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Mutações. The Last Poet by Joana Escoval, at Museu Coleção Berardo

Joana Escoval’s work establishes a particular relationship with nature, beautiful and terrifying, where the idea of transformation is fundamental and matter and energy meet each other. The artist presents us with the exhibition Mutações. The Last Poet at Museu Coleção Berardo, in Lisbon, where “it is clear that everything is about to disappear or undergo a continuous transformation”, paraphrasing Pedro Lapa, curator of the exhibition.

For this exhibition, the venue is intervened and invaded by continuous, fluid, wavy walls, counteracting the rigidity of the walls, summoning a kind of interior of the body, where the organs are shaped and adapted to the available space. The organic walls, liquid, are moulded to the different spaces of the gallery, like water, which adapts and surrounds any surface or space with which it has contact.

The visitor is involved by this undulatory movement which, like a river, leads them to discover the different pieces in the exhibition. Sculpture, video, photography, sound installations, light, penumbra awaken the senses and intensify the immersion of body and mind in a continuous energetic flow. In unison, all the pieces are arranged horizontally and harmoniously, without any hierarchy between them, or between them and the audience.

A work stays out of the exhibition path. The video My breath aligned with the breath of the animal and our breath aligned with the wind appears in the shadow, on a plane parallel to the new walls, and we can see it through a cut-out. Three hairs, the mane and tail of a horse and human hair move as the horse gallops. The bodies are omitted and dissolved in each other through a black void that, at first sight, does not allow to decipher what is represented. Only three identical elements are perceptible, which could be three human hairs, three manes or three horsetails or any other three things.

These three entities that move together, without being distinguished, tied by the air only, by the wind, evoke again the idea of an inexistence of any hierarchy, between beings and species. The same idea is explored in the video piece All the food they shared with each other came from the forest, and the nearby rivers and streams, where a panther and a human being confront each other on the same level, a common predator look, making them equivalent.

The work found at the beginning of the exhibition, The snakes talking without words, is a piece that contaminates the inside and the outside. The delicate brass threads grab the existing space and the space that is created, crossing the borders between them, and vibrating according to the visitor’s movement or the sound of the space. In nature, its elements also react to different actors, be the tree leaves moved by the wind, or animals that avoid obstacles.

Natural elements, such as volcanic rocks, trunks, branches of plant species, or sounds produced by nature itself, such as the wind when colliding with the strings of an electric guitar, are conjugated with energy-conducting metal wires, which, in some situations, can be used by the viewer. Other pieces preserve and integrate some forms of life, such as a spider that inhabits the rock of Living Metals IV, the feather of a parakeet that is strangled by an elegant gold thread in In dream, I often see them destroying the entire forest as they search for it, or a tree trunk by the sea, one that several living beings once inhabited, crystallized in bronze in the piece I am molten matter returned from the core of the Earth to tell you interior things.

The choice of the different metals for each piece is meticulously made, considering their different traits and how each behaves and ages with time. The pieces I would rather be a tree and I would rather be a storm are made up of fragments of a specific metal alloy, designed by the artist, welded by gold. Over time, in a process of oxidation, the colour of the metallic alloy changes to a pinkish tint and the gold maintains its original yellowish tint, standing out. Time makes the connections visible, the points that allow the different parts to form a whole and continue to exist, transformed, impermanent.

The matter in permanent transformation, present in all of Joana Escoval’s works, indicates that nothing is established, “nothing is fixed, nothing is decided”, as she says. In her approach, it is the mutations that determine the last poetry, an idea that annuls the existence of the last poet as a human being, personifying him in an incessant movement of transformation.

Inaugurated in mid-February, the exhibition closed in mid-March to adopt several measures to prevent and contain the pandemic. Mutações: The Last Poet is now reopening and is on show until 16 August, at Museu Coleção Berardo.

Joana Duarte (Lisbon, 1988), architect and curator, lives and works in Lisbon. She concluded her master in architecture at Faculdade de Arquitectura of Universidade de Lisboa in 2011, she attended the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands and did her professional internship in Shanghai, China. She collaborated with several national and international architects and artists developing a practice between architecture and art. In 2018 she founds her own studio, concludes the postgraduate degree in curatorial studies at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa and starts collaborating with Umbigo magazine.

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