Como uma Ilha sobre o Mar: Lourdes Castro, at MUDAS
We have lost our shadow. The individual one, which silently follows us in the stroboscopic light of the night, of the cities, of the moving car headlights; the collective one, because Time is different, it is not like before, but solitary; that of Humanity, whose concept has been relativised, to be eclipsed and lost forever. Modernity, which, notwithstanding all the positive things it brought, also eliminated the meaning of existence in view of the Lights, the shadow of our whims, flattened on the ground, on the white, essential wall, near us – the archive of our faults and frailties. That black, dull, abstract thing; that vaguely melancholy thing, which mocks its agent, condenses the horror and testifies to the weaknesses of our actions is fading. Because we must either be positive or positivist. Because we must be fast and omnipresent. Because we must be the light of everything, glowing like the shadowless sun. Because we must forget the black, sad and shapeless, which brings otherness, harshness, heaviness to life that is meant to be clean, polished, light.
As children, we play with the shadow that mutually follows us; as adults, we separate ourselves from it, willing to feign life, events, the acceleration of Time and Space, kicking what is hideous; when we are old, we look at it with suspicion, with fear, as if it contained the gist of what we were and could not be, of what we had achieved or tried to be, and we want to push it away forever, to get rid of that obnoxious, repressive thing.
In The Child and the Shadow, Ursula K. Le Guin recalls Hans Christian Andersen’s tale where the character breaks away from his shadow to the point where neither one nor the other can enter the House of Beauty, whose guardian is the Muse of Poetry. To enter this house, one had to be willing to face the shadow’s bare, sibylline truth. According to Le Guin, “Reduced to daytime language, Andersen’s story says that the man who is unwilling to challenge and accept his shadow is a lost soul” and that art is indebted to that shadow. Using the work and complex Jungian terminology, the rest of the essay allows the shadow to be reconciled with its owner, reasserting the power of imagination, literature and poetry, in the broadest sense of the term.
We are all an expression of Lucifer, the bearer of light. When we light a candle, we bring out a shadow, Le Guin taught us.
We bring these words to mind in reference to Lourdes Castro’s work, now presented at MUDAS.Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Madeira to celebrate a life dedicated to art.
The shadow has a constant presence in Lourdes Castro’s oeuvre. It represents a personality, an ego, a consciousness visible in the simplicity of the clean, minimal, essential trace. The shadow whispers to us the dead hours of the day, intimate moments spent as a couple, the psychological profile of the person portrayed, tiredness, joy, sadness, the vibrancy of life. The two-dimensional shadow superimposes itself on its three-dimensional master. And, through it, we see all the conceivable colours of a personality.
Like all great art, Lourdes Castro’s work reconciles us with our shadows. It is an anagogic, mystical-religious phenomenon, where the symbols acquire a transcendental profile and lead us back to our shadow, after we have pushed it away with the lights of modernity at the speed of daily life.
The artist celebrates the shadow as a key element of balance, bristling with opposites in perfect synthesis, just like the Buddhist teachings crucial in Castro’s art. The shadow is naked reality, embodying the individual: yin-yang, full-empty, light-dark, life-death.
Castro immortalised her shadow, as well as that of her friends and family. She sewed it on cloths, wove it into carpets, painted it on tiles, and cut it into juxtapositions of coloured planes. Gestures acquire an abstract and elusive nature, but nevertheless present; bodies obtain an almost innocent quality but above all a ghostly one. Tiny trifles: a cigarette in the hand, a scratchy word, an embrace, a child lying down, a couple sleeping – the wonder of forms brought down to the line, the wonder of Space outlined and subtracted on several planes, of Time crystallised on the canvas, on the glass, on the wall, on the floor, on the bright fluorescent plastic. Tiny worlds: a seagull, a starling, a bag, many bags, countless bags… despite her devotion to Nature, Castro’s work is about modernity, so obvious in the Parisian period and abundantly displayed in the exhibition Como uma Ilha sobre o Mar: Lourdes Castro, curated by Márcia de Sousa.
Though not a comprehensive anthology, Como uma Ilha sobre o Mar reveals Lourdes Castro’s greatest moments, her ingenuity, her delight in drawing materiality, her use of traditional languages, such as tapestry from Portalegre or embroidery from Madeira, the possibilities of plexiglass, her dedication to artist series and artist’s books, etc. From painting to installation, from serigraphy to the assemblage of graphic materials or objects, her work was a wide world, displayed here in full, with more than 300 works from several public and private institutions, as well as a dense research and documentation material to support the curatorship.
We inhabit this infinite island, among shadows, bright colours, dry leaves and engraved stones. Lourdes Castro did not die; she has been transformed. She acquires a body with every exhibition, quote or recollection. She was aware of this before she died, like when someone stares at their shadow one last time and embraces it.
We could have tried a more benign approach to the shadow – or to the way Lourdes Castro understood it. Surely, the shadow may not always be as black as Jung postulated, nor as tragic as the visions of Shelley, Shakespeare or Stevenson. But that ominous thing that haunts us, that cryptic company that listens to us is the symbolic repression within us, which we try to purge and hide by using more light to forget it, only to later acknowledge that it alone tells the truth of things – the same truth that art wishes to unravel.
Long, dense, enough for us to lose ourselves and delight in it, Como uma Ilha sobre o Mar: Lourdes Castro is at MUDAS.Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Madeira until mid-2023, curated by museum director Márcia de Sousa.