João Pedro Vale +
Nuno Alexandre Ferreira
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Art and Lies

You never know what is going to inform the experience of looking at contemporary art. Sometimes—and this is ideal—it has nothing to do with contemporary art at all. For instance, just before the turn of the millennium, I found myself visiting some friends in southern Spain. At one point during my visit there, my friends and I brought up the idea of going to Portugal. It turned out that none of us had ever been to Portugal and the idea, suffused with an obscure and exotic splendor, was instantly compelling. We were three North Americans and a Mexican in our early twenties, and at one point while discussing the possible trip, it came to light that none of us had ever met anyone from Portugal, or at least were not aware of ever having done so. Nor did we know anyone who had ever been to Portugal. And although it was just a few hours away on a train, the more we spoke about it, the further away and more mysterious it became. Until finally climaxing in our imaginations, Portugal, we concluded with a sort of thrilled and ignominious arrogance, didn’t exist. It was a myth. An Iberian fiction of vast, conspiratorial proportions, imposed upon history for reasons as unfathomable as it, the country itself was. Our proposed trip became an exaggerated mission to either empirically verify the existence or expose the myth of Portugal. Unfortunately, for whatever reasons the trip never took place, and it was not until a number of years later that I finally made it to Portugal. Since my first trip, I’ve been fortunate enough to return to Portugal at least a dozen times and yet still after all this time, a certain mythological or legendary residue still remains in my mind over the country—as if there was something essentially fantastical, and even slightly unreal about the place.

Granted as much could be said about any country where one speaks the language with Tarzan-esque proficiency and has never worked, has never been anything more than a tourist. But more importantly, this intangibility, for me, is probably more linked to the country’s history, to Portugal’s colonial past—not to mention Portugal’s ‘age of discovery’ past, and its political, totalitarian past, otherwise known as the Estado Novo (New State).1 Portugal possesses the unique history of having been at once a colonial power and a totalitarian regime. I point that out for the very specific and germane reason that both colonialism and totalitarian states were necessarily hotbeds for fiction, indeed, historically depended upon fiction in order to ‘legitimately’ exist.2

Portuguese artist João Pedro Vale, primarily a sculptor by trade, has spent the past few years developing a practice that interrogates Portuguese history, legends, propaganda, traditions, and notions of identity through the use of cultural and folkloric forms. Vale often combines a kind cultural anthropology, art-historical reference, the formal qualities of a given material, and, depending on the project, context to create works that operate almost like discursive sites through the juxtaposition of these diverse elements. Less a question of condemnatory exposure or critical intervention, his is an art of memory, tradition, and commemoration, fueled by curiosity as well as doubt— curiosity and doubt about just how those memories or traditions are made, and the role they ultimately play in forming identities. He is not necessarily out to undermine the richness of or invalidate a given tradition, legend, or folkloric trope. If anything he himself enriches that which his art exploits, through teasing out hidden or potential meanings, in the way that a philologist might enrich a given word by decoding a part of its past, uncovering an aspect of its etymology that theoretically alters its meaning. I state this observation not in order to apologetically defend Portuguese culture, but simply because there is something celebratory to João Pedro Vale’s work, both conceptually and above all, visually. However, this is not to say that his practice is merely ornamental, uncritical or unengaged. Vale’s work shrewdly recognizes the power of legends, traditions, and, above all, fiction, and by strategically, and/or respectfully keeping these things to a certain extent intact, he maximally exploits their power to enchant, and thus persuade and ultimately impact the arc of culture.

Throughout the text that follows, I intend to select a number of Vale’s recent works and illustratively explore just how he employs the abovementioned techniques and strategies, contextualizing the works when able in Portuguese history, legends and folklore, art history in general, and ideally, the world ‘at large’.

Perhaps the best place to start is with Amores Perfeitos (2005) as this deceptively simple sculpture draws upon the full extent of Vale’s repertoire with subtle wit, poetry, and dialectical sophistication. This work was originally conceived for a two-site/two part group show curated by Alexandre Melo in 2005 entitled, “O Nome Que No Peito Escrito Tinhas3 (“The Name On Your Chest You Had Written”) to commemorate the 650th anniversary of the death of Inês de Castro.

