Teresa Milheiro – Jewels are not dead
Ep. 1, 25′
Documentários – Artes com produção de VENDE-SE FILMES
Estar vivo não é necessariamente o contrário de estar morto. Por entre esqueletos debaixo da cama e asas de insectos asiáticos, entramos no universo mais punk da joalharia portuguesa. Como é que uma jóia pode romper tabus e falar da alienação social? As jóias vistas pela lente de Teresa Milheiro.
Um documentário de Alfredo Pereira Nunes, João Pedro Botelho
Way Through One Another Side
NEW ANIMATION LAB– Nico Guedes director , Suzie Peterson production and Vasco Viola production assistant filmed at Puppet Museum
Design para Debate
Ciclo de conferências na ESAD.CR
T.M. Killer instinct
— Ruy Otero
F. wanted to talk. I could feel it. But I was ready to say goodbye and head on my way. There was nothing to talk about. It was late and I wanted to listen to Sonic Youth on the long motorbike journey home. Until he suddenly blurted out:
“So, I’ve heard that you are going to write something for the catalogue for Teresa Milheiro’s exhibition at the Money Museum.”
“And what are you going to write?” “Something will come up.”
“But isn’t it a bit incongruent that Teresa is exhibiting her work at the Money Museum? I barely know her personally but having seen almost all her work, it seems to be generally quite critical and even radical in some aspects, pointing a finger at greed, banks and white-col- lar scams. I’ve got a ring of hers and I feel a verve running through me all the time!”
He said, smiling, and went on:
“The Money Museum could, for some- one naïve, be the very symbol of what she criticises. So, my question is more related to language. What, then will your text be like?”
The seriousness of the question perplexed me. It was already two in the morn- ing and I had to hit the road with Sonic Youth humming through my headphones, although I was facing a problem I couldn’t escape from. And between the tarmac and F’s curious expression, I had to decide, because coming from him, the issue was serious and profound, and deserved my time. F. didn’t mess around, and neither did Teresa. In a way, I felt trapped between my motorbike and the wall of his house. I suddenly remembered the Anarchist Banker by Fernando Pessoa, a paradoxical book where the author elegantly explains how it’s possible to be a banker and an anarchist. There was a social fiction, which he alluded to. I believe that today our fiction is more cultural, and it was precisely because of that that F. posed the question to see if we understood how I was to envelop the form in the content, given that today, the new paradigm is more concerned with form. I decided not to answer straightaway as the unexpectedness of the question was enough, being that I’d almost pulled my helmet on. One hundred years have passed in the meantime and life and its vicissitudes have changed a lot since the poet wrote the Anarchist Banker. Now we have loads of things like the internet, Brexit, new countries and body piercings in the West, Facebook and emancipated women. But I wasn’t able to forget the book, there was something familiar in it. The first thing that came to mind was to relate, in the most direct way possible, Teresa’s jewellery to life,
which never passes her by. And banks are also part of our lives and never pass us by, which is unquestionable. She is, above all, a liberal, attentive to the world’s problems and the consequent servitude of people to power, something timeless. However, the fact that there is a museum dedicated to money and its history is not an issue in itself; it could even be commendable. A little of us all is in that money. My friend is not of the radical left, and so understood that the problem he posed me was more conceptual and linguistic than political, referring to cultural rather than social fiction. So I abandoned politics and concentrated on fiction. He wanted to be my inspiration. Whether I had any or not.
I remembered some of Teresa’s journey as an artist, which I had followed over the years, and the coherence of her discourse and thought processes, which were visible in her works, filled with metaphor and symbolism, bathed in silver and gold. A political and politicised metal, perhaps, which we use to wear on our bodies with pleasure. But these thoughts weren’t enough to answer F., who wasn’t one to mess around, just like Teresa. The issue he’d raised was interesting and, if I wanted to write an equally serious text, I couldn’t run away from it. Although the artist’s work speaks for itself and may not need any context, or when its context is more likely to be our bodies rather than the ubiquitous museums and galleries. But in this specific case, the pieces exhibited are puppets allusive to Gil Vicente’s Acts. The damn puppets seem to have a life of their own, hiding from our gaze so that blood may flow through their veins… Which they don’t have. And it is in this paradox that poetry resides.
The worst thing that can be done in the world of money is to counterfeit banknotes and coins, which reminded me of Alves dos Reis, and in this case, it was a good choice. If there is anyone less false, it is Teresa, who could never be a fake version of herself and even less her own avatar. We have gold in unworked form, which fits in well with the Money Museum. I remembered that Teresa is often literally and subtly unmasked in her creations. Sometimes camouflaged. Sometimes exposed.
