João Pedro Vale +
Nuno Alexandre Ferreira
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The Vice of History
Pedro Lapa in Conversation with João Pedro Vale

In your work, you constantly return to objects, signs, or even narratives drawn from everyday life, and especially from popular culture. You seem to have great fun – almost perversely so – in dislodging these from their original contexts. How do they come to you, these images? How do you choose them?
The idea of popular culture presents itself as an opportunity for me to work on those things with which I identify, things that, in principle, the viewing public can recognise. These signs might then evolve, bearing in mind the fact that, as they belong to the collective imaginary, I might then ask to what extent such belonging has conferred upon them an instant legibility.

What does this notion of a collective imaginary mean to you?
I would say that the collective imaginary is the lowest common denominator of a given theme, so that, standing in front of each work, any viewer would think he or she had an opinion about the issue raised. There is, here, the desire to reach all of the work’s possible publics. Perhaps it’s easier to think of a common-sense idea as the motor of this collective imaginary. In truth, I don’t know if it really exists, and if so, what its determining characteristics are. What I’m interested in exploring is this fact that people always have opinions about everything, but also, how much a person really knows about a given subject determines his or her distance or proximity from my real subject in each project. Of course, here we embark upon a game that’s always already vitiated by the fact that I can attribute different meanings, or different degrees of signification, to the various constitutive parts of each work. What’s important is that the viewer should be invited to question the facts presented, when, in principle, because of our everyday familiarity with them, these appear to him or her as indisputable.

So, then, you harbour some notion of sharing?
Yes, depending on the way each project takes shape, and to the extent that the signifiers in my work are researched and elaborated, I always keep in mind the fact that the public comes to my work with preconceived notions. It’s around such preconceptions that I’m interested in working.

The way you query these signs is related not so much to their materiality, as to their use value. Are you, in fact, more interested in the use value than in the physical properties of the materials you use?
I felt it was important to expose what the pieces were made of. The chewing gums stuck onto the carpet, or the bars of laundry soap in Can I Wash You? (1999), were, in effect, recognisable substances, so that viewers would immediately know that the pieces were not the product of an act of technical virtuosity. In both those cases, I was as concerned with the use value as in the physical properties, because, if it is the use of the objects and materials that contributes to their significance, this significance is, in turn, associated with an object’s utilisation. For instance, in addition to the other meanings that it might evoke, that kind of blue and white soap is always used for laundering, and this idea of laundering adds to the layers of signification of this work.

My question was really about the difference between use value and the givenness of a material... I wonder in what way materiality in your work perhaps does not occupy the entirety of the objects, but assumes, rather, an almost ironic and perverse relation to its use.
Yes, that’s true, because the object’s utility is dislodged from its usual conventions. What exists, then, is something material and its everyday uses. It’s in relation to this that I work. Then, there is an interpretation that’s provoked by the dislocation of the use value of this material, and it’s here that the viewer’s preconceived ideas come into play in relation to the symbolic value of the material in question. When you notice this dislocation, you’re faced with your own preconceived ideas, thus unleashing the vexation of those very ideas.

You don’t choose these objects purely for their material properties, as was the case with arte povera. There isn’t here, in other words, the idea of a substance endowed with an essence. It seems to me that the choice of objects is determined by the social or historical contexts of its uses and practices. So the poetics of materiality, in which previous generations of artists were immersed, seems to me to play a less important role in your work.
I’m not interested in materials for their physical properties, but for their poetics. In a way, the objects I choose allow me to elaborate on such poetics. Sometimes, I choose objects that already exist; at other times, the objects are reinvented in relation to the material that’s going to clad them. When I used lipstick in Beefcake, I based the supporting object on an idea from images of weightlifting exercises from the 1950s.

OK, but that doesn’t answer my question. Do you understand by the term “poetics” some kind of use value, or the kind of exalted lyrical expression in search of a hidden essence so beloved of the Portuguese?
I understand it as the potentiality for the construction of a universe in which I’m interested in working. So it’s not so much a lyrical exaltation as a thread linking and articulating the multiple dislocations in meaning that my works propose.

So then do you situate yourself within the paradigm of artist-as-ethnographer, a status achieved after the art object successively expanded its fields of operation over the last thirty or forty years? If so, today, this paradigm covers an extensive range of artistic practices, so what is it in particular that interests you?
Obviously, for the type of programme I’m proposing, where I elaborate on aspects of the collective imaginary, the question is so broad that I have always tried to confine the themes to particular issues with which I am more closely concerned, things with which I would find it easier to deal. In this sense, I take on board the questions that are more pertinent to me at the time that I’m working on each particular project. In my earliest works, I used the gay community as my point of reference so as to be able to speak about identity construction via the aestheticisation of the body. In confining the work to a particular community, I also narrowed the scope of my activity, in the sense that I was talking about a more restricted – and therefore more easy to analyse – group, so as to examine issues that in fact concerned a wider range of people.
In my more recent projects, this idea of identity has not been confined to sexual identity, but rather, to that of national identity. This interest emerged when I started showing my work abroad, and when I myself began to travel more extensively and to ask myself what it means to be Portuguese.

Do you think that the properties of a community are applicable to society in general?
I don’t believe that there are whole worlds specific to each individual community. But, yes, I do believe that you can draw a line around a particular group of people in order to look at what they have in common. Every community is also a part of a larger, global system on which, in addition to community ties with people with whom one identifies, one also depends. In this sense, the specificity of communities is incrementally reduced, since globalisation and the circulation of information allow the same things to be known by an increasing number of people. In my more recent projects, what has prompted my interest in this idea of national identity – and in particular when my work began to circulate abroad – was not the specificity of Portuguese culture, but, rather, the endeavour to question the notion of national identity in a broader sense, just as any other person of any other nationality might do. Nevertheless, in doing so, since I’m Portuguese, I tap into various resources from my own culture. I am not interested in folklore, but in the mechanisms that have produced it, and it is for these mechanisms that I try to find equivalents.

So is what you’re describing, in effect, an archaeological project concerning social constraints, plus the irony of he who uncovers them?
Yes, if we’re to understand this archaeology as a study of the processes that lead to social constraints or strictures. Here, irony operates as a device for exposing both the processes used and the constraints that these attempt to deconstruct. It might sound a bit tautological, but given that any deconstruction is always also a new construction, these processes are always delimited by social constraints.

