Na Appleton: a smoke haze under a heat wave

Two diverging stairways separate Vera Mota’s Haze from João Penalva’s Primos. Appleton Associação Cultural is known for the simultaneous duality between what is on the ground floor (SQUARE) and what is in the basement (BOX).

Gaston Bachelard (“La poétique de l’espace”, 1957) reminds us that the ground floor is the square of the day-to-day and the pragmatism of life, as we shall see later. The basement hitns to the mysterious space of the dwelling, the staircase that slowly descends under the set of lights and is a typical place of irrationality; exaggerating fears and yearnings. Isn’t the basement also the place to experiment?

A smoke haze

Haze by Vera Mota is a full and sublime experience to understand the Azores. The haze that fills the Appleton underground. The same haze that surrounds the archipelago and that in the exhibition takes on the solid or concrete stage of stone: basalt. And perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to the “state” as a process between alchemy and transmutation. Volcanic rock is the theme chosen by the artist for the Get Back cycle, celebrating Appleton’s sixteen years of existence, but it is also the object of exploration, scientific and technological research – or just curiosity regarding the physics, chemistry and aesthetics of things.

Basalt, formed after the cooling of molten lava, is one of the most common stones on the earth’s surface. It is robust, resistant and black in colour, but the artist breaks down the mineral, adding new lines to its taxonomy. She has installed in the room a laboratory for transforming the raw matter into an immateriality that eludes touch. The metamorphosis is confusing and unsettling. The stone is shredded into long, silky filaments. They are neither mane nor hair, although they seem to have the same smoothness. The metallic plinths (and it is no accident that iron is used, both for its brightness and because it is part of the composition of basalt) raise the fibres, giving body to static and volatile mannequins on the white plateau. Vera Mota leaves us lost in the tense fog between the natural and the “artificialization” of the natural, between the notorious weight of the rock and the capillary shadow beams of the (basalt) fibre. We climb the steps again, curious and aware of the rarity of the materials. We now know that basalt can take other, less inert forms.

A heat wave

Primos by João Penalva keeps the narrative simple. A projection, half a dozen chairs and sound. The room is dark and should remain so, dark and silent. It is not a cinema room, but the atmosphere seems similar. João Penalva’s work has this firm bond with cinematographic narrative, with close-ups and crops that build dialogues. Scripts with imagined lines and stories of real people, with whom we come across. Penalva moves comfortably in this promiscuity between the journalistic and documentary text and the written storyboard, often creating an intimate diary.

We cannot advise against using mobile devices or filming in the room, because we would be invalidating the following screening.

Primos shows us a scene with two boys lying on the floor. Apparently, the young men are sleeping. In the background, a fan does not keep up with the noises and voices in the background. The temperature feeling is 40 Celsius, outside in the city, not unlike the image, it’s suffocating. We soon realise that the frame is not moving, and so are the helical blades of the fan, and the two cousins. The image is a memento that Penalva captured using an ordinary smartphone (so it is said in the exhibition text written by Carlos Vargas). The artist has frozen a long audible narrative, somewhere in a distant East, where we hear stories of ordinary people “abroad”. Are those boys really asleep?, we ask at a certain point. And why on the floor?

The floor of the scene is honed concrete, just like Appleton’s pavement. The floor is also Yasujirō Ozu’s plane, stable and aligned to the centre. The chair we sit in is the western structure. All this sets the scene for us as indiscreet voyeurs, who are outsiders and strangers. We maintain the role of spectator narrator, hoping to understand the action. Once again, Penalva leaves fiction open, like a game for word-filling, blending reality and illusion, the indiscreet reader and the attentive spectator.

Haze by Vera Mota is part of the Get Back exhibition cycle curated by Carolina Trigueiros, the artist’s second exhibition to see at BOX until July 5. Primos de João Penalva can be visited until July 15.

Frederico Vicente (Lisbon, 1990) master in architecture (FA-UL), researcher and independent curator (postgraduate at FCSH-UNL). In 2018, he founded the Sul e Sueste curatorship collective, a platform that aims to be a hinge between art and architecture, territory and landscape. As a curator he has regularly collaborated with the INSTITUTO, in Porto, from which we highlight exhibitions such as "How to find the centre of a circle" by Emma Hornsby and "Handmade" by Ana Paisano. He was also the curator of the exhibitions "Espaço, Tempo, Matéria", Convento da Verderena, Barreiro; "Fleeting Carpets and Other Symbiotic Objects" by Tiago Rocha Costa, AMAC, Barreiro or "Do Território aos Lugares", Museu de Almada, Almada, among others. Professional activity orbits mainly around the multiple ramifications of architecture.

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