Synecdoche: HElena Valsecchi at Galeria Sá da Costa

Widely present in literature, the figure of speech called synecdoche means to understand several things simultaneously. The goal is to consider the part as the whole and the whole as the part. This is the concept that artist HElena Valsecchi uses to name her solo exhibition at Galeria Sá da Costa. Through drawing and sculpture, we see her extensive research and concern with themes related to the sacred, memory, life, and death.

In the main room of Galeria Sá da Costa, we are immediately absorbed by Synecdoche (2020-22), the central work that has the same title as the exhibition. This piece began to be developed during the artist’s participation in one of RAMA‘s artistic residencies, in the villages of Maceira and Alfeiria in Torres Vedras. There, contact with nature and the local community is promoted. About the process developed during the residency, the artist says in an interview that some of her visual references originated in two museums she visited in Torres Vedras: Atelier do Brinquedo and Museu de Arqueologia. In this investigation, she was interested in the connection between everyday objects that become sacred when they depart from the mundane. And also old toys that, when they cease to be used, become relics.

Synecdoche (2020-22) is an extensive panel in watercolours on paper, which extends horizontally across the gallery’s longest wall. Its composition is complex. Synecdoche is one, but also several. It is a panel composed of numerous drawings made with rectangular sheets of different sizes, which are aggregated together. They create an intricate mosaic with different motifs, planes, and densities. The work always has the same tones with blues and greys, transmitting lightness not only because of the color, but also because of the typical aqueous trait of watercolours. The association between the sacred and the spiritual is inevitable. At some points, the composition recalls visual elements we associate with palaeolithic art, or even motifs inspired by wall paintings typical of Egyptian culture. We see hands, silhouettes, bodies, faces, sinuous forms that suggest the feminine, artifacts, animals, or images that are reminiscent of ancient sculptures. The intensity at the far left end of the panel is impactful. The mesh becomes denser, the leaves smaller, the paint darkens, the motifs scale down and the details increase. We feel the time as we move through each panel section. It is as if each sheet corresponds to a specific period in the artist’s life, like the pages of a diary.

There is no path. The viewer decides where to start looking at the work. The narrative is non-linear and the focus on our gaze is intuitive. Each watercolour works individually. They are singular pieces that belong to a whole, but have a new meaning when separated. As the exhibition goes on and interest in acquiring one of the paintings grows, the leaves disappear from the mural. This deprives the drawing’s continuity as a whole but reminds us of the ramification that will emerge when the work spreads to the various places to which it will belong. HElena Valsecchi emphasizes the diffusion of the work of art and its expansion in time and space.

In the centre of the room (which also corresponds to the panel’s central area) is Vertigo (2022), a swing suspended from the gallery’s ceiling whose seat is made of glass. The name of the work reflects an illusory sensation of movement in our body or around us. And the swing materializes the sensation of swaying or dizziness; the glass of the seat intensifies the swing’s fragility. And the movement our eyes project onto it intensifies the tension between this sculptural object and Synecdoche. In Vertigem (2022), Valsecchi speaks to us of something immaterial between the visible and the invisible, the tangible and the intangible, a point of fragile tension that wobbles between two opposites.

In another moment of the exhibition, we highlight the work La Nostalgie du Paradis (2021), a promise to unite heaven and earth. Again, through watercolour, the artist uses an irregular paper, worked on seaside rocks and submerged in ocean water, acquiring shapes and roughness. The painted textures are marks of nature and the pigments used were acquired from the local environment. The paper on the rocks worked as a mirror of the sky and the marks on it were created by the earth. It is a harmonious union of elements that reclaims the connection between heaven and earth, just like an ancient Temple that promised communion with the divine.

In Synecdoche we see HElena Valsecchi’s mastery of watercolour, but also her mastery of the sensibilities of sculpture, in an exhibition that reminds us of the place of the sacred and metaphysical.

Synecdoche is on view at Galeria Sá da Costa until July 23, 2022.

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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