introduction to my work                                                 home

I was born in Figueira da Foz, a coastal town in Portugal, between Porto and Lisbon.
I grew up in various cities in Portugal and Africa. My father was in the military, a colonel in the Portuguese army, and for many years was stationed in Africa in what were then the Portuguese colonies. Thus, our family lived in Guinea-Bissau and in Angola.

 These travels made quite an impression on me, although it wasn't even so much the confrontation with the exotic environment and the black African population that caused it. It was particularly the enormous distance that remained foremost in my mind. To go from Lisbon to Luanda one had to travel a total of 7,291 kilometres. Lisbon-Luanda, a sea journey (2003), which is composed of dozens of spools of thread, makes those two ports visible and is an exact match of this travel distance.

 This installation illustrates fascinations that appear in all my work: the desire to explore abstract entities and to make them visible through the use of, preferably historical, or contemporary domestic materials. No household is without a spool of thread and one always remembers those sewing implements from childhood, from grandma's sewing box, where most spools, with threads trailing from them, were twisted together into a large tangled ball.

 In my installation the spools are used in a more neutral way. They are presented as hard cores with a specific number of metres, namely 300 metres of thread, wound around them. That way the spools are lifted out of the realm of sentiments and anecdotes. The spool of thread has lost its domesticity. At the same time the yardage, the precisely calculated amount of thread would around it, changes from being abstract to being visible.

 In the large house that my grandfather built and the outside walls of which he had decorated with tiles depicting all kinds of memorable events, there was a room set aside for paper soldiers and cardboard tanks. This 'soldiers room' was always kept intact; along the walls were a dozen cabinets where hundreds of soldiers were neatly stored away. The soldiers, from around the world, were cut from paper by the Ferrand boys, meticulously and accurately painted so that they were recognisable by nationality, unit and rank. The painted soldiers were glued onto pieces of wood, so that they were stable and could be arranged in battle array on the tables in the middle of the room. The endless precision work of cutting and painting was interrupted from time to time for re-enactments of great historical battles. The contents of the soldiers room were later divided up, also among the girls, and thus I acquired my share of the paper warriors.

 Just like the distances, the enormous number of soldiers, carefully handcrafted and coming from all corners of the world, stirred in me a desire to present all these troops in an organized arrangement.

 I became aware that a beautiful counterpart of this form of expression exists in the world of women, who in the past and present occupied, and still occupy, themselves with decorative needlework. Just as in the army troops of soldiers, engaged in battle or marching, display certain well organised and colourful patterns, women use uniform pieces of fabric to make simple, or sometimes outrageous, quilts and molacunas, and yarn can be tied, laced, crocheted or knitted together in an orderly pattern to form useful and elegant textiles. I use the paper soldiers as if they were pieces of fabric or ends of yarn. Out of that male soldiers' domain I create a more feminine domain: 'soldiers lace', 'rugs' and colourful tapestries, 'wall hangings' and 'tiles'.


Guiné-Bissau, Guiné



Silva Porto, Angola