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Andreia Santana: The Skull of the Haunted Snail 

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Susana Ventura

From fire, soul and body are born


Each of Andreia Santana's works renders us surprised at the boundaries they have set out to cross. Any designation or summary idea is hard to arrive at, beyond the unceasing enquiry into the very domain of sculpture and the recognition of certain stylistic traits among her works as well as traces of a continuous thinking both on artistic practice, its display, its classification, and its conservation (themes that cut across her work and are taken into new consideration in this exhibition). From work to work, we surely witness a renaissance unfold—pulsating and loose (expression of Santana's free gesture as well, crystallised in the arabesque lines of many of her works), and simultaneously profound and complex, in virtue of the many webs her works interweave through worlds and layers that often re-cover objects rendered mute and segregated by the great museographical and historiographical narratives.

The opening of the exhibition The Skull of the Haunted Snail, curated by Bruno Leitão, took place a few days after Andreia Santana had inaugurated Mist,[1] at Travessa da Ermida. The latter is an installation made up of two sculptures in chemically processed iron, displaying shapeless patches of colour in metallic shades of gold, pink, green, purple, and other undefined hues that gradually alter and merge into each other in key with light and perspective. We are invited to circulate around the pieces and, above all, to move them along with us, in a synchronised play between body and work, a pas de deux intensified by the sensuality and freedom of the lines composing the total image of each piece. Created from an intimate dialogue with the architectural space, the sculptures transform the thresholds on which they stand into kinetic and kaleidoscopic experiences: colour, light, movement are unbound forces that interpenetrate each order in order to reveal (in a double sense, as the experience of the work and its ineffable quality—which proceeds from the boundaries it overflows—is mystical in itself) a work in unceasing mutation.

In turn, at Hangar: Artistic Research Center, where The Skull of the Haunted Snail is presented, the iron and eco-crystal glass sculptures are apparently freely arranged in space, where they seem to await the visitors as they talk with each other. The invisible lines they create in between them (which, in fact, determine their locations) proceed both from affects and from forces at the origin of each one that remain yet under another (trans)figuration—a perpetual one, as will be noticed. It is impossible not to recall Louise Bourgeois' Figures, a set of sculptures exhibited in the 1950s at the Peridot Gallery, in New York. Bourgeois would carry them along with her to several places (photographs featuring the artist alongside some of the Figures on her terrace are widely known) as though they were members of the family she had left in Paris after moving to the United States of America. Although none of Andreia Santana's sculptures personify any sort of abandonment and yearning like in Bourgeois' work, or are they portable, with their apparent lightness conversely disguising the considerable weight of each one, on a first level they share common problems—from being displayed in a free space (Bourgeois, for example, mentioned her eschewal of supports or plinths, since the latter would isolate her Figures and destroy the social space they inhabited, which resulted from the invisible diagram they created among them) to the relationship between affections and affects that we are able to infer. In a way, Santana's sculptures resemble figures in which the iron part cannot be regarded as a support, but rather as a member that extends, highlights, or at times balances the crystalline object, in a dynamic play between volume and line, weight and lightness in which the dark, solid line aspires to come loose as it fosters and interlaces the transparency of the glass body.

All the sculptures contain the designation Soul House followed by a first name. The first name, as French philosopher Gilles Deleuze stated, cannot be understood in terms of representation, but rather as the effects of an intensive variation on a field of potentials (as is the case of physics, where there is a Joule effect, a Kelvin effect, etc.). In defining what is a work of art, Deleuze and Guattari also describe something similar to explain affects (the work of art being a block of percepts and affects in the authors' perspective). Affects are no longer feelings or affections, although they might be extracted from the latter (how to rescue a gesture or a singularity from somebody in the form of a line or a block of stone?). Beings[2] worthy on their own, they exceed lived experience and transcend their very subjectivity, forming a sensation, an intensive variation that now belongs to the work (and in it will remain alive).

In Santana's Soul Houses, the first name designates what the artist extracts from intimate relationships with people close to her as intensive variation, the latter being inseparable from the formation process of the pieces as well, from their taking-shape—the smelting, liquification, and solidification generated and fuelled by fire and blowing.

Instead of using a mould, which would furnish the form with a consolidated appearance, Santana chose to mould incandescent matter, yielding to the forces of the being itself and to the latter's capacity to manipulate the elements of nature, which only an extreme care and skilful choreography are able to tame and dominate. In the final form of the works, as such, we discern such forceful instances of dripping, plump heat, and inflated air filling and binding together all the smallest particles of matter, which is also that of the being. Perhaps this is why these pieces are receptables of soul, that which is indissociable from the body and merges with matter and nature in a perpetual cycle of birth and rebirth, expanded into the sculptures via the possibility of the latter becoming habitats of fungi, microbes, bacteria, or other organisms—just like the plagues that invade museums, which Santana traces in the context of her enquiries.

Like the artifacts rendered invisible or erased by History, many others exist in museographical contexts that are contaminated and exhausted by plagues that doom them to oblivion and annihilation. Santana's Soul Houses also favour that future encounter and life, drawing on the idea of sympoiesis developed by Donna J. Haraway in recent years.[3] The author describes it as "making-with" to define the coexistence, the sharing of ecosystems, and the mutual, simultaneous development ("becoming-with") of different species, including microbes, plants, animals, human and non-human being. A "making-with" that can likewise be regarded as an "inhabiting-with," to the detriment of the "inhabiting-in" that has pervaded the Anthropocene.

As such, Santana's sculptures are not static, closed objects (their form would not allow it, anyway) or "self-producing" units (so we return to Haraway's theory, as she opposes sympoiesis to autopoiesis), but rather complex systems that favour the development of new ways of (even interspecies) community living. This idea of a future to come is implicit in the sculptures' titles themselves. Soul houses were small terracotta sculptures of houses that contained offerings (some were perfect, complex miniature replicas of houses, while others resembled trays). The Egyptians would them place on their family members' tombs with the purpose of providing sustenance to their future lives, consequently binding together different spaces and times: the immortal soul's house-receptacle became the abode of other forms of life, of species that feed on death and decomposition.

Lastly, Santana's sculptures problematise this relationship between body (any body, any organised model or structure capable, however, of embracing the unpredictable, chance, and surprise) and soul (interpreted as a vital force connecting all living matter) in their transparency and (apparent) lightness, with the artist alluding to Ludwig Wittgenstein's metaphor of the fly-bottle, used to catch flies in order to explain the mission of philosophy. The bamboozled fly persists in banging against the bottle's transparent walls, notwithstanding the two holes on it that would allow the fly to escape. Philosophy is supposed to show the fly a way out of the bottle, to dissolve illusions and misunderstandings (like the opposition between body and soul), just like it is supposed above all to ask the questions that serve to catch the fly in the bottle—or rather to catch the philosopher in the trap (in his/her own traps) so that he/she is able to attain a new understanding of the very same questions. Santana's Soul Houses are simultaneously shelter and trap, so that we always keep moving beyond the object and towards metamorphosis.


Andreia Santana


Susana Ventura 


Translation PT-EN: Diogo Montenegro.


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Andreia Santana, The Skull of the Haunted Snail. Exhibition views at Hangar: Artistic Research Center, Lisbon. Courtesy of the artist and Hangar.





[1] Curated by Alberta Romano at Travessa da Ermida, Andreia Santana's exhibition Mist was open from 12 September to 17 October 2020.

[2] Gilles Deleuze et Félix Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1991, pp. 154-155.

[3] Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, London: Duke University Press, 2016.


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