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Oréades: Geography and Mythology in an Exhibition by Gabriela Albergaria and Marcelo Moscheta

João Fernandes


An official cultural center invites two artists to stage an exhibition in an embassy of its country. This would be anodyne news, made more or less public depending on the communication channels, more or less recognized according to the channels of legitimization. The circumstances of this invitation, the works of the invited artists, the nature of the works chosen and/or produced specifically for this exhibition, the place where it is being presented, and the moment at which it is taking place, however, give rise to a situation that merits the attention of the aforementioned channels, of anyone interested in the relationship between art, culture and diplomacy, or interested in the forms and concepts of art in the strict sense, and particularly in the works of the two artists participating here. In light of what the exhibition features, it is likewise worthy of the broadest possible reception, and of everyone’s attention in the current world who is concerned, who thinks about, or who is active in regard to the dilemma between the conditions of human life on the planet and the conditions of a planet increasingly conditioned and affected by how human life not only inhabits it, but also threatens it, jeopardizing not only the survival of all other forms of life that coexist in it, but also the natural conditions of the planet that determine their possibility and reality.

Complementary Coincidences

The exhibition is being held in the interior and exterior spaces of the embassy of Portugal in Brasília. The invited artists are a Portuguese citizen, Gabriela Albergaria (Vale de Cambra, Porto, 1965) and a Brazilian citizen, Marcelo Moscheta (São José do Rio Preto, São Paulo, 1976). Their citizenship is not disconnected from a civic concern toward which their works can be applied, but this citizenship is not limited to one country, it is not contained within a single territory or state. Sharing ways of doing that will give rise to various ways of seeing, this citizenship is also not globalized in its references: the artists prefer to specify details and to reinvent the place where their works are revealed, making it unique and special due not only to the specific nature of the artworks that we now discover in it, but also to the challenge posed by their differences in relation to a foreseen and inherent universality.

The artists have titled their exhibition Oréades [Oreads]. In 1824, Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius (1794–1868) – currently described on Wikipedia as “a physician, botanist, and anthropologist, today one of the most important German researchers who studied Brazil […], a follower of Linnaeus’s taxonomy,” a system for the identification and classification of living organisms – resorted to Greek mythology to coin the term “Oréades” to name the region of the Brazilian highland savannas, known as the Cerrado. The biome of the Cerrado, in which Brasília is located, is the second largest biome by area in the country, and is also considered the world’s most biodiverse savanna, with an area of around two million km². For their part, the Oreads were nymphs that inhabited and protected mountains and caverns, who lived for a very long time, without getting old. Due to being immersed in the colonial scientific Eurocentrism, Von Martius did not search for equivalent words within the languages of the indigenous peoples whom he certainly met during his trip through Brazil. This was “natural” for a man of his culture and time. By its cultivated strangeness, the exhibition’s title nonetheless poses a question to the visitor concerning the entire historical-cultural process to which it refers.

Gabriela Albergaria and Marcelo Moscheta are two contemporary artists who construct their works based on references taken from the recent history of the visual arts, from the wide range of materials and artistic practices they find in it. They select from this repertoire, combining these approaches, materials and practices in their specific works. Drawing, photography, sculpture, installation, painting and video are media that they use as resources for expanding the possibility of each of the artistic genres which underlie them, offering the viewer a multisensory intelligence that is awakened by each of their artworks. Found materials are combined and intercrossed in ways that are only possible through the art of their combination, or through artistic processes that each of the artists protagonizes in his or her own distinct way. Their work process is actually part and parcel with the final result, as revealed by the careful documentation that many of their pieces assume and reveal. Recollections of languages of a conceptual and postconceptual art are perceptible not only in their works, but also in the discourses the artists make concerning them, as can be seen in the interviews with the two artists included in this publication. Understanding, questioning, subverting and transforming each place where these artworks are presented is part of the work itself, in a process that guides its existence and has given rise to this exhibition.

That the awareness of the exhibition Oréades runs through an embassy in Brasília, masterfully using the possibilities offered by its interior spaces as well as the surrounding gardens, is an operative principle of metamorphosis that the artists leverage in the place where their works dwell: not losing the identity of its architectural and functional characteristics, this place is reinvented and questioned based on the presence of the artworks in it. The visitor, him- or herself, will be converted into a participating spectator questioned in his or her presence, regardless of the reasons why he or she is there. To this end, the artists have adapted their works to the places where they are now presented, or have created works specifically for the exhibition. The conclusions that any viewer may reach from being in contact with these works questions the symbolic awareness of the place itself, casting a pall of indefinition on that ambiguity by which art interrogates the conditions and the perceptions of life: are we in a garden, at an embassy, at a cultural center, in Brasília, in Portugal, in Brazil, in the world? It will be up to the sensibility and reflection of each visitor to construct a path for a cosmogony of his or her own, in this itinerary that the two artists’ works resituate in relation to the preexisting conventions of the visit.

