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Um Dó Li Tá: Maria Peixoto Martins and Rita Leitão at Galeria Municipal Vieira da Silva

When we talk about children’s play, exercising memory is inevitable. Playing is essential for relating to others, but also a means of self-understanding. It is our first contact with spontaneity and imagination. Playing may be the first form of artistic expression, where toys, drawings and theatrics come to life through imagination and projection of our unconscious.

At Galeria Municipal Vieira da Silva, Loures, the exhibition Um Dó Li Tá appears in the context of JOV’ARTE | Bienal Jovem 2021 (competition for young artists between 18 and 35 years old), where Maria Peixoto Martins and Rita Leitão won the first prize with the work Manual de Instruções (2021). The artists come together again in this venue, now with a larger project, promising to pay tribute to childhood games.

The exhibition is like a collective memory, where the artists questioned friends and family about their childhood recollections. The information gathered was worked in several media, including painting, photography, video, performance and sculpture. Maria Peixoto Martins and Rita Leitão also contribute to create this collective memory with objects from their personal universe, among them photographs and home videos that show intimate and familiar contexts.

We begin with the painting Castelos de areia: a portrait of two children sitting on a slide. The brushstrokes are imprecise and red dominates the composition. The painting is situated between the capture of an instant and the impression of a distant memory. In Crido Diariu two pages from a diary are framed and displayed on the wall. Dated 2003 and 2004, the pages are marked by childish handwriting and drawings, they are confessions that pass from the private to the public domain. On one of the pages, after the unveiling of several secrets, we realise that it is an old belonging of the artist Rita Leitão.

Then we see Queria ser astronauta, an installation of three different media that shows the results of the questionnaire that the artists made to friends and relatives. In the first part we see a huge list that reaches the floor with the testimony of several people about their childhood memories. We read phrases like “I imagined the pantry was a supermarket and ‘sold’ food to my brother” or “I climbed the backyard wall in my underwear and screamed like Tarzan”. Next to this list, a television shows a video in which the two artists use the testimonies we have previously read. In this performance, the artists’ bodies embody memories that they never lived. Memories that come to life through imagination, as if Maria Peixoto Martins and Rita Leitão got together again to play ‘make believe’. The memories are then materialized in sculptures that depict the objects and scenarios described in the testimonies. Similarly to the work Manual de Instruções (2021) – winner of the JOV’ARTE 2021 prize – the objects they present have their own plasticity. With irregular shapes and vibrant colours, we see a blue guitar without strings, red ceramic shoes or a suspended television. They look like play objects that could be in a Dadaist theatre.

We move on to O tempo perguntou ao tempo quanto tempo o tempo tem, where four photographs are printed continuously until they fade away. Aligned linearly in four rows, the images suggest moments of family reunion – a walk on the beach and in the countryside, a meal with several people, and frolicking moments in a playground. The exercise is to print the pictures repeatedly until the ink cartridge runs out. The definition of the image gradually disappears, the photographs become abstract shadows, symbolising time and fading memory.

Finally, in the audio-visual installation Ah Ah, the performance is for the camera. Throughout the exhibition, the faces of the two girls become familiar and we recognise them. They present themselves before the camera, with the intention of filming themselves dancing, singing and acting. Pixels dominate the image, reminiscent of the early digital age, and the songs confirm this is footage from the early 2000s – Britney Spears’ iconic Toxic from 2003 is choreographed by the two girls. At first, the three videos appear interspersed on the walls and ceiling, but soon the chaos and frenetic energy of the children emerges, the images overlap, and the flicker happens. Playing to the camera suggests an intention to recognise one’s own image and body. Similar to an existential exercise, this dance between the conscious and the unconscious is driven by the search for the Self. The playful fantasy shows hidden feelings, aspirations and potentialities. Together, the artists, when they were still children, already had the desire to express themselves through performance.

This is not a foreign place for children. They are also invited to relate to contemporary art, either by identifying with the universe on show, or by the exhibition’s iterative section, where they will find a slide and a memory game.

Um Dó Li Tá asks us to “take our shoes off” and restore the connection with our inner child.

The exhibition is at Galeria Municipal Vieira da Silva until March 25, 2023.

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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