7º Volume. Edição nº 13 007/1448. 30’07’’
Text by Joana Valsassina Curatorial assistant, MAAT - Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology
“Teria aqui, até, matéria para um apólogo: era uma vez um pobre diabo que se tinha enganado no mundo. Existia, como as outras pessoas, no mundo dos jardins públicos, dos cafés, das cidades comerciais, e queria persuadir-se de que vivia noutro sítio, por trás da tela de quadros, com os doges de Tintoretto, com os bons florentinos de Gozzoli, por trás das páginas dos livros, com Fabrice del Dongo e Julien Sorel, por trás dos discos de gramofone, com as longas queixas secas dos conjuntos de jazz. (…) E, nesse momento preciso, do outro lado da existência, nesse outro mundo que se pode ver de longe, mas sem nunca lá chegarmos, uma melodiazinha pôs-se a dançar e a cantar: “É como eu que se deve ser; é preciso sofrer a compasso.”
A voz canta:
Some of these days
You’ll miss me honey.
Devem ter riscado o disco neste sítio, porque se está a ouvir um barulho esquisito. E há qualquer coisa que aperta o coração: é que a melodia não é afectada, nem ao de leve, por este pequeno tossicar da agulha sobre o disco. A melodia está lá tão longe – lá tão atrás! Também isso eu compreendo: o disco risca-se e gasta-se, a cantora já morreu talvez; eu vou partir, vou tomar o comboio. Mas, por trás do existente que cai dum presente para o outro, sem passado, sem futuro, por trás destes sons que, dia a dia, se decompõem, se desbagoam e resvalam para a morte, a melodia permanece a mesma, jovem e firme, como uma testemunha sem piedade.”
A Náusea, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1938*
The work of Ana Guedes echoes a multitude of personal and political references modulated into sound and sculpture. This particular excerpt from Nausea, Sartre’s (first and) foremost philosophical novel, has been on her mind for quite some time. She knows it from a Portuguese edition that belonged to her father’s treasured collection, and that is now part of her installation. This collection − composed of several books by Marxists thinkers and a number of jazz and rock music records from the 1960-80s − traces the life of a family split between Angola, Portugal and Canada in the wake of the 1974 Carnation Revolution. This family heirloom marked Guedes’ cultural and ideological upbringing and has become a fertile point of departure for her multidisciplinary practice. Exploring and digesting these fragments of history and memory becomes a way to reflect on the personal, social, and natural ramifications of established power structures.
With this passage in mind, Guedes created a very particular turntable, which contains five integrated needles and can rotate at varying speeds and directions, opening up a myriad of possibilities to explore the physicality of the record and to read it, quite literally, against the grain. The artist composes new abstract arrangements by mining, manipulating, and juxtaposing her father’s old records, making use of this deconstructive mechanism to access and unfold the undercurrent layers embedded within these sound-storing objects.** Besides vinyl records, Guedes has experimented with music boxes and magnetic tapes, deliberately tampering with their loop aesthetics to disrupt assumptions of linearity. The composition created for this piece, played on three synchronised turntables, evokes a dialectical tension between recurring forces. As the needles continuously scratch each record, a trace of Sartre’s “merciless witness” lingers on.
On recurrences also stems from a different, yet intimately related, collection. Ana Guedes is fascinated by insects and has developed the habit of collecting corpses of fallen honeybees she finds along the way. The artist frequently evokes Georges Perec’s*** notion of the infra-ordinary when talking about her insect collection, associating it to an instinctive admiration for the banal and the habitual, and with an affective awareness of the fragility of life, particularly that of living beings deemed insignificant. A subliminal connection with her family history looms over this idiosyncratic habit. Her work brings to mind Hal Foster’s considerations on the “Archival Impulse” that infuses the work of several contemporary artists. Foster shrewdly interrogates whether this impulse might come from a “sense of failure in cultural memory,” that prompts a quest for counter narratives, but also recognises “the nature of all archival materials as found yet constructed, factual yet fictive, public yet private.” Despite differing widely in content and context, both collections permeating Guedes’ work relate to processes of mourning and remembrance, growing out of an urge to gather and puzzle together fragments of lost existences, as to recall the past and make sense of the present.
References to bees and honeycombs emerge recurrently in her father’s collection, in the covers of structuralist books, in the titles of neo-realist novels and in the pages of Capital. Guedes weaves together these symbolic ties in her work, hinting at the historical, political and environmental connotations of the bee and the honeycomb. Bee colonies has been equated with social organiSational structures since ancient times and the depiction of honeybees as workers runs deep in our collective imaginary. In the last decades, the rapid disappearance of wild bee populations has become an alarming marker of the global environmental crisis. While discussing the social significance of labor, Marx famously compared the work of an architect to the craft of a bee constructing her honeycomb. The hexagonal outline of these chambers, replicated widely in architecture and other manmade structures, constitutes the optimal geometric shape, as it requires minimal use of material to achieve maximum storage volume. For this work, Guedes experimented with the acoustic properties of honeycombs, using discarded apiculture panels as sound-resonating membranes, alluding to the conceptual, cultural and commercial appropriation of these natural structures.
These honeycomb panels fill up the gallery space with an uncanny scent but make up only a part of the installation. The artist creates an intriguing apparatus that reverberates and amplifies sound by linking the synchronised record players to a modular sounding board and to the actual gallery space, appropriating it as an integral part of the work. This modular structure, erected to control and contain the soundscape, expands on the parallels drawn with architecture as a powerful tool of imposition and restraint. Guedes associates the sectional scaffolding and its fragmented surface with recurring elements in modernist architecture, widely used in coloniSed regions of the globe as a systematic enforcement of colonial rationality. At Kunstraum Botschaft, merely two blocks away from where remains of the Berlin Wall still stand, the work’s abusive use of the gallery space speaks to the perpetuation of artificial barriers and enforced limits.
As in previous projects, Guedes makes use of the color blue as a reference to the “blue pencil” used by the Portuguese Censorship Commission to crisscross free speech in the country from 1926 to 1974. For this piece, the artist worked with a darker shade of ultramarine blue, etymologically associated with the European colonial past, and historically valued as a precious exotic pigment, reserved for representations of the divine and the elite. Ultramarine blue is also the pigment in Yves Klein’s patented formula International Klein Blue (IKB), persistently used in his monochrome paintings. The immersive quality of Klein’s canvases seems reflected here in the intense hue that fills up the gallery space. Blue electric wires trace paths between the installation’s composing elements, spacialising the soundscape by orchestrating this ensemble of reverberating bodies.
Looping back to the beginning, there is a cryptic quality to the work’s title that is intentional, but not final. It refers to the literary sources that inspired the work, suggesting, as the sound piece itself, that there are more layers to uncover. Ana Guedes returns repeatedly to the analog records that intertwine her intimate stories with historic accounts. Citing and juxtaposing sprawling references and fragmented memories, Guedes incessantly returns to an intimate dialogue with her disjoint past, each time adding new layers of meaning to her continuous palimpsest.
*Translated from the Portuguese edition: Sartre, Jean-Paul. A Náusea. (Lisboa: Publicações Europa-América, 1969): 222-23.
**This device was originally conceived to create the work Untiled Records (2016), a performative sound installation shown together with a selection of the vinyl records from Guedes’ collection in the artist’s solo show MOEBIUS: Fragmentos de ilusão, mapas de êxodo dos diários de Karl Marx (Capítulo I) at the Baginski Gallery, in Lisbon, in 2017.
***Perec, Georges. “The infra-ordinary,” in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997): 205-7
****Foster, Hal. "An Archival Impulse." October, v. 110 (2004): 3-22.