Diana Policarpo is an artist and composer who works between London and Lisbon. Through speculative transdisciplinary research, she investigates gender politics, economic structures, health, and interspecies relations. Policarpo’s performances and installations examine experiences of vulnerability and empowerment associated with acts of exposing oneself to the capitalist world.
For Helsinki Biennial 2023, Policarpo presents a large-scale installation that creates a case study of mapping colonial histories through the tracking of natural biodiversity. The work originated from a research trip to the Portuguese-administered Ilhas Selvagens (Savage Islands) in the North Atlantic Ocean.
The rock-shaped sculptures with embedded video and sound tell stories that are simultaneously factual and fictitious, based equally on science and science fiction. We hear the voices of the island and its inhabitants narrating their roles in the stories and mythologies of the islands.
The title Ciguatera refers to poisoning that occurs after eating fish contaminated with accumulated ciguatoxins. This in turn results from the fish feeding on toxic macroalgae containing Gambierdiscus. Outbreaks of ciguatera are well documented in the Savage Islands area, yet the exact cause of the intermittent increase in the release of the toxins resulting in poisonings up the food chain remains unknown, although nuclear testing has been suggested as one possible cause. It is an example of various types of anthropogenic damage caused by humans treating the world as their property.
I am an island but I’m not really an island.
I’m a multitude of identities and bodies, within the same formation.
We have evolved together in total isolation.
My name is Selvagem, but I prefer to be called Aea.
My body is made of the remains of submarine volcanic peaks.
Innumerable myths and legends are preserved in my fossils.
I have evolved in an entirely different way.
Before the First Door had opened, there was gold embedded in my mantle by showers of meteorites. The impacts of these storms were so deep that I still bear the scars, like craters on an ocean Moon. Petrified matter, carrying deep time in their intricate embrace, coagulated the past into an animated history, forming fossil-like patterns.
I am a rift in the surface of materiality.
European traders once thought I was a ghost.
Some erratic rocks rising up next to an island of sirens and lizards. These are the very same rocks where Perseus had laid Medusa’s head to rest among the seaweed.
A forest of corals had grown around me like a crown of thorns.
I have become a hallucinatory body.
Excerpt from Diana Policarpo’s video work When the Sea Swallows in Ciguatera, 2022
Ciguatera was originally Commissioned by TBA21-Academy and coproduced by TBA21-Academy and Centro de Arte Moderna Gulbenkian, in collaboration with Instituto Gulbenkian Ciência. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann + Silva gallery.
Policarpo’s work has been exhibited around the world, including solo shows at venues such as Kunsthal Aarhus (Upcoming); Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; Ocean Space, Venice; RADIUS, Delft; CRAC, Sète; Kunsthall Trondheim; Galeria Municipal do Porto; Galeria Lehmann + Silva, Porto; GNRtion, Braga; Kunstverein Leipzig; and Kunsthall Baden-Baden.
She has recently exhibited, performed and screened her work at Serralves Museum, Porto; Maus Hábitos, Porto, Galeria Francisco Fino; Lisbon; Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Elvas (MACE); Chiado 8, Lisbon; Mars Gallery, Melbourne; Peninsula Gallery, New York; W139, Amsterdam; Kunsthall Oslo; LUX-Moving IMage, ICA, Tenderpixel Gallery and Cafe OTO in London.
Policarpo was the winner of Prémio Novos Artistas Fundação EDP 2019 and the illy Present Future Prize 2021.