So then, in your understanding, is identity – the very idea of national identity – an already-given, or do you see it as the result of a process of identification?
For me, it’s a process of identification that’s always in flux, in accordance with the changes in prevailing social and historical conditions. For instance, you might think of national identity in relation to the growth of the European Union, or the ways in which an individual identifies with various different groups throughout the process of his or her socialisation.

But to return to your working process: do you think there are parallels between your research methods and ethnographic field work?
My work incorporates a process of research that might appear similar to that of ethnographic field work, since for each project, I’m concerned with the encounter between an idea that I might have of a particular reality, and that reality itself. This was the case, for instance, in my projects around Nazaré,1 where in fact it was important for me to get in touch with local agents. But nevertheless, it’s not ethnographic in the sense that I don’t initiate research with a tabula rasa, stripping away my own cultural baggage in order to discover an ostensible truth. In fact what I’m interested in is precisely how to use my own preconceived ideas as a point of departure for my research. What I want is not to rid myself of my preconceptions, but to try and understand the way that these local agents contribute to their formulation. In this, I’m like a researcher who, during ethnographic field work, gathers data with indifference, but to which I afterwards attribute different degrees of importance, depending on the direction I want my project to take. In other words, here my methods diverge from the methodologies of ethnographic research.

You make your work in a Portuguese context, which, historically, has been fairly slow in adopting the changes and re-configurations that artistic practices have undergone in the past thirty years. However, you belong to that generation of artists that emerged at the beginning of this millennium, in a context more permeable to the circulation of information, where more dedicated institutions exist, and, perhaps, where greater attention is paid to local artists by international agents (though, frankly, is that really the case?). You also regularly exhibit your work in international shows. How, in this context, do you consider your practice?
I’m very aware of this at the outset of each new project. When I take on board ideas that are more easily understandable in a Portuguese context, I try to formulate what it is that makes those ideas more easy to disseminate in a Portuguese context, or why such ideas often go unquestioned in Portugal. However, I don’t see it as my mission to use my work to explain national symbols abroad. Rather, I’m interested in the ways in which I take them on; how they might be understood in a more generalised way; how an overseas public might understand them, whether in terms of their knowledge of Portuguese culture, or whether in terms of what their culture has in common with ours.
Such common ground might owe itself either to cultural similarity, or to the fact that I use elements that belong to a universally understood symbolic language. Above all, I’m interested in finding out why a certain image might be understand in one way in Portugal, and differently understood somewhere else. It’s because of the difference in interpretations that the symbol, in its initial context, comes to be reformulated. My work is centred on this reformulation.

In a way, the signs and narrative sequences with which you work also submit themselves to a kind of derision through a historic process that constantly overlays them. Many of these signs are, in fact, not so contemporary, but, rather, they refer to a slightly more diffuse memory, some past...
Often, I work around questions that, while alluding to Portuguese culture, are not completely obvious, or don’t quite belong to the domain of popular culture. In this sense, my projects evolve around the idea of the recovery of the data that historical processes have erased, bearing in mind the pertinence of these very processes. I’d like the viewers to take cognizance of a certain type of question, and also of what distances them from those questions, given that these questions are about aspects of their own culture. However much the data belong to Portuguese culture, the outcome is always a personal reformulation, rather than being presented as ethnographic or anthropological findings. Because of this, members of the public, whether Portuguese or foreign, find themselves on an equal footing when faced with the final result. Only the reinterpretations would be different, having been reached through different processes.

But if you’re not familiar with these historic facts, or with recurrences of certain lifestyles, can you still understand the diversion or subversion that your work effects on them?
This subversion happens in two distinct phases. On the one hand, when I decide to work on a particular theme, I first make use of the preconceived ideas about that theme that I myself might have, as an individual slotted into a particular cultural context, or as someone that basically has something in common with the viewing public. Here, there is no attempt at analytic objectivity in relation to the theme I’ve chosen. Rather, what’s important is the symbolic representation of the facts, and not the facts themselves. However, the fact that I may not know all these historic details lands up being in itself important, because it makes me invert the processes of knowledge gathering, and perhaps this is where subversion begins. What matters isn’t that, when in possession of a certain kind of knowledge, you develop a way of representing it, but rather, the processes that led me to acquire that bit of knowledge in the first place.
The point of departure for the piece Português Suave2 (2002) was the name of the style of architecture sponsored by the Portuguese Estado Novo [New State]3, and an eponymous brand of cigarettes. In that sense, I was working with a detour taken by the name itself. When I decide to work on such a detour, I set in motion a series of new narratives that don’t attempt to explain the origin of this name in either of its contexts, but rather, that start with the uses to which each of the objects thus named is put. So from the outset, there’s a subversion of the historical facts, because I’m not concerned with exploring the architecture of that period, but rather, with using the forms of appropriation that are akin to it.
In the end, the project was more about the architecture of the so-called Portuguese emigrants,4 where a forms are borrowed from the styles of host countries of Portuguese migrants. Another example would be the nineteenth-century Pena Palace in Sintra, also an instance of appropriational architecture. But the title Português Suave manages to slip away from its task of naming either an architectural style or a brand of cigarettes, becoming autonomous and now designating a palace made of cardboard, similar in form to that of the Pena Palace, which is a national monument and tourist attraction. The oddest fact of all is that the Pena Palace itself is an appropriation of the Neuschwanstein Palace in Bavaria, which makes it recognisable even to a non-Portuguese public.

Does it still make sense, for a work that circulates in a broader, international context, to ask this kind of question, which relates so closely to local matters?
It does make sense, if one thinks that the questions that underlie each project may be rooted in a particular local culture, but may then have equivalents in other cultures, where these same questions perhaps make sense.

Is there, then, a possible translation between cultures? The use of a common language?
In my view, it’s the process through which a culture is formed that defines it in relation to other cultures. It’s as if the convergence and identification within a given group were provoked by its need to distinguish itself from other groups. And in this sense, the language of differentiation is a shared one.
For example, it strikes me that in some sort of hypothetical conflict between Lisbon and Oporto, I would identify with Lisbon; between Portugal and Spain, I would be Portuguese: between Europe and the United States, I would be European; between east and west, I would be western. And this leads me to believe that, in fact, different cultures do share certain things; things that, while allowing me to circulate in ever-widening spheres, also enable me to acknowledge that such a translation is possible.

Do you consider, then, that there are games that have to do with specific situations that may also be articulated more generically?
Yes. I may, for example, be speaking about a cultural situation that one can attribute to the dictatorship in Portugal, but I might also find parallels in other contexts of cultural production that occur under similar regimes, whether present-day, or contemporary with the Portuguese one.

