Note: This is the translation of one of the texts I wrote for Crítica na Trama, a collaborative project between the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art and my own university to document and produce critical writing about last year’s Trama Festival. The original was published here and here.
Caty Olive, a French artist who works as a lighting creative and set designer, brings to Porto an artwork that was originally developed for the Graville Abbey (France) during the “Nuit des Musées Européenne” event in 2001.
The Lófte, a building in the city centre which throughout its existence has had several incarnations, seems now to have become a place of worship. An almost palpable silence of veneration and quiet restlessness hangs in the air, an atmosphere one could easily associate with that of a cathedral or abbey, the location for which this piece was originally created. The space, which is almost empty – except for old sofas in the narthex – achieves a kind of monumentality that is, oddly enough, deeply intimate. The Lófte is thus transformed into a nave that is completely empty of artifice, a temple without a religion, a sublimation of the light so characteristic of Gothic cathedrals. Despite the transformation that the work has suffered by being adapted to the Lófte, Olive demonstrates that the sacred in her work does not depend on the place it inhabits.
The chimerical colors dance like those we see when we close and rub our eyes, as if what we are seeing are afterimages of reality, remnants of shapes and colors on a gray background, residues of the electromagnetic radiation that ultimately allows us to navigate the world, here losing any practical functionality. The stimulation of the retina is an end in itself. The effect is achieved through rays of white light traveling through Coca-Cola cups (thus introducing the profane in the sacred), hanging in the ceiling like chandeliers, filled with liquids of various colors. The light is refracted, decomposed and transformed into living ethereal bodies, a complex of webs and patches of color.
The title of the work, “Diacaustiques des Esprits“, contains in itself the dichotomy between physical and immaterial, the balance between the rough and the ethereal, between stimulus and tranquility. “Diacaustique” refers to a curve formed by the refraction of light. A caustic substance is one that is capable of burning, of eroding or destroying. The organic movement of the colors invokes an imagery of spirits made visible, life forms that expand and fade, transcending space and acquiring contours of distant galaxies and nebulae.
This is an artwork that must be experienced “in situ”, in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The mesmerizing and calming effect of the light’s playfulness invites visitors to immerse themselves in the work, to stay and let themselves fade in it.