A shoe-in for a tragedy by the bard himself, this piece of history deals with Inês de Castro (1320-1355), the lover and posthumous queen of Dom Pedro the 1st, the eighth king of Portugal (1320-1367). The illegitimate offspring of a Galician nobleman and a Portuguese woman, Inês apparently went to Portugal in 1340 and was integrated into Constança Manuel’s suite. Constança, the offspring of a powerful Spanish nobleman, was, in a strategic peace keeping alliance, the betrothed of Dom Pedro’s, himself the prince and heir to the Portuguese throne. Dom Pedro fell adulterously and perilously in love with Inês. After Constança gave birth to a child that died one year later, certain contretemps were undertaken by the king Afonso IV to curb his son’s unseemly romance, such as sending Inês away. Constança soon thereafter graciously eliminated herself as an obstacle from the plot of this story when she died giving birth to the future Dom Fernando I. Inês and Dom Pedro went on to openly live together and have two children. However, the king had other plans for Dom Pedro, such as creating another strategic alliance with another princess. Dom Pedro wasn’t game. At which point when the Portuguese nobility began to make known their fear of the possibility of Inês’ Castilian family ultimately ascending to the throne, the king gave way to mounting pressures, and for lack of any other recourse, decided to have Inês assassinated. One day when Dom Pedro was away, three of the king’s men descended upon Inês and slit her throat. Chaos ensued. After leading to a civil war against the rule of his own father (quelled only by the intervention of his own mother), Dom Pedro was eventually crowned king and declared Inês posthumous queen of Portugal. Of course this touching story abounds with details and auxiliary legends, all of which it would be impossible to relate here, suffice it to say that this tragic passage from history should be romantically elevated to the status of ‘perfect love’ as in ideal love may come as no surprise.

João Pedro Vale, as such, took the notion of perfect love quite literally, and, with unorthodox and irreverent wit, elected to have the pairing of two bulls represent Pedro and Inês—a pairing inspired by a similar pairing found outside the museu de arte popular in Lisbon. The artist decorated the armature of two identical, 1:1 scale bulls with violas and placed them side-by-side. Their surface is covered with yellow violas interspersed with green leaves, with the exception of black hooves, black and white viola colored horns, and matching pink collars. Upon first glance, the pair might come across as a duo of giant, oversized piñatas or fanciful lawn fixtures evocative of some fable or say, Greek myth, wherein characters are transformed into trees or plants without however being bereft of their original form. In any event, fixed and sentinel-like, the florid surface of these bulls is comically incongruous with their traditional masculine nature.

Any questions regarding sexual identity or the subversion of romantic stereotypes and/or expectations in this piece is less the product of an aggressive political engagement than it is something that happens with a stunning organic fluidity. Vale does not forcibly impose a given reading upon this story or historical heritage so much as he teases another one out. The notion of ‘perfect love’ or ‘lovers’, as exemplified or idealized by Pedro’s love for Inês beyond the grave, initially finds its most obvious art-historical counterpart in the work of Felix Gonzales-Torres, in particular, a work called, Perfect Lovers. This piece consists of two identical, battery-powered clocks that hang side-by-side, set to the same time; initially austere, the tragic pathos of this piece lies in the fact that despite their indistinguishability, one of the clocks will stop before the other. Were the relationship of Vale and Gonzales-Torres in this instance to end there, Vale’s bulls would be little more than an elaborate taurine pun, all but entirely devoid of the Gonzales-Torres’ finesse and politically engaged elegance. But the relationship with Gonzales-Torres is much more imbricated than it first appears. As Vale’s principle point of reference is in fact another work altogether— a photo of Gertrude Stein’s and Alice B. Tolklas’ shared grave in Père Lachaise (Pedro and Inês are also said to be buried facing one another) taken by Gonzales-Torres in 1992. The grave is covered by different groups of flowers, the most visibly arresting being a group of red and white violas in the lower left-hand corner. In Portuguese, violas are called ‘amores perfeitos,’ perfect lovers (was Gonzales-Torres aware of the fact that he was quoting himself in his own work via the Portuguese language?).

