The Flower and the Rubble
Forget the sarcasm and think about beauty. In the context of art residencies promoted by ArtWorks, the expression ‘the fine flower of the rubble’ (the English translation of a well-known Portuguese saying) gets quite close to A Flor e o Espinho, a song by Nelson Cavaquinho. In an industrial park located in Póvoa do Varzim, works of art are born from a soil made up of iron, steel and glass.
In 2018, in its very first edition, the artistic residences entitled No Entulho invited the artists Jérémy Pajeanc, Tiago Madaleno, Rafael Yaluff, João Pedro Trindade, Igor Jesus and Francisca Carvalho to reuse and overhaul spare raw materials from manufacturing. They had at their disposal all the necessary means to produce works of art, in small, medium or large scale. To accomplish that purpose, the creative work of these artists merged the technical knowledge of locksmiths, electricians, glassmakers, engineers and architects.
This multidisciplinary approach is not something new for ArtWorks, an organization that, since 2013, has devoted itself to supporting the production of artistic creations of household names like João Pedro Croft, Fernanda Fragateiro, Pedro Cabrita Reis and Álvaro Siza Vieira, among others, and cultural projects such as the Biennial of Contemporary Art of Coimbra (under a patronage basis). This support goes from the conception of different works to technical drawings, as well as their assemblage and installation. “To me, it seems that the manufacturing context is the starting point for many of the pieces that we see today exhibited in museums, galleries, institutions, public spaces, etc. Many of artists, in order to implement specific projects, need quite large production areas and specialized technical support, something that makes them rely on architects and engineers to come up with the drawings, and companies like locksmiths, carpenters or glassmakers to devise the pieces. At ArtWorks, we bring together all of these aspects through a core team made of five people – two architects, an environment designer, a photographer and a person skilled in art history and curatorship – and through the company’s multidisciplinary team comprised of architects, engineers, locksmiths, programmers, electricians, production people, among many others. The modus operandi differs from artist to artist and depends on the project’s nature. In some cases, we get quite involved in the design of the works, in others we are above all accountable for the production and logistics. There are many grey areas amid this, each project has its own traits”, José Miguel Pinto, the ArtWorks director, explains.
Regarding the No Entulho residences, the idea is to challenge the artists with a factory’s operational dynamics, making them stand before processes and materials that require different timespans in comparison to those they are used to. More importantly, they have to create an ongoing dialogue with the technicians to make the works reach a good spot. “One must have the trust and interest of the workers. Deep down, it’s a complicity-based game”, José Miguel Pinto says.
When the residence comes to an end, the doors of the studios are opened to display the works completed or those still ongoing – ArtWorks establishes the commitment to follow logistically and financially the projects until the very end, even if their accomplishment exceeds the residence time. Not all artists worked simultaneously at the factory and their shows were also split between different stages. The last artist to benefit from this experience and to exhibit her work was Francisca Carvalho. Below we have her own words about the artistic residences entitled No Entulho. Before that, we opened the door of the 2nd edition, with ArtWorks announcing that it will expand the scope of invitations, taking it beyond the fine arts. The idea will be to invite artists related to literature, photography, cinema and theatre to Parque Industrial Amorim.
Considering that your work is paper-centred, what did you gain from the direct contact with this type of material, the so-called “rubble”, and also with the specialized technical staff that was at your disposal during the residence?
For two years now, I have been collaborating with different factories. This interest began with textiles, the textile world propelled me to jump into this quest. In 2018, I learned to work with natural paints in a small factory located in the village of Bagru, near Jaipur (India). Shortly before going to India, I got an invitation from José Miguel Pinto and Ana Brito to work at the artistic residence No Entulho. When I lived in Baltimore, during my Master’s at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) I worked extensively in the school’s carpentry and textile fibre section. Then I learned a kind of manual craft that was new to me.