So how would you position yourself in relation to the globalisation of information, economics and politics? How do these narratives, objects and signs operate in the context of a culture that forgets its historical past and that tends to homogenise it? Do your works, functioning as critiques, also operate as forms of resistance?
They don’t work as forms of resistance. On the contrary, they keep apace with globalisation itself, partaking of its very processes, in the sense that it is only globalisation that allows me to unite such disparate elements in a single project. Perhaps it would all make more sense if one thought in terms of translation rather than globalisation; of the fact that however much this global circulation exists, there is a lowest common denominator, and it’s in this sense that translation acquires its relevance: signs have to be constantly translated and reinvented. I believe that at the root of this globalisation and circulation, there exists the possibility of translation. I believe that, as an artist, all I can do is make works about those issues that are dear to me, that I can only make works where I attempt to translate my culture in a way that enables it to be apprehended by other cultures.

Do you mean translation, or criticism?
Certainly I subject my culture to critique, namely, via the processes of translation themselves. But if I limited myself to translating it, I might run the risk of mimicking the very processes used by the Portuguese New State to translate and give visibility to so-called popular culture in the collective imaginary of that period, whether locally, or internationally. That process was responsible for the creation of myths that still today remain resistant to deconstruction.

You seem to be intimating the idea of a lowest common denominator and that of a founding origin, but everything you do dislodges and twists such a notion. Or is it that you simply invoke it in order to subvert it?
Yes, I do invoke it in order to subvert it, but often, it’s the viewer who must perform this subversion by adding information from his or her own experience to what information I supply. However, the way in which these facts are present is already dislocated and distorted in order to guide the viewer towards a certain reading, namely by the fact that I’ve already made a choice. For instance, I enjoyed making a pair of ceramic bulls, in the style of the Barcelos rooster, which then always remains implicit in the work.5 In this play of clichés, the fact that I haven’t chosen the most obvious objects is the starting point of this distortion, because it changes the proportional importance of those elements.

In your early pieces, you often worked with consumer products related to bodily pleasures – for instance chewing gum, lipstick, towels – that you then used to construct other everyday objects, which in turn are also related to the body. Are you also concerned with unsettling fantasies related to desire?
Desire appears here in two ways: on the one hand, because the pieces are about the body; on the other, in the way the works confront the viewer, who then comes up against his or her own desire of the other, and the ways in which he or she may, in turn, be desired. The objects I showed at Módulo in 2000 referenced gym equipment, as if the gym were the site where the body prepared itself for subsequent pleasures.

While the function of such a piece of equipment is, in a way, therapeutic, it also exceeds such therapy, and it is in that excess that pleasure lies. The chewing gum that you use to clad it re-inscribes this notion of the desire of the body onto the body itself. The object is transformed into the fantasy of desire itself. Would you say this exhibition announces the fantasies of desire as the hubris underlying your work?
These objects suggest a use, or rather, they suggested what would happen to them if they were used, but above all, they worked as small provocations of the viewer, not only because of the direct speech in the phrases I used, but also through the employment and association of unexpected materials and objects, and the way I dislodged these from their everyday use and placed them in a new context.
At the entrance to the exhibition, there was a flag made out of a towel that boasted the inscription touch and go, as if this was some kind of warning. This suggested a title for the exhibition, but it also operated more literally as the towel that one takes to the gym. This is one of the objects that might connote other objects of bodily use, not only through its original function, but also because, as in the other works, it bears traces of the body. The towel, even if it hasn’t actually been used by anyone, signifies something that has been touched, retaining something of a body that might be desired. Meanwhile, lipstick passes from one body to another via touch or kiss, so if you took the words “touch and go” literally, you’d leave marks on the visitor’s own body.
What I landed up doing was to incorporate the presence of my own body in those pieces. I myself had chewed the gum covering those gym machines, so that the viewer, in making contact with the work, also in a sense made contact with my own body. There was another work called Lick My Balls (2000), where this idea of desire, linked to the kiss and to saliva (as if this desire was something edible) was also manifest.

In Body Sculpture (2000), which consists of a piece of gym equipment covered in chewing gum, not only are there numerous assertions about the body and the hubris underpinning it, but also, the piece casts an ironic glance at the working processes of other artists, such as Matthew Barney, in the sense that it disallows the work from being either mythologised or from functioning symbolically, rather, returning them always to the uses of desire. It’s that desire is always present, before any symbolic dimension, is that it?
In this particular project, an association with the work of Matthew Barney is inevitable because of the materials and objects with which I’ve chosen to work. But I’m not interested in the mythologisation of the materials themselves. Rather, I’m concerned that these should be understood for what they signify, and for the way in which they’re put to everyday use. I’m more concerned with the change in meaning that the object undergoes through the signification of its cladding, than with unleashing a scatology of the senses. Here, desire erupts as something pre-existing that exceeds the choice of objects or the choice of materials, in order to then be given back to the viewer.

Still on this exhibition: there were works with an explicit sexual connotation, others that were more sensory; whichever way, desire was omnipresent and undermined all pretensions at symbolisation, and this was also the case with the way you used gym weights.
With the weights, I was interested in thinking about how desire is contained by social, cultural and political conventions. For instance, the way the American army was able to cohabit with two entirely opposed ideas: on the one hand, that there should be a motto (the motto that lends this work its title) that says that you can be whoever you want to be, so long as no one knows; on the other hand, that you can defend a sexual ideology and at the same time defend the institution that condemns it. It’s about thinking of camouflage not only as something that’s part of military equipment, but also as a mechanism that exists in order that a person might assert himself within the very system that condemns him. I dealt with these questions not only in the weights wrapped in camouflage, which were inscribed with the words “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue”, but also in Beefcake. Here, in addition to the more overt references to Warhol’s film, there’s a quotation from a magazine, namely the Athletic Model Guild Physique Pictorial from the 1950s, that, in the context of a puritan America, presented itself as a “health and fitness” publication, but it was in fact consumed as an erotic magazine.

In a sense, nothing exists outside of desire itself...
Yes, desire in the sense that it’s here depicted, as something that motivates us.

