The exhibition Membrane is a poetic interpretation, through the medium of painting devised by artist Paula Turmina, of the complex system of protection that surrounds planetary bodies. This protection can be something ethereal such as someone’s aura, or perhaps can be something tangible such as the soil. It explores the interactions and forces that go under the influence of the membrane/atmosphere, and also that causes it. It spotlights our shared vulnerabilities and interconnectedness. As one possible interpretation, the figures depicted in the canvases are allegories to the struggles of care. By encountering these shapes, forms, movements and gravity, we can reflect on how we are affected by the planet and what is our role in caring for/about/with the planet. The paintings spark ideas about the impossibility of carrying the weight of the ecological crisis. To care is a labour of awareness, and Membrane challenges our caring capacities, practices and imaginations.
Turmina’s most celebrated work is characterized by the prevalent presence of the colour red. She uses this colour as a visual tool to device political narratives about the history of the natural resources of Brazil, as well as to draw attention to contemporary practices of land colonization on Mars. In this new work, she continues with a similar colour palette but integrates a glowing yellow contrasted with shadows in hues of blue. Turmina makes us look directly at the sun, and at the reflections that this powerful entity projects on the bodies that inhabit the Membrane. Porosity, breathing, touch, fertilization, migration, ingestion, and infection are the counter forces that the artist subtly guides you to experience throughout all the paintings in the space.
The exhibition is timely for so many reasons but one to highlight is the intellectual references of the artist. The work was influenced by After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis (2021) which was the last publication written by Bruno Latour. In the book, Latour compares our experience during lockdown with Gregor (the main character from Kafka’s Metamorphosis), whilst in Turmina’s painting the world is covered by insects alongside the human-like figures. This serves as a prompt to make us think about the role that we play in the world and its similarity with the little beings that surround and support us. Turmina and Latour remind us that we too are becoming-insect in our constant effort to sustain the world. This poetic and intuitive material created by the artist carries on the political message that the anthropologist has advocated for so long. Overall, Membrane serves as a tool to re-orient our heightened senses and draw attention to our urgent ecological agendas.
Iria Suárez Martínez is London-based design historian and designer.
SENS Gallery is pleased to announce Membrane, a solo exhibition featuring the work of Brazilian artist Paula Turmina. Turmina’s work features the connection between biological and natural bodies with the earth on which they inhabit. Her works encourage the viewer to reflect on humanity’s role in this complex relationship and how it has changed throughout history.
Elongated beings and insects traverse the crimson, post-apocalyptic plains. They serve as and operate within “membranes”, merging to the ground on which they stand upon, and threading the contradiction between renewing the soil and extracting from it. These dystopian lands questions the need of escapism and find salvation in frontiers beyond, yet they may never fully disconnect from the earth, for their physicality will remain in tandem with the ground they are familiar with. The scenes depicted in Turmina’s work invites questions about the dialectical relationship between human beings and the earth. Shades of red encompass the canvas, a symbol of the past and the future. Like the Martian landscape and the barks of the Brazilwood tree, the colour highlights the artist’s abstract attempts on tackling Brazil’s colonial history and the repercussions of exploiting natural resources. Simultaneously, red envisions the state of the future: the incorporation of modern human society and their constant need for natural resources brings upon the issue of the dilapidated state of the earth.
Turmina’s practice is conceived from an idea or a material in mind but creates artwork intuitively. Using a warm palette of reds and golds, she visualises an atmosphere that conveys feelings of beings struggling with existence across time, yet ultimately not giving up hope despite the looming end of the world. Painting is a vessel bound to the physical, a medium to merge fact and fiction. The material that she paints upon is a stage for her images to develop different perspectives but fundamentally represents her advocacy for environmentalism.