by Pedro Henrique de Melo, Mais, Curator and Artist Manager

The development of a curatorial project usually starts with an idea, a choice of bringing to the audience´s attention aspects of reality as perceived by one or more artists during one or various periods of time. In my role as curator for the European section of ArtRooms 2018, the challenge was the opposite: Being entrusted a list of 14 pre-selected European artists, my task was to find a common denominator among the selected artists in order to build a cohesive, appealing image of European contemporary art. In this task, I must admit having failed.

The safest and most obvious course of action would have been to focus on the geographical aspect: are the Italian artists comparable somehow? Could one make a distinction between North and South? Coffee or tea? Wine or beer? Luckily, not. When dealing with artists which are, in average, in their late 20´s and early 30´s, one must consider the fact that national borders and identities have somehow given space to a European identity: Karolina Albricht, a talented oil painter from Poland, has studied in Arnhem, the Netherlands, during her Erasmus year. Michelle Lucking, a self-taught soft pastel artist, was born in the Netherlands but draws inspiration for her maritime and underwater portraits from the shores of North Somerset.

Even in the works of artists that have witnessed and recall a divided Europe of yestertime, this European syncretism is evident: Originally from Latvia, but currently living in Ireland, Zane Sutra uses Victorian-age photographs to depict aspects of her personal life in her oil paintings. By doing so, Sutra blurs the line between fiction and history, depicting reminiscences of European realities that reside only in a mix of recounts and imagination, tales and recollections. The European carousel goes on and on, with artists being influenced by their countries of origin and countries of domicile alike. As borders become porous, inspiration becomes fluid.

Past this obvious solution, my next attempt was to focus on a more constructive approach– and here I use “constructive” both in its literal and metaphorical sense. Perhaps dividing artists by media would be the best way to create a common thread? Unfortunately for me, interdisciplinary relations spoke louder than similar media: The magnificent marble sculptures of Jordi Raga, for instance, were not the ideal match to the organic, feminine (and feminist) works on marble by French sculptor Anne Cecile Surga. Although the medium was the same, Surga´s creations seemed to be more intimately related to Ilaria Bochicchio´s paintings than with Raga´s sculptures. Both Surga and Bochiccio explore the subtleties of the female body in complimentary ways: one, in hard marble, the other, with the soft brush. Sometimes, however, the brush is hard and the marble, soft.

Likewise, the elaborate sculptures by the neophyte Daniele Ravizza and seasoned artist Paola Bartolacci originate from very similar talent, however, while Ravizza applied his skills of furniture restorer to create ludic wooden works that play with perspective, Bartolacci chose to use the lessons learned with her engineer father and artist uncle to create designs filled with irony and social criticism. Both artists, in their very opposite ways, question the idea of a single point of view.

And was through questioning exactly that, that I realized the fallacy of defining clear cut categories. This fallacy lies in the expectation such categories instill: how to fit the photo manipulations and collages by Dario Moschetta´s to our own expectations of what an artist born near Venice should produce as art? Why depict New York and not the Palazzo Ducale? Is it a landscape or a “land escape”? Or, in the case of fellow Italian Alessandra Pagliuca, does the text in her works create a literal portrait or do the images represent figures of speech? Like in the installations and aquarelle paintings by Violeta Bravo, the key of a composition is not in the similarity of its elements, but in the synergy brought by their varied aesthetics. Amidst so many different creative minds, perhaps, comparisons are futile. Uniqueness, on the other hand, can be a great virtue in art.

Among the featured artists, some have made a great impression on me exactly because their works were so hard to place: Barbara Bonfilio and Franco Moira – known as the BBFM Collective – create sparse, uncanny drawings by exchanging (physical and virtual) correspondence. The result are works that deserve to be appreciated not only for their final product, the drawings shown to the audience, but also for the creative process behind it. The same applies to Julia Rodrigues. The Portuguese artist´s works reflect a complexity that can only be found in simple things: her laborious and meditative practice brings minimalist pleasantry to the eye. The extreme opposite, for instance, of Pablo Vindel´s video installation. Pablo´s work is undefinable in the sense that it explores the human body and language in a series of uncomfortable, edge-of-the-seat “exercises” that bring to the audience all but comfort whilst surfacing feelings and reflections that can only be produced by such daring work.

As the French will have it, to write an essay – from the verb essayer – is to try, not necessarily to succeed. And in trying, I have failed. But there is no demerit in failing at an impossible task. The common denominator would have been invariably bland, colorless: the antithesis of art. To be European is not to have an identity, it is to have an identity crisis; to dive into caricatural geographical and historic aspects of each country instead of focusing on the qualities brought by the artists individually would have been unfair at best. By failing to join all these representatives of European contemporary art under one common thread I will have, hopefully, succeeded in showcasing the best of each artist under their own creative infinity.