Art as a suturing place: Catharsis by Filipe Cortez at NO.NO

In its many guises, memory is recognised as an affective means of reading the past in the present, which, coupled with an awareness of future loss, drives conservation, archiving and paradoxical recording in a bid to block the passage of time – allowing the presence of the past in the present as a pledge of the future. It recognises itself as an impossible salvage project, looking for something that has already been consciously lost in its context, and which only allows us to perceive the past through the senses, responding to its almost always material need and its more or less tangible image weight. This is an essential component of human nature: there is no intelligence without memory; only loss, chaos and stagnation.

In Filipe Cortez’s work, working with memory has been a recurring principle. Together with the inextricable notion of time, Cortez has spent the last few decades exploring the relationship between this idea and the sites and places he has visited, intimately related to architecture – and its decay – and bringing them to life in works with a unique and distinctive artistic ability. Without striving for an archaeological or ethnographic ambition, through different forms of casting – ranging from latex or silicone moulds that capture traces and textures of walls, floors, details or objects – Cortez immortalises the memory of these spaces, crystallising the past, and the passing of time. His multi-disciplinary approach is archival and almost taxidermic, with layers and narratives documented by paying attention to traces and marks of things ephemeral or on their way to oblivion, observing a building or city as a reflection of social evolution – a way of acknowledging the propaedeutic and museological role that urban heritage plays in contemporary society, along the lines of Françoise Choay[1]. He symbolically retains and recovers, by means of his artistic endeavour, the memory of these places in a different time-space – the place of memory according to Pierre Nora[2], which is both the exhibition area and the viewer’s mental landscape who observes and retains it – in a construction-deconstruction process both romantic and poetic as well as political.

Catarse, Filipe Cortez’s third solo exhibition at NO.NO Gallery, presents itself as “the exhibition of a transition”[3] between times, interests, techniques and themes. This is reflected both in the supporting text, authored by Pedro Gadanho, and the tour to which the curator invites us, developing the whole project between past and present and pointing to a future – one that is increasingly intimate and personal.

The work Sem Título (Memory After Memory) reflects Cortez’s extensive interest in architectural memory, labelled by overlapping traces and textures in a multidimensional pictorial composition. Meanwhile, the Fóssil and Sem Título (Through the Wall) series express the shift towards new technical enquiries in his work, with decals and transpositions, gradually bringing him closer to a more private, personal and internal realm – his studio environment, something he has been exploring since the Studio 94 exhibition (curated by Nuno Crespo) at the very same gallery. They illustrate an in-between moment, involving the usual accumulation of waste, now as a random process rather than a compositional one, as well as the progressive neglect of the canvas and its replacement by a resin simulacrum. Moving into something deeper.

Having already dealt with architectural space as a body, exploring its skin-paint as a symbol of time transitions and mutations – as in the Ecside exhibition or the works included in the Skins and Pele da Tela series -, he now enters and penetrates the entrails – no longer of a space, but of his own body as a place. He attempts to bring the human body into line with the subject matter of painting and canvas, reflecting on an intimate and personal incident that led him to require an emergency surgical procedure and woke him up to the impact of a sudden change. The Canvas (Through the Wall) series acts as a form of catharsis, a mnemonic and therapeutic process to recover from a trauma, an emotional outlet aimed at healing this personal experience in its many, more or less profound layers. The intentional procedure on the canvas and its subsequent moulding leads to highly detailed polyurethane resin positives – which make us question the very presence or absence of the genuine materials that gave them their shape and texture. Cortez no longer condenses and eternalises an accumulation of the real, but a true interventive effort to reveal an inner reality – which is illustrated by the sheer viscerality of some of these pieces, defined by the gouging, piercing and stapling of the canvas.

An aesthetic study into decay and degradation persists, not of a building or space, but of a body that is subject to the passage of time, that ages and is marred by the events that mould it physically and psychologically – and which the gestures and performativity of Cortez’s artistic style are such a good example of, insofar as they are a prerequisite for its existence. Whereas his work was formerly typified by a strong pictorial play, this new path looks to reveal a different approach reminiscent of a sort of hygienic and surgical purity as far as materials are concerned – perhaps the outcome of his experience that led to the cathartic process materialised over here.

This technical and topical approach that Cortez’s work takes also recalls the permanent need to remember to forget as a key exercise in social – and, in this case, personal and intimate – pacification and reconciliation. Forgetting is the only way to restore order and memory plays a vital role in eliminating suffering through selective oblivion and its therapeutic role, deliberately converting and resolving traumas – forgetting and memory as political instruments with a moral and redemptive background.

In A Política do Património[4], Marc Guillaume mentions the role of monuments as suturing objects that allow us to connect and assume both a repairing and educational role that prevents us from forgetting, but rather reconciles. Both publicly and intimately, Filipe Cortez turns his works – his art – into these monuments. That suturing place: the reconciliation between past-present-future.

Filipe Cortez’s Catarse can be seen until March 16 at NO.NO Gallery in Lisbon.


[1] Choay, F. (2010). Alegoria do Património. Edições 70.
[2] Nora, P. (1993). Entre história e memória: a problemática dos lugares. Revista Projeto História 10, 7-28.
[3] Gadanho, P. (2023). Filipe Cortez/Catarse [Exhibition text].
[4] Guillaume, M. (2003). A Política do Património. Campo das Letras.

Cultural Mediator, Curator and Researcher. Master’s in History and Heritage and Degree in Cultural Heritage, by the University of Algarve. He holds a research scholarship at DINÂMIA'CET-ISCTE. He has been working mainly in Cultural Mediation, Heritage Education and Cultural Project Management, with special focus on the intersection between art, culture and education. He has taken part in several national and international initiatives related to cultural projects in the area of arts and innovation, such as ILUCIDARE, European Creative Rooftop Network, and Faro 2027. He was one of the 2022 MACE Young Ambassadors and has a special interest in contemporary creation, currently completing a postgraduate degree in Art Curatorship at NOVA FCSH. He believes that 'there is a future in the past'!

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