Fernanda Fragateiro’s work occupies a somewhat unusual place in recent Portuguese art because it defines sculptural situations that simultaneously live off two different instances of the understanding of what sculpture might be. On the one hand they are three-dimensional works in space that deal with references from the History of the Art of the 20th century, from the Russian avant-garde, to the founding moments of the modern movement. On the other hand, they are devices that generate situations of effective use by the spectator, as if the reason for them to exist were always linked to the primacy of the exercising of a function, most often destined to be collectively used.
This double understanding of sculpture – as a form, but also as a function – has an echo that is also double: it both possesses a poetic presence and a practical destination, with it being obvious that the latter is committed to a function of dialogue in the sense that it invites the spectator to experience a determined community sharing of art.
Patent in this proposal are understandings of art and aesthetics which, in their efficiency as a situation for the spectator, go back to the idea (defended by Schiller at the end of the 18th century) that aesthetics represents the passport for the consoling of human communities because it calls up socialization, making human communities become more human through the relationships it proposes among people.
However, it is also important to note that these principles used by Fernanda Fragateiro are achieved through great rigour in the form of the objects she constructs, in the sense that the attention she gives to the finishing off of the elements that make up her sculptures and installations is made material in the tactile physicality of the wood she uses, in the rigour of the spaces she multiplies by the use of mirrors or in the subtle references that she stimulates us to decipher.
In this installation, which she made in 2000, the benches that invite the spectator to sit down are covered with cushions that show paintings by Piet Mondrian. On the bookcase there is a collection of books placed at the visitor’s disposal. The library has only one subject: they are works by artists who committed suicide. If we sit on the benches we become spectator-readers, confronted with our condition.
There we are defined as figures against a background, reflected in the confrontation with those who ended their lives by their own hands.
In putting two works that were born autonomously together (the Bancos and the Estante), Fragateiro creates a situation that shows that double condition of her sculpture and the meaning of which can only be constructed through use. When empty, the sculpture is like a stopped machine that needs to be operated by someone.
It is a tragic little room, and in it, like in any tragedy, there is its speculative force.
When we use it, we finally understand that we are only spectators of ourselves, not of the works of art.