Gaia: Salomé Lamas at gnration

Could the coronavirus pandemic be a warning to the extractive, corrosive, and destructive way we inhabit the Earth? Are we on the brink of extinction? Is leaving for Mars, as Elon Musk proposes, an alternative? Or is it better to modify our presence on the planet, as Daniel Christian Wahl suggests? What if we do nothing, as Slavoj Žižek argues? Gaia, by Salomé Lamas, until May 29 at gnration, allows to ask these questions and many more, through multidisciplinary projects that result in the installations Extraction: The Raft of the Medusa and Gaia, in the scope of the Scale Travels programme, developed in partnership between gnration and INL – International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory.

In the first room, Extraction: The Raft of the Medusa is presented. The environment is dark, illuminated by a bluish focus, which points to a part of the gravel-covered floor, topped by a screen positioned diagonally in relation to the space. In this cold surroundings, we see the homonymous short film, which, according to Salomé Lamas in her interview with Justin Jaeckle, “was a translation of Téodore Géricault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19)… one of the most cited works in contemporary art to criticise reality”. In Géricault’s historical painting, the figures represented are not mythological heroes, but real victims of a shipwreck off the African coast. The painter chose the tensest moment, when the survivors were watching from afar the ship that would save them. Lamas’ project, as the exhibition text indicates, “concerns the colonial paradigm, the worldviews and technologies that mark regions of high biodiversity to reducing life to the conversion of capitalist resources with great environmental and social impact”. This idea is materialised in the video, in a scenario composed by a gravel platform, under a pyramid in light tones (Despair). On it, a group of intertwined white men struggles to hold on to that tiny space, finished by an inverted black pyramid (Hope), in a parallel with Géricault’s geometric composition. Throughout this desperate combat between naked bodies, often dissolved in the detailed plan, we hear a voice: “Consume, pollute, destroy… The raft where we all are… Not everyone bought a ticket for it”. Simultaneously, a soundtrack follows the narrative, which ends with the disappearance of the human mass in dense smoke, as if a ship had taken off. Perhaps a metaphor related to Medusa, a female figure from Greek mythology. Whoever looked at her would be turned into stone, just like the extractive greed of humanity, which increasingly loses its connection with nature and becomes a thing.

When we enter Gaia, right next to it, everything is silent and black. But, as we walk, we step on noisy gravel and our eyes sense some clarity, leading us to a sign with an image of a meteorite bought on eBay (from Campo del Cielo) and a QR code. When we activate the code and put on the headphones, we are taken by soundtracks that describe the meteorite’s journey millennia ago through space, passing through the Milky Way, crashing on Earth and witnessing all the planet’s changes, until the apocalypse and the hope for a new world. The soundtrack with electronic music, nature sounds, or classical music deserves to be accompanied by reading the texts attached to the exhibition, with excerpts from the author’s research. In particular, excerpts from her diary, or quotes from contemporary thinkers (some already mentioned at the beginning of this article), which serve as a guide to the exhibition experience. Gaia is the Mother-Earth in Greek mythology. This project portrays contemporaneity in the face of climate change, when we are still reflecting on the different hypotheses of extinction and the solutions to prevent it from happening.

There is a poetic connection between Extraction: The Raft of the Medusa and Gaia. The former announces that there is only one raft of salvation for a privileged group in the apocalypse; the latter develops the journey to our extinction through an extraterrestrial object. The exhibition thinks the Anthropocene, underlining the concept of interdependence as the basis for our ethical obligations towards others.

Gaia, by Salomé Lamas, until May 29 at gnration.

Ana Martins (Porto, 1990) currently working as a researcher at i2ADS – Instituto de Investigação em Arte, Design e Sociedade, with a fellowship granted by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (2022.12105.BD) to atende the PhD in Fine Arts at Faculdade de Belas Artes da Universidade do Porto. Already holding a MA in Art Studies – Museological and Curatorial Studies from the same institution. With a BA in Cinema from ESTC-IPL and in Heritage Management by ESE-IPP. Also collaborated as a researcher at CHIC Project – Cooperative Holistic view on Internet Content, supporting the incorporation of artist films into the portuguese National Cinema Plan and the creation of content for the Online Catalog of Films and Videos by Portuguese Artists from FBAUP. Currently developing her research project: Cinematic Art: Installation and Moving Images in Portugal (1990-2010), following the work she started with Exhibiting Cinema – Between the Gallery and the Museum: Exhibitions by Portuguese Filmmakers (2001-2020), with the aim to contribute to the study of installations with moving images in Portugal, envisioning the transfer and specific incorporation of structural elements of cinema in the visual arts.

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