The idea for ‘Metaphoria’ emerged from a dialogue between Silvia Guerra, artistic director at Lab’Bel (the Laboratoire Artistique du Groupe Bel, a French research platform for contemporary art) and the Portuguese poet, Rui Costa. Tragically, in the midst of preparing the show, Costa committed suicide. Placed among the artefacts at the archeological museum in Guimarães, contemporary work by two poets, two visual artists and two musicians responded to metaphor as a rhetorical device. Guerra has pointed out that, in modern Greek, ‘metaphor’ translates as ‘to transport’. Emphasizing the transitional aspects of the word, the works in the show involved all the senses while flowing through the past and the present, the tangible and the intangible, the dead and the living.
The memory of Costa inevitably haunted the show. Indeed, one artefact in the museum became emblematic of his passing: a bronze fourth-century BCE chariot which transports souls to and from the land of the dead. The poet Joana Serrado, who took over Costa’s role in the exhibition, created The Waste of Saudades (2012), an empty vending machine holding nothing but a book of poems by Costa. ‘Saudade’, an untranslatable Portuguese word, describes a melancholic longing for something. And yet, in her eponymous poem, Serrado wrote: ‘I know how to jump and swim and transform your salt into water and humus,’ thereby implying that nothing is ever fully lost.
Katie Paterson’s All the Dead Stars (2009) is a map of the 27,000 or so dead stars in the universe. Although they have ceased to exist, their light has continued to travel across the universe for billions of years. Stars die in gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the brightest explosions in the universe burning brighter than 100 Billion Suns (2011), the title of her daily performance. In this work, a miniature cannon shoots thousands of pieces of confetti, corresponding in quantity and colour to every recorded GRB, leaving colorful piles of stardust on the floor.
The ephemeral and dematerialized interventions of Jason Dodge made it difficult to tell where one piece ended and another began: a slight smell of cinnamon wafted through the air and pairs of light bulbs, fixed at the height of dogs’ eyes, glowed in the darkened space. In addition, Dodge worked with a molecular scientist and a perfumer to extract the scent of a dead friend from a piece of his clothing. Wearing the fragrance at the opening night, Dodge and Guerra circulated throughout the exhibition. Dodge has stated that he rejects the figurative aspect of metaphor; his objects represent nothing other than themselves. In fact, he refused to give his works a title, not even untitled. But, for this very reason, they relate to the transitional quality of metaphor carried throughout the show. By moving beyond the mediation of language, the works became vehicles transporting direct sensations.
Ask Her to Smile (2012), an installation by Ellen LeBlond-Schrader, requires the visitor to submerge his or her head in a medieval vat filled with water – which I did. But here, it’s the water that speaks: 17 of LeBlond-Schrader’s poems transmitted through the liquid tell of travel and physical transformation. The poet has stated that poetry is not defined by words but by relationships and rhythm. Underwater, the sound waves resonate with the bodily cadence of breath and heartbeat and emerge as a new composition.
For the opening and closing of ‘Metaphoria’, experimental musicians Hélène Breschand and Jean-François Pauvros performed ...pour ainsi dire... (So to Speak, 2012). For the duration of the exhibition, the stage and seating of the concert hall remained in place while a recording of their performance reverberated throughout the room. This composition for harp and electric guitar sounds more like the tuning of instruments than a finished work: as a result, the room embodied a sense of transition, a feeling accentuated by the intense and turbulent movement of the sounds. The composition, like the show as a whole, reiterated that everything has the potential to regenerate. In the spring, the exhibition will travel to Athens where it will, of course, take another form.