The first glimpse of the Campo / Contracampo installation, the work that artist José Pedro Croft inaugurates this Saturday in Coimbra, is dazzling. After diving into the grounds of the Santa Clara-a-Nova Monastery and walking through the small, dimly lit rooms, you can see a door ajar in the background. In the distance, all that can be seen beyond this gate is a red background which contrasts with the sobriety of a 17th century building built to be the house of the nuns and which was later adapted as a barracks.
“It’s like a curtain, a crimson red wall”, describes José Pedro Croft (Porto, 1957), to the PUBLIC. The door is entered and the apparatus is quickly discovered: in a first revelation, what looked like a curtain is a plate six meters high, an element installed in a cutout of 40 meters by 10 meters, with a height under ceiling of 12 meters. The sensation is “to go through a narrow alley and reach a gigantic plaza,” says the artist, whose work embodies the first exhibition produced by Anozero, the Coimbra Contemporary Art Biennial, in a year that permeates the main program.
From this starting point, which is the door sill, tilting left or right shows another perspective. The plaque is part of one of two triptychs erected in an apparently precarious balance, as if the angle to the ground was just enough so that the whole structure does not collapse. The six-meter clusters play with the monumentality of the old monastery’s refectory, oscillating between the harmony of blue that speaks to the tiles of the walls and the liveliness of warm tones.
José Pedro Croft was not interested in “giving a timid response to a space that has a force that swallows everything”, says Carlos Antunes, director of the Circle of Plastic Arts of Coimbra, which with the autarky and the university organize Anozero . In previous editions of the biennial, different artists have opted for different responses to the cafeteria, either to enlarge the space (Fernanda Fragateiro) or to erase it (Paiva & Gusmão).
Campo / Contracampo is the result of a co-production of Anozero with the Fundación Cerezales Antonino y Cinia, in the province of Leon. It was there, in a modern building with two glass facades, that the Portuguese artist’s pieces began to be exhibited at the end of 2019, but the installation in Coimbra is not the same and responds to the principle followed by Croft, who establishes that “architecture and space are decisive in each presentation of the work,” he says. “In Cerezales [o edifício] it functions as a very large limitless corridor ”, dominating the Leon plain. In Spain, the panels were organized in diptychs which “hindered the reading of space, the energy circulating in the longitudinal direction”.
“It is important that the Biennale is present again, but it is particularly important as the world is going through”
Carlos Antunes, director of the CAPC
In the case of Coimbra, in a room “which has a baroque spirit and a false symmetry”, the option was to give the panels a verticality, changing orientation, organization and coloring, also presenting them in false symmetry.
This exhibition is also the continuation of a story, that of Croft’s connection to the Circle of Plastic Arts of Coimbra (CAPC), which had the first chapter of a group exhibition (which included young artists such as Pedro Cabrita Reis , Ana Léon, Pedro Calapez and Rosa Carvalho) in the early 1980s.
Occupy the cafeteria
Campo / Contracampo, which with the solo exhibitions of Joana Villaverde (Regard sur les Animaux, in the Círculo Sedeia) and Rui Sanches (Vista Para the Park, in the Círculo Sereia), marks the return of the CAPR, also responds to the aspiration of Anozero to produce an individual exhibition with an international dimension. “The last thing that interests me is that the Biennale is an event, in the sense of being something that happens every two years,” says Carlos Antunes. “It’s important that the Biennale is here again, but it’s especially important as the world goes by,” he says.
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Carlos Antunes argues that, with this third occupation proposal, the refectory of the monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova “demonstrates the inexhaustible semantic and spatial potential of this place, positioning it as one of the spaces for contemporary art most stimulating in Portugal ”. The head of the CAPC believes that it should be “guaranteed the possibility” of continuing to use the cafeteria of the monastery as a reception hall for exhibitions and installations.
In November 2018, the Councilors of the City Council of Coimbra approved a protocol between the Municipality, the Central State and Turismo de Portugal, which established this part of the building – which was already integrated into the Revive Property Lot, with the aim to concede for purposes of tourist attractions – to be allocated to the biennial. The approved document did not specify which part.