Of becoming (and of death)

by João Silvério

The work of Mónica de Miranda can be understood as an agent that continually reconnects artistic processes with the transitory condition of the spectator. Regardless of the themes that she investigates, or of socio-political reflections that strap in her identity a real and emotional sense with the place and history of those who inhabit it, her works contain part of her self-referential experience but not always autobiographical, because it is not a testimony of the journey but of someone who recognizes herself in the transition and in the territorial change.

This change, or this logic of circulation, lies not only in the fact that she has lived in several countries and known different cultures, but essentially in the way she interprets the temporal relations and the memory of these experiences, that contribute to the construction of meta-narratives which are articulated under a line/time; as an information flow that integrates seemingly diverse places and temporalities. This abstract line locates places that intersect at different moments of time, and in the specific case of her work they are not reduced to a linear determination of the past, but rather to recognize the temporal correlatation that allows an active relationship of the subject over the present.

In this sense the exhibition “Atlantic – Journey to the center of the earth” is exemplary of her work process for two main reasons. The first is present in the title in which we can infer two apparently contradictory planes, the first being the word that determines an immense and mutant geographic mass that is the Atlantic Ocean; and the second is the Journey to the Center of the Earth, a reference to Julius Verne’s utopian work that is close to her. However, the placement of the hyphen amplifies this transitory possibility which, although present in her work, is an aggregating element that expresses the multiplicity of senses in the reception of the same by the viewer, having as a structuring line the reference to two substances: water and earth which are opposed in their constitution.

The second reason that leads me to this brief reflection is the duality between the ocean and the earth, a physical but simultaneously immaterial differentiation, an imaginary that goes back to the beginnings of humanity, and for this same reason metaphysic: between fluidity and solidity. It is riven by the need to know what is hidden beneath the earth which naturally supports the ocean and breathes in the volcanic mouths of the Atlantic islands of the Macaronézia, such as the Azores or, in this case in particular, the Cape Verde archipelago, specifically in Ilha do Fogo (Island of Fire).

Monica de Miranda recognizes in this island an intensity of the life of our planet in the sense that it is renewed by the volcanic eruptions that ferment of fire and of lava that immediately cools and everything crystallizes, everything transforms and updates; in an approximation to the paradoxical duality that the presence of the volcano contains: between life and death. The photographs of women dressed in black with bare feet, as in “Untitled. From the series City-Scapes” and “Formation”, or the artist’s own body in the diptych entitled “Horizon”, are relevant in the sense that this figure transmits the idea of ​​osmosis with the burned soil in which its own regeneration survives the desertified landscape. The volcano is a presence that rises in the landscape and is also a recurring image in the collective imagination and visual representation throughout history. But in this work of Mónica de Miranda is, above all, a sign that presents a second skin that models and transmutes the landscape, not only by the visual mantle that covers all in an ash relieve, but because it announces an interior and organic experience that resides in an unknown place, so close to the center of the earth, whether this model is an imaginary and fictional construction or a given geological matrix.

And as a fictional construction the intervened pigmented and waxed series of photographs -entitled “Bedrock”- rescue this intermittent materiality which, while present, merges into the printed image affirming in artist’s gesture the intervention on the image as a recording of a journey; a time that is updated in its finalization.

Under the same methodology, a sculptural object in the form of a library shelf, contains black sand inside a box in its base. This natural element, the black sand, is also subject to the logic of the image but escapes to the photographic, contributing to the construction of meta-narratives that are pointed by references that approach  territorial mapping. However, this mapping is only recognizable if we take into account the geography of places and the temporal correpondence that is continually reorganized in the becoming that Monica’s work represents, in each layer, or in each register that welcomes her affections, and undoubtedly in her politic reflection that confronts us as image/time of the places that Monica de Miranda seeks in the correpondence of the Self with the Other.

Panoramic in Moving Fragments,
Or Mónica de Miranda’s Twin Visions of (Un-)Belonging

by Ana Balona de Oliveira

In the recent project Panorama (2017), Mónica de Miranda returns yet again to looking at modernist architecture in Angola. In Hotel Globo (2014-2015), she had already critically examined the changing urban surface of Luanda through video, photographic and performative incursions into the interior landscapes of the 1950s Hotel Globo. The modernist hotel is still functioning in Luanda’s downtown, whose architectural heritage has been increasingly replaced with gentrified high-rise luxury buildings. In Miranda’s work, the Globo became a spatio-temporal and affective ‘lens’ through which her bodily gaze looked at the multiple geographies and histories of the city – colonial, post-independence, post-Cold War, post-civil war – in order to think the complexity of its layered present and to imagine the possibility of different futures.[1]

In Panorama, the abandoned Hotel Panorama – located on the island of Luanda (Ilha do Cabo) from where its guests once had panoramic views of the city and the Luanda bay, on one side, and the Atlantic Ocean, on the other – becomes the main protagonist; or so the title of the entire installation seems to tell its viewers. But, in Miranda’s non-linear – and, in fact, fairly non-narrative – visual story, there are other architectural ‘characters’ in various locations in Luanda and beyond. Furthermore, many such vacant spaces appear occupied by actual, if always enigmatic, characters; in the case of Panorama, these are twin sisters. In Hotel Globo(2014-2015), Once Upon a Time (2012), An Ocean Between Us (2012) and Erosion (2013), among other previous works, the artist herself appeared on screen alongside male collaborators, whereby she hinted at the possible narrative existence of a couple as much as at non-binary notions of identity (as far as gender, sexuality, race, nation and culture are concerned) and at a non-masculinist gaze. In these works, the characters lend themselves to being perceived as different versions of a self that could be simultaneously male and female, European and African. In Archipelago (2014) and Field Work (2016), the twin sisters made their first appearance within Miranda’s oeuvre, as another strategy to address the ‘in-betweenness’ and the ‘doubling’ of self and other and here and there that is proper to the hybrid subjectivity of diaspora. Appearing as children in the latter installations, in Panorama the twins have grown up.

As we shall see, by drawing upon the name and history of the Hotel Panorama, the Panorama to which the installation as a whole refers poses larger questions, if always deeply personal and affective, on history, memory, desire and a condition of (un-)belonging to manifold spaces and times.[2] It also examines the notion of the ‘panoramic’ gaze and of its purportedly all-encompassing visual knowledge and pleasure. The work disrupts such a conception of the gaze and the attendant possibility of fully containing, retrieving or fixating the ever-changing processes of personal and collective becoming, particularly those marked by the diasporic experience. So, although contemplative, the gazing subjectivity in Miranda’s work is far from totalized and totalizing and, instead, avowedly fragmented and fragmentary. The gaze – bodily, psychic and geographically and historically situated – is split into many gazes. It does attain some sort of panoramic view, but only by the juxtaposition of its fragments. Such fragments do not equate the separated and categorized parts of a given totality that is divided into components only to be thoroughly mastered and seamlessly made whole again as an object of power/knowledge.[3] They do not equate mere playful signifiers either, lending themselves to the endless game of reification and commodification of histories, spaces and identities proper to what Frederic Jameson famously called the postmodern cultural logic of late capitalism.[4] The fragmented and fragmentary nature of Miranda’s panoramic visions – inhabited, affective and spatio-temporally situated landscapes of architecture and nature – resist the depoliticized moment when meanings get lost and a concern for agency is done away with. Meanings are always contingent and positional, ever-changing and relational, but, as far as being and becoming are concerned, they are also arenas for struggles of recognition and resistance.[5]

As to history, memory, desire and the condition of (un-)belonging to manifold spaces and times, Panorama’s multiple and multiplying gazes do not redeem a sense of loss of stable points of origin or rootedness – an origin that could only mythically be seen to allow for a unified vision, knowledge and experience of the world, of the self and of communities. Rather, such a loss is positively embraced in the ethico-political activity of (un-)belonging to an always shifting network of routes across continents, islands and oceans.[6] Grounded in her own autobiographical experience of being from both Europe and Africa, Portugal and Angola (with the United Kingdom and Brazil also partaking of her affective geography), the longing that arises from the loss of a stable sense of belonging does not fall into the mythic traps of nostalgia. Instead, it is transmuted into a cosmopolitan and communal desire for being at home in the world (this cosmopolitanism having, however, always to remain deeply critical, as the ability to move across borders is a privilege that a majority of impoverished subjects worldwide cannot afford).

Angola is one of Miranda’s affective landscapes of Atlantic belonging. Born in 1976 in Portugal to an Angolan mother and a Portuguese father and maintaining familial connections with relatives who stayed in Angola upon independence in 1975, Miranda’s work is deeply marked by family memories and experiences and, more broadly, by the collective histories of Portugal and Angola. In Panorama, her focus on the psychic and physical remnants of several pasts – colonial, post-independence, post-Cold War, post-civil war – within natural, urban and architectural landscapes of Luanda and beyond serves the larger purpose of examining the contradictions of the present and imagining alternative futures.

With the demise of the Cold War in the 1990s, and the definitive end of the thirty seven year-long civil war in 2002 (won by the MPLA, in power since independence), Angola entered a period of economic liberalization and accelerated growth, serving mostly its elites. One of the most visible and tangible manifestations of such economic, political and social changes has been a profound transformation of Luanda’s urban landscape, propelled by fierce real estate speculation and gentrification. These operations have had as one of their most problematic consequences the forced removal of the poor populations of centrally located slums or musseques to faraway peripheries that are not serviced by public transportation networks. Many such slums grew exponentially during the civil war, as people had to flee war-torn areas and look for easier access to resources, whose transportation throughout the country was prevented by the war. The other consequence of the profit-seeking real estate speculation and gentrification in Luanda has been a disregard for architectural heritage, all too quickly and conveniently classified for demolition so that space becomes available for high-rise office buildings, shopping malls and parking lots – a process which has become characteristic of a globalized capitalism to which Angola now fully belongs.[7]

Panorama addresses such complexities by focussing on the surviving, albeit abandoned, modernist buildings of the Hotel Panorama (Hotel Panorama, 2017) and of the Karl Marx Cinema in Luanda (Cinema Karl Marx, 2017), as well as on the constructed natural landscapes of the botanical gardens of the Floresta da Ilha (When Words Escape, Flowers Speak, 2017), still functioning in the vicinity of the Hotel Panorama on the island of Luanda. But Panorama’s non-descriptive and contemplative narrative also unfolds outside the capital, more specifically, in the province of Malanje and in its capital city, similarly called Malanje. Located about three-hundred kilometres east of Luanda, this region (like many others) was deeply marked by the liberation war against the Portuguese colonial rule (1961-1975) and by the civil war (1975-2002). As to the former, the violently repressed revolt of the cotton-field workers in the Baixa do Cassange in the Malanje province on 4 January 1961 is usually considered the first of a series of events triggering the beginning of the liberation war in Angola in 1961 (commonly called ‘colonial war’ in Portugal, with 1963 marking the beginning of the war in Guinea-Bissau and 1964 in Mozambique).[8] As to the civil war, it began immediately upon independence in 1975, as a Cold War proxy conflict waged by the three liberation movements: the Soviet Union and Cuba-supported MPLA, the Zaire-backed FNLA, and UNITA, supported by apartheid South Africa and the US.[9] Malanje was severely destroyed throughout the many decades and several phases of the conflict, and progressively rebuilt thereafter. But this area also has an impressive pre-colonial history, and a colonial history of resistance and struggle against the Portuguese presence from the 16th  to the 18th centuries, and against Portuguese settlement since the 19th century.[10] At a more personal level, the city of Malanje was also the place where Miranda’s mother grew up. Like Luanda, it is a space where intergenerational family memories and collective histories emerge in the very material fabric of modernist architecture from the colonial period – which has been re-appropriated in various ways after independence and after the civil war, even when ruined –and of natural landscapes. The latter are shown to be as thickly woven by history and memory as architecture, not only when the vegetation appears to infiltrate and occupy the buildings, but also when nature is portrayed on its own.

