curatorial intensive

the Sea: several tides, a single wave of discontent

By João Laia

For Curatorial Intensive in Londonderry

the Sea: several tides, a single wave of discontent

A proposal by João Laia

“What if we would discover the sea once again, what if we would imagine to leave so we could return?”
- José Mário Branco, IMF (1978)

The sea has always been both a symbol of and setting for conflicts linked to collective, social and individual identity, relating to disparate issues such as: territory, memory, economics and affect. Portugal is a dramatic illustration thereof: its geographic location coupled with recurring wars with the neighboring country were important factors in the construction of a particular approach to the maritime element, and its leading role in the development of the national symbolic imaginary. In this evolution, the period known as the Discoveries is the central point for the allegorical self-representation of the country. This cultural heritage has been developed over centuries and shaped by different ideological and political projects that shared the foundation of their identity constructions in a symbiotic and sometimes ritual or mystical relationship with the sea. Works such as The Lusíadas by Luís de Camões, A Peregrinação by Fernão Mendes Pinto, A Mensagem by Fernando Pessoa, A Ode Marítima by Álvaro de Campos, and A Jangada de Pedra by José Saramago rank among the greatest literary references in a wide constellation of possible examples.

Despite the complexity of this identity process, the prolonged and permanent use of the sea has incorporated it into the social unconscious of the country. Over the course of centuries, the presence of this element inside different interpretations and narratives about Portugal became an effective tool, stimulating the activation of a shared schema of references. It is still very present in contemporary representations of the country, a recurrence that is due to its repeated use as an assumed unanimity, which each reference attempts to communicate. Its application ranges across Portuguese society, from institutional discourses to its opposition, in artistic practices, research papers or informal conversations. Several recent examples include: the 2011 statement by Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho − “In 2013 Portugal will have passed the Cape of Storms” (1) echoing the heroic story of the Lusíadas − the self-characterization as “tides” by different groups in a demonstration last May (2), or the national representation at the 2013 Venice Biennale, which presents the appropriated cacilheiro (a commuter boat of Lisbon, linking the city to its suburbs on the South bank of the river Tagus) by Joana Vasconcelos. Other relevant cases can be identified in the theme chosen for Expo 98: The Oceans, a heritage for the future, or the location chosen to formalize the entry of Portugal in the European Economic Community in 1986 and to sign the Lisbon Treaty in 2009: the Jerónimos Monastery (located in the area where the vessels would sail off to “the unknown territories” during the XV and XVI centuries). This set of events carries a strong ideological weight, drawing different attempts towards the (re)construction of the national identity, which paradoxically is constantly grounded in the same symbolic entity. Among the many other illustrations of this dynamic, one may still reference the 80s pop group Heróis do Mar (Heroes of the Sea) or several popular sayings such as “there’s sea and sea, there’s going and returning.”

the Sea: several tides, a single wave of discontent presents a selection of recent works that reflect upon the use of the sea as a symbolic agent; each intervention, in this context, stresses, discusses and/or adds other dimensions to the meta-narrative that has permeated the construction of the country’s collective identity. The exhibition also intends to relate this survey to the current context of the country, where the element has been used repeatedly within different discourses, functioning as a haven for an identity in crisis. the Sea: several tides, a single wave of discontent is not an exhaustive collection of representations of the maritime aspect produced by the Portuguese artistic milieu: the exhibition proposes the questioning of crystallized discourses, opening up the possibility for other types of (self)representation to emerge, and exploring points of continuity and rupture between the plurality of the artistic discourses being presented and the current image of the country. The echo between the singer-songwriter José Mário Branco’s quote and the present situation reflects the cyclic structure of using the maritime imaginary and indicates the need to problematize this narrative through a public debate in which this exhibition intends to participate.

(1)  in Diário de Notícias (Portuguese daily newspaper) 21/12/2011
(2)  Ana Henriques in Público (Portuguese daily newspaper) 02/03/2013

1.  Pedro Neves Marques
Costa Atlântica Portuguesa (de Caminha-Viana do Castelo ao Cabo de Sagres) - Portuguese
Atlantic Coast (from Caminha-Viana do Castelo to the Cape of Sagres) (2007)
Six HD videos, colour, sound, 35’ to 90’ (edited version) or 5h to 9h (full version), exhibited one per day during six days, loop

André Romão
O Inverno do nosso Descontentamento - The Winter of our Discontent (2010)
Leopoldo de Almeida, Nicolau Coelho, 1948 coated plaster
Museu da Cidade CML collection
Lisbon (MC.ESC.137)

2.  André Romão (detail)
O Inverno do nosso Descontentamento - The Winter of our Discontent (2010)
Leopoldo de Almeida, Nicolau Coelho, 1948 Gesso patinado
Museu da Cidade CML collection
Lisbon (MC.ESC.137)

3.  João Seguro
Dioptrique (2005)
Video transferred to DVD, colour, sound, 8’, loop

4.  Mariana Caló & Francisco Queimadela (detail)
Carta ao Porvir - Chart for the Coming Times (2012)
Video installation, b/w, sound, 13’, loop; painted book; prints

5.  João Pedro Vale + Nuno Alexandre Ferreira
Uma Fenda na Muralha - A Crack in the Wall (2006)
sound installation, 12’, loop
with the female cast of the folk group “Velha Guarda” from Nazaré

6.  Gabriel Abrantes e Daniel Schmidt
Palácios de Pena - Palaces of Pity (2011)
16mm film tansfered to DVD, colour, sound, 55’

All images by Susana Pomba, courtesy of the artists.

Learn More

To learn more about this proposal please email João Laia at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). To learn more about the Curatorial Intensive email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

About the Curator

João Laia

João Laia is the chief curator for exhibitions at Kiasma – National Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki. Recent projects include Masks (2020) and 10000 Years Later Between Venus and Mars (2017-18) at Oporto City Hall Gallery; In Free Fall (2019), CaixaForum, Barcelona; Vanishing Point (2019) at Cordoaria Nacional, Lisbon; Drowning in a sea of Data (2019) and Transmissions from the Etherspace (2017) at La Casa Encendida, Madrid; foreign bodies (2018) at P420, Bologna; H Y P E R C O N N E C T E D (2016) at MMOMA – Moscow Museum of Modern Art; Hybridize or Disappear (2015) at MNAC – National Museum of Contemporary Art in Lisbon. Laia co-curated the 19th and 20th editions of Videobrasil (2014–18) in São Paulo. Other exhibitions, performance programs and screenings were held at Parque Lage (Rio de Janeiro) Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Xcèntric / CCCB (Barcelona), Videoex (Zürich), Calouste Gulben, Kurzfilmtage – International Short Film Festival Oberhausen and Cell Project Space, DRAF – David Roberts Art Foundation, Delfina Foundation, South London Gallery and Whitechapel Gallery (all in London). In 2012-13 Laia attended the post-graduate research program CuratorLab at Konstfack, Stockhom and in 2014 was part of the curatorial residency of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin. He edited A Multiple Community (SESC publishing — São Paulo, 2018), co-edited Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s monograph Spiral Forest (Mousse — Milano, 2018) and published in magazines such as Flash Art, frieze, Mousse, Spike or Terremoto. In 2021 together with Valentinas Klimašauskas, Laia will curate the 14th edition of the Baltic Triennial at the CAC – Contemporary Art Center in Vilnius.

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