Not content to orchestrate this extraordinary network of connections, above all with Portuguese history, Vale likewise extends his reach to include Portuguese folklore, as if to render the most ‘innocent’ of all cultural forms complicit in his unorthodox reading of Portuguese history. The bulls themselves are formally inspired by ceramic bulls from Barcelos, a town in the north of Portugal famed for its Galos de Barcelos, ceramic roosters. Vale’s violas, handmade from paper by the artist himself, are modeled after the flowers from A Festa das Floras, an annual festival that takes place in Campo Maior (Alentejo, southern Portugal) and in which these same flowers, made from paper, are the trademark of the festival. The installation of Amores Perfeitos was also originally accompanied by a series of framed handkerchiefs entitled, Lenços de Namorados (Lover’s handkerchiefs). Hailing from Villaverde in the north of Portugal, in this tradition young women declare their love by placing handkerchiefs, embroidered with amorous phrases, upon their beloved’s doorsteps. The acceptance of the handkerchief signals the reciprocation of their love. Historically, the women that originally participated in this tradition were illiterate, consequently the embroidered phrases were written phonetically, and as such, full of errors. 4 Over time, this phonetic spelling became incorporated into the tradition, making it so that the tradition and a declaration of love have both come to be authenticated by error. Vis-à-vis amores perfeitos, these handkerchiefs assume a particularly ironic significance marked by a double inversion: one being their culturally codified imperfection, the second being the apparent passivity, and hence, to a certain degree, emasculation, of the male subject.

One sculpture, Barco Negro (2004) and the project Quem não chora, não mama! (2006), more exclusively take the north of Portugal as their point of cultural departure. Barco Negro (Black Boat) consists of a damaged typical or iconic Portuguese fishing boat, which João Pedro Vale elected to miraculously and ineffectually repair. Upon first glance, this boat is likely to yield one of two visual impressions: that of a charred and burned out hull of a boat, or a dredged up sunken vessel, which having been submerged underwater for what seems to be centuries, has accumulated a vast wealth of seaweed, algae, and other ornamental sea stuff. Upon closer and more sustained inspection, one soon realizes that the boat has been richly festooned (repaired) with an improbable surfeit of heterogeneous elements, all of which have been painted black. Bread, flowers, wine jugs, rubber snakes, plastic fish, small Mary icon statues, soccer balls, and nets: the stuff, in fact, of miracles. Some of the miracles may perhaps be more obvious than others, and maybe even a bit misleading. For instance, as the artist himself pointed out to me, the bread and flowers refer to a specific legend or miracle involving Santa Isabel da Aragão, queen of Portugal (from 1282 to 1325). Legend has it that the queen was taken by a desire to feed the poor and she filled her dress with bread, which she intended to secretly distribute to those in need. On her way out, the king, suspicious, waylaid her and wanted to know what she had in her dress. “Roses,” she is said to have responded. And when he demanded to see evidence, her dress turned out to be indeed full of roses. This charming legend became known as the Miracle of Roses and eventually merited Isabel beatification. However, it is said that this miracle was borrowed from Isabel’s aunt, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary,5 who was canonized for it before Isabel even became queen.

This kind of appropriation ultimately informs this project and Vale’s practice in general, in so far as he is interested in the fictitious or fable-like components of Portuguese cultural identity and by extension identity in general. When we learn that the soccer balls and soccer net actually refer to a abundance of Portuguese sports papers and the implicit notion of O milagro do football the miracle of soccer — as, a Portuguese adage has it, it is a miracle because it brings people together – it becomes clear that this sunken boat is really, specifically about the apparently miraculous nature of Portuguese identity and more generally about how cultural identity is formed. The title of this work actually comes from a song by the legendary queen of Fado, Amália Rodrigues. 6 Of interest here is perhaps less the content of the song than the basic fact of Amália, Fado, its origins and its complicated role in Portuguese culture and history. Fado music, which is Portugal’s biggest cultural export, and which has its roots in African slave and Moorish songs, was originally developed by sailors to express their perilous and nostalgic seafaring blues. Limited to certain low-class neighborhoods of Lisbon, Fado was frowned down upon as a cultural phenomenon of ill repute, and did not really become a staple of Portuguese cultural identity until it was co-opted by Salazar and the Estado Novo in order to promote Portuguese nationalism. 7 All of which is to say that Fado, as we know it, a cornerstone of Portuguese culture, is largely the fruit of totalitarian propaganda. Taking all of this into consideration, Vale’s Barco Negro, its lack of sea worthiness notwithstanding, ironically enough becomes both literally and symbolically buoyed up through content, suspending itself in the imagination among this web of signification.

