ALVEX, Alentejo, Portugal
In ancient times, with grand, solemn gestures, augurs would trace a square in the air, delimiting a space within which omens might be divined and wonders revealed. When a flight of birds was spied crossing this window of sky, priests were able to interpret signs that offered encouragement for the performance of heroic deeds or boded well for successful conquests in enigmatic oracles.
In buildings consecrated to the gods, the inner courtyard framed a section of sky enabling the lines of the cosmos to be contemplated and the fate of the world to be divined. From this process of looking and praying, raising one’s eyes from earth to sky, the very designation of the temple was born: a place of cosmic inquiry into the destiny of men and the contemplation of the will of the gods.
In our world, the forms of remediation that have led us from the media of different types to the use of digital media seem far removed from the conditions of oracular space. What oracle can generate an enigma in the age of Web3? Is the slow progress of a flight of birds compatible with the immediacy of 5G communications? Is the factory of media events still compatible with the divination of destiny that led supplicants to the temple to quiz the augurs and inquire about destiny?
Maite Cajaraville created a hybrid project entitled Vextre – Virtual Extremadura – for exhibition at MEIAC in 2021. A hybrid project, something between expanded reality and plastic installation, it rigorously challenges the territory which provides the elements for its generation. Indeed, the sculpture displayed at Vextre is the result of an exhaustive social, cultural and economic reading of this territory, and the data on it, which are assigned to a number of distinct criteria, generate a digital object created by Cajaraville through the medium of ceramics using a 3D printer.
It may safely be said that the sculpture produced presents itself as an oracular voice. As cryptic as the oracle of bygone times, it speaks of the region’s raw materials, its demographic profile, and its economic constraints, presenting the territory in an eloquent three-dimensional form. As with an oracle, it is not the answers that matter, but rather what we do with them. From the outset, the opportunity the visitor is presented with for doing away with stereotypes and preconceived ideas about the territory is remarkably effective in political terms. The responsibility towards this «sculpture of the future», as Natalia Piñuel Martín has rightly called it, is shared by the artist with institutions and the exhibition-goer, who are all engaged in a process of rethinking this collective territorial imaginary.
We in Portugal have incorporated the Alentejo region into the Vextre project. This exhibition is part of a cross-border cooperation initiative with the MEIAC, which sees Vextre transformed into Alvex — Alentejo-virtual-Extremadura — enabling an extension of the dialogue between institutions and the artist, allowing for the scope of investigation and the creation of the oracular device to be extended to the two territories involved. The visitor to the exhibition is confronted with the two sculptures silently facing each other. Created through the same process, contiguous like the territories they represent, eloquently cryptic as only oracles are. They challenge us to imagine dialogues yet to come, while providing much information about these territories. Isn’t this the stuff that dreams are also made of?
José Alberto Ferreira, artistic director of the Art and Culture Center of the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation
Sculptures of the Future for the Alentejo
The ALVEX art project, VEXTRE’s siamese sibling ‘on the border’, is ongoing. Al(entejo) V(irtual) Ex(tremadura) is the new result of the collaboration among Maite Cajaraville, the Art and Culture Center of the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation (FEA) and the Extremeño and Ibero-American Museum of Contemporary Art (MEIAC). ALVEX translates into the language of art a meticulous collection, and a no less pointillist analysis of the socioeconomic data of the Portuguese Alentejo. As VEXTRE does, it invites reflection on the conditioning factors of the present and the possibilities of the future of an entire region. The project will be presented on February 19 in the setting of incomparable beauty of the city of Évora, and it will do so in a big way, since on this occasion the 3D physical piece and the expanded reality virtual one will be shown at the same time.
Alentejo, Extremadura. Art and Territor(ies)
The regions of Extremadura and Alentejo coexist in a unique geographical, social and cultural environment. A territory characterized by vernacular relations of neighborhood between the inhabitants of both sides that gravitate around the border that divides Spain and Portugal. A permeable border, which we call here The Line, a concept that defines this environment at the same time physical and emotional, with ambiguous limits. A territory overloaded by a common feeling of the periphery in which the relationship with the other was absolutely necessary to alleviate the feeling of isolation of the self. A place that, as a result of this peripheral condition, today faces a complex process of collective uprooting whose most immediate consequences we are beginning to feel.
What is the current reality of this cross-border periphery? What are their needs? What will the future of its inhabitants look like in the face of an increasingly aggressive globalization? Can culture help to stop the evident development of social desertification by offering real instruments to alleviate the needs of its territor(ies)?
It is in this cross-border area that the MEIAC, a museum dependent on the Junta de Extremadura, and the Centro de Arte e Cultura Fundação Eugénio de Almeida are located. Two high-impact cultural projects created from the idea of territory. Two administratively distinct entities that, with their particular realities and contemporary art, have been working for the social and cultural promotion of Estremadura and Alentejo. of their territories.
The natural border symbiotic tendency allowed that, after a series of sporadic previous experiences, in 2018 the Junta de Extremadura and the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation signed a Collaboration Agreement for the exchange of exhibition projects between MEIAC and the Centro de Arte e Cultura , with which to stimulate the interest in knowing the reality of the other through the work of current artists related to their territories. A necessary alliance was formalized between two entities that understand that contemporary art can (and should) be another piece that contributes to the growth of their territory. A shared territory.
Included in the scope of this collaboration agreement, in 2021 the VEXTRE (Virtual Extremadura) was presented at the MEIAC in Badajoz, a project by the artist from Extremadura Maite Cajaraville around the concept of expanded reality in the region of Extremadura, and which, as contemplated, would arrive in Évora during the first months of 2022. In this short space of time, VEXTRE, naturally, almost spontaneously (like almost everything that happens on the line), grew following a logic assumed here for the Alentejo, expanding its narrative to this territory common, so lacking in visibility as a strategic unit for joint and sustainable growth.
AL(entejo)V(irtual)EX(tremadura) is, in short, a realistic landscape of the territory that some of us inhabit in Extremadura and Alentejo. An absolutely objective view of nature, elaborated in a demiurgic-technological process in which data extracted from the multiple realities with which we live are shaped. ALVEX (de)materializes the truth of the territory and transfers it, aseptically, to the viewer, offering a powerful tool for analysis and knowledge of this shared whole that are the two regions and their line.
This exhibition closes a stage of collaboration between MEIAC and the Center for Art and Culture. This experience allowed us to introduce powerful potential elements for a reflection and study of our immediate future, from which we can explore the real possibilities that contemporary art and culture can contribute to a global (non-globalized) growth of our territory. From Estremadura and Alentejo, MEIAC and the Centro de Arte e Cultura are already working on this next step, confirming their full relevance as effective agents for the cultural, social and economic development of the two regions within the framework of cross-border cooperation between Spain and Portugal. .
Francisco T. Cerezo Vacas, MEIAC’s art technician and curator