Poetry at times feels inaccessible, complex thoughts and emotions resumed in obscure and coded fragments. Yet poetic difficulty does not necessarily hinder the reader’s opportunity to be moved by the author’s intention, something that moves beyond form and elaborates itself through sensation. In the context of this exhibition, the poetic is to be understood as vital, regardless of its difficulty.1 “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before,” Audre Lorde wrote in “Poetry is not a Luxury,” from which we have borrowed our title.2 Whether it be poetry expressed through language or form, the works of Leonor Parda and Aliha Thalien create a fluctuating landscape, leaving the viewer to be confronted with pathos as well as the unknown.
Contradictory textures of grief, resilience, anger, injustice, fear, exhaustion, power and vulnerability resonate throughout this landscape. These emotions, which are under constant negotiation, are the blueprints – or skeleton architecture – of how to read the works at hand. Because although Parda and Thalien’s respective practices originate from issues that are simultaneously similar and distant, there is a certain emotional and poetic dimension that envelopes each of their bodies of work. And a certain urgency that inhabits the forms present.
If poetry is at the heart of the dialogue between the works, it is far from the image of calculated verse written delicately pen in hand. Instead, it is sharp and expressed through various automatic and cut-up composing techniques, the text in its physical form becoming almost secondary – illisible or even absent from the start – yet expressed through sound, or revealed in matter. Image Manqante (Aliha Thalien, 2022), a barely legible cut-up of texts hastily carved into metal speaks to the artist’s origins in a Caribbean matrifocal community, telling of the “exhausting splendor” it is to be “born into the world.”3 Coming back to the exposing of difficulty in form, the urgency to express hereditary burdens is sensed in the writing in its physical form. In Leonor Parda’s video (Um gosto metálico por baixo da lingua, [a metallic taste under the tongue] 2022), a cut-up of images is voiced over by the artist’s voice – a stream of consciousness as the artist has a ritual of walking at night whilst recording her voice long before transcribing these thoughts. It is “between passion and poison,” in the words of the artist, which evoke the oscillation of the film between desire, fantasy and nightmare. Language and form serve thus as prisms through which one digests trauma – whether it be individual, familial, communal.
“I’ve read that trauma is always in the present tense. The body marries the then with the now. Like radical politics, the body knows not gradation. There is safe and there is danger. There is inside and outside, friend and enemy, stay put or flee. I’m either on the verge of agoraphobia – I think – or a spiritual awakening.”4 These words by Dodie Bellamy thus evoke what is at negotiation in the works present. An urge to point out trauma in the present tense, a revealing of the then and now, and dance on the threshold between fight or flight. The urgency of the present is felt then in the spoken, written and invisible word, as in the solid yet frail materials (concrete, resin…).
An ambiguous figure haunts the space. One that is nurturing, one that is oppressed, one that is desired, one that is dominating, one that frightens. A figure that is at once protective and necromantic and sensed through its absence. In the works of Aliha Thalien, a reconciliation with her personal narrative is expressed through elements from intimate spaces – a resin frame, evoking a family portrait, that encapsulates objects directly evoking the body (condom, chewing gum) while taking on the form of a paravent (Protection par Avant, 2022); whilst in the works of Leonor Parda, images of idols and rituals are intertwined with forms that recall sadomasochist practices. Fear, desire and protection are thus intertwined, but the “fear of the archaic [figure] turns out to be essentially fear of [its] generative power.”5
What perhaps remains to be undone is the title of the exhibition. “Skeleton Architecture” is to be considered in direct relation to the first iteration of the show presented at Maus Habitos, “Visions of Demons”. “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives,” to recite Lorde. For if the first version of the exhibition presented visions of haunting personal narratives, these have become more embodied in its current form. The works move back and forth between the interiors of domestic spaces and places of worship; between physical architectures of the everyday and a metaphysical dimension that transcends all of these spaces. And while ” skeleton ” may evoke a structure devoid of its body, it is also this very structure, this crucial structure, that gives us the strength to resist and, thus, to move forward.
 From the idea of “poetic difficulty” as discussed in Jennifer Doyle, Hold It Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art, Duke University Press, 2013, p. xxi.
 Audre Lorde, “Poetry is not a luxury”, in The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House, Penguin Classics, 2018, p. 3.
 Excerpts from the artist’s text.
 Dodie Bellamy, When the Sick Rule the World, Semiotext(e), 2015, back cover.
 To avoid using a gendered term, the term “archaic mother” has been replaced by “the archaic figure”. Julia Kristeva, Power of Horrors, in Barbara Creed, The Monstruous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Routledge, 1993, p. 16.
Leonor Parda‘s (born in 1986 in Portugal) practice resonates with that of a DJ who remixes autobiographical elements into resolutely punk and danceable sounds. Her installations are born from the assembling of salvaged materials and personal objects, in a precarious and assumed DIY aesthetic. The images, put in dialogue in photographic friezes or short videos, are often blurred, over or underexposed, like a commentary on the permanent shift in which our bodies seem to find themselves in movement and resistance. If the frequent use of concrete appears to be an attempt to catch and hold, only if briefly, time that is slipping away, her environments tirelessly evoke a past or future movement. They are marked by a rage and a fury of living; by an irresistible thirst to embrace life in its entirety: from its joy to its hopelessness and melancholy.
Aliha Thalien (born in 1994 in France) uses her life experiences as source material for her films and installations. She transposes autobiographical narratives into fictional and dreamlike spaces, thus questioning the limits of a raw and/or staged sincerity. The possibility of a critical distancing and questioning of our liberty to exist and move is born from the friction between the private and the public, the exceptional and the trivial, the singular and the common. In Aliha Thalien’s films, the periphery is revealed as a place of possibility and encounter. In creating a collision between fictional spaces and the (more real? more tangible?) exhibition space, she creates a coming and going between what is in the frame and what lays beyond it, simultaneously evoking the visible, the hidden, and the indescribable.
The exhibition “Skeleton Architecture” is the final result of the Cross Residency Porto / Clermont-Ferrand in partnership with Artists in Residence (FR), Saco Azul (PT) and Maus Hábitos (PT). It follows a first event entitled “Visions of Demons” presented at Maus Hábitos (Porto) from August 4th to September 4th 2022.
The exhibition takes place within the framework of the France-Portugal 2022 Season implemented by the Institut Français.
In Resonance with the Biennale of Contemporary Art of Lyon.