They swirl (because we swirl): André Costa and Inês Mendes Leal at Brotéria
The exhibition They Swirl, by Brazilian André Costa and Portuguese Inês Mendes Leal, opened at Brotéria on August 1 – the first day of a month in which the wind, once highly prevalent, appears to have left Lisbon – giving us back some much-needed fresh air. Among installations, paintings, embroideries and collected objects, a group of seven works draws on the image and science of the wind to consider the encounter between two different bodies.
A nomadic and uncatchable traveller, a foretaste of times to come or routes from bygone eras, a marker of gaps and voids, the wind – like water, fire and earth – has also been used as an analytical device for ecological and decolonial discourse. Such is the case, for instance, with the most recent edition of the Liverpool Biennial, curated by Khanyisile Mbongwa: by choosing the word “uMoya” – from isiZulu “wind”, “breath” or “spirit” – as her motto, the South African sociologist and curator tackles the conceptual intervention of wind in the port city, which makes the hair stand on end and agitates the soul. What did the wind feel like in the bones of your ancestors? How can air – and the absence of it, from the basements of slave ships to George Floyd’s assassination – be used as a somatic response to violence, but also to pleasure and intergenerational and more-than-human bonding?
They swirl – a title taken from the song The Word Hurricane by the French duo AIR – takes us on many paths. This straightforward approach can definitely be thought of as a starting point for a conversation on the distances and influences between the artists themselves, their bodies, their practices and their origins. At different scales, air and its paths are physical manifestations – albeit without colour or form – of otherness, of the contrast between masses, temperatures and velocities. When the focus moves to the perception of the wind, the moment or place of the encounter also loses its distinctness; after all, as the video Weather report (2023) shows, two points can almost never exist in the same place and still be affected by the same motion. The experiment Som a soprar (2023), by Inês Mendes Leal, or the mountainous deformations in Mexível #3 (2023), by André Costa, allow us to walk with our eyes and ears over a recently experienced force, which has already been felt and continues to produce and replicate its effects – one should not forget that, since Aristotle, the definition of “touch” includes both the tangible and the intangible.
Aesthetics has always been interested in this question: what kind of image can the unrepresentable have? Or how do we produce an image that is closer to a bodily sensation than a visual illustration? Can an image take the place of the thing itself and stop being merely an appearance? The gap between André and Inês narrows down here: in both artists’ bodies of work, there is a particular concern with breaking down the pictorial, with uncovering the almost sculptural potential of a figure. More than a process of reduction to “pure form”, it involves exploring the ways in which the physicality of an image can also be tainted and transformed by gestures in the world.
Inês, who grew up on a sailing boat, considers the sea to be the best representation of the wind. Her creations always imply the act or game of spiralling – of waters, of whirlpools, of time – and remind us that there is always some lack of control, some danger, in the idea of sailing through the air. Brazilian schools (perhaps also in Portugal?) have long been told that Pedro Álvares Cabral had arrived in the indigenous lands by accident, after the squadron he was leading deviated from its original route due to a storm. Whilst this story has long been dismissed as too “accidental”, They Swirl also appears to be making a critical remark about this Western journey of wind conquering, which has been so prevalent in the Portuguese and colonial imagination (Gabinete de Curiosidades, 2023). As a matter of fact, the wind and its routes will always be as unforeseeable as the bodies that move around and spread out in the world. This surprise is the foundation of their (our) freedom.
They swirl is on show at Brotéria in Lisbon until September 16, 2023.