Dimitra Dede’s tree of life

How many lives do we live?

How many times do we die?

A timeline guides our existence and that of all things. At certain times this line remains stable, without any breaks; on other occasions, we may feel interferences to the alleged flat course that implies that everything is certain, mild and safe. However, science tells us that our life on a graph is a fluctuation of points and lines that drift extravagantly, constantly disrupting monotony. This is the only way we can read it healthily. Monorhythmic is the end. Paradox.

Notwithstanding, when in life and without medical pitfalls, this line shortens, inverts, twists, or breaks. This change falls upon us and a new cycle begins.

Dimitra Dede lost her mother. A crack in her timeline, perhaps before the right “time” (it is always too soon for us to lose a loved one), while she continues to be a mother. This interruption indeed strengthened her bond with her daughter. Emotion and reason reinforce the fulfilment of the maternal role. But how much is lost in such an event? And how much is gained?

From personal experience, from touching the dead and inert being during the ultimate farewell, the shock is revealed as imminent to the artist. One cannot deny that the human warmth, the body, the memories and of so much life shared together, is now condensed, in the concluding moment, into a hard and everlasting coldness. It is 35 degrees outside.

After the shock, one is no longer the same. Neither the dead, nor the living.

In the Alps, and with due detachment, such familiar turmoil is once again felt on the skin. The cold on the flesh. The cold, bitter wind that anaesthetises the body and dulls the sensations. Dimitra Dede recognises that instant; she is the one who brings back the reminiscences of the past, of what is physically distant but, after all, emotionally nearby.

This work stems from the photographic archive, according to a unique practice born from the intersection between painting and chemical processing that changes photography. The manipulated images that she works on, distorts and transfigures, results in small, dark and immaculate sculptures. This results in a new world that emerges anchored to an already vanished reality. Where one body, two bodies, a hand, a face, a bird, a landscape… are all equivalent, in a timeline that appears suspended. Through these different metamorphoses and their intersections, the multiple strata of loss become evident.

Following death, there remains (in us) a kind of mist that blurs our consciousness, that plunges us into a state of innocence in the face of the day, into a difficulty of acting beyond lethargy. It comes from Dimitra’s conscious awareness, which acknowledges the fact that motherhood is no longer correlated with warmth, laughter, light, euphoria; but rather with cold, dismal ice-covered surroundings that emphasise the resilience of the great frozen masses to repetitive human onslaughts leading to global warming.

There is drama told in the first person, someone who is in between. Halfway through the death of her mother and the perseverance to remain a mother figure, perpetuating the maternal sequence; and halfway through the obliteration of a territory that struggles to resist its devastation. A double fragility is exalted: the one through which we both care for and unite with the other, and the one through which we destroy the surrounding.

Mayflies dramatizes a mourning creative process to remind us that the death of someone we love pushes us to care for their prosperity. At the same time, it unsettles us by questioning what to do when nature sends us the same signals, without communicating them in the same language. The image of a bird that appears to be slowly dying is chilling for the poetry with which it looks back at us, the expression that witnesses its disappearance. A being that suffers in tandem in this world without having the power to manifest itself. The animals are not allowed even a word in this destruction.

While we equip ourselves with props to avoid the inevitable – for instance, the screens that protect glaciers from the temperature rise through the direct UV radiation – all that remains, in the end, are the patches, the attempts, the pains, the scars, the rawness. Trembling photographs, between tissue and flesh. Landscape and body. Between the barren, empty glacial landscape and the familiar intimacy of mother-daughter bonds; where we see and read either the inanimate objectified and lost or the living struggling and protective. Where warmth and shivering merge. Protection and defenselessness.

Mayflies is a project about the other. On the consciousness of the other. And the inevitable insight that we are not immortal, neither we nor our surroundings. It harks back to that which is ephemeral, fading away in a short time. The impossibility to hold, that which slips through our fingers. Etymologically, Mayflies refers to insects belonging to the order Ephemeroptera (from Greek εφήμερος, ephemeros = short life (literally lasting one day) and πτερόν, pteron = wing, referring to the species’ brief life span).

However, it is difficult to give the group of photographs a name. As Roland Barthes would say, what we can name cannot really hurt us, since the inability to name anything is a hallmark symptom of disturbance. To view a photograph properly, it is best to raise your head or close your eyes. [1]

Mayflies is on view at Galeria Adorna, in Porto, to see and feel, with closed eyes or through the latency of your experience, until January 8.


[1] Barthes, Roland. (2013). Câmara Clara. Lisboa: Edições 70.

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.

Signup for our newsletter!

I accept the Privacy Policy

Subscribe Umbigo

4 issues > €34

(free shipping to Portugal)