At the beginning of the year 2016, ProjectoMap had a conversation with the artist Nuno Sousa Vieira, during the installation of his exhibition "From Darkness to Light" at Galeria Graça Brandão in Lisbon. This is the first time we publish a visit to an exhibition installation, rather than the conventional artist studio visit.

"From Darkness to Light" was shown at Galeria Graça Brandão from January 16 to February 27, 2016. An exhibition consisting of two sets of images, one of which gives the name to the exhibition "From Darkness to Light", a hand-painted video slide for the Lanterna Mágica, from the beginning of the 20th century. In this exhibition, Nuno Sousa Vieira addressed the issue of light, a subject that also has appeared in past exhibitions as e.g. two years ago in his exhibition in São Paulo called “Ouvi Dizer que o lugar mais escuro é sempre debaixo da luz” (“I heard that the darkest spot is always under the light”). He showed great concerns for the contrasts existing between the image and drawing itself, as well as the space of the gallery. This discussion gained life in his PhD thesis written at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon (FBAUL).

We would like to thank the artist for helping us opening this new format of the “Studio Visit”, and congratulate him once again for completing his PhD. Thank you, Nuno.


ProjectoMap: You are the first artist whom we didn’t visit in the studio, but during the exhibition installation at their gallery. Thus, you started a new program in our ProjectoMap’s studio visits. 

Nuno Sousa Vieira: It makes sense, because one of the first things I say is: my studio is me, and where I am. There is a paradigmatic place in my work in recent years, which is my studio. My studio has several peculiarities that I think are very strong these days. It is an abandoned space, an industrial space, which also puts me in confrontation with my human scale. And then I don’t have the ability to take care of the architecture and so it continues to deteriorate...

ProjectoMap: Where is it exactly?

Nuno Sousa Vieira: In Leiria. 

ProjectoMap: Is it where your father worked?

Nuno Sousa Vieira: Yes. 

ProjectoMap: And do you see it (the studio) as a space of darkness and when you come to the gallery space that is the space of light? 

Nuno Sousa Vieira: There is something that accompanies me, the way I look at the world is a way of life, and there is no line between me as an artist or not being an artist. Parallel to this, I develop a teaching activity with my students, which for me as a person is vital because it allows me to worry about subjects that wouldn’t come to me so naturally. It makes me understand them in another way. Therefore it modifies my creative process, and my awareness begins to be very decisive in regard to my artistic choices and research. But also in regard to the exhibitions I make, including the design of the works itself.

ProjectoMap: In fact, as we explained we had to make a “pause” in constructing and maintaining ProjectoMap, since it is a non-profit project, which we are completely passionate about. Now, there are more than 300 artists in our database and they are still not all online (with biographies, images, etc.). The truth is that we lack a lot of ‘arms’ in the team. ProjectoMap is very real and it becomes a horizontal map by the way the artists invite each other, and it is precisely because of this, that it is not a site, but a project. One of its characteristics is the direct contact with the artists. We thought we had to make these direct contacts again, and after all it got to be you, and instead of the habitual studio visit we started with an exhibition set-up. This passage is not innocent, it does not happen just by chance...

Nuno Sousa Vieira: In the end, this exhibition is a model of my own studio. In other words, this is the roof, the pitch roof we see here is upside down. There is an advanced part that exists in the front entrance and what we see here is a group of wood models. This [points out to an artwork] is actually the floor from the studio. 

ProjectoMap: And how did you end up in the studio where your father worked? You work a lot on the construction of the object. You do a lot of ready-mades...

Nuno Sousa Vieira: My academic background is very unusual. I started in Porto; I went to Caldas da Rainha and came to Lisbon. I'm the only one who was not born in Porto, I was born in Leiria because my father was a professional soccer player and he finishes his career playing in the União de Leiria Club. My father only went to the factory with the perspective of getting a job, to give his life some continuity. So a member of the União de Leiria was a partner of this company, and my father ends up going there. It started out as an industry of plastics, buckets, and toys for kids. I know that entire factory. I have also worked there more than once on vacations. Years later, I asked the owners, which are friends of my family, if I could go there to work, and they gave me the space, where I am now since 2001.

