Image: Agnès Varda, Pied de Nez, Self-portrait. Visages, villages - Paris atelier JR.
Agnès Varda (1928-2019) claimed to have had three lives: first as a photographer, then as a filmmaker, and finally as a visual artist. Passing through each of these three modalities, this exhibition testifies to the way in which Varda’s artistic production was developed in dialogue with her cinematographic work, and was also representative of the way in which the director reinvented herself.
In this exhibition, the contrast between light and shadow offers a starting point to revisit the constitutive polarities that underpin Varda's oeuvre – the tension between the material and the immaterial and between the real and the imaginary, or the disproportion between motifs and forms that often lead to an inversion of scales: between the monumentalisation of the insignificant and the desacralisation of the revered. The two installations on display: Une cabane de cinéma: la serre du bonheur (A Cinema Shack: The Greenhouse of Happiness, 2018) and Patatutopia (2003) are based on an essentially identical confrontation: the false vivacity of the sunflowers and the deterioration of the potatoes, the stereotypical image of happiness and the allegorical representation of old age. Oppositions that are ultimately aligned and sublimated in an antagonism between a critique of uselessness and the ethical and aesthetic principles of re-use, combating waste and obsolescence – in all senses: material, symbolic, political, filmic and human.
Agnès Varda: Light and Shadow marks Varda's return to Serralves, after her exhibition in 2009. At that time, she had the opportunity to meet Manoel de Oliveira, and recorded the moment with the small video camera that she always carried with her. The sequence, that was included in the TV series Agnès de ci de là Varda (2011), shows Manoel de Oliveira and Agnès Varda as they imitate Chaplin, while filming each other. It offers the perfect preamble to this exhibition: an encounter in which they jovially shared their concerns about cinema and life.
Curated by António Preto, Director of the Casa do Cinema Manoel de Oliveira.