12 May | 30 June, 2022


Press release

: Care as a Gift

Door 65 opens and closes like any and no other. It is unique, as in a sense all doors are. But this one differs from the rest by carrying out the scenic function of a passage to an interior entangled in signs and meanings, a hybrid space in which the conceived and the lived coincide, where work and artist acquire a simultaneous form. The place of an initial conversation about Resilience, the studio gives the impression of containing everything that words can say about the work. There, painting merges with the evidence of a practice consolidated over the course of more than four decades of creation. It is also the space of a particular affective solidarity, a specific dimension of self-awareness with regard to one’s return to earth, to one’s house, to one’s home. An introspective and prospective refuge, Urbano’s studio is in itself the work and its reflection, the extension of a body and proof of its resilience.

Resilience breaks away from the space of creation without actually escaping it, assuming an affiliation with the matrix of a painting that emanates from, and maintains a connection with, the ground. This organic affinity finds its first expression in the thick and textured layer that constitutes the foundation of Urbano’s painting. It is not about filling a void, setting up a background for representation, but creating a base, which in turn is not merely a support but rather a place. The gaze is situated, therefore, in the place itself: colours scattered as if sowing sensations, with succinct lines sketching the familiarity of forms more than the forms themselves, in a counterpoint of synthesis on the essence of things. And everywhere traces of the hand take on relief and relevance. In his essay In Praise of Hands, Henri Focillon helps us to situate this tangible presence, saying that:

The hand means action: it grasps, it creates, at times it would seem even to think.(…) The hand’s action defines the cavity of space and the fullness of the objects that occupy it. Surface, volume, density, and weight are not optical phenomena (…) Knowledge of the world demands a kind of tactile flair.[1]

It seems, therefore, that the hand conceives the place of painting in its own way of associating with a world feeling the earth. It is the earth that formulates the statement of Resilience, a reference point inseparable from time, a time punctuated by the cyclical rhythm of nature and life, birth and death, day and night, the phases of the moon and the seasons, associated with light, vitality, renewal, hope, wisdom, serenity and spirituality indicated by dominant yellow, green and purple-blues (#16, #17, #18), and evoked in the visual elements that tacitly draw an arc of time (#1, #2) (#3, #4), particularly noticeable in the case of the sunflowers that offer a synopsis of these cycles in four juxtaposed panels (#12, #13, #14 and #15).

‘It was March and spring arrived with its immense explosion of colours,’ explains Urbano,[2] recalling the point of departure and theme of Resiliencean exuberance expressed by the work and which #9, #10 and #11 display with abundance. But while Resilience confirms spring in a constellation of commutual senses, it is nevertheless present in its opposite. Verse and reverse, the antagonistic faces of the pandemic are simultaneously inscribed in memory, highlighting the human fragility broadcast on a global scale. Resilience is thus defined as such, returning us to our rightful place. The artist speaks of a warning and the urgent need to ‘look carefully at this world that shelters us’.

To communicate this, Resilience inscribes our gaze on the mythical dimension of knowledge preserved by the unconscious and rescued by the imagination, revising it in the universality of its symbolic heritage. An exemplary expression of a common concern, myths have the advantage of pacifying the face of the unknown, exalting the mysterious forces that dictate life’s fragility and the contingency of existence, an apparently contradictory effect that is nevertheless (or accordingly) adjusted to lived experience. Truthful insofar as they are faithful to the method of posing great questions, myths do not provide answers but rather a unified vision of the world with which one may associate a feeling of belonging and sense of continuity.

From the vast legacy of myths, legends and fables from different eras, cultures and regions, we can clearly see the affinity resulting from the confluence of a myriad of discursive nuances in a way of knowing that does not contemplate separation between humans and the natural world, natural and supernatural, space and time or a thing and its name. Some narratives talk about a continuum to which they attribute an entity that personifies our relationship with the earth; others talk about a transition between a continuum (sacralised nature) and a discontinuum (society, culture) which implies a dualism or state of tension between creative forces. The latter are associated with two worlds, the earthly and the celestial, as well as figures of mediation relating to water (shared between earth and heaven) and fire (which comes from inside the earth and also falls from the sky in the form of thunder). Between worlds, humans asked themselves about their existence and found it inscribed in the natural order of things.

