Nós by Maja Escher and Sérgio Carronha at Monitor

All we ask is to be sown on earth is a sentence said by the collective of wheat grains, claiming to exist according to the cycles of nature and not under the industrial and alienated production system that pushes them away from the former. The quote can be read in Henrique Févre’s short story, The Wheat Grains Strike (1908), which lends its title to the exhibition with works by Maja Escher and Sérgio Carronha, at Monitor Lisbon.

A friendship as stuffed fruit or fertile soil seems to be the starting point for Maja Escher and Sérgio Carronha. Two artists who share a deep connection to the earth, its materials and the organic processes of its transformation.

The works on Monitor are the result of a permanent collaboration and dialogue about the thread that unites their art – the earth, its breath and landscapes, where life and death contaminate each other.

At the gallery entrance, Celebração das Vagens (2022) is a work that underlines the power of time over things. Time gives them a different form. A different life. To see the time embedded in the pods (broad beans, peas, beans and yucca leaves), hanging in four suspended circles, and rising to the gallery ceiling, is to try and see the invisible. Unlike Sérgio Carronha’s schists (Sem Título I, 2022) – the result of meticulous work, in which the hand, the will and the ingenuity transform the stone – time is blended with air in the pods’ case. Interestingly, the schist, despite being a rigid material, is the result of a slow work of compression, where the earth shows its creative capacity alongside time.

In the gallery’s second room, we see works in schist, with engraved drawings or patterns. Given the contamination addressed in the exhibition, some of these drawings result from exchanges with Maja Escher (Sem Título I, 2022). This is also visible in the artist’s works, where small pieces of schist are mixed with non-rigid materials (Celebração das Vagens, Arco da Chuva, 2022).

The first room’s verticality then seems to surrender to horizontality. Serpente (2022), by Sérgio Carronha, shows this change. The horizontal schist piece is composed of several panels, seemingly in the shape of a serpent, a symbol of transformation. In these panels, we see drawings that establish organic forms in tune with Maja Escher’s arches – Arco da Chuva (2022), Roda das Cores (2022), recalling the first room’s circular form.

Several circles are painted on the floor around the wheel, divided into eighteen numbered parts, where stones are perched. Roda das Cores is still, but moving. A piece of landscape, collected and deposited on the wheel, is placed in each partition. These colours were captured during one of the field trips before the exhibition. The remnants of that experience, where the artists went into the field and the landscape, are now deposited in the gallery.

The pigments on Roda, made by Maja, are also in Sem Título II, 2022. A schist where the different pigments of Roda rest, completely covering the stone and showing a painting of the world that is difficult to reproduce. It is a gesture, a living landscape. From this experience of landscape and journey, we can see remains laid on the gallery floor. A stone and the clay call attention to the mark of that living journey.

Many of the transformations of the space and pieces were experienced right there. In the same place where clay meets schist, there are reeds and branches cohabiting. Depositing the remains on the floor fits in with the intention of showing the importance of the exhibition’s itinerary. The aim is not to make a prediction, where the artists follow a predefined plan. But rather to work according to the cycles of Nature, as wheat demands in Févre’s tale. It is interesting to note that both used in the exhibition a working method reminiscent of humus and its participatory action. During the decomposition process of the materials in the soil due to oxidation, they return to the earth in a collaborative process. They are able to feed others, giving rise to new life. And there is always in this the notion of contamination or collaboration.

The knots in Maja Escher’s pieces, particularly in Arco da Chuva, the knotted branches, seem part of something bigger. The knots that find hands and the expectation that, with multiple hands, the earth can be cared for and preserved, tying bodies and our will to it. Nós (2022) could be a letter to that wish. This is a drawing that represents the journey of both artists until they arrived at the result in Só Pedimos que nos Semeiam na Terra. The knots that brought them together, made and undone at every moment. Experienced, as Nature requires.

Só Pedimos Que Nos Semeiem Na Terra, is on show at Monitor until July 30.

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.

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