A OUTRA MÁQUINA DE FAZER ESPANHÓIS (the other machine for making spaniards)

solo exhibition of Juan Domingues (VE, 1981)

from the novel by Valter Hugo Mãe (AO, 1971)

January 29 to April 16, 2022, zet gallery, Braga


The first photograph that Juan Domingues (VE, 1981) sent me of works that are part of the exhibition A OUTRA MÁQUINA DE FAZER ESPANHÓIS (the other machine for making spaniards) was of a kind of Pietà (or Piety), iconographic image from Christian art in which the Virgin Mary is represented with the dead body of Jesus in her arms. In the case of Juan Domingues, this mother of all believers in Christ holds the dead body of an old man who dies alone, far from his own. Loneliness is one of the great fears of postmodern society and it is also my greatest fear: dying lonely means that you have lived lonely for a (considerable) part of your life. Not alone, but lonely.

I was blocked for days and couldn’t think of anything. Not in Juan Domingues, nor these works, much less in the exhibition and in the yellow – Valter Hugo Mãe’s (AO, 1971) favourite colour because “when we use it, it seems that we let the sun in”, no matter how dark, Dantean, bad the scenery is – with which we painted part of the walls of the zet gallery, not only for the sun to come in, but for the novel to notice itself in the words and the essence of the whole curatorial proposal.

However, as I said, I was blocked with that Pietà by Juan Domingues and I, who have seen this iconography so many times, represented by the greatest names in the History of Art and works in some of the biggest museums in the world, didn’t know how to change the world if my viscera didn’t even know how to deal with that way of having the faith that, some mother, will carry us in the end.

He believed he was dying. He told me so repeatedly. I never paid any attention. I assured him he was just depressed. I told him he was being Irish.

But I wonder what he meant when he said in the taxi that everything he had done was worthless.

Why was he taking stock of his life?

Why such a definitive view? 

And what was my stance, what did I say, did I reply to the equivalent of don’t be ridiculous, don’t call attention to yourself, what are we doing for dinner? 

Is that what the living always say to the dying?

What do you feel like having for dinner?[1]

I recently saw the beautiful documentary “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” about Joan Didion (USA, 1934-2021), produced by her nephew Griffin Dunne (USA, 1955), and I remembered a monologue by Eunice Muñoz (PT, 1928) that I attended years ago in which the Portuguese actress interpreted the theatre version of “The Year of Magical Thinking”, a text that comes from the memories of the American woman in the year that follows the death of her husband, her lifelong companion, and her daughter. The day I attended that show, which I have never forgotten, I realised that the illness and death of those closest to me were subjects that I did not know, nor do I know, how to deal with. The thought of someone’s end is terrifying and the way of that end even more so.

The first time I read Valter Hugo Mãe’s “a máquina de fazer espanhóis” (the machine for making spaniards), I was watching the slow death of my maternal grandfather, bedridden, but in his house where, until the last day, he deserved the family’s care.

We are always looking for solutions and we never learn that there are no solutions. Our solutions are just patches, and we live with them, patch by patch. But in good logic, if there is no solution, there will also be no problem; or that the problem and the solution are one and the same thing. So the best thing you can do when you have a problem is to live it.[2]

My grandfather’s illness was a problem with no apparent solution, so it was not a problem at all, but just a circumstance that was part of all of our lives for more than a decade. After watching the documentary, I relived all this and I felt like writing this text about this beautiful project to which, at a certain point, Juan Domingues challenged me, not knowing that Valter Hugo Mãe’s novel, at a certain moment of my life, had dictated a commitment that I established with my loved ones: not to abandon them and to guarantee that they live in the best way possible until the last day, either in an institution or in the house they built, if that is possible. And if there are no conditions to live with dignity, may each one of us enjoy that last and full act of Freedom which is to choose between living or dying.

Life and death are two reciprocal conditions and, to paraphrase Montaigne, what madness is it to marvel at seeing birth and at the same time be saddened by death? With sudden, unexpected, violent death, one understands. But with death on a horizon of a sense of life that is fulfilled, no. Therefore, in a society that artificially prolongs life, the possibility of refusing it must be a question of citizenship that involves us all.

