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Facing Bare Life

In the exhibition Facing Bare Life, at MNAC, Emília Tavares shows works by three artists, developed during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. João Pina, Luciana Fina and Vasco Barata, through their different expressions, open complex questions about the current global tensions, caused by contagion, immunity, fear, and inequality.

João Pina photographs realities that leave us speechless. He does it with the accuracy of a remarkable photographer. Neither the thick lenses nor their mechanical complexity inhibits the artist from revealing images full of lucidity.

Let us first talk about one photograph in particular: a photograph of a young woman, a 29-year-old visual artist called Amanda Dias. The rawness of (only one) image sums up our uneasiness. She is a young woman at the window of her flat, whose view is only a cold and opaque concrete wall. This concrete takes up most of the view from the window. She can only see a few windows from other buildings and hardly any sunlight. Nor is the horizon visible.

In this image, of the many that the photographer shows in the exhibition – and that integrate photographs taken in São Paulo, Brazil, in the Copan housing complex, designed by Óscar Niemeyer in 1966 – the young Amanda Dias makes an enormous effort to see the view from her window, going beyond the little that the concrete, right in front of her, allows her to observe. This time, what was once a triumph of modernity, translated into beautiful architecture, catches man unprepared (and nature itself), immobilising him.

This young woman, when the shot happens, is in self-imposed isolation, certainly asking herself about the future, the uncertain future that imposes itself and takes us all by surprise. We are plagued by fears, doubts, fears about whether life will return to what it was before. We are afraid of misery, hunger, and finally of death. Our goals and certainties are suddenly shaken, interrupted. What thoughts go through the spirit of this young woman? An interrupted project? An idea that remains unfulfilled? An identity that evaporates, with all its representations and implications? Thoughts of belonging to a group? All the postponed dreams and, even worse, mortgaged hopes and motivations?

And then what? A window blocked by concrete. What perspectives can an artist have whose main tool is her own eyes? The vision?

This image is succeeded by others. Each character invited by the photographer tries to invent his way of dealing with pandemic and isolation. There are several uncertainties about their choices. Now closer, more imminent, having appeared to disturb the usual sense and linearity of life. Life is suspended. On the horizon, a cloud of smoke darkens the future. Nothing seems to have consistency, José Gil tells us, in Tempo in domado. But the pandemic has only reinforced what was no longer right. It precipitated that which was already hanging over us, covering us with shadows, like a bird of ill omen. The environment, for example, became agonizing, dying. It breathes the last breath of life into the earth. Is there room for a turn around? Or time to stop the destruction? José Gil is hopeful, he speaks of chaos and how it can be translated into the food needed for creation. Can (artistic) creation, therefore, feed the peoples’ outrage at the yoke of dilacerating capitalism? Can it change its habits, thoughts and fit them into the environment and laws of the planet?

Luciana Fina takes us to her work through a simple melody by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, entitled Questo é il piano. The object is a film. This, at first impact, leads us to an impressive landscape of trunks, which quickly seems an abstract game, a lyrical exercise of organic lines. But, in a more attentive look, it saddens us. After all, we realize an endless number of trees felled, interrupted, stolen from their normal breath of life, to satisfy the real estate speculation and the fleeting ambition of men. Men who act as if nature were theirs. Boaventura Sousa Santos, in his most recent book, O future começa agora, da Pandemia à utopia, enlightens us on this subject: “The pandemic has placed us at the threshold of a time that can be succinctly characterized in this way: from the 16th century until today, we lived in an epoch where nature belonged to us; from now on, we enter an epoch where we belong to nature”.

This pandemic does not give us time to think about how to act, it reminds us that that time is over. This pandemic asks us to act suddenly, without delay. It reveals the discrepancies between two worlds, enhanced by blind capitalism. On the one hand, a world of opportunity, of a minority subduing and tormenting the other, much wider, which was already living with all kinds of disturbances, nightmares, threats; wars, famine, disasters, forced human exodus, extinction of animal species and deforestation.

Finally, Vasco Barata, through seemingly erratic but free lines from his drawings, retrieves the fear of compromising freedoms. A concern expressed by Giorgio Agamben, that the isolation and subsequent immobilisation of people may jeopardise democracy.

Until 23 January 2021.

Carla Carbone was born in Lisbon, 1971. She studied Drawing in Ar.co and Design of Equipment at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon. Completed his Masters in Visual Arts Teaching. She writes about Design since 1999, first in the newspaper O Independente, then in editions like Anuário de Design, arq.a magazine, DIF, Parq. She also participates in editions such as FRAME, Diário Digital, Wrongwrong, and in the collection of Portuguese designers, edited by the newspaper Público. She collaborated with illustrations for Fanzine Flanzine and Gerador magazine. (photo: Eurico Lino Vale)

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