Behind every great work of art there is a story that is rarely told. Each painting, sculpture, or installation requires months or even years of work during which an artist can experience pure frustration, absolute elation, and hopefully some satisfaction.
For certain artists this story is meant to stay behind closed doors, but for others, like Jose Ferreira, the story is part of the art. Ferreira’s latest exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center, Anatomy of An Archive, invites guests to visit his work in progress and take a candid look at the creation of an exhibit. “Everything in here is an experiential maneuver,” Ferreira began as we toured his work space. “I am very interested in people having an experience with the space.”
In Anatomy of An Archive Ferreira employs a variety of media, including video installation and sculpture, to bring the Battle of Isandlwana to life. Isandlwana was Britain’s worst military defeat by a colonial force during its campaign against the Zulu Kingdom in South Africa. While the historical facts are important to remember, Ferreira said, “I’m more interested in being consumed by being in a beautiful landscape. This is not about the facts, but where the art takes the sentiments. I’m not really a military enthusiast.”
Each piece Ferreira has planned for the exhibit maintains historical accuracy but is more involved with how spaces are affected by traumatic events and how people respond to these changes. One of the projects is a massive papier-mâché replica of the landscape where the Battle of Isandlwana occurred.“I wanted this piece to be fragile, light, but also gigantic because it’s bigger than we are,” Ferreira said. “It is minimal, but I don’t want to diminish the history.”
Ferreira has already built the main structure of the landscape with a contoured wooden base, but he is still in the arduous process of layering it with papier-mâché. “This has taken me longer than I thought,” Ferreira said. “The pieces of paper keep breaking and now we are experimenting to see what sizes will work.” The juxtaposition of the piece’s fragility and its large scale succeeds in making the exhibit a personal experience and a vivid reminder of the history of the Zulu War.
Ferreira elaborates on the relationship between the personal and the historical with an intricate black and white painting adorning the entrance to the exhibit. Projecting an image of a forest onto the wall, Ferreira delicately traces each line onto the surface to create an image of the area affected by the Battle of Isandlwana. Immersing the viewer into the world that Ferreira has created, the painting demonstrates how a traumatic event can be both personal and historical.
Another fascinating feature of Ferreira’s exhibit is his plan for a video installation. In a completely dark room, Ferreira plans to have two hanging screens, one projecting the moon setting slowly, and the other, a documentary-style film of people reading the letters of British soldiers who were involved in the Zulu war. “For this part of the exhibit I am interested in how people talk to their relatives. There is a sentimental undertone for the piece, and I definitely want it to have an ephemeral feeling,” Ferreira said.
The piece is going to be completed last, and it epitomizes Ferreira’s aim of displaying the anatomy of an archive, a repository of historical records. Unlike other historical accounts that rely solely on facts and images, Anatomy of An Archive attempts to show how a person and a space are dramatically altered by an event. By allowing people to see how rooms in an art gallery can be transformed by images from the past, Ferreira gives viewers a chance to physically experience the ideas that his art conveys.
“Anatomy of An Archive is about experience, memory, and identity,” Ferreira said, and his exhibit allows viewers to reflect on all three. By letting them see his complete creative process and by asserting the importance of the emotional effect a traumatic event can have on a person and on a space, Ferreira’s unorthodox approach to art has given people the unique opportunity to see the true anatomy of the artist, the art, and their own emotions.