It’s a date is a column of Contemporânea written by Alberta Romano dedicated to studio visits with artists from Lisbon and from all over the word, both in person and online.
Sara Graça (assistant of)
Lisbon, May, 2021
I was literally overexcited for this studio visit, because it would have been the first “physical” one after more than one year. Things were already getting better in Lisbon at the time, I had a bunch of lunches and a dinner with some friends; but meeting someone I’d never met before was definitely more exciting, and I literally couldn’t wait for that studio visit to happen.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t an easy one to organize.
Till that day I’d only spoken with Iva Lorena, Sara Graça’s personal assistant. She was such a sweetheart, as she tried to make sure that everything was going to go smoothly and that our meeting was well-organized. On the morning of the studio visit, she even called me to ask if I would prefer to have a coffee or a cappuccino (so nice); but yes, besides this, I didn’t really have the chance to speak directly with Sara, so I didn’t know what to expect from her.
I rang the doorbell of Rua Buenos Aires with a box of biscuits in my hand. The door was open, so I slid into the space, and Iva Lorena was already there waiting for me with both a coffee and a cappuccino.
Iva Lorena (IL): “Hello, Alberta. Bom dia and welcome to Sara Graça’s studio!"
Alberta Romano (AR): “Hello, Iva, nice to meet you!”
IL: "Nice to meet you too! Unfortunately, Sara is not here yet, but she will arrive soon. She sends her apologies for the delay. Please take a seat… Oh, thanks for the biscuits, you didn’t have to!”
Everything was kind of surreal. It was my first studio visit ever where the artist was not there to greet me, but I mean, Iva was so friendly and the studio was so cosy that I got comfortable rather quickly, and started sipping my hot cappuccino.
IL: "Alberta, while we wait, if you want, I can start telling you something about Sara’s educational background. I am sure she would feel more comfortable telling you about her practice than about her studies, so I can do that instead. I am sure it could be helpful for your interview."
IL: "Oh, great! So, Sara graduated with a BFA at the faculty of fine arts in Porto. While studying there, she also did an Erasmus at the Central Saint Martins in London. At the time she managed to find someone who was living in a squat, and she ended up living there as well. As far as I know, it was really exciting for her to see how an intimidating city like London, so expensive and wasteful, also has the other side of the coin: the resistance there is very well organized and more effective, which means that someone can really live out of these system’s gaps. But, to get back to the point, in 2019 she came back to London to do her Master at Goldsmiths and she managed to find a new squatted building.”
AR: “Wow, it must be interesting to attend Goldsmiths while squatting…”
IL: "Yes, for sure it was. It may feel like she was just having fun, but it wasn’t. She wanted to be in London, and that was the only solution to be there."
AR: “And how was the program? Did she enjoy it?”
IL: “Unfortunately, ‘cause of the pandemic, she only studied there for six months, but you know… In that school, there is this sort of high expectation towards the students—they must come out of the course with a clear artist’s statement and a clear self-definition of what their product is as artists, and this was a challenge for Sara.”
AR: “Yes, I can perfectly understand that. I know many artists who studied there, and I understand what you mean.”
While we were talking, I noticed a series of aluminium document holders attached to the wall, each one containing a folder marked with a different name. Even if Sara attended Goldsmiths for only six months, looking at the well-organised wall I was sure that the school had found its way into Sara’s heart.
“And that’s when she started to work on these rats that you can see here,” Iva continued while swiftly standing up from the chair to gently caress a giant free-standing rat made out of mountboard. “The rats came from… Well, I don’t know if Sara wants me to say that… but there were rats in the place where she was living… And the funny thing is that there were twelve people living there, and they all had different personalities and attitudes towards life, but when they saw the rats they all had the same exact reaction. Sara told me that they were all screaming and jumping here and there. That’s why she made the rats. Then, in order to portray their reaction as well, she went on the street with a camera and asked some strangers to pretend that they had just seen a rat. She took some pictures, and, as a matter of fact, these two works represent two old ladies who performed for her.”
AR: “That’s fun! I like how they are made; they look like props. You can fold and unfold them to create a different reality out of nowhere. And it’s interesting what she built: most of the time, when people need to create a fake reality, they build something fancier, cooler… but Sara just built something scarier… Speaking of her… do you think she is going to show up at some point?”
IL: “I am sure she is on her way, don’t worry. Regarding the work, you are right, she’s fascinated by its foldable nature… but maybe it’s a work that doesn’t need to be overanalysed…”
AR: “Sure, but overanalysing can be good when you are creating something… I mean, not that we have to care about what other people make out of our creations, but at least it means that the work… works, no? You know, Iva, please don’t tell Sara, because I feel a bit shy about it, but I run a podcast about Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a friend of mine, and basically what we do in that podcast is an over-analysis. And I am sure that, if someone from Buffy’s cast ever listened to our pod (which of course will never happen, also because it is in Italian), they would probably die laughing and say something like, 'Oh, come on, it was just a TV show, we don’t know if there is all of this behind that scene.' What I wanted to say with this is that, if people are put in the position of talking a lot about something you made, that means that what you have done is powerful, and that it can generate a lot of thoughts… a sort of masterpiece…”
IL: “Oh, that’s so cool! I understand what you mean! I think that Sara sometimes just needs to create things before she completely understands them… Look at these for example!” Iva said while bringing my attention to two big blue ballpoint pen drawings framed on the wall. “It’s very hard to modify the line here… They are part of a process in which there is no way back… You go from a corner to another, and if you don’t like something you can only try to camouflage it, but you cannot erase it… I am sure it also helps her to get rid of some of her anxiety.”
