And Now What?: Rúrí at Museu Internacional de Escultura Contemporânea de Santo Tirso
And Now What? by the Icelandic artist-activist Rúrí, at MIEC, curated by Álvaro Moreira, presents multiple installations, where we highlight Forest (2022-23), made deliberately for the exhibition project, with the ashes and remaining burnt trees from the local forests, consequence of the 2022 wildfires. The exhibition underlines the restlessness of Rúrí’s art, in particular the climate crisis and the consequent rise in the average sea level, the forest fires and the temperature of local ecosystems, which reveal inequalities in access to drinking water, other natural resources and better living conditions in both human and non-human beings. The title’s questioning stresses the need for us to reflect on new ways of living on the planet, caring and respecting all living and non-living beings.
Rúrí, born in 1951 in Reykjavik, renowned as a pioneer in performance and installation, uses different artistic expressions. Albeit heterogeneous, they have coherence, consistency and logical progression, motivated by philosophical notions, such as «identity, time, cosmos, relativity and environment» , unfolding as she adds new possibilities to her art and installation world. As German art historian and curator Christian Schoen says in the preface to the artist’s dedicated monograph: «for Rúrí art is language. It allows her to express herself in ways that would be unfeasible through the written or spoken word. The artist addresses important notions for all of us; she raises questions about life and coexistence, about cosmic coherence; she challenges the relativity of objects and phenomena, questioning the system of coordinates with which we structure the environment» . Rúrí, considered an artist-activist, uses her art as political or social agency to voice concerns about her surroundings, advocating «decolonisation, feminism, environmental and political justice, and human/non-human rights», as the exhibition text tells us. Activist artis a term used to describe artistic practices addressing political or social issues, through actions that nurture experiences and challenge power structures. The renowned art professor and researcher Boris Groys, in the text On Art Activism (2014), states that the major theoretical, political and practical issue of today’s discussions on activist art is to be at an ambiguous point, between art and activism. Criticism rests mainly on the notions of aestheticisation and spectacle associated with the theses of Walter Benjamin and Guy Debord, who argued that the aestheticisation and spectacularization of politics cancels out the practical goals of activism. But the author concludes the following: «Contemporary activist art being captive to this contradiction is good. Firstly, because only self-contradictory practices are true, in the deepest sense of the word. And secondly, because, in the contemporary world, only art points to the possibility of revolution as radical change, beyond our current desires and expectations.» In And Now What?, Rurí displays this desire and possibility for change.
When we enter MIEC, we see Elimination II (2006), photographs of waterfalls that have disappeared due to dam construction in Kárahnjúkar, Iceland, as well as others affected by hydroelectric development. Water is a commonplace feature in Rúrí’s work, as are waterfalls, one of the most powerful ways of representing this element that flows across the globe. The serialisation of the photographs underlines the water issue; firstly, by the way the dams are borders between us and the surrounding elements, considering the devastating way in which humanity has extracted the planet’s natural resources and the scarcity of water in many areas of the Earth due to climate change. Then, when we go down to level -1, we find Future Cartography XIII (2023), an ongoing installation composed of five screens with map fragments, for example of seas and oceans near India, Portugal or Iceland, based on a long cartographic tradition. They allow us to study the possible future of coastlines, based on calculations of the water mass released during the complete melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, by collecting data in public international databases. This is another warning about the climate crisis and the rise in the average sea level, where water is the main element, as well as the repetition, analytical process, reflection and action facing the problem. There runs a similarity with the installation Water Balance IV, where the artist places one hundred and twenty translucent glass jars, partially filled with water, on two steel shelves with bars. This emphasises the importance of the liquid element as the most precious commodity of life.
There is also World Map Laboratory (2023), a lab-like installation. It has instruments and allusive decoration, where we hear the ticking of several clocks in the room. The work was activated by a performance at the opening, where the artist took several pages from a world atlas, turning each one into pieces in an electronic paper shredder. She then placed them in a transparent cellophane bag, with a label containing the same caption as the original book page, hanging them on a wall. On the same floor, the looping video ITEMS (1978-2006) underlines the idea of sequence, showing words on the screen under a skyline.
After walking up again, we proceed in a narrow corridor surrounded by transparent cellophane bags with the remains of burnt forest ashes, where there is this description: Steps in the Forest (2022) – Step Twenty – Santo Tirso 2023. Footsteps that lead us to Forest (2022-23), a kind of carpet in the corridor of the old monastery, made up of ashes, pine cones and parts of burnt trees from nearby forests, such as Monte Córdova, Santa Cristina do Couto and São Miguel do Couto, destroyed by last year’s fires. As we walk through it, we can smell the ashes, as if we were at a funeral ceremony, or even a cemetery. These are the remnants of beings that once had life, evoking the blight of the frequent fires in our country and in other parts of the world. There are also quotes by the artist on her experience in the forests inscribed on the walls of adjoining rooms, belonging to the permanent exhibition of Museu Municipal Abade Pedrosa (MMAP).
To conclude, and answering to the title And Now What? which urges a reflection, a possible change and a desire for a better world in face of the climate crisis, we recall the sci-fi precursor We (1920) by the author Evgueni Zamiatine. Before the first flight experience of the Integral, of which the character will be part, he and E- enter into a heated exchange. She intends to sabotage the mission and instigate a revolution, ending the regime where they live. He attempts to dissuade her, explaining how absurd this action will be, believing that the last revolution had already been carried out and that everyone is happy. E-questions: And then what? What comes next? Reflecting later: «- Children are the only daring philosophers. And the daring philosophers are all children. And we can’t help but pose the question that children ask: «And then what?»
And Now What? by Rúrí is at MIEC until June 25, 2023.
 Schoen, C. (2011). Preface. Em H. Cantz, Rúrí monograph (p. 6). Ostfieldern. From: https://ruri.is/the-artist/
 Groys, B. (June, 2014). E-flux Journal. From On Art Activism: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/56/60343/on-art-activism/
 Zamiatine, E. (2017). We. Lisbon: Antígona. (p. 208).