boris Groys defines the contemporary subject as “primarily a keeper of a secret”. (2013, p.2) What both these claims put forward is the idea that value exists only where there is exclusiveness, so it’s not that the scenes depicted are mundane or that the archival photographs have been traveling the world for ages and have been seen by various people, but the fact that this or that is being shown to us. The image plane and the observer’s plane coincide, so the image is only completed when fully formed inside my eye. I am the sole testifier of Z’s portrait, as I am the sole testifier of Luda’s introspective moment.  At least I need to be sold on a narrative where this relation is possible.

Duarte Amaral Netto6© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Installation view at Baginski, Lisbon, 2013

Duarte Amaral Netto7© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Installation view at Baginski, Lisbon, 2013

Selective Affinities, Duarte’s last work I’ll be focusing on, has a bigger diaphragm than Z: it takes longer breaths and it breaths better, deeper. It also exacerbates something I thought I had seen in Z: the joy at play. It brings together a big collection of Polaroid transfers presented as diaries; another collection of Polaroids displayed in a continuum, and a triple projection of slides from different sources. It could be that our smile is ripped apart because of all the kids running around in the photographs or because we are reminded of the punctum arisen by similar family portraits, but in fact the major qualities of the work lie with the use of the medium specificities. Don’t forget Duarte is first, foremost or also, a photographer, and a really good one.

I will argue that this work is about blurriness and about what is left behind when the absence of material relevance gives way to time. Back to Baker’s location of photography between the narrative and the static, we could maybe agree that static in cinema is less organic than in photography, though they both struggle with it. The time given to an image, on the other hand, can trigger imagination, allowing us to project our desires. So what really differentiates the photographic from the cinematic moment is the time of the experience. Light, in photography, allows the capture of moments never seen before, it builds from nothing; in cinema, the same light giving us the images is the same that kills them in a split-second. Having said this, it doesn’t matter how many frames are killing each other in front of us, nor how much time we can stare at a single photograph, for their mechanical time in not our biological time. In between narrative and static there is an aesthetic attribute stronger than them – temporality, and that is what will influence the eco of the image’s spirit in us.

The tenderness and affection in Duarte’s polaroids shown in Selective Affinities is overwhelming. It’s raw. It implies a romantic notion of immediacy, only interrupted by his selection of which we are able to see and which not. Again, we are made believe we are witnesses to exclusiveness – unique moments of his private life. And because this everyday life draws innumerous parallels to our singular and collective memory, our imagination is triggered, for these images resonate with what we remember, or know about ourselves.

I too belong to a generation whose fado is to wander, who has no sense of community and no true willing to find freedom. Our generation has played a very special role as passive viewers, particularly regarding cinema and photography. We understood that as passive spectators we were actively participating in cultivating an impossible ideal of what the ideal life would be, how families should behave, how lovers should kiss, how you are supposed to feel at every moment of your life. This living in between our own non-linear narratives and the fictional ones – the ones Others were apparently living – has seriously compromised our identitary structure, our ability  to  avoid lying,  our capacity  to   remember  our  memories  instead   of building new ones that would suite us better. Not being able to distinguish between a documentary narrative and a fictional narrative impaired our judgment. Suddenly we had to choose between to be or not to be when we could have chosen to be and not to be.

Duarte Amaral Netto9© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Transfers Reproductions, 2013

Duarte Amaral Netto10© Duarte Amaral Netto, Selective Affinities, Transfers Reproductions, 2013

So as I go through Duarte’s Selective Affinities with the eyes of an image-maker, I have the feeling that he mastered the fusion of the real and the fictional within his own personal life. These are not snapshots, these are not Polaroid transfers, these are not family moments, this is not a family album. This is an archive. I do doubt whether it was made conscious to Duarte that these images reveal the history of a generation, for all that is there, for all that it stands for – our day-dreams, our nightly-dreams, our fears, our world of possibilities, our sense of joy, our sense of structure, of identity, of family.

It is the blurriness of the photographs that convince us of the barthesian that-has-been. A green rabbit could be inserted next to one of the kids in the photographs and we would still believe the verity of the photograph. We believe because we want to, because we were made to believe, brought-up as individuals in a post-modernist world, where everything that matters has to be about achieving, conquering, becoming, when instead our sense of daily sharing should have been taken care of. Because we are loners, wanderers, drifters, we become the characters to whom we write scripts that we then play in our lives, both as narrators and having a lead role.