Quem não chora, não mama! (2006), a multipart project likewise takes it point of departure from significant moment in Portuguese culture, this time a film. Directed by Leitão de Barros and winner of Venice’s biennale cup in 1942, Ala-Arriba! was made in the north of Portugal, in Póvoa de Varzim with a cast of local fishermen and their wives who were not professional actors. It was also importantly made with the support of the Secretariado de propaganda nacional (the office of national propaganda); this remarkable film is a fascinating and complex tract of cultural propaganda. In it these simple, good, god-fearing fisherman and their family’s lives and customs are richly, minutely, and even cloyingly described. We see them fish, dance, get married; we see their ‘authentic’ folksy clothes, their fishing boats, as well as various cultural artifacts (when at a certain point a hand picks up and displays a small ceramic bull like that in Amores Perfeitos, I had the strange, uncanny feeling that this film was conceived six decades ago expressly to illustrate the work of João Pedro Vale). Portugal, the film seemingly seeks to tell us, even in its remotest regions such as northern fishing villages, is a country luxuriant with age-old traditions and a kind of salt-of-the-earth cultural opulence.

For the purposes of this text and João Pedro Vale’s work, the point in the narrative (and tradition), which concerns us here, happens toward the end, during the film’s climax. Briefly stated: while the fishermen are out to sea, a storm hits and all the village women rush down to the beach, throw themselves on their knees and start praying and ululating with an awesome fervor. Never mind the fact that ululating is something that usually succeeds a tragedy or death, as opposed to preceding it, the dramatic force with which these women ululate is harrowing. There is something unspeakably fatalistic about the whole affair, ultimately reinforcing the implicit notion that a life yoked to the sea is simultaneously yoked to tragedy. And Portugal, its history and culture, is indeed yoked to the sea.

This project consists of three parts, a video Ala-Arriba!; a sound piece, Uma fenda na muralha; and a photograph, 7 calças (all works 2006). Encountering this three-part work in its original setting at Casa d’Os dias da água, we would have come across Uma fenda na muralha first, as it was installed outside, on the street via two speakers and broadcasted on loop. Uma fenda na muralha could be translated as, ‘a crack in the wall,’ and refers to, as in the de Barros film, that point of seafaring peril which once surmounted betokens sanctuary for the fisherman and their boats. Coming across the installation on the street, what we would have heard were actually the shrill lamentations and articulate ululations of women such as in the climax of de Barros’ film. Installed like this, the voices become disembodied and haunting; they are made all the more desperate and urgent due to the fact that they cannot be located, at least in theory. They could be said to have become a part of the place, issuing from its very foundations – an anthropomorphism consonant with Pedro Vale’s penchant for the fantastic and fable-like – or literally, they could be drolly issuing from some ‘crack in the wall’ like little pixies warning us about some unseen danger and/or dutifully enacting some strange cultural rite to ensure our safe passage. Meanwhile inside Casa d’Os dias da água, Ala-Arriba! was exhibited as a single channel video. Ala-Arriba, shot in black-and-white without sound, seems as if it could have been culled from behind-the-scenes footage of a reunion of the surviving members of the original cast of the Leitão de Barros’ 1942 film. In the first part of the video, we are treated to shots of various septuagenarians and octogenarians decked out in traditional garb as they perform folkloric dances in a dance studio. Close-ups of their unshod, dancing feet cut to images of their faces as they mill about in groups awaiting directions, as if in-between scenes. This soundless imagery eventually moves on to shots of a group of women, some of who can be recognized from among the previous dancers, and who are decked out in black shawls and sequestered in a room apart. They read from scripts, histrionically wave their arms about, and move amongst one another, apparently ululating. Disarmed by the high tragedy of their solemnly dramatic undertaking, they visibly dissolve into fits of laughter. Their mirthful mien hardly corresponds to the tragic content of the disembodied voices outside on the street, and yet these women are their authors. Here, the incongruity of what is seen and heard comes into sharply into the foreground, as the artist pulls back the curtain not once, but twice. Firstly, when unveiling the unsuspected hilarity behind these searing expressions of soi-disant despair. And secondly, with the video as a whole, which could be read as a sort of behind the scenes, long after the fact, of Leitão de Barros’ original film. It’s as if João Pedro Vale wanted to enter into the rather shabby, allegorical machinery of de Barros’ masterpiece and uncover or release the humanity hidden behind this ‘wholesome’ allegory’s participants. As an interesting reversal takes place here: where the original film endearingly struggles to incorporate its seams, i.e., unprofessional acting, and as a consequence often comes off as starkly artificial, 8 Vale’s interstitial interpretation, which is but an uneven collection of seams, comes off as remarkably authentic and human in most disarming and touching way.

