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Imprisoned by senses: Tatiana Macedo and Horácio Frutuoso at CAV – Centro de Artes Visuais

Synaesthesia, which comes from the Greek synaísthesis, is a neurological condition where the action of one sense – vision, hearing or another – evokes automatic and involuntary perceptive experiences by another sense[1]. We speak of heightened sensations, experiences that are far from being limited to a single interpretation. Although very rare, it is a door open to various possibilities. In the history of art, there have been several examples, most notably Kandinsky, who tried to recreate the visual equivalent of a symphony in each painting.

At Centro de Artes Visuais (CAV), in Coimbra, there is another chapter of Ciclo do Museu das Obsessões, curated by Ana Anacleto, which seems to encourage an equal experience. Opened on 2 October, the exhibitions Soundtracks for the Deaf by Tatiana Macedo and Sétimo Dia by Horácio Frutuoso are contributions to the history of a cycle that, having started in 2020, communicates the transversal, exploratory, free and curious character of contemporary artistic practices. The motto is the concept popularised by Harald Szeemann, whose vision challenged the traditional narratives of art history, often encompassing creative fields that went beyond the visual arts. Szeemann’s Museum of Obsessions proposed what at CAV are intentions and potentialities for presentation – not only the physical archive and the numerous exhibitions, but the entire mental landscape that underpinned the construction, all the moments of artistic creativity that served as a basis for thought, even those that were never reached. CAV, as a space for the dissemination of art, but also experimentation on artistic practices associated with the image, starts from this premise to promote the formal and conceptual intersection of several artistic disciplines that are beyond visual issues.

In Soundtracks for the Deaf, a sound crosses Tatiana Macedo’s entire installation. And it crosses us. This is the conductive line, the compass that guides discovery, contemplation, and perception. Composed mostly of soundless videos, the exhibition offers us, according to the curator, “a balanced articulation between successive approaches to the real – reconfiguring spaces and places, reflecting on the social and cultural conditions that define life in these places”[2]. To do so, it sparks us with “micro-events”[3], where the camera moves slowly, appreciating seemingly banal episodes. This is the power of fixing the gaze, which transforms a probable reality into another full of possibilities, and returns to us the also ordinary triviality that before had been an evocative and poetic work. Introspection. Sound and image continuously unite and redefine themselves, in a visit that reaches a third dimension, more intimate and singular.

At the entrance, a female face reveals a spontaneous expression, clearly de-contextualised from the moment that originated it. There is suspense. Someone who wants to speak but is voiceless. The space remains mute (or deaf?). At the entrance, this piece seems to immediately present several clues: the figure – curiously or not, in a size that reminds us of an LP cover – was taken at the Beijing music conservatory.

Then, there is a new clue and the exhibition opens up to interactivity, when we are invited to use some headphones that will follow us all the way. They command the reading, setting the experience’s perceptive rhythm. It is a loop and an exercise: how to read images and sound? How do interpretations mix and interrupt each other when they are perceived separately? Usually, it is a set of filmed events that result from a personal trip of the artist to China, whose sound loses its individuality and becomes common criteria. The experience is inevitably paced by each spectator, who wanders according to their own cadence, confronting several moving images with different sound passages. An immersion. Inevitable and essential heterogeneity. It is not one exhibition, there are many, as body, image and sound evolve side by side, creating a particular audio-visual symphony. But this contrasts with the familiarity of the noise heard – A-side: Hong Kong Central, a work specially conceived for this project, materialises what we easily attribute to the city bustle of a transport hub – dense, tense and energetic, full of warnings and buzzing at rush hour, whose interrupted tempo produces transformations in the visual reading of each image.

The way we deal with sound is curious. Naturally, it invokes memories – a situation, the laughter of a person or the potentialities of an object; it allows an immediate recognition or location. However, when it is experienced, we rarely pay attention to it consciously. Or never by itself. If it happens, it is associated to the context. Perhaps vision is the strongest sense. Are we deaf to the many sounds that surround us? Or do we maintain a certain distance in front of ordinary sounds that are always present and constant, preventing us from reading images differently?