Lastly, I’ll finish by explaining the title of this article – It’s all real, you just need to give up on your anguish – by saying that the term “anguish” was chosen for its relation to the Heideggerian notion that anguish enables an inauthentic life and, consequently, prevents us to potentiate reality. So this is what I say (sort of as a wishful-thinking): let go on the idea that you can define things by exclusion. Instead, exclude the non-fact and the non-artifact; the non-static and the non-narrative; the non-real and the non-fiction. Anguish is the acceptance of frontiers; it stops the realm of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary, to fully realize its potential to become reality.

text by Sofia Silva

Baker, G. (2005) Photography’s Expanded Field. October, Vol. 114, pp.120-140

Fried, M. (2008) Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, London: Yale University Press

Groys, B. (2013) Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive. [online] E-flux journal, #45, Maio
Krauss, R. (1979) Sculpture in the Expanded Field. October, Vol. 8, pp.30-44

Kuhn, A. (2007) Photography and cultural memory: a methodological exploration. Visual Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp.283-292

٠ Sandro Ferreira, memory code: 6174 ٠

portefolio SandroF4© Sandro Ferreira, Não lhe digas para onde vais amanhã (Don’t tell her where you’ll be tomorrow), from the project “6174”
Set of a hundred booklets, with dimensions identical to those with speeches of some dignitaries of the Portuguese dictatorial regime: “Estado Novo”.

portefolio SandroF6© Sandro Ferreira, from the project 6174. The left card reads The useless, the right card reads The miserableportefolio SandroF5A series of 126 “lobby cards”, corresponding to the 126 films that the soldier Manuel Rosa Simões had seen since his arrival in Angola until his departure for the Metropolis. Ironically, the first film was “Les Miserables” and the last “The Useless”, setting the tone…

From 1961 to 1974, Portugal became involved in a war in its colonies, a war of subversive naturesubversive war is a war conducted within a territory by part of the inhabitants of that territory against the authority in it established, aided and reinforced or not from the outside, and in order to withdraw that authoritarian control, performing a transformation more or less wide. in Military Newsletter No. 15, Military Region Angola, August 15, 1962

Much of the research/exploration of this event converges to the advances and retreats, political questions, numbers, guilty and innocent people. The true human/animal/social essence of the event is confined to fiction literature and some published journals, often revised. Moving away from the issues widely teased I try to penetrate the internal memory of the war’s day-to-day of a generation that lived haunted with the fear of leaving for a country distant of their roots, risking their lives. In exploring these memories I gather a number of factors and situations that made the day-to-day of the oversea soldier, some did erase memories of home, others did revive memories (aerograms cinema, alcohol and sex).

The memories of war veterans, after so many years, can be divided into two branches, namely, the memories that fade away naturally with time and memories that need to be deleted. The work presented here lives in both branches of the forgotten or erased memory.” Sandro’s statement

The video tells the story of a soldier that was ambushed in Angola, while carrying the “Practical Handbook of Radio and Television” in his pants pocket. Trying to jump off the car he was ridding in, he got shot in one leg. One of the bullets hit and went through his leg and another bullet hit the book and was lodged inside it. Playing with the question of the impossibility to repeat events such as those in the context of war, I tried to recreate the situation of the bullet lodged inside the book. As the way we retell our memories is never the same, also the bullets that were lodged in the replica penetrated by different sites.

portefolio SandroF2© Sandro Ferreira, 7.65 Practical Handbook of Radio and Television, Edition of 8 books, 466 pages, with a bullet inside, 2011, from the project “6174”

portefolio SandroF1© Sandro Ferreira, Carta de Portugal Insular e Ultramarino de 1962, jogo

portefolio SandroF 4© Sandro Ferreira, Antecipação de um regresso a casa (Coming home earlier), from the project “6174”

Sandro was recently chosen for the EDP emerging artists’ award, in Portugal. He will be exhibiting new work, latter on this year, in Oporto.

┐ roots & fruits #14 – Nádia Ribeiro └

12cartas_04-camarapinhole12cartas_0212cartas_1212cartas_01© Nádia Ribeiro, 12 Letters, 2009
Pinhole gelatine silver prints (12 positives + 12 negatives), envelopes + photometric calculus

In An Archival Impulse, Hal Foster speaks about such impulse as a self-sufficient tendency. The archival impulse is, in fact, a sort of mutation of the repetition compulsion, a way to deal with memory through actions or, should I say, a way to escape memories through actions…

This impulse allows one to blend allegory with fiction and can take different forms, such as photo-montages, installations, notebooks, time-capsules, shadow-boxes, etc. The soul of the contemporary hunter-gatherer has its roots on the figure of the librarian and manifests itself through rigorous lists and catalogs. Whatever the approach may be, these tend to aim for one of two things: either the desire to retell an history by gleaning the necessary elements for the telling of the history and the visual account of such fragmented memory; either the intent to build, from scratch, a fictional object that alludes to the real life of the chosen documents, hoping that by putting them all together they can regain their historical significance and pave their way into our collective cultural memory.

