There are two procedures in Marina Saleme’s work that are evident in this exhibition and that are not necessarily separate or individualized. These procedures become jumbled, invading each other and creating a most intriguing investigative process. The first of them is the fact that her work reveals by hiding, that is, the build-up of layers and different techniques employed in her work create a volumetric body that supposedly removes us from the first layer. However, the artist develops a system that does not allow us to forget that first image, leading us to a territory of new discoveries, findings and premises about it that makes us value its pictorial and, why not, magical potential.
Pares, a series of four photos taken in Regent’s Park, London, presents an example of this paradoxical exploration between appearance and absence that has run through so much of her work. The photos have been printed with a halftone effect, enabling the spectator, depending on his distance from and perspective in relation to the work, to gradually perceive the transition between a photo that registers (with a denser and more silent atmosphere), a bucolic landscape and a finally the appearance of a pictorial mass that is imposed like a character, rather than an illustration of that scene. The spectator seems to lose his sense of direction, as a kind of whirlwind of colours and shapes creates another capacity for understanding the real and that which surrounds it. According to his position in relation to the image, the spectator might erase or reveal characters, trees, flowers, ground or clouds. In a way, he is placed as a protagonist and author of a narrative.
Photography and painting blend into one and the same reportoire: that of the creation of situations capable of subverting the order of the plane and of that which lies before us. We start to have doubts about what has always constituted the truth. The strategy of revealing by hiding is also present in the series O passeio, from 2013, in which the artist, in a surprising manner, tackles a series of trees: in order to be protected from the cold, they are covered with coffee bags. The way in which this procedure was carried out bestows a highly anthropomorphic value on the covered trees. Resembling, in a way, the arrangement of soldiers in an army, those “people” seem to march at random. In light of the serious political matters that the world was undergoing in that start of the year, it’s difficult not to recall the vast numbers of human immigrants who risk their lives crossing seas and oceans with the hope of a better life than that in their home countries, where they are massacred by civil wars, starvation and all sorts of desolation. As bodies lacking in flesh, Marina’s passeio is presented like a deaf and emotional scream against the hypocrisy of the world.
Marina’s paintings – as well as series of photographs entitled As verdades [The Truths] – reveal another procedure: the economy of gestures supports the construction of a narrative which is made open or flexible to the spectator. In this photographic series, we can observe that the initial image of two football goalposts made from wooden beams (like the makeshift goals found on the beach), gradually transforms, by means of pictorial construction, into a kind of house. The voids (absence, lack or debit) of the two posts becomes filled over the course of the photographic sequence, transforming a makeshift solution or even a prosaic landscape – captured by the artists in an entirely casual manner – into an archetypal shelter or dwelling. Like in a movie, play, book or any narrative means, we are guided to project a story, an event that takes place in an incessant and absorbing way. This is also the case for Garranchos, a polyptych in which cut-out images of branches of the same tree symbolically compose a dance. The layout of the images – which never follows a pattern, in other words, the polyptych can be assembled in all sorts of ways – and the intimate and poetic way in which the branches were documented generate the representation of a circular movement that directly mirrors a dance. The shadow of the branch against the city light reinforces a tone of celebrating the body in movement. Once again, elements of nature blend into human aspects.
It’s curious to think that the photographically-captured images almost always place Marina in the position of an “accidental tourist”. And it is this characteristic of the accident, of the chance or the random that, to me, seems to drive her painting. Her works have an appearance of cut-outs, landscapes or disparate forms that, when they meet, neighbouring each other, end up formatting a typical sequence of the narration. It is a meeting of islands, semantic territories, which consolidate proximities and consequently construct elective affinities. Especially in the diptychs exhibited here, what is revealed is a constant friction and conformity between the colours and constructed forms. Figure and background, light and shade are constantly negotiating spaces, creating rhythms and (dis)appearances. It’s possible to perceive in this body of works the occurrence of an indication of a characteristic of imprecision, in the sense of not being finished. This nature is the main quality of Marina’s work: the eternal challenge of being constantly remade, of exhibiting her own inconformity and commitment to mutability. In the set of paintings that form a panel, we can observe the presence of the image of a woman and child sat as if they were playing or interacting – the same one that appears in Pares.
Both in her photos and her paintings a feeling of silence and melancholy prevails. And it is the introduction of small gestures, the harmony between photography and painting building a dialogue of intersection and cohesive, artistic narrative, as well as a structure “apparently” in debt, achieving a repertoire of subtle and intensive fabrications that make Marina Saleme’s work a unique study.