The World, a Planetary Garden: Eles falam em Arco-íris at Círculo de Artes Plásticas de Coimbra
The rainbow of fairytale and children’s imagination. Something that is nothing more than an (optical) illusion, that never appears at a specific point in the sky, but nevertheless loses its magic and good fortune when it is spotted. No wonder: myths have always given shape to things. But, apart from the fulfilment of a promise or a wish, the appearance of this multicoloured arch is real. To see it, we need more to be attentive than just being in the right place at the right time. Then we must observe the reflection of sunlight at different angles, in different colours, one for each wavelength.
The Earth has formed itself, and is constantly changing, at the expense of time. Just like the rainbow, which, under certain conditions, requires a specific interval to develop, nature requires us to be calm and reflective before we can notice its presence. At Círculo de Artes Plásticas in Coimbra (CAPC), the exhibition Eles falam em Arco-Íris reflects this issue: if we quickly associate the experience in the exhibition venue with a meditated and conscious euthymia, this is the heightening of the pause. The hectic life that keeps us away from forest walks, swimming in the river and embracing the rocks is, in this case, a good “excuse” to give the clock a truce, in a move towards coexistence with the environment. But it’s inevitable to admit what seems inconsistent. Curated by Filipa Oliveira, the natural came from the outside in. It penetrated the building, occupied it, showed itself. I am left with a question: “Why do we need the gallery to display what we have found on the way here? What Jardim da Sereia shows us on a daily basis?”. In contemporary ways of looking, its existence seems trivial, a given, easily shattering connection and esteem.
Three artists talk about rainbows in the exhibition. In other words, they speak in many colours to draw our attention and counteract these invisibilities. Gabriela Albergaria, Marcelo Moscheta and Margarida Lagarto present work with methodological differences but with the same intention: engaging in dialogue with nature. However, to make this dialogue today is to mention human action. Our resourcefulness has taken us very far, a story that is written on the earth’s surface: what was once wild has been tamed or lost. We are too successful for our own good and that of the planet, we are the cause and the catalyst for the sixth great extinction. And, despite this dramatic outlook, there is still hope that we will be the first species in four billion years to understand what is happening, aware of what needs to be corrected and transformed. Albergaria, Moscheta and Lagarto’s works materialise this urgent cry, the same one that the Earth is silently communicating. Motivated by a poetic stance, this is a critique to encourage realignment between us and ecosystems, to appeal to our capacity for wonder, connection and respect for our natural surroundings, capable of healing our weak relationship with the planet.
The first room contains schist stones, lined up by Marcelo Moscheta in a normative order, like letters in an alphabet. We quickly realise that their language transgresses literal formality; we are unaccustomed to the innate poetics/dialect of natural elements. Their message carries the weight of chronology, the passage of historical time of human action, and the geological side of natural phenomena. Léxico Lítico is a metaphor for the power of geology in shaping the landscape and the effect of time on the alliance between what has and will happen. Each stone has an archaeology: past narratives and endless future possibilities. Nowadays, a precious accumulation of minerals that reveal the transmutation of the place and its species – “the landscape’s DNA“. Next to it is Gabriela Albergaria’s Textileremediation #1, an ecological, politicised and interventionist allusion. The prominent human gesture suggests that we should be aware of our harmful deeds and that we need to care for and reinvigorate the landscape. Using the ancient Portuguese technique of sewing and the Japanese sashiko, the artist combines several rags – those of art and of a paradigm shift – in a stance against waste and a call for regeneration; after all, Albergaria knows that we can always start again in the complete cycle of nature. The new language created, embodied in a patched and misaligned piece, reflects the randomness of nature and the well-known idea to which the author has accustomed us: nature abhors straight lines. The dialogue is completed with Margarida Lagarto’s Erva Seca, where a web of dried branches sprouts from a vase. This entangled reservoir underlines the shape acquired by the branches, emphasising the idea that extensive networked systems of plant and fungal roots propagate in the earth’s soils, allowing communication far beyond the visible between components of the plant world.
The second room divides the landscapes between observation, affection and the creative process. With the three pieces in Landscape in Repair, Gabriela Albergaria draws a relationship with the landscape, starting from the garden – as she has become accustomed to – to think about knowledge and power systems. In this case, it’s California’s Redwood National Park, where the route she once took bears witness to the regenerative capacity of nature without any human interference. And, in this way, she answers the finitude of the natural world with the experimental and fruitful capacity of art. By manipulating macro and micro, the artist combines reality and fiction to depict the grandeur of centuries-old trees, mirroring the historical processes and human acts that have affected them, fascinating and terrifying us. Margarida Lagarto’s approach to the way nature deals with death and transformation, and its healing process, is embroidered in tradescantia pallida purpurea. The artistic gesture is extremely delicate, with a detailed, meditative execution. Healing and care come close together. But there’s more to the piece. The preservation of this species in fabric is a paradox, if we think about the perennial life cycle of this plant. As opposed to death, perpetuation raises this question in us: perhaps we are the transient element.
Tradescantias pallidas purpureas also fill the third and final room, with the author attempting to retain their essence. The persistent preservation of the species, painted in watercolour or embroidered on cotton, epitomises the artist’s attraction and relationship with nature. In this extensive cataloguing of a single species – something particularly special for Lagarto – the call is clear: we must contemplate the invisible, experience the landscape and its complexities and expressions, even the simplest or almost unnoticeable ones. We know that plants play a decisive role in maintaining life on Earth, but we are forgetting it. This must be the graceful and obstinate cry to be reconciled with the natural world. Finally, Moscheta’s monotypes stamp a black poplar and a cork oak in blue on the wall, raising many questions. We have standardised the attempt to reproduce and document the diversity of biosystems. One example is the carbon paper used in this laboratory process as an intermediate point between original and reproduction. A drawing of a tree appears in each frame. And, in each tree, a mirror between the original and the reflected chemical, the positive and its negative; both of which only disprove the possibility of copying nature. None of them is its primitive, the native is not reproduced by the human hand, even if this is attempted through the apparatus. Utopia. We must remember that this ghost-residue, in transition between the monotypic surfaces, is nothing more than the fleeting, specular image trapped in the memory and gaze at each encounter with the landscape; in parallel to the mental projections during REM (Rapid Eyes Movement) sleep. This term gives the works their title and we know that they play a vital role in memory consolidation, brain development and dreaming.
Going beyond any artistic conventionalism and resorting to amazement, without shying away from the real, this exhibition moves us by its veneration of nature; both the object of creation and the subject of the works. In each intervention, there is a communion with the elements worked on. Colonialism is forgotten, subjugation is denounced. Eles Falam em Arco-Íris awakens us to coexistence and belonging to a plural whole, where art has the chance to slow down time. And, with this, to establish a more intense and directed relationship with the landscape.
We are an echo of Gilles Clément’s citizen-gardener, the one who must build a common space for all living beings – the Planetary Garden -, a mental territory and landscape which is ecologically balanced and socially useful, the marrow of environmental quality and life on the planet, vital for a more solidary, fair and happy society.
Eles Falam em Arco-Íris is showing at CAPC Sereia until December 30, 2023.
 Adapted from the title of Gilles Clément’s work, Le Jardin Planetaire. Reconcilier l’homme et la naturecitação, (1999). ed. Albin Michel. Quoted by the artist Gabriela Albergaria in the exhibition catalogue.