Nádia’s projects, however different their starting points may be, tend to be “haunted” by repetition, by a finite limit of the material they imprint themselves in, by an obsession with abstract linearity. This sequence of things depicted stands for the lack of memories, so her pinhole-suitcase and her modern herbarium come from a place of struggle with the immediacy of seeing, living, remembering and reproducing.

It’s curious that obsessions, in all their different takes, tend to be materialized in a whole formal way of expression which we start recognizing soon after we first encounter it, because of its traces of systematization, organization, repetition, composition and hipper-estetization (the working in series type of). Madness has as much randomness has anarchy as of disorder…

text by Sofia Silva

herbario_00herbario_01herbario_painel-metodologia© Nádia Ribeiro, Herbarium, 2009
Gelatine silver prints (56 photograms); box, positive + leaf

More of Nádia’s work can be seen here

┐ Valter Ventura, Flying Solo └

14© Valter Ventura, Cartas do Vazio (Charts of Emptiness), from the project Compêndio do Nada(Compendium of Nothing), 2013

18© Valter Ventura, Cartas do Vazio (Charts of Emptiness), from the project Compêndio do Nada(Compendium of Nothing), 2013

portfolio_Page_24 copyinstallation view at Carpe Diem, Lisboa, 2013

portfolio_Page_26 copy

Since 2005, Valter Ventura has been working exclusively in collaboration with fellow artist José Nuno Lamas. For the past seven years or so they have been photographers, performers, landscape artists, cartographers, romantics, naturalists, aspiring scientists and so on. Together they’ve achieved a creative expression of their own that is both formally as conceptually coherent.

Recently, Valter decided to get back to his solo work and what a change! Although we can still recognize the interests that were already at the core of his creative drive, the composition, the colors, the choices of representation have shifted enormously. It’s as if while working with Lamas he was in additive mode, making an effort to construct upon an empty canvas; and now he is working in subtractive mode, coming from a place where emptiness and void already have it all.

Looking at Valter’s new work Compêndio do Nada, I think of philosophical Taoism, in the sense that the overall presence of empty spaces and minimal configurations allude to the quest for the elementary essence of what is depicted, even if what is depicted is the exact process of looking for that element within the void. Valter tells of how he came to encounter an Henry Holday’s illustration for Lewis Carrol’s The Hunting for the Snark (1876): “There’s a moment within that narrative when the captain tries to calm down his riotous crew. Overwhelmed by the despair of being lost at sea, they are reassured by an ocean map“. It is an empty map, but powerful enough to calm the men down, because it speaks about the potential of there being something, somewhere.

I am reminded of a short text by Giorgio Agamben called Bartleby, or On Contingency (1999, p.264) where the scrivener is presented as the extreme figure of potentiality, far beyond the terms of will and necessity that force an idea of morality upon the notion of potentiality. He parts from nothing, from the Tabula Rasa, where everything fits:


When he [the man of law] asks him to go to the Post Office (“j ust step around to the Post Office, won’t you?”), and Bartleby opposes him with his usual “I would prefer nor to,” the man of the law hastily translates Bartleby’s answer into “You will not?” But Bardeby, with his soft but firm voice, specifies, “I prefer not”.

About what triggered him in that blank ocean map, Valter says: “That scene always bewilders me. I am puzzled by the opposing forces of fear and Science and the potentialities within those empty spaces, the discourse about Nothing or the rules behind chaos.” This struggle with fear is what I first think of when I see Valter’s photographs of the fog (Prospecções). In this situation, I think of the photographer as a scientist trying for an authentic demonstration of the path that leads absence to clarity. It is in the elementary principle of an unknown path that any conclusion may come to the photographer. The truth or the conscious experience of reality is not in the place he parts from, neither in what stands beyond the fog.

In Valter’s solo work what seems to radically differ from his collaborative work is the sort of compromise with ideas. The shift in “style” could solely attest for that, but the change at the core lies deeper with what I would characterize as a zen truism. While we got used to see Valter & Lamas representations of quests, Valter now chooses to speak of the Thing instead of its representation. As Corneille simply said, “The manner of giving is worth more than the gift”.

text by Sofia Silva

31© Valter Ventura, Prospections (work-in-progress), from the project Compêndio do Nada(Compendium of Nothing), 2011

38© Valter Ventura, Prospections (work-in-progress), from the project Compêndio do Nada(Compendium of Nothing), 2011

47© Valter Ventura, Céu de Maio #5 (May’s sky #5), Bosque de Bolonha, Paris 7h-18h, from the project Joseph Grand’s Last Doubt, 2012

39© Valter Ventura, page from Book I, from the project Joseph Grand’s Last Doubt, 2011-2012

Valter’s work in collaboration with Lamas can be seen here. A glimpse at his last solo exhibition here

┐ Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt, “I hate Portugal” & “I hate Algarve” └


from 30th of May to the 6th of June, the complete film can be seen online here

“Palácios is a film about Portugal, and the line about hating Portugal and the Algarve is indicative of how part of that project was made. Gabriel wanted to make a film in Portugal, and was very interested in exploring cinema’s relation to nation, particularly as national myth machine (especially in the US, from Griffith’s Birth of a Nation to Bigelow’s Zero dark Thirty). Gabriel wanted to be quite direct, with blunt and broad statements about Portugal, such as “I hate Portugal”. Then Daniel wrote “I hate the Algarve” as a humorously specific response, transforming it into an absurd comment on Portugal, since the beach resorts the Algarve is known for are such a banal contrast to the history of violent oppression being discussed in the rest of the film.

