Interview with Patrícia Rúbio, now on Umbigo’s cover of the month

From the past the memory is a fuse of what happened. In the present, we feed on the reflections-emotions of times gone by, hoping to return to them and enjoy their essence. There is an irresistible desire for permanence. There are so many fallible memories that insist on abandoning us.

Mafalda Ruão interviews Patrícia Rúbio, author of Umbigo’s January cover. She finds in plaster the appropriate vector to remember the past, analysing the wound that will reveal paths and phantoms. A history that, though easily forgotten, will be forever preserved in the carcass of the artefact, if we look at it. A being, a substance that tells much more about us than the weight that supports it.

Mafalda Ruão – What is your relation with the emptiness or the negative space you so often refer to?

Patrícia Rúbio – Emptiness appeared in my work when I started using plaster. When we make a mould, we also work the negative space. I began to understand this motif as part not only of the work, but also of our daily life. Emptiness is part of us because we live with it. It is the air around us which we tend to ignore. This is a conceptually powerful theme, the nature of which I have been refining.

MR – Plaster is the main starting point of your creation. Why is it so? What meaning does this material have for you?

PR – This material has fascinated me ever since I first met it, due to its potential and versatility. With plaster, I can replicate objects with different materials through moulds, as if it were a puzzle. This is a challenging and complex technique. I like plaster’s ability to capture detail and being able to use its sensitivity and ephemerality. It’s like an organism. It goes from powder to liquid state, hardens, swings between wet and dry, cold and hot and then cold again… I have a very close relationship with plaster through touch. I like to think of it as a document, a photograph with relief. This is one of the most complete materials I have ever used and I feel I have a new opportunity to get to know it better with each work.

MR – When looking at your work – Para ti avô, 2016; Arquivo morto; 2018; Marcas presentes, 2019; O tempo libera-nos, 2019; Reminiscência de um lugar, 2019 -, I feel the element of time. A sense of the past, of the lingering echo and the effects of passing years. What connects or brings you back to time past?

PR – Memory is an unreliable partner. The more I look back, the more uneasy I feel. I can’t recapture what has passed. I am only left with brief visual passages and sensations. The failure to retrieve the present is bewildering. Everything is so fleeting. I also try to look at the passing of the years with a positive outlook. I often look back to the past when I want to guide myself into the future. My works are like emotional diaries, which I revisit so as not to forget the events that have influenced me. I also have the habit of collecting objects that identify a place or a person, and I end up mirroring this gesture in my works.

MR – Speaking of your interest in collecting referents of times past, what does Arquivo Morto, 2018 express? Aren’t archives always dead until we touch them?

PRArquivo Morto was an intuitive experiment with a documentary and performative moment. I had been exploring techniques to transfer the mark of a particular surface onto plaster. This work came about during that process. In a sort of race against time, I worked with the duration of the plaster’s hardening, laying the fabric on the surface, soaking into the material until I couldn’t go on. In the end, I gathered the sheets with the intent of abandonment to mark the end of the action, hence the name. By being abandoned it is as if it did not exist, or was ‘dead’, and only re-emerges when I look at it, when I change its position or order.

MR – Totens follows the same reasoning, on show at Galeria Municipal Palácio Quinta da Piedade. What objects do you put in the exhibition and how do they give identity, soul and meaning to the venue?

PR – They are objects that I found in my grandparents’ garage. I like to look at that place as a time capsule, with stored and abandoned objects. During the process, I had my grandma’s company. As I was “digging” the place and rescuing some items, I would ask her what they meant and what their stories were. I also realized that the choice of these Totems comes from my experience, as I followed the evolution of that space and of those who inhabited it. The garage, if it didn’t have those objects arranged in that way, would not be the same. All the intervening parties in charge of creating that scenario are depicted there, even without being present, adding meaning. We create and arrange objects. That is our hallmark. Our identity materialized in a place.

MR – In Marcas Presentes, 2019, you say there is “a moment of contemplation and reflection – the marks of the present will be the memories of the future.” Did you go one step further with these pieces, trying to deliver a broader message (e.g. ecological or political)?

PR – Yes, I also created them with an awareness intention. Art is one of the mediums that stirs up the ability to observe and listen. In Marcas Presentes, I featured two confrontations: a crater resulting from a meteor impact and the emergence of an iceberg; a moment very far from us and one very much present. At the time, I researched articles about natural disasters caused or not by mankind and the impact they had and will have on our society and other species. We coexist as a single organism. Nature teaches us that. In each chain we can observe the fragile balance that binds us together. Action causes reaction.

MR – Do you believe it is possible to reconcile aesthetics, poetics and the imminent global problems in a work of art?

PR – Yes, the artist and his work are one. The work is the reflection of the creator’s restlessness and world view, of the society in which they are included and of their aesthetic and poetic sensibility. That is what I try to do with my work. For me, it has always been easier to communicate through plastic language.

MR – Future plans?

PR – The first goal is to move to a larger work space. The scale of what I produce is very much influenced by the place where I create. I am in a moment of expansion. I also want to continue studying, learning and improving techniques. It’s quite a positive stimulus for my creative process.

Master in Curatorial Studies from the University of Coimbra, and with a degree in Photography from the Portuguese Institute of Photography in Porto, and in Cultural Planning and Management, Mafalda develops her work in the areas of production, communication and activation, within the scope of Photography Festivals and Visual Arts - Encontros da Imagem, in Braga (Portugal) and Fotofestiwal, in Lodz (Poland). She also collaborated with Porto / Post / Doc: Film & Media Festival and Curtas Vila do Conde-Festival Internacional de Cinema. In 2020, and she was one of those responsible for the curatorial project of the exhibition “AEIOU: Os Espacialistas em Pro (ex)cess”, developed at Colégio das Artes, University of Coimbra. As a photographer, she was involved in laboratory projects of analogue photography and educational programs for Silverlab (Porto) and Passos Audiovisuais Associação Cultural (Braga), while dedicating herself to photography in a professional format or, spontaneously, in personal projects.

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