In 1927, Iwan Goll, a German-French Jewish surrealist poet,published a novel called die Eurokokke in which a hopeless mid-war era man wanders around Europe, leaving behind traces consisting of three words: we don’t know. The story’s narrator does not make it clear what it is that we do not know. Readers may find themselves in a similarly lost position while reading Herman Melville’s cryptic novel Bartle by, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street(1853),which has been puzzling critics for its I would prefer not to for more than 150 years. Luísa Jacinto’s work No one knows (2017) bears a resemblance to these fine examples of human thought, not so much because of its almost identical slogan, but due to its existential depth and its author’s strong belief in poetry.
It is not uncommon that a single poem keeps Jacinto busy for weeks in her studio. Poetry, it has been argued, is foremost rhythm and repetition; reiteration not only in its formal aspect of rhyme and structure, but in terms of memory and intention. Proclaimed poets possess the language of their colleagues and forerunners. Jacinto is certainly an artist whose work recognizes and values the context she finds herself in.
Hence it was natural that for the exhibition in the foyer of the Faculty of Human Sciences of the Universidade Católica Portuguesa she would produce a new installation which derives from the memory and spirit of that place. Doubtlessly, the search for knowledge is the signpost which has lead innumerable people to universities for centuries. Later, many of these students seem to have left academia with a strong feeling of doubt – calling to mind characters from Goll’s and Melville’s stories. Then again, a knowledgeable doubter never reads a book as if it was a traffic sign. In fact, a name on a plate is never the object or subject itself, neither is a map a territory, nor a No one knows a no one knows. The artist is inviting us to join – and enjoy – the discussion.
To enter into a conversation with Miguel Palma means listening to layers of meaning being stacked onto one another in rapid fashion. An enthusiasm for modern technology sounds through in Palma’s every sentence, be it in the form of aeroplanes or fast cars, grenade shells or a tractor driving in endless circles, a porn film set in a miniature Citroën or the results and understandings of atomic warfare in the United States and abroad. At the same time, however, it is immediately clear from both his work and his words that this enthusiasm is no happy-go-lucky attitude to what it means to be living in contemporary society, with its focus on progression and moving forward at an ever greater pace.
Indeed, though with a lot of joy and jokes it may be, Palma’s work can be read as a piercing critique of what ‘progress’ has come to mean. Thematising notions of responsibility and conflict, both in the way we understand our world and in the geopolitical sense of the words, some of his recent work looks at warfare through the eyes of a seemingly innocent bystander. In one such gesture, Palma uses B-29 airplane models that were sold as presents to American kids as a medium for discussing contradictory understandings of the atomic bomb (Enola Gay Make My Day, 2015). In Birdcage (2015), he presents a bomber plane encased in metal wire, connecting the concept of warfare and violence to the metaphor of movement or a lack of movement, urging us to wonder what it means to be held captive or to be divested of the means to move around freely. The work can thus be seen to problematise the positive connotations that are connected to moving, by making visible the situations of conflict out of which movement may arise and as part of which it can be instrumentalised.
In Electronic Human Scale (2016) and his earlier work Lisboa (2004), Palma uses metaphors inherent in mapmaking and cartography to his advantage when he discusses issues of distance and connection, contact and conflict. Questions of orientation, of centre and periphery, of convergence and divergence and of calibration in both spatial and temporal terms also rise to the surface in the current project that was specifically made to be shown at Carpe Diem Artee Pesquisa.
Located now in the centre of Lisbon, Carpe Diem was originally built at the borders of town, functioning as a palace for the Marquês de Pombal (1699-1782). On the one hand, the statesman is widely known as a rebuilder of the city of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake and abolisher of slavery in Portugal and in the Portuguese colonies in India. However, he was also a dictator and an expander of Portugal’s colonial oppression in Brazil. Not only this place of exhibition, but also the place of conception of the work is related to this history. Indeed, from the window of Palma’s studio one can almost see the square bearing the Marquês’ name and his statue.
In this work, titled KM ZERO (2017), Palma approaches the Marquês as a central figure in Portuguese History, one thoroughly connected to notions of both progress and conflict. Understanding the Marquês as a figure that remains at the heart of the city of Lisbon to this day, Palma takes the square as the Kilometre Zero of the Portuguese capital, a point of reference to where the cities arteries converge and from where they diverge once more. KM ZERO centres around notions of movement and conflict and questions how to understand the contradictions inherent to the centrality of the Marquês.
