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Sublinhando o oculto e o elusivo na arte de Lourdes Castro.

Underlining the hidden and the elusive in the art of Lourdes Castro


The article consists of personal reflections on selected works by Portuguese artist Lourdes Castro. It explores hypothetical, yet potential narratives through contemplation, and an analysis of Castro's main theme of shadows, particularly interpretations of silhouettes of people. The study is effectuated in the light of the author's deliberate unawareness of the artist's full background and initial thinking, and an intentional control of information associated with it.

I don't think artists own the meaning of their work, they couldn't possibly. It's not possible that they a) understand everything that they're doing that's motivating them at a given moment, and it's certainly not possible for them to encompass in their own minds all of the future meanings that their work we'll acquire, as it moves through time. And if it's lucky as it keeps garnering attention, and people keep writing about it, and it will be changed in different times (Smith, 2018).

Taking into consideration Smith's (2018) opinion, the article is an attempt to see through and past the presented subject matters of Castro. It investigates a subjective perception of a visual artist (author), drawn from a strictly visual observation of the work of another visual artist (Castro), devoid from the pressures of accuracy, and away from any subliminal influence residing from a previous exposure to the artist's inspiration or core message intended to be conveyed.

Lourdes Castro is a Portuguese visual artist who was born in 1930 in Funchal, Madeira, where she currently lives. Widely known for her Shadow theme, the artist has produced an array of purified silhouette interpretations, mostly depicting people, flowers, or random objects. This article looks closely at some of the shadow works depicting human silhouettes of women and men.

1. The presentation of subject matters

If I apprehend the look, I cease to perceive the eyes; they are there, they remain in the field of my perception as pure presentations, but I do not make any use of them; they are neutralized, put out of play; they are no longer the object of a thesis but remain in that state of "disconnection" in which the world is put by a consciousness practicing the phenomenological reduction prescribed by Husserl (Sartre, 1953:258).

Liberated from any informative detail, surrounding clutter, objects, or location, Castro's minimalist subject matters can only be distinguished through their defined outer shape. Incognito, some of them can only be identified through the title of the work. A few of them are represented with their full body, floating inside the frame of the artwork (Figure 1).

Some others are enlarged and cropped to perfectly align with a corner, accentuating a specific area of the body, such as a bust, a head, arms and hands, amongst other choices. It is noted that "the anonymity of our body is inseparably both freedom and servitude", and the ambiguity of being in the world "is translated by that of the body, and this is understood through that of time" (Merleau-Ponty, 1945:98).

Rather than having a model posing, sitting or lying down, facing the viewer, waiting to be portrayed, the mysterious subjects are seen from a profile view. Stripped down from any distracting feature, they are caught in the middle of an action, ritual, or habit from the everyday life including sleeping, lying down, thinking, smoking, drinking coffee, and combing hair (Figure 2).

What could normally be perceived as the habitual here irradiates a palpable feeling of intimacy, a cocooned comfort and the freedom of letting go when we are not being observed, or when we closely know the observer (Figure 3). With this freedom of being alone, we are in our "own nothingness", our very being escapes and we are absolutely nothing, nothing is left but a "pure nothingness encircling a certain objective ensemble and throwing it into relief outlined upon the world" (Sartre, 1953:259). In this state of "pure consciousness of things", our attitude is a pure mode of losing ourselves in the world, of causing ourselves to be "drunk in by things"... until we are seen. The moment we are aware that we're being looked at, we become vulnerable, aware that we "have a body which can be hurt", and that we occupy a place that we can not in any case escape from the space in which we are without defence. This is the very moment we get reduced to an object of the other (Sartre, 1953:260).

At this stage, Castro's subjects are absorbed in this pure duration and the endured qualitative experience of sensation, while it's happening, free from the ego's control and its tendency to separate the present state from the previous one. They unfold in the actual time, time free from space, from measurable quantity, moving smoothly and amorphously through oscillations and waves (Bergson, 1888:44).

By trying to frame, catch, or freeze this intricate moment in time on a flat surface, Castro joins mind and matter, where memory intersects (Bergson, 1896:3), suggesting a desire to share this witnessed experience of closeness. At the same time, by isolating information and omitting details, there's a strong desire to keep this memory of the moment safe and precious, kept to oneself, out of the eye of the viewer. We can establish an empirical fact of something kept secretive but not hidden, only reduced, pointing to a lack of possession, or perhaps an intentional dismissal, all evoking loss.

