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Anozero’ 21-22 – Coimbra Contemporary Art Biennial – Meia-Noite parte 1

In Coimbra, darkness rules over the City Room, leading us into a performative, intimate and immersive experience. We are welcomed under the twilight and rhythmic lights. The scenography of the old refectory of the Santa Cruz Monastery, covered by the four-stretched starred vault, and the tile art on the huge white walls, reveal us a time gone by. The high windows and canopies prevent the entry of light, underlining the austere monasterial atmosphere of yesteryear. As in a play where the lights dim at the beginning of the show, we are invited to appreciate and participate in the mise en scène: in the centre covered by the vault, Carlos Bunga’s installation Descolonizar o Pensamento, grandiose and poetic, swallows the room and leads us towards it. Several brownish cardboard boxes multiply on the floor, creating the illusion of crossing the entire City Room, occupying it like a landscape dominated by monumentality and horizontality. Properly arranged, creating a low rectangular shape, the open cardboard boxes invite us to peek inside, using concepts of modular architecture and the modernist idea of the grid. A volatile space between architecture and sculpture, the ephemeral site-specific installation that Carlos Bunga has conceived for Anozero – Bienal de Arte Contemporânea de Coimbra[1] merges with the architectural space. Notwithstanding the contrast and the simplicity of the materials used – adhesive tape and corrugated cardboard – to explore political and social issues, concepts of fragility, temporality, demography and emigration. We walk around a minimal piece of floor, which interacts with us through the cardboard’s quiet subtlety and the geometric rigour of the notions of transience and permanence. In Descolonizar o Pensamento, the artist’s poetic and conceptual side takes on an autobiographical side by integrating ten Angolan sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries from the collection of the Science Museum of the University of Coimbra. Let us highlight this inclusive gesture by the artist, as Carlos Bunga materialises and extends his aesthetic and ethical-political research, clearly addressing his African ancestry. Carefully placed at strategic points in the installation, the sculptures are the focal point reinforced by the lighting and the higher ground. Rising within the ephemeral architectural structure, the sculptures become colonial memories and symbols of Angolan identity that must be protected and preserved, appearing here as a desire to rewrite and decolonise history, the present, and especially thought[2]. A screen appears over the installation, temporarily transforming it into a projection and conversation room, where four films are shown[3] about the thought and themes of the biennale’s year zero edition: La Cabeza Mató a Todos by Beatriz Santiago Muñoz; Les Mains Négatives by Marguerite Duras; À Bissau, Le Carnaval by Sarah Maldoror; and Shadow-Machine by Elise Florenty & Marcel Turkowsky. Carlos Bunga’s installation is organised to make sure the different pieces have a dialogue with the venue. The screen displays films on both sides, front and back, allowing viewers to watch them as they go around the installation.

On the biennale’s opening day, the film Les Mains negatives by Duras is screened, whose title is a direct reference to the text narrated by the author’s mysterious and profound voice. It evokes another time and space, with negative fingerprints in prehistoric caves, cave paintings with the outline of hands, an individual trace. The film’s image presents long, fluid journeys through unpopulated and modest Paris, under the night’s opacity. In the blue dawn, the dirt of the streets emerges, where anonymous workers are the only urban actors. Marguerite Duras says: you have a name and an identity. I love you. These anonymous urban actors of the night are also the target of the Anozero Biennial, which, according to the director Carlos Antunes will frame the most fragile and the possible distinction of powers for which it is always worth fighting. A biennale of two parts[4]. The first – Meia-noite. Parte 1 – is an exhibition-conversation that asks the city of Coimbra and the country to participate and discuss diversity, equality, social justice, production of knowledge and poetic relations between species and beings. Themes and territories present in the second moment of the biennale in April­ – Meia-noite. Parte 2 – about which we are called to think, debate and question. Entitled Meia-noite, the programme of the Anozero’21-22 Biennale, with two curators for the first time, Elfi Turpin and Filipa Oliveira, proposes to question and think of the night as a place of fluidity, a poetic space resistant to normative thinking. The night as a creator of knowledge, which blurs the margins and asks for other interpretations of the world. A space where norms are broken down, a place open to other possibilities of vision, knowledge, interaction, with other bodies. A night where all cats are grey in the dark, where we do not distinguish ourselves, although we uphold our individuality.