F. was a lucid economist and normally knew how to keep an issue at boiling point. At that time he was completely awake and ready to start a conversation with little hesitation about the peculiar work of Teresa Milheiro and the raison d’être for her exhibition in the museum they called Money. Silence was not a problem between us. I was therefore relaxed, having bought some time. If I answered him without thinking, nonsense could come out accidentally, which wasn’t serious between friends and cigarettes at two in the morning, with the Parkinsons’ music warming the atmosphere.
I tried to rationalise whilst F. left the room for a few moments, perhaps having under- stood that I didn’t want to talk for the
sake of it. But in truth, various brainwaves crossed in my mind, bringing me various thoughts. Today we live according to the visibility we have, or don’t. And Teresa’s jewellery speaks, in a certain way, plainly and perhaps somewhat obsessively too, of this alienation and obsession with visibility. She once spoke to me about a kind of ‘psychological Auschwitz’ we’re in. Was it exaggeration on her part? I thought that all this, which hammered on my mind in a fragmented yet fierce manner, would be a good way of getting closer to her completely unique and technically irreprehensible work. The text had to contain these fragments, because this was the best way to reflect what I know of her. No rhetorical texts, impossible set-ups, but yes, a lively text, with the directly proportionate risks associated merely with the fact that we are alive. Speaking of death, as if it were from her that we retained hope. Whilst there is death, there is hope. It appears that this is what her work leads us to, with light-filled skulls and syringes.
There is a punk lifestyle from Lisbon and she is one of the personalities who best incarnates it. In terms of her relationship with subservience to money and power, she has an ethical sense.
I thought her work wouldn’t be easy to catalogue, being easier to use, as though it worked like a kind of repelling magnet for the aggressive bankrupt world we live in. Her work is filled with representations of insects, which takes us straight to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. And she knows
that the insects are us. The puppets are us. But an us which is plain and aesthetic, a prêt-à-porter, postmodern us which puts up with us and makes us like all sorts of money and museums.
I remembered that I wasn’t alone and that F. was looking at me, waiting for my answer just like the anarchist banker’s friend. I asked him for a drink, perhaps to gain some time. In truth, I still didn’t know what to answer. We’re facing a special sculpture, a sculpture which moulds time more than it is moulded by time, although time always has its place, beautiful and catastrophic, just like the jewellery which came to mind. I should focus more on the pieces, like Be Botox, Be fuckin beautiful, which is not in the exhibition because the Vincentine Puppets already are, in them- selves, self-explanatory. Magical things should never reveal their tricks.
I was reminded a small text I’d asked Pedro Cabral Santo for.
“Teresa Milheiro is always questioning us, that is, posing us an inextinguishable question: where is the boundary, the line that divides us, that excludes/includes us from artistic activity and the social circle?
“Between the drift in explaining art, in its quietness and finiteness, we reach an idea, often very simple – that is, in attempting to understand it better, we still try to evaluate it based on an old and debatable dichotomy – figura- tive/abstract, of the greater or lesser
employment of values considered symbolic or of the way in which certain procedures are employed, among others. In this context, we should place the unrefusable temptation of recourse to trends or currents to which objects can be attached, as well as all that which can help us situate them, beyond a merely artistic plane. This is the case of Teresa Milheiro’s sculpture, which gives us the artistic genesis itself, the paradoxical – how can Art be made as though it were a jewel, a precious adornment, without however, calling that diktat into question? Teresa Milheiro’s sculpture takes the form of a jewel, it is certain, but it refuses to be available as such, it is Art, in its fair day-to-day struggle to manifest itself.”
I agree and might put it in the middle of my text, which can only be spontaneous and alive to do justice to who Teresa is and our relationship, more of the street than the gallery. The pieces may be cold and clinical, but the bodies are there to warm them. But there are cold bodies and all bodies have the jewellery they deserve. For me, this premise came from the time I started seeing Teresa Milheiro’s exhibitions, which always made me think.
