Walter Benjamin said, “The true method of making things present is to imagine them in our space (and not to imagine ourselves in their space).” Artistic expression calls for us to imagine ourselves in others’ spaces as well as letting others inhabit our own. It is through this reciprocity that we can begin to feel more connected in this fragmented world.
The project “Tales of Two Cities” (paraphrasing the title of the classic novel by Charles Dickens) aims to tell multiple tales about different cities’ human landscapes, and the perceptions, politics and cultures of their people in a time of rapid social change. Since 2013 the project has engendered on-going visual dialogues between New York, Beijing and Venice.
“Invented Sea” is a third chapter of the project prompts a visual dialogue between Portugal-based artist Vanessa Fernandes and New York-based artist Xin Song. Through conversation and reciprocal study via zoom and email, a dialogue between the artists has become a dialogue of their work. The artists set out to explore how contemporary art can be magnified and transformed through exposure to different cultures and traditions; how their work can be broadened and embellished by this kind of encounter, and how visual expression can provide access to an innate desire to embrace uncertainty.
“Invented Sea” is a poem by the Angolan/French poet Matamba Joaquim. The poem is recited in Fernandes’ video piece of the same name which was created for this project. In the video, a chess board is the frame within which chess pieces and organic and man-made materials are manipulated and configured. The poem and video evoke Fernandes’ interest in “stories that hover sensitive around the world…of the mind, body, and emotions.” Vanessa Fernandes was born in Guinea-Bissau, and has lived in Paris, Macao, Porto, and Germany. Her life in these varied cultures has deeply influenced her artistic vision and, according to Fernandes, the camera is her language.
Xin Song was born in Beijing, she lives and works in New York. Song is a master of Chinese paper technique, utilizing time-honored skills to craft visionary, contemporary sculptural works. While growing up in Beijing, Song was introduced to the ancient Chinese folk tradition of paper cutting. Over time, she became a master. By repurposing images from unconnected sources, she merges and reshapes messages from the world. Song utilizes materials gathered during her RAMPA residency to create site-specific work.
Fernandes and Song will create a collaborative installation, in which Fernandes’ videos will be projected interactively crossing Song’s cut paper canvas. The videos are a documentation of the two artist’s exploration around north Portugal discovering handmade traditional and street art. As we seek paths through the stages of the pandemic, and when social justice movements call on us to hear other voices, we ask what can or should art do? Fernandes’ and Song’s work offer a creative and authentic perspective.