Para Aurélia: Desenhos de Fuga at Museu do Porto – Casa Marta Ortigão Sampaio

Celebrating Aurélia de Sousa’s 157th birthday (1866-1922), Museu do Porto opens Para Aurélia: Desenhos de Fuga, curated by Cristina Regadas and Rita Roque, at Casa Marta Ortigão Sampaio, recalling the artist born in the city with a fresh exhibition approach to the collection, with works by Aurélia in dialogue with those of her sister Sofia de Sousa (1870-1960), featuring portraits and self-portraits, landscapes and everyday scenes side by side with interventions by two contemporary artists living in the city, Ana Allen (1985, Porto) and Jiôn Kiim (1982, Busan, South Korea).

The conversation between the artists is the outcome of a new encounter with two of Aurélia’s sketchbooks, but also with the once-uninhabited domestic space commissioned by Marta Ortigão Sampaio from the architect José Carlos Loureiro, as well as with the collection, going beyond the boundaries of its understanding. Here, in a Warburgian spirit, multiple periods, artistic practices, symbologies and installation devices are combined, in an inside-out logic, from home to the world, in a relationship between landscapes and domestic scenes, looks and gestures, abstractions and allegories, light and darkness, fields and counter-fields, in a kind of escape, alluding to the exhibition’s title.

In the two painting rooms, consonances and dissonances establish different rhythms, looks and reflections before Aurélia and Sofia’s works. Scenes of bourgeois women’s daily life, such as reading, painting or embroidery, are portrayed in gloomy environments, emphasising the chiaroscuro, or details of objects and figures turned their backs to passers-by, revealing solitude, silence and contemplation, together with portraits and self-portraits of serious and reflective countenances. On the other hand, faces with open and broad smiles, as well as riverside, seaside and rural landscapes, silhouettes of male and female workers, painted with a different colour and freshness, reveal a new energy when compared to the artists’ surroundings. According to the curators in the exhibition text: «(…) distant and fixed glances, questioning us, or inviting us to smile. An incandescent reverberation between chiaroscuro, shadow – enigma of desire -, and elements marked by light».

Looks, gestures and elements leaving a trail. Transmutable, also in Aurélia de Sousa’s two artist’s notebooks – the fuel of the exhibition project -, bringing together various times, forms and materialities. The two documents, now exhibited for the first time, are presented in a dichotic projection; displayed as objects in themselves, and through moving images, emphasising their peculiar traits. One is smaller, with 41 drawings conceived between 1892-1894, and the other is larger, with 30 drawings made at the Académie Julian, Paris, between 1900 and 1901, during the artist’s stay at the renowned institution.

Ana Allen’s drawing-paintings, conceived as an installation, extend the notion of a landscape fragment, observed in Aurélia’s notebooks, recalling the reflections on Douro’s surface, with brushstrokes up to infinity, emphasised by the canvas supports that go beyond the venue’s walls; as in the oil on canvas paper Espectro de Rio (2023), or the oil on canvas Nuvem (2023), where abstraction emphasises the clouds as a mirror of nature, or even Barco-Esqueleto (2023), oil on canvas paper, where the nautical motif is ghostly diluted in the fog on the river waters.

Jiôn Kiim, honouring Aurélia’s drawings of natural elements, collected flora samples from the house garden and beaches of Porto, adding pigments, emulating vegetal and maritime variations, extending the gesture with representations of the hand alphabet or chimerical characters, in multiple supports, materials and installation environments, such as Dois cães a ladrar, Ta Tara e Ta Ta (Dança Mendicante), Lava-brancos and Passagem, a set of canvases from 2023 with soft and delicate brushstrokes, as if it were an improvised dance. However, the installation Tableaux Vivant (2023), where shapeless and translucent masks resemble spirits and the dialectic of Japanese Noh theatre, which brings together singing, pantomime, music and poetry, side by side with family photographs taken from collections. Pictures arranged as an imagery atlas (according to the curatorial text), composed of everyday scenes, interiors and exteriors, family and individual portraits, architectures and natures, symbolically documents, memories or archives, analogous to the entire exhibition and context of the House-Museum, reminiscent of Aby Warbrurg’s Atlas Mnemosyne. Finally, the installation Das Denken ist ein Handwerk (thought is a craft, according to the German philosopher Heidegger) by Jiôn, consistent with the curatorial text, recalls that «working with one’s hands is the craft that makes thought possible», materialised by paintings on the library shelves, living intimately with the books, somehow extending the visitor’s body in the venue itself.

Between the galleries there is a photography room, with photographic devices and instruments associated with painting and drawing, but also stereoscopic images, adding another layer to the exhibition, emphasising a 19th-century bourgeois atmosphere, remembering the meaning of photography in pictorial artistic practices and beyond, deepening the viewer’s experience in Para Aurélia: Desenhos de Fuga.

The exhibition runs alongside a parallel programme, including the participatory performance Sala de chá by Jiôn Kiim, in reference to Chinese, Japanese and Korean tea ceremonies, as well as a drawing class with Ana Allen, both in the garden of Casa Marta Ortigão Sampaio.

Para Aurélia: Desenhos de Fuga is open until January 28, 2024 at Museu do Porto – Casa Marta Ortigão Sampaio.

Ana Martins (Porto, 1990) currently working as a researcher at i2ADS – Instituto de Investigação em Arte, Design e Sociedade, with a fellowship granted by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (2022.12105.BD) to atende the PhD in Fine Arts at Faculdade de Belas Artes da Universidade do Porto. Already holding a MA in Art Studies – Museological and Curatorial Studies from the same institution. With a BA in Cinema from ESTC-IPL and in Heritage Management by ESE-IPP. Also collaborated as a researcher at CHIC Project – Cooperative Holistic view on Internet Content, supporting the incorporation of artist films into the portuguese National Cinema Plan and the creation of content for the Online Catalog of Films and Videos by Portuguese Artists from FBAUP. Currently developing her research project: Cinematic Art: Installation and Moving Images in Portugal (1990-2010), following the work she started with Exhibiting Cinema – Between the Gallery and the Museum: Exhibitions by Portuguese Filmmakers (2001-2020), with the aim to contribute to the study of installations with moving images in Portugal, envisioning the transfer and specific incorporation of structural elements of cinema in the visual arts.

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