Fall (2017) is a photographic installation whose fragments make up an unstable panoramic view of the area surrounding the Calandula Waterfalls in the Malanje province, called Duque de Bragança in the colonial period.[11] It is accompanied by an archival black-and-white photograph of the falls meant for their touristic promotion around the 1960s, which Miranda found in a Lisbon flee market.  This image provides a centrally framed and frontal view and seems to evoke a paradisiac nature, a kind of lost paradise, untouched by man. Unlike it, Miranda’s panoramic colour version highlights how this purported paradise is far from natural in any straightforward sense and, rather, deeply embedded in history. The artist underscores the sense of constructed-ness of the landscape by presenting a panorama that is comprised of uneven fragments, a diagonally layered juxtaposition of multiple frames that, in turn, evince a plural and bodily gaze, moving in the landscape. Furthermore, she directs her gaze less to the falls – peripherally represented in her composite images – than to the adjacent spaces from which they can be observed, calling attention to the situated-ness of the gazing subjectivity and avoiding the history-effacing fetishization of natural landscape found in the touristic image. The camera focusses on the remnants of a modernist hotel also from the colonial period, which is abandoned and yet re-occupied, re-appropriated by the local vegetation. The way Miranda’s photographs frame some of the landscapes within architectural structures recalls how the hotel’s verandas and ground-floor arcade once constituted the privileged ‘lenses’ through which its guests looked at the falls and, more broadly, how any visual panorama is inescapably positioned. As Donna Haraway insightfully wrote, ‘one cannot relocate in any possible vantage point without being accountable for that movement’ and ‘vision is always a question of the power to see – and perhaps of the violence implicit in our visualizing practices’.[12] Haraway rightly argued for ‘the view from a body, always a complex, contradictory, structured and structuring body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplification’.[13] Miranda’s images continuously remind us of this situated-ness.

The Fall to which the title of these works refers evokes other falls besides that of the Lucala river: the historical falls of the pre-colonial African kingdoms, of the Portuguese colonial empire, of peace upon independence, of the Marxist utopia; the ruins of modernist architecture and of its attendant dreams; the ruined nature, due to war and the capitalist exploitation of natural resources. As nature is de-exoticized and de-mythologized as paradise, Fall is obviously reminiscent of the biblical idea of losing innocence and of being expelled from paradise. Miranda does succeed at ‘expelling’ the viewer from any such notion. This polysemic Fall is also evocative of the groundlessness of the diasporic subjectivity, eventually able to transmute homelessness into unhomeliness, root into route, to be at home in the world. Finally, all these meanings pertaining to Fall are made visually manifest also in the diagonal display of the panorama.[14]

Miranda also photographed in the city of Malanje, although exact locations are never given. In Swimming Pool, the artist presents several views of an abandoned open-air modernist swimming pool, built in the colonial period and currently surrounded by musseques. Like the hotel in the Calundula Waterfalls, the swimming pool in Malanje was a leisurely site destined mostly for the white population, shown to have been re-appropriated after independence and the civil war. Today, it is not as abandoned as it might seem at first sight, since it is actually used as an improvised site for the storage and making of building materials, as the soil-filled swimming pool and adjacent spaces make evident. Like the Calundula hotel, it appears as a kind of ‘lens’ through which to contemplate the surrounding landscape, which is never too visible. One can only imagine the view from the three diving boards above, or from the lateral amphitheatre, spots that would allow one to observe not simply the now absent water, but also the landscape beyond the swimming pool’s low walls. Similarly to her Calundula images, a multifarious sense of fall emerges here, albeit not explicitly in the title. The swimming pool is a space where the fall into (rather than of) water occurs, and where nature is immediately perceived and experienced as constructed, and so more readily demystified.

In the city of Malanje, Miranda also photographed Angolan House (2017). This is a set of images where inhabited modernist twin houses from the colonial period are portrayed in the present as having been re-adapted, while retaining the original design.[15] They have become almost identical, but not quite. Local vegetation again partakes of the re-occupation of space, this time domestic. In Miranda’s work, actual homes and houses serve the purpose of raising broader and at the same time deeply personal questions concerning the unhomeliness of diaspora, the hybridity of its ‘in-between’, doubled and doubling subjectivity, and the political, social, economic and cultural impact of migration on urban space. The physical and psychic loss of the Angolan family home is transmuted into an Angolan Housethat encompasses multiple, quasi-identical twin houses, both kept and transformed over time. Intervened with wax and pigment typical of the encaustic process, these images give rise to what I have called in the title of this essay a twin (or split or double) vision of (un-)belonging. That is, an old technique used to pre-empt the loss of images by protecting them from the damaging effects of the passage of time conveys a deep sense of transformation evident in the accumulation of layers of scratched wax and pigment. Usually used to preserve paintings, the encaustic underscores the constructed nature of the photographic record and of memory, both able to retain only partially and subjectively what they make present again or re-present. The result is a vision of both the past and the present, of here and there, of self and other that avoids the pitfalls of the nostalgic loss of the home to become critically future-oriented in the world. Similarly photographed in the Malanje area and intervened with wax and pigment, Like a Candle in the Wind (2017) asks of natural landscape the questions that Angolan House raises by means of domestic architecture. Here too a fall of sorts seems to be at work, as wax could indeed have dripped from a burned-out candle on this encaustic-processed photographic surface, whose title is retrieved from the lyrics of a well-known song about ‘never knowing [where] to cling to’.[16]

Back in Luanda, one can see how similar strategies of photographic representation of modernist architecture and natural landscape serve the purpose of examining the city’s past, present and future, through the affective and ethico-political perspective opened up by personal and collective history, memory and desire. The diasporic condition of (un-)belonging to manifold spaces and times emerges by means of a bodily, moving (even while appearing to be still) and gazing subjectivity that is also geographically and historically situated.

In Hotel Panorama (2017), we find another instance of juxtaposed images – this time of the abandoned modernist hotel on the island of Luanda – making up a panoramic view of the façade that faces the Atlantic. This is accompanied by an archival black-and-white panoramic photograph of the hotel’s other façade, facing the city and the bay, taken between the 1960s and 1970s. The panorama shown in this image is not only architectural, but also literally inscribed in neon on top of the building as the hotel’s name. Designed by the Portuguese architect Carlos Moutinho very likely between the 1950s and 1960s, the iconic Hotel Panorama became progressively decayed during the civil war and was eventually abandoned. A renovation and augmentation plan was designed in 2007, but never carried out. Miranda’s colour and composite Hotel Panorama redirects the viewer to the landscape of city and bay that the archival image occludes, but the visual access to it only occurs as filtered by the architectural ‘lens’ of the Atlantic-facing façade. It is through the entrance, opening onto a wide window on the other side, and the ground-floor arcade that one can contemplate the urban and maritime landscape in the background. On the other hand, Miranda’s panoramic view of the hotel draws attention to the empty verandas of the modernist façade, whose Atlantic view remains outside the frame. Filtering and fragmentally displayed, one also observes how the architectural panorama of the empty hotel is inhabited by the vegetation in the foreground.[17]

Shot in the botanical gardens of the Floresta da Ilha (Island Forest) near the Hotel Panorama on the island of Luanda, When Words Escape, Flowers Speak (2017) portrays the constructed, although apparently neglected, natural landscape of the functioning gardens.[18] These images show the gardens occupied by twin Angolan sisters, centrally framed holding their hands with their eyes closed amidst a mix of vegetation. The information that this setting is a botanical garden is not given, but one senses the constructed-ness of the landscape as soon as one notices that the twins are standing between two swirling paths. Miranda analyses botanical gardens in this and other works – such as Archipelago (2014) and Field Work (2016) – in order to recall their weighted colonial histories of collecting, cataloguing and displaying specimens for European knowledge and pleasure. She examines the ways in which the spatial remnants of such colonial impulses have been re-appropriated in post-colonial times. In more personal terms, like an affective collection of portraits gathered and transportable in a family album, botanical journeys and archives also allow Miranda to think about the formation of diasporic identities between past and present, here and there, self and other, which the almost identical – but not quite – twin sisters and paths underscore. The twin Angolan sisters re-appropriate this territory with a meditative – rather than nostalgic – shared presence. Portrayed in an inward-looking moment, they seem to be listening to the manifold pasts remembered and futures foretold by the landscape itself.

 From the island of Luanda, the twins move to the Alvalade neighbourhood, where they are seen wandering in the closed-down modernist Cinema Karl Marx, called Avis before independence. It was designed in the early 1960s by João Garcia de Castilho, the Portuguese architect of many other modernist buildings in the city (such as the open-air Cine-Miramar, designed with his brother Luís Garcia de Castilho in 1964).[19] In Cinema Karl Marx (2017), Miranda’s camera focusses on those spaces of the abandoned movie theatre from where the activity of watching used to (and, in her images, does) take place: the long veranda marking the building’s façade and, inside, the amphitheatre made up of the now derelict chairs. These viewing spots are inhabited by the multiple, bodily, gazing presence of the twin sisters, moving in the architectural landscape of the Karl Marx even while they appear to be still. Indeed, movement is here both physical and psychic. When the twins sit down in the empty amphitheatre, whereas one of them peers out at something outside the frame, the other looks back at the viewer, who, occupying the place of the cinema screen, thus becomes a screen of sorts, not only gazing but also being gazed at. Like the panoramas discussed previously, Miranda’s panoramic view of the cinema’s exterior façade is comprised of several juxtaposed frames, which evince a moving gazing subject not simply inside but also outside the image (even if the camera viewpoint seems centrally placed and fixed). The multiple shots, alongside the history told by the name change of the Karl Marx, its current ruined condition and its artistic reactivation, make evident the very passage of time in the fabric of space, the mythic nature of totalizing visions – be it of the gaze, the subject, history, society, origin or identity – and the imagination of alternative, shared and sharable futures. Panoramic futures, avowedly made up of moving fragments.

[1] See Ana Balona de Oliveira, ‘Os Hóspedes do Globo: (Des-)Mapeando a Memória da Cidade Vertical com a Horizontalidade do Corpo’, in Buala, 8 November 2016, http://www.buala.org/pt/vou-la-visitar/os-hospedes-do-globo-des-mapeando-a-memoria-da-cidade-vertical-com-a-horizontalidad-0; Ana Balona de Oliveira, ‘Globo Lodgers: (Un-)Mapping the Memory of the Vertical City with the Horizontality of the Body’, in Mónica de Miranda, Geography of Affections 2012-2016(Lisboa: Mónica de Miranda, 2017), pp. 111 – 123.

[2] The idea of the panorama had previously emerged in the work Panorama (2009), shot in Lisbon’s outskirts.

[3] See Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, trans. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980).

[4] See Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1991).

[5] See Stuart Hall, ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’, in Jonathan Rutherford, ed., Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), pp. 222-37.

[6] See Édouard Glissant, The Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997); Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (London: Verso, 1993); James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Mass., London: Harvard University Press, 1997); Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994).

[7] See Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, Magnificent and Beggar Land: Angola since the Civil War (London: C. Hurst & Co., 2015); Jon Schubert, ‘2002, Year Zero: History as Anti-Politics in the “New Angola”’, Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 41, Nr. 4 (2015), pp. 835-53.

[8] Other events include the attack on the São Paulo Prison in Luanda on 4 February 1961, and the attacks on the coffee plantations in northern Angola led by UPA (União dos Povos de Angola, later known as FNLA, Frente Nacional para a Libertação de Angola) on 15 March 1961.

[9] MPLA refers to Movimento Popular para a Libertação de Angola; FNLA, to Frente Nacional para a Libertação de Angola; and UNITA, to União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola. Agostinho Neto was the leader of the MPLA between 1962 and 1979, and independent Angola’s first president. The MPLA was the Marxist-Leninist liberation movement which fought against Portuguese colonial rule beside the FNLA led by Holden Roberto and the UNITA led by Jonas Savimbi. It has been in power since independence. The Angolan civil war was a Cold War proxy conflict, having continued throughout the 1990s until Jonas Savimbi’s death in 2002.

[10] This was the area of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Ndongo was ruled by Ngola Kiluanji in the 16th century and his daughter Njinga Mbandi, Queen of Ndongo and Matamba in the 17th century, is still seen in present-day Angola as a symbol of resistance against Portuguese occupation. Her statue used to be located at the Kinaxixi Square in Luanda but is now placed at the entrance of the São Miguel Fortress, where the National Museum of Military History is housed.

[11] Waterfalls had previously been examined in Lost Paradise, a part of the Archipelago (2014) installation.

