Maria José Oliveira. The Unspeakable Poetics of objects.

Fear closes the doors and inhibits the hands, just as night is the shame that closes the bedroom shutters. Some many fears and apprehensions dominate our lives. In Estamos aqui porque voamos, Maria José Oliveira’s (MJO) exhibition at the Municipal Museum of Faro, the boldness is immediately perceptible. The courage to search for the thread of human existence and to make mistakes in the same attempt.

In short, we can say that the story told in this exhibition corresponds to Darwin’s idea of the evolution of species. In a certain way, whilst bearing in mind that the naturalist’s conclusions indicate to the artist the essential coordinates, we could subordinate one work to the other. But the meanings and the grammar of the unspeakable that Maria José Oliveira proposes in her narrative add a deeper world, a certain philosophical sense, to the scientific basis that precedes her creative gesture.

In each MJO exhibition, there is always an underlying personal story. They all relate to emotions or upheavals, to an event in her life. There is always the memory of people who crossed paths with her or were important in her journey.

The collection of objects that she finds in the street is a unique feature of her art. Other materials are offered to her by friends who understand her language and understand the possibility that these objects have of fitting in with her work. This process instils in the exhibitions an affective side that is especially important for the artist. She brings friendship into her creative workshop, in some way “enlivening” the friends who have already departed.

In this exhibition, there are several examples of objects offered, and the exhibition acquires a combination of memories, affections, and times. Estamos aqui porque voámos presents pieces designed on purpose and others made in the 70s, 80s and 90s, which had never been shown.

After being completed, many pieces are placed by the artist to “cure”. The execution time does not correspond to the exhibition time. MJO waits for this maturation period and only then returns them to the light.

Many materials are intervened by time (nature is MJO’s third hand), in advanced stages of maturation or decomposition that bring them close to death. This temporal sublimation introduces a complete dimension to the pieces, making them less incomplete, imperfect.

This exhibition has a poetic language as poetry is the language of the unspeakable. We walk the walls of the convent and are summoned to the space between the pieces, the commas that separate each one, erasures, silences where we keep what was left unsaid. Between each piece, the eyes closed by the dark listen to a voice that only the heart can hear.

The relationship between nature and spirit is established in pieces like O Princípio do Mundo. The spine is the point of departure and accepts the memories of everyday objects embedded along the vertebrae. The piece is also a summary of the exhibition’s preposition. There are elements in its composition, such as the fish bones, the cannulas, or the egg, which function as archetypes or initial words that have in them the essence of the world.

The work, each one by itself and all orchestrated, seeks to show unspeakable things, but also everything that can be named but remains hidden, concealed, silenced. Death is within us without existence, as well as man’s transcendent potency. The plurality of the cosmos. The intuited world.

In Saber Ler is the key to the essential gesture that carries within itself all that is unwritten. That which is left over from words.

In Estamos aqui porque voámos, there are objects with an evocative and synthesizing power as broad as the exhibition project.

The bones point to fish that, in distant geological eras, needed water that was not that dense, being already in contact with sand.

The evolutionary process is marked by the passage from the fish spine to the cannula of the chicken feather. The various cannulas in the exhibition have this right to fly and establish the temporal arc that ends in the present. The egg is a metaphor for the initial verb.

Fronteira Líquida, a piece consisting of tubular cups filled with water, placed in relation to a cone of salt positioned on the same axis of vision, unveils this story. The passage from the saltwater from which we descend to the metaphysical understanding of the world. The journey from the fish to the chicken cannula.

The salt in Sal sob o efeito do tempo has a symbolism that connects it to the idea of purification. The cone of salt placed on the convent’s deconsecrated altar, two steps above the ground level, makes it more visible and places it in dialogue with the other pieces.

The story that MJO wants to tell us uses other objects. In Flutuar para voar, several items are used, such as a bone, aragonite, limestone in the cuttlefish, which allows it, through a hydraulic mechanism, to irrigate its interior with water, to make it heavy, or else the opposite process, giving it the ability to float.

Maria José Oliveira has an acute awareness that there is a forgotten part of things and men that is so omitted that we do not even notice it. Rescuing it from this oblivion is one of the aims of her exhibition.

The evocative power of the pieces, the dignity that the simple materials acquire with the organisation that the artist gives them, the elegance, the balance, the subtlety of the processes and the architecture of thought in each one of the pieces, make this exhibition of Maria José Oliveira a unique moment. Essential.


Estamos aqui porque voámos. Maria José Oliveira. Eklektikós Cycle, Municipal Museum of Faro. June 12 to August 1. Organized by Artadentro.

Salvador Santos (Chaves, 1979). He has lived in Algarve since he was four years old. He attended the Portuguese Studies course at the University of Algarve. He has been collaborating in the regional press: founder and director of the art and literature supplement Cultura .S at Postal do Algarve and editor at Sul, Sol e Sal. He is the author of the poetry book Selvagem – to be published by D. Quixote.

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