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Ernesto de Sousa Cycle: Revolution OUR Body

It’s been a few months since my Thursday afternoon was filled with a visit to a new exhibition. This time I wrote in my agenda, on April 8, “Appleton Opening with several !!!”, as I knew where everyone would go to escape from home. The exhibition coincides with the commotion of the expected return of the Ernesto de Sousa Cycle (1921-1988), which celebrates the centenary of the artist’s birth. The screening of the intervention film in Super8 Revolution My Body no. 2, projected onto 3 sheets of paper/screen, invited visitors to the exhibition to draw stars, signatures, and shadows. The piece was footage shot by the artist, recording a workers’ demonstration. I spent some time observing the gestures of each participant, which were typical, with their own technique. However, the general reaction was to wait for the right moment in the film, as if what they were about to draw marked that instant. The frame where the brush touched the sheet remained static on the paper along the painted line, perpetuating at the same time the juxtaposition of all the images.

Before visiting this exhibition, I consulted the RTP archives to revisit João Manuel Rocha de Sousa’s report on the group show Alternativa Zero (1977), organised by the renowned artist at Appleton, from which the stamps accompanying the intervention on the paper/screen remain. In black and white, AZ is described: “an unusual experience”, “not immediately accessible to the audience”, “frankly controversial” and “an exhibition between quote marks, so to speak”. This initiative, in which names such as Helena Almeida, Julião Sarmento, Alberto Carneiro and Ana Hatherly, among other relevant figures, participated, was an important moment in conceptual artistic and new media exercises in the history of Portuguese art. The programme of exhibitions and events created by Ernesto de Sousa took the provocation into the public sphere. And, in retrospect, his work as an artist and curator established long-term conceptual and critical demands on the Portuguese art system of the 1970s. A chain reaction that extended into the 1990s.

In turn, on the 8th, meeting at Appleton’s door all the contemporary art buzz, among artists, curators, critics, gallerists and interested-curious people, I remembered the title of the film shown, as well as Rocha de Sousa, who, during the report, proposed questions away from concrete value judgements. Putting myself also in the place of other bodies, and assessing the guidelines defended by Ernesto de Sousa, 32 years after his death, I question:

What does Ernesto de Sousa’s exhibited work evoke?

What does artistic revolution mean today?

Are artists leading the will for change?

Is there even that desire?

Speculating about the paths of artistic creation is part not only of the contemporary art system, but also of criticism. Especially in this uncertain moment, where Thursdays can once again be a blank space in one’s agenda. Perhaps it is still the artists who are responsible for thinking up an exhibition cleansed of all previously established conceptions.

On Appleton’s ground floor, the exhibition of the young artist Maria Ana Vasco Costa was inaugurated. Through an enormous water-coloured sheet of glacial blue, the scenario of Ice Ice Baby was projected. According to the artist, the title appropriates the music of Vanilla Ice, building a binominal exhibition context. Given the room’s icy appearance, an intrinsic energy was also felt. Objects with the same duality were scattered on the floor: shiny and dry; massive and hollow; heavy and light. In this ambiguity, the artist tries to convey the overlapping meanings and memories they preserve, just like the glaciers’ icy water. Ice Ice Baby is Vera Appleton’s memory of her dearest friend Michael Biberstein, who made her write a letter-report about Maria Ana’s exhibition and the hope to “live again”. In her words: about the body-revolution of artists, who live inside other artists, I find the answer to my previous questions.

The Ernesto de Sousa Cycle and the exhibition Ice Ice Baby are open to the public until April 22. After Rafael Toral, Pedro Sousa will play a second live concert within the Ernesto de Sousa Cycle (on the same date, at 8pm).

With a background in Arts and Humanities (Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon, 2018) is a public programer and an independent curator in contemporary art. Currently, she is taking a Master in Fine Arts in Curating from Goldsmiths University of London while dedicating her research to non-conventional exhibition spaces and alternative curating methodologies. (portrait by Hugo Cubo, 2020)

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