“Other Alternatives”

Subtitled “New Visual Experiences in Portugal” and gathering works by twenty Portuguese artists under the age of thirty-five, this exhibition confirmed the vitality of the Portuguese artistic scene. It took place in Galicia, a border region with close ties to Portugal. MARCO, housed in a former prison constructed on the model of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, invited the viewer to begin at its center, where Joana Vasconcelos’s A noiva (The Bride), 2001, was situated. A chandelier fifteen feet high and over seven feet in diameter hung from the ceiling, dropping to a mere eight inches from the floor. In place of bulbs or glass ornaments it displayed thousands of very white rolled-up OB tampons—a provocative reflection on the condition of women in societies, such as that of Iberia, dominated until recently by dictatorships whose inspiration was the most conservative and misogynistic version of Catholicism. João Onofre’s looped video projection Untitled, 1998, showed two bodies that join and separate in a violent collision. Its effect comes from a simple turn: The bodies were filmed horizontally, one falling on the other, then projected in a vertical position, as if they had been standing.

João Vilhena showed two series of small black-and-white photographs—one of doors (“The Doors,” 2003), the other of characters from films, especially film noir (“The Film Series,” 2003). In the center of the same room João Pedro Vale had installed A culpa não é minha (I’m Not to Blame), 2003, a twenty-three-foot-long tree made of rope, lying on the floor uprooted, dried out, and dead. In both cases, forms and figures of life are defamiliarized through changes in scale or in materials. Affectionate nostalgia (for the city, the cinema, or nature) merges with a sense of menace, reinforced by the contrasts between black and white.

The next room was dominated by the whistled melody of the revolutionary anthem, the Internationale, coming from a black radio on top of Rui Toscano’s sculpture Whistling in the Dark, 2001, composed of three bricks, blue, red, and yellow—a subtle comment on the relationship between the utopias of artistic modernism and those of the political vanguard. The strains of this music lingered in the background as one watched Filipa César’s video Berlin Zoo Part 2, 2003. A kind of anthropology of looking and waiting, it shows us the faces and gazes of a series of people at a subway station in Berlin while, on the sound track, the noises of various animals are heard.

Vasco Araújo showed Protocolo, 2003, an installation dedicated to the life of the first transsexual (Einar—later Lili—Wegener), as well as the video Hipólito (Hippolytus), 2003, based on the tragedy by Euripides. Both works approach problems of a sexual nature through a blending of social contexts—the video shows a little boy and girl in clothes characteristic of the era of Portuguese fascism—with personal fantasy, examining the place of the “bride” in the political economy of desire.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.