Interview with Júlia Lema Barros, now on Umbigo’s cover of the month

Júlia Lema Barros is all about sound, immateriality and expansion. Having started with drawing, the artist quickly put the image into motion and, since then, her voice has constantly reflected on the present, bringing together the past and the future in a series of plunges and invitations into reality’s materiality and intangibility.

Her artistic approach is infatuated with space, its memorials and history, seeing even in the most unusual places the chance to evoke time and bring it to the surface.
Touching on the dualities of visibility-invisibility, speech-silence, the artist is keen to offer a sensitive sharing by way of a multimedia installation or an immaterial sculpture, which, having engaged in dialogue and inserted itself into the space, stirs up its ghosts and the spatial memories that give voice to what once was, and finally render the place fully perceptible to the audience. Such is the ultimate power of symbols and experiencing a work of art: they gather greater energy than the vague spectacle of the actual event, holding an expansive force capable of absorbing reality’s enormous universe; this is why any meaning grasped from them is a multiple and proliferating source of possibilities. Every encounter is a true and personal experience. Do not delude yourselves. Any hypothetical or fictional proposal brought forth by the process gives us nothing more than the truth beyond things, fatally condemned to ruin or to fade into the mundane.

Addressing your artistic practice means dealing with multimedia experiences and sound, even though this journey started with drawing and painting. How did this route come about and how far would you say it has taken you?

I was initially interested in drawing and the moving picture. This motion has constantly been with me and has undergone a sort of purifying process to find the essence of what I want to convey.
I’m captivated by sound’s immaterial experience, the unique way of exploring space through an invisible piece in constant motion, its expansive immateriality. As immaterial sculptures in space, the invisible, a ghost. This is how, in a creative process of purification, sound became a fundamental element of my practice, due to the capacity to feel rather than observe. Since then, it has been a centrepiece of my work. Nevertheless, I continue to pursue the roots of drawing, as can be seen in the Miau Ufa pieces/installations commissioned by MNAC Lisboa, where I worked with motion drawing, as a line in permanent metamorphosis, invading the echoing site with its sound.

Possibly because it refers to that immateriality, your work often resonates with the fictional. What attracts you to hypothetically feasible scenarios? What does not exist, but is imagined?

The core of my work is beyond reality, but not really what is non-existent. In other words, I develop narratives through my pieces that can be hypothetically possible scenarios, but always putting reality to the test. This can be seen in Erimos Siopi, the multimedia installation set up in a cave in the Sainte Victoire mountain in Aix-en-Provence, where I devised a narrative that took from and expressed something real and sensitive, yet produced an immersive and intangible experience. In this instance, as in others, fiction can be felt by viewers, even if there is no thread running through an ‘absolute’ or conceived truth. Instead, there is an artwork that touches each viewer’s tender spots, making them feel the truth beyond things.

Within this world of fiction, the concept of ruin is very present. When you say that you are driven to imagine possible futures as immersive explorations, does this mean that you are relying on dystopia, on a future that will bring destruction?

As a matter of fact, the concept of ruin runs through my work, but not destruction. I do not want to foresee a dystopian future, nor an apocalyptic one, but rather conceive sensitive and unchanging pieces, emphasising eternal sensations. I work with immersive experiences, imagining the past, reflecting on the future, but stressing the importance of the present – which will soon be the past -, aiming to make future ruins as a way of recording the passage of time. This is how I conceived the sound installation Ruines de la Visitation, in an abandoned church scarred by its memories. I was attracted to working with a place that was once inhabited and is now in ruins, breathing life into it through an invisible sound presence, like phantoms from the past, reviving what was and no longer is.
Particularly at a time when we are constantly barraged by newness and innovation, the static quality is fleeting, and ruins, as evidence of a constantly changing world, allow us to feel immutable and realise that we are part of the same organism.

Faced with this appeal to coexistence, can we deduce that this is an artistic endeavour that still carries, at least partially, the awareness of an ecological concern?