In a summons to the occulting and revealing night, UmbigoLAB’s first in situ exhibition, No sonho do homem que sonhava, o sonhado acordou[5], is the response of MA students in Curatorial Studies from the College of Arts of Coimbra to the curators’ challenge to explore concepts such as post-patriarchy, symbiotic relationships and alternative epistemologies[6]. Throughout the exhibition, in an allusion to the sun and moon, we are guided by the absence and reflection of light and the presence of the circle as a sign associated with eternity and the divine. In a direct reference to Plato’s Cave, we see the documentary Aventure de l’homme de la Prehistoire: Apparition de la religion, origin d l’art. In the darkness, we are confronted with our ancestry, we see the paintings of the Lascaux caves, we question the signs and their origins. In the cave, where art is discovered for the first time, we go towards the light that creates silhouettes. And then the drawing, the light in the cave that begins the History of Art. In a second moment of the exhibition, we have the sound and visual image of the performance Rupture by Hector Zamora. The contrast between white/black recalls the duality of day/night or light/darkness, while we see a poetic rain of black leaves torn from books, whose sound follows us and remains. This gesture is both cathartic and liberating, which can also be understood as unsatisfying and oppressive. In an apparent dialogue with Hector Zamora’s installation, as if we had taken the leaves torn from the books to return them to their origin – the machine – appears the simple and silent installation by Marilá Dardot Com palavras de palavras por palavras, palabras. Composed of a table and a typewriter, inviting to writing and reading, the paper that comes out of the typewriter runs through and over the space, walking across the floor and ending in an immense reel – the circle sign, symbol of time. The installation objects, apparently static, show unfolding ideas, creation in movement, based on which we discuss language’s transitory character. The connection between art and writing is present in the works of Zé Ardisson, Acordai Acordai Acordai, and in the pillowcase on which the word viagem is embroidered. This brings us to the oneiric experience of Depois do ressoar de um búzio by Pedro Pedrosa da Fonseca. Suspended by a thread at eye level – with features that allow us to identify an implicit movement, an impermanence – we are seduced by the hypnotic dance of the magnifying glass and its circular and spiral reflections, projected on the wall. This recalls an evolutionary trajectory and a relationship with the cosmic symbolism of the moon, the aquatic symbolism of the shell. The repeated rhythms of life, the cyclical nature of evolution, the permanence of being in the face of the fugacity of movement, concepts and ideas that lead us to the graphic work of Alberto Carneiro. There is also Oscillation of the Unknown by Clara Imbert whose three-dimensionality and architecture of pendular sculpture allow a dialogue with the opacity of the white marbles of Sideral Map and Noite branca by Margarida Alves, circular sculptures that recall a universe between cosmology and cosmogony. It is also important to highlight Dupla [Rescue series] by Rita Gaspar Vieira and another space, her CAPC studio. The black marks of the floor on the cotton cloth, the metrics and the shades, all recall the games of light and shade of the Tears and Love polaroids by Bárbara Bolhão.

An eclectic show in a space with plural voices and mediums, No sonho do homem que sonhava, o sonhado acordou is not a mere exercise of Chiaroscuro, but an exhibition born from the opposites[7], where the circle becomes an endless cycle of creation as in Jorge Luís Borges’ The Circular Ruins. And, as if it were a dream, an elliptical narrative, we recall the ruins that inspire Carlos Bunga and we remember Descolonizar o Pensamento.

Meia-Noite. Parte 1 until January 15, 2022, and Meia-Noite. Parte 2 between April 9 and June 26, 2022.

 

[1] Organised since 2015 by Círculo de Artes Plásticas de Coimbra (CAPC), Coimbra City Hall and the University of Coimbra.

[2] Excerpt from the exhibition room leaflet, Meia-Noite parte 1.

[3] On Thursdays, between December 2 and January 13, at 6 p.m., guests will be present to discuss the film of the day with the audience.

[4] Meia-Noite. Parte 1, running from November 27, 2021 to January 15, 2022, and Meia-Noite. Parte 2, running from April 9 to June 26, 2022.

[5] At the Headquarters of Círculo de Artes Plásticas de Coimbra (CAPC) until January 25, 2022, the exhibition is part of the biennial’s Convergent Program.

[6] Excerpt from the exhibition room sheet, No sonho do homem que sonhava, o sonhado acordou, 2021.

[7] Excerpt from the exhibition room leaflet, No sonho do homem que sonhava, o sonhado acordou, 2021.

Mafalda Teixeira, Master’s Degree in History of Art, Heritage and Visual Culture from the Faculty of Letters of the University of Porto. She has an internship and worked in the Temporary Exhibitions department of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. During the master’s degree, she did a curricular internship in production at the Municipal Gallery of Oporto. Currently, she is devoted to research in the History of Modern and Contemporary Art, and publishes scientific articles.

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