This exhibition reveals multiple sides to the work of Teresa Gonçalves Lobo. The artist isolates an element from her earlier experiences of writing/drawing-visual poetry and develops it formally based on its original matrix; she offers us the side of pure inscription of the sign; then, in the three-dimensional space, she puts the gestures of doing this onto paper (not as crystallisation but as the perfect synthesis of the entire work process/project); and, finally, she creates the basis of a narrative structure which introduces the possibility of a fictional universe or pure kinetic abstraction.

Firstly, we recognise this triggering element, this original cell. It is a letter, lower-case i, the third vowel and ninth letter of the Roman alphabet. On the artist’s part, there is nothing mystical about the numerologial coincidence of 3 x 3. Rather there is the awareness of the autonomy of a form/sign that results from a repeated gesture. It is as if, in repeating this gesture, Gonçalves Lobo has found the greatest possible economy (elegance) for someone like her who is a compulsive writer/drawer. It is the process, via a medium (paint, charcoal) and a utensil (bar, pencil, pen, brush), of registering a free choreography of gestures: a dance of the hand, the arm, the body on/in the space of the paper. Via this (inseparable) twin activity of drawing and writing, Gonçalves Lobo attempts to record gestures/sensations while remaining close to the immediate (to nature) in order to feel sentiments, that is, in order to regain memories (the subjective) by constructing them.

In these small or large papers of complex and delicate textures, the letter i appears to us in multiple forms created using multiple materials and techniques. There is a profusion of images which, to renew themselves constantly, require an infinite process that tends to exhaust the possibilities of representation.

In a national tradition, there is a clear and necessary affiliation with certain works by Ana Hatherly – as if only through her other territories could be explored. In fact, these, like many other works by Gonçalves Lobo, reside in the extensive web of relations between writing and the visual arts, where the freedoms proposed by Henri Michaux seem to have left all limits open. Based on these references, Gonçalves Lobo allows herself to explore multiple paths: to give spoken writing itself an autonomy as an artistic image, that is, to develop the image to the point where it is phonetically indecipherable by inserting it into the field of pure visual and artistic deciphering; to isolate a sign by getting it to play the role of maximum transparency intended for the elements of design in graphic communication; and to make it so that, at any moment, these apparently clearer images regain a semantically ambiguous side which returns them to the field of artistic expression.

The work developed around this tiny sign, the letter i, are organized into different families, within which solutions multiply that take us from a succession of simple variations of form between each element to the point of the unrecognisable – between what could be a mere difference in calligraphy and the realms of absolute graphic and artistic independence. This succession (within each group of works and common to it as a whole) is evidently the fruit of (and creates) a kinetic impetus (if we limit ourselves to a formal analysis) or a truly narrative temporality (if we realise that each of these signs does not merely represent a letter but synthesises a human form linking the wisdom of Neolithic representations). Forming groups of i’s or isolated i’s, arranged in lines, heaped in one part of the paper, climbing and falling or organised in circles, each expressed in a way that sets them apart from the crowd of other i’s, these signs, some more fragile, others more robust, become the characters of stories (or micro-stories) that vary in rhythm, tempo and energy. Of course, throughout, Gonçalves Lobo spells out narrative structures and not stories exactly. We are quicker to realise, for that reason, how we can recompose and decompose them for ourselves, discovering, one by one, the character the artist used to differentiate each element, discovering how they dance across the paper, a realm of large white spaces like big empty halls, vast smooth fields or uncluttered urban squares. Syntheses of the human body – two limbs crowned by a head – these graphic signs frequently go beyond the simplicity of this relationship.

By emphasising the “head” as a dominant element, we get the disc of a sun or a moon, a dot of colour, free like a Miró “colour patch, or like a surface on which are inscribed early games of facial expressions. And in taking form through spiral coils (like Victor Brauner who in turn influenced some of Mário Cesariny’s early collages), this “head” gains the complexity of an eye, the suggestion of individualizing fingerprints or a plant-like expression which communicates with the bodies by creating forests and seascapes that are suggestive of Max Ernst. Lastly, and still under the same influence, some signs appear heavily eroticised, mysterious intertwined lovers, the sex implicit.

Others meanwhile free themselves of this poetic subjectivity to simulate the languages of urban communication. They appear to be pictograms depicting a generic human being but later regain the ambiguity of their message, either through the narrative opening which they make clear, or by never ceasing to refer to the root of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy and the way in which writing in these cultures is a form of drawing that concentrates, in the energy of the gesture, the meaning of the form and, in its synthesis, the poetic multiplicity of the word, the patch of ink, the vibration of the air, the texture of the paper…

There are two special items in this exhibition that deserve particular mention: a book of engravings and two pieces of furniture. In their own way, these sum up all the effort that Gonçalves Lobo puts into her work. Firstly, in a fragile line evoking the delicacy of Paul Klee and Max Ernst, A Família dos is registers both the narrative vocation and the capacity for formal autonomy of the key element in this vast body of works. Then, the i-chair and i-chair long, introducing volumetric elements into the discourse, realise the two- dimensional forms of the drawings, pushing them towards the realm of sculpture (though according to the conventions of utility and durability required of furniture).

It is via these two lines of work, metal engraving and equipment design, that the artist reinforces her ties to the surroundings, populating it with essential beings, simple signs that we see head off in every direction of the vast building as we browse the pages of the album while sitting or reclining on one of the two chairs placed at our disposal. These signs are first seen in the drawings – big and small, mono- and bichromatic, in indian ink or charcoal – that surround us in the exhibition rooms. Then they lose themselves in the halls and corridors, sairways, courtyards, store rooms and active construction and restoration workshops that make up the Fundação Ricardo Espírito Santos Silva. Finally, they return to the very place from which they started when we close the album like someone who has finished reading a story. But something of the musical, natural and humanized rhythm, of the light humour and slow melancholy of these i’s, remains there, in the dance moves fixed by the structure of the chairs, in the organic heat of the wood, in the ctile sensality of the undulating volumes in Brazilian mahogany and rosewood. They are i’s made into structures on which we can rest our bodies and unleash our imagination.

Lisbon, 12 February 2013

in i em pessoa,  exhibition catalogue, Museu  de Artes Decorativas Portuguesas – FRESS, Lisbon, Portugal, 2013