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Fauna, by André Romão

A mysterious, nocturnal, and oneiric environment is created in the exhibition Fauna by the artist André Romão with the complicity of Pedro Lapa, curator of the exhibition, at the Museu Coleção Berardo. Conceived as an immersive scenario in four acts, it presents several types of installations, inducing a wide range of sensorial experiences and philosophical reflections on the conditions for physical and cultural surviving in the contemporary world.

Starting with a sunset recreation within a large acrylic glass model of a factory roof illuminated by a gradually dimming light, it ends with the evocation, through a video installation entitled Sunrise, of the very last moments of the night, when the first rays of dawn gradually shift the ambient light to a lesser dark. This scenography reinforces the dreamlike atmosphere of the exhibition, mirroring the surrealist sequencing of non-related scenes and moments, along with the odd juxtaposition or fusion of distant spaces and heterogeneous objects which often characterise the realm of dreams. After the first moment where the sun sets on the factory and on some displayed acacia flowers, which refers to invasive and aggressive behaviour within the plant kingdom, it follows with a four-channel sound installation in which Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine interpret two passages each of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Related to the shape-shifting dramatic character of Achelous, the fragments of Ovid’s text point to the questions of “mutation, adaptation and resistance, as well as predatory and viral quality analogous to economical processes”, according to Pedro Lapa.  But above all, what the text explores is “the fluidity between Man, Nature, the animal, the mineral, and the vegetal, as abstract entities and real inhabitants of the land”. The immateriality and fluidity of light and sound then gives place to the static nature of man-made devices and artistic artefacts. Displayed in the interval between the two first and last rooms, a grab-and-go refrigerator exhibits archaeological small figures from ancient Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire, which were once part of the personal collection of the artist Ana Hatherley. Alluding to the institutional space and to the conservation practices of the museum, as well as to the industry of cultural consumption, the inclusion of such an object within the museum space, along with an electric-generator, card-box, mussels and aloe-vera, also refers to the “artification” process that turns non-art into art; a meditation that seems to run through the whole exhibition.

A group of diversified sculptures of different dimensions and forms is displayed in the third moment. Those sumptuous and sophisticated objects enact the mutual impregnation of artificial and natural forms focusing on the themes of hybridisation and crossbreeding, simultaneously referring to the spontaneous or engineered blending of organic, biotic, mineral and man-made matters happening in nature, in ateliers or in laboratories. Thus, the question of the interconnectivity of the material and the symbolic dimensions of art is conjured up along with the reflection on the significant transformation they both operate on each other. Indeed, the artification process of turning non-art into art is specifically involved in the museum space. As Duchamp demonstrated with his practice of the readymade, the material shapes are conferred new presence, meanings, status and values by the contextual and symbolic dimensions. This dynamic process goes both ways, as the ongoing emergence of new works of art and their exhibition can also, in turn, trigger mutation processes within the art institutions. Finally, the fourth act presents Sunrise, a large screen video installation with soundtrack. Shot outdoors, it shows the occupations of some wild ferrets, their movements through grass and foliage and their unconcerned “interactions” with a plaster left on the ground. The weird object represents an open fragment of a torso, reminiscent of a dead body or of some sorts of art ruin. Is this fallen and ripped “piece of civilisation”, inserted into the mysterious and almost invisible course of wildlife, a metonymy of art destiny or perhaps of all human endeavour? Between the uncanny and a kind of formal poetry, a certain sense of irreligious sacredness infuses the ensemble.

Katherine Sirois is a Canadian art historian and freelance writer born in Montreal. Trained in Arts Studies at the UQÀM (Mtl), where she worked as a research and teaching assistant at the History of Art Department, she did her first doctoral studies at the EHESS (Paris) with Daniel Arasse, then at the Aesthetic Department of the Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne University and at the Art History Institute of the Nova University of Lisbon. She is part of the editorial team of the contemporary e-magazine Wrong Wrong and co-curator of the Portuguese Ymago project for the dissemination of authors in the field of images. She recently joined the Umbigo Magazine team of contributors.

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