To return to the question of translation: in some of your works, you’ve attempted to explore this im/possibility and to play with misunderstandings, with how strange it is when one language is transformed into another. There’s one very odd work, Goalball, which was shown at the exhibition O Carteiro Toca Apenas Duas Vezes [The Postman Only Rings Twice], that displaces into the context of visual art a game meant for the blind.
Yes, Goalball (2000) deals precisely with this question of translation. The idea for the project sprang from my having attended a series of guided tours at the Communications Museum. The idea of the group show for which this project was made, was that each of the artists should work around a particular aspect of the museum, and I used the guided tours as my point of departure. I was astounded to hear that visually impaired constituted one of the largest groups to attend these guided tours, possibly because their jobs were in telecommunications.
Obviously, this was a particularly interesting group of visitors, as there could be no point in lecturing them while walking them through the exhibition. Rather, this provided an opportunity for them to touch objects of which they had previously only heard. It became evident to me that I would have to develop a project following an inverse process, in other words, rather than the piece having to be explained to the those who can’t see it, to use as a starting point something from the community of the visually impaired that the fully sighted should have to decipher.
Goalball is the only game at the para-olympics that hasn’t been adapted from an already existing game: it’s a game created by and for the visually impaired. My piece operated as a museum display of this sport, shown in such a way as to be understood by both the sighted and the visually impaired. But in the end, working on the piece raised new questions about why the game itself operated in accordance with a set of rules that had to be adjudicated by sighted judges, and why that the number of these judges exceeded that of the players. Also, the teams are grouped in accordance with levels of visual impairment, the players being distinguished by gender, and the players of each team being further subdivided into colour-coded gear. So the rules landed up unsettling the original idea of an entirely democratic game, or at least that’s what’s claimed by the visually impaired community.

The work titled Help (2001), made for the exhibition Disseminações [Disseminations] at Culturgest, which was the first time you worked in video, evokes the idea of the uncanny, as discussed by Freud: something familiar that suddenly seems strange. Onto the sheets covering a bed is projected a script that covers the bed entirely with the word “help”. It’s as if the sheet were a piece of writing paper. The fact that video here constitutes a medium for the projection of an interior, or even psychological, space is not irrelevant.
The work arose out of the fusion of two images that I wanted to explore: first, the opening scene from Woody Allen’s film Celebrities (1998), where an aeroplane traces out the word Help in the sky above New York; and then, the scene in The Exorcist (1973) where the same word appears, written on Linda Blair’s stomach. These are, in both cases, mute screams. Here, the bed acts as a screen for projection, but there are also all sorts of images that we associate with the bed itself. The word help that appears repeatedly on it reconfigures this as a situation of total insecurity; sleeping or dreaming as conditions – whether it’s to do with one’s fears or desires – that one can’t control. Another suggestion is of a shared intimacy, whether that’s because it’s a double bed, or because the space around the bed suggested a false privacy, a cosy space, perhaps because it was carpeted and painted blue. The bed was presented as an arena where each person projected his or her own cry for help.

The work When You Wish Upon a Star (2001), made for the exhibition Apresentação [Presentation], seems to have been motivated by the specificity of the space – a carpenter’s shop. However, the figure of Pinocchio and its structural role in the cultural imaginary of the twentieth century overrides the site-specific nature of the piece. Site specificity has been a recurrent concern in the last few decades. What importance does the site have for your work?
The location is always important, because it provides information not only for the production of the work, but also because it contextualises the project in the space where it’ll be seen by the public. When You Wish Upon a Star was not only made for a carpenter’s shop; it was also the result of an invitation to work with the objects that already existed in that space. When I was invited onto that show, the space hadn’t been cleaned up yet and it was full of the working utensils that had belonged to a single carpenter, the last to work there. The idea of Gepetto immediately sprang to mind, especially as I was interested in the idea of how a man could create something that’s associated with women. The idea of “giving birth” [lit. bringing to light] hit me, almost perversely, as the space belonged to EDP, the company that distributes electricity.6
Gepetto makes the puppet, but life is only given to him through the intervention of the blue fairy, so the blue satin in this work adds the association to this female figure, because Gepetto alone was not able to generate a life. However, there’s another male character, Joseph, who was also a carpenter, and who was used in order to complete a family – the sacred family – and it was precisely this distortion of the idea of the traditional Judaeo-Christian family that I wanted to think about.

Following this sculpture, you made others that were also based on fictional characters that are structural in the literary and cinematographic imaginary of childhood. So we have Dorothy (2001), Scarlett (2002), and the Beagle Brothers in The Closet (2002). Do these define the status quo for the structuring models of desire in the context of a cultural order that you decided to twist?
All these characters had some kind of perverse potential that I could work on. It was as if each one exemplified some aspect that I wanted to explore in each of the projects. If the image of Pinocchio might serve to distort the idea of what constitutes a family, other characters from the childhood imagery could also be adopted, since they already suggested the perversion of qualities that underpin the formation of infantile subjects, and my characters stood as exemplars of those qualities. My representation of the Beagle Boys emerged as the single embodiment of a group of thieves who were invariably punished for their crimes, and who, as a group, were identifiable through their masks. The Closet is about the fact that people have to be categorised in order to be identified, or in order to make such recognition easier. What we see is one of the Beagle Boys in a cupboard, doubled up in search of his mask, as if this was his only identifying characteristic, the only way in which he might be recognised. Outside the cupboard, there’s a flag with the words “does anyone see my mask?” This impasse is, of course, ironic: suddenly we have someone who, in order to show himself, in order to “come out of the closet”, needs a mask!
Scarlett (2002) is also in an impasse. Suddenly, we see a figure that’s moving, but that’s always repeating the same motion. This figure seems to be trying to shake off a pile of clothes that, after all, is just a single dress; in this case, the famous dress that had been sewn out of curtains at the end of the film [Gone with the Wind]. The curtain dress acts as a poor simulacrum of the old, lost lifestyle, as though it were a mask through which Scarlett carries on wishing to be identified.
Dorothy (2001) works differently. If in Scarlett, an electric fan was used to bring movement to the piece, while at the same time ironising the “wind” in the film’s title, in Dorothy, there’s also an electronic device, making the legs move, repeating Dorothy’s motion of tapping her feet in her magic shoes, with the magic words “there’s no place like home” now inscribed on the soles of pair of men’s shoes.
Frequently, Dorothy [from The Wizard of Oz] and Judy Garland are linked to the gay community, and I was interested in why this was so, the idea that the Stonewall riots, which led to the gay liberation movement, is also associated with the day Judy Garland died; or that the rainbow in the movie’s most popular song might be associated with the gay rainbow flag.

