Questioning models and categories is a rather usual, dear exercise for many artists, especially after the advent of modernity. It just so happens that its focus has shifted. Models and categories are increasingly external to the domain of art: not only are they strictly social or political, they are also sexual and biological. In other words, art, or at least a significant part of it, without ceasing to observe itself, has been observing what it means to be human.
Armed with theoretical frameworks from certain disciplinary fields, and often taking inspiration from personal experiences, artists have been expanding the concept, eliminating the distance that separated it from other concepts along the way. More or less vehemently, that which distinguishes the human (being) from the animal, the machine, the vegetal, or more recently the digital (regarded as post-life) has been called into question. Therefrom proceeds that social and biological conditions can be transcended, modified, transformed. Nothing pertaining to the human is determined by birth; everything pertaining to the human, at least in organic and physical terms, can be modified. Regarded as a multiple non-reified corporealisation of the human being, gender is one of the objects of such a modification, which in a way contains an implicit idea of plasticity—one, in its turn, familiar to artists. It is within the scope of such possibilities—and of the debate they instigate—that Ad Minoliti's exhibition Nave Vermelhe [Red Ship], at Kunsthalle Lissabon (KL), comes about. Founder of the feminist collective PintorAs, the Argentinian artist (Buenos Aires, 1980) has constructed a pictorial language based on queer and feminist theory that agitates categories and normative dichotomies.
Using different formats and media, Ad Minoliti makes life and artistic practice come together, placing on the same level the history of art and of painting, as well as the future horizons of a condition that is post-human and not centred upon the human.
Past and future overlap and, interpreted by imagination and theory, produce works or theatres (in the form of an installation) like that which greets the viewer at the Lisbon gallery. The title denotes what the exhibition intends to represent: a space ship, or rather the inside of the space ship (to a certain extent, KL is a stopover, a stopping place, a shifting platform).
Before entering this space ship, the visitor can explore a number of volumes under the watch of an inanimate furry being. The first ones are colourful and shiny, and contain other geometric shapes: triangles, squares, circles. Drawn, they seem to be anticipating the moment they are released from the objects, their very materialisation. As for the rest, by means of the drawing, the geometry, and the colour, the organised beauty of these pieces manifests an almost decorative, yet never completely stable pop intensity. The space becomes the stage of a composite image which is sometimes two-dimensional and sometimes three-dimensional, without being self-referential or inexpressive. An environment is walked across, the presence of bodies that relate to each other (though one is inert and the other alive) is sensed, and an unusual plastic helmet rests on one of the volumes. The visual fiction lurks and thickens.
The furry being—a biped cat or a model of a human figure the artist has dressed up as a feline—remains still, displaying its plastic eyes and the pink, cream, and white fabric on it. The unease it causes proceeds not from the shadow or the elusive silhouette but rather from our knowing that, as a garment, it has been or can eventually be animated by a living, human body. Ad Minoliti refers to furry culture (also known as furry fandom), but avoids the escapism of it. Appropriating its make-believe universe, she does so in order to reflect on and celebrate freedom in the metamorphosis of roles and identities it furthers. With or without a helmet, after being introduced to such a universe, the visitor can enter the ship-exhibition right away, or rather take a first look at the inside through a round opening on the wall. Perhaps it is most appropriate to call that opening a geometric window into the inside of the ship: yet again, two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality mix together, turning reality into a surface, an image.
Once inside, the visitor comes into an abundance of colours, abstract and geometric shapes that simulate the ship's instruments and technology. This seems to be the command centre; that, the control panels; up there, maybe the screens that reveal strange beings in space. The aesthetics are that of retro science fiction (reminiscent of the Star Trek TV show), with its vibrant fantasies and the fictional production of other worlds, but humans are nowhere to be seen. There are other beings, yes: circles of shy or supplicating eyes taken from manga characters; biform, cycloptic beings; hybrids of plants, tadpoles, and vulvas. Caused by the warm, almost tropical colours, the effect is twofold. It arouses a feeling of empathy that allows us to take in the alterity represented in the shapes, with their curvilineal, sensual abstraction; and produces a distancing effect that allows us to become aware of the social and cultural determinisms existing inside the ship. Visual and critical exuberance coexist; the latter, however, as a speculative, almost pop exercise sentimentally linked to manga culture, to science fiction (in visual, aesthetic, and fictional terms), and to the experience of childhood and preadolescence as a projection and expansion of other identities and bodies. As it brings and recombines these and other references, Ad Minoliti turns the inside of her ship into a kaleidoscope of geometric shapes and actual objects, painting and drawing, colour and abstraction, representations of the human and of the non-human, pure artistic feeling and critical exercise, play and desire. And before it, the visitor can make the ship lift off, thus leading it to other visual, social, and political destinations.
José Marmeleira. Master in Comunicação, Cultura e Tecnologias da Informação (ISCTE), he is a grant holder from Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT) and a PhD candidate in Filosofia da Ciência, Tecnologia, Arte e Sociedade at Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, in the context of which he is currently writing a dissertation on Hannah Arendt's thinking on art and culture. He is also an independent journalist and cultural critic for several publications (Público supplement Ípsilon, Contemporânea, and Ler).
Translation PT-EN: Diogo Montenegro.
Ad Minoliti: Nave Vermelhe. Exhibition views at Kunsthalle Lissabon (KL). Photos: Bruno Lopes. Courtesy of the artist and Kunsthalle Lissabon (KL).