AR: “They are beautiful, they make me think about old phones… Actually, they make me think about my grandma, the way she used to doodle on a telephone book that she kept close to the house phone while talking with someone, maybe because she was bored or just to pass the time… I don’t really know if this is a nice thing to say…”
IL: “Oh, no, I think it’s a great thing. That’s exactly her inspiration; Sara also has an agenda… I don’t know if I have it here… wait… let me look for it.”
Iva seemed to be very rigorous, and I saw terror rising in her eyes as she realised that she did not know where Sara's agenda was. “Don’t worry, Iva, it’s fine! What about this instead?” I asked while staring at a folder in the top right corner, with a vinyl sticking out of it.
IL: “Good choice, that’s a very nice folder! Basically, Sara is collaborating with her friend Maria Reis, who is a musician. She makes videos and album covers for her and now she just finished the design for a t-shirt! Sara really enjoys collaborating with her friends. You know… our reality can be very stressful and precarious, so I think that we need to be honest at least with ourselves, no?”
AR: “Well said, Iva! Doing what we like is liberating; that’s actually why I run a podcast about one of my deepest teenage passions… because I enjoy doing it.”
IL: “This is so refreshing to hear. Sara has been dealing with some people who told her that she shouldn't be collaborating outside of the fine art world as much… Speaking of which, do you want to know what her project at Spirit Shop is going to be about?
AR: “I am all ears!”
IL: “Sara wants to transform Spirit Shop into a meeting point: after getting there, people will be able to go to the beach with her.”
AR: “Wait, what?!”
IL: “Yes, it won’t be a proper show. She will leave a schedule in the space, and if people show up she will bring them to the beach. Basically, it will be an exhibition space that can take you to the beach… It is as if by entering the space you are actually getting to the beach.“
AR: “But that’s awesome! What if someone she doesn’t like shows up?”
IL: “I guess that she will bring that person to the beach as well. This show it’s also a way to raise some questions about interaction and community…”
Iva kept showing me other works from Sara, and that's when I realised that I was never going to meet her. I will never know if Iva Lorena has ever informed Sara Graça of my visit. Maybe her assistant kept everything secret from her since the very beginning. Maybe she just wanted to carry the studio visit on by herself, because she wanted to feel free to tell me all the inner passions of the artist whom she has been collaborating with for so long (and whom, I think, she is secretly in love with). Maybe she really wanted me to enter into Sara’s world, and not just into her artistic practice. What I do know, for sure, is that Sara is very lucky to have such a sweetheart around, so pure and sensitive. At the end of the day, I really enjoyed my studio visit…I think “it was special”.
The Mystery Box
The Mystery Box is made out of links, randomly arranged at the bottom of the page, that will take you to things we’ve been talking about during the studio visit. The way in which they are presented is not only a nostalgic way to remember the magic suspense that belonged to early internet structures, but also hides the hope to tickle the curiosity of the readers a bit more than the classic footnotes.
Sara Graça (b. 1993, Lisbon) is an interdisciplinary artist, navigating her practice in both individual and collaborative ways. Sara completed her BFA in Fine Arts at the University of Porto and started her MFA at Goldsmiths College, in London. Since then, she has been showing in places like Sismógrafo, Madragoa, Galeria Quadrado Azul or Zé dos Bois, while also frequently working with musicians. Her most recent collaborations in this realm take the shape of music videos, stage installation, covers and merch design, with artists like Maria Reis, Gala Drop, Jejuno or Luar Domatrix. Graça is currently living in Lisbon, after having passed by Porto and London, where she maintains a fluid practice in mostly self-organised contexts.
Iva Lorena (b. 1995, ?) has been living in many places across the globe, travelling from a quite young age and doing production work for her parents' indoor plants business. After emancipating from this, and from other oppressive situations related to misogyny and capitalism, Iva moved to Auroville, in India, and came back to Europe right before the pandemic. From there, Lorena started working with Sara Graça as an assistant, specialising her help on calendar brainstorming, e-mails, lists, and breathing exercises. Currently, Lorena is still in the studio, while also studying online for social work in Family Services.
Alberta Romano is an art historian and contemporary art curator born in Pescara, Italy in 1991. She is currently the curator of Kunsthalle Lissabon. Since 2017 she has worked with the CRC Foundation in Cuneo, coordinating the acquisitions for their contemporary art collection. After graduating with a BA in Art History at La Sapienza in Rome and with an MFA in Visual Cultures and Curatorial Practices at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera in Milan, she attended the curatorial program CAMPO16 at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin. She has written for Artforum, Flash Art, Contemporânea and Kabul Magazine, among other magazines.
Images: Courtesy of the artist.
Proofreading: Diogo Montenegro.