So the pink balloon in the shape of the palace of Ludwig of Bavaria, and Martin Luther King’s phrase “I have a dream” serve as a kind of synthesis that override all these questions? A gay manifesto that, seeing that the balloon has collapsed, has suffered an accident?
It’s about the impossibility of seeing a dream come true, in the case of the Luther King quote, but this could be any other utopian dream, and it’s in this sense that I’m interested in thinking of this idea of a manifesto gone wrong. But it could also be about what happens after a manifesto: The fallen balloon could be the result of an accident, but it could also be a successful, forced landing. The balloon might simply have been abandoned because it was no longer of any use.

So what do you do with the utopia in this instance?
What I do is question why it needs to exist; querying the extent to which it makes sense to surrender human aspirations to dreams or utopias, or if this is only a form of self indulgence, a kind of apology for inertia. However, historically, utopias have always been open to manipulation by new meanings, whose ultimate outcome has diverged from the initial ideal.

Do you think that there is still, today, a utopia that’s shared by the gay community, or has such a utopia already been accounted for in all parts of society?
It depends on what political interests exist. The other day, someone asked me if I was a post-Stonewall artist, which in fact makes sense to me, if one thinks of Stonewall as a turning point in the struggle for homosexual rights. Until then, there was the utopia of a liberation that, here certainly, was shared by the whole gay community. But after that episode, when the discussion around liberation became more widespread, it came to be understood in the most diverse ways. For some, it came to mean the possibility of de facto unions, while for others free sex was important. So there’s no longer a shared utopia. Having been born in the seventies, and in Portugal, where pragmatism replaces utopias, I just experienced these debates second hand.

So then why, in I Have a Dream (2002), do you have recourse to the obsolete figure of a romantic king dreaming of absolute transcendence?
Above all, this is a work about disenchantment. And for this reason, it was important to begin with an object of enchantment. I chose a palace because my generation grew up watching Disney films: that palace was, for me, first Cinderella’s palace, and only afterwards that of Ludwig II. This ambivalence is important in the sense that when, today, we think of the Palace of Neuschwanstein, we associate it more, via Disney, with the imagery of childhood than with the madness of the king and the Wagnerian ideals that lay behind its construction. But this madness, or this ambition, do not, for all that, cease to be present. The problem is that all that happened before the existence of mass communications. I’m interested in exploring how images get superimposed on one another and how meanings shift in the collective imaginary. If we excavate the idea or the image of a palace, we’d all find hidden meanings there. The same applies to Martin Luther King’s affirmation. He said “I have a dream” in the very specific context of the black American struggle for civil rights, but when this struggle fades into the background and the phrase continues to be used almost formulaically, it loses its political edge and comes to mean only what it says, but in an almost childish way, at a time when it’s only when we’re children that we have dreams.

To what extent does the question of obsolescence present itself to you as a potentiality for work? In some of your works, we see a return to the forgotten uses of the object.
I’m interested in contemplating the process through which things become obsolete or outmoded at certain times, and then the way they enjoy a revival, sometimes with new uses and meanings. This might happen for simply practical reasons, because of new developments in technology. An example of this might be the various anchors one sees as public sculptures all over coastal cities, where their original use is transformed into something merely decorative. Or the reason might be cultural, as with fado7 music and its various historical significations, from being a popular song in the urban quarters of ill repute, to being the music of the bourgeois elite. These transmutations include the appropriation of fado by the fascist regime, transforming it into an expression of nationhood; its spurning after the April Revolution; and finally, the fact that a fado has now won a world music award on MTV.

You’ve quoted the palace of Ludwig of Bavaria in an inflatable, Disneyland version. Then the romantic national counterpart that constitutes Português Suave – the Pena Palace – has little wheels on it, as if it were something that could be transported from one place to another, rather than being grounded in a single place. In turn, cladding the building with packets of Português Suave cigarettes, with its hints of azulejos,8 evokes two more historical periods: that of fascist architecture, and the renewed immigration of the 1960s.
One of the things I really enoy about my working process is to query the meaning of signs. Português Suave has always been, for me, not so much an architectural style as a cigarette brand. My generation grew up with these packs of cigarettes, observing the changes in the design of the pack. It’s odd that today, the word Suave has fallen away from the brand because of the new E.U. norms that prohibit the use of words that might mislead consumers, and ‘suave’ could be taken for ‘light’. This erasure is almost perverse, since it’s that word ‘suave’ that’s the definitive one when one’s talking of the architectural style. However, to smoke a cigarette that’s simply called Português [Portuguese] is perhaps even more indicative of the nationalist rhetoric of the period in which the architectural style was promoted.
The architectural style Português Suave emerged in an attempt to create a typically Portuguese style of architecture to represent the New State, but it turned its back on everything modern, importing numerous styles that characterise totalitarian regimes, sweetened with elements of supposed rusticity, attributed to typical Portuguese architecture. The appropriation of elements from other architectural styles, so common in the architecture of homes built by Portuguese emigrants,9 and to this day popular in northern Portugal, echoes the great amalgamation of styles in the Pena Palace, and it was this that made me choose that palace. Today, it’s considered to be a symbol of Portuguese romanticism, but it was, itself, an important landmark, in that with its construction began a movement of cultural importation that prevailed for several decades.
The wheels, or the material from which this work is made – it’s a palace made of cardboard – and the allusion to the azulejos cladding the palace facades, are allusions to this frustrated attempt to create an object of national identity, that landed up being nothing more than a collection of narratives of exchange, so dear to Portuguese culture.

Does that mean that, in Portuguese history, utopian memories are substituted by dystopias?
I’d never thought of it in those terms, but I suppose that is the case. Portuguese history, as the history of voyages, has always been linked to totalitarian regimes, independent of the idea of liberation or of the ambitions attributable to it, whether in the period of Discoveries, when it was associated with absolutism, or in the period of immigration associated with fascism. One has to imagine the conditions under which people lived in order to understand why they were so readily recruited for those maritime expeditions, on the one hand, or so wanted to emigrate, on the other. The purported grandeur of the period of the Discoveries, a utopia of expansionism, can be linked to the miserable conditions under which they took place, and these two realities could not be more divergent. Similarly, the images we see today – images that were obviously censored at the time – of the shanty-towns on the outskirts of Paris, make me realise how miserable the situation in Portugal during the New State must have been, that even those destinations should have presented themselves as new and better opportunities. The phrase “the people who gave new worlds to the world” serves as a good instance of such utopianism, of how utopian visions are constructed on the foundations of dystopias, as if to camouflage the precarious material conditions under which the people of this country lived.

