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Collective Exhibition for a Single Body – The Private Score (Lisbon, 2021)

Any performance implies a cut. The reality with which we interact daily distances itself when we set foot in the performative space: we become observers who, while simple attentive witnesses, become participants in the act; we enter the space of dynamics, of symbolic dialogue, of (uncomfortably) unanswered questions, because we don’t even need to say anything: the context answers for us.

The new exhibition at the Municipal Galleries | Quadrum Gallery, entitled Collective Exhibition for a Single Body – The Private Score (Lisbon, 2021), is ruled by these relationships. Based on several scattered performances by artists from the former Communist Bloc, and reactivated in 2017 for the first time together at Documenta 14, they now have their first exhibition in Portugal. And they try to fit into this specific context: as the exhibition catalogue indicates, Composition always points to the place of enunciation of the works, to the place where they are exhibited.

The exhibition is divided into two spaces: the gallery’s museum space and the garden. At first sight, there seems to be a separation: the museum as a place of documentation and reflection about performances and the garden as a place of their staging. The vast panes of glass that separate the two spaces seem to clarify the contrast. But, as we observe the documents – mainly photographs on the gallery floor, recalling the original actions and occupying a specific space -, we can see the performers also entering through the exhibition venue and transforming it into stage and enunciation. We are never safe. The show always tries to put us in an active place of engagement, interaction, crisis: it confronts us while we inhabit the collective space.

In this intervening and catalyzing dynamic, the original actions reproduced here together may have probably emerged. That intention remained in the other exhibitions of the show now in Lisbon: reactivated for the first time in Athens and Kassel, the actions forced us, in that context, to look at the economic crisis that united the two countries. In Lisbon, the staging of the performances was not planned for the garden of Galeria Quadrum, but for Rua do Poço dos Negros, whose historical memory would be associated with the performative side of the staged actions. But, if we were unaware of this fact, we would not notice it: the interconnection of the two exhibition spaces and the dialogues they produce seem meticulously planned from the very first minute. The staging of a work like Subjective-Objective Cultural Situation (U.F.O) by Július Koller fits so well in the Gallery’s garden that its huge tree seems to emphasize the verticality of the action, creating a body in the image of nature. All actions try to interact with the space: bodies hide behind trees, attempting to dilute themselves in the corners of buildings, looking straight at us; all possibilities are tested, the body becomes object one moment and right after speaks directly to us.

In the gallery, besides the historical documentation of the performances, we notice the presence of other works that do not concern only this realm. For instance, the collages by Katalin Ladik or the six stamped pieces by Milan Adamciak: the addition of these pieces underlines the dynamics of association and repetition essential to the performative act, which all performers adapt cyclically to their body language; moreover, these works mark the concept of artistic unity, experienced at the time, which ends up defining the core of the exhibition: the dissolution of the barriers between art and life, resulting from the deconstructive activities of the neo-avantgarde movement, turning action into a form of creation.

In Lisbon, a performer repeats the sentence: “does this have a future?”, while rolling around on the garden’s grass, trying to fall asleep: the question takes us back to a feeling of despair, an atmosphere of doubt that is crystal clear in the present moment. The performance, given its intervening character, its expected breaks of language and uncomfortable silences, induces in us a possibility of a future, based on attention, on listening, on art as a means of agitation and sociopolitical transformation. “Does this have a future?” we ask. We can only hope so.

Collective Exhibition for a Single Body – The Private Score (Lisbon, 2021) is at the Municipal Galleries | Quadrum Gallery in Lisbon until 24 October.

Miguel Pinto (Lisbon, 2000) is graduated in Art History by NOVA/FCSH and made his internship at the National Museum of Azulejo. He has participated in the research project VEST - Vestir a corte: traje, género e identidade(s) at the Humanities Centre of the same institution. He has created and is running the project Parte da Arte, which tries to investigate the artistic scene in Portugal through video essays.

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