José Saramago is an icon of Portuguese literature. His deeply allegorical language combines high and low-brow techniques and articulations, capturing seemingly immense philosophical ideas in a plain and accessible manner. It is with this in mind that Portuguese artist Vhils set to faithfully capturing and representing the national icon in his recent intervention.
Celebrating not only the writer, but his connection to the ocean - as is particularly prominent in The Stone Raft, a hopeful and challenging novel - Vhils constructed an elegaic and contemplative portrait of the writer, brought to life by the ebb and flow of the ocean’s magnetism.
From this text, Vhils drew on a particular passage, “That is the virtue of maps, they show what can be done with limited space, they foresee that everything can happen therein.” This provided inspiration for the artist’s own interpretation:
The true gift of an artist is to create work that, no matter how ephemeral, holds universal meaning, and thus lasts forever. The words and work of José Saramago echo throughout time, as relevant today as they were the day they were written. It was an honour for me to create this larger-than-life piece as an homage to one of the most brilliant minds of our time. No matter how big, or how powerful, it will never live up to the magnitude of his legacy - I can only hope that much like his work, it can survive the erosion of time.
This will undoubtedly be an interesting process, considering the motion of the water has a far more corrosive impact than the weather that would usually impact the artist’s works. One of the most crucial aspects of Saramago’s texts, as Vhils touched upon in his text above, is that the words are able to endure. That means they tell an essential truth that is true throughout changing social and political moments, in various languages.
To endure, one must not be rigid, but flexible. Saramago’s various works bore into the core of human behaviour and consciousness, but are able to transcend generations through their allegorical power. That Vhils has chosen this work to be present in a physically demanding environment is interesting as this too can be seen as a comment on the ability of art to endure - not by remaining the same, but by changing over time.
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