A Cidade Incompleta, by Fernanda Fragateiro

In Common Space: The City as Commons, Stavros Stavrides establishes cities as breeding grounds of “communalities”, that is, sites that make common what is inherent to the city. This aptitude to communalise – to produce the “common” and “in common” – implies a daily sharing of cultures, knowledge and resources, a willingness to increase and self-manage communities. Above all, it presupposes the making and reproduction of all that is deemed as common. Common Space is a reflection on the activism of the public, communal and social place, culturally porous, written with Athens as a backdrop – a capital that has become a symbol of resistance, resilience and militancy when faced with the changes brought about by global capitalism and neoliberalism in large European cities and capitals, which have homogenized experiences, places and areas, transforming squares not into places of sharing and debate (the old agoras of the res publica), but epidermic points of interest devoted to consumerism.

A Cidade Incompleta by Fernanda Fragateiro is a psychogeographical, peripatetic, urbanistic and artistic essay on the cities’ complex and polyhedral reality, on their inexhaustible energy and transformative power, which resonates in Stavrides’ work.

The city will always be incomplete, as the poet Herberto Helder stated, quoted by Delfim Sardo in the exhibition’s introductory text. Its history will always be rewritten over time, as the layers pile up in a vast and dense palimpsest. But it will be less incomplete the more democratic it is, the more common spaces it has, the more life pulsates in its inhabitants’ bodies. It is incomplete because it is a universe and will always be an infinite and indeterminable phenomenon or object. Not because the mechanisms that make it alive in everyday life have been exhausted, or because its construction has been interrupted by a volitional breakdown. The city is incomplete because it is something – an act, an experience – continuous.

Fragateiro’s language is distinct from that of the authors mentioned above, but the effect is the same, as the artist thinks about the city. To reflect on the city is not a privilege of architects or urban planners. Everyone can critically ponder on the city that sips and absorbs; that creates and destroys; that builds identities; that generates urbanities, cultures, subcultures; that draws apart and brings together; that is an organic and inorganic structure, made of sterile and natural composites; that contains and releases energies; that is the stage for demonstrations, the arena for conflicts and fights, the open parliament for social, economic and political problems of communities. Because the city is the first expression of a crisis. One must reclaim the hierarchical pyramid of cities and the knowledge that is being produced on it; to give voice, as Fragateiro does, to the marginalised, to the peripheries, to those who have been pushed out of the city and whose buildings are demolished and their memories eclipsed. As Fragateiro suggests in her installations and works, it is important to vibrate the reminiscences of the demolished brickwork, the tiles removed from the façades, the stones that ask to be touched and caressed.

Fragateiro’s exhibition in A Cidade Incompleta is a long promenade through a fragmented city, which the visitor constructs critically in their imagination: they put on the first room’s work uniform; they question the wall under construction or demolition; they contemplate the literature on urbanism, sociology of architecture and feminism, which informs the exhibition itself; they reflect on the structures and infrastructures of social neighbourhoods, of the genesis of urban identities that become subcultures and then cultures; they gauge the coexistence between the natural and the edified.

Particularly important in the artist’s work is the use of the book – not only as a symbolic object of intellectual production but as the foundation of a critical construction and thinking about social space. It is the book that supports itself on scaffolding, that serves as a support for steel poles, that acts as a mortar spoon and composes an environment that is cultural as well as pictorial and abstract. This is the book that deconstructs the times of cities, the movements that have inspired and shaped them, from antiquity to modernity, from classicism to modernism. They are the books that lay the groundwork for new times, for tomorrow’s new morphologies. They shed light on the movements of bodies in the city, of living flows, of objects and hyper-objects. They are the ones that give word to the “laboratory of materials” and of matters that is the city.

A Cidade Incompleta can be seen at MACE, in Elvas, until January 16, 2022, curated by Delfim Sardo.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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