COSMO/POLÍTICA #6: Biblioteca COSMOS – the beginning

Founded by Bento Jesus Caraça, in collaboration with Manuel Rodrigues de Oliveira, Biblioteca COSMOS is a milestone in the Portuguese publishing landscape, in a period when knowledge was not democratised and illiteracy was dominant in Portugal. From this perspective, publishing a hundred books on general culture – philosophy, sciences, arts or geography – in a country limited by an atavistic and punishing dictatorship, was an act of courage, rebellion and transgression. Portable, appealing, direct and accessible, the many volumes of COSMOS prepared the minds for the harsh political, social, cultural and economic reality of the Portuguese, in the hope of fuelling a tardy revolution.

The sixth moment of the COSMO/POLITICS exhibition cycle focuses on this library founded in 1941, removing it from public oblivion and the excessive competition in the publishing market that took it off the shelves of bookshops and libraries. Latent in this archaeological exercise is the revival of “an emancipatory cultural purpose”, as underlined by the curators Sandra Vieira Jürgens and Paula Loura Batista. To deliver this archaeological work to the artists is to look at the archive in a critical and artistic way, removing it from its chronological existence and giving it a new form, this time timeless, multi-referential or contemporary.

The most difficult and fruitful exercise of this long cycle is the complex extraction of the pieces, in an extremely limited logic – as is the logic of neo-realism – and injecting it with a viral agent that forces it to review, criticize and then reinvent itself.

In other words, COSMO/POLITICS #6: Biblioteca COSMOS should not be interpreted as an end, but as the beginning of something that has been triggered – the flame whose burning has ignited the critical revisitation of a literary and artistic movement based on modern political, social and human realities.

An immediate bridge can be made with the work of Elisa Pône for this exhibition, which uses fire and pyrotechnics as pictorial techniques, capable of simultaneously provoking amazement and horror. In Finir Brûler, based on concrete works from Biblioteca COSMOS, Pône extends her analysis to the field of the symbolic: the flame is a symbol of death and rebirth – the same combustible force that fuels change and revolution.

Books are finite places. But they are also currents of thought that feed on each other. One book appeals to some other, interrogates another, which refers to many others. The readings that the artists have made of these books will probably be expanded by others that are no longer in this library. Thus, this exhibition is a shared update of the knowledge produced, after its editorial line has ended. In the crystallization of a memory that we can blur and forget, the books, despite their stagnant and closed appearance, open doors to the plasticity of knowledge, thought and memory – a dialogue made and remade in the suspension of space and time, through many voices and authors.

Filipe Pinto develops the Regardless series about this course of time, its circularity and interpretation, aroused by some works that force us to see and see again. The small installation of the rolling hourglass reinforces this idea and exposes time more as an anachronistic than a diachronic thing.

Francisco Pinheiro bases his pieces on the theme Migrations and Nature of Biblioteca COSMOS. The articulation between plant and artificial or worked elements expands the dichotomy of Natural and Man. At the same time, it narrows the poles of this dichotomy, which is nothing more than a chimera. In Pinheiro, art brings together two fields that have been biased since the recognition of the new geological era known as Anthropocene.

Then the upheaval of times – past, modern, present – that paint the moments black. João Fonte Santa reflects on the theme Problems of Our Time in Fütter Mein Ego (Feeds My Ego), where painted images show violent, tragic and tense environments, certainly caused by technological changes and the consequent political inadequacy. These environments – perhaps more than images – are moments captured from something insidious – premonitory, even –, dialoguing with the adjacent works.

Art, bread and water is a return to thinking about the production of the book as a vehicle of ideas and as a form of consciousness. Here, Marta Leite rehearses what can be the deconstruction of the book, through different excerpts and drawings that make reading fragmented, sometimes inaccessible – the mirror of a class culture, divided into multiple and irreconcilable points of view.

Using the Peoples and Civilizations section as a starting point, Nuno Barroso proposes a journey through Western history and its “legacy”. The photographs and excerpts point to scattered paths in Western political and historical territory, including colonialism, classicism, industrial revolution and the idea of Europe.

Finally, Sofia Gonçalves’ works highlight the joint construction of Biblioteca COSMOS. Gonçalves uses documentation and zinc engraving to pay tribute to the absent names of this great construction of modern Portuguese thought, using the same printed editorial language for the conception of the publication Como Reclamar a Incompreensível Dificuldade de Comunicar com os Mortos.

By focusing on a library, COSMO/POLITICS #6 is an essay on the production of knowledge, book and literature as inexhaustible sources for art and artists. COSMO/POLITICS #6 is a connecting and dialogical index, which aggregates names, authors, thoughts, ideas and ideals, problems and solutions, that makes the will to know appear in the heart of each reader or visitor. In this perspective, it could never be considered an end, but the beginning of something to happen.

During six exhibitions, from 2017 to 2021, COSMO/POLITICS was one of the most intriguing curatorial and institutional projects in Portugal, promoted by the curators Sandra Vieira Jürgens and Paula Loura Batista and the Neo-Realism Museum. Although based on the edition of Biblioteca COSMOS, the rapid association with the theory of cosmopolitics by Isabelle Stenger and Bruno Latour adds to this cycle an encyclopaedic and universal layer – never universalistic and always under construction. The achievement of plurality, of political construction through difference and alterity, of what is possible to do in a universe that takes into account the human species, but also the non-human species, and which has become so complex that it now a “pluriverse” and not so much a universe – all these are themes that have been worked with the committed or suggestive plasticity of art.

COSMO/POLITICS #6: Biblioteca COSMOS at the Neo-Realism Museum, Vila Franca de Xira, until January 31, 2021.

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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