We fear the loss of the circle of loved objects who are "attacked in phantasy" (Klein, 1940:126). When loosing a loved person, the mourner has the impulses to reinstate both "the lost loved object in the ego" and "his internalized good objects (ultimately his loved parents)" (Klein, 1940:134-5). In that case, Castro's subject matters possibly present the empty place occupied by the lost object, and therefore imply a "loss of the loss" (Zizek, 2005:59).

2. The presentation of content

I wish to emphasize that things are in a space with oneself, rather than ... [that] one is in a space surrounded by things. (Morris apud Fried, 1998:154)

Using delineated shadows and lines in several resourceful ways, Castro's interpretations of sharp silhouettes experiment with levels of transparencies, pushing her compositions to an intricate celebration of harmonious juxtapositions. An amalgamation including absolute opacity and clearness with 0 degree texture, intersected levels in-between, light and dark shades, tone-on-tone or overlapping hues, filled and blank outlines, and positive and negative spaces (Figure 4).

The result of the finished artworks manifests a state of enigmatic suspense, exuding a sense of a hanging presence or absence. Or perhaps a sense of absence or presence, questioning the notion and order of time, and the implication of an oscillating hidden dimension where an elusive event could be taking place.

The viewer feels invited to search for missing fragments, and to participate in a playful search ofhide and seek in the purpose of completing the puzzle. Absence, in the sense of what has been or what is to come, "manifests itself as a mode of presence" (Heidegger, 1972:17), and is determined by a presencing--which isn't necessarily the present--opening up a "time-space" of a four-dimensional "true time" consisting in the mutual reaching out and opening up of future, past and present. United, the three dimensions of time interplay each toward each, and consequently implicate a fourth dimension (Heidegger, 1972:15) (Figure 5).

When time and "Being" belong together, they become the "event of Appropriation", where the event is not simply an occurrence but "that which makes any occurrence possible" (Heidegger, 1972:19). The economic concept "differance" designating the production of differing/deferring, does not resist appropriation and does not impose an exterior limit upon it (Derrida, 1967:92). Differance is what makes the opposition of presence and absence possible. Without its possibility "the desire of presence as such would not find its breathingspace" (Derrida, 1967:188).

3. The re-presentation of subject matters

By their mass, Castro's subjects are devoid from materiality, thus absent, and could have escaped to another space behind the artwork through an invisible door, where hinges are outlines. Left as ghostly hollow forms, the subjects leave shaped trails behind as a proof, a mark of an anterior presence, or "trace" (Derrida, 1967:xvi) (Figure 6).

By their shape, the subjects seem to be simultaneously free in their movement and own nothingness; and at the same time petrified, "One and Immobile" (Badiou, 1988:291), locked and confined within the artwork's dimensions and edges, thus present by their absence. The real subjects had already existed in Castro's life before the artwork, where Castro still had control over representing them. By becoming the mysterious artwork, they transcendented "beyond of their One" (Badiou, 1988:17), taking control, making room for a virtual event, replaced by simulacrums, leaving a void behind.

Nothing is presentable in a situation otherwise than under the effect of structure, that is, under the form of the one and its composition in consistent multiplicities. Obliged to be a result, the one of the count leaves a phantom remainder of the multiple not originally being in the form of the one (Badiou, 1988:52).

It is observed that "nothing" is an unperceivable gap, cancelled then renewed. When this nothing is "scattered all over, nowhere and everywhere", it is no longer presentable and becomes a void (Badiou, 1988:54). If the shape of the voided silhouettes is the copy of the liberated transcendented one, we then have an invisible repetition, where the virtual copy is a hyperreal copy of the real one, though not exactly like it, only more exact. It "no longer resemble anything, except the empty figure of resemblance, the empty form of representation" and is "a question of life or death". Thus "there is no real", the third dimension being the imaginary of a two-dimensional world, the fourth that of a three-dimensional universe (Baudrillard, 1981:32). Without the notion of space, we can't see these fictitious copies of subjects.