This is the first time in your work that you’re looking at architecture. I’m thinking of other artists, like Pedro Cabrita Reis, or, especially, Ângela Ferreira, or, more recently, Carlos Bunga or Sancho Silva, who’ve used sculpture as a means of thinking differently – critically – some of the imaginative, habitational, and even political assumptions that architecture frequently tends to reproduce no critically in the context of dominant social values.
In my work, architecture is one of numerous cultural products. I’m interested in buildings as symbols, and not as spaces that are inhabited. My point of departure is always imagery, representations of spaces or buildings, and never architecture per se. I’m interested in the representations of those architectural spaces as something to which meanings accrue. For instance, for the project Português Suave, my point of departure was picture postcards of the Pena Palace; for Heróis do Mar (2004) [Heroes of the Seas] it was postal stamps. More recently, an imaginary image printed on the frontispiece of a document about a siege of the City of Mazagan [1562] served as the source for the salt tower in No entanto ela move-se (Mazagão) (2007) [In the Meanwhile, She Moves (Mazagan)]. Here, what I did was to give body to the imaginary representation of the city, rather than reproduce an image of the city itself. I was more concerned with the representation of the fortress that defined the city, than with the fortress itself.

With Heróis do Mar, the confluence of references and memories that you’ve discussed in relation to Português Suave is even greater: a prevalent architectural style; sand as a marker of Portuguese identity; the castle-building competitions held in summer on beaches all over the country during the dictatorship; the title of the piece itself, quoting, as it does, the national anthem; historical memory; the connotation of something that’s phallic, but that also seems about to collapse...
It is about to collapse! As I’ve already said, the piece was based on a set of postal stamps from all over the world. It’s an attempt to depict a type, rather than a specific lighthouse. The fact of my having used stamps from all over the world is important, in that the lighthouse comes to act as a frontier object, an object that, in the last instance, marks out the border of a country. This frontier is geographically fluid and, more importantly still, it is culturally fluid. In this sense, the ephemerality of sand castles alludes to the desire for an identity that, supposedly, run contrary to such fluidity.

Could one therefore say that, from these works on, iconography and iconology begin to play an increasingly important role in the production of your work?
Yes, absolutely, perhaps because I’d been living in Ireland for some months. The Irish situation isn’t that different from the Portuguese one, with a whole tranche of the population that’s emigrated to the United States, the power of the church, the adjacency of a greater power, and so on, but it’s ironic that the country has presented itself to tourists as a green space with sheep-filled fields, when in fact these are simply unoccupied terrains in a country whose population has fled! Of course I’m putting it in a somewhat extreme way, but it allowed me to think about the typical picture postcards of Nazaré, or of the image of Portugal that was forged during the New State, where poverty was turned into a virtue. The fact of being far away allowed me, for the first time, to take a view of Portugal from the outside, and to become interested in its iconography.

Still, you seem to have great fun constructing and then undoing the idea of a specific poetics in your works. For example in A culpa não é minha (2003) [It Wasn’t My Fault], we’re back to the subterranean movements found deep in nature, with intensely sexual connotations.
That’s really the most enjoyable part, to be able not to feel restrained by just one idea. I also enjoy working around ideas that are formally diverse, but that share a concern with social constructions. If, in the pieces we’ve just been discussing, architecture acted as a symbolic construction, here the motto is nature, just as in others it might be folklore, or artefacts, or diverse mythologies. This piece was made thinking about a tree called maracae ficus aurea, known as a strangling fig tree. It lives parasitically on another tree which eventually it kills. Beyond the moral questions that emerge from that image – such as which species should survive, and it’s here that the guilt, or “fault”, of the title originates – there’s also a real relationship between the two species. I like thinking of it as a sexual, almost orgiastic occurrence in nature’s undergrowth. In my work, the tree, having been ripped out of the earth, has lost its verticality, and so one can’t really distinguish the crown from the root.

O Feijoeiro (2004) [The Bean Plant] grants continues this sense of ductility, and returns to the imaginary of children’s stories in the context of desire, here understood as the movement underlying fabulation.
In this work, desire not only underlies fabulation, it fills out exponentially almost to the point of avarice, but camouflaged in the children’s story that serves as the source of the work. If the tree in A culpa não é minha alluded to an ostensible morality, here, it’s reclaimed for the childhood imaginary.
O Feijoeiro is the materialisation of the magic beanstalk in Jack and the Beanstalk (and it’s no coincidence that my own name is João,10 and that the piece was made for a biennale), where Jack exchanges his family’s most precious possession, a cow, for a fistful of magic beans. These allow him access to another world, a different reality. Then he enters this new world and gets rich from the chicken that lays golden eggs. He’s stolen that chicken from the giant that rules this other world to which the beanstalk’s led him. In truth, wealth and happiness are only attained after he’s killed the giant and destroyed the link between the two worlds, the real and the magical. My bean plant is presented in just such a state, having lost its verticality. As with the balloon in I Have a Dream, here we don’t know whether the bean plant has fulfilled its task of leading someone someplace else. But the obsessive way in which it’s been constructed, the way it extends through the space and still attempts to grow upwards, leave open the idea of an unattained goal or unrealised dream.

With Bonfim (2004), shown at the Chiado Museum – the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Lisbon – and then with Barco Negro (2004) [Black Boat], you return to the iconographies of Portugal – the boat – on which are superimposed some props from the practices of fetishism. In general, these elements present us with a telos that Portuguese mythology has ennobled as tragic. There’s a parallel here between the horizontal bean plant and the balloon that’s run aground in I Have a Dream. I’m referring to the demise of utopias; or do you rather see it as a symptom, like that denoted by the inclining lighthouse of Heróis do mar, and therefore partaking of an iconography of dystopia?
It’s a little bit of both. The boats are shipwrecked but waiting for rescue; they were both made out of the structures of existing boats, in disrepair, and covered with elements drawn from popular religion. The idea of rescue is present in the way the various elements are attached to the carcasses of the boats, almost as if they were repairing them, as if they might re-instate the boats as seaworthy, but of course, given the kind of materials I’ve attached to the boat skeletons, this navigation is ironic, and rescue is impossible. In the case of Bonfim, I’ve used satin ribbons printed with the words “there’s no end to the road”,11 alluding to those very popular ribbons dedicated to Senhor do Bonfim [Our Lord of Bonfim] in Salvador da Baía, in Brazil, whose real origins lie in a cult dedicated to the same saint in Setúbal,12 which is where I found the boat carcass that I used. In addition to the superstition around the amulet I was using at the time, since the ribbons dedicated to the Senhor do Bonfim are popular because they’re thought to grant the realisation of one’s wishes, there’s this historical ambiguity that allowed me to work around the cultural relations between Portugal and Brazil. In the case of the black boat, the pieces I used allude to popular miracles, whether the multiplication of loaves and fishes, or the miracle of football.13

But in these two works, this sense of critical judgement seems suspended... that Portuguese fatalism, born in the nineteenth century and consolidated by fascism, is simply given back to us.
Yes, at first, this critical judgement appears to be suspended, but this is simply because the works seem to suggest that the materials have become totemic; these materials are presented in such a way as to suggest an altar, as though they’ve been placed there awaiting a blessing. But it’s with a double take that the viewer realises that everything here is falling apart or rotting. The bread’s getting mouldy, the wax saints are melting, and so on. Everything’s false, and the critique takes place on the inside, through the way the elements are linked. It’s almost as an endogenous critique.

