Constellations III: Minimal Gestures

João Penalva
Berardo Collection Museum, Lisbon, Portugal
15/07/2020 - 31/01/2021

When applied to the curatorial situation, the concept of the constellation accounts for the dynamic definition of the relations formed between all those involved. On the one hand, it denotes the different contexts in which each obtained their previous meaning and function (which then change as a result of this transfer from other times and places into the specific new encounter). On the other hand, it implies that those involved and their participation are also characterized by temporalities of their own—historicity, sequence, duration, timing, rhythm—creating a corresponding dynamic in their interrelations.(1)
Beatrice von Bismarck

The curatorial gesture, as a constellation, fosters expansion, the dilation of a field of action in constant transformation and actualisation, connectible, invertible, open, permeable, unlimited, with multiple entries and exits, the active agent of a permanent deterritorialisation and consequent reterritorialisation. It is in this multiplicity and opening that the constellation appears, defined primarily in the mobility of the network it permanently and temporarily establishes with other constellations. The constellation deterritorialises gestures in order to reterritorialise them in a different way. Understanding the curatorial practice as a constellation is fostering movement, admitting the intermittent flow between all elements involved, from text to form, object to body (or bodies), and assuming that each of these elements operates simultaneously in its singularity and in the relationships it establishes with the whole. It is in this relationship, this encounter, that the power of the constellation resides. The etymology of the word "constellation"—"con" (with, next to) and "stella" (star)—refers to a meeting, in this case of celestial bodies; and this perception, seen from Earth, is always carried out under the aegis of movement.

The human mind has thus perceived these luminous dots in the sky to be mysterious clues about the universe, life, and humanity. It was in this context that the constellation first appeared: in the midst of immortal, fixed stars, retaining a permanent reminder of collective and individual fates.

In his critical epistemological prologue to Origin of the German Trauerspiel (1928), Walter Benjamin famously suggested that ideas are to objects as constellations are to stars. That is, ideas are no more truly present in the world than constellations are in the skies. In a sense, a work of art is a powerful metaphor for the constellation.

The goal of this project is to regard the Berardo Collection as a horizontal territory for curatorial research: a research which produces vertical “cuts”—incisions on the permanent stability of the collection—thus initiating relationships more or less close in both time and space. Adopting an anachronistic stance which subtly explores the different sections, an attempt is made to examine and bring to life the various historical periods through their influence on contemporary artistic production.

The exhibition develops into a plethora of interventions spanning the various sections of the Berardo Collection along a loose (and conceptual) narrative thread centred on the philosophical concept of the constellation. The Museum's space is thus transformed into a place of experimentation, the result of a “choreography” of thought processes. The aim is to provide a conceptual representation of a research model for the Collection, which is constantly evolving, that opens out onto a speculative, poetic horizon.

(1) Beatrice von Bismarck, in The Curatorial in Parallax (What Museums Do 1), ed. Kim Seong Eun (Seul: National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, 2018), 132.