Arachne: on the unrepeatable experience of metamorphosis

The exhibition Arachne follows in the wake of artistic research on themes and topics, at times classical in reference, that speak to us on matters of the human condition, through sound and performance installations, that may incorporate drawings, at certain points featuring a strong spatial component. These drawings, displayed on the wall or in video-projection, may also rise to a functional component, being interpreted as musical scores in which the space between the lines corresponds to a note interpreted by a violinist, the artist herself, as in the case of the 2016 piece “LN Performance”, in a close relation between space and time, movement and suspension. In the artist’s work, the participation of the viewer is structural, be it directly, when they are invited to act upon the elements that make up the piece, or indirectly, when the sculptural installation and the vocal and musical soundscape absorb their motion within the space of the exhibition, hence acknowledged as total work of art.

Arachne is, thus, a piece which brings together several layers of historical knowledge, classical historiography, music, and sound in its contemporary expression, alongside the intermediation of various media, developed within a dialogue between the building of woodworking (the musical instrument), the use of a tool for the digital processing of sound, and a metrics which thinks of the space as an instrumental body, an initiatory resonance chamber for the viewer, who is subjected to a performance transformation.

However, Francisca Aires Mateus establishes a duplicity between two principles of knowledge: the first of which rests on this idea of transformation, this metamorphosis which rescues the fable-like odyssey of Athena and Arachne in Metamorphoses 1, the matrix text by the poet Ovid, which confronts us with vanity, envy, and wrath, but also with the coming to awareness and an overcoming in favor of a greater good, proficiency and its artistic expression, poetic and liberating. The second principle is developed through an analytical and narrative process about the morphology and biological features of spiders. These two topics make up a sound piece which expands within the space of the gallery, shaped by the two voices of women who read two texts which place us between the weaving of fables and a scientific description, though generic, of the arachnids. The experience of the place and of the piece only comes into effect with the action of the viewer as they strum the instrument, which reconfigures the sculptural and architectural relation with the space of the gallery and with the interludes of the voices, which are inserted in random order and without repetition, between the condition of Arachne and the natural life of spiders. Between mythology and the constitutive repertoire of these beings, essential to life on Earth. Between the observation and the hearing of these voices and the action of the viewer on one or more strings, weaving a web of relations of meaning which, though irretrievable, is projected into the time of the act and thus into a dimension of the individual and subjective imagery of each participant.

Bearing in mind all of the methodology employed in this piece, what Francisca Aires Mateus develops is an experimental and differentiated field of possibilities for each moment any of us accesses this instrumental process, intersecting narratives, multimedia devices, architecture, sculpture, and a relational web built like a one-way maze. No action is reversible or repeatable. It can only be replicated under the instrumental conditions of the sculpture/wall/web/membrane, tactile and sensory like a fabric which is tailored and remade continuously by the action of the anonymous body. This body is transformational of the voices, revealing in the imaginary figure of Arachne the humanity that the mythology reinscribes in each of us.

João Silvério 

(Translation : Henrique Frederico)
[1] ARACNE, Fable I, Book VI, The Metamorphoses of Ovid (Trad. Henry T. Riley), London, Bel l & Daldy, 1871