João Penalva at Galeria Filomena Soares

Most of the photographs in João Penalva’s exhibition “Fernand Lantier and others” are related to different types of fabrics: blankets, jute sacks, theater backcloths, the hemp webbings of a design chair. The importance of textures and patterns like Scottish tartan gesture to a kind of subterranean visual history of “first modernisms,” stemming from the industrial revolution and its impact on early-twentieth-century design. This attention to detail is echoed by the lengthy titles; for instance, one close-up of a swath of plaid is meticulously catalogued as Macpherson—detail of an intaglio print by A. Fullerton & Co, Edinburgh and London, 1833, of a tartan designed in 1819 by Wilsons of Bannockburn, scanned and enlarged 3175% and digitally printed in 2020, 2021.

Complementing the photographs are three framed assemblages of actual materials: Composition with three antique Japanese paper bags for the storage and carrying of silkworm cocoons and other dry goods, and theatrical black Molton from Russell and Chaple Ltd., Store Street, London, 2021, and two pieces called Composition with fabrics from early twentieth-century European workmen clothes, 2021, subtitled as (Blue) and (Grey) respectively. These objects confront the photographs with material embodiment. Performing a similar function is the “Fernand Lantier” of the exhibition’s title. Purportedly a late-nineteenth century French metal polisher, the figure elevates the exhibition beyond a purely formal exercise, suggesting the works be read in relation to the “real” life and historical circumstances of the people who actually wore the fabrics on display.

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.

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