COSMO/POLÍTICA #5: Comunidades Provisórias

By the end of 2018, the first news appeared: a few hundred Hondurans had left their country for the United States of America. They walked slowly, as they could, with the few belongings on their backs and the children on their lap. In the usual deprivation, and as Herta Müller wrote, everything we have we carry with us. With no worries, with the certainty that they were living the greatest adventure of their still short lives, the children followed with determination northward, under the attentive and distressed vigilance of their parents. They had a destination: the border that separates indigence from comfort, atavism from hope, crime from security – the border of Mexico with the USA.

The group grew in Guatemala and El Salvador. At first, the number of people was similar to that of any village, apparently controlled and harmless, but quickly reached the proportion of a small city. United by hope, it was a “temporary community”, consolidated step after step, border after border, whose laws were those of common sense. The connecting link was a shared will. Much had been left behind, but especially the failures of the systems in which they were born.

It is important to question sociologically the genesis of this community. Its form, the groups represented, the proposed organization. The hierarchies, the behaviours, and the external and internal supporting bodies. Politically, the question is more complex: the left takes time to renew itself and the right is again shifting towards extremism, forcing these communities into a political game marked by contempt and neglect. However, it is necessary to understand the political nature of these communities and their consequences for national policies in a period of global flows and exchanges. And to understand how, in a time of atomization of local and global social ties, the concepts of collectivism, communion, union and community continue to persist. These communities are the product of globalisation, capitalism and the neoliberalization of politics: the modern individual is nomadic, who follows money anywhere.

With the works of Paulo Mendes, Tiago Baptista and Susana Mouzinho, COSMO/POLÍTICA #5: Comunidades Provisórias [Temporary Communities] proposes to reflect on these issues. The starting point is a novel by Alves Redol, Gaibéus, a masterpiece of neo-realism and Marxist-Leninist thought. Gaibéus were the Portuguese who, in the last century, migrated from the Beira Baixa province to the Lezíria do Tejo, looking for seasonal work. Redol describes the daily lives of these workers, the difficulties and the temporary community of precarious laborers who settled on the banks of the river, marked by strenuous work and the resignation of tired bodies and spirits. The Tagus was, during that period, a symbol of financial income, of productivity, of wages.

We can look at the exhibition based on scale and proximity. Specifically, in this context, the local scale of Paulo Mendes, when installing his project in the museum hall to stimulate an immediate dialogue with passers-by. The transparency of the facades shows the oddness of the housing that the artist designed, built in a rudimentary and improvised way. Sharing the expressiveness of arte povera, but also of assemblage, and the critical vision of social and political art, while making a constructive survey of the dwellings of the avieira fishing community, Mendes builds an installation with archives, photographic and sound documents, and materials borrowed from the community. The work is a creative and archaeological effort, which intends to transport the memory of local activities and experiences into the present.

Tiago Baptista presents a regional or national vision, with the representation of the great infrastructures, which promote both connections or separations. From the plastic point of view, it is curious how the artist uses collage as something intrinsic to pictorial composition. The canvas is a field of experimentation, of addition and subtraction, of adjoining and removing objects. The highways, the viaducts, the lines drawn by airplanes in the sky are references to the tensions of modernity. The river is also represented in this tension, unknown if it is an obstacle or an opportunity, when the artist draws, in a diffuse foreground, a metallic net. It is the Tagus River, but it could also be the Rio Grande – the great and almost unsurmountable border between the USA and Mexico, the place of stop for the large temporary community of migrants mentioned above.

We could also find this tension in what does not have the human scale (the factories, the walls, the circulation routes) and disturbs the existing ecosystems. But, nevertheless, still exists in us as a place of affection and remembrance. The portrait of an anonymous woman, made by Baptista, recognizes that places – even those composed by high and imposing walls – are inhabited spaces, filled with private and collective memories, by people who give them soul and body.

Finally, Susana Mouzinho invites a foreigner to read Gaibéus by Alves Redol, in a video installation that shares Paulo Mendes’ precarious or improvised materiality. In a project that conciliates art with ethnography, Mouzinho creates two projections. On one side, several photographic compositions are exhibited that refer to this union. On the other, the highlight is the performativity of the spoken text. Aconteça no meio o que for is a study of the written word, of literature and the neo-realist movement, as engines of pedagogical and political awareness.

Approaching the final stage of the exhibition cycle, COSMO/POLÍTICA shows once again the complexity of the political matters that the present has to prepare for the future. Comunidades Provisórias reflects on plurality, on dissensions, on the different existences and the necessary political decisions in the governance of planetary life. And, as a congregating vision that brings together a worldview of spaces and times, cosmopolitics recycles old tensions, because the critical exercise forces it to. In this case, the class differences are clear, which remain with an apparent configuration, only slightly different from those dissimilarities of the previous century, now on a global scale.

Until 23 February, at Museu do Neo-Realismo, curated by Sandra Vieira Jürgens and Paula Loura Batista.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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