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Salvai as nossas almas: S.O.S by Eugenio Ampudia at the National Pantheon

Three dots, three dashes, three dots. S.O.S. This is the message that Eugenio Ampudia decided to send through all the doors and windows of the National Pantheon. In Morse code, this luminous installation sends an international distress signal to dialogue with citizens and show the planet’s climate crisis. This is an action from the ARCO Lisbon 2022 programme, a moment when the city brought together collectors, gallerists, artists and art lovers from all over the world.

Comprising eighty LED spotlights in the building’s openings, the green lights are activated at night, emitting an intermittent alert signal that can be seen from several points in Lisbon. Going beyond the language barriers, the renowned National Pantheon becomes a transmitter of the international distress signal.

The climate crisis and the relationship of humans to the Earth and its species is a decisive theme in Eugenio Ampudia’s work. In 2020, at the end of the state of emergency, Ampudia reopened the programming of the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona with Concierto para el Bioceno. In this action, the artist created a concert for plants, which occupied all 2292 seats of the theatre and watched an interpretation of Giacomo Puccini’s play Crisantemi. It was a concert just for plants, a symbolic act to address the Anthropocene issue. The curator of this project, Blanca de la Torre, introduced the concept that lends its name to the work: Biocene. Here, we are talking about a new era that finally brings life to the centre, beyond anthropocentrism and the coexistence between species. On the origin of this concept, Blanca de la Torre stated that:

“Biocene is a concept I have been proposing for some time now to replace Anthropocene, a word with obvious political, economic and particularly colonial implications on the environmental degradation of the planet and which distributes responsibility homogeneously among the whole of anthropos.” [1]

Biocene does not want to single out the agent of the planet’s degradation. It lets go of any pretense of assigning blame for the entire current eco-social crisis. By placing life at the centre, it aims to suggest new alliances between human and non-human entities, creating a new perspective on the world.

Eugenio Ampudia’s work S.O.S. curated by André de Quiroga, wants to bring this concept and new era back into focus. The artwork sends a warning signal directly to us from this monument, where the symbolic charge is stressed. The S.O.S project was first presented in 2014, on the facade of the National Museum of Decorative Arts, Madrid. Now, eight years later, the message remains paramount. At the press conference presenting the project, Eugenio Ampudia admitted his trust in humanity and underlined his interest in working on inter-species relationships. And, when asked about other places to broadcast the piece S.O.S, Ampudia thought about the possibility of this intermittent signal being launched into space one day, as the ultimate call for help.

Art and artists are increasingly messengers of the collective in broadcasting large-scale warnings about climate urgency. In 2014, the artist Olafur Eliasson presented the work Ice Watch, an installation (presented in a Copenhagen square) composed of twelve huge ice blocks that had broken loose from Greenland’s main iceberg. They were collected and placed in a public area, where it was possible to touch, smell and feel them. People witnessed their disappearance up close; the ice melted in a public demonstration of what happens with climate change. In 2021, Jenny Holzer, known for her use of text in her works, presented the Hurt Earth project, a large-scale projection on the Tate Modern building, London. Here, the words of over forty activists were projected to raise awareness about the climate and humanitarian crisis; “If not now then when” or “Our mistakes, our ignorance, our greed, our subservience, will cascade through the decades irreversibly” were some of the sentences in this project.

The artists who highlight the planet’s crisis have opted for a literal and direct language. Eugenio Ampudia follows this path with S.O.S, underlining that “art emits signals that are bound to be as powerful as possible. It has always been so and now, in a limit situation like the planet’s, these signals must be direct, blunt, literal if necessary”[2]. However, this intermittent signal does not seem to survive on its own. Context is needed to understand it; issuing a universal warning signal in a building like the National Pantheon does not directly show climate urgency. And the reason may be because it is such a universal sign that it ends up getting lost in the countless possibilities of its meaning.

However, there is no question: the dream of sending an S.O.S signal into space would be the best way of raising awareness of the urgency of saving our souls.

 

[1] Blanca de la Torre “Conversations with a ficus: sustainability, ecosocial crisis and multispecies coexistence” (2021), Revista Atlántica. Available in: https://www.revistaatlantica.com/en/blanca-de-la-torre-2/

[2] Extract from the press release – SOS. Salvai as nossas almas

Laurinda Marques (Portimão, 1996) has a degree in Multimedia Art - Audiovisuals from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Universidade de Lisboa. She did an internship in the Lisbon Municipal Archive Video Library, where she collaborated with the project TRAÇA in the digitization of family videos in film format. She recently finished her postgraduate degree in Art Curatorship at NOVA/FCSH, where she was part of the collective of curators responsible for the exhibition “Na margem da paisagem vem o mundo” and began collaborating with the Umbigo magazine.

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