• Mute legacies: Silent practices of resilience

Pereira, Joana, 2021, Thesis, Mute legacies: Silent practices of resilience PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This practice-led research focuses on the relationship between power and the exercise of speech. It considers connections between silence and the body that form a space where vulnerability and social injustice become manifest. It examines these through ideas of muteness.

I trace evidence of this relationship back to my own childhood and the history of my country, Portugal, since 1974, following 48 years of fascist dictatorship under the Estado Novo (‘New State’) regime of António de Oliveira Salazar and his successor, Marcelo Caetano. It is precisely this cultural and political legacy that gains preponderance as this project develops and eventually comes to inform (demand) an art practice that tends toward a ‘poor’, minor, and precarious aesthetic, posing questions of value and permanence. Hence in this research ‘muteness’ is itself a question. Why are these legacies mute? Yet the aim of this PhD is neither to revisit the past nor to uncover this long period of silence. Instead, I ‘walk nearby’, revolving around personal memories and experiences, to address that which has largely fallen outside of speech, sight and authority – namely, poverty and illiteracy. I consider how these legacies – passed down in silence and in continuous flux for generations – are still largely embedded in the way the people of Portugal think and create. This study seeks to offer new insights into silence and also into new art practices that explore and interrogate static notions of legacy as a means of demonstrating resilience. It questions whether an art practice can meaningfully both escape and contest authoritarian and dominant narratives through muteness.

As Roland Barthes has noted, silence, always at the level of the implicit, has a ‘speechly’ substance that escapes control. What I therefore propose is an original approach to muteness that challenges its perception as a lack to demonstrate that muteness can in fact – paradoxically – have something to do with ‘diversity and mobility’. This means I move away from Salazar’s discourse and any historical facts towards the possibility of discovering other senses, ‘different voices’, mapped outside speech and utility, and implying the need to think of language as something beyond the verbal and the abstract.
My claim is that muteness, even though closely related to silence, has a more concrete, corporeal dimension. Throughout the project, however, the definition of muteness remains precarious. I intentionally slip between terminologies (weight, invisibility, mobility), often embracing a series of paradoxes, precisely in order to avoid fixed and final perspectives, thereby suspending the binary logic of opposition that often frames thought and speech.

What I set out to do is to explore the possibility of muteness both as subject and methodology of research through an art practice that explores writing and its silences and through work consisting of prints, videos and installations that privilege the fragile and provisional. Not-saying and not-making become almost as important as what is said and done. This, I argue, is neither a matter of hiding nor of leaving things unfinished; it consists rather of leaving things open. The fragmentary and the provisional are therefore my privileged methods of research. Furthermore, the project has involved conducting research on material that was censored by the fascist regime but can now be accessed at the National Archive in Lisbon. Notes made during these visits, along with a series of other notes – based on my observation of (and my listening to) people carrying on their ordinary lives, as well as on films and filmmakers, on artworks and found materials, and on my own memories – are incorporated, articulated and reanimated within this project to produce a unique approach to muteness as a powerful way to demonstrate resilience.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Funders: FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Resilience; Silence; Legacy; Body
Date Deposited: 27 May 2021 15:02
Last Modified: 01 Jun 2021 09:57
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/4801
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