Interview with Mónica Mindelis

Artistic Residency in Guimarães

We were in conversation with Mónica Mindelis, who was in Guimarães developing a painting on one of the staircase that connects Avenida Conde de Margaride to Plataforma das Artes e da Criatividade. The artwork in public space is part of the AMAR O MINHO artistic residency program, promoted by the MINHO IN consortium (consisting of the Alto Minho, Cávado and Ave Intermunicipal Communities).

What was your reaction when you were invited to join this AMAR O MINHO artistic residency project?

I was very happy. It had been my wish for a while. I already felt that my work asked to leave the canvas, and I already had and have some public art projects in mind. So, I was very happy, I thought it could be the beginning of these works that I want to do.

Was the collection of the Centro Internacional de Artes José de Guimarães the inspiration for the realization of this artwork in public space?

I still didn’t know which public space I was going to work in, but I visited the Centro Internacional de Artes José de Guimarães several times. I was collecting material that interested me and I tried to identify points of dialogue between my work and the pieces in the [José de Guimarães] collection. I remember that, before I knew the space where I was going to work, an element of the museum that caught my attention was the pre-Columbian art, the textile pieces, because they were funeral pieces, made to accompany the dead person.

When I heard that I was going to work here on these stairs, I saw the possibility of continuing the work that I was already doing, because I had already taken these wefts, these nets, these meshes into drawing and painting, and I thought that here I could do a counterpoint to pre-Columbian art. This space was not as it is now, it was dirty, with very high bushes and, as far as I know, people did not use these stairs. So, I thought I could start from a “dead” place and build a piece where life could go through.

Why the name “Escadaria do Amanhecer” (Staircase of Dawn) attributed to this work?

The starting point for this work was the work that I exhibited at zet gallery at the end of last year. This is part of a series that I developed over the past two years, which is called “Sonho de voo” (Dream of flight). It is a series that has two moments, the second moment being the one that was presented at zet gallery. I built a large object of raffia because I have been working and sewing the raffia by hand for so long, so that expression of the meshes and the weft came to the drawing and my painting.

One of the works on display [at zet gallery] is called “AMANHECER” (DAWN), and I thought it made sense to bring this work here, also because of the colours I used in the painting. Because I think they make a dialogue with the colours that I identified from pre-Columbian art in the museum. But I also think they make a dialogue with part of the entire collection, both African and Oriental and with the work of José de Guimarães… Of course, with the necessary changes, but I brought a lot of this work “Amanhecer” (Dawn) here and knowing the history of this place I thought it made perfect sense to be the same “Amanhecer” (Dawn).

What is the main message present in this artwork in public space?

In this work, I am very interested in the possibility of requalifying the place. I find interesting this counterpoint that I have talked about. In Pre-Columbian art, pieces were made to accompany a dead person and here I can get out of a dead place to leave a space for the lives that will pass through here.  I also find it very interesting from what I read; the way pre-Columbian pieces were made. That is a ritual, normally they would be performed by more than one person, but that was a ritual for a funeral and the beauty of those pieces would not be seen by many people. At least, not by a majority.

And here, I think it has this interesting part of the process. People ask a lot about how it will look and at least for me, what interests me is that. It is the process; it is being able to requalify the space and I think… I used adequate and durable materials, but if it starts to get worn out and damaged by use, I think it will have managed to achieve its purpose, which is to make this place accessible to the museum.

In this work, you explore a lot the use of lines, colours and spots. What meaning do they have in your artistic work?

They can have many meanings. As I said, this comes up with the series “Sonho de voo” (Dream of flight) that comes from a thinker who nourishes my work, which is Gaston Bachelard, who said that “the dream of flight is to escape a set of painful performances”. And I start a little from there, this net, this plot can be for… This “flight” you want to take can be to escape a set of painful performances.

It can also represent a net or a veil that is placed in our eyes and that does not allow us to see certain things. It may be this net that unites us… and now more than ever that we know how we can infect each other. I think a lot of readings can be done. I, at least, manage to do a lot of readings from here and I hope that the people who see this artwork can also have their readings.

What does it mean for you to have an artwork in public space here in the city where Portugal was born?

For me, it represents a lot, no doubt. It is a place that I enjoy. It is my first public artwork here in the city where Portugal was born, and I hope that this series of projects that I mentioned I really want to accomplish can also be born. It is a city that I have a very special affection for. It is also my husband’s city and where I enjoy being with my family. I am always very well received here. This whole process, the response and the interest of the people was spectacular. It is very important and above all very pleasant.

The work on this staircase breaks with the typical urban art concept with the strong presence of the painting of faces. This is a work that departs from the figurative and is, at the same time, a very delicate and elegant work. Was this the result you expected/imagined?

Thank you. I think that is a compliment. I am quite happy with the result. I did a lot of studies and I see that I came very close to what I proposed. I think that the fact of escaping the public art that we usually see from the faces, that is part of the curator [Helena Mendes Pereira] who chose more elegant works, as you said because she thinks that is what cities need, more elegance.

What comments have you received from people who have been passing by? How do people interpret this staircase? You said there was someone who associated this work with a piano, for example.

People are interested. They want to know more, and I think that is the most important and the most interesting. The vast majority said good things, they liked it and when I talk a little more about the work people were even more interested and liked it even more. But I think a very interesting part is also when a person says, “I don’t appreciate contemporary art”, but then asks something related to the artwork and says, “now I can see something, I get it”. I think that makes this whole process more interesting. I have not received unanimous comments, thankfully, nor do I have that claim.

But, in general, people are very interested and very happy with the possibility of using this space again. People ask a lot about how this space will look, what will happen here, how it will be if it will be possible to use it… Others say, “at last, these stairs needed some life”. The feedback was very much in that direction. I’ve been told that this staircase looks like a piano, but also that it looks like a big carpet or a flowing river.

You said that for you Minho is Memory. Do you want to explain what these memories are?

It is memory because we will inevitably revisit history, and especially Guimarães. But it is also a very personal memory. My grandparents are all Portuguese. I remember, for example, at one time, I was 6 years old and still did not know Portugal, and my grandfather brought me a little outfit from Viana do Castelo and I never wanted to take it out, not even to sleep. I revisit my family’s story here. It is a memory in that sense, in which it brings out the archaeologist part of inside of us because we want to know more about our ancestors and their history.

You will be in another artistic residency, in Vila Verde. Are you leaving here more motivated for this next project?

Yes, absolutely. I didn’t know I was going to work here on this staircase. I didn’t imagine how big it would be and it was a very big challenge. A while ago I said that I can’t say that now I feel like I can do everything, but I feel that I am capable of much.  I’m going to be much more at ease, with a lot more motivation.