Agarrar o que não vejo, by Paula Prates
What do we see of what is not there?
When the most outstanding events of our lives occur, many times we may forget something relevant if we do not rely on devices to register them.
For most of our existence, we fail to account for what we talk about, see or think on devices designed for posterity.
This has become increasingly common as our history has become made up of small stories, like wind scars responsible for the erosion of a great thousand-year-old rock.
An event can be recorded in several ways. Some are more poetic than others, depending on the chosen medium. For example, the same event can be told in a formal and impartial way by a local newspaper, or it can be eternalised through the words intoned by the melody of a song.
This is the case of the murder of the plastic artist and anti-fascist militant José Dias Coelho, a crime perpetrated by the PIDE in Alcântara, 1961. All the emotions of that tragic event were and continue to be sung by thousands of people through the music of Zeca Afonso A morte saiu à rua, praising one of the great symbols of resistance to Europe’s longest dictatorship of the 20th century.
Many of us were not yet born when Portuguese society lived under the Salazar regime. However, we know it through the stories we have been told. Whether reliable or not, the emotions of the past can be felt through our present-day eyes. Contrary to the laws of optics, we can often see what is not there. Through the emotions, feelings or stories told and sedimented by small icons that remind us of what happened.
This is the case of the solo exhibition Agarrar o que não vejo, by Paula Prates, curated by Ricardo Escarduça, until November 12 at Galeria da Biblioteca de Alcântara, no. 26 Rua José Dias Coelho.
A public library is one of modern citizenship’s greatest landmarks. They were established all over the world since it is important to protect collective knowledge and all the stories we do not witness.
Paula Prates is an artist born in Almada in 1975, with a “fascination for natural scientific phenomena” in mineralogy and geology. The concept of ruin is also in her artistic exercise about the valorisation of traces, of the image of fragments, of dissolution and splintering.
According to the artist, she uses mostly photographs of rocks and minerals taken by herself in times past. After concluding this first register, the most pertinent images for her process are selected. Prates is as interested in micro and macro stories; small fissures or the chromatic plane of a given mineral can be contemplated, appearing on paper through an “imaginary three-dimensionality”.
In the small room dedicated to Agarrar o que não vejo, we can see fifty watercolours by Paula Prates. With varied sizes, shapes and natures, the show brings together three series: Trama Viva (2022), Espaço para o Silêncio(2022) and Mapeamento (2021-2022), displayed on a single wooded support in the centre of the room. Although the works are not protected by individual frames, the wooden structure is a large collective support. This allows the visitor to become immersed in Prates’ three-dimensional watercolours, creating a physical relationship with the pieces. Thanks to the structure, we can get closer to them. But we feel that the works could have been emphasised more with a stiffer support. Still, the curatorship aimed to promote an unusual and more immersive relationship between viewer and the exhibited works.
Each series elicits distinct reactions in the viewer, sharing among them the same intentional bias: to evoke the nature of their initial inspiration. The pieces of the series Espaço para o silêncio (2021-2022) reveal traces between the strength and the filling of space, contrasting with the lightness of the watercolour brushstroke; the relationship between everything and nothing. Trying to make the visitor understand the inspiration behind the memory now based on the illusion of the three-dimensionality of a sheet of paper. Like a lost ruin in the palace of memory.
Trama Viva (2022) proposes another aesthetic experience. It does not stand on the threshold between everything and nothing, like Espaço para o silêncio (2022). But rather on the possibility of a memory being. The infinite possibilities of our memory. Perpetually alive and condemned to the dynamic exercise of time, being trapped in the immobility of the physical body.
Mapeamento (2021-2022) shows the whole weight of inspiration whose surplus goes onto the sheet of paper. If we look less closely, we almost find its sculptural corporeality. A visual experience that astonishes the senses.
Agarrar o que não vejo is a show with Paula Prates’ temporal testimony and the act of making visible the dynamics of stillness as a whole. This echoes in every icon, whose silence makes us feel the sparkle of the now invisible stories. This is the testimony of ancient rocks, street names, library books. They are the materialisation of the invisible and the heat of the once burning flames.
The record of what once was or of its powers to be.
 Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea. (2021, August 25). Paula Prates [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyvj0cCcB68
 Ibidem, 2021