Interview with Carla Filipe, author of “(In)consciência sob um estado de amnésia — Movimentos de luta e resistência na cidade do Porto no século XX”
On the occasion of the July’s cover of Umbigo’s online edition, we present (In)Consciência sob um estado de amnésia – movimentos de luta e resistência na cidade do Porto séc. XX, publication in the format of mail art by visual artist Carla Filipe, with the support of Criatório by the Porto City Hall. Scheduled to be released on July 31 at Gato Vadio, the edition contains artist’s objects by Pedro G. Romero, André Cepeda, Filipe Mujica, Ângela Ferreira and Lola Meintjes and Carla Filipe, as well as texts by curator Angel Calvo Ulloa, architect André Tavares and curator and essayist Nacho París.
Carla Filipe (1973, Póvoa do Valado) has a vast list of solo and group exhibitions, in addition to a large selection of artist publications/books, among them the recent Espectro de uma memória e identidade de uma bienal de arte [1995-2003], ed. Bienal da Maia, 2019; O Ontem morreu hoje, o hoje morre amanhã, ed. CMP, 2018; or Imagens Sangradas, ed. Consulado de São Paulo, Brazil, 2016. The visual artist (who lives and works in Porto) uses biographical elements, political and social issues in projects related to the railway, with the creation of vegetable gardens or cloaks with prints of the city or graphic elements of the post-Carnation Revolution period. In this publication, she continues her activism and closely scrutinises the city where she chose to live, emphasising a long-forgotten history: that of Porto’s political movements and activists in the 20th century. As Miguel von Hafe Pérez said: “the artist’s real studio is the street. A tireless worker… a proletarian of everyday life”. We interviewed Carla Filipe and Márcia Novais, co-collaborator in the publication’s design, to understand how the idea came about, what it consists of and its relevance to the critical discussion about these movements.
Ana Martins – This project wants to recover the political and activist past in Porto, entering the current knowledge through the curatorship under an author’s object, which gathers discourses of several artists, allowing the contamination and extension of the subject with other points of view and aesthetic sensibilities. How did the idea of conceiving this artist publication come up?
Carla Filipe – This concern arose ten years ago and matured over time until I decided on the ideal moment to make this approach. In 2011, I researched Portuguese people who studied in socialist countries after the Carnation Revolution, which gave rise to the work and artist’s publication As Primas da Bulgária. In the bookshop of the Porto Regional Organisation of the Communist Party, I found the book Livro Branco – Maio 1982 reprinted by the CGTP’s Trade Unions of Porto about the dawn of April 30, an episode that led to several injured people and two deaths. I was perplexed. Eight years after the end of the dictatorship, how was it possible that such oppression could happen in the middle of a democracy? I realised that I had to revive this event, among others, about the city of Porto. The main objective was to understand the place where I live.
I decided to apply to the Criatório, because I thought that it would be the indicated support to develop this project. I thought that the most indicated format would be an artist publication in mail art form, an exhibition inside an envelope.
AM – The title is divided into two parts: a first one more poetic and a second one more descriptive. How did you think of and describe the project?
CF – The more poetic part of the title has a duality: on the one hand, the awareness of who has known and forgotten, temporary amnesia that can be reactivated; and, on the other hand, the unawareness about facts.
AM – How did you conceive the curatorship in mail art, recovering this artistic practice? How will the distribution be made?
CF – I have always worked a lot with artist’s books. In this case, I decided to recover mail art, an artistic movement from the 1970s and 1980s, countering artistic consumption via the internet. Observation on social media excludes three-dimensionality. Everything becomes two-dimensional, never being able to replace the experience.
The distribution will have two strands: one in points of sale, partly the responsibility of STET – books & photographs to reach a wider public; and another with simple mailings, without any commercial value.
AM – What were the criteria for choosing artists and authors? Can you talk a little about your work for this edition?
