Circle Navel Nil, by Loretta Fahrenholz
Art made by women is a recent and much-discussed subject. Art History was made and written by men (as well as all written History, we might add) and women artists had little prominence in it. Only in the 70s of the 20th century, we find a small group of women art historians in California, who started to approach and study Italian Renaissance painters, for example. There are also cases in Art History of questionable authorship, such as Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin, apprentice and master. Lately, some museums have addressed gender issues in their exhibition programming: the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has adopted gender parity as one of the goals of its cultural policy, the Tate Britain has scheduled several exhibitions of women artists and the National Gallery had, until January this year, for the first time a major exhibition of an artist forgotten for centuries: Artemisia Gentileschi.
This introduction aims to contextualise Circle Navel Nil by Loretta Fahrenholz, at Lumiar Cité of Associação Maumaus. Besides being a woman artist (and the curator Jürgen Bock has no trouble pushing parity-based programming), she seems to us to be clearly feminist (a word that must be urgently reclaimed) and her work is about the feminine and the artistic and historical context.
No Home Record is a film about an hour-long, produced in collaboration with K8 Howl and Jak Ritger to follow the tour of Kim Gordon’s debut solo album No Home Record (whose musical emancipation came after the dissolution of Sonic Youth and her marriage). Like a road movie, we travel across the North American landscape, sometimes urban, sometimes bucolic, slowly or quickly, but always in motion, interrupted by digital images, interferences that become a kind of mapping, similar to a GPS or a game where we see a symbol travelling along paths.
While this video reminds us of American road movies, the digital interferences, which seem to point to the roads travelled, acquire other references and the idea of getting lost in the landscape becomes less adventurous. There is a clear geometry in this video, in the real and digital images, which is also visible in the exhibited photographs. We feel that this is the artist’s methodology. Alongside the video, the first photo that opens the exhibition Woman Turning (2021) results from a multiplication and deformation of a female figure, creating a kind of pattern where we feel the movement as if the image were being dragged. We realise it is a woman, but what stands out most is the pictorial blur.
The series of photographs exhibited is a consequence of an artistic residency at Maumaus in 2020. In their formal language, they all have a deep connection to painting. We see young, naked women. Their composition is made with deconstruction, multiplication, and defragmentation, which removes the power we could have over the images or models. Several themes are brought together in these works by Loretta Fahrenholz: the female condition, violence, Art History (and we have already talked about the place of the woman artist in Art History, but there is also the place of the woman as a model).
All the works on display are attached to the ceiling or walls of Lumiar Cité by thick ropes, gym weights, some worn and tumbled to the floor. Besides being an effective way to display the photographs, they allow us to approach them in an involving way, perceive the vanishing points between them. We see that they communicate with each other. From one work, we are thrown to another through our gaze. At the same time, the huge and semi-suspended weights point to an idea of masculinity, in a counterpoint to the female figures in the photographs. However, along with the cordage that holds them, they also address physical and manual labour. There is a clear presence of manual labour in Fahrenholz’s installation, just as the photographs have references from Art History, particularly in the artistic avant-garde such as cubism, with its deconstruction and geometrization found in the images on display.
Besides the connection of the photographic series to Art History, in particular to the History of Painting, it is important to mention gender issues, the place of women in art, their physical exposure before the eyes of others and the use of the female body in the most varied forms. In Circle Navel Nil, the female body is naked, but it is deconstructed until it loses its sexual referentiality. It acquires emotional weight, which reveals the abuse suffered throughout History. Not only the physical body, but also the woman’s place in the world. Susan Sontag’s quote “Images unite what in reality is discontinuous”  fits this installation, from a formal and thematic point of view. The themes seem different, but they are not, showing the intersection between Art, Human and Social.
 Sontag, Susan, on photography. Lisbon: Quetzal, 2012, p.171