This wish to enter into the fabric of things, so to speak, becomes literal in the third part of this piece, 7 Calças (7 Pairs of Pants). This consists of a color photo in which the artist has had his waist/mid-drift photographed while wearing 7 pairs of unbuttoned pants. The patterned fabrics of the pants vary greatly from one another and are of a style more worn by older Portuguese fishermen. Reminiscent of the more laconically sensual photos of pants by the German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, Pedro Vale’s photo comes across as voluptuously if ironically sensual, as his variegated layers markedly double as a floral or vulval motif, in the end, lend the photo a strange and unexpected erotic force. However, the operative, very un-erotic reference here is the women of Nazarré who traditionally wear seven skirts, a decidedly burdensome yet mystical and thoroughly chaste number. Wryly inverting a folkloric dress code, the artist again seeks to enter, this time by way of participation, a cultural tradition. A part of the humor of this piece comes from the failure of his attempt at participation (it may be merely cumbersome for a woman to don 7 skirts, it is virtually impossible for a man to wear 7 pairs of pants), while the other part is more anthropological (and even auto-referential in terms of the artist’s practice) and addresses the ultimate impenetrability of the very gender-specific cultural tradition itself.

A final project that I would like to address brings into play the more patently fantastical and fable-esque side of Vale’s practice, such as found in his earlier pieces like When you wish upon a star (2001) and Feijoeiro (2004) to name just a few, and synthesizes it with the artist’s more recent frontally historical, propagandistic, and anthropological interests as explored above. This is a series of 13 smaller scale sculptures that Vale originally presented at Layr: Wuestenhagen Contemporary in Vienna in 2006. The title of the exhibition was “Quanta rariora tanta meliora,” (The rarer the better) allegedly one of Emperor Maximilian II, the Holy Roman Emperor of the Hapsburg Empire, favorite mottos. These sculptures were inspired by cabinets of curiosities such as possessed by the Emperor Maximilian II himself and D. Catherine of Austria, Queen of Portugual. Evocative of Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, this body of work addresses issues like colonial expansion — and in particular, methods of propaganda or fiction deployed to fire the imagination and ultimately advance the colonial cause — the origins of the museum, its role in defining national identity, and even romantic conceptions of art.

Vale created a series of decorated objects ranging from a Unicorn’s pearl-encrusted horn, a faux-gold inlay Nautilus topped by an exotic feather to a Bezoar enshrined in an elaborate scepter-like armature embellished with Sagres beer bottle caps. These sculptures, deliberately unconvincing hybrids of symbolic elements, often reference not only the supposed existence of mythological beasts (i.e., the unicorn), but bogus magical qualities that certain exotic elements purportedly possessed. For example, the Bezoar, a concretion found in the intestines of mostly ruminant animals, was believed, in the 15th century, to be a panacea for all poisons. Placed in a glass of water, the Bezoar communicated its magical properties to the water that once consumed, would miraculously function as an antidote to any poison. Here, in addition to literally playing upon the tales of the fantastical and magical that could be said to have initially fueled the colonialist enterprise (more directly approached by the objects such as the Unicorn’s horn), the artist is also symbolically addressing the romantic role of the artist as shaman and his ability to relieve the world of its evils. This is made all the more ironic by the materials Vale uses to make these sculptures. Employing everything from silicone, glue from a glue gun, wigs, gilded tacks, cigarette packs, rubber toys, denim, fake pearls, ribbons, and various and sundry unclassifiable elements, Vale creates magic do-it-yourself exotica, whose seams, upon even cursory inspection, are so apparent that they could hardly be expected to beguile even the most ardent, legend-besotted believer.9

But finally this it seems, seams and all, is how culture is made – through stuff like propaganda (which, incidentally, never seeks to conceal its seams), fictional hybrids, ideological doctorings of history, all manner of cultural borrowings, and even a bit of magic if necessary. It’s as if we just unpacked the contents of a classic mountebank’s suitcase. But then again, it could be argued that anytime we look closely enough at the word “culture” we end up unpacking a mountebank’s suitcase. In any event, with a certain seductive faux naïveté, the work of João Pedro Vale declares as much. But when scrutinized, unlike the mountebank, his work does not collapse or dissolve into so much florid rhetoric, but rather, it does just the opposite— abundantly and sumptuously expands, disclosing so many untold riches.

