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The other as the epiphany of beauty at Polo Cultural de São Roque and Convento de São Pedro de Alcântara

A relentless question is how he can live with the other, from an extreme subjectivism where we shelter the otherness of someone deeply close, with whom it is necessary to establish, even if tacitly, the parameters of a daily coexistence, a limit almost always regarded as unsurmountable; an invisible barrier that stubbornly maintains itself when faced with the foreigner. Even if it’s nothing more than ruins after the effort to overcome it or tear it down, its presence is eventually felt. We can live while pretending not to notice it, but the other is already there. The exhibition O outro como epifania do belo [The other as the epiphany of beauty] suggests approaching this question through the importance of hospitality.

If the idea is used as a curatorial discourse to bring together works that delve into the subject with greater or lesser evidence in its representative realm, the curator’s gestural approach is also interesting, when she thinks of exhibition venues as shelters for ideas that are sometimes alien to them; or even exercising memory about Portuguese artistic history as a way of hosting and even considering the alterities that end up being obscured. There are other ways of approaching the other but being open to welcome the difference seems to be an elementary principle, as well as understanding beauty as something outside of oneself. One must also recognize the proximity of the exhibition’s object with the institutional mission of Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, which promotes the show in six different venues, at Polo Cultural de São Roque and Convento de São Pedro de Alcântara, in partnership with Brotéria.

The exhibition’s informative text underlines that the aim is to «establish hospitality as an exit in the route that intends to bring the other into the shared experience». A viewer more concerned with the implications of the friction between politics and aesthetics may remember the “distribution of the sensible” that Jacques Rancière talks about.

«I call the distribution of the sensible the system of self-evident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within it. A distribution of the sensible therefore establishes at one and the same time something common that is shared and exclusive parts. This apportionment of parts and positions is based on a distribution of spaces, times, and forms of activity that determines the very manner in which something in common lends itself to participation and in what way various individuals have a part in this distribution.»[1]

If there is a common now it is because there was disagreement and separation before. The common is a constant practice, as is sharing. The exhibition’s two largest nuclei are interesting exercises in thinking the common[unity] that we can expect in the visibility of exhibition venues. At Museu de São Roque, curated by Sandro Resende, the nucleus dedicated to Manicómio (a creative hub that brings together artists who have experienced mental illness) works as an intervention in the exhibition that permanently houses an autochthonous archive from Santa Casa, expressive in all variants of sacred art. The overlapping of curatorial ideas, which constructs a discourse hosting another, underlines the dignity and conceptual power of the artists’ works, which in no way lag behind the more conservative artistic tradition, but instead invert the hierarchies – as the informative text of the exhibition states.

It’s difficult to convey the precise sensitivity with which the venues were chosen to host Manicómio’s work. Standing in front of the established agreement, the dialogue between the pieces allows the viewer to elaborate countless relationships with the outline of the works. Like Cláudia R. Sampaio’s small Vénus in clay, which reverberates a strange consonance with the nearby reliquaries. At the same time, it seems to intensely address the Virgin Mary of the seventeenth-century Italian Sacrarium-Relicarium, in silver and stonework, placed before her, almost like a distant and archetypal echo. Or the immemorial monstrosity of Anabela Soares’ sculpture in the tiny room dedicated to iconography and devotions. Also fascinating and provocative is the feminist cry of the work Eu sou mulher! by Joana Ramalho, amidst works related to the cult of the Virgin or Micaela Fikoff’s reverses beside a golden chalice. And, despite its discretion, Pedro Ventura’s uncomfortable video that outside the museum door creates a quasi-diptych with four 16th-century boards. Inside the exhibition venue, these narrate important episodes in the life of Saint Roch, outlining unsuspected parallels between distinct lives. But it is a work that also opens a small domestic interior, and even a mental intimacy, with a door separating the inside and outside as a sign of hospitality, pointing out a fragility to those who let them in.

The second major nucleus is Rui Pimentel’s exhibition at Convento de São Pedro de Alcântara, curated by Nuno Malheiro Sarmento. After his recognition in the 1980s, the artist remained forgotten for decades but now repositions himself on the contemporary scene after his death in 2015 and years of continuous work outside the mainstream. In Laura Castro’s text for the exhibition, we identify the need to re-examine Pimentel’s production, an artist with a consistent body of work worthy of in-depth study. There is a massive generosity of the curatorial team, which points to the other lost in ourselves, for sometimes obscure reasons. And repositioning Pimentel’s work in exhibition venues or a visible regime is essential to re-signify not only his work but to analyze the reasons for the choices that led to his invisibility for so long.

The exhibition’s four other nuclei are more sporadic, but their reading requires the same dedication from the viewer. The sculpture by Fernanda Fragateiro, an artist experienced in occupying the common space of the street and square, is in Largo Trindade Coelho as a welcoming act. And, in a mixture of handrail and work, an ephemeral and playful utility positions the visitor’s body as a fundamental part of the action. Inside Igreja de São Roque, the room is transformed by the sound of Pedro A.H. Paixão’s installation. It recovers some religious transcendence in the rustic of nature, in addition to the design that is almost the image of a lost dream, but which reverberates an internal (and external, with an austere frame) spatiality, consistent with the church’s architectural values and the pictorial representations of the liturgical space. In both works, the places end up welcoming oddness without suffocating it. On the contrary, it allows an environment of exchange.

The video of Joana Craveiro’s performance exhibited at Arquivo Histórico da Santa Casa reveals affection for memory and the silent behind-the-scenes work of archivists and restorers. The small lesson of minimal stories explored in the narrative, intimate of those who work with heritage, reciprocates the generosity of being welcomed and staged amid their own workplaces, giving pulse and lungs to a work that often goes unnoticed. And, finally, André Guedes’ work, Encontro – Treze Junho 2021, at Brotéria, given the most explicit character mentioned at the beginning of the text: the friction between the aesthetic and the political. The visitor is left with the record of the encounter that took place on the date mentioned in the title. Or records, because there is an effective document of the meeting – a video made available to the spectator – but also the notes of ideas transversal to the meeting. Facing the specters, the spectator must be an archaeologist to organize the writing. To rewrite is necessary. The important point is that it is an encounter of a community that settles briefly in the middle of a Jesuit community at the Brotéria cultural center. A community that shelters another, others within others. It’s curious to find some cinematographic references in the traces left from the encounter, in films with a political message. For example, Born in Flames, 1983, by Lizzie Borden, a film that raises important feminist issues, where women shout at a demonstration: «Not the church, not the state – women must decide their fate!». Facing the other is always a risk, but – as the exhibition shows – it is first necessary to let them in to define common spaces.

O outro como epifania do belo is at Polo Cultural de São Roque and Convento de São Pedro de Alcântara until September 5.

 

[1] Rancière, Jacques. (2005). A Partilha do Sensível: Estética e Política. São Paulo: Ed. 34. p. 15.

Curator. Currently living in Lisbon. Master in Letters from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), he is currently pursuing a PhD in Contemporary Art at Colégio das Artes, at the University of Coimbra. At the National Museum of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, he was responsible for the Sculpture, African Art and New Languages collections, as well as being involved in various curatorial projects.

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