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On light by shadow: Ater, at Salgadeiras Gallery

It may seem to be inside out, at first. Ater, the summer exhibition at Galeria das Salgadeiras, contradicts the lightness and frivolity of the silly season. It’s not particularly sun-driven, but it’s undeniably dazzling.

It’s an ode to blackness, from a standpoint that is not dark, as it intends to overcome its gloomy or even grim side. Although inspired by Marguerite Yourcenar’s historical novel, partially recovering alchemy’s mystical imaginary, it’s not related to obscurantism. Ana Matos, the gallery’s artistic director and author of the exhibition’s presentation text, establishes a correspondence with The Abyss, from 1968, particularly with the sentence “[…] the drive for change and the desire to achieve freedom”, since the main formulation refers to the first – and more complex – stage of the magnum opus. According to the treatment disposition, this is the moment of cremation: the reduction to ash, to the deepest blackness, with the aim of achieving the chemical eruption in the magnum opus. Marguerite Yourcenar speaks of “[…] a man who erases […]” the secular paradigm, in the sense of achieving his own liberation – or “[…] to see where his thought will lead him freely”.

We shall evoke Giorgio Agamben: “The ones who can call themselves contemporary are only those who do not allow themselves to be blinded by the lights of the century and so manage to get a glimpse of the shadows in those lights, of their intimate obscurity”. After all, the contemporary are those who, not surrendering to the brightness of their century, are able to transcend it: to see beyond the veil that surrounds them, the convention that limits them, the order that rules them, the knowledge acquired, the word spoken; who, not allowing themselves to be dazzled by the apparatus of their epoch, can see beyond, further ahead – what is still to reveal. After all, this opus nigrum contemplates a liberating process of renunciation of prejudice – and, as such, the encounter with light.

“I don’t want to go where there is no light” Fernando Pessoa says – quoted by Ana Matos, but also, according to her, by Cláudio Garrudo, who presents Trindade #01 (2014), a photographic record of the room where the poet died in 1935. The main focus is not fatalism, something mentioned by the author, but the echo of a latent intimacy – which manifests itself in Daniela Krtsch’s pictorial sequence: Remembrance #11 (2008), Untitled (2008), Remembrance #15 (2008), Remembrance #12 (2008), Untitled (2007) and Remembrance #19 (2008), from left to right, creating a blackened but clear scene, bringing together privacy, familiarity and a certain domesticity – the so-called comfort zone: “We take it [home] with us, since Man also lives from that hope for comfort”. In fact, it cannot be considered an established fact, nor an absolute, universal truth. In the text, the migration crisis appears as the most flagrant example. Social, economic and cultural inequality or environmental urgency are also emphasized: a constant state of war.

“Hello, hello, Martian / Here is the speaker of the Earth / For a change, we are at war”, Elis Regina sings. Yes, the Amazon. Today, and everywhere, everything turns to ash. Rui Soares Costa, and what remains of the landscape, in Untitled (2017), of the Winter Series, even allude, based on the temporal reference, to another devastation. Série N #20 (2010) and Série N #09 (2010), by Rui Horta Pereira, are also signs of vitality – of what rises and persists, tearing the black mantle. A ground covered with crushed tire. In the same room, we find the tear of Maria Capelo, Sem Título (2018); further on, in a separate place, like Augusto Brázio, Sem Título (2016), part of the Bang! chapter.

Light is only reached in darkness. When there’s too much of it, it blinds and deceives. Let’s look at it. Let’s look at the target, under this faint, zenithal light: a Cromeleque (2017), the focus that targets it, the cable through which the electric current moves – through Jordi Burch’s lens. It’s “[…] in this kind of well […]” that the purpose of Ater is achieved. Finally, in addition to drawing, painting and photography, there is sculpture: a Módulo de Captação de Luz_01 (2017), by João Dias. The nature and dynamics of light can only be understood in the shadow.

The Abyss “[…] reinforces the avant-garde visionary character of artistic practice”. Marguerite Yourcenar, Fernando Pessoa, Elis Regina, but also Hal Foster, Jean-Luc Godard, Thomas More and Michel Pastoureau emphasizes an illuminated reading: whiter, less obvious. It’s the starting point for a greater, unwavering belief: the artist faced as the main agent of contemporaneity, capable of “[…] making the experience of the world more beautiful, […] more critical, more incisive, awakening our sensitivity and our knowledge”. Artistic practice is seen as a cathartic process, but, above all, as a form of resistance.

Ater, until 12 September, at Galeria das Salgadeiras, in Lisbon.

Carolina Machado (Lisbon, 1993). Graduated in Painting at the Faculdade de Belas-Artes of the University of Lisbon (2011-2015). Post-graduated in Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa (2016-2017). Master's degree in Aesthetics and Artistic Studies - Art and Political Cultures by the same institution (2017-2019). An intern of the colllection of Caixa Geral de Depósitos at Fundação Caixa Geral de Depósitos – Culturgest (2017-2018).

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