Gabriela Albergaria and Marcelo Moscheta share in a very strong quality: it is based on nature as a reality and representation, that their works are made. Finding, reuniting, joining, collecting, combining, transforming, drawing, painting, photographing, filming and installing are verbs that find in nature a common noun that fits the myriad possibilities opened by each of their works. Besides the references assumed and detectable in the productive processes of the two artists, their works provide different examples of what could be formulated as an “ecological art,” according to the definition that Portuguese artist Alberto Carneiro (São Mamede do Coronado, Santo Tirso, 1937 – Porto, 2017) formulated in his “Notas para um Manifesto de Arte Ecológica” [Notes for a Manifesto of Ecological Art], written between 1968 and 1972 : “ecological art will be the rebirth of a natural joy in the encounter with a renewed and infinitely close nature: a work undergoing change in the awareness and unconscious of a time and once again named in the possession of aesthetic sensations that are futurely and naturally reversible.”*

The awareness of the place where we are, an embassy in a city like Brasília, not only the capital of the country but the heart of a biome like that of the Cerrado, threatened in its wealth and diversity by current events such as the tragic forest fires reported worldwide, inspire interpretations and challenge readings and positionings or forms of action, among which we can contextualize precisely this exhibition, in which each of the artists has very coherently chosen nature as a theme and material in his or her works. Multiple intuitions are converted and unfolded in coincidences and correspondences. The elective affinities complement and position each work in relation to the others in a process of plural discovery, knowledge and recognition.

For its size, scale and materials, there is a work by each of the two artists in the show that symbolically marks the path taken by the visitor through the exhibition. Hiato (2021), by Marcelo Moscheta, opens a crack, creates a physical and metaphorical gap by adding a trail to the pathways through the embassy’s garden, between two areas where the visitor finds the dry branches of species endemic to the Cerrado and species that are exotic to the Cerrado, suspended on iron supports that recall agricultural practices, as human action on nature. For her part, Gabriela Albergaria, in 1/20 de terra cultivável necessária para preencher o espaço da galeria (2021), surprisingly transforms the space of one of the embassy’s rooms, giving shape to a rectangular volume of local red soil, to which she added black soil and purple soil brought from other places in Brazil. Both of the works add complexity to the places in which they are installed; “inside” and “outside” leave aside their adverbial functions to construct another enunciation of the place, of its circumstances and interpretations, subject to another alternative syntax beyond the conventions of the space’s defining functionality.

Listing, arranging in series, identifying and cataloging are processes of scientific methodology that the two artists appropriate, transferring them to the particular poetics of their works: thus, in a series like Antes (2021) Marcelo Moscheta, presents a set of tree species from the Cerrado, represented through monotypes made with carbon paper on Saunders paper, a refined paper traditionally used for watercolor, which recalls the drawings by the traveling painters of other times, or the Anglo-Saxon landscape tradition, mediated by the awareness of processes of reproduction and printing in the history of photography. The result is a singular and very beautiful botanical album mounted on the wall in a checkerboard mural, transferring the drawing into space, thereby reinventing, in this montage, the place where they are presented. Gabriela Albergaria Color Chart Brasília (2019/2021), in which she uses colored pencils to represent the region’s warm earth tones, as in those catalogs of pigments brought from faraway lands in the history of color in the materials of painting. Listing and vertically reproducing these earth tones, with a simplicity as elementary as it is essential, Albergaria transfers into drawing the same sort of questioning with which Gerhard Richter confronted painting in his Color Charts.

In some works by Albergaria and by Moscheta, the representation of natural elements such as seeds, trees, branches, and cut tree trunks give rise to drawings, photographs and prints, through various combinatorial devices and strategies in their spatial installation. All of these works are simultaneously material, process and result, as in the documental records made during 19th-century scientific expeditions through Brazil by traveling draftsmen and painters, whose notebooks these Oréades often recall.

In a video screening at the show (Marcelo Moscheta, Pau-Brasil, 4’30’’) hands use a pair of scissors to prune a branch, electronically reechoing the sound of each snip, while in a sculpture by Gabriela Albergaria a tree trunk appears cut in two, the empty space between the two parts filled by a beam of industrially fabricated wood. Two metaphors for the end of a text about a fractal exhibition, which is also an encounter of two artists, each with his or her own ideas, “for postponing the end of the world”**: as in fractal geometry, each one of their pieces can bring us very far, to a geography in which the relationships between nature and human action work in synergy, the latter not being the (self)destroyer of the former.

In this exhibition, both artists construct “conversations” among their pieces which are revealed as other fascinating and subtle dialogues between their works and the place in which they are presented, between this place and the “sui generis” city that situates it, between the city and the Cerrado, in this fractal path which they invite us to discover. In both, the landscape is interiorized and updated, in two paths that revisit it as a genre and representation, but also as a cosmogony of an intimate voyage that conveys to us the awareness of its mysteries and our duty/becoming in the concern for its preservation. Nature and artifice are intertwined in the works of these two artists fully mindful that nature is an artifice that belongs to a human condition which is its ally. Traveling artists in a time of pandemic, an inopportune moment for either traveling or encounter, Gabriela Albergaria and Marcelo Moscheta protagonize and reinvent this place of encounter that art can reveal, in the rustlings of these Oréades that invite and now lead, to the ears of their “cousins” of the Brazilian Cerrado, the delicate subtlety of their collaborative, resistant and protective gestures. This is the path of enchantment that is now proposed to the visitor.

text for the catalogue of the exhibition Oréades  .  Embassy of Portugal in Brasília  .  

* Cf. Alberto Carneiro, “Notas para um Manifesto de Arte Ecológica” in Alberto Carneiro – Exposição Antológica, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisboa, 1991, p.62.

** Cf. Ailton Krenak, Ideias para adiar o fim do Mundo, Companhia das Letras, São Paulo, 2019.