The 2023 Jov’Arte Biennial and Portuguese-style melancholy

Ready to go: Portuguese-style melancholy properly served with biological sprinkles of loneliness.

This could have been the title of the article. We must, however, inform the reader exactly about the subject (so to speak) that this is about to deal with. Given that the intended title is fairly generic, as we can find its entire contents on any street corner in Portugal, whether in a café or a public service centre, we need to point out that this is a youth art biennale. Have I grabbed your attention with my unsolicited social critique? Well, let’s get to the feature.

Jov’arte | Bienal Jovem 2023 is an initiative run by the Loures City Hall, aimed at promoting innovative artistic creation and rewarding the work of young artists. By young, we mean those aged between 18 and 35. Notwithstanding the wide age range of what distinguishes a young person these days (who should we blame?), Jov’arte this year still succeeds in tapping into the numerous youthful sides of those who have established themselves as a by-product of Lusophony.

Candidates were invited to apply via an open call, during which the works go through three stages, including pre-selection, work submission and selection, as well as awards. The three cash prizes to be given vary between 1.000 and 2.000 euros, from last to first place, and the works will be added to the Municipal Visual Arts Collection. The winner will also have the chance to hold a solo exhibition in a municipal venue, to be held following the competition.

This year’s jury consisted of Fernando Lopes, Edgar Pires, Mariana Viana, Maria Peixoto Martins, Rita Leitão and Paulo Pires Vale, who jointly shortlisted the twenty-seven young artists who are exhibiting now at the Vieira da Silva Municipal Gallery, in an exhibition organised as part of the Biennale. The selected artists are: Afonso Laranjeira, Beatriz de Castro, Beatriz Manteigas, Bernardo Cantigas, Daniel Xavier, Eduardo António, Eduardo Freitas, Filipa Branco Jaques, Gonçalo C. Silva, Guilherme Proença, Ildefonso Pontes, Leonardo Sousa, Lúcia Fernandes, Luísa Ramires, Madalena Bettencourt, Madalena Pequito, Margarida Fernandes, Margarida Franco Rodrigues, NAIDA, Nicoleta Sandulescu, Patrícia Rúbio, Pedro Cunha, Pedro Hugo Vilanova, Tiago Leonardo, Tito Chambino, Tristan Le Guay and Vítor Alves Silva.

Eduardo Freitas was awarded first prize for his work Cem em pregos (2022), Patricia Rúbio second for Sol Negro (2022-23) and Madalena Bettencourt third for Som, aqui tens voz (2022-23). Pedro Cunha and his work Ensaio sobre a experiência de ser inútil (2022-23) also got an honourable mention. The remaining shortlistees were honoured with the title of finalists.

I would like to single out Eduardo Freitas’ work, presenting it as a thematic overview of this exhibition, since it undeniably acknowledges the melancholy of the young Portuguese-speaking person, one who is attached to nature and their primal memories. Cem em pregos (2022) does not describe the Portuguese-speaking personality (like a story with facts and narratives), but rather shows us, through one hundred pregos (traditional Portuguese beef sandwich) carved in glazed ceramics, the cultural unity of a chewed-up nation. One that will be masticated, piece by piece, by the harsh reality of a bleak social context, served on hot plates from a prego ordered in any café. Inexpensive, quick and simple, inversely proportional to the steps needed to bring about the required resolution to such a complex problem. Each prego by Freitas is unique, just like the acidic stomach of anyone who chooses to swallow it.

Another prize-winner, Patrícia Rúbio creates fossils from the recent past in Sol Negro (2022-23). To whom does our memory belong? To the pages of a family album? Rúbio raises these questions in the spectator. The artist uses plaster’s negative space as a language and takes on “the detail of the touched surface”, as well as “the fragility of this process”. The traces have texture, relief, which once again do not tell us stories, but rather show us, like evidence of memory to be rescued with the palm of our hands.

Madalena Bettencourt, the third prize-winner, is exhibiting Som, aqui que tens voz (2022-23), in which she explores the sculptural potential of sound space. The artist seeks to invite the viewer to realise the relevance of sound as a constitutive spatial element.

To also let readers know what exists beyond the works of the prize-winners, I will provide four more brief descriptions of personal highlights from this exhibition, which are also worth your attention.

Filipa Branco Jaques with Em espera (2022-23), the only piece outside the gallery building, efficiently builds a sound sculpture by positioning the viewer in the centre of a telephone booth, where no one can be reached, but where the lingering noises of anonymous lives can be heard.

Guilherme Proença straddles the line between tension and attachment in Hang In There (2022). A photo series examining abandoned places in unconventional and unexplainable states. I would like to point out the image that reveals a cross adorned with decaying flowers in its centre.

With her work Peito (2023), Margarida Franco Rodrigues oozes feminine distress and extols all the thorns that run through a woman’s experience.

Lastly, Tiago Leonardo presents The saddest thing you will ever see (about intimacy) (2023), simulating intimate situations just for the sake of simulating them, “immersed in a solitary atmosphere, filled with lies that is as much a feature of photographic production as it is of art itself”.

Running until March 30, 2024, the exhibition, a must-see, features a constellation of charged signs. Unique in their means and motifs, bearing in their contours the essence of this country’s young art: melancholy, served with biological sprinkles of loneliness.

Maria Eduarda Wendhausen (Rio de Janeiro, 2000). She graduated in Art and Heritage Sciences from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Lisbon and is a student of the Masters in Criticism, Curatorship and Theories of Art from the same institution. She also studied at Sotheby's Institute of Art on the Writing for the Art World, From Idea to Submission course. She works as a writer and curator in Lisbon, Portugal. She collaborated with Manicómio in the Pavilhão31 exhibition space and with Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa. Her last performance as a curator, took place at ARCOLisboa2022 with the exhibition CRACK THE EGG of the Millennium bcp Youth Art Prize, in 2022. In 2023, she started collaborating with CentralC as content manager. She writes regularly for scientific and specialized magazines as a freelancer in the field of art criticism, as well as features and academic essays, with the aim of disseminating and promoting to the general public, the multiple facets of art studies and their unfolding in everyday life.

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