Moldada na escuridão – Hugo Canoilas at Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian

Rachel Carson’s text, «The Gray Beginnings»[1], stresses the sea’s decisive role on the planet and bodies of the living species that inhabit it: “each of us has a salt stream in our veins, with the elements sodium, potassium and calcium in similar ratios to those in seawater.”[2]. For Carson, the sea is the planet’s protective cover, a founding element from which all forms of life descend. At the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, we can also find traces of this legacy.

Moldada na escuridão, by Hugo Canoilas, shares with Rachel Carson this link – the sea -, thought as a shareable, communitarian experience, whose history the biologist tried to tell through different sources, and that Hugo Canoilas gave back to the public at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum’s temporary exhibition gallery.

Hugo Canoilas and Rita Fabiana, curator of the exhibition, proposed a work of ongoing dialogue, cooperation and care. The pieces displayed derive from three different exhibition moments[3], something that nourishes the notion of circuit and flow that qualifies the exhibition and the relationship between artist and curator.

There is no guide, as traditional, at the entrance, but five works that want to shed light on the experience that we can have inside the dark gallery[4].Of these works, I highlight Susan Hiller’s etching, The territory of imagination is not the property of a privileged group (1983).

In Hiller’s work, we find figures that combine features of species distinct from one another, as well as creatures that do not seem to belong to any existing category. However, all Hiller’s figures are implied in a legitimising narrative: horses, insects, semi-human bodies, a dragon-boat, all are dignified in Hiller’s narrative. This is in line with the work of philosophers such as Donna Haraway, with her focus on the notion of speculative fabulation[5], or Vinciane Despret, whose crossing between philosophy and psychology allowed for an in-depth study of animal species[6] to legitimise a perspective on the world away from the hierarchisation between species, something that Hiller potentially suggests.

I would say that part of this work, the quest to construct other ways of being and inhabiting, is in Hugo Canoilas’ proposal in Moldada na Escuridão. By entrusting bodies to the gallery without a guide, Canoilas adds other possibilities of fruition to the debate, engaged in de-hierarchising planes – spectator; work; title; map; exhibition text – there is no plane, or rather, there is a plane where all the elements converge simultaneously. We are invited to inhabit and experience a place at the fringe of models in the present.

Canoilas replaces a fixed knowledge by a knowledge in movement – a water current. Doing more than knowing. The artist makes us part of this constructed movement that does not exist a priori. Without a specific route for the visit, all narratives are legitimate in an exhibition that, more than a place to be seen, suggests a place to be experienced.

The room presents sculptures that blend with elements of the natural world, receptacles in which we see that primordial substance, coming back to Carson’s text. The receptacles, or puddles, are pieces moulded from nature, with acrylic plaster. From the relationship with nature, and the pieces’ temporary sojourn under her shelter, they are then worked. The artist allows organic and industrial debris to follow the sculptures, a gesture that embraces the totality of the intersections between the natural world and its species.

There are several ecosystems in the exhibition, which we are invited to experience with all our senses. Sight is the first sense to be used, we no longer see only with our eyes but with our whole body. After a few minutes, the vision adjusts, and we can see in the dark.

It is important to note at this point that the painting occupies a considerable part of the exhibition, but it also becomes emancipated and is no longer seen only with the eyes. As we walk through the space, we find textile elements on the floor, paintings on which we are invited to stroll. The floating glass pieces in some of the puddles are also painted, resembling the seabed, with its creatures and plants.

I would say that the exhibition tries to be a shareable place, and the sea has that same profile, as Carson mentions. Part of it is within us. Establishing a non-hierarchical place, Moldada na escuridão wants viewers to be-with the elements in the space. We too are active agents in the shaping of Canoilas’ place.

The exhibition Moldada na Escuridão by Hugo Canoilas is at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation until May 30.



[1] The essay by Rachel Carson (1907-1964), American biologist and writer, can be read in the exhibition catalogue, focusing on a chapter of the work The Sea Around Us, de 1950. See Rachel Carson, «The Gray Beginnings» in Hugo Canoilas, Moldada na Escuridão, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation: Lisbon, 2022

[2] Idem, ibidem, p. 10

[3] The exhibited pieces result from three past moments where Hugo Canoilas explored the ocean: the exhibition at Serralves in 2020, at the Vienna mumok and at the Hamburg Kunstverein in 2021.

[4] At the entrance of the exhibition, works by Susan Hiller, Túlia Saldanha, Fernando Calhau, Ana Hatherly, and René Bertholo are displayed.

[5] See Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Durham: Duke University Press, 2016

[6] I highlight the works by Despret: Living as a Bird, Trad., Helen Morrison, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2021; Autobiographie d’un Poulpe et autres récits d’anticipation, Arles:Actes Sud, 2021; What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?, Trad., Brett Buchanan, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2016

Rita Anuar (Vila Franca de Xira, 1994), is an interdisciplinary researcher, graduated in Communication Sciences, Postgraduate in Philosophy (Aesthetics) and Master in History of Contemporary Art, from the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She has been part of the research group in Literature, Philosophy and Arts (FCSH / IELT), since 2020. She is interested in the intersections between visual arts, philosophy and literature, indiscipline and wind. Apart from her activity as a researcher, she writes poetry.

Signup for our newsletter!

I accept the Privacy Policy

Subscribe Umbigo

4 issues > €34

(free shipping to Portugal)