ProjectoMap: Alone?

Nuno Sousa Vieira: During a lot of time I worked with Rita, my wife and also an artist. 

ProjectoMap: Is it difficult to inhabit that space?

Nuno Sousa Vieira: In 2008/2009 there was a fire, very close to the factory voltage point. For safety reasons the light and the water were cut off. And how can you work in a space without water and without light? You don’t work. Or it might work in another way and that is what I'm trying to find out. There are people who have very small studios and they work, and there is also others that have bigger spaces... I have a lot of space but I do not have the right conditions. That’s why this question of light, which I do permanently without it, is very important to us. However it obliges me to be highly “elastic”, to rethink my entire creative process, over and over again.

ProjectoMap: And since 2008 you don’t have light? Is it difficult to work without light? So your final test is the moment of the exhibition installation? 

Nuno Sousa Vieira: No. It's not a defined strategy, it turned out to be this way. So I have another problem at this point: how do you maintain security in a factory of that size? All abandoned factories are quickly vandalized. The factory is not the same as it was in 2008. I started to remove things from there to produce; which means every object I take away, I work about its absence.

ProjectoMap: In this research, we talk about absence, light, repetition; these always lead us to a different place. There seems to be an artistic orientation, what is this path and what are the problems that define your work as an artist?

Nuno Sousa Viera: There is one thing that worries me a lot, and that is why almost all my sculptures are sculptures made for people. There exists a very anthropometric relationship, the objects I have chosen to transform, are utilitarian objects and their scale is generally determined by the human body. But what interested me here is this: the size of the building for man and the size of the building for memory. And it's absolutely extraordinary how we make little houses for ourselves, and huge objects for our memory. And this proportion is replicated in the exhibition through an Obelisk that is developed by my replica, and the factory itself, as well as the entrance to my studio. And this is what interests me most in these images. It is this question of memory and the scale for memory, a memory that is absolutely determinant for us.

ProjectoMap: We see a clear reverence, why are there so many objects? They are a total work of art, but left alone they are sole objects. 

Nuno Sousa Vieira: It's my creative process and they all have a title. The issue of memory is also the thread of my work. I take a space that has the memory of my father, so what I do is giving continuation and recognition. I don’t erase the marks of consumption. I could pick a smooth door but this doesn’t interest me. I'm interested in a used door. I may not know the story of that piece, but it's not the story of the piece that matters, it is the stories with the doors. It’s when the particular becomes a collective memory.

ProjectoMap: You collect memories and your works are a collection of sediments. There is a very strong emotional relationship.

Nuno Sousa Vieira: And there is this piece, which is called “Fichário para uma noite escura”. In Tony Smith's first black cubes, when he visited a friend, he saw a box, a black box, and a black binder. He was absolutely fascinated by that black box. When he gets home, he calls his friend and asks him for the dimensions of the box. And so I had a binder that misses Tony Smith's box by two millimetres and I decided to paint it in black.

ProjectoMap: And what contained that binder, files? Were they presence sheets of the factory?

Nuno Sousa Vieira: No, contacts. This was absolutely vital to the exercise of that activity. And so I turned this object into a sculptural object.

ProjectoMap: It is you father in this photography?

Nuno Sousa Vieira: Yes, it is my father. I am interested in the physical relations I have with him, but also in this relation of time and its confusion.

ProjectoMap: Yes, but time is a confusion. And we from our memory and position have to organize it. So that makes perfect sense.

Nuno Sousa Vieira: It also interests me to look behind the scenes of an exhibition, so there will be a line of drawings in here. I am completely addicted to drawing and drawing objects and rulers, squares, compasses, pantographs. In the end, the exhibition finishes with the video.

  • Date: 22-12-2016
  • Local: Galeria Graça Brandão, Lisboa