In KM ZERO, a model of a wooden church, a pendulum and a clock suggest a non-conflictual type of movement. This understanding of motion is immediately disturbed when one notes that the church moves in a way that can only remind one of the earthquake that destroyed the city of Lisbon on November 1st 1755, the Catholic holiday of All Saints Day. The country’s heritage of Catholicism is thus connected to the catastrophe that still haunts Portuguese cultural memory and resurfaces now as a traumatic event. Located here, on top of the Marquês’ coat-of-arms, the church itself is centred on a symbol that points outwards in the different directions of the Rose of the Winds.
When discussing the project and thinking about the significance of the Marquês, Palma at some point referenced an article that considered the effects of an atomic bomb being dropped on the Marquês de Pombal square. In all its destructiveness, such an event would still focus on the Marquês as the centre from which impact is measured here in the city. As such, this work can be read as a critique on the workings of power inherent in measuring time and space. It may well be that the elaborate centrality of the Marquês functions in such a way that the very notion of a centre becomes displaced or rather decentred.
Mirror Drumming (2016-2017)by João Biscainho (1979, Portalegre) is an audio-visual work exploring the scope of sound images.In this new project, consisting of a sound devise and two photographs, Biscainho continues to question the relationship between body and space, an investigation shown in other recent works such as his video installation Uncanny River (The Crossing) (2014-2016).
With the use of a mirror foil –that has more precision than common glass – applied in a snare drum percussion box,Mirror Drumming produces a misleading image of the surrounding space. The sound, which consists of the reproduction of recorded percussion fragments played in the snare drum, is manipulated with an effects pedal that creates echoes and repetitions. Such method makes the mirror foil vibrate temporarily and, in a split second, it returns and destroys the reflected image. Such an unclear image leaves us disturbed and slightly confused on how large or small this room, inhabited byMirror Drumming, really is.
The photographs hanged in the walls of the room depict an anechoic chamber in California. Used to conduct accurate electromagnetic waves’ measurements, such rooms with double walls and fiberglass acoustic wedges achieve an almost unbearable and disorienting ultra-quietness. The printing methodology of the photographs is as important as the image they show: printed in offset plates, the image tends to vanish with time, emphasising the same temporality of the images created by the sound.
Mirror Drumming leads the observer to reflect about the impossibility of experiencing reality in an ultra-rapid changing world – a theme also explored in Biscainho’s previous work Uncanny River (The Crossing). Following Heraclitus’ philosophical thoughts – «No man ever steps in the same river twice»–Uncanny River (The Crossing) refers to an ever changing world. With such a reflection, Biscainho puts his finger on the unreliability of our senses and minds.
If in Uncanny River (The Crossing) one cannot step in the same river twice because the passing of waters transforms it in seconds, in Mirror Drumming fluidity is introduced by sound. To each sound change corresponds a series of different and distorted images – or a series of different possible realities – of both the observer and the place where she or he is in. Facing these images, we feel disoriented, as if fading in an unclear and unrecognisable space. Creating an experience rather than a passive observation, Mirror Drumming denounces the fragility and ephemerality of what we assume to be truthful and unquestionable realities.
Holding transparency. A glance into the passing container. (2017) by Teresa Braula Reis is a site-specific work created for the gardens of the Catholic University Campus, in the context of 5/5: 5 artists, 5 project rooms, that reflects on temporality from a poetic point of view. Consisting of two objects of industrial and organic materials, and situated in the broader urban network of city planning, it translates the zeitgeist of the 21st Century where relationships of conviviality and spaces are engineered.
One of the materials used in this work is water. Going beyond its formal qualities as organic matter, it here irrigates, sustains life and retains the essence of human nature in the natural world. Water generates consensus between the organic and the industrial construction materials, and is the basis for today’s building and urban planning networks. Without water, it would be impossible to construct new liveable environments.
Throughout her work, Teresa Braula Reis creates visual narratives that translate a sense of timelessness within our cityscapes. Such narratives are constructed in a process reminiscent of the ready-mades introduced by Marcel Duchamp and continued through conceptual art with the use of abandoned materials such as wooden doors or iron beams from homes which were once inhabited, and where relationships were articulated.
One of the fundamental materials to this work is concrete. Paradoxically, concrete seems to persist beyond the barriers of time and space while representing impermanence and vulnerability as it deteriorates, like all matter, over time. Concrete is also utilised in this work as a guardian of water understood as organic matter. It shapes and limits water, in its apparent vigorousness and durability. It is due to the cyclic capacity of the water that the strength of timelessness is portrayed, through its transparent appearance and assumedly fragile traits. The intrinsic mutation enabled by water is ultimately an eternal cycle reflecting the world in a state of constant change.