In a longer text, I would inevitably have to talk about or mention António Arroio, the Eighties and Nineties, the Bairro Alto and its paradigmatic places, the Arco, the Belas Artes, the concerts at Johnny Gui- tar, the abuses, the order, Expo 98, Sep- tember 11th, the fall of the Wall, growing
consumerism and the 2008 crisis, gyms, Botox, war, hyperbole and thousands of other things to give a better context to Teresa’s work which, according to her, “is a range of emotions, attitudes and functions connected to mixed imagery, of mediaeval and spatial, in which the life/death dichotomy is often present. It is marked from the beginning by the need to attribute a function to the pieces that is not restricted to simple adornment. I started by creating self-de- fence jewellery, and then moved on to instruments of torture, until the creation of ‘objectewels’, which are a mixture of objectsjewellery, and now a type of pup- pets. In all these works, movement and articulation are always present. They are an extension of the body, enabling them to be used for their intended purpose and, at the same time, play with them and give them life. The body itself serves as a driving force for these objects. For most of these pieces, forging techniques were used. More recently, I created a collection of jewellery which reuses ani- mal bones and teeth. I sought to match them with silver and reinvented new forms of joints, in which the organic of both materials complements each other, with movement, generator of life, being ever present, and so Biojewels were born. Bones are true works of art in addition to the symbolism they contain. Bones and teeth have served since antiquity as adornments which carry the energy and wisdom of our ancestors. These biojewels have developed into protest jewellery,
in which some strongly criticise the social values of our times, like obsession over image which prevails over any other value, and others serve to call attention to the state of the planet and its ecosystem.”
All this, which has reality as an asso- ciated brand, could be used to write the text, which should never be conventional. What is conventional is soulless and if anything has a soul, it is her pieces. Innumerable unexpected thoughts went through my head, as F. had turned it into a pinball machine. Luckily his mobile rang, a device which these days can be used for almost anything, even answering calls, and he answered having apologised. It seemed to be an important call and it gave me more time to think of an answer to his pertinent interrogation. I had delayed the issue of form and language, but it was in fact the crux of the problem. In speaking and writing about Teresa and her work, it was fundamental to be in a state of permanent imbalance. It is certain that the reinforcement of Cabral’s text would help, but I needed to dive into the depths of the day-to-day for a better picture.
I remembered that Teresa and I had been to the beach at the beginning of the sum- mer and, at a certain point, a helicopter hovered over us. Teresa looked at it and told me that the sky was funny. She told me of her ambivalence towards the military. I smiled, fixing my stare on the helicopter, and I almost glimpsed a piece of jewellery on someone’s fingers. A silver
helicopter flying through someone’s fingers. Helicopters belong to a belli- cose world that lives off the constant pulse of death, therefore of life. Life without death is worthless. And it is this aesthetic quality of death that interests her. The other, reality, is mostly unfair and hateful. Through art, death is fought.
We went to eat a toasted sandwich and sat silently watching the sky which changed gradually from grey to another shade of grey. And, under glasses, eyes sparkled. That is gold.
The metal melted on the sand that day.
A day on the beach and the metal, simultaneously weighing down and lighten- ing a person’s body. But that’s how I see her. That’s why, when speaking of her, I’m automatically talking about her work. She is her work, even the most sellable. She is perhaps one of the artists who uses the fewest tricks to Exist and to Be.
Her art is more than real. It is so real that it becomes jewellery ready to use and sweat, just like people. It becomes organic to the point of being able to imagine it in a David Cronenberg film, or even, at another level, one of Tim Burton’s. Ready to help us become more than what we are or want to be. Her jewellery connects us to her, it adds, in a synchronous way, uto- pia and dystopia, adding paradox, with its comfort and discomfort like a confluence in time, making us a little like public art, if you’ll allow me the irony. We are all
involved in this great cultural fiction, and fiction is always fiction. Could this be one of the problems for the text: the fact that I like her aesthetic too much to distance myself from neutrality and the cold, distant gaze needed for a catalogue? But F. is my friend and he is only posing a normal question for our context. I’m not the anarchist banker, nor do I have Fernando Pessoa’s ease of enveloping myself in paradox to the point of becoming it, but I know that the question is pertinent. Our actions must agree with our character, otherwise everything is possible and we become schizophrenic. No more schizophrenia!
And with all this information, disorganised but objective, I understood that I had a lot of material to write the text and I’d finally thought of an answer to give F. who had, meanwhile switched off his phone as the call wasn’t important. He put on Sonic Youth and I asked him for another drink as the night would be long. Teresa is not a catalogue description, but a book… open to the world.
And as day embraced night, we stood up from the table.
Isabel Ribeiro de Albuquerque
Teresa Milheiro’s exhibition – Way Through Another Side – which is once again revealed is, for us, a journey about human interiority with everything that it brings. We know that both human en- chantment and suffering have been an inexhaustible wealth of inspiration to all artists, in all the arts, throughout time. Teresa Milheiro decided to anchor it to the imagery created by Gil Vicente. If we take the Trilogia das Barcas (Trilogy of the Ships), we find a prefiguration of judg- ment that leads the artist to transform each character into an animal: a fish from the bottom of the sea, or a flying animal, depending on what they did in life, and when they die whether they go to Hell, Purgatory or Heaven.
