Satellites, by Márcio Vilela

At the confluence of science, technology, art and poetry, the “Satellites” exhibition by the Brazilian photographer Márcio Vilela – curated by Adelaide Ginga – at the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado, in Lisbon, appears as a sort of window on the starry sky which tends to open an inner space for silence and meditation.

Equally spectacular and sober, familiar and profound, intimate and universal, the still and moving images of the night sky bring the cosmic realm’s vertiginous grandiosity into plain sight, closer to the viewers, within the museum’s confined spaces.

The exhibition is set in three moments. It starts with minimalist trajectories drawn on black paper. This simple process once triggered the artist’s imagination and ambition to seek out for new ways and means of drawing, aspiring to translate, through the use of non-geostationary satellites, the movements of the hand within the outer space. It would then capture the drafted abstract lines performed by the satellites using powerful photographic technology. And so, he did. The second moment of the exhibition shows amplified anamorphic images of colourful disks of light and gas taken from orbiting satellites around the Earth. These images coincidentally echoed the first presumably genuine picture of a supermassive black hole dwelling in a remote galaxy (50 million light-years away) which has been world-wide launched in the mainstream media two days prior to the exhibition’s opening. This capture, performed by the Event Horizon Telescope network and which, according to the experts, opens a new era of astrophysics, is strikingly similar to Vilela’s anamorphic images. Entitled Cosmos, Atlas Centaur and Argos (2019), they figure immaterial enigmatic “objects” from a distance of 2000 km away. The third moment consists in a 32 minutes HD video showing the trajectories of satellites through the star-filled sky. The sequence of captures shows several vantages of the star map with their interconnected networks of shimmering lines allowing the viewer to recognize various constellations in the static shots and, perhaps, to recall some of the mythological narratives and reveries associated with them. Suddenly, man-made points of light appear here and there, moving at a steady pace, travelling straight through the screen and drawing their own ephemeral multidirectional and crisscrossing “lines”. Those captured phenomena bring to mind the extension of the hazards and encroachment of human technologies, along with the expansion of artistic practices across territories and boundaries, going as far as to the long-distance outer space. Finally, some fast shooting stars or meteors inspire, as always, a sense of wonder and awe.

Vilela invites the spectators to contemplate the images of the celestial splendour, certainly not to mediate our relationship to openness, but rather – in an age of noise and speedy life – to focus our vision and awareness on these simple but meaningful experiences, reviving our thirst for outwards and inner exploration.

As Fridtjof Nansen wrote: “The starry sky is the truest friend in life, when you first become acquainted; it is ever there, it gives ever peace, ever reminds you that your restlessness, your doubt, your pains are passing trivialities. The universe is and will remain unshaken. Our opinions, our struggles, our sufferings are not so important and unique, when all is said and done”[1].


[1] Erling Kagge, Silence: In the Age of Noise, Pantheon, 2017.

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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