But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.
And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.
And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters
Billy Collins, “The Trouble with Poetry”
“Where did you find so many stories, Master Ludovico?” This is more or less what Cardinal Hippolytus of Este said to his protégé, Ariosto, after having read Orlando Furioso.
(…) Reading Ariosto is dangerous, as Cervantes already knew. In general, literary culture lays down rules that should not really be obeyed; the playing field is far too large.
The sceptical question posed by Hippolytus is not just the kind of question a Cardinal would ask; it is also a question of cardinal importance. (…)Endless questions arise about why I do this or that, or why I did this or that—and about what kind of answer should be given to such questions. And we ask ourselves these questions out of a sense of responsibility.
Ernst Jünger, “Approaches: Drugs and Ecstatic Intoxication”
Ernst Jünger’s question leads us to at least two other questions which are pertinent to the curatorial criteria of this exhibition. The first has to do with the choice of artists and the second with the choice of medium. Both are connected.
When it comes to celebrating the translation of Al Berto and paying homage to him, the first criteria for the choice of artists could have been to invite his friends and the artists he admired. One would only have to go through “A Secreta Vida das Imagens” or his Diários. It would have been a fair tribute.
However, even if any decision can be difficult, we felt that this would be the easy choice. Because it was already made and because, in case they accepted our invitation, these are celebrated artists today. Encounters were a part of Al Berto’s life. We wanted to bring Al Berto into our life and into our school. So, in the spirit of our current encounters, we chose well-known and lesser known artists, celebrated and up-and-coming, teachers and students. Some of the artists were residents at Mart when this project began. Others were teachers or guests and shared their experiences with us in different ways. Others were the bridges that connected all of this. Some, of course, were also Al Berto’s friends. Many hadn’t tried printmaking, but accepted the challenge. Others work between words and images, like Luís Manuel Gaspar, Tomás Cunha Ferreira, André Almeida e Sousa and myself.
Why printmaking? The immediate answer would be because its what I do. But there is a deeper motivation, related to the question of why it is that I do what I do.
Although I run a studio, printmaking isn’t the only medium in my work, not even the first.
A printmaking studio can have many different uses. It can be at the service of a school as a research laboratory, at the service of artists as a work space with technical support, and it can dedicate itself to publishing.
And it can be, in any of these cases, a place to share and a place where peers come together.
We didn’t choose printmakers, but artists, be they printmakers or not. This won’t be as much an exhibition of contemporary printmaking as it is an exhibition of printmaking in the ways in which it can be used.
Had we asked the artists to do any other kind of work, each one would have closed himself inside his studio, and theses encounters wouldn’t have taken place.
Printmaking obligates us.
To leave our studio, to work alongside others, to work with others, and, if we’re lucky, to work for others.
Printmaking is a long process of mediation between ourselves and our work.
Printmaking allows us to take images and to pull them apart, to test them, to take them to the limit and sometimes, when making editions, it can lead to exhaustion.
Printmaking is transparency, as Inês says.
And to whom, like Ana João, make the process their work, printmaking is mediation and time. It slows down, it projects, but it also allows one to work in a free fall.
Printmaking is the opposite of summer.
“Summer drives people apart”, Al Berto complains in his “Diários”, where he continuously waits for his friends and tells of his encounters.
This was one of the motivations for creating MArt’s printmaking studio. MArt is now a school within a school, Manuel da Maia, but the studio is also a school within MArt. That’s its first and most important role, alongside Paulo’s, André’s and Francisca’s drawing and painting classes, Miguel’s provocative sessions on contemporary art, Mariana’s ceramics workshop. We think collectively in the studio, not only linguistically, but mostly physically. Sometimes we communicate with colours and weights and textures, without the need for words.
In this case, the work we usually do with students and residents was done with the artists. Who, in this way, returned to school.
I thank the more experienced artists, who had never dedicated themselves to printmaking, for the willingness and humility with which they arrived at the studio, and I’m happy to realize that for them this was also a discovery or rediscovery, most of all in the cases of Pedro Sousa Vieira, João Jacinto and João Queiroz, who had last used an etching needle in the eighties. Some literally came back to their old school, like Alexandre Conefrey, an old hand at engraving. Some literally came back to their secondary-school, like Alexandre Conefrey, printmaking habituée, or returned to printmaking, like André Almeida e Sousa, or to etching, like Francisca Carvalho. And some were at home, and gained confidence with each passing day, like resident artist Frederico Pratas.
This isn’t to say that the way printmaking is made is to be taken lightly, or that there isn’t a seriousness to the way in which we propose to become a part of this tradition. If there weren’t a greater reason, the responsibility and honour that exhibiting in the Istituto Centrale per la Grafica represents wouldn’t allow us to make that mistake.
One has to ask for due license to participate in this age-old conversation. But we can’t be afraid, even to mumble, or we’ll never get to say anything of our own.
Even though the 10 collection edition we proposed to make is being given all our attention, commitment and thoroughness and is an important and indispensable final result of this process, it isn’t the finishing line. Publishing is more of an excuse to get together and work towards a common goal.
There is yet a third question.
Why so many?
So as to unleash chaos.
I spent my childhood and adolescence backstage. Wonderful things happened in the studio, in the dressing rooms, in wardrobe, in workshops, secret passages, behind the stage, under the stage, in the light rooms and sound rooms.
