SUFOCO (I can't breathe)

Atelier Contencioso
08 Abr - 09 Jun

The work by these four artists from Atelier Contencioso (in existence since 2015) has emerged from the lockdown and is an engagement with the idea of the unheimlich, a proposal based on Sigmund Freud’s 1919 text (furthermore published towards the end of the pandemic of his day): what is simultaneously not familiar or familiar, triggering our own sense of uneasiness. The setting for our discomfort is within our own home – the limit (in all senses of the word) of where we have tried to re- exist in recent times.


The work is the outcome of specific stages: a collection of used containers, old family hand-me-downs; the play of light on these translucent objects and the varying forms and colours they throw during the confinement period across a white plane, as observed on a wall of the work space; the transposing of this observation onto paper, following a meticulous routine (informed by the artist’s eye condition), resorting to a kind of pointillism that sometimes makes use of one of these very objects as a means of dripping ink – at all times following controlled rhythmic movements.
The rhythmic pattern is not just in the physical act. To create these pieces, the artist has adapted the concept of the Morning Pages journal suggested by Julia Cameron, perhaps as a reaction to the state of home-as-prison; besides this, the application of multiple dots possibly intimates the act of recording the days as they pass, on the walls of a prison cell. It is a contradictory state of conditional freedom: it takes place within the presidium itself. In the pieces where we can make out the shape of the containers (either family mementos – and as such, comforting – or collector’s pieces, a means of controlling a, or the, universe) first and foremost are a manifestation of lucidity, that is a clearer path towards resisting.

The repetitive act of taking 42 Polaroids from the same angle has the assumed intent of guiding viewers towards finding something they recognise in them, not intended by the artist (in other words, as opposed to showing a single, dictatorial image from the same perspective). Which leads us inevitably, to the following paradox: the chosen perspective was obviously at the artist’s behest, what’s more (yet another paradox) conceived to reflect its domestic setting: we have here a view from a window of her home, taken during the first confinement. In a certain sense, it is a means of confining the confinement (as did much of the population by undertaking similar acts). It is impossible however to control everything (notwithstanding the fact that, as was already said, the ulterior motive is to condition the process of looking). Each photographic object, even if captured on a rigorous daily basis, is subject to different light (whether night or day); which a Polaroid will pick up – even if black and white was chosen as the best means of capturing the Moment (as opposed to a more mundane colour image). Before it, or in spite of it, is a drawing made up of extensive layers of watercolour ink and pencil. As science has told us, graphite is a mineral that has the potential to become a diamond, and the artist (who usually produces work in series) seeks to find out which is the halfway point for attaining “diamond quality”.

Her paintings are appropriations of stills from Yasujirō Ozu’s Hijōsen no Onna (Dragnet Girl, 1933) and Zerkalo (Mirror, 1975) by Andrei Tarkovsky, films of an extreme lyrical poetry. In the former, a restrained embrace; in the latter, a burning house. The lines that disrupt these images guide us to reflect, at measured intervals, on the tension contained therein, obliging us to prolong yet further our time and investment in the original moving picture – and if we so wish, to seek out there how it coincides with emotions lived in the present moment: it may be an allegorical motif (the reverse shot of the observer, it could be said) for the mental effects of a certain despotism that occurs in an anti- pandemic crusade; under which our intimacy is prescribed and our home, that sacred place, implodes. The artist has often resorted to using filmed images, but in this case there is a greater fusion with the materials, an evolution compared to her previous practice in which images were projected onto the painting. In the final outcome, there continues a marked rejection of representation, and the disruptiveness of line, as depicted by the artist, remind us of a worn-out, if simultaneously contemporary film that serves as a medium on which these bodies ebb and flow.

The variety of objects serve as kinds of three-dimensional memory maps, whether it be crinkled paper taken from sewing patterns published in Burda magazine, or fabrics of old straw mattresses enxergas on which she has made drawings, or hanging pillows, all taking us back to a domestic scenario that is to a certain extent no more. We know they once existed, in a ritual antechamber that has more or less faded from sight, preparatory graphic diaries and an artist sketchbook where she reimagined the drawings she did as a child, begetting a personal hieroglyphic language that emerges sporadically on the work.
One piece in particular, of paper crinkled in the shape of a slit, is a purposely symbolic reference to the act of stuffing a mattress with straw through an opening. This movement and its respective objects are private totems that the casual observer can nonetheless absolutely relate to by engaging one’s own memory (through common reference) in play with that of the artist. It is precisely a dual process – conceptually “alone/accompanied”, “real/dreamed” and so on. The viewer may be pulled in by the sight of the aforementioned tear, or plunge into Sufoco, name for the pillow work (and later also selected for the group exhibition as a whole).

João Macdonald