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Between the thumb and index finger

UMA LULIK_ gallery, Lisbon, Portugal, 2020

Text: Alexandre Melo

Faz aí a tua casa (2020) Paraffin, wood, fabric, spotlights 237 x 300 x 50 cm 
Photo: Bruno Lopes © Uma Lulik__ Contemporary Art Gallery
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Depois muito, depois pouco, depois nada (2020) Paraffin, candle-wicks, 225 x 9 x 9 cm
Photo: Bruno Lopes © Uma Lulik__ Contemporary Art Gallery
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Um momento de trégua (2020) Paraffin, wood, 90 x 30 x 23 cm
Photo: Bruno Lopes © Uma Lulik__ Contemporary Art Gallery
Há ainda promessa (2020) Paraffin, 58 x 27 x 27 cm
Photo: Bruno Lopes © Uma Lulik__ Contemporary Art Gallery
Photo: Bruno Lopes © Uma Lulik__ Contemporary Art Gallery
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Campo de flores (2020) Paraffin, steel base, spike; 114 x 51 x 36 cm
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Às trinta e duas e trinta (2020) Paraffin, 38 x 30 x 10 cm and 21 x 26 x 14 cm 
Photo: Bruno Lopes © Uma Lulik__ Contemporary Art Gallery

The work of Carolina Serrano (Funchal, 1994, a degree in sculpture and a master’s thesis with the title The spiritual dimension of sculpture in the work of XIX artists”) reveals a combination of skill, sensitivity and thoroughness that is always very encouraging but not all that common in young artists coming fresh out of university.

The balance between technical competence (in the use of materials) and the appeal of her inspiration and emotional and intellectual aspirations shapes the artist’s methodology and working methods. In turn, these methods will define the trajectory and achievements of the development of her authorial work.

The analysis of the body of work she has been producing since 2017 reveals a deep and intentional commitment to a process of experimentation with her materials. “I work predominantly with paraffin due to the theoretical-conceptual possibilities this material opens up in the observer’s imagination, i.e. the temporal dimension of sculpture. When combined with fire (as a living element in memory and imagination) paraffin allows me to get close to making a sculpture with time. Burning a candle, this object “gains” time and acquires a temporal dimension: it becomes mortal, it exists in “our” time and, like us, it will die. The act of receiving life through self-destruction is a hypothesis, it exists as a possibility, as a mental trigger.”

The indispensable expansion of the field of experimentation that comprises the physical possibilities of execution is not arbitrary, but rather subjected to a sensitive inspiration, to an ethical qualm suggested by the artist when she refers to “spirituality”.

The melted paraffin mixed with black pigment, her material of choice, produces an authorial specificity. A black waxy surface in which the artist inscribes her drawings (Untitled — from the series Invisible Drawings, 2018-2019), or a paste coating and modelling other materials (Styrofoam in the series Doce distância (2017-2018); fabric in A espera (2019), giving them a new texture or, more recently (as is the case of the work here presented, Depois muito, depois pouco, depois nada) as a dripping technique that coats a rope made from braided wicks. This diversity of uses creates a play of textures that gives off a sensory appeal and produces a tactile temptation; we want to touch the pieces to feel their vulnerability or resistance, consistency or fluidity, weight or lightness, roughness or smoothness, hardness or affability.

The use of wicks and paraffin wax, hidden but visible in the series Doce distância, veiled in Depois muito, depois pouco, depois nada (2020), evokes the universe of religion and its references, which are unavoidable but never too obvious. “Paraffin is also a material that replaces the body. In order to create sculptures that are extensions of ourselves, knowing that we are restless beings that oscillate in time without ever being in control of it, those sculptures must be real mirrors, at a time simple and complex, exact but uncertain reflections. The act of polishing this mirror, to the point it can explain us what is to be human, might prove to be an endless task.”

Campo de flores (2020) could be seen as a variation of the usual supports for the placement of votive candles in churches, but it does allow other, more geometric, readings and calls for other moments in the history of art. With the title Campo de flores [A Field of Flowers], the artist seems to suggest a specific reading for the piece, but those black flowers remain ever ambiguous.

The use of paraffin and the “self-destructive” insinuation add another level of vulnerability or ephemerality to the works. Once we imagine ourselves incapable of resisting the temptation to “light the candles”, the appearance of the works is radically altered or destroyed.

Confronted with this exhibition, an observer might find it difficult to escape a religious resonance — especially one whose cultural experience includes the participation in certain types of religious ceremonies. On the other hand, for someone oblivious of those experiences, the show might offer an equally satisfactory experience, an aesthetical and formal reading of the works, framed by the tradition of modern sculpture, and particularly of Post-minimalism and Process art.

A work like Faz aí a tua casa (2020) can be compared to an oratory (or at least to its shape), but it can also be looked as a play with the notion of “shaped canvas”, linking painting and object in a language akin to installation, which prioritizes a play of light and shadow.

The importance given to the lighting and installation of this piece — the centerpiece of the show — gives it an almost ineffable dimension, as the contours and shapes that command our perception shift as the lighting changes. There is a perceptual and mental distance between the objectual presence of the work and how light and shadow redraw it.

The artist’s resourcefulness in creating a geometrically inclined sculptural composition becomes crystal clear in Um momento de trégua (2020) a piece that combines geometric shapes (rhomboid – cylinder – cone) that shrewdly articulate and connect to the architecture of the gallery space, which was altered (by the addition of a wall), for this exhibition. The work Às trinta e duas e trinta can be read, albeit in abstract terms, as a variation based on geometric solids that evoke the shape of a nail.

“(…) art is always a disappointment. Even when it became focused on itself, finally able to “get to know itself”, art did not cease to be a conduit for religious experiences. As such, we can conclude that the sacred has not been sacrificed in favor of the secular but has rather been “de-sacralized”, it became accessible, another part of the world. The spiritual dimension in art has not been lost, it has just been transformed, and its beauty is revealed, or is always about to be revealed, both in the invisible vastness of interiority and in the banality of ordinary days.” These are the words used by Carolina Serrano in the conclusion of her master’s thesis.

Alexandre Melo

September 2020

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