Power Structures (Crouch-touch-pause-engage)
The exhibition Power Structures (Crouch-touch-pause-engage) by Ângela Ferreira will be open until 17 October at Cristina Guerra, in Lisbon. It is a series of drawings, two large-scale sculptures, and a video. The artist’s project is clarified in the exhibition text: “it relates freely to a sport, showing not only its artistic potential, but also its historical complexity”. Each piece I saw in the gallery allowed me to understand that this sport is rugby and the historical context is apartheid in South Africa.
Beyond the historical and political context of this exhibition, the body is emphasised. The two sculptures fill most of the first two rooms. Due to the large size of both, I necessarily understood them with my own body and presence in space. I thought of Robert Morris’ reflection in Notes on Sculpture on the aesthetic experience associated with three-dimensional works. In his essay, the minimalist artist exposes his point of view on the conditions that stimulate different responses to an artistic object. The scale is one of these: “By perceiving relative size, the human body enters the total continuum of sizes and stabilizes itself as a constant in this scale. We immediately know what is smaller and what is larger than it. The quality of intimacy is linked to an object in a very direct proportion, as its size decreases in relation to itself. The quality of publicness is attributed as size increases in relation to itself”. Angela’s sculptures have this ‘public’ quality referred to by Morris. A large space is required between the viewer and the works. This distance requires physical and kinesthetic participation, creating a reflective quality – the awareness of oneself in the same space of the work, observing it from different angles and spatial contexts.
My body’s participation is most intense when the drawings and photos displayed alongside the sculptures reveal that the structures are replicas of rugby training equipment, found at random by the artist in a sports centre in South Africa. Realizing that these structures were used to create bodies of excellence from physical effort produces a change in the relationship of distance where I was previously. In my imagination, forms of interaction and performativity between my body and the structures are inevitable. Because of their formal and material character (polychrome iron), they end up being intimidating. In opposition to Morris’ thought, and despite the scale of the sculptures, an intimacy is born between the observer and the work.
The drawings displayed in the three rooms of the exhibition reveal the mechanics of the equipment. The details of the functioning and design of each object are shown and oppose the sculptural and aesthetic character now on display. Next to the photos of rugby players in action – muscular bodies in a fighting position – the sculptures further reflect the exhibition’s title: Power structures.
Apart from the association of the title with sculptural objects, the power structures possibly refer to the political and social structures of recent South African history. Apartheid was used as an instrument of racial domination and sovereignty arising from the colonisation of the country. It has given rise to various internal conflicts and power disparities. In an analogy to my first almost intimidating experience of exposed structures – by their size and formal characteristics – apartheid used the same principle: to segregate, to create distances and to make the individual inferior to the dominant system. What made my perception more intimate, according to Morris’ terms, was the connection, even if imaginary, of the two bodies. Rugby, as shown in the video in the last room of the gallery, provided a meeting point, proving its capacity for union and racial inclusion in South Africa.
The artist’s project shows how objects and their plastic potential can activate different layers of understanding about the historical moment. As an echo that responds to the echo, the exhibition brings together and makes present bodies from the past, which have an impact on the making of history.