[12] Donna Haraway, ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’, Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Autumn 1988), pp. 585.

[13] Ibid., p. 589.

[14] The notion of the fall had previously emerged in the work Falling (2013).

[15] In Field Work (2016), one could also see a Twin House. In Archipelago (2014), besides the young twins, there were also twin islands of sorts in the panoramic Island.

[16] Bernie Taupin, Elton John, Candle in the Wind, 1973.

[17] For an indoor image of the Hotel Panorama, see Ana Magalhães, Inês Gonçalves, Moderno Tropical: Arquitectura em Angola e Moçambique, 1948-1975(Lisboa: Tinta da China, 2009), p. 61. For a brief synopsis on the design, see ibid., p. 211.

[18] The new Luanda Botanical Gardens are going to be constructed on the hills sprawling across the Miramar, Boavista and Sambizanga neighbourhoods, with a privileged view of the bay. Boavista used to be the area of the Roque Santeiro market, one of the biggest open-air markets on the African continent, now dismantled. Sambizanga, a poor yet proud neighbourhood whose history is inseparable from that of the struggle against Portuguese colonialism, is going through demolitions. These two slum areas are located in the vicinity of the elite Miramar neighbourhood, and the changes they have been going through will entail a radical transformation of seaside northern Luanda.

[19] See Walter Fernandes, Miguel Hurst, Angola Cinemas: A Fiction of Freedom (Göttingen and Luanda: Steidl Verlag and Goethe Institut, 2015), p. 221.

Mónica de Miranda
Future horizon(s)

by Gabriela Salgado

Text from catalogue Novo Banco Photo , May 2016

We have known an abundance of metaphors connected to travel, such as images of ships, the coastline landscape and the sea, nature and unidentified buildings in Mónica de Miranda’s photographs and films. These evanescent stages are at times inhabited by two figures – a man and a woman – who appear occupied with a pursue of something located elsewhere, outside of the realm defined by the image. An acute sense of impermanence is suggested by the shifting of places, moods, countries and landscapes, and permeates de images with deep nostalgic overtones. Such is the case of her series entitled ‘Once Upon a Time’ (2013), which are conceptually articulated as a travel diary, a patchwork of memories, desires, projected homes and imagined communities in flux that trigger personal catharsis.

If we take Edouard Glissant’s work ‘Poetics of Relation’ published in 1990 as point of departure for an analysis of belonging and territory, we are faced with a deconstruction of the self, where journeys and ‘errantry’ come into play.
More significantly, Glissant invites us to view identity as a rhizome, which can no longer be defined as fixed roots, legacies and places, but as a product of their interrelations. Thus the author regards ancient myth, religious texts and other foundational articulations of western culture as narratives of people without roots. From Homer’s Odyssey to a number of biblical tales, displaced communities and individual travellers accounts, histories of diaspora are woven in our human consciousness as a seamless and assiduous pattern. But let us examine the notion of diaspora, which refers to a dispersion of people away from the area in which they and their ancestors have lived, in light of Mónica de Miranda’s artistic practice.

Following the implicit logic of body politics and in contrast with geopolitics – which focuses on the link between power and geographical space – Mónica de Miranda locates her subject of study in a fluid subjectivity that exists in virtue of its affinity with others. In this unstable territory, home becomes a shifting paradigm where the journey of the self is essentially a constant attempt to belong to a community of shared meaning. Surpassing the limitations of identity politics, the artist’s entire art production becomes an exercise in emotional geography.
In her series ‘Once Upon a Time’ (2012) home is a territory delimited by the body, and as such, it was graphically depicted in the text- based work Come home to the place you never left which functioned as an epigraph to her epic travel ‘novella’ in chapters, the video triptych Once Upon a Time. A compelling example of the artist’s attempt to re enact geography, the triptych offered a rich panoply of fragmentary imagery collected during the artist’s transits through three continents. With these series, she performed an unpredictable card game of sorts, where she shuffled places with which she has emotional ties – Luanda, Rio de Janeiro, Mindelo, Lisbon and London, and merged them in a single narrative. The ‘relational identity’ of the characters – to employ Glissant’s thinking – is linked to the experience of contacts among cultures and not to a singular sense of filiation and belonging that is rooted in one place. Here is where travel is summoned: the second chapter of the journey that is Once Upon a Time is fruit of the artist’s proximity to the fluvial port of the Tejo river in Lisbon. In the video diptych An Ocean between Us, the fluvial port and a stationary cargo ship become the stage for imagined transits: as a passage between worlds, the liner evokes the journeys that connected the continents through the big waters, providing a ground for the encounter of people and for the expansion of trade. Conceived as a set of light boxes and a video projection An Ocean Between Us dealt with spatial ambiguity: we see ships as symbolic umbilical cords that unite stranded parts: an ocean and a river, a lost love, and the promise of a re encounter become elements of a catharsis.
In her recent video Hotel Globo (2015) the artist invites us to immerse ourselves in a singular place, a building that can be interpreted as a still vessel anchored in the city of Luanda: the Hotel Globo. Built in 1950 by émigré Portuguese doctor Francisco Martins de Almeida on the site of his medical clinic, after settling in the prosperous city of Gabela, in the province of Kwanza Sul, legendary for its alleged production of the best coffee in the world. Conceptually, the derelict hotel stands as a symbolic enclave of recent Angolan history, as its fabric contains imprints of colonial Lusophone Africa and its aftermath. The fragmentary narrative of the film is displayed in the artist’s signature diptych format, where a silent couple inhabits rooms that equally served as places of passage to traders from the countryside, or nests for romantic encounters, but also as refuge to militias during the civil war. Significantly, Angola’s twenty seven year-long armed conflict became one of the hardest collateral effects of the Cold War in the confines of the old colonies: a surrogate battleground for imperial confrontation where human lives ostensibly came at a lower cost.
The couple’s nonchalant wandering through the hotel facilities seems to wake up ghosts as it rehearses an indefinite personal drama in the decaying modernist atmosphere of the building, which stands in permanent need of restoration. In this work, as in Mónica de Miranda’s previous films, there is a stasis, a sense of immobility that refers as much to still photography as to a philosophical position in regards to the subject matter: relations are as impenetrable as the nature of the locations in which they dwell. A metaphor for the social and economic wreck brought by the furious neoliberal impulse of Angola’s real state speculation that is deforming Luanda, the building, according to his present owner, stands in a timeless zone, stuck between a promising past and an inevitable demolition.
Also in connection with the idea of dereliction and speculation, her series ‘Archipelago’ (2014) are not only pertinent for their examination of the topics of exoticism and power, but also for the nostalgia of autonomous and uncorrupted nature typical of the era of the Anthropocene, furthermore entangled with personal and collective memories.

In light of de global threat on the environment, and as a way to reconfigure the archive of Lusophone diasporic communities poetically, the artist is engaging in a new body of work, which draws from post-archival practices placing nature at the centre. In this new work, the very ontology of photography will be addressed in the form of multimedia installations, as its subjective authority will be replaced by multiple perspectives of the image, by means of the fragmentation of photographs – as she did previously with her works Erosion (2012) and Island (2014). Here, the archive will be ‘displaced’ to make visible the histories of migrant communities and their interconnectedness with places of origin.
As Glissant did with his literary work, perhaps the artist’s new vision is to draw from the unconscious of people to provide a memory capable of transcending non-history.
In doing so, the image will seek to articulate itself as a fruitful sum of future horizons.

Visual geography and recording Europe

by Shaheen Merali

The use of visual geography within the visual arts has a long and discerning history. Initiated and operating in the tradition of European exploration and research, visual geography represented the results of habitually institutionalised fieldwork by the use of paintings, photographs, drawing, prints, sculpture and other forms of the visual arts. The symbolic value of representation through the visual arts provided a system of cross-reference often of previously unrecorded subjects and subjectivities that had remained localised and widely unknown in the old world1. Prior to the expeditions from predominantly the western world, the circulation of this specialised form of the visual arts through print and publication allowed a mapping of the world according to their research and studies; a form of mnemonic system of patterns and images that accompanied ideas or associations which would assist in articulating a new world outside of the European project and subject.

The circulation of visual geography within the artworld and its institutions including museums, auction houses and collections as well as its presence in educational establishments and societies provided, and continues to stipulate within the contemporary, the accented history of development versus underdevelopment. This binary polarisation justified action around difference and its suppositions with a dualism that accommodated the ruthless power struggles resulting from colonial imposition and continuing within cultural and intellectual postcolonial struggles.

The early work by the artist and researcher, Monica de Miranda, between the years 2007-9, is based on the evaluation of her personal understanding of geographical accounts, within an urban archaeology that becomes despondently centralised in her later videoworks; An Ocean between us, Erosion and Once upon a time (2010-15) and the photographic works Archipelego, Line trap and Airport. The seminal work Black House (2009), part of the Black Flags series, acts as a middle passage to her practice. Black House is a barren, permeable structure of a small hut or shed like construction, sparsely erected from black fabric over a metal and wire frame. Barrenly lit, the sculpture is an overwhelmingly eerie experience of an indoor space suggesting a transitory dwelling rather than one that proposes any robust sense of belonging.

Black House, like many of her early projects, often engaged in rethinking urban life, and reimagining and reanimating the infrastructure in their experimental use of materials and formats which included screenprinting onto coloured fabrics, sporting objects covered in sequins and the use of text to drive the context of her insights. Since 2009, de Miranda’s oeuvre has gradually traded the explorations in sculptural forms for a confidence in lens-based articulations, of multiple projections, duratran lightbox and panoramic prints. This shift in the later works allowed de Miranda to open her gaze to geographies on the move; people, places and architecture in a restless poetry that retains factors including a feeling of greater voyeurism and surveillance, providing ample meaning beyond the preceding works’ polemic and redemptive states.

The recent work is effective in its suggestive abilities of urban malfeasance, often emotive and remotely sited narratives unsettled between a polyphony of systems and supporting networks of departure, transition and arrival. The photographic and videoworks explore the cruelty of fate, the remainders for the constrained within the messianic power of cities and states. Similar to the visual propositions of the Canadian artist Stan Douglas and the Algerian born, British based photographer Zineb Sedira; de Miranda examines the physical manifestations and the interweaving threads of culture, power, politics and histories. Her subjects, when present, remain weary for each thing that has changed, often looking outward from the safety of venetian blinds in a state of examination, half occluding their identities with hands and hats.

References to the colonial past remain fashioned; the subjects as characters wear white clothes, a necessary accoutrement in the humid tropicality of the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. In the Erosion series (2012), de Miranda returns to visual geography in a contemporary fusion of two images, the high rise and the seashore, as the emblematic collision of progress and nature. The eroding hulk of a beached cargo ship no longer remains useful, its reason or presence discarded, through which de Miranda accentuates the malaise and deathliness for the places and lives it had destroyed for its treasonous cargo.

de Miranda, continually offers figurative details in her works, suggestive elements, often eroded from multiple usage and the climate they traverse, to suggest as she does so cryptically, “Come here to the place you have never left” as a central text in her installation Once upon a time. de Miranda suggests a dueling tryst that it is probable in that we never really leave a place in the same way that places never leave us. She repeatedly suggests in these figurative details that we do not know who are all these protagonists. How is the urban advocating a particular cause or idea of the constant flow of people, when the settled lens should make comprehensive the roots of trade and commodities.

In Back Pack Paradise, Biting Nails, Road Lines and Where r u from? maps and places, names of cities and states persist as part of the body, as a grafted nationhood, correlating global travel with the rise in graffiti and tattoo subcultures. In Road Lines, the palms are presented as maps of places and travel, forced by cheap deals. In Biting Nails, the video focuses on a single character of a woman, whose nails are ‘painted’ with flags from different countries, gradually she bites her nails, violently tearing these boundary markers from herself. The transitory metaphor of flight and loss is highlighted in the acerbic text “I am not really there or here” on one of four screen-printed Black Flags series (2010). In the 2009 installation Battle of Europe, much the same notion was implied by presenting 11 EU Blue boxing punchbags, hung in a tight circle that contained the viewer more within its broader circle of influence rather than allowing the Schengen experience of borderlessness.

