The 2023 Prémio Arte Jovem nominees
On this very website last year, I penned an essay looking at the aspects that make up the Millennium BCP Prémio Arte Jovem (PAJ) [Youth Art Prize]. Its history allowed us to examine its development and, consequently, its inherent effects. For the 2022 edition, the awarded artists were given the opportunity to experience (in different ways) specific career progressions. Such as residencies beyond the prizes and multiple successive exhibitions, which confirms the PAJ’s initial intention: to mobilise reactions towards the professional future of young artists.
In 2023, the prize’s resounding success was once again borne out by the high number of entries. The jury this time consisted of Brazilian artist duo Rosana Ricalde and Filipe Barbosa, as well as Brazilian university professor Glória Diógenes and Canadian curator Katherine Sirois, who jointly decided on the ten shortlisted for the prizes, keeping with the former logic of them being awarded to all candidates, horizontally, without any of the prizes being better than the other in value.
This year’s shortlist contains some well-known names on the Portuguese art scene, either for their work in national galleries or for their involvement in artistic residencies in the city of Lisbon. In any case, this year’s chosen fully embody the greatness that the young artists of this new wave have to offer. Without exception, all of them capture the sublime in the very Kantian sense of the word.
Given the absence of historical distance between us and contemporary art, to write about works made in our time, classifying them as belonging to a specific movement and thus judging them on the basis of this framework, is an impossible undertaking. To avoid being confronted by the misleading abyss of the poiesis of art criticism, the primary purpose of this text is to introduce the selected artists, who will be exhibiting their works this October 2023 at Pavilhão 31 (P31), housed within the Lisbon Psychiatric Hospital Center. Keeping it simple, the exploratory methodology of this essay attempts to answer three questions:
Who are the shortlisted artists?
What are they exhibiting at P31 today?
What is it like to exhibit at P31?
As mentioned earlier, some of the selected artists already have vast previous experience. However, their portfolios do not vary in material or aesthetic quality. Certain subjects appear repeatedly in the portfolios of those selected for PAJ 2023, such as the significance of artistic practice, performance, building on everyday life, research into the media, the media as a vehicle, or even as a discourse. This could mean the rise of new trends and influences to be seen in the art market over the next few years.
In this respect – drum roll – the 10 selected are:
Anastácia Marques (Sintra, Portugal), who focuses on making sculptural pieces out of fabrics and other seemingly simple materials, exploring subjects related to ecology and social issues. At P31 she is exhibiting Actas (2020), Hoje é Primavera (2023) and Retalhos (2023). Whilst they are not part of the current exhibition, his photography series ANIMUS (2021) also stands out for its aesthetic interest.
Ânia Pais (S. Miguel, Portugal), like Marques, also works with textiles as a medium; but Pais defines her work as performative, starting in the studio and spreading to the viewer. According to the artist, her only work on show, titled Uma vida debaixo de terra (2023), emerged from exploring nature itself. Wandering through a nearby forest, previously hit by fires, she identified two remaining trunks. The traces, those “bodies left behind, torn from life”, have inspired her to rescue and bring them to the studio, where she can finally start to give them body and substance again. Fostering and perpetuating the movement.
Henrique Biatto (Belo Horizonte, Brazil) encompasses the fields of drawing, sculpture and installation, using everyday objects as a springboard for artistic re-elaboration. His approach centres on the exploration of space and the enquiry of situations, placing the accent on everyday life and the broadening of meanings. He is exhibiting Gaiola 2022, Left, right (2020), Orehla (2022) and Panorama (2021).
Hugo Castilho’s (Setúbal, Portugal) work manifests itself on the canvas surface, making use of an intersection between sculpture and drawing, often through three-dimensional forms. His works also illustrate daily themes, past experiences and social issues. He is exhibiting A avó toma 17 comprimidos por dia (2022), Alegria de viver! (2022) and Sopas, legos, proverbios, beijos, gritos e dedos do meio, avó, tu cuidou de mim e eu retribuí, até ao fim (2023).
Joana Duarte (Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal) explores the deconstruction and destruction of analogue photographic images to contest the representation of an ostensibly idealised happy and familiar childhood. She is examining the relationship between memory, the photographic image and false memories, using chemical processes to create ghostly images. The exhibition project A picture is worth a thousand lies (2021) calls into question the deceptive nature of photography when forming and tampering with memories.
João Motta Guedes (Lisbon, Portugal) is showing two of the most interesting installations in the exhibition, Monument to Kafka (2022) and Untitled (How small a thought it takes – after Wittgenstein and Steve Reich) (2022). Guedes centres on poetic discourses and narratives to dreamily discuss issues related to society and life. His work comprises images loaded with metaphors that prompt reflection, raising the viewer’s consciousness to a utopian perspective and, by doing so, he harnesses poetry as a way of answering the questions raised.
In Margarida Bolsa’s (Lisbon, Portugal) work, as in her entire artistic practice, the material and technique are turned to the service of the idea. She is exhibiting A obra dos insultos (2022), Bons Sonhos (2022) and Sem título (2023). According to Bolsa: “The use of basic materials and lines reinforces this mental and visual simplicity and slowly builds up the relationship between two points – far apart, connected, surrounded, joined to form one, which inevitably retains a kind of interaction and connection.”
Mariana Maia Rocha (Porto, Portugal) explores skin as a metaphor for collapse and transformation, employing latex to build dialogues between surface, time and the body. Her practice uses elements of light, clarity and layers to engage the viewer in the relationship between visible and invisible. She is showing Muro (2023), Porta – Até que a porta nos separe (2023) and Rua (2023).
Martîm (Funchal, Portugal) deals with the subject of the sensory body within a fantasy nature setting, encouraging the experience of an intimate space, where the dualities between restriction and intimacy, nature and urbanity come together. His work uses a specific palette to create a oneiric and cosy atmosphere, enriched with symbols and symbolic elements. He is exhibiting Paraísos Urbanos III (2022) and Pneuma (2022).
Finally, Paula König (Germany), an artist whose practice primarily involves painting, research and installation, focusing on poetic, non-extractive gestures that open up room for images, specific cultural histories, scientific data, emotions and care. She is exhibiting Cosmic Biographies, bye, bye until 50,000 years from now (2023), O sistema de irrigação da Chamaerops Humilis (2023), Para o Barroso… [conversa em traduções] (2023), Para o Barroso… [planta e pinhaI] (2023) and Zeit ist glitschig: across heathlands and heat waves (2023).
The exhibition includes a large number of works, ranging from one to six works by each artist, spread over the 200 square metres of exhibition area at P31. The 2023 exhibition allows each piece to be appreciated individually, without the different signs clashing with each other, a positive aspect compared to last year’s exhibition.
P31’s site is a double heterotopia, a Foucauldian idea referring to a utopia situated in our reality (or our concrete space of action). In other words, a shift within materiality itself. P31 was initially a psychiatric hospital warehouse, but it was transformed into a contemporary art venue, regularly exhibiting works by artists associated with Manicómio/P28, including Filipe Cerqueira in this exhibition, as well as guest artists from PAJ 2023.
In other words, visitors have access to two realities: one connected to a psychiatric hospital context and the other to a contemporary art gallery. Where one never overlooks the former and certainly the latter always plays a role in its existence, making it another place that, in remodelling itself, also remodels the subjects inside it. A good place for a young art prize, I reckon.
The prize-giving ceremony is scheduled for November 9 and the exhibition is open until November 11. I advise you to visit it, get to know the selected artists and their awards. Have a chat with them and try to feel a breath of fresh air – after all, this is what a youth art prize is for. Without the public and the change that comes with it, we are just generating data and never-ending tags on social media.