There is a flight

(In a happy coincidence, I visited this exhibition with Ernesto Ceriz, artist, thinker and tireless instigator. The joint visit, for which I am very grateful, fuelled some of my impressions in this piece).

The starting point of the exhibition O Dia Soturno was a reflection on notions of inspiration and artistic creation. This is also visible in the motto that is in the poster image: Melancholia I, fixed by Albrecht Dürer in one of three engravings he made between 1513 and 1514. Medieval scholastic concepts converged in them: Knight, Death and the Devil – the moral; St Jerome in His Study – intellectual activity; and this Melancholy I [1] – the theological and contemplative field. The figure contemplated by the German artist is depicted through the features of an embittered being, presumably in a time of creative crisis, as is said by critics who consider the piece to be a self-portrait by Dürer. At the time this engraving was made, we were transitioning from the medieval era to the Renaissance. And melancholy was considered one of the four humours that ruled the human being. Ultimately, that sorrowful state would lead to madness; but it would also lead to the aesthetic urge, toward artistic and creative genius. The gloomy and distressing moments before creation emerge on the face of the thoughtful being: the working tools on the floor, the sand clock above his head, like shackles of thought, a dejected angel in front of him, taking notes in a small notebook. And distracted, in the protagonist’s right hand, a compass (a sign of rigour, of uncompromising science). How to live that moment? How to represent today the anguish of creation, that gloom, that melancholy?

A possible answer is found in the five pieces in the church of Convento de Santo António, Loulé, made by two artists whose career has recently passed through this region: Patrícia Serrão (1987-), whose first exhibition in Lisbon took place in 2018; and Edgar Massul (1963-), who joined the exhibition circuit in 1986. The place where they show O Dia Soturno is a desecrated temple, one of the city’s most artistically active municipal venues, enjoying the collaboration with Miguel Cheta, curator of this exhibition and responsible for some of the most interesting proposals exhibited in recent years in this space. Loulé has made the convent available for shows by final-year students from the Visual Arts course at the University of the Algarve, celebrating art as a bridge between the academic world and the community – with both the curator and the two artists being members of and collaborating with this course.

The aim was to present pieces built especially for this occasion and the venue. They are all from 2023, allowing us to think about suffering related to artistic creation or as a result of a contemplative effort, of a state of creative bitterness. Annunciation. Anjo calmo, barco lento, undulante montanha (Massul) astonishes the visitor: as soon as we enter the gallery, the building’s span is sublimely occupied by a long, heavy sequence of dried eucalyptus from São Brás de Alportel, tied together by raw cloth belts, partially laid out on the ground and partially suspended in the air by steel cables at the convent’s entrance and also in the background, in the area that was once an altar. Before the title (which recalls Leonardo Da Vinci’s Annunciazione, another Renaissance work), before the relationship suggested by Dürer’s engraving, this black body cutting through the air and ground has contemporary notions within it, reminiscent of sci-fi movie monsters, menacing serpents from Dune (David Lynch, 1984), or the waving back of a dog roaming the snowy landscape of “Station 4” at the US National Institute of Science, after the opening of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). As the exhibition text implies, it may be the black bile expelled by a spleen which, in the late Middle Ages, was where melancholy humour was supposedly deposited; but it is equally a vessel’s keel, the skeleton of a salvific ship heading towards the light of an ancient altar. (In July 2022, in the exhibition with collaborations between Edgar Massul and Ângelo Gonçalves, at Associação 289, Faro, one of the most striking pieces was the structure of a barge built with reeds and blackened inner tubes, occupying several rooms of the Pontes de Marchil building). At the end of this blacked-out sequence, two complementary photographs are seen, one on either side of Anunciação, part of the series Ondulantes Montanhas, Dias Mudos (Massul). These are images of two looming mountains and the valley they form: in the space between the elevations, the air is metallic and deeply golden. Each one on one side of the altar, and with subtle differences between them, they dialogue with the dark serpent, welcoming it and hoping to shelter it – will the “Annunciation” bring to earth the news of the work, the announcement of creation revealed? It is the beginning of the exhibition, but it may be considered the end, when the visitor walks to the convent’s two side rooms, finding in each the privacy of anguish. Gloom is not in the blackness of the “Annunciation” (as that peak in the golden vision of a land beyond mountainous obstacles), but in the obscurity of the interior, intimate, subterranean spaces – in Patrícia Serrão’s two magnificent pieces.

Weeping Alice is a video sequence just under 7 minutes long, in colour and silent, projected on a loop of white fabric with an ornate hem. In close-up, at three-quarters, a woman’s face appears restless. Her eyes shed a tear. She corporeally displays the state of mind that Dürer immortalised in the inspirational etching. At the entrance to the projection chamber, almost unnoticeable, a perfume case from the 18th to 19th century, serves as a small lachrymatory and holds five exact grams of salt – the essence of tears. The other piece is in the side chapel, on the right-hand side of the church entrance. On the Frailty of Human Bonds is an impressive installation of rock salt on raw cloth and glass plates. To complete it, the municipality and the company that operates the rock-salt mine in Loulé donated 12,5 tons of rock salt, extracted, and transported to the gallery (an operation that required extraordinary logistical arrangements, confirming Loulé’s investment in contemporary art). Serrão used 9 tons, piled up as a mountain in the side chapel. More acquainted with small sculptural pieces, Serrão risked working on a larger scale, the result of which reveals comfort and an experience likely vindicated by the curatorial work: in June 2021, Miguel Cheta was one of the artists producing O osso do mar, a multi-artistic installation in Loulé’s rock salt mine, with Christine Henry and João Caiano – one of the works presented was the result of light and projection work on a mountain of rock salt. But this essay by Serrão on the frailty of human bonds has the power of unearthed space and works in close contact with the installation in the opposite room. Nine sheets of glass, vertically aligned, sting the height of the mountain built by Patrícia Serrão and communicate, through the transparency, with Alice’s lachrymose images and, in the material, with the case in which the salt is kept. The sheets over the mountain’s edge are like watch glasses in a laboratory where one measures the composition of a lament. The darkened appearance of the salt, used in the less purified version, deceives the eye, making us think of the sand of some beach. But this salt sweat leaves no room for doubt: at the edge of the cloth on the floor where the salt mound lies, as a consequence of the passing of time, the salt exudes tiny water pearls. These glassy tears affirm that creation persists in recreating itself, in keeping itself alive. The creative process is productive when it emerges from the depths of the earth; just as art emerges in the soul’s deepest gloom, so humour comes from the underground mine. Also to reach the sky, Massul’s Anunciação crawls on the tiles and wears black habits and mountains – but it ultimately reaches the light, the golden air.

The exhibition O Dia Soturno by Edgar Massul and Patrícia Serrão, curated by Miguel Cheta, is the 2023 kick-off of the third edition of the cycle of the Arts Support Programme (PAA) of Loulé Municipality. It ends on April 15 at Galeria Municipal do Convento de Santo António.



[1] As três gravuras integram a coleção do Museu Metropolitan de Nova Iorque.

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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