There was an underground path that led from the substage to the garden, like an instant connection between night and day. I spent hours watching and listening to Carlos Paredes and I stood beside Constança Capdeville while she recorded Libera me. That’s the way it was.
I made myself transparent so I could see the dancers, the pianists, the musicians and choreographers, and in 1984 I saw, without knowing who he was, Al Berto, who worked with my father, Vasco Wellenkamp and Ricardo Pais, António Lagarto and Constança in “Só longe daqui”.
I was thirteen, I didn’t know Al-Mu’tamid and for a long time I didn’t know how to hear or see Al Berto’s poetry. His name, which I thought an easy pun, kept me away from his words, that, without knowing, I already carried inside myself. The sea, always linked to his verses – “the sea wakens the sea wakens the sea / the sea”, “Only far from here…” – that my mother whispered every night into the microphone with the warmth of her brazilian accent. My mother was a “Vampe” in Al Berto and Ricardo Pais’ texts. Dressed in black, she smoked dramatically, without knowing how to smoke, through a long cigarette holder while she hung over a 5? 10? metre high swimming pool diving board. Below, on the stage, a madness of images: cars and swans and leopards and men in leather carrying whips. I would come across Al Berto again and again without meeting him, out at night in Lisbon: at Pastorinhos, Frágil, Majong, on the street. Al Berto wasn’t only a part of that night scene, he created it in such a way that it is still possible to go back there today.
Transparency still fits me. Running a studio is also being able to disappear so that others can do their work. Being present or absent according to each person’s needs in any given moment. Translating. I hope to have accomplished that a few times, even though I know it to be the hardest and most delicate task of all.
At the beginning of the project, I scheduled each session carefully, beginning, middle and end, so artists wouldn’t overlap with each other, but as time went by I decided to relinquish control and tell the artists to come by at any time. The school studio became an artist’s studio, a home studio, a couch and a dancefloor. Wonderful things began to happen. The work became as much a refusal and a distancing from each other, as an assimilation and a theft. We stole from each other like “common thieves”, we exchanged inks, paper, techniques, gazes, shapes, sizes and confessions.
Luís Almeida, working with etching, wanted to try João Queiroz’s soft ground, and Alexandre, like a secret or legacy, gave his tools and best pencils over to João Jacinto. Constança used, in her ink mixture, the one Mariana made with Luís Silverinha’s yellow, which turned out to be mine. Francisca opened André’s box as if it was her own. Protecting the tarlatans from colour contamination became a Sysiphean task for Enrico. And Nuri, clandestine passenger, made his prints from leftover pieces of paper.
I had the privilege of observing and learning from each artist: Frederico’s disciplined exaltation; Marta’s confident prudence; Gonçalo’s aphasia; Francisca and Luís Almeida’s loquacity; Constança’s elegance; Paulo’s shy mistrust; André’s struggle; Luís Silverinha’s aerial colour and Susana’s carnivorous colour; João Jacinto, for whom each accident is a joy and an opportunity, and his deepest black, and Mariana’s persistent refusal to stray. João Queiroz’s generosity – ‘don’t clean that too much, the guy we’re doing this for wouldn’t like something too neat’ – who risked working in a medium that isn’t his own. And I got to be a bit like a teacher to someone who’s been my teacher for 32 years.
Run, who had Bárbara in the meanwhile, and worked from home with Luís’ help. And Joana’s tranquillity, while circling each plate as a predator does his prey, and Inês’ easiness, whos etches as if breathing, and Ana João’s discretion and wisdom.
Some couldn’t work in the workshop: Tomás Cunha Ferreira, between islands and continents; Musa paradisíaca, who left me an unexpected challenge; João Cochofel, guardian of the Diferença workshop; João Decq, who carries his workshop to and fro; Carlos Corais, lover of printmaking, and Pedro Sousa Vieira, based in Oporto. And Luís Manuel Gaspar, who dedicated to Al Berto a drawing filled with intimacy and slowness. And me, overwhelmed, left to go home and draw.
Enrico asks me, as if he already knows the answer, if I like working for others. I do. As if other people’s work were my own. It is my work. And I like watching them work, as I’ve always done. There’s no selflessness.
The workshop has two opposite doors: one which is arrived at after walking through MArt’s classrooms and the resident’s studios. The second door is a small one, one you have to know about, and it takes crossing Manuel da Maia’s playground. The artists quickly learned how to enter and leave.
On the days when sessions were continuous, an artist would leave through one door and another would enter by the other one.
– ‘It’s like in the theater’ – Francisca observed.
It really is.
To Federico, “night and day of the same light”.
To all the artists for the trust and generosity with which they accepted this challenge.
To my collegues at MArt, who trust me, help me and put up with me every day so that I can keep my energy for the studio.
To Patrícia, friend and talented Director.
To André and Paulo, my friends and teachers with superpowers.
To Joana, who listens to me in loop and saws my plates.
To Enrico, who arrived to help when I needed, and to Nuri, both luminous presences in the workshop.
To Teresa Castanheira, who got me started on zinc on the telephone. To João Cochofel, who always helps and surprises me. To Mami Higuchi, who brings us Japan without leaving Portugal.
To Joana Paradinha, who worked with Pedro and Carlos in her Oporto workshop.
To Dr. Antonella Fusco and Dra. Emília Ferreira for their trust in this project.
To Antonio Caramoni, who retrieved the boxes.
To Sara for the “cozido”.
To Teresa, friend backstage, and Jorge, almost every Saturday.