Given its relevance, it has to be there for me. As an artist, I feel that environmental awareness is more than just an attitude, it’s a way of life. When I create I constantly listen to and observe nature, and, when I create, I make nature feel, giving meaning to what surrounds me.

Something else that radiates from your work is a particular fascination with spatial memory. Can you elaborate a little on the concept and where this interest comes from?

My fascination with spatial memory stems from the combination of different interests. I have always been keen on history and historical places; enthralled by the idea of being in a place where so many other things have occurred, and feeling that sense of time. I am delighted to artistically explore stories, legends and memories through the plastic generation of the ghosts of the place, establishing and awakening invisible memories in viewers, allowing them to perceive the space. This is how the piece Sub Sacellum was born, making the space vibrate again as before, but now and only as immaterial memory.
I also grew up in the studio of two architect parents, giving me a sharp awareness of space, its creation and how it affects our senses. This also led to my curiosity for less conventional spaces.

Indeed, your work regularly happens in public and even unexpected spaces, rather than the traditional gallery/white cube format. What are the differences in creating works for both formats and what drives you in each situation?

To me, they are different ways of creating. I feel a strong call for such places marked by history, and, when exhibiting in them, the space and the piece are fused, becoming inextricably connected and working as a duo. In these moments, my pieces are an integral part of the place, guiding the viewer in perceiving the space. The same happens when I create for public spaces. For example, Video Mapping Kulturnacht Tübingen established a direct connection between the piece and the building. Nonetheless, I feel I can experiment more freely with the plasticity of my artistic process in galleries and museums. Like in the piece Le Vide, where the white cube space enabled me to transform the void into a box of evocative resonances, intangible yet present. Like an imagined space. I could say that what drives me in particular is working with flexible multimedia, experimenting with new ways of conceiving.

Are multimedia and sound still enough? What drives you to be innovative and look for new forms of expression?

Each piece has its own language. Sound is a highly plastic tool in itself, allowing me to create multiple ways of working and exhibiting it. One example is the contrast between the sound creation of Bells of Distance, at Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral, and Sub Sacellum, at Lisbon’s Patriarchal Reservoir; both sound installations took place in public places, using the same sonic tool, and yet had entirely different repercussions. The quest for new forms of expression and exhibition formats is constant, as each project has its own language.

Certain that this pursuit is in the pipeline, what else can you tell us about the future?

I currently have various projects of different natures underway, all of which come together through a sensitive exploration of memory, sonorities and forms of listening.
I’m currently taking part in the 7th Extinction international residency, a project that attempts to translate, through multimedia, the forms of nature and its interactions with the universe, mirroring the questions that the name itself hints at and raises.
I’m currently producing two sound installations for the 2024 Aix-en-Provence Arts Biennial – Echos du Passé, an immersive experience between the statue garden of the Joseph Sec Monument and the sculpture room of the Granet Museum. Again in Aix-em-Provence, I was recently selected to produce a double video mapping in the urban setting for Chroniques, biennale of digital imagination, tapping into the essence of the city and its inhabitants.
And I plan to carry on with projects I’ve already started, such as Sub_Bar, conceived to include deaf people in the sound experience through haptic and sub-frequency explorations.


Master in Curatorial Studies from the University of Coimbra, and with a degree in Photography from the Portuguese Institute of Photography in Porto, and in Cultural Planning and Management, Mafalda develops her work in the areas of production, communication and activation, within the scope of Photography Festivals and Visual Arts - Encontros da Imagem, in Braga (Portugal) and Fotofestiwal, in Lodz (Poland). She also collaborated with Porto / Post / Doc: Film & Media Festival and Curtas Vila do Conde-Festival Internacional de Cinema. In 2020, and she was one of those responsible for the curatorial project of the exhibition “AEIOU: Os Espacialistas em Pro (ex)cess”, developed at Colégio das Artes, University of Coimbra. As a photographer, she was involved in laboratory projects of analogue photography and educational programs for Silverlab (Porto) and Passos Audiovisuais Associação Cultural (Braga), while dedicating herself to photography in a professional format or, spontaneously, in personal projects.

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