S5 JAN-JUN 2020
Ophiussa ex machina is a project based on an article in the Diário de Lisboa newspaper from the 1920s, on a book about Portuguese paving, and on the legend of the founding of the city and the seven hills.
A Lenda da Fundação de Lisboa (The Legend of the Founding of Lisbon), included in As Lendas da Nossa Terra, by Gentil Marques, tells the story of how Ulysses reached the place where the city of Lisbon has now been built. According to the legend, this territory was a land of serpents, impenetrable and inhospitable for unexpected outsiders, governed by a mythological being, half woman, half serpent. Ofiúsa was her name, and the one by which the Portuguese territory was known in ancient Greece. When the navigator arrived and wanted to settle there, he found that he needed to persuade the queen to accept his proposal promising eternal prosperity and flourishing growth. The queen was seduced by Ulysses and with him she founded Ulisseia, the most beautiful city in the world. Sometime later, the navigator decided to set sail in secret, sentencing the queen to her greatest misery when she realised that Ulysses had fled. Driven by betrayal, she tried to reach him without success and throughout her despair, rage and hurt, she left behind the twisted, winding trace of her movement. Exhausted and abandoned, the queen of the serpents finally succumbed to grief, leaving her mark on Lisbon’s landscape forever: the seven hills.
Whenever we stroll around the city we continuously find particular characteristics, details that allow us to imagine the dynamics between what Lisbon may represent and what it really is, or holds within it, regardless of whether we are local inhabitants or foreigners.
Pornografia was the title of the article that could be read on the first page of Diário de Lisboa on 30th April 1921. Joaquim Manso (director, owner and editor of the newspaper) presents us with a series of reflections, opinions and judgements on modern daily life in the city and the state of literature at his time. Using metaphors and a highly sophisticated literary language, the writer and essayist unveils a Lisbon “that displays sensuality with such burning fever that it even seems the paving stones catch light.”
In the book Empedrados Artísticos de Lisboa, by Eduardo Martins Bairrada, you’ll find a series of itineraries on the Portuguese paving in the city. This publication presents and puts into context some notes on the history of Portuguese paving, while gathering designs and structures that are indispensable for creating the motifs that make up these “public road leaseholds”. “Is it possible that the people of Lisbon were once, or still are today, indifferent to the carpeting of their streets and squares (…)?” is the question that stands out at the beginning of the book.
It is impossible to be indifferent to the diversity of the designs and patterns to be found in the paving when we look at the ground on which we tread in Lisbon. On the other hand, when we walk around the city’s streets, we often find loose stones, pieces of paving that have come away and deformities in the surface, raised or lowered parts, that are due to the ground giving way, caused by the growth of tree roots or other natural or imaginary phenomena. In a meandering game between reality and fiction we can link this constant breakdown of the paving stones to the queen’s latent energy, that once embraced the earth and now keeps the city’s skin alive.
Ophiussa ex machina emerges in a very distinctive context. It encompasses an installation of drawing, sculpture and found objects, gathered after reviving some of the itineraries in the book Empedrados Artísticos de Lisboa. During the walks, loose stones from the paving were collected and images captured, as well as other elements considered relevant for creating a cartography of the memory and archaeology of the walk. On the other hand, bearing in mind the relationships that are established with objects, people and places, employing sculpture or drawing establishes a relationship with the landscape and the day-to-day objects, as well as with the places in the city, which lead to the tri-dimensional understanding of the city being complemented by the urban visual texture.