“O vazio desenhava desde sempre a forma do teu rosto
Todas as coisas serviram para nos ensinar
A ardente perfeição da tua ausência”
Emptiness had been drawing the shape of your face since always
All things were meant to teach us
The burning perfection of your absence.*
Sophia de Mello Breyner
There is, in the artistic work of Dalila Gonçalves, a kind of nostalgia disguised as irony. It would be hard, perhaps, to take down time and give it a face. I would dare say that this drawing began in the cornfields. The pigeons would come, in hunger or glutiny, eat the grain the artist had laid out for them. They landed on this kind of staged feast that would later become fragments of a devoured drawing. The curtain would come down, and the fleeting moment and all its actions to be recorded on tape. Breadcrumbs, sand, or popcorn, there was almost always a provocation to matter: to be mere bait to allure the main character up to the stage – time, with or without capital letter – that would show up just to make it disappear. Perhaps this was the more theatrical phase of Dalila’s work, even though the concept of staging has remained a constant.
Just as the traditional western icon for the dramatic arts suggests, also in her work we can find a smiling mask pairing with another, anguished-mouthed. tragic mask. This would become more evident in later works such as Arquivos de erva (Grass Archives) ou Observatório (Observatorium). How long does it take for grass to grow, and who will sit down on a chair and wait for the show? Whatever we had disappearing or rotting away before is now growing. First, there is no one sitting in the audience (Teatros de erva #1), the loneliness of a show without a public. Later, we can see the backs of a sitting audience (Teatros de erva #2 and #3) but we no longer have a stage, just a lawn and two spotlights. Someone laughs. Ridicule steps up to meet the idea of endlessness. Memórias de papel continues this game: what heritage is this, that you can crumble like a piece of paper and turn into refined photographic compositions? There are memories harder than plaster and nets thinner than paper.
Sometimes the artist seems to be trying to convince us that nothing lasts forever; some other times she seems to be speaking of inconformity, paradoxicaly nostalgic, that tries to organize that same “nothing”. What is left. Perhaps these tiny “nothings” stand for everything ever experienced and ever known. Pool balls, blue chalk, pens, sandpaper, pencils. Dalila Gonçalves makes us think it is indeed possible, by staging erosion and wear, to bring some order to the present. There seems to be an attempt to bring Time to a more human dimension. I would say that it is in Sustenido, a huge piece made of 7,40 metres of non-synchronized clock hands placed horizontally against a white wall, that we can meet the sum of this masterful stage director’s oevre. The hands work meticulously side by side with no referentials. No numbers, people, or geography, just the sound of their fine machinery and the silence of a self immune Time. Even so, it seems that nothingness can draw the shape of a face, and “all things were meant to teach us/ the burning perfection of your absence.”
* Our translation.
Maria Sottomayor, 2016