Having multiplied, the subjects of Castro have disguised themselves in constituting themselves (Deleuze, 1994:17), hence they are in motion, hanging in time and space, coexisting in parallel spaces, here and there, concurring in a simultaneous act of presence and absence, inside and outside the artwork.

With this new widened dimension, the typical scene of holding a cup of coffee or a cigarette turns into a phenomenon in space and time, but still preserves a sense of factuality. The dynamic subjects in action are mobilised in one static dimension, but in motion in an invisible other. If time is non-linear and in flux, the present needs to pass in order for this motion to exist and for time to move (Bergson, 1896:61-2). With this merging of past and present through time and memory, Castro's subjects have entered "internal circuits" and now live in a subjective duration (Bergson 1896:61-2) (Figure 7).


By creating figurative representations of human silhouettes, Castro's work is initially studied and premeditated to portray a controlled and accurate resemblance to her perception of reality, making her subject matters and her memory of them immortal.

By doing so, Castro creates an eternal bond with her silhouettes, saving them from loss and disintegration. We can't be completely sure if and how mourning might have infiltrated in Castro's lost subjects, but if art truly "secures for the artist a 'sublimatory hold over the lost Thing" without "simply turning mourning into mania" Kristeva's (1992:97), we can assume that for Castro, art is a primordial source of comfort and support, a tangible weapon against absence, separation and probably death, but most importantly a timeless celebration of life.

We can't know either if during her artistic process, Castro's conveyal of the complex notion of space and time happened by pure chance or by pure intentionality. Maybe it was a bit of both. Looking back at the figures of Castro's selected works, we notice that some mediums include plexiglass, crystal, and PVC film, materials with reflective surfaces, which have crystalline properties. To that end, they hold the possibility of reflecting "crystal-images" (Deleuze, 1985:82), and can help elaborate further on the concept of splitting of time and how we move in it (Figure 8).

We can conclude that Castro's work, far from being flat, has room for infinite scenarios and possibilities, and her ubiquitous silhouettes are far from being static. Caught in their memorable action, they transform two-dimensional artworks into fathomless dimensions, and still representations into dynamic performances, happening at this same moment, and where the now is forever.


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RAJAA PAIXAO, Libano, artista visual.

Artigo completo submetido a 3 de janeiro de 2019 e aprovado a 28 janeiro 2019.

AFILIACAO: Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Belas-Artes (FBAUL), Centro de investigacao e Estudos em Belas Artes (CIEBA). Largo da Academia Nacional de Belas Artes 14, 1249-058 Lisboa, Portugal. E-mail:

Leyenda: Figure 1 * Lourdes Castro, sem titulo. Paper, serigraphy. Modern Collection, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. Source: Serigrafia works_cam/sem-titulo-153818/

Leyenda: Figure 2 * Lourdes Castro, Ombre portee de Rene Bertholo, 1968. Silkscreen on Plexiglas. Artnet. Source: ombreport%C3%A9e-de-ren%C3%A9-bertholo-2-works-CXLMkzntnN_BnJjw_jEmYQ2

Leyenda: Figure 3 * Lourdes Castro, Sombra projectada de Arroyo, 1971. Rodhoid, serigraphy. Modern Collection, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. Source: https://

Leyenda: Figure 4 * Lourdes Castro, Untitled. Silkscreen. Artnet. Source: http://www.artnet. com/artists/lourdes-castro/untitled-0cEAgy_MJdFQa4JnLEl4Kw2

Leyenda: Figure 5 * Lourdes Castro, Sombra projectada de Solange Dias, 1973. Paper, silkscreen. Modern Collection, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. Source:

Leyenda: Figure 6 * Lourdes Castro, Ohne Titel. Print on PVC film. Artnet. Source: http://

Leyenda: Figure 7 * Lourdes Castro, Pause cafe. Color silkscreen. Artnet. Source:

Leyenda: Figure 8 * Lourdes Castro, Ombre verte table top sculpture, 1974. Crystal, chromed metal. Artnet. Source: ombre-verte-table-top-sculpture-WbSL-IIxjZ5PIqhcfkrTfA2
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Title Annotation:Artigos originais
Author:Paixao, Rajaa
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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