A very large exhibition in a difficult space covering an extensive historical period and the inaugural exhibition in a year-long programme of national events.
Formally the city prison and courthouse – now the premises of the Portuguese Centre for Photography – the site for this exhibition is a formidable but spectacular building. Its thick granite walls and floors, unusually shaped rooms with heavy iron bars combine to create an veritable labyrinth. The imposing nature of the architecture dominates the space and consequently, whatever happens to be exhibited there.
As a result my first decision was to invert the convention of using the walls as the display space and the centre of the rooms as the vantage point and for circulation. I chose instead to turn the visitors attention towards the centre, away from the dramatic and constantly changing nature of the wall surfaces, turning the peripheries of the spaces into the circulation space. This simple inversion allowed me to create new spaces – using the space the rooms have to offer but not the walls and structures that define and delineate it.
The exhibition covers 100 years of the Portuguese Republic through photography with accompanying texts. But because no original photographic prints were included – all photos were reproduced digitally instead – I was able to play with size and scale. The nature of the exhibition, recounting as it does a long and complex history, required a clear continuity of reading. Its narrative is a journey which suggests the creation of a visual and physical passage through the exhibition space and to aid this a timeline – a frieze in the form of red ribbon – runs through all the rooms. In this way it is possible to follow the historic chronology leaving the principle structures to cover central moments.
The basic overall structure is a modular one based on specially designed and constructed wood panel cubes measuring 1 meter x 1 meter reaching a maximum height of 3 meters in most rooms. The units consist of 4 sides which allowed some of them to be turned towards the audience and used for image projection and also allowed some of them to accommodate recessed panels, allowing a variety in the depth of the surfaces to be created. A hierarchy of text treatments was created ranging from ones engraved in directly into panels to others which use adhesive vinyl on a variety of materials.
Client: Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações do Centenário da República (National Commission for the Celebration of the Portuguese Republic)
Venue: Centro Português de Fotografia (The Portuguese Centre for Photography)
Duration: 12 months