“Looking for Fragments”
Publico
Luisa Soares de Oliveira
September 18, 2004

The exhibition begins with a video, entitled Wild M5. A scientist looks through a microscope at fragments of rodent teeth that will permit her date the layer of mud in which they were found. The activity of the scientist has little of the romantic aura that still surrounds her profession. With the help of tweezers, she separates minuscule fragments that she will wash and finally catalogue. Recognize, choose, wash, name and store: the diverse phases of the recollection of objects that precedes interpretation.

In another room, a series of drawings hanging side by side occupies the main wall of the Sala do Veado [The Deer Room]. The walls, raw and unpainted, and the lighting conditions of the room, lit only by windows looking out onto the Botanical Garden, do not facilitate the spectator’s appreciation. You detect reddish stains on the paper, and only with close attention and effort are forms distinguished. To your surprise, they are not the mountains, streams or rivers of Chinese painting as they first appear, but heads of dinosaurs, drawn with a red pen.

After a long period in the United States, this main exhibition in Portugal by Alexandra do Carmo affirms that the scientific and the artistic working process have more in common than one would suppose. The process of choosing objects among undifferentiated mud in the first case and the choice of forms between the infinity of motives that contemporary culture puts at your disposal in the second instance achieves diverse final results from common mental process.

Alexandra do Carmo chose the lab work of the paleontologist to establish a comparison that gives meaning to the exhibition. The paleontologist in his or her search for the prehistorical truth can only count on the fragments that time didn’t destroy. Here, with the study of rodents the lived in Serra de Aires 40 or 50 thousand years ago, the scientist hopes to contribute to the global vision of the habitat in that region during the epoch in question. If the scientist wants to know the truth, he knows that his work will never give him more than a fragment of it-- something in its complexity will always escape him. You can say from the paleontologist that the unsuccess is the reason for being professional.

From the artist on the contrary, the truth is the one she makes every day on the sheet of paper, on the canvas, on the computer chip. Here is where the fundamental difference between the artist and scientist resides. The fact is that for the first and by opposition to the second, the truth does not run away, but materializes in each work in each drawing in each line of dinosaur brain.

Therefore, it is indifferent that Alexandra do Carmo has been using a children’s book of science as a model for her drawing. It is not about the reconstruction of the true appearance of each animal, but the establishment of a distance between these two kinds of work, although the proximity is established.