Time we don’t have and don’t take. Time we can’t get back and most crucially time we can never acquire…I knew nothing of Valeska Soares and her art but how apt that her works poetically speak of time and memories. Since I saw her exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum, her pieces have lingered on my mind so much that I am in no danger to ever forget her name.
And her world might just bring you a welcome dose of mindfulness as we all get ready for a bit of summer madness...before it’s time to face school supplies again.
I went to visit Phoenix Art Museum because I wanted to write about their Iris van Herpen – Transforming Fashion exhibition. Set with intention, I was rewarded with an exhibition I loved for its futuristic brilliance, cutting-edge materiality and sheer visual power.
Yet as I progressed to check the contemporary permanent collection, my eye caught a very different mood and scene, and just like that, I forgot my intention. This was my introduction with an artist I knew nothing about but which I will not forget: Valeska Soares.
This arc of foot stools was a powerful visual to what may sound paradoxical: the subtle strength of Valeska’s art. I walked towards this rainbow-like installation to take a better look at the colors, the mix match of patterns and textures, unsure if these footstools were displaying the mind of an eccentric collector or actually marching towards me, with a life of their own.
Marching or not, as I came close I almost bumped into an old pocket watch suspended from the ceiling, so small I had not noticed it. With no hour hand visible on it, time had basically stopped or…been stopped… or was it that time never existed in the first place?
Whichever way, I lost track of my time for a while, and there is nothing better than embracing this in the company of meaning-full art. I slowed down, I soaked in the nostalgia of lives long gone, of lives perhaps interrupted, willingly or not.
Many of the installations definitely brought to memory the piled up possessions and tragedy of the Holocaust. So I let Valeska Soares show me the in-between, the liminal spaces between what you have to behold and what’s still left when it’s gone.
Despite that hour hand missing on the pocket watch, there is a faint lifeline beating through the entire exhibition, audible and visible if you look a little more intently.
The reward is a poetic essay uncovering the beating heart of our collective memory.
Search beyond the immediate sight of what looks like life interrupted, you will find Valeska Soares talks of time and its lapses: time we don’t have, we don’t take, time we can’t get back and most crucially time we can never acquire. Yet the time you take exploring her art might just make you savor more of these small moments and details that the future will bring and which deserve to make it to your memory bank.
Of Brazilian origin, Valeska Soares uses found objects to explore concepts of time, love and memory. In a clear departure to the Neo-Concretism art produced by Brazilian artists such as Lygia Pape (who I wrote about here), Valeska Soares adopts a sensorial approach rooted in her admiration for French writer Roland Barthes. I am going to skip on the big Phenomenology word, aka the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness, because I think the provisional title of the last manuscript Barthes worked on is much more explicit: “One Always Fails to Speak of the Things One Loves”¹.
So let’s take a seat for the perfect conversation, with yourself or your loved ones 🙂
Love Stories IV is a collection of books filling three large shelves. Look closer, these books are all in different languages. Are they really all about love?
No: some are self-help books, others more psychology than love stories. Perhaps they represent the ideal library, the collected library of a lifetime… Neatly arranged and in a subdued palette, they almost look like code bars…yet we all know you can’t scan love!
Love is in the air and it is not a cliché. Love is the one expression that defines a relationship: a look that YOU can only see, a secret smile…definitely the “air” that Barthes searched for in his book on photography called Camera Lucida (La Chambre Claire).
For me, love is also very much linked to smells and it terrifies me because you can’t bottle the smell of your kids’ necks. By chemical definition, fragrance is volatile. It is there and then evaporates, only to bring back memories in the least expected circumstances.
To this effect, my interpretation on Valeska Soares is that she is trying to capture the air and smell of that precious moment to be remembered.
Turning pillows into stone, she prints in marble the shape left by a lover’s head or a child’s peaceful sleep. She gives density to the immaterial fabric of our memories.
Sculpting it, lest we forget or don’t pay attention. Giving full weight to the insubstantial and allowing us to see the invisible in the process.
Playing on this memory theme with a variety of materials, footstools don’t rest, they march.
The library stairs stop in mid air, not able to reach the books there are meant to bridge us with.
A pile of ceramic letters may all add up to names, letters or declarations gone into oblivion.
Except there are 6323 characters in that pile and they could be reconstructed as a passage from Roland Barthes’ Fragments, a book whose sole purpose is to understand and learn how to love better.
How do I start to tell you how poetic yet also how delicately terrifying this is? Art works on making dreams come true…
See for yourselves (and remember) at Phoenix Art Museum until July 15, 2018.
© 2018 Ingrid Westlake
All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.