Helena Almeida: Corpus- Breaking out of Pictorial Space
By Magdalena Polak
There are worse things than strolling through Paris on Valentine’s Day. They are even worse things than going to the Jeu de Paume Museum in the Jardin des Tuileries to see Helena Almeida’s exhibition Corpus, featuring most of her significant work.
Born 1934 in Lisbon and actively producing art since the 1960s, Almeida has always been interested in the human body in terms of defining space. Growing up under an authoritarian regime- Portugal had been authoritarian between 1933-1974- Almeida has been making both personal as well as political works, especially examining how the body represented in her work manipulates its environment, through acting, touching, leaving marks, shaping the surrounding world into a variety of new forms.
Wanting to break out of the limits of pictorial and narrative space, Almeida started to produce a series of “sculptural drawings”- integrating a horsehair string to her works on paper. The horsehair leaps out of the paper to project outwards, making the drawing cubic and tangible as it invades the viewer’s space. The artist explains: “I think that what has made me break away from the medium, through volumes, threads and many other means, was always a huge dissatisfaction regarding the issues of space. By either confronting or denying them, they have been the one true constant in all my works.”
Her interest in the limitations of space makes the change in her artistic style, which occurred in the mid 1970s, comprehensible. Form, line and colour in her paintings germinated into performance art. Using the material of painting as extensions of her body, Almeida used, for example, the inscription of a blue brush stroke on a photo (Pinturas habitadas) or the act of putting on a canvas (Tela habitada) as a representation of action and register of presence. Tying this back to Portugal’s political background at that time, where the register and mark of a singular person who thought and took credit individually was dangerous, her work is attributed an entirely new perspective than a mere aesthetic one.