Staging and conceptualising the crisis for postcolonial internationalism and multiculturality, de Miranda explores its implausibility, the detente history that affects the ex-colonies and colonial subjectivities in a globalised world that has recanted its debts and is currently whirling to new economic instructions. Her work Changing Hats suggests such a lack of balance and the buffoon as the new subjectivity is explored in Remain to stay…. Forever.

de Miranda’s graphic yet uncompromised visual responses to the European Union competes with the collective nightmares from historic and geographical colonial haunting. Side by side they twitch as an ugly unconscious mechanism of denial that repudiates the interdependent relationships of cultures and people. Her recent photographic works including Hotel Globo and Sleep Over provide the overlapping argument of the singular community fast withdrawing to become a place of values where European essentialism thrives; most importantly where de-colonisation so necessary to move beyond visual and portrayed geographies of race and places, is indissolubly bound in corridors and pylons that maintain the illusions of progression and control at all costs. As the writer Ralph Ellison states ‘the true artist destroys the accepted world by way of revealing the unseen’2

1 The term is often used to refer to the Eastern hemisphere specifically to Europe.

2 Ralph Ellison, ‘Introduction’. Romare Beardon: Paintings and Projections, exh. Cat. Albany : The Art Gallery, State University of New York, 1968

Art across culture: Diaspora and mobility in the work of Mónica Miranda

by Ana Nolasco

Globalization, together with increased mobility, have rendered the concept of fixed Identity – linked to a particular place and history – obsolete. This development has led to a revision of the concept of Diaspora, focusing not just on the loss of origins, reiterated by their absence, but on its role in constructing the Identity, characterized by transition and constant learning from different cultures. As Baumann states,

“In view of late 20th century technological achievements such as telecommunication and the internet, the master narrative of a Diaspora’s …has become blurred and multiplied…however rather than thinking of a relational triangle, many globally distributed Diasporas …constitute a diasporic network or web with jointventure points and various gravitational centers.” (Baumann 2000:331).

In this way, the term Diaspora no longer refers, as in its traditional sense, uniquely to a transitional process, deviations from a point of origin, but to a cultural net with multiple nuclei.

Today, we are witnessing the beginning of an ontological shift in Man, one that is at the center of the diffuse feeling of uneasiness characteristic of this time. According to Flosser, this change would be the result of a shift in paradigm, from alphanumerical to digital codes. Alphanumeric based language has, in the course of time, been increasingly resorted too as a technical tool and thus been impoverished, robbed of that spirit only found today in poetry. In its routine use, this language is ill suited to express mixed or contradictory feelings, often coexisting within the user. Written language, Flosser points out1, belongs to a linear time paradigm. This is paradigm is characterized by the construction of a Universal History that omits the individual that writes it, erases sides that go against the idea of inherent progress to it. The alphabet itself, as the author points out, was initially created to facilitate commercial transactions among the ruling elites because of its particular usefulness in describing measurements, sums and general algebra2. It was only later, through continuous use that it became the dominant means of communication.

Mass production on the other hand, starting in the XXth century, created a rift between the work of art and its physical context, separating it from History, and extinguishing its aura, a process remarkably foreseen by Benjamin3. This development however, brought about certain potentialities, perceived by the author, such as film. Through film, the artist intervenes in reality and time, positioning himself as the creator (here Benjamin is mindful of the dangers of this power falling in the wrong hands), with greater, almost ultimate artistic freedom.

Using video-installation, film and photography to connect different cultural realities, Mónica Miranda explores notions such as transculturally, Diaspora and self-ethnography. She attempts to “further explore and conceive the term in relation to more recent forms of migration and transcultural experience. I look at the ‘diaspora’ through a transcultural comparison in a Lusophone postcolonial context” adding the she recognizes “the process that gave rise to the term diaspora” and understands it as “a form of ‘awareness’ that enables access to ‘recovering’ non-Western narratives and models for cosmopolitan life and transnationalities, struggling against fixed notions of identity and nation and attempt to define it through my work”.

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time transports us into the sphere of the fairy tale, while the narrator, an important legitimizing figure in oral tradition, relegates the action to the past tense. Herself the product of the mix of different cultures – with Luso-afro-Brazilian and English origins – Mónica Miranda reinvents her past in both geographic and cultural terms, combining documentary and fiction in the shape of a personal diary, a pseudo album/ family photo and video archive.

The project, comprising a website (www.o-tu.org), and different works in film, photography and installations, was three-folded: firstly, an exposition of the same name as the project, hosted at the Carpe Diem gallery, Lisbon, and consisting of a triptych video displaying transit images of places from the artists life history, Different cities spanning three different countries: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Luanda (Angola), Mindelo (Cape Verde), London (UK) e Lisbon (Portugal). A non-linear narrative that evokes the time lost in the cracks and fissures of everyday activities. What the author calls the emotional geography of the self, the mapping of emotional memories to their places of origin. The narrative extends over generations, in the artists words, “lyrically depicting loss and the pain of separation, weaving the thread that follows from one generation to the next.”

The second part of the project, entitled An Ocean Between Us, exhibited at the Plataforma Revolver during the Transboavista festival, Lisbon, consists of a diptych, where “the fluvial port and a stationary cargo ship become the stage for metaphorical transits”7. The port itself is the birthplace of the Diaspora, both for the colonizers, setting out to find new territory and commercial opportunities, and the colonized. During the Renaissance, Lisbon was an unavoidable commercial hub, harboring boats from Africa, Brazil, India, the birthplace of the slave trade that became one of the supporting pillars of maritime expansion which in turn is the foundation language heritage that unites Portuguese speaking countries. In Casa Grande e Senzala (Large House and Senzala – 1933), Gilberto Freire developed the concept of Lusotropicalism (Lusotropicalism), according to which the Portuguese, due to genetic, climatic and historical factors would be more incline to mix with other peoples. This idea embodies a generalized belief that has become part of an ideology within the Portuguese speaking community, and that, as the artist points out, results in an ambiguity that blurs the boundary between her own past and the collective history of past generations.

Against the deserted nocturnal backdrop of a maritime journey, where souls wander, in the style of Once Upon a Time, alone, to the rhythm of their fate, a mother, her daughter and a lost love, standing at the crossing of different cultures, become the metaphor for the melancholy of the Diaspora. This non-place, free from the restraints of chance and history, where space and time seem suspended, is a privileged standpoint for introspection in that it allows distance from oneself. The two characters, one masculine, the other feminine, are also, in the author’s opinion9, a metaphor of the self-divided, which in this place of introspection feels as if in a labyrinth of mirrors, each side recognizing itself in the reflection of the other.

This alienation of the self is, as Lacan examined, the birth of subjectivity, without which Identity could not exist. According to the same author, this moment marks the beginning of the mirror-period, a time when the child combines image fragments of his own body with imaginary ones. This alienation was also addressed by Julia Kristeva in her Essay on Horror, where she termed “abjection” the exact moment before the birth of subjectivity, when the child desires or shuns the outside world, depending on the presence or absence of its mother.

A moment that is felt however, as there of yet no distinction between within and wherein, as one of narcissistic desire of for oneself. It is, in Kristeva’s view, the impulse of desire, followed by its rejection and the realization of the boundaries of Self and Other, the disgust and rejection of the latter, that constitute subjectivity. Congruently, it is not possible in Once Upon a Time to pinpoint the self. The gaze is absent, disconnected, a dream vision with no defined place or time, where the characters have their backs turned to us, looking, searching, for a boat, maybe lost, that would reveal to us our own origin.

The third part of the project consisted of an installation, Home Sweet Sour House. In a series of 25 drawings, the author portrays every house she has lived in since childhood. These drawings were then translated into technical language by an architect, leaving however “the recollected personal features visible”. An archive of calligraphic apprehension of lived places; ,“In my research “house” is the place where the search connected to self takes place, a search of identity contextualized within the travels of the diaspora” 12. These contain disproportionate hallways with no exit and no doors, giving a physical presence to something emotional.

Artificial paradises

Besides the topos of the house, Mónica Miranda also turns to the island as a place of conciliation between different cultures, times and places, a metaphor that questions the existing dichotomy between what is cultural and what is natural, within and without, public and private.

Two particularly important concepts when considering the island metaphor are Fragmentation and Coordinates, as colonized islands were frequently defined and divided by dominating powers that imposed artificial limits and boundaries. Thus, in her series, Linetrap,

Mónica Miranda uses a line to undo a fixed and unique landscape, crossing the interior and exterior of the image to fix it. Sowing, an activity usually associated with the private world, is in this work depicted in a public place, touching, almost prodding, the public/private dichotomy.

Moving between the interior and exterior, these lines do not divide, but mend the rifts between colonizers and colonized, between the present island, and the past, lost archipelago.

From heterogeneous fragments, Monica Miranda rebuilds territories and recreates non situated landscapes, imaginary islands. These, being privileged points of cultural exchange due to their indefinability, have always been preferred places for the projection of myths, utopias, dystopias, arcades and Eden. By crystalizing the invisible Absent, they have been a creative catalyst common to many cultures through time. From the myth of Atlantis to digression in the Odyssey of Ithaca to Ithaca, the Island of Love or even the island in Robinson Crusoe, the topos of the island has a long tradition in Western Culture.

As a non-physical place of cultural and artistic representations, the Island in Monica Miranda’s work allows her to question the characterization of the landscape, and indirectly, that of the underlying reality. The western conception of a landscape, a Renaissance legacy of fragmentary contemplation, is present in the sense of estrangement from the whole, a very modern feeling that expresses the tragic dilemma of a Man that is only capable of knowing himself by dissecting, dividing and framing his own nature.

If the birth of the landscape as an artistic genre is intimately linked to the importance given to sight however, the Self implied was a male self, one that planned and conducted the setting from a fixed position. In this way, the portrait and de landscape as genres were, before the XXth century, defined by that sight, that look that shaped both nature and the Other as something to be enjoyed. They mirrored a power structure that set vertical and horizontal coordinates according to a dichotomist logic from which all values were derived.

In The Island (Archipelago series, 2014), Mónica Miranda uses fragments of several pictures taken from various points around the island to rebuild what is in fact a fictional island, one that is not dominated the fixed stare that ruled painting up until the XXth century, most powerfully characterized by Alberti’s Window. By creating an image from a moving perspective, The Island deconstructs the traditional paradigm. The landscape itself is not fixed, but the result of the movement of a body, a journey. There exists, in this sense, not a final scene, but a continuous process of reinvention, where different fragments, memories, times and cultures are constantly added.

While the original islands are located in the Pacific and Indic Oceans (S. Tomé e Príncipe, Cape Verde and the Mauritius Islands), these patchwork islands could literally be anywhere.

Set in a forest with no points of reference, the people in Twins are themselves a blend of cultures. The twins in the center piece evoke identity as a process of reproduction, projections of the desires that create the island, that give it its meaning and guide it. That guide us. It is a sort of mise en abyme, the reproduction ad infinitum of a duality in between two mirrors: the two twin girls have themselves a multi-cultural background spanning various countries, and build their identity on that difference.

This work shows us how acculturation and the appropriation of elements from different cultures can lead to a dynamic and creative process, symbolized in this case by the twin girls and the archipelago. Defined by the sea that surrounds them, isolates them but is at the same time their only means of communication with the outside world, the islands in the latter stand for what is self-contained, and ultimately alone. Identity as patchwork of multiple transitory cultures and half-crystallized alien utopias ultimately defines us all.

Final Considerations

While the Diaspora implies movement, migration and a consequent search for lost origins, it also brings together those that share this journey. If in the past this state was seen as a burden, globalization has shown it to be an alternative way of life and social organization, one that is more flexible and even creative, because it evades fixed traditional categories by hybridizing cultures.

Art, for its objective and material realization of things subjective, for a nature that is both universal and particular, speaking to each differently and everyone alike, is an especially adequate way of allowing creative dialogues between different cultures. By giving body to new life experiences, always moving, never finished, it is in line with the ambiguity, the mystery, without which the Self withers, stuck within rigid categories. By expressing the loss of identity and new models of transition, contemporary art gives body to the development of identity.

Multicultural art, for its wide scope and international reach, is at the root of it.

