Testing limits in the gaps

At different points, while visiting Gabriela Albergaria’s exhibition at Museu Municipal de Tavira (Palácio da Galeria), the visitor can feel and probe the limits. Be it the lines that shape an object, the borders – obstacles, but also the frame – of a room, or even the boundaries of those who wander among the objects. The environment conditioning this perception is confined to the halls of Palácio da Galeria. We immediately perceive an initial limit, imposed on the curator (Delfim Sardo) and the artist (Gabriela Albergaria) when they had to lay out the pieces for the anthological exhibition. This show, with works of minimal or almost imperceptible size (such as the floor corner Fungi do not have stomachs! [2018-2019]), down to the expanded branches of an acacia tree, requires adjusting to the site, the measurement, the examination of boundaries, the containment within a place.

As with many other examples in today’s art world, it’s hard to distinguish the work of the artists from that of the curators and those who manage the venues where art is displayed. (Thus, a meagre gallery in one of today’s most energetically artistic Manhattan boroughs can be as challenging as the museum of a Portuguese rural municipality – the effort and persistence to show an anthology by Gabriela Albergaria to the Tavira public is laudable).

Between October 2020 and June 2021, the exhibition Nature Abhors a Straight Line / A Natureza Detesta Linhas Retas was at Culturgest in Lisbon, the first anthology show by the artist born in Vale de Cambra in 1965. After having been in the capital, it is now in Tavira, in the Algarve, from May 14 until the start of October. One can see examples of key works from Albergaria’s path in recent years. Together with the artist, Delfim Sardo imagined filling Culturgest’s rooms and moving them to the Tavira museum.

All the exhibition pieces are site-specific, they were not simply brought in and fitted into new walls. Equador is the most obvious: an ochre circle is drawn with different densities of colour, in acrylic paint and coloured pencil on a wall, pierced by thirteen lines that converge in a single, apparently central point, and whose intersection with the circle ends in small bronze prisms – these are divisions of a planet that resembles the sun due to the ochre tone, equators in name only, or named in an ironic, bronzy fixation. But any other piece in the exhibition, even if it is not achieved there, thrives on its dialogue with the walls, with the glimpses of the adjoining rooms of the exterior landscape, where the gloomy Gilão shows the haze’s pallor.

Albergaria’s work has grown through a research based on the ideas of Nature – above all, following the concept of Nature that has been held since the end of the 18th century in the Western world. It may have been here that the gesture of pushing the limits of language, of idioms, of taxonomy in relation to objects came into being. The aim is to adjust the varied philosophical approaches of language to the artistic expression: in a polyptych like Trianon(2010-2020), each of the five elements is composed of a diptych; in turn, each of the two diptych components has six Pau-Marfim wooden plaques, with “inkjet prints on woollen paper”. The six plaques on the diptych’s left side comprise a tree image (in context, i.e., with evidence of a group of trees); those on the right side, which on the left margin accommodate the images’ continuation – transposing the boundary imposed by the plaque’s size and shape – include the common name and the Latin name in Lineu’s taxonomy (both on the main plaque), as well as a brief text (on the upper plaque) on the characteristics and human use of the wood extracted from each tree. But linguistic boundaries are combined here: for each of these trees, the text is written in a language (Pau Ferro – Portuguese; Araribá – Spanish; Pau Brasil – English; Jatobá – French; and Jequitibá – Portuguese). It is Portuguese (the Portuguese language) that sets taxonomic boundaries, positioned at the ends of the common composition and designation. But its core encompasses differences, cultures, and historical references that dilute identities first established by language.

This is one of the pieces where the clashes of Gabriela Albergaria’s work are most visible: natural elements versus those of a civilising nature. Those who show this conflict most crudely and immediately are the ones who, instead of implying Nature’s representation (as in the panels I mentioned above, or in sections of the Landscape in Repairseries, where watercolour or photography show in this exhibition a vision of the artist of Nature beyond) display elements of that Nature, always modified in their nature: be it an acacia fragmented and reassembled with screws and other metal objects, small vine trunks with prominent tops; the acrylic paint that points to small matchsticks about to be immolated (Onze Enxertos para Castas Alentejanas); or the trunk of an old eucalyptus, torn in two sections between which a “cedar beam” is wedged – there are intervals between the beam and each of the half-trunks, a transparent gap where the visitor’s gaze is invited to pass through and perceive the tree’s death and grandeur, emptiness and presence, finitude and infinity.

Nature abhors straight lines (an expression that Albergaria borrows from the 18th century English landscape architect William Kent) not only because its existence is based on the chaos of curves, edges, the intersection between matter, absence, language and interrogation, but because the straightness of lines (the lines) symbolises the border, the limit, the insurmountable: the unnatural.

Gabriela Albergaria’s exhibition Nature Abhors a Straight Line / A Natureza Detesta Linhas Retas, curated by Delfim Sardo, is open to the public at Palácio da Galeria in Tavira until October 8, 2022.

Ana Isabel Soares (b. 1970) has a PhD in Literary Theory (Lisbon, 2003), and has been teaching in the Algarve University (Faro, Portugal) since 1996. She was one of the founders of AIM – Portuguese Association of Moving Image Researchers. Her interests are in literature, visual arts, and cinema. She writes, translates, and publishes in Portuguese and international publications. She is a full member of CIAC – Research Centre for Arts and Communication.

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