Teresa Braula Reis perceives concrete as a flexible, modern and noble material that humans have developed over time. The physicality of this material in Holding transparency. A glance into the passing container. is portrayed in a process which creates an impressive mark, concealing its own metaphysics. Concrete can be a limiting barrier for civilisation when defining urban planning or creating protection against natural forces. Despite human attempts to use concrete, in our contemporary living urban structures, in order to survive the effects of time, nature has always demonstrated its invincibility, forcing everything to transform and to ultimately return to its original state.
In time, all materials will, inevitably, disintegrate into the cycle of life and show their ephemerality. It is precisely this impermanence that leads Teresa Braula Reis to defy the limits of her works as she reflects on human manipulation of environments.
As time flows in this artwork., the reflection of water is always present, like a recipient of memories reflecting our daily encounters as it induces meditation, triggers emotions or elevates our knowledge to what it might mean to “be” and to “exist” in a time of constant change. In Teresa Braula Reis’ work, water has acquired its natural condition of a mirror that reflects not only an image of an “I” – the individual who observes – but also the surrounding world that relates to them. With such evocations placed in this specific location, this work invites us to reflect on the conviviality of immaterial networks of space, inscribed in the faculties of the Catholic University Lisbon campus. These spaces generate the exchange of interdisciplinary knowledge that will prevail beyond physical structures and building materials in order to irrigate new spaces of conviviality through acquired knowledge. The culture of knowledge collaboration beyond matter, or physically constructed space, will enrich today’s and tomorrow’s societies, increasingly debilitated by the temporality of memory and the need for new formulas of action.
It is precisely through a culture of knowledge collaboration beyond matter or physically constructed space, that the impermanent aspect of the artwork will encounter the audience. As time will reveal in these structures, nature and materiality co-exist in a relationship, translating the intersection between unity and diversity praised by interdisciplinarity.
With time, water will evaporate and the impermanent aspect of the work’s materials will disintegrate, only to reintegrate once more, into the delicate balance of the interconnected structures, in what could be understood as a metaphor for the relationship between Earth, Heaven and Humanity.
Upon entering the first exhibition room of Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa, housed in a16th Century palace, one can reflect on a philosophy of abandonment and rediscovery. It is in this room that Paula Prates presents Relic of Lost Futures (2017), a large format Polaroid, printed in real size scale, and placed in the room’s left corner. The photograph depicts part of a working desk, left in the yards of an abandoned factory. The room itself,kept in its original form and with the marks of the passage of time, embodies several demands, reflecting the scene that the viewers are able to observe in the photograph. The ruins,upon which this detailed working desk is located, may find a completely new meaning and translation through each viewer’s eyes and one might ask: can we, in our present times, relate truthfully to a place that no longer exists? Can we relate to the effects of time in spaces?
It is true that buildings can face a similar decay and degradation to the one that humans do. The passage of time, that is not always gentle with its touch, the external factors that consciously or unconsciously damage the image and the soul,but most importantly the passers by that leave a mark that cannot be covered, are only a few of the shared situations among contemporary humans and buildings that turn them into ruins, leaving just some relics for the next ones to explore. Those relics hide stories and memories that some, like the current inhabitants of this 16th Century palace, might find worth cherishing, while others may prefer to change or destroy.
This is the reason why this particular photograph was chosen, from a series of six, to take the central stage of the installation. At the very first sight, facing such an elegant working desk, one can easily think of privileged professions, upper working classes and aristocratic lives. Like this once beautiful desk, humans, as well, can lose their old glory from one moment to another, and face the harsh reality of decay. Such decay can vary from emotional to social and economic levels and these are precisely the realms that this working desk evokes.
Karl Marx saw the working class as an abstract idea (Marx, 1978) [1}, as individuals that embodied the consequences of their social environment, half-living in a stage of complete alienation. Following Arjun Appadurai’s concept of global “-scapes”(Appadurai, 1996) , the state of globalisation brought a shifting world, imposing a change in our habits. By perceiving the degradation and banalisation of the tangible materials that this proletarian space has suffered, in relation to Marx’s concept of alienation, and Appadurai’s idea of globalisation and its -scapes, Relic of Lost Futures questions the struggles of the contemporary human. It shows the paradox between the ornamented secretary and the raw building where it stands, the factory owners and the factory workers, while leading the viewer to question the concept of decadence in a globalised world with its social, political and economic dynamics.
Maybe the path to create possible answers to this question inglies in our positions as individuals in perceiving and acting upon these dynamics.
 Marx Κ., (1978). Alienation and Social Classes, in: Tucker, R. C., (ed.),The Marx-Engels Reader; New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
 Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis: UMP