This is a genre text. Forcibly. Of genre, like genre painting. This distinction not only establishes what we are talking about, but also serves to clarify that our task will be undertaken according to certain conventions, a structure, a grid. Every genre has its own rules. The art of Susana Mendes Silva is in knowing how to respect those rules in order to better pervert them. With utmost rigor and the refinements of delicacy.
To read this text without having a glimpse at the images in this book would be rather uninteresting. The text doesn't found - in the sense of establishing - the images. It works the other way around. Our aim is to consubstantiate the meaning they might hold, not to give them meaning. To withdraw but never to add. "Remove weight".
Each word is measured in this text with the avarice of a barren, poor still-life.


To gloss around the term "still-life" isn't entirely without purpose. It seems that these images are about that: fragments of a paralyzed life. Immediately, like Medusa sortileges, photographs have a paralyzing effect. This is particularly tangible in these images. Mostly, they are slow and immobilize instants that portray immobile, silent compositions. They seem to stage an evident domesticity, devoid of suggestion, indifferent to geographic constraints and political determinisms. Even though they do not constitute themselves as a body of work, but more as a working document, the interiority of their point of view relates to Mendes Silva's work.

On tension as a form of subtlety

Susana Mendes Silva has always subtly referred to the everyday world, to the imperceptible space that mediates our routines and perception of them, to the time that flows without any relevance, without being granted any substance.
Her work generates, constitutes and lives from a potential of transgression that invariably appears transvestited into a context of intimacy. Paraphrasing the artist, her work is about limits. A body of work made of rigor and sensibility to the full. Sensibility to color, sensibility to textures, to weight, to sound, to pain. Feminine sensibility. She declines her vocabulary in harsh and velvety hues. Take some of her earlier works.
A bar of soap with a razor blade inside (Untitled, 1998) is a cutting contradiction in terms.
Photographs of nude feet with miniature soldiers, painted in pink and placed between the fingers (Rose Ladies, 1998), are improbable self-portraits of luxury, calm, voluptuousness, and contempt.
The fall from a flight of stairs, staged in a playful manner with an ensemble of doll dresses that have been stitched and filled with sand (Why don't you go if you just can't move, 1998), is a promise of domestic violence.
A masturbation ring in red plush, a tampon covered with gold leaf to be used on a special day or a luxury masseur in the shape of a gold vibrator - Intimate Jewelry (1996), as the artist calls them - are small instruments of ambiguity and pleasure, visual puns that play on material and meaning.
A series of images from the inside of a Sarajevo home (Delicatesse, 1999), a cold statement of normality. An old memory that has been engraved in the body and confirmed with habit, recovered.

On the book itself

1. These images can have only been presented in a book. If presenting them in this specific format is, on the one hand, to withdraw in reading what is added in intimacy, on the other, it increases the mystery, the mystery of their banality. This is a traveling book which is small enough to fit in your pocket.
2. The motto has been on the cover from the beginning. Almost like an imposition. A modus faciendi. To manipulate carefully, to look with delicacy. The photograph of the pink neon, which was found by chance as she drifted through the streets and shop windows of Sarajevo, chosen to open the series of images in this book, suggests something more. It emerges us into the artist's universe, accentuating, by means of a meta-lingual process, a unit of thought that cannot be left to chance, to improvisation. Still, it reveals the ambivalent character that is assumed in her work.
3. First of all, this series embodies all of the images that were excluded from it. It is defined by a logic of need. Only what was needed was taken into account. In that sense, it thrives on all of those other images; they are the warrantee of their integrity and chaste sense of economy. Starting with this assumption, a principle intentionality can be isolated, from a semantic, rather than an iconic point of view.
4. There has been stitching to this interwoven series. The images rhyme between each other as if the need of some kind of invisible order has made them suit each other. They are a structure, they set an internal rhythm. Nevertheless, although they look like they are staging a narrative with a beginning and an end, they are not descriptive. They make present. They create an illusion of symbolism, but do not carry the weight of the years of destruction. It is about construction. Perhaps of reconstruction.
5. To describe them would be to obliterate their intrinsic potential, as well as their narrative span. To glimpse, without skill, at the multiplication of banal and recurrent gestures, which are basic skills of survival, adds nothing to what they are. Every image condenses the notion of seeing, they all contain the essence of vision. In this case, a vase is really the absence of all flowers.

Nuno Faria