Curator: Paulo Pires do Vale
The exhibition Shelter Walls takes a fresh look at the works of Ana Vieira (Coimbra, 1940), dating from the late 1960s to the present. The exhibition underlines not only this artist's singular place in contemporary art, but also her ceaseless creativity, while highlighting the basic concerns that underpin her work. The title of the exhibition is taken from the artist's account of a childhood memory. She recollects how daily, she would go to the sheltering walls of her parents' country house in São Miguel, and how, one by one, she would open all its doors. But more than reinforcing the recognisable hermeneutic topos of Ana Vieira's work - the house - this title also encourages new readings. The sheltering wall of the work of art itself, sacralised on its pedestal, is now thrown up for grabs, an emptying out that, in the first section of the exhibition, undermines the power and function inherent to it. Moreoever, Ana Vieira's works prod our given perceptions of the world, raising barriers, drawing veils, creating obstacle: walls, in other words. In the second section of the exhibition, rather than making visible, the artist's works impede visibility, literally leading the visitor to penetrate further into the "blank".
"In São Miguel, when I got home from school, the first thing I wanted to do was to go and wander around a vineyard, which I really loved. I would go and find a bunch of keys and set off for the part of the property that was closest to the sea. In that area there were great stone walls, shelter walls, which protected the vines from picking up the tang of the sea. These walls divided the land into compart¬ments, which were connected via locked doors - each of the locks being different. Every day I took this route. For me it was an important experience and defi¬nitely one of those that I most interiorized. I absorbed that space, the ambiguity of being simultaneously open and closed and also the fact that there are ways through, involving time, rhythm and routes. The last door opened onto the sea".
In all of this tenacious and original work, in its radicalness and distinction, it is the sheltering wall of art on its pedestal that is questioned. In Ambiente [Environment] (1971), she presents us with the funeral rites for "plinthable" art: the Venus placed on a plinth in the centre of the room, surrounded by empty chairs that are distanced from the sculpture and distanced from us by netting (a wall?), which allows us to see but not to get close. Transparency or opacity: what is the work of art and what can it do? The sacralization of the work, its separation from life and the quotidian, is questioned here. As in her use of Greco-Roman art, with its perfect bodies and the memory of a time of the religion of art, a void is left with their exile. They remain as absence - a saturated absence. They withdraw or appear to lose their solidity. An emptying. These are problems that we find, in a different way, in her treatment of the seminal work of modern art, Manet's Dejeuner sur L´herbe, which the artist placed at our feet in 1977, removed from the wall and projected in the space onto the staging of another, desacralized picnic, stripped of its untouchable condition. Stripped of its aura. Nevertheless, we are not participating in it either. We remain on the outside. The artist patiently constructs a fragile frame for the void.
References to walls, doors, windows - the house - are recurrent in Ana Vieira's work. She creates atmospheres: she constructs inhabited or uninhabited places which are hospitable or hostile, hidden or revealed, silent or full of sounds that require decoding. Impertinently, she suggests mutating corridors along which we pass, uneasy and disquieting spaces that drive us out, half-opened doors that show and conceal at the same time, real objects alongside simulated ones. She raises walls that ask questions: safety and the certainties of shelter, distance and proximity, the difference between the public and private space, the interior and the exterior. The artifices created by the work are always artifice - they address themselves to the perception of the space that has been experienced and the space of memory, to mirrors and panes of glass, to the reflection and to incomplete transparency. She transfigures familiar and domestic objects, revealing a strangeness in them: dining tables that are landscapes and an invitation to travel; common objects revealed in their absence, in the negative; chairs and benches that fall apart, improper or useless simulacra. Like the human figure which, since 1967, has appeared in her work as a veiled, evanescent omission, or an object that leaves only traces of shadow. A theatrical staging of absence. Only traces, marks, passages, fragments that the visitor has to actively connect and follow, like clues being decoded. The spectator, however, habitually feels on the outside. When we would like to enter and participate, to know more, to know everything, we are turned out.
It is towards this impertinent-house that Ana Vieira's work leads us, thrusting itself from the beginning into the international context and the questions that were then being raised, but in an absolutely unique way.