Interview with Teresa Huertas, winner of the 16th edition of the Vila Franca de Xira Photography Biennial

Between June and July, the images of the artist Teresa Huertas stared at me. They sweetly murmured: “Look, time is flux in movement. Can you inhabit this place? Can you remember what it is to be an atmospheric gas? Try it.” The following interview was based on such questions, which opened the space between body and mind. Thank you, Teresa, for the echoing words.

Maíra Botelho – Teresa, congratulations on your award at the Vila Franca de Xira Photography Biennial. How did your interest in photography start?

Teresa Huertas – Thank you, Maíra. I began by studying painting and drawing at Ar.Co, guided by Jorge Martins, Manuel Costa Cabral and António Sena. Photography became a place of plastic expression. It allowed me to have a relationship with the visible and with the world in flux, more contingent than that of traditional arts, but also more dynamic and interactive. Controlling the camera performance and working on the distance between my perception and the real generate an undefined space, open to randomness and the instant, something more consistent with my motivations. Further reflection on the essence and possibilities of photographic language, encompassing theoretical studies and numerous practices, allowed me to gradually adapt the discursive skills of photographic language to a syntax that relies less on referentiality and is more focused on developing a conceptual grammar. Recently, I felt interested in exploring the temporal potential of the still image. I crossed photography with cinematic languages. ATMÓS [passagens #1] is an example.

MB – The work that gave you the award – ATMÓS [passagens #1] – deals with the perception of the passage of time. Your option for using video – a medium associated precisely with time  expands this concept. Tell us about the perception of time as a media and information transmitter.

TH – ATMÓS [passagens #1] is a work with photographic roots. Its transcription to a time-based media, such as video, allowed us to add cinematic time to still images and problematize the conventions that associate photography to stillness and film to movement. By resorting to the film “aesthetics of the slow”, I reveal time as flow, using as reference the rhythms of nature, from which contemporary man has distanced himself. As a slowing down of reception, the slow time of images is an instrument of amplification of perception and awareness of the perceptive experience.

MB – Today we live in an extremely accelerated and hyper-stimulated visual pace. Do you consider your practice to be a resistance to this cultural imposition, which demands constant movement?

TH – Yes, clearly. This work is a manifesto of resistance to the visual culture of acceleration and hyper-stimulation, but without proposing passivity. Claiming slowness as an image aesthetic and as a spectator mindset seems to make sense again in contemporaneity. We are in a dispersive movement, which alienates us from the qualitative experience of the world and the true, critical absorption of the contents. Giorgio Agamben mentions that the inability to generate and transmit experiences is one of the rare certainties about the condition of contemporary man. The expropriation of time to which we are subjected, as Jonathan Crary says in 24/7, contributes to this failure. The extended look can qualify the experience of images, make it assimilable, thoughtful, communicable.

MB – Your research reminds me of Roni Horn’s work Saying Water, where the artist often returns to the River Thames to create photographs and annotations. What are your references and inspirations?

TH – I really like Roni Horn’s work, someone I have been following. I have had the opportunity to see him in several contexts, one of them in 2007, at the Museum of Modern Art in Reykjavik, with some pieces from the series Still Water (The River Thames, for Example). In Olafur Eliasson’s photographic series, another artist who has focused on Icelandic territory like Horn, I find many affinities with my work. At the intersection between stillness and movement, I’m particularly interested in works that deal with length and time as a matter of perception, such as the work of David Claerbout, but also non-narrative, durational cinema in general.

MB – In your statement to MNAC in June this year, you reflect on your creative process as an intersection between space, forms and atmospheres of places. How do you prepare for this encounter? What are your working rituals?

TH – I don’t. I just make myself available. The notion of Stimmung, used by Georg Simmel in his aesthetic reflection on landscape, describes a momentary harmony between the intensity of perception and its object. This converts the space, forms and atmosphere of places into a mental image. This approach fits my concept of “sensitive encounter”. Yes, I look for places that favour these experiences. Natural space, less crowded than urban space, possesses a visual silence that intensifies the sensorial experience and sharpens perception. The moment of photographing is a pregnant instant, which does not have to be decisive (someone said that nature does not have decisive instants…). The work is a set of pregnant instants until it is received. Working on the images subsequently is another process, usually a long one, composed of reflective detachment, experimentation and investigation.

MB – In that same statement you reflect on your artistic practice as if it were a “translation of moments of harmony between what we see and what stares at us”. It is interesting how this statement extrapolates the identity of the artist as an observing subject. Tell us what you think about the role of the contemporary artist.

TH – The different motivations and expressions of contemporary art make it difficult to choose “a role” for the artist. For me, the artist is always an observer. He questions observation and is available to the openness of the world. If seeing is “sensing that something always escapes us”, as Georges Didi-Huberman claims, there is the possibility of deconditioning the look and noticing the world differently in the restlessness of the act of seeing. But the act of seeing can reflect a familiarity, an identification, without the artist remaining attached to the appearance of things. The creative dynamic lies in this dialectic, I think. In the present moment, unstable and uncertain, the artist can use this agitation to increase critical awareness, but also stimulate the creation of spaces of affinity with scattered, unmotivated, saturated subjects. The contemporary artist’s tools are quite eclectic and porous, allowing different sensibilities to penetrate and stimulate trained perceptions, areas of numbness or comfort. My vision is optimistic. I believe in art’s transformative power.

Maíra Botelho (1991, Brazil) has a multidisciplinary education within the fields of visual communication, arts, philosophy and performance. She worked as a graphic designer in Brazil after graduating at PUC-MG, having also studied arts at Escola Guignard – UEMG and at Faculdade de Belas Artes da Universidade de Lisboa. She recently finished a Post-graduation in Aesthetics – Philosophy at Nova Universidade de Lisboa.

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