Deusas Solares Contemporâneas: Extrativismo em Torres Vedras, by Inês Ferreira-Norman

On 15 June, the exhibition Deusas Solares Contemporâneas: Extrativismo em Torres Vedras by Inês Ferreira-Norman, curated by Jorge Reis, opened at EMERGE‘s Casa Azul. It is an installation in which, on the gallery floor, an area is bounded within which the goddesses sculpted in copper rise above small mounds of different soils extracted from multiple locations in Torres Vedras. Symbols of this new mythology and the cults of the sun goddesses can be seen on the walls. Completing this scenario, and a key part of the show, is the artist’s book where, next to the sculptures’ photographs, the cults of the deities are described, as well as their roles and names. As in a primordial and inaugural cult, celebrated by chanting and surrounded by incense, the artist carried out a performance that day where we felt this ritualistic energy, the contact with nature and especially the connection between earth and sun, also depicted by the sunflowers laid next to the copper pieces as offerings to the goddesses.

In Western society, in terms of religion and spirituality, there is a binary system of believers and non-believers based on a monotheistic hegemony, either we believe in one god or we are atheists (a concept associated with individualism and a «supremacy of the human over the planet»); in view of this, eco-feminist Inês Ferreira-Norman proposes a kind of solar revolution translated into one of the exhibition’s main premises: «the healing of cultural values through a polytheistic and matriarchal symbolism to the cult of the Sun», as she writes in the exhibition text. Like Albert Camus’ famous quote «I do not believe in God and I am not an atheist», here we attest the complexity of each individual’s spirituality, contrasting with the simplistic and dogmatic one dictated by the status quo. In her body of work, the artist and creator of worlds builds and/or reflects her own worldview and mythology, shaped by the intersection of ecology and sustainability with spirituality, energy, science and life in society.

Before analysing the birth and the more tangible ramifications of the research and materialisation that led to what is exhibited at Casa Azul, conceptually and from an artistic perspective and training, we consider a specific name: William Blake, an artist and engraver who lived between the 18th and 19th centuries. Blake and Inês Ferreira-Norman specialised in artist’s books (both in the UK) and in the relationship between fine arts, illustration, writing and editorial design, whose conception is based on deep meanings involving art, spirituality, history and science. As in Blake, we can also notice in the «artivist’s» work an artistic and symbolic unity between the multiple spheres mentioned – in Deusas Solares Contemporâneas, sculpture, installation that includes natural resources, drawings of symbols/signs on the walls, artist’s book (with photography and writing on the goddesses and their cults) and the ephemeral performance. All elements are mutually complementary, carry the same weight and contribute to the embodiment of her worldview, consisting of her inner vision of the world and religion, moving away from conventions, and where imagination, ecology and feminism bound by concepts of fertility and vital energy through the celebration of the sun and Mother Nature prevail over a destructive capitalism, making both artists deity-makers. The cosmogonic potential of this harmony between iconographies and meanings that enable each artist to highlight their own spirituality leads to displays of mythological figures that bring together the syncretic side of a cosmology shared by multiple mythologies, cultures and languages – in Inês Ferreira-Norman, the epicentre is European – with a local and individual aspect tied to the artists’ origins and spatial, symbolic and cultural universe.

Inês Ferreira-Norman and William Blake share not only geographical, artistic and historical experiences and interests intrinsically associated with Europe, but also the ideological foundation that religion should be built by and for humanity, according to each person’s personal devotion and inner vision, following their imagination, but in tune with the collective and a balance between the wild and civilisation, nature and culture. All this sets up a kind of alphabet or hieroglyphic system of communication and invention of words and images, which start in both cases from the same material: copper – in Blake, it is used in engraving; and, in Ferreira-Norman, handled to forge the birth of the forms of contemporary goddesses. In the artist’s work, the local meets the global through this material. To better understand this statement and the two foundations that combine the inspiration in a more global (European) solar and feminine mythology and the more material and ecological aspect related to the local context of the Portuguese West, particularly Torres Vedras, an excerpt from the brief conversation we had with the artist is interesting:

I know that part of your research has emphasised the ritualistic remains (from the Chalcolithic period) at Castro do Zambujal, but I would like to know if the shapes of your copper sculptures were inspired by some of these and if the names and symbolism of the goddesses were entirely made up/fictionalised by you, or existed in that period’s mythology. I also want you to talk a bit about extractivism in Torres Vedras.

IFN: The inspirations I had regarding the Chalcolithic and Castro do Zambujal were simply foundational, i.e., I didn’t get any names or forms associated with the cult; I learnt that, in Castro do Zambujal, there is evidence of copper production and then, at a European level, there is a cult of a female entity, the Sun (…), a generic reference to the Chalcolithic period in Europe. From these two foundations, I fictionalised all the goddesses and the sculptures in the show.

The forms of the sculptures emerged from their roles, the divine inspiration according to the functions. All my work converges spiritual perspectives with scientific ones. That’s where they came from – I went to look into different roles of the sun and sunlight and how it behaves on planet Earth, and that’s where the goddesses came from. I started separating certain roles and imagining what each goddess could be. The names came from these roles. In my work, I also try to make the alliance between the local and the global – in this case, between our hillbilly region, so to speak, and Europe. I tried to use prefixes from languages that originated in Europe, I even mention in the book two of those goddesses that didn’t make it into the exhibition – for example, there was the prefix “zun”, more Nordic; the prefix “zon” is German; the prefix “hel” is Greek; then there is “sun”. All the prefixes also tried to map that European origin and combine those aspects. And, after they had a name and a role, the shape emerged in my head, related to their role and names.

Regarding extractivism in Torres Vedras, I based myself on a document that the City Council made available in 2019 (if I’m not mistaken), analysing water resources, agricultural land assets, geological resources; it’s a very extensive report and there are several maps, one of them with mining operations in the past, in the present or even in prospecting (…). That map guided me to collect the soils in the different locations. In Torres Vedras, clay, limestone are currently extracted, which is then transformed into gravel, and sand is also extracted. (…) Of course, this also happens in the exhibition, and this was one of the things that struck me greatly about the local aspect of the exhibition, as we can see the soil diversity in Torres and (…) in Casal de Vale de Canas, for example, there is another operation, that of eucalyptus. Instead of mining, it’s forestry. Another thing I found out meanwhile: (…) nowadays, even the companies that are still active in coal trading, do not produce it here in Torres, but import it from Cuba; it is processed here in Torres, because that tradition still exists, but it has become a commercial venture. Extractivism is evolving in other ways, with global ramifications.

This exhibition-tribute to Mother Nature ends on August 5.

Inês Joaquim (Torres Vedras, 1990) lives in her hometown and has been transiting between Torres Vedras and Lisbon. After a brief incursion into design at FBAUL, she graduated in Art History (FCSH - UNL) and finished the master's degree in Management and Cultural Studies (ISCTE-IUL) with the dissertation “«Inter-arts» organizations: innovation or reinvention? The case of Cooperativa de Comunicação e Cultura”. It was in this cultural association that she began her professional career, which includes working in organizations of various artistic areas, from the visual arts (at CCC) to cinema (at Leopardo Filmes), passing through performing arts such as music, animation cinema and theater (at Bang Venue and In Impetus - Acting School). In these cultural spaces, she acted in several areas, including the assistance for curatorship, cultural production and management, support for communication and the management of cultural projects’ applications for financial support.

Signup for our newsletter!

I accept the Privacy Policy

Subscribe Umbigo

4 issues > €34

(free shipping to Portugal)