“SEVER” at Galeria Boavista, Lisbon
As part of the Open Call for Young Curators launched by the EGEAC – Galerias Municipais in 2016, with the aim of fostering, disseminating and supporting contemporary artistic creation and thought in the city of Lisbon, and underlining the importance of young curators as key mediators alongside new generations of artists, the Galeria Boavista is set to host the four winning curatorial projects over the course of this year.
SEVER brings together works by Ana Lupaș, Beatrice Marchi, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Eloise Hawser, Gonçalo Preto, Jason Dodge, Joanna Piotrowska, Namsal Siedlecki and Nick Bastis.
“SEVER” is the encrypted message that Maria do Carmo, right before her death in Lisbon, wrote on a note addressed to the protagonist of Antonio Tabucchi’s short novel Il gioco del rovescio (literally the backwards game, 1981). This novel also gives its title to an entire collection of short stories which “are connected by the same revelation: the fact that one day you realise, due to the unforeseeable circumstances of life, that a certain thing that was one way was also, simultaneously, another way,” as the author explains in his introduction. The stories are held together by a leitmotiv defined by José Cardoso Pires in the note to the Portuguese translation (1984) as the “identification of a contradictory unity” that is at once disturbing and captivating.
In the story Maria do Carmo is an elusive character who has shaped her entire existence according to the game of reverse, a simple game she invented when she was a child, consisting of the ability to reverse words. Having started as a childish amusement, over the years the rules of this game have extended to her everyday life: she creates fictional identities by reversing the reality into an unsettling plurality of images that elude univocal meanings. The character’s identity exists in a dimension in which reality and fiction are intimately intertwined in a perpetual game of permutations, revealing its unsolved multiplicity.
At the end of the story, the message “SEVER” left by Maria do Carmo harks back to the original verbal nature of the game: the reverse of the word is “reves” and can be read both as the French rêves, for “dreams”, and the Spanish revés, for “reversed”, showing a close affinity between these two terms. This message should be considered as a key to the principle that informed her entire life, as well as a warning: dissuading the reader from the notion that they have grasped the real identity of the character, it also reveals that the identity is polymorphic and that, according to its definition, opposing elements like fiction and reality are not mutually exclusive, but rather coexist side by side.
SEVER brings together works by international artists from different generations, whose practices reflect on the idea of identity, of the individual or a collective, conceived as a visible element that is also shaped by its opposite side, its reverse, which always redraws the uncertain boundary between reality and fiction, variously under the pressure of dreams, desires, the will to transform, memory or aspiration. In the works gathered in the exhibition, everyday objects, gestures and attitudes require a shift in the viewer’s perception, suggesting that a certain thing that is “one way” is also, simultaneously, “another way”, echoing Tabucchi’s words. All the works have a relationship with the body in a more direct or evocative way: sometimes the body is present and represented, sometimes it is absent, but its traces are there, reflected in the works, embodied as objects.
The starting point of Jason Dodge’s practice is the acknowledgement of the narrative potential of everyday things, of simple gestures that leave an almost invisible trace on objects. The installation the amputees are sleeping appears as leftover pillows, with each pillow having been slept on by only one amputee. The absence of the human figures, emphasised by the fact that the pillows look as though someone has just got up, is replaced by the abstract presence of their dreams and the evocative possibility they would have dreamt about the same thing.
Eloise Hawser’s Sample and Hold (2014–15) is composed of a video and a video animation, and is the result of her research on virtuality. The protagonist of the work is the artist’s father, whose body is presented both physically, documented while it is scanned, and virtually, in its 3D rendering. In Sample and Hold, the use of the scanner becomes a peculiar way of casting the human body, exploring and reproducing its full and empty shapes, providing an experience in which virtual and actual reality coexist as counterparts.
Identity shirt, first generation (1969) is the title of a series of works by Ana Lupaș, consisting of black fabric cuttings on which the artist has intervened with the sewing machine, tracing drawings that transform them into city maps, intricate labyrinths or puzzles. The precision of the machine is subverted in favour of a fragmented pattern, resulting from handmade interventions and from the act of tearing the fabric. Vaguely reminiscent of garments, the textiles together exhibit human gestures and the action of the machine, the singularity of the individual and the standardisation of production. Throughout her artistic practice, Lupaş has always paid attention to local traditions and the everyday rural life of her native region, involving the inhabitants of the villages in her projects. In Identity shirt, first generation the fabric, which appears to be a garment inside out, becomes a membrane that separates but at the same time holds together the body of the artist and the collective identity of the region.
Beatrice Marchi’s practice reflects on the gap arising from the encounter between the ideal model to which one aspires and everyday life, in particular during adolescence, a significant moment in the definition of one’s own identity. Shared obsessions, fetishes and symbols are treated with irony and at the same time seriously analysed, creating equivocal situations, with a language that wittily and critically mixes amateurism and professionalism. Marchi uses different media – video, photography, collage, drawing, installation and performance – to explore these themes from various angles. The performance Concert for solista with Isa B (2017) can be considered an assemblage that brings together different fictional contexts and layered experiences, connected by the presence and words of the artist herself.
Christodoulos Panayiotou, through acts of creation and de-creation, offers new and unexpected interpretations of objects that are often charged with personal history and symbolic meanings. His installation Untitled (2017) consists of a bespoke pair of shoes, handmade using leather from female purses belonging to Panayiotou’s relatives and friends. Although they will never be worn, the shoes already contain different uses, purposes and layered stories, and embody a process of metamorphosis, suggesting that the structure of things is never definitive, because it can always be reversible.
The photographs of Joanna Piotrowska from the series FROWST (2013–14) portray people in a series of subtly uncanny and tense poses. The portraits unveil themselves the more they are looked at, and become images charged with a strong degree of unfamiliarity. The protagonists’ bodies, with their destabilising presence, caught in a pose ambivalent between a playful dimension and an expression of power, become a visualisation of ties between human beings, vessels of those tensions created by relationships, rules and habits in which daily life is embedded.
Gonçalo Preto’s two big charcoal drawings, 01:48 and 23:17 (2017), act as a threshold between two dimensions: they are hyper-realistic, vivid depictions of a night landscape and of an interior, and at the same time the mysterious representation of an absence. While their life-size dimensions enable a projection of the viewer into the space that they draw, one of an entrance and one of an exit, their dense, black background absorbs his eyes in a suspended atmosphere, in a waiting state as if something could appear from the dark at any moment.
Taking the liminal space of the door as their starting point, Nick Bastis’ Treble and 909 (2017), both made in an inverted process of key-copying, materialise what the artist defines as “the imagined space a key traverses while turning inside a lock, kept in someone’s pocket”. They give shape to a slit, the empty space of a lock, and stress the invisible movement that defines the oscillation between the state of opening and that of closure.
In the installation Group Show (2014), Namsal Siedlecki juxtaposes clay sculptures modelled by the artist with paintings made by animals that he has collected over the years. The blocks of raw clay have been repeatedly bitten by the artist himself, their regular shape being disfigured by a violent, feral act that investigates the original animal nature that persists in humankind. In this inversion of roles, the work also reflects on empathy and the instinct of imitation, in a dialectics in which animals imitate humans, trying to get their approval, and in which human being rediscover their deepest animal nature.
at Galeria Boavista, Lisbon
until 1 October 2017