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The exhibition Looking at Seeing and (Not) Reading by Fernanda Fragateiro at East Central Gallery (October 1st to November 05th, 2010) was the artist's first solo show in the UK.

Throughout her career, Fragateiro has been engaged in examining the relationship between space and object through the means of architectural structures and interventions. True to this notion, the exhibition included a few site-specific works, in which the artist reacts and relates to the gallery's different spaces. Additionally, as part of an on-going major current investigation, Fragateiro utilises books in many of the shown works. Used for their physical volume, as well as symbolic containers of ideas and knowledge, the books are a selection of titles, which are meaningful to the artist either in their context, or in their specific ownership history (many of them come from libraries of certain deceased individuals, some of them being close friends).

Visually, she uses the books as objects with sheer presence as 3-dimentional structures. According to the artist, "the first view of the works installed in the gallery space challenges our perception of objects as lines, plans, colours, and creates a relationship which facilitates a purely visual and mental engagement with the objects. As in Frank Stella's saying 'what you see is what you see'"

But, clearly, the artist is also interested in the intellectual impact of the works and their symbolic meaning, in what she calls "presence in absence", challenging our perspectives of different subject matters-by-association, such as minimalism and conceptual art, abstract painting and colour field painting, architecture and urbanism, access to knowledge and the place of art history in the way contemporary art is practiced and related to.

"Ironically minimalism, as an act of negation towards both aesthetics and social values, was also the negation of meaning. I use meaning as a working material. In this exhibition, when getting closer to the works, it is possible to recognise them as found objects: the abstract colour plan which, from a distance, looks like a suspended, flat colour painting is, in reality, a collection of hard book covers...books as volumes, like boxes carrying special contents: meaning, history and time", refers Fernanda.

In some of her book pieces, the artist cuts the edges of the books, giving the outer dimension a graphic texture. She calls this newly-added effect 'a found, readymade secret drawing: "the drawing was there, I have just turned it visible", explains Fernanda, as famously defined by Art and Language's Mel Ramsden: "The content of this painting is invisible; the character and dimension of the content are to be kept permanently secret, known only to the artist". The artist is yet again calling to attention what is remained when looking at the intellectual aspect of the work: "suddenly, I forget about form". In her choice of name for the exhibition, Fragateiro marries two different existing titles and refers to a title of another show.

(Not) Reading is the first portion of the title given to many of Fragateiro's recent book pieces, while the second half is taken from John Berger's seminal 1972 critical publication "Ways of Seeing". Not only does the artist declare the book as one of the first art books she has ever possessed, but also has used her own copy of the book to create (Not) Reading Ways of Seeing, a 8-pieces wall installation, which is part of the London show.

The title is indeed a direct reference to the 1993 exhibition "Looking At Seeing And Reading", curated in Sidney, Australia, by the late artist and theoretician Ian Burn, another member of the Art and Language group.

(...)Not so the series of works whose titles define, only with gentle irony, the stance of subtraction and refusal that is so central to the work of Fernanda Fragateiro: not to see, not to think, not to touch, not to link. These determine a programme of privation that cannot be taken entirely seriously: of course we look and see, we think and touch and make links. Yet the works oblige us to slow down in our experience of them, and are inspiring precisely in escaping the dogmatic and formulaic. They invite us, finally, to engage with them in ways that mobilise new sensory expectations, and new forms of relationally.
Ruth Rosengarten. (2009). The Art of Relating: Fernanda Fragateiro in Context.


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