Cemiterra-Geraterra: Miguel Palma at Parque Quinta dos Remédios

As an admirer of Miguel Palma’s work, I was surprised when I first looked at Cemiterra-Geraterra. Although I noticed in it the artist’s admiration for the brutal, for the industrial physicality, I also sensed an idealism that was antagonistic to his other work, a too predictable side.

This first time was at the piece’s inauguration on 22-02-22 (what a palindrome) at Parque Quinta dos Remédios, in Loures. I had arrived early and could see the play without context. Later, at the opening, the artist was present. He told us a story: in his childhood, he had the habit of burying objects so that, a year later, when he dug them up, he could see the passage of time on them. Cemiterra-Geraterra is a remake of this primal, reminiscent act – he told us that the work was buried shortly after his father’s death in 1991, when the Gulf War was also raging, in a manifestation of a greater willingness to hide than to show. Yet there was something I couldn’t understand: the object’s metallic coldness, though elegiac, had this emotional, personal and deeply sensitive context that seemed dissonant and out of place. The work was unearthed in 2000. That was the year I was born. Palma said that, for those who grew up before that date, 2000 seemed an impossible, utopian year, brimming with hope. For the selfishness of reviewing myself in it somehow, I think that’s when it made sense to me. That inflated, strong planet, heavy with life and death, with the passage of time in the oxidation of its brownish steel. Behind it is the enormous metal coffin with which it was covered and buried – it hides to reveal what for a long time it concealed, the inevitability of an object that has already been affirmed and reborn, protecting and accepting it.

The iron sculpture does not replicate nature, although from a distance it looks like the wood of the trees that surround and follow it in the curvatures of its slightly more eternal existence. It is impossible, and it knows it. Everything is intervention today. Let us look at the park, its construction with trees laid out, trails outlined, a landscape plan that always recreates an illusion of evasion, through human intervention on the ground. In this way, we highlight the machinal gesture, consequently human, and admit that this sculpture wanted to live. Amidst the usual ceremonial speeches of a public sculpture inauguration, I realized that we were alive looking at a simulacrum of life – expectant, optimistic–, possessors of a good that we could not offer.

Regrettably, we see its re-inauguration, 22 years later, two days before the start of a conflict that could bring tragic consequences for Europe. That rusty planet we are looking at seems to foreshadow. It is curious to contextualise again Palma’s final words: “This sculpture has a statuary side which I do not like (…) I would rather see it buried.” Cemiterra-Geraterra reminds us that seeing art is an act of empathy in itself. Let’s not let it get buried.

Cemiterra-Geraterra is part of the CAM em Movimento programme and is on view at Parque Quinta dos Remédios, in Loures.

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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