Que te seja leve o peso das estrelas at CACC
Following a cycle that borrows works from several private collections, Centre for Contemporary Art of Coimbra presents the exhibition Que te seja leve o peso das estrelas until January 22, curated by José Maçãs de Carvalho.
Bringing together works from a private collection in Coimbra, the State Contemporary Art Collection and the Coimbra City Council Collection, the show features pieces by Helena Almeida (1934-2018), whose work initiates and articulates the three central ideas of the exhibition: the place/home, the creative process and the body as intermediary. The other artists confirm the studio as a place of transformation and change, from an idea to form or metamorphosis, creating works with a processual atmosphere, where the body is the primary matter. The body is also matter for Al Berto, from whom the title of the exhibition was borrowed, synthesising the curatorial programme on home, process and body.
One of Helena Almeida’s rare videos begins the exhibition route, a work that summarises the artist’s interest in the body – which registers, occupies and defines space. Her performative encounter with the world and the importance she attaches to the studio that belonged to her father, the sculptor Leopoldo Almeida (1989-1975). In an almost religious litany, a penance to be complied on the verge of tragidy, Helena Almeida walks on her knees, as if she were a martyr, through the studio, kissing the floor and touching the objects of her daily work, the bones of her trade – a stool and a lamp -, in a kind of ritual. In a desecrated pilgrimage, the artist surrenders her body to her workspace and memories – the studio-field, where she reinforces the performative character of her artistic practice, exploring notions of space and perception. As we watch the work, we hear the movements of Helena Almeida and the props used. At the end of the video, there is an element never explored by the artist: the music – a short excerpt from Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice, which recalls the condition of never looking back and the theme of descent into hell, adding symbolic meaning to the scene. Set against Helena Almeida’s video, in the same space we see the drawing Untitled (The future is now) 2018 by the duo Muntean & Rosenblum. In a bucolic setting, the protagonists are a group of teenagers, whose facial expressions and body language seem to show loneliness and emotional fragility, in a work that simultaneously mixes banality and spiritual pathos. Working contemporaneity and current popular culture with images, the duo uses pictorial matrices, recalling the history of art and painting. We see the figure of the woman lying on the floor Vénus ao Espelho, 1644-48, by Diego Velázquez. The greatest interest of Muntean & Rosenblum’s work is the universe of vernacular images combined with the pictorial tradition, which is why we highlight the curatorial decision to oppose the duo’s drawing to Helena Almeida’s video, an artist who questioned the pictorial space and explored painting’s physical limits, the starting point of her artistic work.
Helena Almeida uses photography to overcome painting’s exteriority, being an integral part of the work. This allows her to construct a space where she can be, where being and doing coexist in the same medium. Helena Almeida’s photographic experiments and the introduction of the line into her work are revealed in the second exhibition moment, through a practice that combines drawing and painting. The drawing becomes two-dimensional, a line materialises and emerges from the support through the use of horsehair thread on the paper surface, making the drawing tangible and accessible to the viewer. The organic and dimensional qualities of horsehair are again explored in two b&w photographs from the series Desenho habitado, 1978. A narrative sequence is created, where the artist’s hand appears in the foreground: initially holding a tissue where the black line is; releasing and materialising in the second image, having a corporeal and solid presence that the artist’s fingers grasp and feel. In Saída negra, 1980, the artist’s body is triggered as a choreographic vehicle, developing a narrative through sequential images, allowing the viewer to observe her in motion. This reinforces the cinematic idea of her work. The inner stages and the use of the body as a support for her art are in the triptych Dentro de mim, 1998. Although it is not a self-portrait, we see the artist’s body creeping around the studio without ever showing her face. In the last image, this is concealed through a blue brushstroke, with Almeida integrating the power of the act and the matter of painting in the photographic register and in her body. The obliteration of identity, the body as matter and the idea of process in the works of Helena Almeida are found in many of the exhibition’s pieces: the transparency of the body that Lourdes Castro (1930-2022) presents us with in Furrows, 1974, in contrast to Almeida’s heavy body, the emptiness that defines the figure, the shadow whose contours explore the boundary between presence and absence, materiality and immateriality. In the depuration of Julião Sarmento’s graphite drawing, we observe the transparency of the fragmented body. It is a movement that tries to free itself, a gesture on which our gaze is focused. The expectant expressiveness of the works, apparently unfinished in their narrativity, faces that hide themselves and the idea of metamorphosis, are all in the mysterious and spectral presences of Crystal Girl nº84, 2014, by Noé Sendas (1972), and in the bleak collage Untitled study for self-portrait as Hitler, 2012, by Adrien Ghenie (1977); in the dynamism and ethereal quality of Jake Wood-Evans’ (1980) drawings: male torsoes whose intense luminosity stands out from the paper’s black background in a moment of suspension, beauty and drama. Suspension of reality and luminosity is also in Jorge Molder’s Pinocchio (1947), the artist’s mask. Like Helena Almeida, he obliterates his identity, showing the immutability of a face and the encounter of his glance with the photographic replica. The processual atmosphere reaches its zenith in A portrait of a storm, 2022, by Teresa Murta (1993), a pictorial narrative with warm colours – like a fire in a storm – and abstract forms, in a subversion between reality and fantasy.
The last floor of the exhibition features a dialogue between the photomontages of Noé Sendas and Carla Cabanas (1979). Using strategies of manipulating and editing photographs, the artists move closer to Helena Almeida. We see small b&w images, vintage erotic postcards, in which Sendas employs geometric shapes. They are memories of modernity in anonymous images showing female legs and black shoes that bring to mind Helena Almeida’s Seduzir. In Sometimes it’s so hard to see, 2020, by Carla Cabanas, memory and the suspension of time are part of the landscape. The body worked by the artist, using gold leaf, is a simultaneous exercise of concealment and enhancement.
To conclude the exhibition, we are seduced by the organic and delicate layout of the movements of the iron sculpture Estás perto de mim, 2015, by Rui Chafes (1966). As if it had just been shaped, the work has an intensity embodied in space, between weight and lightness, rigidity and fluidity. This surprises the visitor. Next to the sculpture, we see the black forming body in the painting by Markus Oehlen (1956) Am wasser?, 1993. This is an amorphous form with free movements, like the water suggested by the title, on the several pictorial layers. Seduzir, 2022, by Helena Almeida is the end of our journey, a b&w photograph whose protagonists are the black high heeled shoes, a symbol associated with female seduction. The artist’s body, with choreographed gestures, affirms her presence in the representation without the need for identity. With the colour red, in a dramatic grimace, she draws attention to the bare shoe on the studio floor, as if to say that Seduction implies pain and sacrifice.
 CARVALHO, José Maçãs de – Que te seja leve o peso das estrelas, exhibition texto, 2022.
 SARDO, Delfim – Transubstanciação, (exhibiton text), April, 2013.
 ALMEIDA, Bernardo Pinto – “Signos de uma escrita imóvel”. In Helena Almeida: A minha obra é o meu corpo, o meu corpo é a minha obra. Porto: Fundação de Serralves, 2015, p. 30.