Fernanda Fragateiro – Between Art and Architecture

Photos: António Jorge Silva.

The exhibition of Fernanda Fragateiro is both an exercise of art and architecture, an ambiguity which can be admired with the same degree of admiration in names like Gordon Matta-Clark or Donald Judd.

Space has always been the artist’s main concern and medium: the way through which it is gets outlined, its materiality, the shape of emptiness, the shape of the shape, the atmosphere, its human traits and the elements capable of transcending it. A space which, at the same time, is an engine of continuous experiences, of performativity or of a livingness, and also where the expression of contemplation takes place. Activity and passivity.

In the exhibition Fernanda Fragateiro: from Archives, to Matter, to Construction, the artist enacts a review of her own methodology, relying on works from Fundação EDP and using the space of Central Tejo to establish a dialoguing relationship with the pieces on display. As a matter of fact, the gallery transformed by her is actually an update of her work, in other words, it constitutes an upgrade to her own repertoire. The incomprehension and the outrage of having to neutralise this mythical spot in Lisbon with white walls, like the White Cube, instilled in Fragateiro the need to transmute that space, to cut open those white halls, to suppress, to mow, to obliterate them.

Indeed, the inaugural piece shows us the creative and multiplicative trait found in destruction, which, as a final measure, has more to do with subtraction than with destruction itself. An array of debris from Lisbon buildings was put together by the artist in order to be displayed in what can be regarded as an archaeology of the edified, but also an archaeology of the city and of the lexicon and urban landscapes that are part of it. Through this debris, just like in other moments of the show, we have access to the layers of the edified, the skins of the private and intimate environments of every single individual: stucco, plaster, cement, brick.

But if this happens to be an archaeology, it is also a requiem, an immortalised frame of the death of spatial compositions made of memories, which are now being subjected to an unrestrained real estate exploitation, prompted by a disposable form of tourism.

In the interior of the exhibition, a mirrored receptacle holds tonnes of shattered bricks, yet another roll of debris that gets together in order to conceive a new work. And if its weight can be guessed just by looking and thinking about it, a sort of lightness is equally and paradoxical suggested: a delicate hint of a shadow right next to the pavement endows the whole set with some sort of weightlessness, to which the four faces of the mirror are not indifferent.

And from the ground we are guided towards the verticality of the wide windows of the Central, which illuminate the exhibition and allow several chances for coalescence with the landscape, depending on the hues coming from the light and sky. The artist emphasises the importance of light when drawing and vitalizing the space. A knocked down wall spreads bricks all over the floor, a plane made of metallic lines breaks and reflects the space, just as if this was the extension of those wide windows. Somewhere, a front wall was cut, allowing a peek into its structure, its skeleton.

Other works reflect some sort of political activism for women in architecture: Fragateiro mentions names such as Eileen Gray or Denise Scott Brown, two architects who are often forgotten and seldom are part of the literature focused on the history of architecture. Nonetheless, books will be the basis to show, within this same subject, one of the exhibition’s most curious aspects. It’s that books also have space and spots… This doesn’t have to do specifically with the images printed on them, but the text, related to the biggest conceptual tool that we have, imagination, is a counter and container of uncertain mental spaces. Using this infrequent medium allows spreading this precise notion that books, as well as magazines or any other journal, have a weight that goes beyond their limited physicality, given the amount of names that it holds and the number of images that are drawn on them. The impressive beam of magazines related to this field, built by Fragateiro, is an evidence of that.

The piece Laboratório de Materiais, 4 (2017) constitutes a sort of summary of the artist’s work: a kind of Duchamp’s valise, one that open and blends itself with so many others in order to show several compartments, spaces where books, tools, magazines, materials, etc., live. An array of valises which, when articulated, seem capable of forming a huge model whose construction has a minimalistic trait. It’s important to mention that this work surfaced after the artist was invited by the University of Harvard, which saw in this device the chance to show her work to its students. This pedagogical and educational challenge unleashed a full creative process that materialised itself in a work.

Still under this perspective, and based on my personal point of view, I recall a tiny conference held by Fernanda Fragateiro at IST about ten years ago for the students of architecture. The lighting of the humble auditorium was turned off and the only light sources left were a desk lamp and the projector. That space was never before regarded as one of comfort and empathy. That small and startling performance, amid that authoritarian space, was enough to grasp the fact that small changes in environments can create unforgettable moments. Then, the presentation of the work Peça Para Guardar o Vazio (2005), a cube that deconstructed itself in boundless and feasible spaces, between the apathetic and the optical, and in several experiences depending on the spectator or, better said, the visitor.

Seeing this exhibition again is relieving the absolute coherence of Fernanda Fragateiro’s artistic repertoire. Every time a work or a sculpture is glanced at, there is always a chance for renewed space, entangled in a discourse between minimalism, phenomenology, materiality and inhabitability.

Fernanda Fragateiro: dos arquivos, à matéria, à construção was comissioned by Sara António Matos and can be visited at Central MAAT up until September 18.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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