Paper has been my work’s main element, allowing me to expand the language by incorporating other materials. The factory imposes a sort of scale (at different levels) very different from the studio’s intimate, secretive scale. And that transforms the relationship I have with work. A studio scale requires one to master a spontaneous craftsmanship and the handling is constantly improvised, lightweight due to the materials available to be used, and lightweight because I’m alone. The scale of the factory implies a sort of handling which is already a relationship between the human hand and the machine and machines are not fond of improvisation. The logic has to be changed. One has to think about the outcome right from the start, one has to program and conceive. In the factory, the workspace is always shared, you have to keep up with the workshop’s pace, not disturbing it. This rhythm has been there before me. Improvisation always comes later, when I can stabilize my relation with the environment: the people, the machines and the noise. One thing should be mentioned. The concept of machines refers not only to computerized mechanisms, but also to the work pace, which is more or less mechanical. Being in the factory is like falling behind in the improvised music, the musicians are there already, the rhythm has been unleashed and it is always bigger than me. I step in and try to catch it, I make myself to be in tune with that great body.
Working at the factory allows me have access to new materials and processes, it establishes a new dynamic, one that occurs when the people who work there open up space and I open up space as well. There is that attentive indifference with peaks of curiosity, which I associate with something like family dynamics, so yes, it’s like joining a family. It’s a process of seduction, curiosity and involvement with those who are doing all of this, trying not to disturb them at all. Factories are environments where the task is repeated and addressed.
When I arrived at Ecosteel, I was welcomed by the ArtWorks, which introduced me to the different factory departments – bending, locksmithing, glassmaking and rubble. They introduced me to the workers. It was intimidating at first, given the scale and weight of the materials, so I locked myself in a tiny studio they had there and photographed the rubble and everything I saw. From the photographs, scissors, glue, tapes, different glues and foams, I came up with small mock-ups, since it’s something helpful to think, to envision something in front of you, however provisional it may be. Feeling some kind of empowerment that comes from the hands is helpful to fight anything intimidating. After the initial fright and the small-scale sketches, I settled in the room and devoted myself to the easel-lodged glass in the locksmith shop. When I started working on the glass, everything changed because I was working quite exposed to the surroundings and to the people who work there. I always needed the help of André, Mr. Domingos, and many glass workers to turn the glass with the suction cups and the straps. I’m very grateful to them, not only for showing me that genuine collaboration is possible, but also for making me feel that I was part of the working community.
How do you describe the work developed during the residency and how does that fit in your overall path? Is it a continuation, a break or an exception dictated by a specific context, a new step? Or none of the above?
It’s all that at the same time. In the beginning, it was an exception dictated by an invitation, then it became a continuation of my work on compositing solutions and finally, after a month, I realize that it was a new step. I knew that Ecosteel works with glass and metal. That’s what I knew. Glass and metal are cold materials and unfurl authoritarian environments, you need to turn them around with other materials to make them warm. I got there with no pre-established project. It’s part of my way of working, because I know that I don’t know and want to find out. That’s where ideas emerge, because the eyes and senses are alert, like it always happens when we see ourselves in unfamiliar territory.
I started to paint the giant windows found in the rubble using the two fronts. The size and nature of the glasses imposed a kind of composition, a very specific colour range. Glass is in itself a quite vibrant pictorial field, since it reflects and filters the light, it changes constantly. A stain on glass is always a discontinuity, it interjects this vibration. The relation between the two sides of the glass is not that much a counterpoint, but more like an asymmetrical complementarity. The front is part of the back and vice versa and, in the end, there is no front or back, what determines that is the position of your body, and the painting keeps changing as you move. There are situations of false shadows and others of true shadows that attempt to look like paint. The shapes had to be simplified in order to communicate with each other, on both sides. The Indian Tantra drawings appeared as a path, the geometric shapes are entities in them. They are not a signature. There is something very pacifying in geometric shapes that are always without authorship. They open themselves to appropriation, to use, but they are constantly escaping us as if to say that this plane in which we live does not begin or end in us.
What do you take from this residence?
Affective relationships. The energy of work. The genuine collaborations that took place.