Between the Lines:
The Allegorical Impulse in the Work of Susana Mendes Silva
In 2001 Susana Mendes Silva carried out a work that was to be included in a series of "publications" for a daily newspaper. This newspaper, which is widely recognised for its commitment to covering cultural issues, set aside its double middle pages (Centerfold)
for a whole year in its weekly supplement for artistic interventions. One of the art critics on the newspaper, Óscar Faria, took on the role as the curator and invited artists to freely "use" the generously reserved space without any kind of restrictions. A type of initiative that reminds one of the activities of t Art Society in Austria, which in the nineties launched a set of publications of this type of "Public Art" in the newspaper "Der Standard", or also, even earlier and today acknowledged as the first "prototype": the work of art that was materialised in the form of a publication entitled "Homes for America
", by Dan Graham, in the US Arts Magazine
, in December 1966.
The fact that a museum or "normal" exhibition has its own rules of functioning conditions, on the one hand, the reading of art, and on the other hand becomes a necessary conditioning factor for an art that only on the "white cube" manages to put into practice its jeu
(game) of intellectual interactivity between the author and the spectator through its work of art. There is a specific unveiling of the art in the museum, like a film in the cinema. The museum presents itself for any
artistic intervention like a bubble, guaranteeing authors a certain "impunity" in relation to acts of "provocation", often against the hypocrisies of the society that, after all, are financing this bubble. The paradigms of art production, with its discourses, the architectures of the museums and the concepts of the use of these spaces are mutually nfluential. Whether this is in the making of an art that is physically defined by the existing museological infrastructures or whether this is when museums, always seeking something original and new in the current Zeitgeist
dominated by a cultural industry, "swallow up" the new forms of presenting art through the adapting of their infrastructures, as can be clearly seen in the transformation of the "white cube" into a "black box" housing the video
projection equipment (and sometimes still slides) which is nowadays so used by the producers of contemporary art. clearly seen in the transformation of the "white cube" into a "black box" housing the video projection equipment (and sometimes still slides) which is nowadays so used by the producers of contemporary art.
Many authors of projects who had to refine their artistic grammars during their careers due to these rules of the game forgot that in the pure transposing of works well known to galleries and museums to a double page in a newspaper they ended up eliminating the efficiency of the stated game, particularly when the works - starting from the predominant theory of modern art - reject allegorical aspects.
In her contribution to the newspaper O Público on the 19th of May 2001, Susana Mendes Silva evokes these same aspects. Her contribution releases thoughts around the second level infrastructures, which we need in museums and galleries in order to create meaning in the art field: the colour of the floor in the exhibition space, the plinth and the passe-partout
, the glass case that suggests valuable works, the reception table in the art gallery with publications and texts by the curator or published reviews (like the one the reader is now reading) and finally the information card on the wall, next to the work of art. This last aspect is well known as our salvation when a certain sense of loss of confidence in relation to the work of art takes hold of us, when we cannot find points of access to the work that might allow us to decode the author's discourse. At these moments we rush to the card, on which we expect to find the solution, the "A-Hah!" effect through our understanding of who the author is, what the title is and other pieces of information that can finally reveal the intellectual essence of the work to us. This important second level component is turned into the first level by Susana Mendes Silva. The information card becomes the work of art, which reflects and appropriates the context of the presentation: the card for the work of art as the work of art itself appears in the form of a mass-produced text on the centre double pages of a newspaper.
The "information" on the label - the text that becomes the work - takes the artist's games even deeper. Besides mentioning the author's name, the author puts in the title "Público (Centerfold
)" the two words that refer to the newspaper and the place occupied in the newspaper (the double centre pages, the technical designation for which is precisely Centerfold
), in which we, "readers" accidentally come across the work of art. And it goes on to mention the technique (from the printing process), the format (of the newspaper) and the run of the mass-produced work (the print run of the newspaper on that day).
That which gives a name to the work is the work, and the result of this is a duplication of the very means/media
that houses the work of art. The reader of the newspaper thus finds himself in the situation, created by the artist, of ending up reading the credit list for a work of art that claims to itself be the work of art itself in its production run of 76,000 copies of a newspaper, with one then being able to speak of a dichotomy between the "credit list" and the "work of art" which reflects the "work of art - newspaper" dichotomy.
We may notice a certain symbolism in this deviation through its reference to modern art itself, to the myths of modern art, with its commitment in the author's nature as an original genius, with the print run here indicated by the artist (with its own plausibility) becoming ridiculously high. As an essential part of the work, this indication becomes "text" in the dual sense mentioned by Roland Barthes, functioning as a visualisation of its "excessive" visualisation, subverting one of the most important tools in the creation of meaning in the field of modern art, which still (or once again, more and more) is fully active. Susana Mendes Silva understood very well how to use the inevitable limitations of presenting art in the centerfold
of a newspaper supplement, and grants an added value to this, the fitting context for the artist to grant the reader (the public) a sophisticated doorway into the game of communication between the author and the newspaper O Público.