Landscapes of History
Navigating Landscapes inside Personal(s) Memory (ies) and/in History (ies)
:: Notes on Maria Lusitano’s artistic work
“All great fiction films drift toward documentaries, as all great documentaries drift toward fiction.” Jean Luc Godard
“The biotope of humankind is a complex affair, since it cannot be described solely in terms of living space: we live very much within time and, beyond the real present, we live collective stories, which have their roots in the past. Humankind is inseparable from these stories, which shape us, help us to tell our own stories, to understand ourselves, and to progress. But where are we going? If the story has ended, that’s going to be a difficult question to answer.” Nicolas Bourriaud, MAKE SURE THAT YOU ARE SEEN (SUPERCRITIQUE), Superchannel, 2002
Landscape is an expanse of scenery and visual emotion, which can be seen in a single view in one hand and in the other hand an extensive mental emotional viewpoint. One person needs to trace the internal transformation of the characters in this expanse of scenery, Maria Lusitano Santos (MLS) work is not about what can be seen or verbalized but about what can be felt — about the invisible that complements the visible. In this sense, as road movies contrast starkly with today’s mainstream films, in which new actions are created every three minutes to grab the attention of the viewer. In MLS artwork like in the road movies one finds a path of mediation between different profound elements: strong characters and their paths, atmosphere with aesthetic, philosophical and narrative that combine always a kind of a meta genre of art where visual, sound and literature are combined. And like in road movies, a moment of silence or of contemplation is generally more important than the most dramatic action. This is precisely what happens in the work and in the “narrative art films” and in all the artistic work of MLS, a path of stories and in the ultimate analysis history.
Her artwork deals with the frontiers of image. Her work deals with the organic development of the mass of images: while representing the world. She instinctly knows that the important development of a visual artist it is no longer about making images, but about controlling how we appear in images. Having this in consideration MLS uses photography, drawing, film and new media, in order to get this control. All her work has the same flow and strength and deals with a global, visual culture in the age of the Internet, where “visualisation” has become an increasingly popular notion for “thinking” the world by means of its images. And the owners of the images, even nowadays images are produced by machines, are still the human beings.
In the project “To inhabit History” MLS uses a complex mechanism process of navigation through images where we are placed in the path of the lives of characters, their location, and their feelings. In this work one finds persons that lived strong moments in the recent history and we see how they react with that particular moments (social, political, military and personal) and we are confronted with the memory of those past experiences and all the attached transformations undergone by its main characters as they are confronted to the memory of that gone reality. This project aggregates strong events; “the critical time” in the history of the presented characters.
MLS work lives in this correlation between two paradox worlds — fiction (with a fine domain of the narrative and literary displays) and documentary (with all the visual focus and emphasizing or expressing things as perceived without distortion of personal feelings, insertion of fictional matter, or interpretation). However we are confronted with an “objective art” that always walks close to the “subjective”, all combined in complex yet simple to watch works that can have several readings and that deal with aesthetic, psychological and philosophical issues and themes. MLS work is a bridge between all these issues, incorporating methodologies from both fields of study. And the more the line between fact and fiction is obscured, the more interesting the result is. We are literally inside living history and in the life of the characters but sometime one don’t know if one is inside a documental work of art or inside a fiction documentary given the plot of different elements we are immersed in.
“You know, in the ’50s, there was still a country to be mapped. We didn’t know what we would find at the end of the road. Today, everything has changed. With TV, there’s no more ‘away.’ ” Lawrence Ferlinghetti
To make his point clear, Goodchild refers to Charles Darwin’s so-called discovery of the Galapagos Islands: ‘Hundreds if not thousands of people must have visited the Galapagos Islands before Darwin, but none had his insights. In that sense Darwin rediscovered the Galapagos, discovering the theory of natural selection by visiting an area that is superbly designed to reveal a general process that we now know occurs everywhere, but is also invisible almost everywhere… ‘ (Ibid.). VISUALISING RELATIONS, Superflex’ Relational Art in the Cyberspace Geography, By Troels Degn Johansson, Paper for the Asia Europe Forum 2000, Kyongju, South Korea, October 23 – 25, 2000
In the era of the globalize economy and when cultural studies and pos colonialism are the themes to think about, MLS has created a different art form combining very different mediums but complementary where one finds the movement, dictated by a new kind of relevant themes, issues and mediums. Colonialism was to Europe countries and especially to Portugal a kind of far Wild West that was built on transplants, on men and women who sought to redefine themselves in a land of opportunity. Given the weight of the Discoveries in the History of Portugal and all the related heritage and contradictions, grieves and myths this photographic and sound work deals precisely with the kind of people that went to the Portuguese former colonies or were living there in significant tense moments of history, mainly in the process of decolonisation and the related conflicts. People that lived a new phase fo discovering, different from the past and the images we had from that past.
This particular artwork portraits the persons (characters) with powerful photos of each person in a present moment in their houses, public spaces or work places that were in those countries (Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, Goa… and the process of independence of political tension…) and rides us through a personal journey of experience of a colonial memory and very intense past, with the integrated text in the images and the surrounding sound of the voices of some of the characters. It is a very intimate approach that in a documental way has the ability to put us thinking about personal lives, social moments and historic events that took place no so long ago. There are a lot of elements in this powerful landscape of history where histories are intimately related and the goal is to make us think about (a strong issue for each Portuguese person) history, conflicts and human episodes of pain, loss and nostalgic…
“For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough) – they are experiences.” Rainer Marie Rilke
MLS is fascinated with personal narratives, and with experiences, with the fiction / documentation of reality, a human, social and political reality made of each person (an interstice and centre of affections) that lives it in a very own way. This is the strength of her powerful work, an art growing between the borders of visual arts, film, literature, new media and social archives. She makes an art that deals with the mechanisms of reality, recreating and reading history. A history made of strong narratives of characters that while inside narratives in the border of documentary and fiction are presented to us as the subject of investigative interest in both profound themes that expand form philosophy to the expanded field of psychology, sociology. She works in a meta artistic process with such key concepts and notions as ’emotional intelligence’ and the ‘intelligence of emotions’ pushing her personal desire to present true emotions, feelings, sentiment and sentimentality, in the form of characters and their inner narratives and with the corollary realm of ‘ethical’ and broadly ‘humanist’ issues such as authenticity, immediacy, integrity and sincerity – the universally concepts. But she presents these concepts in meta-narratives, where we follow the poetic and metaphorical path of the characters, that we observe and feel identified whether in the form of film or, in this particular case, in a documental photographic installation with sound.
MLS work in an artistic approach that without loosing an aesthetic strength is made of history, a gesture that is made of personal experiences, one work of recollections that subverts the dialectics of conventional truth and makes us think about the ties, the values that correlate us to the people, places, identity and the ideas that we live. It is an artwork that raises a theoretical and visual point that aggregates landscapes of stories – history.
London, November 2007