I see... In the exhibition Quem não chora não mama [He Who Doesn’t Cry, Doesn’t Suckle], at the Casa dos Dias da Água in 2006, this process was taken to an extreme. There was a sound piece heard on the outside, reproducing the voices of the professional women mourners of Nazaré; inside, there was a silent video, in black and white, performed by fishermen and women. The film related to their everyday dramas, and there was even reference to the seven-skirted lady.14 A photograph of a man’s waist, wearing seven unzipped pairs of trousers on top of one another, gave a twist to the whole thing!
This exhibition is a good example of how, in a work that’s divided into three sections, each might serve as a deconstruction of the other. It began with an outdoor sound piece for the façade. The sound was meant to be quite disturbing, surprising passers-by with what seemed to be women’s voices screaming. Only upon entering, did the viewer see the video, which documented the performance by a group of women from Nazaré, from which the sound piece was captured. But this video wasn’t only a documentary, in the sense that it presented the conditions under which the cries were emitted. It also exposed that affliction as self-parody those mourners of Nazaré, and a parody of a certain kind of femininity. Then, the photograph shows me parodying the clothes that they themselves wore in the video, the traditional seven skirts, but using instead seven pairs of trousers. Each section of the work has its own title, referring to the objects that inspired it, these objects, in turn, being the outcome of different fictional constructions around Nazaré. The sound piece Uma Fenda na Muralha [A Breach in the Wall] is a quotation from the neo-realist work of the same title by Alves Redol. It’s about the conditions under which the fishermen lived. For the video Ala-Arriba! [Upwards! Strength!] I borrowed the title of a film by Leitão de Barros, who used real fishermen as actors for his fictional film about Póvoa de Varzim,15 which was commissioned by António Ferro16 and which won him a Golden Lion in Venice. And finally, Sete Calças [Seven Pairs of Trousers] represents my own take on the gender classifications that underlie a so-called matriarchal society such as that of Nazaré.

In 2005, you had a show at the Galeria Filomena Soares titled Misericórdia [Mercy], which consisted of replicas of national treasures. The elements used for the cladding, and indeed the construction, of these works were predominantly borrowed from the decorative arts, and you used foil wrappings from sweets and chocolates, as well as once again using Português Suave cigarette boxes. The walls of the gallery were dark, in imitation of the kind of museum that shows antiquities, but nevertheless, the work was shot through by a kind of debasement on several levels: aesthetic, material, iconographic.
The point of departure for this work was the theft of jewels from a museum in The Hague. This made me think about the value attributed to what we call treasures, the way the idea of a national identity is twisted by those who try and perpetuate it. Suddenly, the loan of some of our treasures – if you like, a kind of vanity diplomacy – is transformed into an act that merits our pity [misericórida] by the cavalier way in which this whole affair was conducted. The episode of the theft, and a discussion that arose at the time around the idea of national treasures, led me to select a series of pieces of decorative art, namely, porcelain and goldsmithery, so as to ironise not only at the emotional value of these pieces, but also how ephemeral such value is. I chose nine pieces of goldsmithery and two porcelain pieces, and made replicas of them out of sweet wrappings and cigarette boxes, increasing the size of the original objects and showing the pieces in a space that simulated a museum. But the monumentalisation of the objects was countered by the rough and ready look and the flimsy materials out of which they were made.

In the exhibition Quanta rariora tanta meliora [The Rarer, the Better], shown at Layr: Westenhagen Contemporary in Vienna in 2006, that debasement gave way to irony, didn’t it?
Irony had also been present in the earlier works. What happens here is that I don’t so much reproduce existing pieces, as a way of making. The assemblages that imitate Renaissance works serve to ironise the role played by the Portuguese during the time of the Discoveries. Instead of using certain objects, I was interested in thinking about the role played by the port of Lisbon in diffusing the exotic idea of the Kustkammer at other European courts. The title, meaning literally “the rarer the better”, alludes to a letter that the Emperor Maximilian II wrote to his ambassador in Madrid, asking him to acquire objects from India. You can imagine what the market was for that kind of curiosity at the time. The precious materials that gave value to the treasures to which I referred in Misericórdia, were here replaced by the idea of symbolic value: that of the rarity and novelty of the properties of the materials themselves. People believed then in the curative properties of coral or bezoar. Also, there was the resurgence of medieval myths about unicorns, leading to the expansion of the market for narwhal teeth, while people continued to speculate as to whether the mythological animal existed.
In the exhibition in Vienna, I didn’t attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a Kunstkammer, as I had recreated that of a museum of antiquities in the Lisbon show. The pieces weren’t arranged systematically, neither were they ordered in accordance with the criteria used in curiosity cabinets. But they were made following the same principle, gathering materials that have particular meanings today, but to which I gave a “Renaissance look” so as to raise similar questions to those that the original objects might raise today.

So there’s a specular game between the image of a culture, and the image that others might have of it, a game that projects the exotic onto the Other. Is that it?
Yes, there is that kind of game. To the extent there are constraints on self-reflection in any culture, those very constraints are part and parcel of the culture itself. However, the more structured a society is, the greater are its mechanisms of self-policing, so that the view from the outside functions as a mirror that allows one to look inwards. As it is impossible to effect a pure representation of the self, since there always exists a reflexive consciousness irrespective of the dominant canons of the culture in question, representation is always an approximation of the representation of an-other. It’s the Other who projects the exotic onto me, but I will always correspond to this vision that he has of me. It’s then up to me to have a critical position with regard to these mechanisms: acceptance or not of these canons, submission or not to them, irrespective or historical factors, such as the relationship of power or strength between colonisers and colonised now depending on each individual. A contributing factor to this is the supposed levelling effected by globalisation.
We’ve spoken about the skirts worn by the women of Nazaré, but we could equally invoke the skirts [kilts] worn by Scotsmen, or the frilled dresses worn by Sevillian women. We know that these are considered exotic elements characteristic of those particular cultures, but we don’t know who designated them as such, or why the continue to be worn.