Between arriving and departing the place to stay.

by Carlos Alcobia, 2013

Around the Sea
And then to come and go
These are just two sides of the same journey
The train arriving
It’s the same train of  departure
The time of the meeting is also a farewell
The platform of this station
It is the life of  that  place of mine
Milton Nascimento

A temporary space contained between displacements , and inhabited by ambiguous and sometimes conflicting  desires. It is this diffuse and precarious space that Monica de Miranda revisits with the purpose of preparing its emotional cartography.

Once upon a time is assumed as an investigation process about the desire to stay, where memory is a promise of reunion with personal mis-encounters. In this project  Monica seeks to know the outside world through an interior act, promoting a re-visitation of the houses in which  she lived and developing a fictional narrative around the mis-encounters of her life. It is a new “ Volta  do Sea” (1)  , in which she  seeks to achieve what is close by going in its contrary direction .

This is a sensitive search to the paths of home, and previously driven by a set of five artist residencies (Cape Verde, Angola, Brazil, the UK and Portugal),that  also suggests a process of catharsis by the artist. I refer to the need for emancipation through the confrontation with her origins and documentation of issues relate to absence, displacement, and loss associated with those.

Once upon a time gives us a moment to reflect on the intimate spaces of occupation of the artist. They are physical, emotional and symbolic places, that are located at the confluence of different ways of life of the artist but that compel us to experience narratives where it no longer becomes possible to distinguish between fictitious and biographical elements.

I think it is this constant duality that invites the viewer to take part in the narrative, making one to look through airports, train stations and other places of passage, the turning point is oneself own moment of mis-encounters. They become moments of suspension, sustained between arrivals and departures, memories and fictions, revolving a walked floor or a floor for walking, in search for traces of a life in transit. An emotional archaeology or a diary chart of possible impossible narratives. Once upon a time is a portrait of a world in post modernity, marked by convulsions of wandering, uncertainty and precariousness.

The dematerialization of the object follows the dematerialization of identity. We move through a board as mere spare parts and aggregates, driven by the needs and workflows of capital. We are witnessing the effects of deterritorialization advocated by Deleuze and Guattari or should argue that this precariousness has always been present?

Just the fact that today the crossroads of mis-encounters where we walk became a node that is tied by means of a communication aphasia. What values can we share if we are all moving parts?

It is in this raging sea that Monica de Miranda tries to drop anchor recovering the ground of  her memories. Some of these memories beside ground have a voice, and it is through their evocations that become unforgettable. These are, for Jaques Lacan, symbolic memories that emanate from the feeling of not belonging. The photographic series “Erosion”, which integrates the project Once upon a time, deserves to be highlighted as an exercise of reconstruction of those imagined memories.

In it  Monica de  Miranda  invariably arises  laying on the floor in a direct contact with her   “land”  of origin, and subsequently staging  encounters with  “familiar scenarios but that she had never really travelled to . Yet it is through these lines that Monica now seeks ways to undo the arrival knot.  Erosion redeems the bond between mothers, mother earth and mother-artist, who here sustain each other in a long and timeless embrace that alienates the distances and eliminate temporal discontinuities.

It is an exhausting process but redemptive in the end of a road that marks the beginning of the next. Once upon a time is a map drawn through promises of permanence and reunions.

It is in this map that Monica de Miranda seeks to show us the way to her own impossible.house.  After all it is a path where travel becomes momentarily our own residence.


(1)“A volta do mar” (The return of the sea) refers to a technique developed for maritime navigation and perfected by Portuguese navigators during the Age of Discovery. Seeking to enjoy favourable winds and currents and avoid areas of lull due to the Coriolis effect these sailors described a wide arc that distanced them from known geographic references. Without this understanding of the functioning of the compass, the exploration of the Atlantic winds would not have been possible.

Once upon a time…an Ocean between us…and nevermore…

by Maria de Fátima Lambert, 2012

Lisbon | Mindelo | London | Luanda | Rio de Janeiro (1)

So far my cultural identity has been an “imaginary home” a place of imagination, thoughts and feelings. Home here will be perceived to have no fixed physical locations—instead, home may relate instead to a mental or emotional state of refuge, belonging or comfort. Mónica de Miranda, 2012


“Ce qu’on voit dans les voyages n’est jamais qu’un trompe l’oeil. Des ombres à la poursuite d’autres ombres.”2

What better way to affirm the journey, but through film? Undoubtedly different authors expressed this conviction. With regard to the works of Monica Miranda, We are located in the video production (also installation oriented) and photography – embedded that video to which it refers, thus closing a circle of thought that is psycho-geographic.

The identity will have the nationality of the self. And the self will be pasting this, overlapping layers that do not match the chronology or the sum of the months, and the dissolution of decades … Layers of existence that reside in locations identified, mapped and circumscribed.

Monica  de Miranda continues a research aimed to gain knowledge of  her own  cultural matrices, recovery in ancestry, the result of clarity and rigor that   goes from the sociological  and anthropological to the aesthetic.

There are no  legitimate revenue streams, existing or general strategies to  access to the supposed authenticity of identity – being  it one, or being it plural. Each author will have their reasons and proceed accordingly to access it and, in this case, these options are entrenched and determined

The I [read the identity] is a search  , some authors, in successive assumptions of themselves  described it as self-portraits and, often, are self-representations.

Sometimes representative axiology  is assumed for self-enactment that after its externalisation it validates and  introspects itself . Thus, we have sought in the images of external personhood , adding to them attributes , working them in places converted into scenarios and exacerbating certain canonical stipulations: a mixed ideological requirement  and aesthetic celebration.

The personality lives in the imaginary succession of time and  in its compound of over locations ,  Sto. Augustine[3]already knew  that. It resides on the unequivocal  grading, crisscrossed  with  duration and instant  at the intersection of places (which is inevitable) and its ephemerality, in more or less  the lucid science of guessing belonging . For that belonging is not just the result of an analysis, critique and reflection (for indexing  subjective  epistemologies  ) before raises the “close, closer”, in a prototype  of the others  – all those who cross, or only interact and hunch each other ; those who were only a mythical belief – excerpts from an inheritance adulterated or not, those who know are not known but lived as complete. All existing at the same time as  the author – Monica de Miranda – in order to recognize the path ancestry: gathers them so. The time that mobilizes, also implies a sense of historical time, not only biographical, chronological and the mythical. Safeguarding the typological distinctions, they are involved, contributing to its definition in the current coordinates.

It might be thought of a  miscegenation of times,  places and hence aesthetic. Not that from there it originates any contamination , instead a consolidation and mastery that results in artistic work.

The gaze is not neutralized, either in suspension of contexts or circumstances.

there are no  naive gazes to be authentic at 100%. Perhaps only in scope that moved Voltaire,  Almada Negreiros[4] or Manoel de Barros. These authors and according to the corresponding periods in which their activity was developed – the supposed naivete and waste of  parts  and of different authenticity, spontaneity, irony, criticism, lucidity and many other qualities and principles, providing axiologies  were they were consistent. However, their reflections lead,  to direct paths in search of the most genuine and consistent assertions. So to  build up visions wishing to regain (= earn back) what has happened or existed of essential in the lives of others, even to life itself and individuated as an inconclusive outcome that needs to be clarified, repudiated and / or celebrated.


 I can see now, at the end of my map zone that this book is shaped as an architectural ensemble.5

The viewing of a video implies distinct phases – in terms of aesthetic perception – which are unlikely to generalize because of circumstances arising from spectators. Moreover, the video itself is a product of the conditions, contexts and the author states, as well as its intent and operational decision. As for the aesthetic reception, in the Once upon a time  at first, “strikes up,” noting the images with analytical order, so to speak, trying to capture / see. In a second “phase” that requires the viewer to engage  in an acuity, fulfilling the act of isolating (if possible …) elements that are stabilized (like there were a house) in  the images in each of the 3 screens.

The task can be risky and stressful, in what is being  requested to each one, and may  be imposed before the 3 projections: redounding ultimately a sense of achievement and overcoming perceptual / aesthetic. Lets explain why:, finished editing the film and subsequent deployment / sedentarization in the space of technological devices to do the projection of video, necessarily affect the reading of content (imagery and semantic). The viewer (aesthetic subject) gets closer or distant in  an aggregator process that operationalizes the pragmatic motives and explores the psycho-affective conditions regarding the appropriation aesthetic (and scope) of the work –  as aesthetic object.

It is then here rendered  the potencial  of  establishing  individual maps , defined from  the stimulus  that viewers can develop through their contact with the video installation – Zones of Contact.

The video makes present – before the subject that experiences – a complex plurality, curiously clear and shared on the multiple nature (and synchronous) of iconographic content and semantic. Provides a certain complicity, artistic corollary of deliberations which direct  the design and hence the production.

Contemplation is a requirement. The time it takes to contemplate, in this work does not match the  “real” duration of the same. It is a typical case of experiencing lasting psychological duration and not the one that is timed. It is the chronology of each one of us, more than what  succeeds in other cases , because the hieratic predominates in  the capture of images and its presentification (alone and together) as it infect us. Be this a  explicit case that relates to this slowness d’apres Milan Kundera or the poetic duration  term that Peter Handke made  explicit! Extrapolation of imagery of the stillness and duration is a form of fighting the transient .

It’s an aesthetic that evokes the current concept of Tableau vivant contextualized and injected from  anthropological and societal purposes. Heiress  of this pragmatic that combines visual and performing arts, popular in the XIX  century , when actors and extras – professionals or amateurs – recreated and staged situations and stories that  then were decoded by an elitist or wider public. In this case, Tableaux vivants configure episodes, converted to actuality and simultaneously  turned into fables.

The actuality is reflected in what the author wanted, the tales also belong to her, but also to anyone who visualises the videographic piece installed. In artistic practice, which is much distant to the free “entertainment” game, without concept, the images established and choreographed by Monica de Miranda and the hieratic stillness  have become evocative of the happening  factor, promoting  an ephemeral topic.

Given some “stills”, isolating them, so some passages of the triptych dominates the static form of appearances: being of the artist herself, her daughter and the man – who here embodies  the masculine gender and both the identity  of one or  another mate of hers.

The character of each – Mother / Daughter / Man – has the valence and pragmatic adjacent to the figures / persona  in a Greek theater, ensuring character and typologies of belonging – social, ideological and existential. They  represent them beyond themselves , a symbolic assumption, acquiring the “scenarios” that inhabiting  an allegorical function.

The option for the joint in three projections, with times out of compass by reference to space and time contained in capturing images, confers greater stability in stance and on the claim of the  people “typified”, objects and scenarios, more than there were the  induction of an  effective  dynamism .  It generates a paradox: it is known that there is a situation before and after of the situation/ fixed location  but this does not become something irreversible. As if we knew that the duration of the scene engenders a strategy to dominate the chronology,  for reassurance .

Progressing: the assumptions of historical content (privacy versus socio-cultural contemporary history) crossed by poetic images, injected into the presentation of circumstantial ages (Biographical times) privileged , they dominate the passage of time. Through an acting  dynamic,  in active principle of causality, are the product simultaneously, of this slowness of decisions that presided over the convocation of the  drawn scenes, giving them an almost ontological acuity in his own irreversibility. That is, regardless of the decision, or the acting or its absence  or cancellation , what happens is unavoidable, hence the appearance of this passive stance surpasses  the triyptic  videographic images. In certain passages, the development of movements, such as walking, sitting, lying down, pull over … further accentuates the stop, giving it a supra-existential relevance.


“…a fine voice is the most universal thing that can be figured; and while the narrow individual that uses it presents himself before the eye, he cannot fail to trouble the effect of that pure universality..”6

The photos do not replace the real , they ttransform it , making it more absent because they reverse  the record. They allow to expand and extend their  intrinsic  knowledge  to whom sees them or  to whom know that.

Photographs should be read because the whole framework has the concept of an Atlas, according to Aby Warburg. That is, the Atlas is a visual way of knowing; allows  to give shape to a wisdom in a visual mode. The images contains a superior knowledge and / because visual. Recalling the study of  Georges Didi-Huberman[1], Atlas – in this sense – presents itself as “epistemic paradigm of knowledge.” The sequence of photographs associated with the result of the video, a kind of atlas embodies  a individual / personalised , which integrates an argument ( a script), and can be applied (with appropriate safeguards, by a process of projective-introspectionn) to others. The photographs are understood in this context as pages.

