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A Way of Walking, by Sérgio Carronha, at Monitor Lisbon Gallery.

Bringing earth, soil, clay, dust and dirt to the gallery space is a performative act that – from Robert Smithson, Robert Morris and Walter de Maria to Dineo Seshee Bopape – has always involved a sort of rebellion spirit towards the ultra-clean and standardised art exhibition’s minimalist aesthetic and design conception.

Living and working in Montemor-o-Novo, Sérgio Carronha brings his “own” orange-reddish coloured soil within the geometrical white space of the Monitor Gallery in Lisbon. In order to visit the exhibition and appreciate the group of objects, ceramics and sculptures installed across the two levels of the gallery’s space, the visitors are invited to walk upon an ephemeral red clay and kaolin floor “painting” that covers almost the whole floor of the gallery, thus leaving their marks while going away with some coloured dust under their feet. A playful effect that can be perceived as a clear occurrence of the “reciprocal impregnation” phenomena, which happens in the mechanisms of aesthetic reception, but also in the different forms of co-living and cohabitation. A way of walking as leaving behind tangible, soft traces of our presence and activities while always being transformed by the environment and the experiences we have.

The presence of this raw, moveable and “messy” material within the exhibition tends to bridge the gap between the rural context of his artistic production and creativity and the urban environment and setting of the gallery. It thus highlights the contrast and tension between the natural and the artificial, between the soft and the solid, between the amorphous character of organic materials and the manmade definite shapes and architectonic linear structures, between the outdoor vast open spaces and the confined lifestyle of the city, binding the whole into a delicate, tranquil and coherent formal unity.

Carronha’s interaction with the gallery space also extends to the objects and other traces of site-specific interventions as a handmade monochrome painting done on a wall with a blend of wood ashes and water. Those ephemeral and immaterial artistic gestures also contrast with the apparently perennial objects as the stable and solid menhir firmly grounded in time and space. The numerous sculptural pieces with their archetypal forms, symbols, motives and patterns bring forth sensorial experience and free associations ranging from the evocation of archaeological vestiges and artefacts to the current socio-political, cultural and economic background of Alentejo. As individual bodies carry personal memories which manifest into external forms and symptoms, the land also carries historical baggage which expresses itself into specific signs, marks and forms echoing past and future processes, life and death dynamics.

In his way, Carronha participates in the intellectual, social and artistic performative movements that believe in the benevolent transformational power of getting (back) in touch with the land, of renewing a physical relationship with the manifest natural surroundings of our existence. What does it mean working today with clay, dirt, sandstone, natural pigments, kaolin, seeds and agave cask within the gallery space? Playing with all those distant yet familiar, prosaic yet poetic, simple yet magical, fragile and profane yet sacred materials and gently transforming them through retro-innovative techniques, certainly aims at restoring an intimate and spiritual interaction with nature, its cycles, its rhythms, its variations, its material and immaterial subtle manifestations.

A Way of Walking at Monitor Lisbon – until the 15th of January 2020.

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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