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Rural Topographies

Galerias Municipais joined Diferença to celebrate the forty years of the cooperative, in an exhibition divided between the Quadrum gallery and the Diferença gallery, near Largo do Rato. This bipartite exhibition marks the beginning of Tobi Maier’s work as a curator at the Municipal Galleries, of which he has been director since March, and also the return of Alberto Carneiro to two exhibition spaces where he regularly showed his work in the seventies and eighties. In addition to several of Alberto Carneiro’s creations, the exhibition presents works by three women from different generations: Ana Lupas, Lala Meredith-Vula and Claire de Santa Coloma.

The rural adjective is sagaciously used in the curatorial concept, sharply qualifying the work of these artists. Alberto Carneiro was a pioneer in ecological art, with international recognition – in his notas para um diário (1968-1972), we find a manifesto para uma arte ecológica, recurrently remembered in publications about the artist. But in Carneiro’s context, ecology was part of a stagnant country, with a massive separation between Lisbon and Oporto and a poor, backward and domestic rurality, which filled most of the territory with sadness. This portrait of Portugal at the end of the dictatorship is similar to the contexts where the works of Ana Lupas – in Transylvania – and Meredith Lala-Vula – in Kosovo and Albania were developed. This resemblance is also one of the links that bring together the works presented.

The concept of landscape, underlying these works, has nothing to do with the typical retinal landscape that emerged since the discovery of perspective in the fifteenth century. Here, the landscape is vivid and sensorial, it is inhabited as Heidegger taught us, it is only phenomenological, inseparable from artistic manifestations. Landscape is a founding element of art. And if, on the one hand, the modernism of the post-impressionist vanguards was urban, due to the political commotion in the European and North American metropolises, poor countries like Portugal or the Balkan nations remained rural. Postmodernity settled in the countryside through artists who, with political significance, took the art of the cosmopolitan city to the rural territory. This exhibition is a testimony to the various aspects of this reality in the last fifty years.

Alberto Carneiro works the landscape – since the landscape is nature when domesticated. But this process of domestication is not retinal as it is in the western pictorial tradition. It is a process of total immersion of the body in its carnality. This is evident in the work Operação estética / Vilar do Paraíso, 1973, presented here in its final version – the yellow one, lent by Serralves. materialized in a wide set of photographs that document the artist’s performance when, under the photographer’s gaze alone, he acted on fodder ricks, imposing a geometric order and activating them through a sequence of ritualized procedures. A work that was thought to be appreciated through the objects of mediation and fixation – the printed photographs, mounted on panels, to which he added comments that condition the interpretation.

Ana Lupas presents The Solemn Process, 1964-74, 1980-85, 1985-2008. The fifteen photographs document the extensive process during which the artist worked with villagers in Transylvania to produce various sculptures, also marked by the production of geometries based on perishable rural materials, challenging the populations to continue the production and to place the pieces in the landscape and in the surroundings of their own houses. Lupas returned to the villages twice. The first at the peak of the socio-economic crisis, in an attempt to restore the pieces and the second after being confronted with the impossibility of returning the pieces to their integrity, to reproduce them in metal, with the help of local craftsmen and traditional techniques. This process resulted in a first exhibition in Innsbruck in 2008, where the metal pieces and two vinyl panels were presented, with eighty old photographs, dyed sepia, documenting the process. The fifteen images in this exhibition were selected from this set, which is today in Tate’s collection.

Photographs, the consequence of an almost opposite strategy, also constitute the work of Lala Meredith-Vula, who Tobi Maier chose for the exhibition after having found the project in Documenta 14. Between 1989, the year of the end of the iron curtain, and the present day, the artist documented the presence of ricks in the landscape of Kosovo and Albania. It is a reflection on how the activities of farmers manage to transform the landscape and especially how, through photography, it is possible to assign an artistic value to a pragmatic object/action, originally without any aesthetic component. This project marks a change of position and characterizes the years of the millennium shift: The artist stopped acting physically in the landscape and started acting only on the landscape, already after the photographic mediation: from the corporeal performance, he moved to the mediated reflection.

Finally, two pieces by Claire de Santa Coloma are presented, two delicate and sensorial sculptures – typical in Claire’s work. They are two pieces that speak of nature’s domestication, in a movement topographically reversed. Here, the raw material is brought from the rurality to the studio, where the artist, with her delicate and meticulous praxis, transforms it into intense pieces.

Graduated in Architecture and with a post-graduate in Theory of Architecture, he owned a studio for several years until he stepped into other art-related practices. In 2007, he curated the Praxis cycle or how we do what we do at António Arroio School and, between 2008 and 2014, he was the co-creator and curator of Escritaria. He experimented documentary filmmaking, directing several short and feature films focused on literature and the built herit-age, and, following a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and having obtained training in photography at Ar.Co, he focused himself on the artistic production, presenting works at the BoCA Biennial, Forum Eugénio de Almeida, Coimbra Biennial of Contemporary or the New Art Fest. Right now, he is finishing a post-graduate Degree in Art Curation in FCSH at Universidade Nova.

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