Lisbon

Helena Almeida

Centro Cultural de Belém

Pés no Chão, Cabeça no Céu” (Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds) encompasses thirty-five years of work in which, between the studio floor and the blue sky, everything passed through the body of Helena Almeida. In the ’60s the artist began questioning the material and conceptual elements that constitute the definition of painting. In the ’70s she abandoned traditional modes of depiction to undertake an array of practices whose point of departure is her own body. It all begins “inside me”—“Dentro de Mim,” as the title of a series of photographs from 2000–2001 says—not in the psychological sense of a subjectivity that expresses itself, but in the performative sense of material (the body) presenting itself.

Almeida creates successive series of black-and-white photographs of herself. The photos register moments of the action of moving about, painting, or drawing in the studio—not painting or drawing by traditional means, perhaps, but through actions that transform movements into a work of art. In the series “Pintura Habitada” (Inhabited Painting), 1975–77, and “Desenho Habitado” (Inhabited Drawing), 1975, we see the artist in the act of painting or drawing, holding in her hand the brush or pencil from which flow streams of blue paint or black thread that, above or emerging from the surface of the photograph, possesses a real physical presence. The video Sente-me, Ouve-me, Ví-me (Feel Me, Hear Me, See Me), 1978–80, reveals the performance dimension of the work that precedes the photos.

Almeida’s transdisciplinary dynamic leads not only to an abandonment of the traditional artistic practices but to the progressive awareness of the necessity of making the passage from oneself to others. In the “Inside Me” series, made by attaching mirrors to different parts of herself, the body opens itself to reflect space, light, and everything that surrounds it. In these images the movement of the body remakes the surrounding space, and remakes itself, as body, through the absorption of that same space. The way that the author “installs” her body in the studio modifies what would otherwise be our normal perception of space by generating an installation effect.

Almeida’s work explores questions such as: How is it that the body and the movement of a body—that of the author—makes art? How is it that during this process the body itself is what becomes art? And after various forms of interaction (absorption, penetration, occultation, habitation) between the body and the works of art that arise from it, what remains for art besides the mark of a body’s passage? The answer to this last question lies perhaps in the title of a recent series: “Seduzir” (Seduce), 2002. In these photographs, we witness the peculiar staging of certain poses that we can interpret as commentary on the stereotypes of feminine seduction. But the most unsettling effect results from the artist’s confronting us with the presence of her body in a manner that forces us, as observers, to take cognizance of the place and limits of the action and power of our own bodies.

Alexandre Melo

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.