Hierophanies: between the political and the immaterial, resisting and reconnecting through the gaze

Within Brotéria’s exhibition area, as part of a cultural programme that puts aesthetics and spirituality in touch, we can surely expect to see exhibitions that defy and expand the notions of the sacred and the profane. I have already written about some of these exhibitions for Umbigo, which, from different perspectives, have sown discussions around the boundaries between the immanent and the transcendent: In André Costa and Inês Mendes Leal’s They Swirl, the wind turned into a motto for reflecting on the encounter with the invisible; in Braço Cruzado, Paulo Brighenti and David Correia Gonçalves compressed the time and relational infinity into and from matter; in Ex-votos, curated by Marta Costa Reis and Catarina Silva, the vital power of promising a future was implied through different amulets. With Hierophanies, Brotéria’s walls are now given an entirely new brown colour, transformed scenographically to shelter works by Andreia Santana, Diana Policarpo, Harun Farocki, Hugo de Almeida Pinho, Louis Henderson, Maria Loboda, Onyeka Igwe and Riar Rizaldi. From multiple backgrounds and styles as distinct as they are complementary, the pieces interact in a harmonious and stimulating way, echoing the common mystery and tensions between social experiences of the divine across different times, places and cultures.

Hierophanies is curated by Sara Castelo Branco, whose professional career is visible in how each piece has been carefully selected and presented. Firstly, her fondness for the cinematographic medium allows us to find some authors and films that are not usually shown, projects that, whether due to their authorship or subject matter – or both – encourage a decentralised perspective and a more complex debate on the relationship between technology, faith and ideology in different geographies. Moreover – and perhaps related to the very optical device of photography or cinema – the idea of “bringing to light”, contained first and foremost in the exhibition’s title (from the Greek phanein), extends and shapes the curator and writer’s research on the sun and its collective representations. Operating under this umbrella – which even manifests itself more clearly in Hugo de Almeida Pinho’s recent works Unconquered Sun and Facing Sun, both from 2024 -, the exhibition is an exercise in combining reality and appearance, clarity and shadow, the immaterial and politics.

For this reason, in a mystical and golden atmosphere of devotion – into which we step through a curtain, in a sort of rite of passage – we are urged to reflect on the everyday gestures that give meaning to and fulfil the sacred in individual and community life. Maria Loboda and Andreia Santana use archaeological images as a method for excavating and preserving the ancestral as a way of problematising this encounter with the infinite. The former’s photograph Zero Dynasty II (2017) reveals a hand wiping away a tear from an Egyptian mask, thereby opening up the possibility of connecting distant histories, people, worlds and cosmologies through this practical and gentle act. The latter’s Sleeves (2020), two pieces stealthily disguised by the room’s brown wall, offers a counterpoint: in mastering the art of stealing – from the soil, from time, from context – what subtleties and intangible dimensions is archaeology or archival practice intrinsically relinquishing? Where and in what way are the soul qualities maintained in an object whose original destination and purpose do not obey the constraints of matter?

This dialectic can be seen, for instance, between Harun Farocki’s exhibited work and Diana Policarpo’s sculpture ensemble. In the film Transmission (2007), the German director points his camera at hieratic monuments around the world, such as the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, the bronze statue of St Peter and the Bocca della Verità in Rome, or the devil’s footprint in Munich’s Frauenkirche. With his watchful eye, recording something at once documental and experimental, he looks at the instant when the touch between the stone and the human body is able to reminisce and trigger an immortal bond. Repeating the actions under Farocki’s lens gives the religious rituals we see on screen something artificial, infamiliar; butm at the same time, it unveils the social and emancipatory power of an experience as profound as faith and promise. As for the Portuguese visual artist’s metal drawings, the Gift series (2020), we are yet again dealing with a process of historical distortion and revaluation, in which artefacts used in potlatch ceremonies, carried out among North American Indian tribes, take on new ethical and aesthetic shapes. The line between what is gained and lost is thin.

Two other audiovisual pieces then raise questions about the ghosts of morality, generated by political narratives and fixed on celluloid by British colonial cinema, such as Specialized Technique (2018) by Onyeka Igwe, and Indonesian horror cinema, such as Ghost Like Us (2020) by Riar Rizaldi. In both, but also in Louis Henderson’s film Lettres du Voyant (2013), different human and more-than-human resilience strategies call for new ways of seeing, feeling and believing together – once again proving that the relationships, continuities and discontinuities between the mundane and the intangible realms are much more entangled and complex than we might realise.

Hierophanies is on show at Brotéria until April 1, 2024.

Laila Algaves Nuñez (Rio de Janeiro, 1997) is an independent researcher, writer and project manager in cultural communication, particularly interested in the future studies developed in philosophy and the arts, as well as in trans-feminist contributions to imagination and social and ecological thought. With a BA in Social Communication with a major in Cinema (PUC-Rio) and a MA in Aesthetics and Artistic Studies (NOVA FCSH), she collaborates professionally with various national and international initiatives and institutions, such as BoCA - Biennial of Contemporary Arts, Futurama - Cultural and Artistic Ecosystem of Baixo Alentejo and Terra Batida / Rita Natálio.

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