Pólipos cnidários reparados pelo olhar do observador – Hugo Canoilas at Serralves

Pólipos cnidários reparados pelo olhar do observador by Hugo Canoilas, curated by Marta Almeida and Ricardo Nicolau, is an immersive experience, which opens several questions on the urgent issues of global warming, the current state of the oceans and marine fauna and flora. It can be visited until February 21, 2021, at Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves.

Jacques Rancière in The Emancipated Spectator (2010) begins his thesis by evoking Joseph Jacotot, professor of French literature. He, at the beginning of the 19th century, said that we can teach what we ignore to those who know nothing, stressing that we all have intelligence and that the education of the people is more important than intellectual emancipation. Then the French philosopher details his argument, comparing Jacotot’s assumption with the emancipation of the spectator, because we associate and dissociate, we learn and teach, we act and know in everyday life; but also, as spectators, we make connections between what we have seen, done or dreamed: “Being a spectator is not the passive condition that we should turn into activity. It’s our normal situation”. The author reaffirms that the essential point of learning is translation. The core of emancipation is when we do not know the distance between what we can’t fathom, being exactly what leads us to communicate. Emancipation begins when we question the resistance between looking and acting. We are distant spectators and active translators. We look, feel and perceive at the same time as we create our poem and make our connections. “This is the meaning of the word emancipation: to dismantle the boundary between those who act and those who see, between individuals and members of a collective body”. On contemporary art, Rancière proposes: “It requires of spectators that they be active interpreters, that they elaborate their own translation to appropriate ‘history’, and to create their own story from it”. Precisely, Hugo Canoillas in Pólipos cnidários reparados pelo olhar do observador asks us to be active spectators. In his words: “There is a thought about the place of the exhibition and the place of the observer. The exhibition is made in this connection, with different possibilities, new associations between things, a deeply elastic and fruitful thought, relating biology and art, science and politics”.

The exhibition is created exclusively for Serralves’ Contemporary Gallery, where the whole space is intervened and where the spectator has an almost performative experience, because the gaze and the body are incited to go through the space. Looking in detail at the three pieces of coloured glass on the floor, representing cnidarian polyps (jellyfish, medusas and sea jellies), conceived in collaboration with Conceição Cabral in Marinha Grande. Simultaneously, walking and observing the pictorial intervention in the baseboard of the room, which delimits the space, and seeing the painting covering the ceiling, both lightboxes materialized with images of the flora and fauna from the bottom of the sea, creating a unique environment in line with the jellyfish. According to the exhibition’s script: “composed of three distinct elements – floor, baseboard and ceiling – which affect each other (…) example of an artistic practice that does not crystallize into a form, but which is constantly questioned within its limits, functions and assumptions”. Hugo Canoilas in Pólipos cnidários reparados pelo olhar do observador continues that same language, aesthetics, and precepts, as in Debaixo do Vulcão, at MNAC (2016-17), in a constant questioning about the observer’s role in a work of art, the collaborative work, and the dissolution between different artistic practices and his thinking about politics, society, and contemporaneity.

Ana Martins (Porto, 1990) PhD student at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto, holds a master’s degree in Art Studies – Museum and Curatorial Studies at FBAUP, with the dissertation “O Cinema Exposto – Entre a Galeria e o Museu: Exposições de Realizadores Portugueses (2001-2020)” and graduated in Cinema from the ESTC of the IPL and in Heritage Management from the ESE of the IPP. She was a researcher at the Projeto CHIC – Cooperative Holistic view on Internet Content, supporting the integration of artist films into the National Cinema Plan and the creation of content for the FBAUP Online Catalog of Films and Videos by Portuguese Artists. She also received a scholarship from inED – Center for Research and Innovation in Education, providing support in the areas of production, communication and advice on cultural events. She collaborates in the field of Art Direction in cinema, television and advertising. She is one of the founders and curators of Coletivo Hera. She writes for Umbigo magazine.

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