Before hooves grow

Solo exhibition at Capela da Boa Viagem (September-December 2021)

Photo credits: Hélder Folgado

Islands, especially small remote ones, are often portrayed as a destination oblivious to the problems beyond its shores. The ultimate escapist destination: a place to start afresh and leave those problems behind. A place that, due to its geographical isolation, has developed exotic characteristics, peculiar to the eye of the other.

Madeira has come to exemplify this escapist fantasy. From the Portuguese settlers in the 15th Century who saw it as terra nullius, full of exploitable natural resources and as a strategic location to begin the perverse project of colonial expansion. To its early tourism where, in the 17th century, the European aristocracy fled to Madeira in the hope that the island air would cure respiratory problems such as tuberculosis. To its more recent manifestations of winning the label of “Best Island destination in the world” in tourism competitions, that have solidified the island as a unique place, safe from the global problems beyond its shores.

Allopatric Speciation is a term used in evolutionary biology to describe a specialisation that occurs when a species becomes geographically separated from each other to the extent that each subpopulation becomes genetically dissimilar. They develop certain physical characteristics and behavioural patterns that are diverse from their ancestors. Sometimes these differences are subtle: the angle of a curved beak, a blossom’s pigmentation, sedentary behaviour, an exuberance of foliage, or another method of intraspecies communication.

The island as a place of reinvention is taken to its extreme through this evolutionary development. We don't only come to the island to change our view of the world but we could actually, hypothetically, physically transform. If in a pre-globalization and pre- industrial era humans were isolated on the island for long enough, what characteristics would have developed? Perhaps human hooves, like mountain goats, to tackle the

island’s steep orography or perhaps extremely well-developed vocal cords so their voices could be heard across the mountains.
The work in this exhibition juxtaposes these two ideas: the exoticized idea of the island as a place for self-transformation with the hypothetical prospect of, gradually, metamorphosing into a different being. Much like the exhibition space that has also been transformed over time. At first a private chapel, then abandoned, it was used to store fruit for the nearby market. It has then been refurbished into the space we see today, where elements like the figure of the saint were added to remind us of its ecclesiastical heritage. A chapel by nature is a place that promises believers a form of self-transformation. This one in particular has also been transforming itself, adapting its walls to the practicalities and particularities of its location.

Within this transformation through isolation, both spiritual and physical, there is an underlying problem of how we erect barriers that shut out our surrounding anxieties, instead of confronting them with open arms. We all have, in the back of our brains, the desire of running away to a far-flung island and become this peculiar hooved creature that can climb any mountain and has this incredible ability to project the voice, to become so specialised that we can never leave.