Magazine article Sculpture

Surrendering to the Common Life

Magazine article Sculpture

Surrendering to the Common Life

Article excerpt

A Conversation with Cristina Rodrigues

In situ, Cristina Rodrigues's works read like fanciful relics. Lavishing baroque details over ordinary objects, she masterfully mixes virtuosity with the commonplace. Adventures into the sublime, her installations are as universal in their significance as they are local in their inspiration, purposefully touching the lives of everyone involved. Rodrigues's practice is governed by more than simple aesthetics, hovering between social ethnography, anthropology, and the ideals of sustainability. By meticulously stitching disciplines into a historical context, she produces living testaments to individual lives in an attempt to bridge age-old narratives and new cultural appraisals-a task that continues beyond her presence in what she describes as the "ultimate act of democracy" for art. Her installations frequently celebrate the role of women as keepers of cultural tradition, bringing nearly forgotten cultural wealth to the fore by lending an artistic identity to functional and sometimes obsolete objects. Drawing on people, their communities, and underlying relationships to a wider culture, Rodrigues positions her works as enlightened beacons to which viewers can congregate.

Rodrigues, who was born in Porto, Portugal, lives and works in Manchester, U.K., and maintains studios there and in Idanha-a-Nova, Portugal. She is a chartered architect in both countries and holds a M.Phil in Art & Design from Manchester Metropolitan University. Over the last four years, she has lectured at the Manchester School of Architecture and at the Zhongyuan University of Technology, China. She has also created and led two major international research projects: DfD-Design for Desertification and the 21st Century Rural Museum. DfD, which responds to problems of desertification, depopulation, and economic decline using Idanha-a-Nova as a case study, was developed in partnership with MIRIAD, Manchester School of Architecture, Idanha-a-Nova Municipality, and UNESCO Geopark Naturtejo. The 21st Century Rural Museum (2012) encourages rural regeneration by involving artists, designers, and writers in a cross-border collaborative project. Through this itinerant exhibition, the voices of an older generation have taken center stage in major cities, drawing attention to the daily lives of people in rural Portugal.

Rajesh Punj: In creating your installations, you are as much architect as artist. Do you consider space to be an amphitheater for your work?

Cristina Rodrigues: Being an architect influenced how I perceive space. I always make major installations because I always react to space before I do anything else. So, when I am thinking about an artwork, I constantly think about how it is going to look in space and how it is going to react to space. How can space become part of the story of this artwork? Because crucially, for me, space is not neutral. I don't believe in neutral spaces like the white box. Space is never neutral.

RP: For readers less familiar with your work, can you begin by explaining your motives?

CR: My work is mainly about women and their narratives, in very different environments. So, I explore immigration from both sides. While focusing more intentionally on rural areas-the places where people used to live and what is left behind, as houses and accompanying lands become vacant-I still want to explore the city as the main destination for migrants. I want to understand both realities, to perceive how groups of women behave in each of them. My work is fed by these separate narratives.

RP: As much as location matters, your work appears more about people than place. Is that a correct assumption?

CR: Yes, it's not the space, it's the people. It's about the construction of cultural identity and how it is perceived, because identity and culture are manipulated in a way that makes you feel part of a group. For instance, where I work in Portugal, in the central region, in Idanha-a-Nova, the adufeiras- the groups of women who play the adufe [a traditional square tambourine]- began to disappear in the 1980s. …

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