In your most recent exhibition, Nascido a 5 de Outubro (2007) [Born on the Fifth of of October], you bring everything into the mix, jumbling together all these co-ordenates, overlaying iconographies, categories, genders, so that everything seems to be in some way also reflecting something else from the past.
Let’s begin with the title: that’s an immediate reminder of the film Born on the Fourth of July, and that was one of the main ideas of the project. The film’s about a hero who fought for a country that later abandoned him, then turning into a rebellious leader against the ideals that he had initially defended. Here, I’m not dealing with a war hero, but just with a coincidence of dates. I was actually born on 5 October, which is the day that Portugal celebrates the “Implantation of the Republic”. The project is about the way the notion of nationalism varies in accordance with different political discourses. The nationalist movements that gave rise to the proclamation of the Portuguese republic in 1910, the way in which those nationalist ideas were appropriated by the New State and how this affected the idea that we still have today, after the democratic revolution of 1974, of what it means to be nationalistic. So that served as a touchstone for the emergence of several different pieces, not only around various mythologies of nationhood, but also around the discourses that have been constructed around them.

But the present, in all its lightness, seems to appropriate and root up the past, in a motion that whittles the iconography down to a purely signifying order, open to the interplay of exchanges and to the unfeasibility of the figures and their claims to authority.
I think that it’s precisely the lightness of the present, and the fact that I was born in 1976, in a country that was by then democratic, that allows me to cast a bold gaze on the past in my work. So here I worked around two characters that play a decisive role in the Portuguese imaginary, and I built the whole exhibition around the various discourses that have been elaborated around these figures: a dictator, and a mad king. Every country can count on having one of each! The figure of Salazar served as a starting point for several pieces. An ironic take on the collapse of the chair that led to his death in The Chairman; the demotion of the figure to a mere name in Vale e Salazar [Vale and Salazar]; and the reproduction in plasticine of seminal works of art that portrayed the epoch of Salazar: on the one hand, the view from the outside represented in the visceral painting by Paula Rego, who was already living in London at the time, of Salazar Vomiting the Homeland of 1960; on the other hand, Joaquim Rodrigo’s cryptic, internal vision of the politics of that time.
Then, there’s Dom Sebastião, the king who inspired some of the other works in the show, who is either portrayed, or who appears simply as an allusion to the relationship between Portugal and Morocco, as a reminder of the Portuguese occupation and the Battle of Alcácer-Quibir, and of the way in which Sebastianism has survived until today in all sectors of Portuguese society.17

Do you think that, in Portugal, history is a burden that’s too heavy to be borne?
History will always be there; but it’s historic discourses that are constantly re-written, and those discourses may or may not be a burden, depending on what we each do with them. But it’s important to be able to interpret, and duly to think about, the various discourses that emerge in accordance with political, economic and social conditions. Perhaps there are countries with different, more problematic histories than that of Portugal, countires whose societies are also better able to deal with their ghosts.

1 [Translator’s note: Nazaré is a small Portuguese fishing town on the Atlantic coast, about 120 km north of Lisbon.]
2 [Translator’s note: Literally, “Portuguese soft” or “Portuguese smooth”]
3 [Translator’s note: the Portuguese Estado Novo was the authoritarian New State that, under António Oliveira de Salazar (b. 1889, d. 1970, held Portugal in its grip between 1933 and 1974.]
4 [Translator’s note: Famously, “emigrant” architecture refers to the hybrid styles of domestic architecture brought back to Portugal by returning emigrants, particularly in the north of Portugal.]
5 [Translator’s note: a stylised ceramic rooster, with a decoratively painted glaze, typical of Barcelos in northern Portugal, and a popular tourist trinket.]
6 [Translator’s note: The play on words in the Portuguese is lost in the English. The expression “dar a luz” means to give birth, but its literal meaning is “bring to light”.]
7 [Translator’s note: fado is Portuguese urban folk music, typically with themes of destiny, love, abandonment and despair.]
8 [Translator’s note: Azulejos are decorative, painted and glazed ceramic tiles used for interior ornamentation and exterior cladding, typical of Portuguese architecture from the fifteenth century on.]
9 [Translator’s note: “emigrants” refers to Portuguese people who had emigrated to various countries, and then returned to Portugal, building houses in a distinctively hybrid manner.]
10 [Translator’s note: lost in translation is the fact that, in the Portuguese translation, the protagonist of Jack and the Beanstalk shares the artist’s name, João.]
11 [Translator’s note: there is a word play here, as the name “Bonfim”, meaning good outcome, is literally “good end”, so that “there’s no end to the road” would play on that meaning.]
12 [Translator’s note: Setúbal is a city and a municipality in Portugal, approximately 40 km south of Lisbon.]
13 [Translator’s note: the expression “the miracle of football” is frequently heard in Portugal, referring perhaps so much to its mystique as to its socially binding character.]
14 [Translator’s note: the seven skirts refer to the local tradition of wearing seven skirts, possibly related to the seven virtues, the seven days of the week, the colours of the rainbow and so own: the various mythical attributes of the number seven. The skirts are importantly linked to maritime life, used to protect women and girls who waited on the beach for their fishermen husbands and fathers.]
15 [Translator’s note: Póvoa de Varzim is a small coastal city in the north of Portugal.]
16 [Translator’s note: António Ferro was an important cultural agent during the New State. He had made a name for himself for his pioneering work as a film critic, then as the editor well-known magazines, he turned his hand to political journalism and curatorship as a means of propagating Portugal’s image abroad. Aside from Salazar’s speeches, Ferro’s famous interviews with the dictator constitute one of the principle sources for Salazar’s political thought.]
17 [Translator’s note: Dom Sebastião is known in Portugal as “the Desired” because, while only 24, he disappeared without a trace in 1578, in the Battle of Alcácer Quibir in northern Morocco. His body was never found, adding to the myths and longings that grew around him. “Sebastianism” came to mean the messianic desire for, and belief in, a redemptive leader, attached to a longing for the restoration of a lost golden age as the means for staking out a national identity.]