Not only in the face of painful cases where the incurable disease has no treatment that can be stopped. But also as a faculty, of a full life, of a person, even if not dying, to be able to decide to anticipate death voluntarily, in conditions that do not conflict with a duty to live, which should not be thought of so much as of each one directed towards himself, as of each one always wanting others to live, a life in which the genuine, persistent and unconditioned will of the people themselves prevails. In a society of upcoming centenarians, it is reasonable to take as normal and human the concern of each person to decide when and how they will no longer wish to continue, for reasons of life, life. And not to pursue it only for dead reasons.[3]

I fight for affirming that curatorship is a process of communication of contemporary art, and I fight for curatorship to have, as a purpose, that Art in our time is the motto so that we can think, debate, reflect on the small and big issues of these days when we tend to feel that we live in a swamp and that we, the privileged ones, have the obligation and the responsibility to change the world. Art can change the world.

In A OUTRA MÁQUINA DE FAZER ESPANHÓIS (the other machine for making spaniards) we want to reflect on what it means to be old. On the daily routines of old age amidst the 21st century. Euthanasia: yes or no and under what circumstances? Perhaps Valter Hugo Mãe, a writer who needs no introduction, has anticipated a reality that we seem to have woken up to in the middle of a pandemic: for those who are old, being old means, in many cases, being a burden; for those who are not, it means that as well. But is this the only meeting point between the different generations?

The intensity and genius of the novel “a máquina de fazer espanhóis” (the machine for making spaniards) questions us about this generational lag and about how the word abandonment has become part of the end of life of those who have dedicated their lives to others and possess knowledge that is not always found in books or on Google. In 2021, the novel merited a re-edition, and our visual artist Juan Domingues was invited to produce a set of works whose reproduction would illustrate the re-edition.

Juan Domingues is, in my opinion, one of the most remarkable painters of his generation. Yes, because in the case of Juan Domingues we are talking fundamentally about painting, in an exercise of homage to the great masters of baroque expression and emotion, of romantic values, of realistic novelty, to which he adds the body, the gesture and the movement of a performative attitude to painting, which he inherits from American abstract expressionism, from the beginning of the second half of the 20th century. For Juan Domingues, painting is the action of the body with the pictorial matter, from the naked and visceral observation of the world around us.

Through the work of Juan Domingues, I recall Willem de Kooning’s action painting (1904-1997) or the absolute freedom of palette and gesture of Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), but I also see again the untimely baroque of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1649) and the boldness of Gustave Courbet (1819-1877). Willem de Kooning, in fact, during his time at Black Mountain College[4], experimented with performance, proposing a scenography exercise that was, in itself, an extension of his own body.

Above all, there is in Juan Domingues a painting without time and place, close to each and every one of us. Juan Domingues’ painting thus occupies the space of gesture and freedom, in a fervent expression of colour that expands across supports through an ambitious performative attitude. The perfection of his mimesis is a catalyst of an emotional and sensitive tissue, on the surface of the skin and in the entrails, that makes us live the stories of these characters, representative of the present and the future of each one of us.

The body of work presented in A OUTRA MÁQUINA DE FAZER ESPANHÓIS (the other machine for making spaniards) impresses us by the roughness and sensitivity he puts into everything, the stubbornness for choosing the most difficult scenes to read and, who knows, to narrate. We are not indifferent to this mixture of faith and discouragement in the expressions of those represented, with the absence and presence of the will to live that can be felt on each face. This exhibition is therefore about life and death.

In comparison with the illustrations in the novel, in the original and larger works, Juan Domingues remains faithful to colour and to the strength of the novelty of the outline that is sometimes hidden, sometimes revealed. It invites us to stop but also forgives us if the image disturbs us, with the characters seeming to question and blame us. To tell the truth, in the relationship with the elderly, with old age, we are all to blame, we are all or have been negligent at some point in our lives.

