CAROLINA SERRANO: “BETWEEN THE THUMB AND THE INDEX FINGER"
The work of Carolina Serrano (Funchal, 1994) 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 (in this case, a degree in sculpture and a master’s thesis with the title "The spiritual dimension of sculpture in the work of 19 artists”).
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 modeling 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, 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, 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 “desacralized”, 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.
Forever about to end - Carolina Serrano
Some anthropologists argued that spirituality, has its origins in relation to death, by introducing a belief system that alleviates the fear of it. Several religions believe that there is an otherworld that provides the possibility of a life form after death, where the soul can be saved from its material condition. Art, having emerged from myth, magic and religion, has maintained a close relation to these narratives for many centuries. Nevertheless, after a long process of secularization it somehow still maintains a sacred aura, channelling spiritual insights and providing a form of existence after death.
Arthur Danto in his seminal essay “The Artworld”, defined the artworld as “standing to the real world… [as] the city of heaven stands to the earthly city”. In his opinion, artworks, if recognized as such by the spectator, are “transfigured” into a distant ontological realm, completely different from that of real things. Later in 1987, Gilles Deleuze, in a lecture titled “What is the creative act” expands the horizons of this notion by giving to the act of creation itself a spiritual and existential character. The French philosopher states that a work of art is an act of resistance against death because it is an inevitable impulse to materialize a thought or an emotion in an object, an act of “transubstantiation” of the artist inside the work he created, that will eventually keep his flame alive when time comes. In light of these views, we could argue that in the genealogy of spirituality and that of artistic creation, there is a close relation to mortality; but what is mortality, death, if not the end of time, its conclusion?
Carolina Serrano’s exhibition, Forever about to end, introduces this idea of life and art as part of the same existential and spiritual struggle against the work of time. The exhibition presents two interrelated fields of interest explored through sculpture, drawing and photography. One being the exploration of the duality between interior-exterior, full and empty space. The photographs in the show capture the startling manifestations in nature of shadows and lights forming “wounds” in the ground, mysterious apertures and physically inaccessible places. In the series s/título (noites nocturnas), we can find in a different medium a transposition of these forms, with a process of production marked by the dichotomy of presence and absence. This theme is also present in the two works inside of the niches, Sou eu que me lembro and Tanta alegria e tu a chorar, yet not in relation to form but to time: present and past.
The sculptural dimension of her work is instead aimed at inquiring about the possible ways to use time as matter, exploring the theoretical,conceptual and material possibilities of black coloured wax in relation to fire. This element is present at the very beginning of the exhibition in the invisible drawings. The fire depicted in the wax sheets can only be seen if the spectator finds the right inclination to discern them, a metaphorical and physical quest for light, that points out to the participation of the spectator in the process of the successive sculptures. When lit, the wax matter of the candle is sacrificed to the verticality of the flame and an inanimate object gains time, becoming mortal. For this reason, candles have become a symbolic substitute for the ancient practice of animal sacrifices to the Gods. In this way, candles when used in ritualistic contexts, become a substitute of the person who lit them and when we leave the place where the offering took place, in our mind, the flame of the candle continues to burn, keeping the prayer alive. Hence, at the same time that the candle becomes mortal, it also acquires a metaphysical perpetual dimension, a glimpse of eternity.
In the same way, the latent mortal element inside some the artist’s sculptures allows them to exist in two temporal dimensions, one finite and the other impossible to measure: a transcendental time living outside of ours, a time more glorious and eternal than the one we commonly experience, a time closer to that of art. If the vulnerability to fire is recognized, it empowers the artworks to mirror our human condition, creating a second act of “transubstantiation”, this time of the spectator inside of the sculpture. In this way, identifying in the sculptures a latent mortal element, opens the door to the possibility for the sculptures to be “seen” in a different way, to be melted and be endlessly destroyed with our inner (in)extinguishable flame, making them always ready to end and begin again.