Lisbon

Carla Filipe, Instalação Rorschach (Rorschach Installation) (detail), 2011, books with bookworm damage, Plexiglas shelves, seven elements, overall 17 3/4 x 118 1/8 x 1 3/8".

Carla Filipe, Instalação Rorschach (Rorschach Installation) (detail), 2011, books with bookworm damage, Plexiglas shelves, seven elements, overall 17 3/4 x 118 1/8 x 1 3/8".

Carla Filipe

Galeria Graça Brandão

Carla Filipe, Instalação Rorschach (Rorschach Installation) (detail), 2011, books with bookworm damage, Plexiglas shelves, seven elements, overall 17 3/4 x 118 1/8 x 1 3/8".

There is an old expression in Portuguese, “bordas de alguidar,” referring to what’s left over on the sides of a cooking bowl, which the rich don’t bother eating but the poor can’t afford to turn down. It’s a little like the English expression “the bottom of the barrel.” Carla Filipe used the Portuguese phrase as the title for her recent exhibition, making a direct reference to the country’s calamitous economic situation. In this exhibition, Filipe recovers the work of Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro—a satirical journalist and artist who founded three newspapers in the late-nineteenth century and who created the figure of Zé Povinho, a cartoon figure that was to become the symbol of the Portuguese people. Bordalo Pinheiro has recently been rediscovered by the contemporary Portuguese art scene, particularly for his ceramic work. Filipe wanted to revive his acid political interventions and assert the continuing relevance of his legacy.

Clippings from the original newspapers and depictions of Zé Povinho, along with portraits of contemporary politicians (both Portuguese and international), are incorporated into the four large drawings Filipe presented in the show. The drawings resemble the front pages of sensationalist newspapers. Images and texts collide. A multitude of stories and anecdotes is referred to in each work and all evoke a feeling of disenchantment and lament for the state of the nation.

Facing these works was a floor installation, Mãos vazias: a mão não é só um orgão de trabalho, mas também produto deste (Empty Hands: The Hand Is Not Only an Organ For Work But it Is Also a Product of It) (all works 2011)—an array of forty-one obsolete wood-and-iron work tools. Bought at secondhand markets, these utensils speak not only of nostalgia, but also of an archaeology of manual labor. Many of the tools are connected to professions such as carpentry, baking, or farming, and their functions will be unknown to the majority of today’s spectators. Some of these objects have also been associated with acts of protest—peasants brandishing scythes and sickles, for instance, as signs of agrarian rebellion.

Instalação Rorschach (Rorschach Installation) consists of six books infested with bookworms, shown open on the wall. The marks of the worms’ feast are lines and holes on the open pages of the books, making them resemble Rorschach tests. If the existence of bookworms reflects the lack of care these volumes have endured, then the patterns the creatures have formed—by resembling a tool for the psychological assessment of personality disorders—become a metaphor for the fate of culture in Portuguese society. The (beautiful) disintegration of the books suggests that culture itself, also uncared for, is disintegrating.

In the video Se não há cultura, não há nada (If There Is no Culture There Is Nothing), we follow an antiquarian bookseller through his store and overstuffed basement. We hear him ramble on about books, rare findings, entire collections that were held by prominent families for generations and are now coming onto the market to be sold. Yet we also hear about the difficulty of keeping the business going, and even its imminent failure. The title of the work was inspired by an article by cultural critic António Pinto Ribeiro, “Is Culture Expensive? Try Ignorance.” If “Bordas de Alguidar” stands pejoratively for leftovers, for barrel scrapings, in Filipe’s works it can paradoxically be interpreted as the remnants of resistance, the vestiges of a utopian dream for society, culture, and politics.

Filipa Oliveira