Juan Domingues was born in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. As a child he came to Portugal, having settled, until today, in Cantanhede, district of Coimbra. He has a degree in Painting from the University School of Arts of Coimbra (ARCA-EUAC). He has exhibited, individually and collectively and has seen the recognition of his work in prizes such as the Aveiro Young Creator, the D. Fernando II Prize in Sintra, among others. His career has been highlighted by Artreview Magazine and Showcase London. He is represented in several public and private collections, in Portugal and abroad, such as, for example, the Drawing Dreams Foundation in Berkley, California (USA).

Juan Domingues started working with zet gallery and me as early as 2017, in my first year here. Throughout this period we have been in contact and collaborated on different projects, and it was with us that he made his first artworks in public spaces. I have written about his work several times and have always been a keen fan of the instinctive performative acts that underlie his painting.

Months ago Juan Domingues told me about a project with Valter Hugo Mãe, a writer I admire. And one day he told me all about the re-edition of the major novel, “a máquina de fazer espanhóis” (the machine for making spaniards), first published in 2010 by Porto Editora, and how excited he was about the possibility of communicating with words, turning into images a story that has suddenly, with this tenebrous pandemic, become routine: the living conditions of the elderly, the feeling of abandonment that is part of the daily lives of many and the consequences that all this entails for each one and what it says about us as a society, as a community, as a collective.

The zet gallery, as part of the large family that is the dstgroup, likes to have the ambition to be the backbone of what is advocated in the group and to promote humanistic values and holistic and metadisciplinary forms of knowledge. In this sense, thinking the world from an exhibition in which the artwork is inspired by a literary work seemed perfect for our intentions. We got enthusiastic about Juan Domingues and wanted to own the first time and space to present this project.

Therefore, in “A OUTRA MÁQUINA DE FAZER ESPANHÓIS” (the other machine for making spaniards), zet gallery presents, for the first time, the original artworks that Juan Domingues produced for the re-edition of this novel, whose topicality and relevance are revealed at every moment. Dozens of works, including drawings and paintings, in a balance between black and white and colour, a diversity of formats and even a site-specific work that the artist developed in the context of an artistic residence in the week before the inauguration on 29 January 2022. The expographic narrative develops, in a free form, from Valter Hugo Mãe’s novel that we also invite to present, in this context, artworks of his authorship.

Throughout the exhibition (until 16 April 2022) we will be touching a sore spot and organising another AGORA DE CÁ about what it’s like to be old today. We will talk about euthanasia. There will be OPEN DAYS with guided tours of the exhibition. And there will be, above all, an immense will to continue changing the world from here, believing that it is up to the structures of creation and programming to be agents of change, promoting other practices, beyond the emotional swamp that plagues the polis.

As museums respond to issues affecting their communities, both locally and globally, there is a clear shift toward focusing on human connection, emotion, and experience as well as the role museums will play as catalysts for social isolation, and self-segregation. With shared empathy, individuals can move from isolation to belonging, from division to connection, from suspicion to trust, and come together to begin the hard work of creating a cohesive diverse community that values and gives opportunity to all its residents.[5]

Helena Mendes Pereira


[1] DIDION, Joan –  The Year of Magical Thinking – the play  (2007). Porto: D. Maria II National Theatre/Bicho do Mato, 2009. Page 28.

[2] D’ORS, Pablo –  Biography of Silence: An Essay on Meditation. Prior Velho: Paulinas, 2020 (5th edition). Page 95.

[3] BARATA, André –  E se parássemos de sobreviver? Pequeno livro para pensar e agir contra a ditadura do tempo. (What if we stopped surviving? Small book to think and act against the dictatorship of the time.) Lisbon: Documenta/Sistema Solar, 2018. Page 99.

[4] GOLDBERG, RoseLee – Performance Art. From Futurism to the Present. Lisbon: Orfeu Negro para Portugal, 2012.  Page 156.

[5] MURAWSKI, Mike – Museums as agents of change. A Guide for Becoming a Changemaker. London: Rowman & Littlefield. Page 8.