In Soundtracks for the Deaf, Tatiana Macedo recommends the soundtrack, calls us deaf and closes possible windows for a different reading of the audio. Trapped sense. We don’t lose our hearing, but it conditions our experience. Because of this conjuncture of meanings and infinite particulars – visual and acoustic, spatial and temporal – the spectator has to consciously partake in the elaboration of meaning. The irony in the title subtly reflects the geopolitical tension between the two Chinese territories, when we understand that the matrix audio captured in Hong Kong is in constant relation to the other works, all captured in Beijing in the same period.

On the upper floor, the Project Room is handled by Horácio Frutuoso, who presents five works with two canvases and three acrylics, in an essential dialogue with the architectural specificities of a room that has a religious past. The high ceiling height and the vaulted ceiling reinforce the inertia and a calm reading, which concurs (besides the perceptions stirred in the lower floor) with some deceleration in the observer. This feeling is reinforced by the title Sétimo Dia, an allusion to the Judeo-Christian religious heritage that looks at the seventh day of each week as the day of rest, pleasure, slowing down.

We feel an incentive to decode the many elements and the conjugation between them. The room, with little information, shows specific notes, transmits some harmonious isolation with the tonality of the pieces, their arrangement and symbolism. For example, the striped t-shirt in Ceremony has a socially negative charge associated with the penalisation and exile of the prison system; an ideology associated with the small canvas of Force Majeure, which presents the subject’s hands in a position of surrender between words.

There is a local balance that is constructed as a game between words and image. Between position and confrontation to the pieces. Facing each other are the two aforementioned works that occupy the ends of the room – Ceremony, where the duplicate representation of a body (which appears to be the artist’s) does not look at us. It reminds me of the rendering of a man suspended in a void of uncertainty, present and absent, difficult to read. Opposite is Force Majeure, which concludes the subject’s subjugation with the words of the title, a judicial reference to the suspension of an agreement between parties, where one surrenders; or, in the religious context, to an inexplicable act attributed to a divinity to which the faithful usually surrender without hesitation.

However, among the countless relationships, correspondences, links and dependencies between works, one confuses and undermines all the classificatory structures between visuality and reading, painting and writing. Faced with the coexistence of several image domains, in a balance between the visual and the textual, the pseudo-solemnity of painting is overthrown, while the author’s language is reinforced, between a personal register, as if it were a vent and a cry, and a musical compass. Subtly close to contemporary electronic music, whose sampling is in the reuse and combination of pieces that cross different references. Sometimes we do not even know what is image or what is text, as everything is one; painting invades space, goes beyond the canvas and is revealed in architecture. This questioning is the prelude to a meaning reformulation. In the words, we seek the poetic, vast and unimpeded character of the images, and try to unveil in them the potential narrative of the textual elements.

A fusion – more than organic – of the word and the image, in a set of works that, despite pointing to the real, a daily life that we imagine to be the artist’s, nurture an oneiric element capable of favouring the potential of the image as language and vice-versa.

Soundtracks for the Deaf and Sétimo Dia are on view at CAV, in Coimbra, until December 5.

 

[1] According to the entry at Infopédia – Dicionários Porto Editora. Available here.

[2] [3] According to the exhibition text of Soundtracks for the Deaf.

Master in Curatorial Studies from the University of Coimbra, and with a degree in Photography from the Portuguese Institute of Photography in Porto, and in Cultural Planning and Management, Mafalda develops her work in the areas of production, communication and activation, within the scope of Photography Festivals and Visual Arts - Encontros da Imagem, in Braga (Portugal) and Fotofestiwal, in Lodz (Poland). She also collaborated with Porto / Post / Doc: Film & Media Festival and Curtas Vila do Conde-Festival Internacional de Cinema. In 2020, and she was one of those responsible for the curatorial project of the exhibition “AEIOU: Os Espacialistas em Pro (ex)cess”, developed at Colégio das Artes, University of Coimbra. As a photographer, she was involved in laboratory projects of analogue photography and educational programs for Silverlab (Porto) and Passos Audiovisuais Associação Cultural (Braga), while dedicating herself to photography in a professional format or, spontaneously, in personal projects.

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