In parallel, it could be said that these pieces also remit to the world of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, as well as Proto-Indo-European thought. This is also where we find the belief that when a person dies they may be reincarnated as an animal, and so we should respect all animals as we do not know what they were before. We can even go back fur- ther in time to look at the ancient art of the Near East. Here we find similari- ties especially with the fine metalwork wrought with great technical and for- mal expertise in Sumer.
However, this type of sculpture, and we can consider jewellery to be a type of small-scale sculpture, is unique in contemporary jewellery. Whether they are objects of utilitarian goldware or solid Sumerian sculptures, we can compare them to Teresa’s sculptures in terms of quality and expertise, although hers are more difficult to execute because they are hollow and have lots of com- plex connections and joints, as puppets usually do.
As important as the work exhibited is the conception and construction of the space that contains it – the scenic space. This is another adjacent and complex work of art that the artist did not relinquish, nor did she leave it in the hands of a commissary. It was also conceived as an act of creation, as though the moment of transformation that the pieces represent had been fro- zen in space and time. Light is added to the construction of the exhibition space, which appears to have been worked as in the cinema, creating a silent atmosphere that leads us to reflection, an expressive silence like Fernando Pessoa’s:
“All art is a form of literature, because all art says something. There are two ways of saying something – to speak or to be silent. […] In all arts that are not literature one has to look for the spoken phrase it contains, or the poem, or the novel, or the drama.”
Silent phrases which Teresa whispers to us through her sui generis pieces of jewel- lery because they’re not to be worn on the body, although they need a body to give them a life of their own.
Both the Pope, who represents the decrepit values of the Church and the depraved clergy, that is lax in its religious duties, as well as the Emperor, who represents greed, are transformed into Abyssal Fish. However the Pope has wings because it is an untouchable being.
On the other hand, the Filthy Rich Loan Shark is a businessman empty of human values and so becomes a Porcupinefish. But the Fool or Jester that symbolises the gen- eral populace becomes a common Mos- quito, a notion which takes us to the giant insect Gregor Samsa becomes in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
There are also three characters from Vi- cente that don’t turn into anything: the Devil-Angel, symbol of the battle between good and evil, the Baby and the Pales- tinian. Omen of our insoluble dramas. Fish and birds with beaks or spines, insects with legs which remind us of needles, are an approach considered normal in the artist’s work, where syringe needles are a constant presence. Needles which have an ambiva- lent character because they inoculate evil as well as cure it.
And all this ambivalence between suffer- ing and the search for happiness is trans- versal to all Teresa Milheiro’s work.
On another level we can also appreciate reflection on social critique, taking the character of the Procuress, who denounces trafficking of influence and people and the world of intrigue and fashion and becomes an octopus, which symbolises, par excel- lence, the mafia that extends its tentacles throughout society. And in other works by the artist, concern for socio-political char- acter is always present. Criticism of “a new colonialism” and the politically cor- rect, as in her work The Big Sucker.
The criticised and previously mentioned values of the Procuress had already been a cause for concern for the artist in that she forcefully exploits obsession with physical image, focusing on the grow- ing general predilection with youth and beauty. She seeks to highlight the rela- tionship between art, fashion, politics and science in an original way. Her jew- ellery always contains a critical reflec- tion on society. Examples include the obsessive fad for trying to keep one’s youth through Botox injections or plastic surgery, which was the inspira- tion behind Be Botox, Be Fuckin Beauti- ful. This piece is a Botox kit to be hung around the neck so that the wearer can fight wrinkles anywhere at any time. The artist never had any intention of conce aling the cold, hard aspect of the neck- lace.
In a world where so much importance is given to bodily perfection, this explic- itly cold, heavy, almost threatening neck- lace reminding one of a miniature torture instrument, becomes a disturbing object for the wearer, in contrast with the mes- sage inscribed on it.
In another piece, Milheiro appears to mock the almost sick obsession for den- tal braces, combining unorthodox mate- rials with traditional jewellery, filling it with meaning, and despite its aggres- sive appearance, is extremely beautiful.
Whilst some pieces can be worn on the body as traditional adornments, others were conceived to be used in the mouth, falling down the body. This is the case of Survival Kit (2005), which is a combi- nation of silver, catheters and a rubber mouthpiece.
The Killing Jewel is an analogy between the obsession with drugs, the most pre- cious article for an addict, and gold as having an obsessive value for most peo- ple. It is as though this drug enabled one to live a golden existence.
In the same vein, The anti-existence Device aims to symbolise an unreal existence and the passage to another reality; a virtual reality that is desirably happier.
