(sunsight!)/(sunclipse!), by Carlos Noronha Feio
Handicrafts, including weaving and tapestry, have, for a long time, been associated with artistic efforts. The so-called manual labours have always been a domestic and feminine activity. Homer described it in Odyssey: Penelope was expecting Ulysses’ arrival and, as a way to avoid the horde of suitors who wanted to marry her, among whom she had to choose her future husband, she decided to postpone the decision by the time she finished a rug. But Penelope wanted no one but Ulysses and, by night, she torn up what she weaved during the day.
Afghan war rugs and the Portuguese Arraiolos rugs share a common Arab origin. The first, which have been weaved by women for thousands of years, changed their natural leitmotifs when, in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. At that time, war-related subjects started to emerge. The origin of the Arraiolos rugs is thought to be related to the banishment of the Arabs to the Portuguese south, during the reign of King Manuel. The Arraiolos upholsterers then learned this tradition and combined the oriental ornamentation with a simpler cross-stitch technique, thus developing this handmade creation.
Carlos Noronha Feio makes use of these millenary traditions, which shared the same past in a given moment and in a given place, to instigate new social and artistic reflections. It elevates them to the condition of gallery art piece, cancels their practical and decorative role, putting them on the wall, albeit in different places and, following the disposition of the depicted sun, changes their format and somehow conceptualizes them.
Akin to what the old Arraiolos upholsterers did in the fifteenth century, Noronha Feio uses colours and patterns of Afghan rugs but, by using the Arraiolos technique and relying on Portuguese craftsmen, takes them to our present-day production reality and to a tradition that has gained momentum in the 20th century as a form of social identification (the Arraiolos rugs were bought by the upper middle class). Like the war rugs became unaffordable by the Afghan population, the Arraiolos also became an unattainable item by the least wealthy Portuguese stratum (except those that already existed and were passed down from generation to generation). In (sunsight!)/(sunclipse!) these elements of exclusivity and oneness are reinforced.
In terms of subject matter, the artist adds a globalizing touch, as his depictions are centred on the solar system, while maintaining some Eastern elements, such as eight-pointed stars or missiles. Like the Afghan warlike representations criticized the Soviet invasion, Noronha Feio, with his tapestries, reflects on the existence of the solar system, particularly the Earth and Mankind. The sentences and words in golden steel scattered throughout the gallery reinforce this human-centred existential doubt about and its quality in the future, specifically when it comes to the chief star, the sun.
The artist doesn’t weave, he becomes a theoretical and non-manual artist, instead he digitally idealizes and draws his works, which are then executed by weavers. We can associate this model of production with a typical Renaissance model, where artist studios were inhabited by assistants who conducted the artistic works that their masters conceived.
Sentences or words in golden steel, which reflect our image, are presented alongside the rugs and propose a reflection, in some cases doing it more promptly than the tapestries themselves. When we climb the stairs that take us back to the entrance floor of Galeria 3+1, all that we can see from the full sentence (even if at heart we are uncertain of the will to connect, there is a common future ahead!) is part of the word common and future ahead!), in what appears to be a positive and encouraging message. Although the questions raised by the artist relate to the future of the universe and Mankind, where we lack reasons to believe that it will be positive, Carlos Noronha Feio leaves us with an optimistic message that the future is common, communal, perhaps spatial, and that its quality somehow depends on us.
At 3+1 Arte Contemporânea, until 22 June.