Chris Sharp

1 António de Oliveira Salazar was an economist, statesman and de facto dictator from 1932 to 1968 of Portugal and the Estado Novo, which came to an end in 1974.
2 Edward W. Said’s Culture and Imperialism is a classic example of this, extensively demonstrating the extent to which imperialist ideology has been historically perpetuated and sanctioned by nationalist literatures and vice versa. While the stated theme of Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, is ‘Africanism’ and the role of African-Americans played in American literature and the formation of American identity as well as notions of freedom, her theories can be more generally applied to any given geographical situation where subjugation of the another people takes place. For a fictionalizing ideology, which underpins the freedom and power to subjugate, must necessarily follow. As far as 20th century fascist or totalitarian states go, when they have not been colored by revisionist histories of erasure and or retroactive teleologies, they have been served by propaganda, and more pointedly, cultural propaganda, used to propagate the nationalist faith, (imposed) cultural identity and hence historical legitimacy. That said, it should also be stated here that the following text is not necessarily going to be a treatment of colonialism and imperialism per se, with all its attendant bywords (“the other,” etc); I reference Said and Toni Morrison merely to foreground the ethos among which João Pedro Vale’s work operates both directly and indirectly.
3 The title comes from Luís Vas de Camões, “Os Lusíadas”, Canto III, est. 120, v. 8.
4 To give more of an idea of the artist’s working process, he recounted to me that the juxtaposition of these Lenços de Namorados with the bulls was initially inspired by misspelled, amorous graffiti inscribed on the original pair of bulls themselves found outside the museu de arte popular.
5 It is said that Elizabeth of Hungary had alms and not bread stowed away in her dress.
6 The song, Barco Negro is about a fisherman’s widow, presumably in the north, who sings about fidelity beyond the grave. It is worth noting here that a piece of Portuguese folkloric fatalism has it that women from Northern fishing villages are ‘born widows.’ Also worth noting is that women Fado singers are traditionally dressed all in black.
7 What better way to render a people complicit in their own oppression and disenfranchisement than by imposing upon them a spurious cultural heritage that cast them as the lyrical authors of their own innate and therefore insuperable unhappiness? If Fado expressed the ‘Portuguese soul,’ was indeed the pure product of the ‘Portuguese soul,’ then any modifications in the material conditions in which that soul existed could hardly be expected to improve things.
8 Here it could be counter argued that it is through their unprofessional acting, i.e., the showing of their seams that the villagers never fully submit to the symbolic serviceability, and hence inhumanity, that allegory imposes upon those that inhabit it. But it could likewise be argued that it is precisely through their manque de natural that the actors woodenly betray to what extent they are forced to be serviceable.
9 And yet perceived from a distance, they do wield a strange and unexpected power. Seen as they were originally shown together in the gallery in Vienna (“their natural habitat”), these sculptures actually had a curious, almost magically transformative effect on the gallery space. Viewed from the outside, it seemed less a gallery of contemporary art than a temporary historical museum space housing an exhibition of rare and exotic curios. This is interesting reversal from what we normally expect from the white cube, so to speak: in this case it is not the white cube that incontestably confers the status of ‘art’ upon whatever enters its space, but rather it is a group of (magic) objects that deprives it of its (magical) power by virtue of their bizarre, iconic museological properties.
This also is not the first time that Vale has addressed Portugal’s museums, their antique contents and the discursive practices associated with both. His project, “Misercordia” (2005), was largely inspired by an unsolved jewel theft that took place in Museon in The Hague, Netherlands in 2002. It turned out the most valuable pieces stolen in this Hollywood-esque heist were some of Portugal’s most precious jewels, on loan from Portugal for an exhibition about diamonds. Portugal was eventually compensated the sum of 6.2 million euro for the purloined jewels, but many claimed in Portugal that this loss of the country’s patrimony was irreparable. For his project, “Misercordia” Vale meticulously re-created the precious objects from various everyday materials. For example, Dom José the First’s castão – the ornamental, jewel encrusted golden head of the patriarch’s walking stick – he recreated from Styrofoam, card, chiseled copper sheet, golden and silver chocolate silver-paper. In the case of this theft and its subsequent controversy, it is difficult not to remark its emasculatory nature. Here, João Pedro Vale in recreating the nation’s bygone patrimony, could be said to be speciously offering Portugal back its cultural fecundity, so to speak, via a series of brilliantly, kitschy homemade fakes, which in the end, are perhaps more culturally fecund than the originals they so shabbily seek to imitate.