The artist João Vieira (Vidago, 1934 - Lisbon,
2009), a key figure in the Portuguese artistic scene since the late 1950s, gained
recognition not only in the field of painting, but also as one of the
forerunners of performance and installation art in Portugal. His work is characterised
by the exploration of the letter as a pictorial symbol, transforming text into
image. While in his painting Vieira focuses on the gesture and expression of
the calligraphic form, in his installations, happenings, and objects he uses
the letters of the alphabet as performative elements capable of questioning
language codes in a radical and subversive way.
This exhibition at Palácio da Bolsa presents
two iconic works from the early 1970s that expand the artist's research into
linguistic signs beyond the field of painting. Relying on chance and on the participation
of the public. Caixa Branca [White Box] (1971)
proposes the creation of a new language. The work contains a low-tech system of
lamps and switches through which the letters of the alphabet can be lit up or
turned off, in a playful invention of new words and syntaxes.
The work "A" grande [Capital
“A”] (1970) is the only trace, preserved and restored by Vieira, of his
first performance entitled O espírito da letra [The Spirit of the Letter].
In this "action-spectacle" he presented a series of large-scale
letters that were later destroyed by him and a group of children. By breaking
with the limits of two-dimensional painting, Vieira's letters took on a
corporeal form and created a physical confrontation with the spectators and with
the agents of performative destruction. This action is permeated by an implicit
critique of language as the support for discourse.
These historic artworks are presented at
Palácio da Bolsa as part of the national touring programme of the Serralves
Collection, which aims to make the Foundation's collection accessible to
diverse audiences across the country.
Image: Filipe Braga