O Ar Que Se Respira

In Atmosfera, Ambiência, Stimmung, Hans Gumbrecht addresses a “hidden power” of the arts to overcome the tension between cultural studies and a deconstructivist approach to the artistic phenomenon. Throughout the text, the German word Stimmungunderlines that this overcoming simultaneously brings together receivers and works (and, in several senses and moments, authors or emitters); to identify the way in which works “speak” to those who receive them; and to indicate the most common sense of Stimmung: atmosphere or ambience. The proposal is that, instead of limiting ourselves to deconstructing works in search of meaning (prepared to discover it or to attribute it to works), or limiting ourselves to looking at the historical-social-cultural context of art (gross simplification of “cultural studies”), we try an approach to “read” the works, paying “attention to the textual side of the forms that surround us, that involve [our] bodies as physical reality – something that manages to catalyse inner sensations”[1]. The author exemplifies this with the reading aloud of poetry whose language is unknown to listeners, highlighting factors such as the rhythm or sonority of the verses: “there is a special affinity between performance and Stimmung.” (id.) If the example comes from an art that mainly uses the written word (above all, interpretation as decoding), other expressions, such as dance or the plastic arts, seem more predisposed to sensorial contact, focused on artistic materiality.

What to do before works that explicitly and immediately demand the focus on materiality – for being plastic works? But which, at the same time, have codes to interpret and demand a positioning on the message conveyed? In the case of an exhibition with this stance, how can this decoding reaction be brought about?

The exhibition O Ar Que Se Respira does not ignore the materiality, nor the sensoriality of the works presented. It could not do so, as it is composed of pieces by authors with an identity profile made up of material, visually recognisable aspects, or the way they relate to the space where they appear: the lines in Ana André’s drawn paintings are the visible matter that stimulates games of incitement, concealment, unveiling. The chaos perceived in front of the spectator clarifies the coexistence, in charcoal and graphite, of ancient bones, bird beaks, old iPods®, seaweed, abandoned houses – fragments that, reaching the paper coastline, collide against the ruinsof a world in extinction, ravaged by untamed Nature. The idea of fragments living together (supremely analysed by T. S. Eliot in “The Wasteland”) makes Ana André’s piece (b. 1969) the leitmotif of the show at Galeria Trem, in Faro. For the last decade, the programme has been run by the Visual Arts course at the University of the Algarve and Centro de Investigação em Artes e Comunicação. There, it is possible to discover – or project onto the works this reading -, some of the intentions declared by Vasco Vidigal (b. 1958), the exhibition’s artist and organiser, in the introductory text: the “air we breathe” “conditions and limits artistic activity, stimulating a nebulous atmosphere of intertwined interests”. There is a manifesto, a position, clarified at the end of the text: to deal with the “air full of noxious particles that affect our system”, with the indifference of the centre of the country towards the periphery, artists “can do little but superimpose their works on the stench”. Each of these tackles the “mould”, the odours of the environment. The action is focused on this metaphorical or literal Stimmung, on the atmosphere of local interests and on the real “noxious particles”. One fights to counteract the power of pestilence (reminding us of the title Artadentro gave to one of the most recent cycles, Preces para Afugentar Tempestades, Insectos Malignos, etc) and establish a more salubrious atmosphere, a less contaminated air – art helps to disinfest. It helps to purify the musty staleness or to suggest a healthy vibrancy in the colours associated to decadence: from mould in ill-inhabited places, Paulo Serra (b. 1965) points out, through mixed technique on paper, different layers of moss, adds beauty to greens and makes the gloomy images of the vegetable world come alive. The materiality of the colour and the thickness of the strokes induce the idea of movement – nature becomes denser, materialises as beauty and communicates the stresses of an existence prior to human presence.

Serra’s work predominates in the room – six of his works are presented – functioning as fuel for the absolute power of Nature. However, it is one of Vasco Vidigal’s two pieces, O nariz e as flores, that serves as the exhibition’s poster and identity: on a wall of coloured flowers, patches of a deconstructed rainbow, the head of a masked being appears, indicating the protections used by sixteenth-century physicists in their contact with those infected by the bubonic plague, as well as Venetian Carnival masks, and also the protections against chemical weapons used in the 20th century’s wars. How to deal with the toxic world – of pandemics and wars – if not with carnival laughter and hide-and-seek among flowers? Among the plants, the (embalmed) figure of a wild boar appears in the only exhibited photograph by Vasco Célio (b. 1975): despite its presence in effigy, the animal seemingly mocks the place it haunts: under a balcony, on a cart between branches, surrounded by a metal fence, it shows its teeth, sticks out its tongue and threatens to take revenge for the discord that the human being has thrown onto the Earth through laughter. Human power is symbolised by its opposite: in Vasco Vidigal’s second painting, hands and other isolated members of a body, amputated and in disharmony, represent Man. The sharpness of the strokes beneath the ink stains sprawls limitlessly.

Christine Henry’s (b. 1958) work is about the limit. The single piece is like a maquette of “discordant worlds, platforms, empty platforms or amphitheatres like loudspeakers of voices that cannot be heard” (as said by the artist during the RTP1 report on the opening of the exhibition in early October). Miniature architectural structures, a sculpture of volumes and shadows, Engrenagemdemands from the visitor the attention that disrupts the axis of the gallery room’s core pillar (it shares this destabilizing function with one of Miguel Cheta’s pieces, “Hoje não tenho cabeça para…”). The different levels of the platforms enforce a rigidity of spaces that the shadows, in the lower part, dilute and tint – light and shadow are natural elements that stir human intervention over space; this is where life unfolds in the world and Stimmung’s sanity is pursued in concordance.

Miguel Cheta (b. 1970) presents two pieces that embody the concept of Stimmung as a mood, cultural and artistic environment. At the same time, he materialises and negates ideas about how human beings inhabit this earth and breathe this air. One of them, on the far left wall as we enter the gallery, is from 2019, but it has the ideal context here: two huge glass lenses, curved and symmetrical. One is arranged on the upper plane in relation to the other, windows of a carriage from which we see the world – but the direction of the curve indicates that we are on the outside of that carriage, inside looking in, feeling the discomfort of not being able to see who is watching us or how we look before those on the other side of the glass. In the other piece, the materiality is also glassy, it produces transparencies, it suggests a red planet, a world on fire, which burns between the sphere raised and delimited by the medium and the projection instrument: a cathedral glass, of crafted colours, on an overhead projector: the religious order, the old school order (which the artist had explored in 2016, in the exhibition Liceu, about memories built from school attendance).

The pieces in O Ar Que Se Respira demand attention to their materiality and refuse it, forcing the visitor to think about issues that transcend them; they establish an order of questioning and break it, diluting the questions within the chaos of the elements they represent, consequences of an Earth dwelling unbalanced (to Man’s disadvantage) and of the urgency to make art within this air leap from the borders of an almost insular region.

Until January 7, 2023, Galeria Municipal TREM.




[1] Hans Gumbrecht, Atmosfera, Ambiência, Stimmung, ed. Contraponto/PUC Rio, Rio de Janeiro, 2014, p. 14.

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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