As a book, they let themselves  be “handled” by favoring different interpretations of the world, reinventing readings – of each one of us , agreeing with their circumstances – Ortega y Gasset dixit …

The images designed by Monica de Miranda are structured from a thought transferred in composition. Looking at the pictures alone, seizes up what is a “secret geometry” of its composition, heiress of established knowledge (canons) – going back to the Renaissance – by Leon Battista Alberti-. It should be noted that the secret geometry and depth have been applied to works of art of the 20th century , notably by authors like Madeleine Hours or Bouleau Charles, among others. The visual thinking which governs the composition can be latent, or underlying applied therefore.

Each element in the photograph occupies a space that is yours and only there could be – is the conclusion that one has, it seems to stabilize an area of  perfectibility. Hence, also, the legitimacy is urgent because of the “delay” (topic about which reflected rather the purpose of the video by the author). This concern in the organization of the image to be, is denotative of aesthetic principles that are assumed to be primordial because revealing the contents and ideas as  fundamental. Each unit is indispensable for the  visual reading of the whole that is the picture – and the selection of pictures, and the consistency of this series. Each offers a unique presence and is individuated exemplar of a whole, can extrapolate from the parameter of the author / biography  to others  that determine it.

The elements / visual singular units are located in internal and external plans, equivalent to the desired conceptual:  the evident  notes disclosing an extreme intimacy  give rise to gigantic  factors  (and public) of social and human. The architecture of the interior of the house or hotel accentuates the figure . The fact that is there  does  not gain the right  to dwell  or of  a “home.” Is “home” but also holds out the possibility that it is a place of passage, of transience double meaning: someone who travels there or internal displacement  of  the” I” of “selves” (in analytical terms).

Figures monopolize the attention of the viewer, linking it to excerpts of spaces that are shredded depending on your aesthetic  and symbolic interests  – as mentioned before. It is a kind of “traveling”, which is brought about from the photos and videos, and has no place in those  addresses  or actual scripts. However, presides over an imperative demand to the visitor who takes a seat and becomes a belonger of the story.

Power would undertake, along with the author, a sort of imaginary pilgrimage, following the highlight of the tour to the sacred places selected by Monica de Miranda.


[1] By myself, I live and I am in Lisbon… I have been in London… Never been to Mindelo… Never been in Luanda only dreamt about it. I do not live in Rio de Janeiro but it always lives in me

[2] Cf. St. Augustine, Confessions, written in the 3rd Century AC.

[3] Almada Negreiros, portuguese artist, poet, writer, born at the Island of S.Tomé, 1893;Manoel de Barros, contemporary brasilian poet, born in Mato Grosso (Cuiabá), 1916.

[4] “Les routes et les pays ne nous apprennent rien que nous ne sachions déjà, rien que nous ne poussions écouter en nous-mêmes dans la paix de la nuit.” Amin Maalouf, Le Périple de Baldassare,Paris, Grasset, 2002, pp.36-37

[5] Giuliana Bruno – Atlas of Emotions, NY, Verso, 2002, p.5

[6] J.W. Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, ebook The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, Vol. XIV, Copyright © 2001 Bartleby.com, Inc. http://www.bartleby.com/ebook/adobe/314.pdf (consultado em 29 Setembro 2012)

[7] Cf. texto de Georges Didi-Huberman in Catálogo da exposição Atlas – como levar o mundo às costas, Madrid, Museu Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 2011, p.14 e ss.


Transatlantic connections: seas, memories and places in the work of Monica de Miranda

by Gabriela Salgado, curator

London, September 2012

If I study, I seek only the learning that treats of the knowledge of myself

Michel de Montaigne

During the period between the years 1605 and 1609 the number of geographical publications in Europe grew exponentially to reach the same figure as all the books published since printing began in 1550. This phenomenon was directly linked to the enormous impact that colonial expansion was having on the minds of Europeans. Books relaying the voyages of discovery, with their depictions of unknown territories and the magical presence of ‘other’ cultures, became favourite reading material. The civilisation that invaded Latin America at the turn of the 16th century was dancing to the rhythm of the creative explosion known as the Renaissance. In that light, America appeared to be, according to Eduardo Galeano, ‘one more invention, incorporated alongside gunpowder, the printing press, paper and the compass, to the imminent birth of the Modern Age’ .

In the context of colonial expansion and the birth of capitalism, travel was a vehicle to connect economic and political interests to natural and human resources. As much a reflection on those impulses as an expression of the interconnectedness proposed by globalisation,  a considerable number of artists articulate travel, migration and displacement as the conceptual armature of their work.

Travel in Monica de Miranda’s imagery becomes a metaphor for what Walter Mignolo calls ‘the colonial wound’: as a way to explore her multiple movements and those of her family through places linked by a common colonial matrix she builds her own emotional map in a variety of mediums. It could be argued that the stations chosen for her transit suggest a reflection on decolonization that in the Zapatistas’ terms would carry us towards a world that would fit many worlds: a proposal for a pluriversal -as in opposition to uni-versal – reading of reality.

Following the implicit logic of body politics and in contrast with geopolitics – which focus on the link between power and space – the artist locates the subject of study in the individual. In this territory of subjectivity, home becomes a shifting paradigm where the journey of the self is essentially a constant attempt to belong. Surpassing the limitations of identity politics, Monica de Miranda’s entire art production becomes an exercise in emotional geography.

Home as a territory delimited by the body is graphically depicted in the text-based work Come home to the place you never left, presented in Carpe Diem as a prologue to her epic travel ‘novel’ in chapters, the video triptych Once upon a Time. The most compelling example of the attempt to re enact geography, the triptych offers a rich panoply of fragmentary imagery collected during the artist’s transits through three continents. The video weaves a complex story where fictional and real places intersect personal spaces of memory and longing to build a non linear narrative.

Having resorted to maps in previous bodies of work, as in Where u From? of 2007, Monica de Miranda’s latest production reaches the poetic climax of the unsaid by shuffling places with which she has emotional ties – Luanda, Rio de Janeiro, Lisbon, Mindelo –  as in an unpredictable card game.

In another work in the exhibition, Home sweet sour house, the artist employs drawing to create a series of memory renderings of all the houses she has inhabited in her life. From the imprecise contours of childhood homes to her current domicile, the descriptive exercise is interrupted by the passing of time, whereas broken by conflict, exile or migrations and unsettled by the ambiguity of feeling. The result is a codified language in need of translation. Later interpreted by an architect into technical renderings, the hand drawings became pristine plates showing sensible layouts that nonetheless retain the personal features brought back from memory: rooms of uncertain proportions encapsulate the names of people who occupied them. Home sweet sour house is, once again, a repository of memory, a personal archive made of expressive calligraphies that reconstruct space from oral tradition. Orality is in this case connected with motherhood. Through interspersed images of a mother and her daughter it presents a connection as deep as the large sea that the self needs to find its bearings. This link of motherhood and the ocean and rivers is evocative of the female figures of syncretism Yemanjá and Oxum, mothers of the waters and wombs of history. The video lyrically describes loss and the pain of separation by means of oral knowledge, building a thread passed from generation to generation in a landscape of broken ancestries, where continuity rests only in blood vessels.

The second chapter of the journey that is Once upon a Time which is presented at Plataforma Revolver in Transboavista has been made possible by the artists proximity to the fluvial port of the Tejo river in Lisbon. In the video diptych An Ocean between Us, the fluvial port and a stationary cargo ship become the stage for metaphorical transits: as a passage between worlds, the liner evokes the journeys that connected the continents through the big waters, providing a ground for the encounter of cultures, the expansion of trade, and also for the inception of slavery. Conceived as a set of light boxes and a video projection An Ocean between Us deals in spatial ambiguity with melancholic undertones.

Ships for maritime travel become stages where symbolic umbilical cords unite the lost parts: an ocean and a river, a mother and a daughter, a lost love, and the promise of a re encounter are the elements of a catharsis. The various chapters of this travelling exhibition aspire to present an archaeology of the self through passages and landscapes. In it, travel becomes a vehicle of knowledge, where representation can never be trusted as the depictions of places reside within the realm of the unconscious, and memories are the tools for an exercise of healing the personal – and colonial – wound.

Gabriela Salgado


London, September 2012

The tress have routes , we have feet

by Fernandes Dias , 2009

Text exhibition “Underconstruction “, Lisbon

The constant negotiation between the local and the global, the foreign and the familiar, has become a basic condition of modernity. (Jean Fisher, 1992)

It remains the contribution of the borderline artists to perform a poetics of the open border. (Homi K. Bhabha, 1993)

Mónica de Miranda is an artist of the cities.In a time of crossbred cities, which benefited a great deal of the arrival of people of multiple cultures. Immigrants? Cosmopolitans? A glance treated with care to the immigrant populations in the city of our time, to their complexities and new opportunities, allows us to show several things; one of them that the traditional counter position between origin and destiny it does not seem to turn out to be already very clear not even defined . The categories of immigrant and of cosmopolitan are superimposed when a significant part of the metropolitan city is formed by people of very varied conditions and positions, who in everyday weave economical, social and cultural bonds between very different worlds. Form the telephone booths, form the cell phones and form the Internet there is the circulation of love, money and business, and there is trans-national nets being created that make connections with many other points of the planet. On the other side, the cities became more heterogeneous, for example music and dance have new and richer modes of fusion, thought the function of the migrations had some heighten on this. Nevertheless , immigrants also change , in a way that their double relationship between the host country and the native land produces in itself an aesthetic that, by its turn contributes for changes to occur in the host country and in its cultural expressions. In this project, abstract subjects like globalization, migration, multiple identity, cultural hibridity, are re-contextualized through real situations marked through the work in the Great Lisbon, mapping what Mónica calls with great claim a Bigger Lisbon.

Besides the Underconstruction exhibition, there is also the launch of a book with the same title, a cycle of cinema, conversations, dinners and parties in several associations, walks and visits to some neighbourhood districts, taking the project further into its already recognized diversity. What Mónica de Miranda intends is to create space so that the migratory and trans national flows are seen by themselves as a diversified and multifaceted reality as a platform for creative opportunities and a place of transit for personal, social and cultural changes. “At the heart of its strategy is the principle of interculturality, which should involve a gradual and systematic promotion of spaces and processes of positive interaction, a possible generalization of relations of trust, mutual recognition, for discussion, learning and exchange. Strategy of the artist and of artistic creation that is always a privileged place to capture and to create dynamism to these dimensions, even that utopian these are present.
Her artistic approach has led her to understand, and to create visibility of how much of the city’s immigrant population lives within the city , in Greater Lisbon, out of what remains of the military road built for the defence of French invaders at the beginning of the century XIX. A “fortress Europe” finds here historical territories to protect the city from new invasions of foreigners … But also, even there in the suburbs and in the margin, or perhaps because margins are under construction, unfinished and fluxional more definitive than other forms of urbanity, which in its turn create constant redefinitions of culture and identity.

The Works with which the exhibition starts and ends are a symbol of exposure of everything that is in the middle. I mean, as a kind of precipitate of multiple flows and movement of people and cultural dimensions. When you enter, “Public Works”, a cement mixer, a mixer camouflaged. Machine-building par excellence, refers to the activity most often practiced to a very large number of immigrants in Lisbon. Inside itself everything moves and is mixed, and it is equipped with wheels, it occupies a temporary space, transitional, of under construction. But the mixer in the exhibition is fully covered, obscuring the machine, which could
so be transported from the area of building works, and get camouflaged in the context of art. Covered by a fabric with a pattern of palm trees, which in our imaginary (even if there is so many of us!) refers to the places of origin of these people. The last piece that you see, “Black House”, reinforces the idea of process. We finished the building, but a temporary building. Made of the rest of a material used in the scaffolding work in construction.
Itself a migrant, born of migration, when thinking about migration, Mónica de Miranda does also a refection of herself and the environments where she had lived and her own social relations. Which make part of her creative process, marked by collaboration and participation with her personal circle of friends and relatives, as shown in the video of the journey through the landscape of the old, and todays military road. And that process extends to other fellow artists , scholars and critics, as in happens in the exhibition that includes works by other authors, that present themselves sometimes collective works. As well as other activities that make this project.
We do not know what will be our civilization when it really finds other civilizations by means other than the shock of conquest and domination. We must admit that this meeting has not yet been held in the form of a genuine dialogue. So we are in a kind of interval in which no more believe in the dogmatism of a single truth, and still we are not able to overcome the skepticism that we had fall into. Work of Monica Miranda like this can help us understand this situation and, hopefully, to open the borders of the fortress.