(…)

This insincerity, this emptiness of expressive capacity, this refusal of psychology, relates to the main theme in our work. We are concerned with how idealism, morality, and politics are mostly subservient to private desires, and how even these private desires come from the social, economic, and cultural background of the characters. In our films, the characters are both unable to be sincerely political, sincerely expressive, or even pursue sincere desire. They move and talk as shadows of a prefabricated political melodrama. In the case of the tween protagonists of Palácios de Pena, we wanted to represent upper class coming of age youth in Lisbon, which is totally ignorant of the history of oppression they are inheriting, while unconsciously reproducing its symptoms. We wanted to see how Portugal’s history of government sanctioned xenophobia and sexual intolerance, spanning from the inquisition to fascism, would surface in Lisbon’s wealthy teen coterie.” by GA & DSº

┐ Pedro Guimarães’ affair with Monsanto └

66_pedroguimaraesmonsanto-6© Pedro Guimarães, Mrs. Iria burning dry organic waste in her parcel of land, Monsanto, Portugal

Monsanto Blues is a project that depicts daily life in Portugal’s ‘most typical village’. Once a thriving self-sufficient community located in the interior of Portugal, Monsanto became a good metaphor to describe the impact of recent social developments on European peripheral economies (aka PIGS). With virtually no births nor new inhabitants registered for several years now, Monsanto is expected to be declared deserted land soon, thus creating great investment opportunities for both new agers and senior tourists from Northern Europe.”

66_pedroguimaraesmonsanto-5© Pedro Guimarães,‘For Sale’ sign painted on an old house’s wall, Penamacor, Portugal.

66_pedroguimaraesmonsanto-10© Pedro Guimarães, Widows posing after sunday’s mass service, Monsanto, Portugal

66_pedroguimaraesmonsanto-2© Pedro Guimarães, Cactus with engraved names and dates, Penha Garcia, Portugal.

“Monsanto is a small village located at the top of a prominent granitic mountain in the interior of Portugal, very close to the Spanish border. Inhabited since the early Stone Age, as soon as King Afonso Henriques conquered it from the Moors in the beginning of the 12th century, the village began to enjoy an important role in the expansion of the Portuguese borders (and Christianity) in the Iberian Peninsula. In 1938 it was declared by the regime’s propaganda office as the “most Portuguese village of Portugal” – an award that has its origins in the idealistic agenda of the right-wing authoritarian regime presided at the time by António de Oliveira Salazar. But despite its connotations, it is a label that persists until today.

Along with the promises of the so called modernity, the entrance to the EU in 1986 also dictated the slow and agonizing decline of the Portuguese agricultural (and fishing) industries: in the name of progress and the so called “Common Agricultural Policy”, the EU offered Portuguese farmers generous subsidies that were meant to reduce, and in most cases fully halt, the production and trade of food commodities, thus favoring economy scale producers like France, Spain or Germany. The reason behind this policy was to equalize EU’s agricultural market, making the Eurozone a more competitive player in a globalized context.

Despite having lost its geopolitical strategic importance in modern days, Monsanto had remained a relatively important provider of labour force and of food products (like meat, cereals, wine and olive oil), helping Portugal reduce it’s dependency on foreign commodities – a tendency that suffered an inversion during the last decades. Once a desirable and productive land, Monsanto, like many other rural communities in Portugal, turned into an impoverished desert of granitic shapes and neglected olive trees.

As today, its population is constituted almost exclusively by elderly widows living in monastic isolation. In a little more than 30 years, its population is expected to virtually disappear.”

More of Pedro’s work here

┐ Can a symbolic image become a code? └

pmThis image is from yesterday’s official communication by the Portuguese PM about new austerity measures. It shows a reporter wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt. I know it is symbolic but I like to imagine it could be a code, a message given to rise a sort of underground army. Yes, I know, sci-fi, maybe I’ve seen “The Fight Club” too many times, but we need to believe we can take this government down, or else we’ll go mental. In the climax of our national anthem it reads “às armas”, aux armes!!! It doesn’t get more symbolic than this.
The video starts at the moment when the editor chooses to change angle to show the reporter. Thank you both!