In this regard, a fable written by Hyginus (1st century B.C.) is useful because of the care it introduces in the order of thought:

One day, Care (Cura), lost in thought while crossing a river, saw a patch of clay, so she decided to take a piece and shape it. As she reflected on what she had done, Jupiter (god of the sky and thunder) appeared and Care asked him to breathe spirit into the creature she had made. Jupiter agreed. But when Care wanted to name the creature, Jupiter demanded that it was given his name. Then Earth (Tellus) appeared, who wanted to give her name to the creature because it had been made from a piece of herself. A heated debate ensued. They agreed, however, to ask Saturn (god of time) to weigh in on the matter, and he made the following decision, which they deemed to be fair: because Jupiter gave the spirit, he would receive it on the creature’s death. Similarly, because Earth gave the body, she would receive it when the creature died. And Care, who shaped it, would have the creature during its lifetime. As for the name, since there was disagreement between them, he decided that the creature would be called human (homo), that is, made of humus or fertile earth.

The fable stands out from the many narratives that coincide at the origin of this human, made of earth, by introducing care in its genesis as a specific matter of reflection. In fact, as Borges-Duarte points out, in the narrative, ‘the human condition is conceived neither by the spirit nor by the body, which are lent to it in life, (…) but by that which shaped it – Care.’  The author reminds us that ‘the semantic field of cuidar and cuidado [care], in modern-day Portuguese, maintains the original sense of an unexpected etymology: that of the Latin cogitare, to think. In the transitive form, cuidar is to think: to attend to, to reflect on – and, consequently, to be interested in, to take care of, to concern oneself with, to be cautious about.’ [3] What is important is thus the configuration of the relational and conditional nature of our connection with the world, defined in the intentionality of creation and created based on a dual care – that of reflecting on, and attending to – to which life corresponds. Care insinuates, therefore, the notion of limit(s).

In the face of such powerful forces, it is no surprise that it was with a mystical fear, subject to complex rituals in precepts and prohibitions, that the human dared to replicate the feat for their own benefit. Such was the case with ceramics. So close to the back of the hand Focillon talks about,[4] but able to contain and maintain within it a living flame, ceramics, in its first and most rudimentary form of receptacle, was prodigious in the development of civilisation because it allowed humans to take fire in their hands, to take possession of fire. Also known as ‘Mother Earth, Grandmother of Clay, Mistress of Clay and Earthenware’,[5] ceramics integrates the myths associated with cosmic disputes between opposites that complement one another, that attract and repel one another, like fire and water, hot and cold, day and night, sun and moon, earth and sky. Thus, it is attributed a temperamental, susceptible and even jealous nature.[6] Of a sensitive domain, a reflection of our need to appropriate sense from the world, to give it form, structure and order, ceramics is thus a metaphor of culture, a product of the intentionality of the creative action of humans in the world.

On this metaphorical place the artist inscribes the iconography of Resilience, whose elementary synthesis  – earth, water, air, fire – opens in the feminine to the sense of inhabiting. The earth-fertility-woman concord as a replica of cosmic structure, to which Mircea Eliade alludes in The Sacred and the Profane, is at the root of the magical, religious and, consequently, social prestige of women in archaic societies. Women absorb the mythical expression of self-sufficiency and the ‘spontaneous fecundity’ of the Earth, also receiving powers from it ‘which exert a determining influence on plant life’.[7] Women were the first to cultivate the earth, thus becoming owners of the soil and crops. Almost unanimously, it was also women who the gods entrusted with the art of ceramics. Moulding the earth and moulding oneself to the earth, ceramics and agriculture, have a woman’s hand, and what this hand creates as a condition of habitability is a social microcosm. It is this hand that establishes the connection with place, this hand, therefore, that binds to habitat.

The hand to which we refer is that of the archetype, the biblical hand that takes the fruit, the curious hand, which tries, comprehends, interprets and transforms, the technical hand that manipulates and also the magic hand that shrouds this creative ability in mystery. It is the hand of primary and fundamental sociability, the intuitive hand of language, like that which extends for the first time. Hands provide the basis for the foundational principle of civilisation: giving and receiving – a mimicry that precedes us, drawing a circle of reciprocity.

