Stringing the disconnection at Salgadeiras Gallery

Stringing the disconnection brings together a two-pronged celebration: it is Rui Soares Costa’s new exhibition, and it heralds the opening of the new Salgadeiras space, marking its twentieth anniversary. As with all celebrations – as a ritual of continuation – this exhibition also fulfils the double meaning of festivity, which, if imposed, occurs when life resists in one way or another. It also provides a moment that conventionally calls for assessments and reflections on the current situation, i.e., the way in which life itself is resisting.

The contradiction and strain embodied semantically in the title suggests putting together what is actually scattered, ambiguously shifting the phrasing between the tentative state and intrinsic condition of the mixable material and the other, which is essentially unapproachable. It cannot be established whether that which is supposed to be brought together is only provisionally apart, or whether it is a question of carrying out the mythical task of uniting that which can only be intrinsically parted. It is precisely in this discursive gap – between what is purported to be in one form, yet willing to take on new guises – that the exhibition is located, announcing a preexisting situation and anticipating a scenario that is, to some extent, unfathomable. Hence it is an inherently imaginative undertaking. Indeed, the exhibition is not so much framed as a quandary, as a deadlock, but above all as a rallying statement, bringing into conflict the importance of denouncing, of appealing, of art as a means of enlightening, ethical-political practice and the importance of the matter of a world whose apparent and physical shape will continue to change at a breakneck speed, ushering in a new era, the consequences of which do not leave much room for optimism.

Climate change is the artist’s major concern, and the exhibition is divided into four moments: a photo series taken during his artistic residency at the Mehrangarh Fort and Museum in Jodhpur, India, in early 2021; a new set from the Paper series, where the artist uses silk sheets to make drawings on burnt wood; a set of pieces from the Air series, in which nylon threads bind together imaginary points – staying that way no matter how much we touch them – using the structure of rusted steel angles in the Tagus waters and, finally, the rotting trunk of a tree suspended two and a half metres high, indicating the average sea level estimated for 2100, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The geometric accuracy suggested by the nylon threads, building up a complex network, is distorted by the threads’ transparency, the matter of which is rendered more visible by light and the consequent casting of shadows on the white wall. As such, the precision of the threads, embedded in the pristine layout of the artwork inside the gallery, is dispelled by the shadow’s dreamlike substance. Part of the exhibition is energised both by how the pieces are distributed in the gallery area, and by how the exterior and interior are combined. The oxidisation to which the pieces are subjected, with no clear result, reveals the artistic material as utterly dependent on the artist’s presence in the world, in touch with natural resources, which he cannot do without, to the extent that the very time he inhabits – by creating – is the setting for the influences and intersections through which he becomes an observer and participant.

The exhibition, in keeping with the engaged nature of a critical and political agenda, does not end with the broadcasting of a news message, but rather opens up distribution and transport pathways, pointing to the physical and material nature of the communication and ideas elicited by an aesthetic blend with meaning, like a work of art essentially is. Drawing, the outline of a hand gesture (an all-body effort), as a means of resisting the void and automatism of machines, is the tabula rasa from which the artist’s work attempts to be a unique – and therefore audible – message among many others about the same issue. Resembling empty portraits, tossed furniture, mock-ups of living spaces, the steel structures ring out as intersecting, yet unfilled places. Like a ruthlessly divided world, ploughed and occupied, which is now calling for a fair form of habitation. An alternative title for Rui Soares Costa’s exhibition could be borrowed from Ruy Belo: The Housing Problem. This exhibition and the artist’s work could well be summarised as the technique and act of drawing. The artist himself describes the process of superimposing silk sheets as drawing. And it is drawing to the degree that it attempts to return to a labour nature, primarily tactile, from which the human being can (re)reconstitute a relationship with the world. Henri Focillon in his In Praise of the Hands points exactly to the creative aspect of using the hands – a distinctive feature of the human being in relation to animals that live in a world without weight and volume – partly fuelled by the re-dimensioning of nature made possible by the hands: “The hand has brought before the eyes the evidence of a variable number, magnified or diminished according to how the fingers are bent. For a long time, the art of counting never knew any other formula.[1] A significant balance is struck between the manual labour of the intersection – breathed or interrupted weaving, rhythmic or unravelled fabric – of the nylon threads and the height measurement, which is charged with meaning: it quite precisely means the rise in the average sea level, a symptom of human occupation of the planet. In short, there is an underlying humility in the artist’s approach to issues that are progressively swamping screens and media platforms about a problem that affects everyone, specifically pointing to the oppressive inequality in which the world is organised and rendered illusorily functional.

From the blurred photograph to the jagged empty space(s) opened up by the angle brackets, to the superimposed transparencies, no message is necessarily recorded other than that which forces us to rewrite, to take on the repetition, of our quality as rhapsodes of a nature to which we belong first with our hands, then with our whole body. A past is strikingly echoing against the resonance of an envisioned future. The present eludes us, and the melodious wake of its escape must be contracted like a disease and a passion. Art can redeem the tactile presence of beings who can only tell about – and bewitch – a reality that can be called – and never comfortably – solely through an inventiveness sharpened by practice – home.

Stringing the disconnection is showing at Salgadeiras until 24 February.


[1] Focillon, Henri (2016). A Vida das Formas – seguido de Elogio das Mãos (translated by Ruy Oliveira). Lisbon: Edições 70, p. 103.

Master in Portuguese Studies, with the thesis “Modos de Cindir para Continuar: uma leitura de A Noite e o Riso e Estação, de Nuno Bragança”, from Nova University of Lisbon, where is currently pursuing her PhD and working on a thesis on Agustina Bessa-Luís and Manoel de Oliveira, from the concept of melancholia. FCT scholarship holder, having published poetry and essay in national and international magazines, she has published two poetry books: Hidrogénio (2020) and Rasura (2021). She is also co-editor of Lote magazine and writes literary criticism for Observador.

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