A murmur like silence.
Susanne Themlitz’s exhibition at the Ermida space put me in mind of a series of works she created in 1997. Her Portable Landscapes (Paisagens Transportáveis) consist of boxes containing landscapes moulded in plaster and framed drawings, indicative, on two planes of her production, of how space and the meaning of words are important to this artist. These boxes/containers possess a feature that communicates a feeling of instability to the spectator. They are quite similar to the ones used to transport art works and enclose, almost at the surface, a white landscape, which we can see from above, becoming then aware that the artistic object is not supposed to be taken out of the box and displayed, but that the whole object is the work of art. If we think for an instant of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Boîte-en-valise’, we will quickly start considering references to art history or to decisions within the artistic process that entail its questioning.
However, Susanne Themlitz is not making a commentary on art history here, for the reference to a portable device may contain in its enunciation another concept: impermanence. In other words, this particular piece is at a certain point in an itinerary that cannot be defined.
The drawings, which are part of the same series, were made on thin A4 paper sheets, and consist of landscape sketches with small, indistinct figures dotted here and there. They look like travel sketches, done from a distance, as if a temporal severance had occurred between the hand and the terrain relief, as if everything depicted was the result of a glimpse. On the sheets are also small handwritten sentences, in German and Portuguese, which fragment the informative possibilities of a caption, but nonetheless elucidate us at once about the imponderability of a universe built via the presence of beings and spaces subjected to the artist’s prolific imagination. For Susanne Themlitz, time, too, is a container, in which the coexistence of various references generates unexpected genealogies. This facet of her work is visible in the recurring use of photomontages (in a tone similar to Dadaism – as in Hannah Höch’s work) to depict extraordinary figures, and sometimes to inscribe her own body in the work. This is not a strategy of representation, but a form of organising the represented materials in such a way as to overlap traces and fragments of hypothetical narratives, as in a découpage that reconnects, via intersections, several awareness levels of a constructed, fictional reality.
It is as if we were permanently in front of a cinema screen, feeling haunted by the uncertain distinction between the fantastic and reality. Points of contact between her work and cinema are not immediately visible; however, the use of such phrases and words as ‘At Eye Level’, ‘panorama’, ‘paisagem conservada’ [preserved landscape], ‘itinerário’ [itinerary] or ‘continua’ [to be continued] as exhibition titles, annotations on drawings or inscribed on the last page of her notebooks, suggests to us a dynamic site of narratives in which drawing and sculpture become ever-present events that ceaselessly reposition us before a possible, yet unforeseeable world.
The exhibition ‘Silence (5 elements in bronze or aluminium, probably detached from a graphite and oil drawing, yet to be realized)’ represents a synthesis of this artist’s oeuvre. The exhibits turn the Ermida space into a sculpture, in the sense that it is no longer a place in which works are displayed, becoming instead a huge sculptural whole through which we walk and into which we are integrated. The exhibition’s set-up defines at once two distinct planes, through the division of space. The first room, a kind of antechamber, is empty and on a lower level; it leads to the second room (formerly the altar), inhabited by characters between which a system of relationships is in operation. Once again, the word is the sculptor’s tool. In the title, the word ‘detached’ refers to the moment when the elements of the drawing fell from it, to be materialised into bronze and aluminium, as the founding elements of the sculpture that is the whole exhibition space. This precarious connection between the yet-to-be-realised drawing (an intention the title proclaims) and the actuality of the inhabited space cancels our consciousness of time, and even place. It is in this sense that silence takes a hold of us, as a mute murmur that runs through the apparently motionless characters, suspended in the act of being cast. There is a feeling of strangeness in the correspondence between what is left of a human body (the faceless diver suit) and the rock-cloud-formless-body that stands at eye level, as a memory absent from ourselves that will not yield the features we search.
Susanne Themiltz’s work consists in a ceaseless superimposition of figures and narrative episodes we apparently encounter at the moment in which the artist has aggregated them. It is, indeed, in the instant of that decision that the use of materials – graphite, plaster, bronze, the word or an object from her everyday life – takes on sculpture’s potential to construct the identity of beings and places we share as a physical experience. It is as if, between us and the world, there existed for a few moments another space, impregnable but impossible to relinquish. Silence is our contribution towards a discourse that is about to fall silent. Eternally.