Redrawing the lines.Postcolonial Lisbon and other modern European fortresses

by Manuela Ribeiro Shanchez, 2009

Text book “underconstruction”, Lisbon

In the so-called postmodern world, a world in which boundaries between disciplines, art genres and discourses, the popular and the erudite, are supposed to be blurred, a world in which borders between nations and identities, the inside and the outside, are described as porous, and cultures celebrated for their mongrelisation, other limits and interdictions seem to persist or, alternatively, return with a vengeance. Are we inhabiting a post-post-modern moment, the comeback of modernity?

In an striking parallel to walls and fortifications around continents and countries such as Fortress Europe and the wall dividing the US from Mexico boundaries between the social and the artistic are increasingly kept under surveillance, not only by social scientists with their classic suspicion of volatile, imprecise, or unrealistic artistic languages, but also by artists, curators and critics, now eager to preserve their own distinctive field aloof from political and social issues, afraid the latter may contaminate their pure, aesthetic intentions. The cultural turn with its close association of the poetics and politics of cultural phenomena, namely as a way of questioning the disciplinary surveillance of the hard core of knowledges and powers, and the ensuing interdisciplinary dialogues is wearing off, just as nationalism and ethnic identities seem to harden around religious and other differences, a tendency that, not the clash of civilisations, but the threat of the crash of the global financial and economic system may reinforce.

Despite such redrawing of disciplinary boundaries, an unexpected consensus has emerged in the last years. If social scientists appear to be increasingly suspicious, at least in Portugal, of issues of multiculturalism and ethnic and racial difference, art practices and discourses seem to share this positioning, albeit for opposite reasons, but recurring to an identical argument: the mistrust of the smallest hint at some kind of political correctness. Behind the apparent dissent, there emerges another consensual approach: the universality either of citizenship ideals or artistic criteria, according to an implicit certainty, as regards western or European superiority, no matter how much postcolonial approaches may have tried to unsettle them.

Of course, things are more complex than this argument makes it seem. Difference and multiculturalism are still being engaged with, frequently as a form of official, paternalistic, discourse on intercultural affairs or conflict management, in which voice is supposed to be given to those who lack it. The marketing of difference is another still – but for how long? – striving field, with its investment on expressions of a presumed hybridity that ultimately ignores complex forms of identification that cannot be summed up under the motto, to take a familiar example, of Lisbon as a Creole or multicultural city. This is also a way to entertain a kind of wishful thinking as regards the proverbial European respect for the Other that ignores the asymmetric contexts that posit, define, difference, and those who have culture and are thus to be tolerated.
The actuality of Europes multiculture (Gilroy) is not to be disputed, unless it leads to ignoring other barriers in postcolonial Europe which result from the increasing precariousness of labour and other emerging social question. These do not, however as some are all too ready to claim , make of racism and other forms of discrimination, in which economics are only one among the issues at stake, mere secondary aspects.

Although images of contemporary Greece bear sometimes a striking familiarity to those that French banlieux exhibited in 2005, thus putting into jeopardy what some Europeanists still like to regard as the site of the continents origins or roots, one cannot haste to simplify the comparison, although it also begs for a more differentiated approach, as concerns ethnic and racial issues in post-post-modern times. Nonetheless, the fact is that the attacks and raids on public buildings, such as universities and schools and other public spaces, as well as the assault on private property as the more visible element in those events that cannot, of course, in both cases be reduced to its spectacular impact – demand a more complex approach to a wide range of phenomena that contemporary societies in Europe are facing and that inherited social models cannot give response too.

This also applies to political discourse. Cosmopolitanism has been traditionally associated with a precise form of imagining space, i.e., the city as the civilised locus of democratic exchange, of negotiated differences around a common citizenship, a tension that can no longer be subsumed under the slogan all equal, all different, a supposed dialectics between the Self and the Other that does not take into account not only the complex processes of identification, but also the dissent that people, who take seriously what it may mean living with difference on effectively democratic terms, have to encounter.

But how is cosmopolitanism to be practiced, if the city persists in creating barriers between insiders and outsiders? If traditional boroughs of Lisbon are inhabited by recent immigrants, they are easily fixed into specific territories, such as Martim Moniz, Praça de S. Domingo or Restauradores, some parts of Alfama, former Jewish and Moorish ghettos , a testimony to the ever permanent multicultural character of the city, as well as its more tolerant and racist moments.

Those who have settled longer ago, and whose descendants were born in Lisbon, seem to have been relegated, banned, to non-places, the banlieux, the banned sites, where project housing is the privileged location for reporters to invent sensationalist news on criminality, violence and difference, in order to divert a bored and impoverished white middle class during torrid Lisboan summers from other social preoccupations. Thus the majority can find a compensation for their frustrations in their superior manners, their European civilisation which ethnic minorities or immigrants do not share. While enjoying kuduro concerts and other African or Creole sounds in the open air during the citys summer festivities, indigenous locals seem to view with suspicion the invasion of summer resorts by Black, mainly male, youngters, as was the case of the famous Arrastão event (www.eraumavezumarrastao.org), or the idea that living with difference entails a serious questioning of received paradigms as regards who belongs to the nation, Europe, or the West.

Are mongrelisation and hybridity a way of disavowing the actual, imposed borders on those whom discourses of difference insist on segregating through subtle exclusionary practices?
Is citizenship, as a form of providing equal rights to everyone, a way of ensuring effective equality to those who want to belong, but insist on clinging to last but not least, because they feel they are not wanted – their (re)invented difference?

The spaces now occupied in Lisbon by project housing the problematic neighbourhoods, from quartiers problématiques in French, where second generation immigrants mainly live ,cohabiting and interacting with poor white populations are delimited, reminds us Mónicas work, by a line formerly traced by the military road, in order to contain foreign invaders during the Napoleonic wars. Significantly, the event that contributed decisively to build a new form of collective national memory against an invader, after the Castilian or Spanish one, seems to reproduce the need of the nation, a persistently invented tradition, to define itself as something homogeneous and pure against potential contaminations.

But paradoxically, the same neighbourhoods frequently described and discriminated against as ghettos, resist that all too familiar labelling, as they insist on drawing from their own tradition and the locally found one, thus pointing to the inevitable interdependencies of (post)colonial histories, despite their intrinsic violence. Thus the (in)famous Portuguese house the title of a famous fado, that my generation cannot avoid associating with the authoritarian and repressively petty bourgeois atmosphere of pre-democratic and colonial Portugal reappears under new guises, according to unexpected perspectives and juxtapositions, now clad to follow Mónicas suggestive installation, in Black, and something else.

This points to other stories beyond a proverbial Portuguese tendency to mix racially and culturally, an inevitable consequence of any colonial setting, apart from all kinds or more or less apartheid measures, differently introduced according to diverse geographical and historical contexts.

And it seems to underline, as well, the tense negotiations lived by those who inhabit the borderlines of what is still defined as national (Portugueseness) and the transnational (European), as the images in the video High Life depict in an imaginative way.

Blackness seems to be accepted in Lisbon in order to market the city as part of a cosmopolitan global space, characterised by the juxtaposition of the exotic and the familiar, as is the case of Luanda-Lisboa kuduro, increasingly popular in London too. The music and nomenclature of Buraka Som Sistema translate well into the vitality of such enterprises and experiences that are easily co-opted by, but also resistant to, economic interests. But if fado, the Portuguese national music par excellence since the late 19th century – the age of the invention of traditions (Hobsbawm/ Ranger) is increasingly understood as a hybrid form of music, and globally marketed as an exotic form of world music, it is nonetheless regarded as a mainly Lusophone manifestation. Although seen as the result of the mixing African origins with Brazilian sounds and transatlantic travels, the Atlantic still seems to resist the adjective of Black, in consonance with other narratives on Portuguese imperial histories.

What other ways of imagining space and time can be thought of as alternative to the understandings that, despite proclaiming the blurring of boundaries and disciplines, are still prone to ensure the segregation of those who belong and those who do not according to surveillance procedures that define the territorial limits to be inhabited? How is one to unravel the tight knots that are still part of a consensual idea of Europe and its nations? How are barriers and suspicions to be questioned ? What about strategic defensive moods that divergent discourses and knowledges, ultimately partaking of similar, although apparently distinct, discourses on their legitimacy and efficiency?

Perhaps by attempting to break, persistently, stubbornly, the boundaries, making increasingly obvious the common contexts that inhabit them and legitimate the segregation of difference under different disciplinary and political banners.

Abandoned places, destroyed neighbourhoods, such as those depicted in this book, thus serve less as a way to stimulate a meditation on ruins, evidencing the transitory character of a universal human nature, as the Baroque allegory emphasised (Walter Benjamin), than to point to the (unequal) transits across the (Black) Atlantic and beyond it. Houses shattered by the will to modernise retain nevertheless the traces and fragments of lives, unfulfilled in their aspirations, but nonetheless fully lived, bringing evidence to the ways in which they influence and were influenced by an urban space that cannot be simplistically equated to a classic cosmopolis.

The contemporary, postcolonial space resists, but therefore begs for, more diverse forms of culture, regarded in their full modernity, and less in their exoticism as global Black cultures, either in their vernacular or avant-garde moments.

Everyday life does not have to be the exclusive object of social sciences, and art cannot be seen as the realm of artistic discourses. Both should be considered in their tensions, and productive conflicts in post-colonial Europe, namely in those countries, such as Portugal, that have built their national identity around an alleged exceptional role in world history, a role that has not avoided the countrys traditionally subaltern role in local and global contexts.

In a moment in which the redrawing of boundaries seems to be the more effective, artistic projects such as the present one can be a reminder of the complex interdependencies and encounters with diverse demands and aspirations deriving from the concrete everyday experiences of all those who strive for a better life, regardless of increasing economic restrictions and inequalities.

Lisbon as a contact zone: from temporary communities to images of the city

by Lucia Marques , 2008

Text for exhibition “Novas Geografias”, Lisbon

Only during this last decade, and mostly from its macrocephalic capital, has Portugal started to become aware of its cultural diversity as a country of “origin” but also of “destination” of migratory fluxes. We have become accustomed to mentioning the travails endured by the wave of Portuguese immigrants who, during the fascist dictatorship, went to France looking for a better life. However, we often forget all those who continue to look for a better future in this country of “pioneers of European colonization”; we seek refuge in an idea of tolerance which creates distance towards others instead of embracing them.

In comparison with other Portuguese cities, Lisbon has a particular way of reflecting this historical construction of the identity of a Nation-State, based on the contacts and experiences that result from the colonial process. The former centre of an “empire” which has yet to be revisited critically, it is still the urban area that assembles the greatest concentration of foreign residents in Portugal. In some cases, it is precisely in Lisbon’s most central points – such as different areas of its historical core, from the glamorous Bairro Alto to the stigmatized Martim Moniz – that diverse groups of people assemble themselves and are temporarily organized as “communities”. These groups encompass people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures, not just Portuguese speakers. These “foreigners”, often discriminated against as being “immigrants”, are Lisbon’s most invisible inhabitants: they are rarely included in the widely disseminated representations of the city; their social existence is erased from an urban identity that only rarely has been described as “multicultural”. However, it is in the artistic arena that “interculturalism” has taken its most decisive steps in Portugal, so that this constitutes in fact an important road to integration, especially in the fields of contemporary music and dance .

These “new lisboetas (lisboners)”, to whom documentary filmmaker Sérgio Tréfaut wisely and provocatively gave expression in 2003-2004, are also the main protagonists of Mónica de Miranda’s most recent works for the “New Geographies” exhibition in Lisbon. These are works of art that have stemmed from a creative mapping of informal or temporary networks of people and places. They question the post-colonial borders of identity that structure our ideas on nationality.