CF – I invited authors whose art I know well and whose collaboration made sense for this project. My work is based on the book Roteiros da Memória Urbana do Porto-Marcas deixadas por Libertários e afins ao longo do século XX by João Freire and Maria Alexandra Lousada. I was particularly interested in mapping and photographing some residence addresses of the different militants. During the process, I felt it was necessary to include someone who could create a relationship with the city. I invited André Tavares, who, based on the same book, made his way through Porto, giving rise to the text Construção e Castigo.
AM – How did you manage this publication, with several artists and authors, distinct languages, as well as the designer’s work, to create a formal structure and a coherent and singular object?
CF – It is an artist’s book that includes artist’s editions, so it is a demanding effort. In the beginning, I defined the publication’s presentation: an envelope-cover, with various supporting objects and dimensions. Then, I worked with the designer Márcia Novais. During the process, we readjusted some details. Although they are different authors, they all have similar interests in their work approach, so I was able to foresee what each person could provide. Regarding Felipe Mujica, when I received his work, I decided that it had to be printed in serigraphy instead of offset, as the issue of handicraft is important in his art. These are details that are not very visible but that define a requirement related to the hemisphere of each artist.
AM – Do you already know how the release of the publication will be?
CF – It will happen on July 31 at Livraria do Gato Vadio, not ignoring the coincidence that one of the translators that collaborated in this project, Jorge Leandro Rosa, is a member of that space. The publication will be presented alongside some collaborators.
AM – André Tavares, in the introduction of the text Construção e Castigo, says: “There is a history of the city’s edification that must be written. The concentration of workers in the centre of Porto, since the end of the 19th century, has triggered social conflicts, class struggles and popular resistance movements… It is useful to understand the gains and repressions fuelled by these tensions, especially today, when it is urgent to fight to transform the world”. Do you think that putting this more forgotten side of Porto’s history under public discussion, through a distribution object, will contribute to a greater reflection about these movements, from an artistic point of view? What is your relationship with this history?
CF – I hope that it enters the public discussion, but also that it triggers the interest in these facts. One day, perhaps, this history will be written, who knows? I do not have a direct relationship with this city’s history, because I’m not from Porto and have no experience in the first person. But I always carry with me these narratives, through experiences in other geographies. The most participative relationship I have with Porto was my connection to the independent art spaces between 2001-2008. It was a movement of great resistance, which created a collective cultural body. I consider this moment of the city’s cultural history connected to the artist-run spaces singular.
AM – As co-responsible for the design of an artist book, what was your role in managing, projecting and conceiving an object of such complexity?
Márcia Novais – I collaborate profusely with artists in the design of books and each has a different method and production.
The first time I collaborated with Carla Filipe was on the book for the exhibition O Ontem morreu hoje, o hoje morre amanhã (2018) at GMP. It was the beginning of a working relationship, which helped me to understand how Carla’s art related to that of other artists and my role in the conception of such a book.
I simplify the publication’s materialization, in collaborative work. We discussed, identified solutions, and tested again and again. I think the relationship between artist and designer is essential to create this kind of object.
For this publication, Carla invited several people with different contents, including texts and graphic objects for the publication. It made sense for us to think of different formats that would welcome the contributions. The publication must be articulated as a whole, even though we include several objects, which also requires negotiations and compromises between several interlocutors. It is important to have a balance between what we can do with the publication and the graphic concept and the work of artists.
The appropriation of images, which we later modified through printing, scanning and colour inversion, give us other clues about the struggle and resistance movements in Porto.
Another important aspect of this publication’s design is the concept of mail art. Despite the different formats and papers, it was important to keep the idea of sending it by mail. The envelope design was customized so that it could have printing on the inside.
 Quote taken from the text of the unpublished Portuguese version, in the English catalogue provided by Carla Filipe: Pérez, M. v. (2017). Drinking from the Street. In be part of Chaos – Carla Filipe (p. 5). Viena: Krinzinger Projekte.