Marcel Mauss, in the essay The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, speaks of a ‘game of gifts’ and describes it as a system of exchanges driven by a ‘special power’ that makes things circulate, whether they be given, received or, above all, reciprocated.[8] It is a ritual of services whose dynamic of transfer is not to be confused with that of exchange; it involves reciprocation, but the latter is neither immediate nor symmetrical: one receives to give and gives to be given, in a cycle that always returns to the beginning. The attention is thus diverted away from the object and towards the action, transferred from the thing to the power invested in it as it circulates – its spirit. And what therefore circulates is a symbolic value: simultaneously material and immaterial, of a social, economic, political, legal, moral and spiritual order. Thus, the gift acts on behalf of, assumes the face of, advances in the name of. As a means of organising societies, the game of gifts can be understood as a ‘system of total services’[9] whose functioning Mauss describes as follows:

By giving one is giving oneself, and if one gives oneself, it is because one ‘owes’ oneself – one’s person and one’s goods – to others. (…) In short, this represents an intermingling. Souls are mixed with things; things with souls. Lives are mingled together, and this is how, among persons and things so intermingled, each emerges from their own sphere and mixes together…[10]

Like Care, giving is about configuring the relational quality of the connection that, in this case, is established between individuals, families and groups, but also between the latter and the place they inhabit, the earth and what it offers, nature and what belongs to it – in a dynamic constitutive of the community itself. In this system of interdependencies or, more precisely, of reciprocities, there is no longer a separation between the being and the thing, nor an antithesis between the individual and the collective, the sacred and the profane. The apparent rejection of the division that intersects the universe of these narratives suggests a structure of thought and action that envisages a totality conceived by opposing forces which reciprocally balance one another out. The spirit of reciprocity, a paradigm of habitation, receives, in Resilience, the symbolic weight added by the representation of a body-lap. What constitutes a gift there is life, but the miracle is the lap itself: shelter, refuge, care, model of mother-earth, body of Resilience.

As a whole, Resilience interferes in the spirit of things at the root. From ancient to modern times, ways of recounting history have changed. We began the ‘desacralisation of the world’ – an existential choice not devoid of greatness – as Eliade observes – albeit one that assumes a tragic dimension. But the profane human retains traces of their original connection with the sacred.[11] Resilience modernises this place-memory, absorbing from the models what they express fully, reinscribing it in what the present reveals to be incomplete. It does this because ‘every existential crisis once again puts in question both the reality of the world and man’s presence in the world.’[12]

These observations about the spirit of Resilience can be found in the space opened by door 65, written in the book Urbano talks to us about,[13] referring to the whole body of his work, a book where – in the words of the artist – ‘three stories are developed, distributed across chapters that appear over time (…), and which, apparently different, end up becoming a single story’ or ‘have the same premise’: ‘where we came from, what we are, where we are going’ – three related issues whose solution has to do with place and ways of inhabiting it. Resilience is situated in this substratum from which it tells us that what must be considered is the place – the place that is still the only one of belonging, and that, now too real to be mythical, is nevertheless and for this reason too sacred to not be cared for.

Resilience: Care as a Gift

Leonor Pereira

Translated by: Kennis Translations

[1] In The Life of Forms in Art, trans. Charles B. Hogan and George Kubler, New York: Zone Books, [1948] 1989, pp. 157-158, 170.

[2] In an interview with Carlota Pimentel, Atlântico Expresso, No. 1872, Ponta Delgada: 30 May 2022 (pp. 8-9), p. 8.

[3] Borges-Duarte, Irene. ‘A fecundidade ontológica da noção de cuidado’ in Ex-Aequo, No. 21, Coimbra: 2010, pp. 115-131.

[4] The Life of Forms in Art, trans. Charles B. Hogan and George Kubler, New York:  Zone Books, [1948] 1989.

[5] Lévi-Strauss, C., The Jealous Potter, trans. Benedicte Chorier, London: University of Chicago Press, [1985] 1988, p. 28.

[6] As per multiple examples from Claude Lévi-Strauss’s collection of Amerindian myths entitled The Jealous Potter.

[7] Eliade, M., The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask, New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1959, p. 145.

[8]Mauss, M., The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. W.D. Halls, London and New York: Taylor and Francis, [1925] 2002, pp. 49-50.

[9] Idem, Ibidem, p. 7.

[10] Idem, Ibidem, pp. 59 and 25.

[11] Eliade, M., The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask, New York:  Harcourt, Inc., 1959, p. 154.

[12] Idem, Ibidem, p. 210.

[13] Atlântico Expresso, No. 1872, Ponta Delgada: 30 May 2022 (pp. 8-9), p. 8.