5 / 16

A Gruta — Theodora or The Progress: Becoming Dog

Alberta Romano

“The exhibition cannot last a single day”; “it is necessary to define the type of venue where the event will take place”; “please indicate the name and surname of the artists in lower case letters, with initials in upper case, in this order and not vice versa”; “it is necessary to send A SIGNIFICANT IMAGE OF THE EXHIBITION OR EVENT (NO POSTERS) in JPG format, ONLY horizontal cut (STRICTLY NO TIFF / GIF).”


These are just some of the "indications" (perhaps more ascribable in the field of obligations) that can be found or received when you are about to communicate an exhibition or an event through a channel of public cultural distribution.

As Brian O'Doherty wrote “Modern art needs the sound of traffic outside to authenticate it.” [1] Still today, the ideal conditions that allow an exhibition or a work of art to become more widespread seem to be deeply anchored in logic of linear comprehensibility or at least well decipherable ones. Anything that crosses consolidated borders is condemned to live with the media silence that surrounds it.

However, it’s interesting how the borderline cases of media silence very often correspond to those in which the proliferation of new ideas and knowledge is greater. The grotto, a project developed by Hugo Canoilas with Quadrado Azul Gallery, in many ways could be part of this group. But here we are again stuck in the dynamics of schematization.

The Grotto doesn’t belong to anybody. The Grotto is a collective work born at the beginning of 2019. Made by recycled materials and objects rejected by society the Grotto is a cave, where entering is not simple how it could look from the pictures. The light loses its intensity, the sound’s propagation hits the irregular shapes of the cave, your feet become insecure while the hands…you don’t even know where to put them.

Like pieces of deep-seated memories most of artworks passed by The Grotto are collaged into the environment, some others left their intents just to the lucky people who enjoyed them personally. But what is clear is that from this environment they all derived a strong energy.

Ana Vaz, Katharina Höglinger, Sílvia das Fadas, Musa paradisiaca, Rubene Palma Ramos, Jorge das Neves, CRAMOL, Titania Seidl, Sophie Nys, Daniela Grabosch, Jannis Varelas, these are some of the people passed by The Grotto during one year and who knows how many others just left a hidden sign on a “stone” or an idea silently floating in the air.

The Grotto it’s a challenge, but first of all is a call to action outside of the borders, to remind us what makes us genuine and productive. “The most personal is the most creative.”[2]

No hierarchies, no limits, sometimes not even a precise date and communication for the event.

The indeterminacy of the Grotto’s context is a favorable ground for the growth of new thinking and conversations, not only about art and curatorship, but also about any kind of issue that someone feel the need to examine in that moment of intimacy.

As already mentioned the Grotto is also an important place for the public. And, since Grotto’s logic does not always follow the norms, the fewer people visit it at the same time, the stronger their experience inside is. The spectator is not just a back, but a structural piece of the cave that with its questions, enthusiasm and criticism sustains and shapes the entire structure of The Grotto.

Finally, The Grotto can be interpreted also as an act of generosity toward a different public by now tired or simply uninspired…but future generations will tell us more about this aspect.

After one year of existence the aim of The Grotto remains the same: seduce people to work in the cave, changing their usual perspective of seeing things. And luckily the difficulties linked to a free and not always linear structure have not weakened it, instead it made its intention stronger.

The beginning of the second year started with the performative intervention Theodora or The Progress: Becoming Dog by Elise Lammer with Lucien Monot, and Julie Monot.

As the complicated entrance into the cave also the performance tries to defeat the common perception of the viewer. Hand in hand, as two insecure children struggling with the zebra lines, a human dressed as dog and a woman appear in the middle of the room. Behind them the entrance of The Grotto.

The human look at the dog, the dog is the bellwether. The dog goes on its “knees”, the woman imitates it. Suddenly, the woman starts to read some texts. Stories of humans trying to write or see the word from a dog’s perspective, stories of interspecies relationships, non-verbal communications and metamorphosis. From Virginia Woolf to Snoop Dogg passing through Franz Kafka. Stories of humans strongly trying to put the cart before the horse.

The words that you just read are not simply words that try to describe a performance, but are also words and metaphors coming straight from a society that uses animals as mere functional tools to describe bad human qualities or useful things of their daily life.

Long ago, metaphors involving animals were way more different. In the Homer’s Iliad for example:

“Menelaus bestrode his body like a fretful mother cow standing over the first calf she has brought into the world” or “Have your ever seen such arrogance? We know the courage of the panther and the lion and the fierce wild-boar, the most high-spirited and self-reliant beast of all, but that, it seems is nothing to the prowess of these sons of Panthous…!”

Gentleness, fierceness, mildness, cross-temper, courage, timidity and so on, these were all qualities and attitudes that used to be belong or, at least, be associated with animals.

Today the most used metaphors involving animals are often metaphors that emphasize the negative qualities of them (qualities always perceived from a human point of view, of course). “Like a post turtle”, “like a cougar”, “putting lipstick on a pig” and many others.

“Until the 19th century, however, anthropomorphism was integral to the relation between man and animal and was an expression of their proximity. […] In the last two centuries, animals have gradually disappeared. Today we live without them.” [3]

The Grotto’s dimension and the performance of Elise Lammer are two different parts of the same reactions to the continuing exploitation of both humans and nature. 

With the aim to create a new empathy between human and animals. It is not a coincidence that the most touching part of the performance remains the one in which humans began to drink and eat to celebrate the success of the opening and the dog remained motionless in the center of the room.

Becoming Dog is not only a performance that tries to brink back to light the bonds that tie up man and dog through texts of writers and singers, but it is also a performance that wants to underline the now palpable detachment between man and animal world. Our relationship with animals has changed over the centuries and will not cease to deteriorate unless we start to change something about it.


A Gruta | The Grotto

Alberta Romano is a Curator and writer working as assistant Curator at Kunsthalle Lissabon. 





— Becoming Dog is part of Theodora or The Progress, a year-long project exploring the topic of empowerment by means of non-verbal communication. Organized by the research platform Alpina Huus, public exhibitions and performances will be presented and documented in various art institutions in Europe between 2020-2021, and later edited into a 16mm feature film.

— During the next months The Grotto, located in the basement of Quadrado Azul Gallery, will receive site-specific interventions by Candice Lin, George Frauenschue and Keren Cytter, Ana Santos, Antonio Poppe, Antonio Grulli, Isabel Carvalho and maybe many others that only time will tell.

— The Grotto space was built in collaboration with Filipe Feijão, Hugo Canoilas and Vasco Costa.



[1]Brian O'Doherty, Inside the White Cube. The Ideology of the Gallery Space, The Lapis Press Santa Monica San Francisco, 1986, p.44.

[2] Bong Joon Ho, quoting Martin Scorsese during Oscars 2020.

[3] John Berger, About Looking, tr. Maria Nadotti, Bruno Mondadori, Milan, 2003 , p11.



The Grotto — Theodora or The Progress: Becoming Dog. Exhibition views and performance. Photos: Carolina Nunes.  Images courtesy of Galeria Quadrado Azul and Alpina Huus. 

Voltar ao topo