In the works of art created specifically for the exhibition at Plataforma Revólver, namely Greater Lisbon – A to Z (2008), Tuning Lisboa (2008) and Where r u from (2006-2008), Lisbon is reconfigured according to the different communities that have established themselves in the city, as a result of the global impact of Diaspora movements. In this sense, we can equate the city with linguist Mary Louise Pratt’s meaning of the term “contact zone” as a “colonial border” . We can also be reminded of the meaning that African-American artist and theorist Renée Green drew from the term “contact zone”. She emphasized the relationship dynamics of the “negotiations” that occur in social spaces, referring to the “contact zone” as a meeting point, both spatial and temporal, of people who were formerly separated by “geographical and historical hiatuses” and “whose paths now intersect”. In this process, the “dimensions of interaction and of improvisation of colonial encounters” are key . More recently, curator Lesley Wright applied Pratt’s concept to “Portuguese art” and demonstrated the role played by travel in defining a certain social and creative context which addresses the nomadic condition of cultural identity, as well as the new transnational contaminations which shape contemporary artistic production.

Mónica de Miranda is interested precisely in this phenomenon of hybridization and cultural redefinition. She herself is the product of the miscegenation that characterizes Portuguese genetic history (descending from the Celts e the Lusitanian’s and marked by centuries of contact of Northern African Moors and with Jews). The daughter of a Portuguese father and an Angolan mother, Mónica was born in Amarante (1976), grew up in Porto and completed her artistic training in London, having also lived in Brazil. She based herself in London 8 years ago and currently divides her time between London and Lisbon, while searching her deepest identity contradictions. The migratory condition of her life story thus coincides with her living experience of Lisbon: here she scrutinizes the way in which the multi-ethnic communities that make up the city take so long to actually be included in the city’s image, while, at the same time, constitute its most vital focal points.

Chemistry of London

by Guy Brett, 2008

Text for exhibition “New Geographies “, London

I think it could be argued that an expanded space – physical and conceptual – for art has developed alongside, parallel to, an expansion of cultural complexity and diversity in the life of the average citizen of London. This process probably began in the 1950s when the term ‘globalisation’ was unknown and migrations of the world’s peoples had not reached the scale they have today. The London avant-garde art scene, beginning in the 50s, has represented almost laboratory conditions for the clashing and fusing of cultures, even if the established institutions for a long time were not aware of it. There was an extraordinary type of reciprocity about these clashings and meetings, and a kind of equality, because each individual, according to their origins, had different mental sets in which there were elements of freedom and elements of restriction. Certain demands for liberation within British society – from traditional authority, patriarchy, snobberies and class – drew young people to London from relatively more hidebound social structures. They often brought with them other forms of liberated thinking or acting in comparison with which Britain was still ‘uptight’. These opposites mingled in the process of working out a humane set of values.

Similarly, the notion of a space for art expanded beyond the narrow terms of an object displayed in an art gallery to the discovery of new contexts, new materials, new collaborative, participatory and performative structures. Mónica de Miranda herself epitomises both the complexity of cultural traces which make up identity and a diverse and flexible art practice. Certain of her works are tuned to the pristine art gallery, where contemplative time is needed, and others take the form of videos, graffiti painting in the street, performances, collaborative projects with other artists and with children and so on. Many of her works have a visual structure of overlays and fusions, such as her Road Lines (digital photographs, 2005) where map fragments of different cities merge together in the palms of people’s hands and the map lines of roads evoke the creases and veins in the human skin.

However, with all this talk of movement, crossings and hybrids there is something that is changeless and constant in identity: the individual’s memories of childhood. George Eliot asks in one of her novels: “Would we love this world so much if we had not spent our childhood in it?” Her question assumes the intensity of childhood impressions. It seems there is some sensory bond to place, atmosphere, colour, touch, taste, sound and smell that survives even an unhappy childhood. Perhaps the persistence of childhood memory corresponds to the stillness, focus and brilliancy one can find in a work of visual art.

Imagined Geographies

By Paul Goodwin 2007

Text exhibition “New geographies” , London

As a geographer, Ive always believed wholeheartedly in David Harveys self deprecating maxim that geography is too important to be left to geographers . Harveys warning was not just a sudden bout of self flagellating humour designed to debunk the over inflated egos of geographers in their professional colonisation of all matters to do with space and place. He made it as a political intervention in the context of the debate about the role of geographical sciences in describing and mapping the contours of an ever changing, global expansion of capitalism to all areas of life. Although he didnt state it, Harvey must have had artists somewhere in mind as his intervention hinted to the endless possibilities in the expansion of what he calls the geographical imagination. In other words, artists can reach spaces of the geographical imagination that geographers cant reach.

This is exactly the thought I had in mind as I entered the 198 Gallery in the heart of urban London, to see Monica de Mirandas NEW GEOGRAPHIES exhibition. The first thing the visitor sees as one enters the gallery is a wall mounted light box, London A-Z (2007), which on first glance is a standard map depicting London boroughs and main transport and road arteries. As you explore the map further, you see that the place names dotted around the map are actually places from around the globe arranged in accordance with the location of communities from these places in London. London becomes a world city, a city as a world. In Mirandas creative mapping of the city, Melbourne brushes against Tunis, while Mombassa lies just on top of Jerusalem. Ealing becomes resolutely Polish while Afghans are dotted around Southwark. Traditional cartographic precision and certainties are lost as they are displaced and decentred. Racialised urban hierarchies are overthrown and re-imagined as a patchwork quilt of glocalised cosmopolitanism.

As you move further into the exhibition, new geographies surround and envelop you on all sides. Tuning (2007) takes you on a panoramic video journey across London to a shifting car stereo soundtrack of music, talk shows and jingles of various multicultural hues and languages. In The Back Of Our Hands (2006) consists of seven light box mounted pictures of hands of various ethnicities and colours with composite maps projected on them, while Where Are U From? is a spectacular series of wall mounted hanging pictures of the artist and her friends with various maps transposed onto their bodies reflecting personal life journeys. In all these works, cartography is forced to confront real bodies: flesh and blood, an embodied sense of place as opposed to the disembodied geographies of traditional maps. Miranda is putting the body back into mapping, a return to the spirit of the medieval mappae mundi . By integrating symbolic and corporal images and non-representational elements into maps, the artist is able to disrupt linear and one-dimensional cartographies of power and social control.

The geographical imagination is expanded in other ways in this exhibition beyond the map. Dominant images of national identity and territorial integrity are challenged and exposed in works such as Biting Nations (2006) and Flags. Biting Nations is a video of national flags painted onto nails being bitten, chewed and spit out nervously by various performers. The sound track of the cracking and spitting out of the nails juxtaposed with the images of national flags being mutilated induces a subtle and uncanny sense of unease in the viewer. Are we troubled more by the sights and sounds of cherished national symbols being mangled before our very eyes? Or is it the bodily self-mutilation being displayed that we find so disturbing?

States is another piece that disrupts hegemonic images of nationalism. Eight multicoloured flags are arranged in a parade on the gallery wall reflecting the pomp and ceremony of national flags as markers of identity. Some of the flags are generic but others show the colours of national flags related to the artist and her partner. On all of them are images the artist and her partner dressed as clowns kissing, thus softening the hard surface of national and nationalistic flags with a ludic, playful and absurd dimension.

Indeed, images of clowns in love, wondering through various assemblages of real and virtual places, are also themes in Wedding Series (video) and Wonders of the World (4 mounted light box images). In the former, the artist and her partner are filmed getting married in a registry office in London dressed in full clown regalia, whilst in the latter the clowns are depicted all over the globe with iconic places and monuments (Eiffel Tower, Tower Bridge, Statue of Liberty etc) serving as a backdrop to their joyful and jocund imaginary honeymoon. In these works some of the rough edges of multicultural urbanism are smoothed out by enticing the viewer into a virtual dreamscape of interracial relationships, love and play that appear to transcend the mundane and often aggressive realities of urban living in many of the worlds great cities. The figure of the clown as urban flâneur, globe-trotting mongrel and purveyor par excellence of a spread love philosophy, seems a fitting harbinger of the utopian promise of a new metropolitan cosmopolitanism already hinted at in the very streets surrounding the gallery.

As I leave the exhibition and head out into the Brixton night, Monicas world of cosmopolitan mongrelism doesnt seem very far away from the sights and sounds around me in the Brixton cityscape. Nail parlours jostle for space with exotic food and fashion stores. Brixtonites in all shapes, hues and accents rush past me at all angles. I look at my London A-Z and think about all the painstaking and meticulous attention to detail and exactitude displayed in its representation of Brixton: geographers and cartographers hard at work. Yet the new geographies I saw, heard and experienced in Monicas exhibition and that I encounter everyday in the bewildering streets of the great metropolis are completely absent from my map. Maybe Ordinance Survey need to start hiring artists like Monica de Miranda. Or even clowns?

Paul Goodwin is geographer, urban theorist and gallery educator based at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Cartographies of Affection

by Rui Mascarelhas, 2007

Text for exhibition “New geographies”

The move away from the singularities of class or gender as primarily conceptual and organizational categories, has resulted in a awareness of the subject positions of race, gender, generation, institutional location, geopolitical locale, sexual orientation that inhabit any claim to identity in the modern world. What is theoretically innovative, and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of the originary and initial subjectivities and to focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These in-between spaces provides the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood singular and communal that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself.
Homi Bhabha, The Location of culture
We always stem from one place. A place which lies on the intersection of thousands of lines, as many lines as those which entangle us, spur us on and arouse our interest. This can be a place with physical, genetic, symbolic coordinates; it can be somebodys place in a city, as in a social hierarchy. It can be something or someone or somewhere that acts as a place where all sorts of lines intersect: physical and chemical lines, genetic and social, ethnic and economical, aesthetic and ethical lines. These intersections turn this place into a unique focal point, filled with multiple contexts and multiple possibilities, a focal point which synthesises different places into one singular space. It is not a matter of topography but of topologies.

In such a place, Geography would only be able to draw maps of some impersonal, pre-individual unconsciousness, a realm where our bodies and identities are shaped and where urbanism and architecture, hairstyles and fashion, streets and songs are determined. The place where we are born, where we live, where we die. But this is not, after all, the Geography of physical spaces; it is the Geography of those places where we construct ourselves also as memory and dream. Places from which we become what we are, in all those spaces that we intersect with. Places that we take along with us as baggage, like tourists or migrants, and places that we invariably find when we wake up. Places where we ourselves are always a place.

These New geographies strive for new cartographies. The difference is a leap into contemporary realities.

Monica De Miranda renounces old certainties and constructs herself within her own moving place. Wrapped up in a multiplicity of spaces, she expresses her own place, even when she intends to do something else. She knows that the place isnt what she sees. But that in itself doesnt make her an artist. The art lies in making sensitive that which usually remains insensitive in those places.

The increasingly intense connections between places and the massive roaming of certain places into others demand nowadays a new timed geography, a new cartography of affections, as well as new media, new substances, new forms and new codes. Only then can all the forces implicated in these complex spaces be made sensitive. These are all things that we find at play in Mónica de Mirandas work.

Mónica brings an infinity of places into one place. She also evokes new geographies, as when she intersects maps and photographs of bodies, each body alluding to its own place, where different identities cohabitate under ones own identity.

In New Geographies, distances are measured by affection. That is why the artists place is near the familiar place, the place where one is married, has friends, interacts socially, travels, immigrates, works. It is from that place that she participates in eternity.
Mónica works from her own place, from the place of her relations, in a place that belongs to all and which is made of an infinity of lines that connect collective and personal places. A new place made up of old places.

Delving into sculpture and video, photography, installation and multimedia , Mónica shapes a unique place. Here, the multiple intersections of all the lines her work evokes is expressed by the intersection of hybrid media that question borders and propose a place that is born from those multiple intersections.

Always attentive towards the territories she is exploring and with, which she intends to establish dialogue, Mónica recognises the proliferation of the insensitive lines that pin-point the location of culture and of human bodies, of art and of life, and she intersects them, thereby showing us the hybrid and multiply determined place that create them.

Its a clowns marriage, that which the artist undertakes; a union where sacred and profane cohabitate. A car radio picking up tunes from around the world on the streets of London intersects the local and the global. Mónica doesnt just make conventional dichotomies more extreme, she constantly experiments with a crossing of real and metaphorical borders, weaving a new cartography of affection, which reflects a new subjectivity and exhibits all of these new places, where our contemporary live is built.