It is an object to be worn at the back of the neck and contains a number of sub- stances which destroy one’s contact with reality:
- Botox for eternal youth;
– Image changer;
– Anaesthetic for physical pain;
- – Fluid to create an absence
of emotional pain.
The insects she has always sculpted, the use of sharks’ teeth, bones, insects and frogs in resin are parables of her interior- ity which burst out like a telluric current through objects intended to adorn or be admired.
Contemporary jewellery has followed diverse and occasionally radical paths. It ceased to be just an adornment a long time ago, and has become a vehi- cle of communicative artistic expression, through which flow a series of thoughts, sentiments and emotions that populate human interiority.
There is a pathos of death and resurrec- tion, and, simultaneously, a sense of irony in all Teresa Milheiro’s work. Aggressive- ness, suffering, survival and even inflicted pain are always present in her work.
From a varied and profound imagery, there are profuse evocations of ancient, almost prehistoric beasts, which can also symbolise fragility and, at the same time, human resistance. One can adhere to or reject Teresa Milheiro’s sugges- tive imagery although it is not possible to ignore it when we confront it face-to-face. As well as the multiplicity of the allegories she uses, I should emphasise aspects of some all-encompassing and paradox- ical figures: a primeval cut-out insect which contrasts with an angel’s wings (Mosquito), or another creature which when worn on an arm mimics the body of a silkworm, joy of children. As though
Teresa Milheiro wanted or was able to encompass and crystallise all of life’s par- adoxical controversies in a single work.
Catalogues and Publications
2020- “ Tiara” 40 years jewelry ar.co
2019- “ Joalharia contemporânea em Portugal” Cristina Filipe
2016 -“ Passagem para um outro lado”- Teresa Milheiro- Money Museum
2013 – Abecedário – 40 anos do ar.co , Chiado Museum
2013 – “Um ajuste de contas com o futuro”- Pogo Theater
2012/13- Jewel book- international annual of contemporary jewel Art – Stichting Kunstboe
2011- “ Triennale Européenne du Bijou Contemporain – 2011”
2011- “ Border City” – Piirilinn , cidade fronteiriça
2008 – Joias Reais- Joalharia contemporânea Luso-Brasileira
2008 -“ Garbage Pin. Project ”- “worthVS waste”- Klimt02 Publishers
2007- “ Schmuck 2007”-Sonderschau der 59, International Handwerksmesse Munchen
2006- “ Gender and Jewelery” . a feminist Analysis- Rebecca Ross Russel
2006- “4 Pontos de encontro “ -Rome- Lisbon
2005- “ New directions in jewelry II” – Black dog publishing- Lin Cheug, Beccy Clarke and Indigo Clarke
2005- “ As idades do Fogo”- Instituto do Emprego e formação profissional
2004- “Ponto de encontro”- 25 anos de intervenção de joalharia do AR.CO Centro de Arte Moderna José Azeredo Perdigão – Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian
2004- “ 500 Necklaces”- Lark book
2004- “ 500 Bracelets” – Lark book
1994- 7a Bienal de jovens Portugueses da Europa e Mediterrâneo”
1992- 93 – “ Arte Portuguesa do séc. XX” – Mistry book -Temas & debates- Rui Mário Gonçalves
1992- “ Schmuckszene’92 Internationale Schmuckschau
1991- “Tendências 91″ – Forum Picoas
1990- “ Biennale 90” – Marseille
1990- “ Scholarship ar.co”
Newspapers & magazines
2020 – ” Instrumentos de distanciamento Intimo e Social” Homemade Design Teresa Milheiro – Revista Umbigo- Arte & Cultura
2017- “ Interioridades”- artigo de Isabel Ribeiro Albuquerque para a revista “Estúdio 20”
2010 -Umbigo- nº 33
2010-Umbigo nº 32
2009-Casa Cláudia nº 254
2009- Parq – nº 16
2008 – Umbigo nº 24
2005- Umbigo- nº 15
2005- Umbigo- nº 12
2004- Revista Visão – nº 613
2004- “ Balanço de actividades”- Revista Actual do expresso nº 1640
2002- Revista OP
2000- Revista MID – edições Dimensão- nº 54
1995- Revista Vértice nº 64
1991- “ Tendências em balanço” Revista Actual- Expresso
1990- “ Portuguese na crista da onda”Jornal público – Cultura 24
1990- Diário de noticias “ Garra criativa de jovens Portugueses cativa público de Bienal de Marselha”
1990- “Modelos BD inspiram moda jovem” Diário de noticias
1990- “ Avec un “X”…au pluriel” Journal La marseillaise
1990- “ Representação Portuguesa está a postos para levar a arte jovem à Bienal de de Marselha” Público
1990 -“ Marselha”- Diário de Notícias