CARVALHO, Isabel — “Possible Configurations”, in Femme qui passe, Artes, projecto de Arte Contemporânea, Fundação Manuel António da Mota, Porto, 2014, pp. 50-55. 

other texts
This additional note, which complements the play and the light and sound installation (a structure of metals, LED lamps, cables, etc., accompanied by a reading of the play, whose transcript is found here), results from the urge
to let the project flow until it reaches a limit (a deadline) and from the desire to circumscribe it – although it remains open. It also suits my purpose of highlighting two contextual aspects: the disruptive effect of dreams and the act/ experience of dreaming, and the sense of responsibility.

So what is a dream or why do dreams may be an object of interes (as they are something that frequently happens)? In current language, the words ‘dream’ and ‘sleepwalking’ are used to describe the experience of being “outside the world” – a state of reverie, a presence outside the realm of action. For quite some time now I have been feeling that there maybe another way of understanding dreams: they have a disruptive effect when their manifestation or apparition is taken in its pure state. Following this intuition, I came across the text by Henri Bergson, “Dreams”, which revealed to me the similarity between the waking/being awake state and the sleeping/being asleep state (or even the existence of levels ranging from one state to the other). This similarity oc- curs mainly at the level of perception and understanding.

The perceptual mechanisms that come into play when we gather information (what we receive, what we feel) are the same, as is the memory which is triggered. All this infor- mation is then managed and recom- bined, so that we may make some sense of it. Making sense is no more than setting or creating formations out of the material first perceived in its raw state. However, making sense is, from the start, connected to a way of being, ingrained habits, the fabric of society, culture, and it may therefore be rather limited.

If the idea of making sense can be useful when we talk about the waking/being awake state, in the case of the sleeping/being asleep state the fact that our judgment is more relaxed works to our advantage, as does the ability to stop configuring/forming i a predictable, almost automatic way, which is rather different from the immediate decision/action required in everyday life. Therefore, we are able to form/reconfigure in different ways after perceiving raw material as if we were in another (extremely complex) mode, where we can simply apprehend perception as it happens. Now, this requires exercise, discipline, which at some point may become more than just curiosity; it may become a need for another order (probably different from the one we follow in our daily basis).

Thus, my working hypothesis is as follows: what if dreams, in their manifestation, could be captured in the state prior to the formation/con- figuration stage and to the connotative meanings we later ascribe to them? In other words, what if we could stop for a moment our need to make sense of our dreams or even to interpret and translate them?

Despite its relation to the creative part of dreams and dreaming, this is my suggestion: what if we briefly focus on the first information – the almost pure, sensory stimuli/data – simply stopping at what we feel and receive? What if we freed our dreams and accepted them for what they are? It is the same as saying what if we didn’t rush into building a narrative, wha if we postponed it a bit? Without the pleasure or the displeasure of having a dream or a nightmare, a good or bad experience, but simply taking the expe- rience for what it is?

To freeze and experience that moment would be like stopping the habits we live by. A quasi-meditative state that rebels against prejudices/pre- conceived ideas. And will we be able to stop there – in that “freezing” moment?

Maybe not for long, but it would be enough to rethink a web of narrative possibilities that come from the pure experience of dreaming.

I believe this is the same as trying to prevent what we perceive from becoming or turning into some- thing that is recognizable or examined in that light. And this is where I find a strong connection to responsibility.

For is it not our responsibility to engage with that (present) moment and to rethink it? Considering my ear- lier association between dreaming and sleepwalking – a kind of “outside of the world” state – would it be possible to say that this new proposal is precise- ly the opposite? To consider dreaming as a deliberate action wouldn’t it be another form of action?

This project, in which I have been working for the past year, had its origin in a leading figure of undeniable historical relevance, an integral part of Portugal and Porto’s cultural memory, a painter of the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century – Aurélia de Souza. Following her will, memory was something that was always clouded in Aurélia de Souza’s work. As if she wanted to present her work with no more than a “that’s it”. For that reason, the artist not only stopped dating her paintings, but also made sure much of the documentation that would allow us to draw a more accurate historiographical account of her life and work (when, where, why, etc.) would disappear. Somehow, she made it impossible to write her biography. This is what I find fundamental when referring to her – taking the responsi- bility of showing, of considering “this as this”. It is not about going against (or even undoing) what I take to be ex- cessive interpretations and frameworks of Aurélia de Souza’s work, consider- ing what has already been written or thought about her. It is actually about interrupting them and exerting a de- liberate force that may show us “that”, without restricting her “that’s it” to a clearly defined configuration. On the contrary, it is about opening it up to possible configurations.

When preparing this project I had a dream with green lights. The dreams were (and are) to me a source of interest and, until now, I have always interpreted them freely. After this dream, however, I thought I hadn’t found an explanation that would suit it. I think I didn’t want (or fel the need) to interpret it; I wanted to experience it as it was instead. In order to do that, to truly enjoy the observa- tion of the pure manifestation of the dream, Bergson’s explanation (of its resemblance to the state of waking/ being awake at the time of perception) seemed to make sense to me. That is what the installation is all about. There is no narrative. Only a configuration,  a form, but merely an abstract one.
I suggest that it may be perceived as such – a configuration of lights or impressions of bright lights.

The installation, designed after experiencing the pure manifestation of a dream (which was later brought to the installation), establishes a parallel with the work of Aurélia de Souza, inviting the audience to perceived it by itself. Even if only for a moment.

As to the sound piece, it con- sists in a dialogue or in the construction of a narrative that crosses different times (the painter’s and mine), but in the same space, the same city, Porto. In short, the dialogue centers precisely around the demand for responsibility when it comes to the Bergsonian ques- tion “Why did we obey?”, to which I added two more: “What do we obey to?” and “When do we obey?”.

Although vague and indirect, the answer necessarily implies the al- ready-mentioned effort to interrupt the habits and preconceived interpretations with which we live without knowing why, as if they were the only ones pos- sible, as well as the need to realize that, by accepting these interpretations, we are already obeying them.

In the beginning of the play or dramatized dialogue, the speaker who had had a dream identifies her- self with the artist (Aurélia de Souza), particularly in what regards the details of the Romantic presentation and historiographical account given in the painter’s context. This includes her self-abandonment to the Absolut and her identification with the figure of a saint – being a saint or being an artist are understood as the same thing (the same way of living). This narrative is deconstructed shortly after by a second speaker, who interrupts the clichés — without agreeing or disagreeing –, showing that the narrative is nothing but a construction and stressing the relevance of restarting: restarting to think, to rethink, to reflect. And, therefore, to question how we obey and to what we obey.

Here lays the sense of responsibility, which is nothing but a break (a disruption), modelled after the disrup- tive effect caused by the dream and the act of dreaming. It doesn’t represent a complete rupture, but it should rather be seen as a creative power. It is a break with History – ancient and present one –, and a break with the identification between artists. This project is, above all, a tribute to an artist by another art- ist, without looking for affinities, but instead searching for common ground artistic work.

Caroline Hancock’s text, which is here included, has the (positive) role of showing (or defending) History’s side, presenting the artist/painter to an international audience. In order to do so, she highlights Aurélia de Souza’s historiographical data, which are well- known or easily recognizable for us, her country fellows. The additional not to this project (more specifically, to the dramatized dialogue) follows another direction, assuming the (negative) role of breaking away with certain habits of seeing/reading History (and along with it, the past). This interruption establishes, therefore, a creative restart, giving rise to a new creation – the one which is presented here. That was the responsibility I took upon myself: to address Aurelia de Souza’s work in order to set it free and hopefully open it to the present. Thus presenting it as: “That’s it”.