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Posthumous Scenes
Teresa Dias Coelho's paintings represent departing objects. They are still lifes, but invested with a funereal setting and a spectral reality.
"Dores" is a work of dual authorship: the stories are by Maria Velho da Costa and the pictures are reproductions of paintings by Teresa Dias Coelho. The original idea was to illustrate the text, but the illustrations grew into canvases and the painting took on a life of its own. Autonomy does not mean the total absence of a relationship between the two art forms, as is abundantly clear in the pictorial representation of the funereal, sinister elements so prominently explored in the text. But the paintings still follow their own path and develop within a horizon that is far from being the direct outcome of other processes and codes.
A pair of shoes, a hand outstretched in an attitude of resignation, a knife, a glass, a ladder in perspective, circumscribed by both the upper and the lower limits of the picture: each of the paintings represents a single object (or pair of objects that form a unity, as in the case of the shoes or the feet, outstretched in one picture, suspended in another). These objects are lost things. Lost, not in the sense of abandoned, but in the sense that they are departing. Departing from what? From life, or the bond with life. They are therefore like still lifes, but not those in which the mystery of death has dissipated and the objects appear as mute things, devoid of meaning and deprived of transcendence. Here, death retains all its mystery because the objects have been ambiguously frozen and invested with a funereal setting and a spectral reality. The sepia tones, the backgrounds in shades of greenish brown that are prolonged in reflections by the objects themselves, blur distinctions and turn the outstretched feet (to give just one example) into extensions of a backcloth from which they will never again succeed in rising. And the human element contaminates the non-human: the knife, the telephone receiver lying on the floor belong to the same universe as the prone arms and legs. There is an irrefutable narrative structure piecing the objects together and constructing a story.
But it is not only in this capacity for narrative evocation that we can find a "literary matrix" (if we may coin the phrase) for these paintings: they develop a capacity for rhetorical production that has to do, above all, with metonymical processes. The objects are partial objects (in the psychoanalytical sense of the word), fragments of a whole that draw all their strength and ambiguity from a clearly perceived absence. Without reference to this whole, to this absence which is made present, they could not convey their sinister and disturbing message. The magnificence and fragility of that which is no longer, and which thus underline the most unbearable form of ephemerality (the one revealed by death) result in a kind of funereal solemnity.
Thus, in Teresa Dias Coelho's art, realistic representation has nothing to do with full exploitation of the (techno-representative) potential of painting. It is precisely at the moment when the realism of the representation is at its height that the limits of all representation become clear and the objects represented show themselves in all their precariousness - what it is about them that cannot be said but only suggested. They are mute objects whose silence extends far beyond themselves.
It is not only this strong suggestion of silence that gives the paintings a sacred quality. It is also because of features essentially inherent in the forms themselves. There are obvious echoes of Christian iconography (the suspended feet) and certain forms and elements of sacred art. It is interesting to observe, however, that these iconographic references are confused not with iconophilia but with iconoclasm. To move from one to the other only required a change of fetish: moving, for example, from the face to the feet, from the upper to the lower parts of the human body.
António Guerreiro
Journal o Expresso
December 1994