Mauro Cerqueira


Mauro Cerqueira strikes a difficult, fragile balance in his sculptural works, combining what seem to be the remains of a shipwreck, elements found which he uses to construct works of a rare poetry. Through these he alludes, on the one hand, to movements such as constructivism or Arte Povera and, on the other, to an aesthetic that focuses on discovering what has been rejected/abandoned, imbuing everything with a highly personal perspective where his own body often acts as a reference, also leading him to explore the disciplines of video and performance.

Vicente Todolí

Sobre su obra


Mauro Cerqueira (Guimarães, 1982) forms part of the youngest generation of Portuguese artists. Words such as tension, equilibrium, density, fragility and the pairing of destruction/construction define an artistic venture that’s responding to the violence, stability and conformism of society. Cerqueira sees the public for his works as “the first witness to arrive at the scene of an accident”. These are usually sculptural pieces and situations activated by the spectator, either because they result from a performance or because the installation is presented as the setting for a past or future action. A race on a bridge that is coming down or a construction made out of glasses about to topple are samples of work based on simple actions that give rise to precarious structures. The energy of youth and some references from subcultures such as punk and skate often leak into his work.

All these elements and attitudes are closely related to the historical, urban context in which Cerqueira has worked to date: namely the city of Oporto. Engulfed by the crisis suffered by the country for almost ten years now, this city in the north of Portugal has undergone considerable and rapid transformations. The decadence, ruin and misery of its old neighbourhoods, such as the Ribeira next to the River Duero, exist side by side with a project to modernise the urban fabric whose emblems are, for example, the new underground train network or the Casa da Música, designed by architect Rem Koolhaas. As these changes occur, the centre of Oporto is losing its inhabitants to make way for a growing tourism industry that is taking over these areas for commercial ends, in an all-too clear process of gentrification.

The two studios occupied by Mauro Cerqueira to date are located within this conflictive territory and have played a crucial role in the production of many of his works, redefining the patterns of site-specific practices. The first is located in a semi-abandoned building just a few metres from the city’s most central square and close to one of the most degraded and problematic areas. From this studio, Cerqueira filmed the work Até ao osso in 2010. This video shows the excavation work carried out to construct the car park for a luxury hotel and the remains of an old cemetery that was dismantled. The anonymous star of the video, glimpsed by chance while the artist was looking out of his workshop window, is a young man, possibly someone living locally, who is prowling and rummaging around the graves, picking up bones and skulls which he puts into a plastic bag.

Até ao osso shows the destruction of a part of Oporto’s old town, how it’s under attacked from speculation, its inhabitants are being displaced and its history forgotten. Other works provide a different response to the same scenario. This is the case of many sculptures and installations closely related to the first studio, recently also a victim of real estate interests and decline. The Trepadeiras series (2010-2011), for example, is a collection made with pieces of shutters that are disassembled, lengthened and adjusted to different spaces and configurations. Using waste materials rescued from his immediate surroundings and with very simple gestures, Cerqueira creates new objects and situations that allude to instability and the impossibility of feeling safe within a context of perpetual transformation.

O cego e a cidade (2011), a recent video, acts almost as a farewell and homage to this place. It shows the end of a wooden stick hitting a plaster ceiling decorated with mouldings. The image is upside-down and the stick resembles a blind man’s, examining the ground he’s walking on. When the ceiling’s material falls down, it instantly becomes a new element to work with. Destruction and construction therefore appear as metaphors for what’s happening in the city: a rapid metamorphosis that’s suffering from amnesia and a lack of interest in the past. Recording and conserving this harsh, unjust reality in the memory are always present in Mauro Cerqueira’s work, together with a subtle, ironic sense of humour, as well as an enthralling, spontaneous expressiveness. Life and art are woven together in his work with authenticity and commitment, rejecting any temptation to turn misery into something picturesque. The precarious nature of an urban and social environment inspires his work to bring up existential uncertainties that go beyond any specific geography.

This vocation can be seen particularly clearly in a series of publications that constitute a fundamental part of his artistic work and bring together his interest in history, literature and popular culture. Está a morrer e não quer ver (2009), Exvotos e milagres (2009-2011) and Momentos da história trágico-marítima e a Santa Liberdade (2011) are publications produced in a newspaper-type format made up of drawings, his own and others’ texts and documents from archives and libraries. In these Cerqueira explores Portugal’s glorious past and its current fall from grace. In Momentos da história trágico-marítima e a Santa Liberdade, for example, fragments of texts from the chronicle by Bernardo Gomes de Brito in the 18th century, based on reports from survivors of shipwrecks occurring along the route to the Indies in the 16th century, are presented together with the history of the transatlantic ship Santa Liberdade; hijacked in 1961 by a group of Portuguese and Galician anti-fascists, led by the soldier Henrique Galvão, in an attempt to denounce the dictatorships of Salazar and Franco, which then went on to the African colonies with the aim, romantic and utopian, of starting a revolution that never actually prospered.

Illustrated with drawings by the artist to accompany the stories compiled by Gomes de Brito in 1735 and by a selection of the front pages of newspapers relating the ups and downs of the 1961 hijack, this publication recounts the origins of the Portuguese empire, an epic story full of adventurers, heroes and great seamen but also of shipwrecks, dramas and suffering, with the beginning of the end of their conquests, indicated, in this case, by the incident of the ship Santa Liberdade and its unsuccessful revolution. History, literature and fiction go hand in hand in an anti-hierarchical project, designed to be distributed beyond institutional channels and conceived as a mobilising and contemporary protest against forgetfulness.

On the back cover of Momentos da história trágico-marítima there is an extract from the book Naufragio con espectador (1995) by the German writer Hans Blumenberg, which summarises his intentions: “Montaigne does not justify the spectator of shipwreck by his right to enjoyment; rather, he justifies his pleasure, positively described as malicious (volupté maligne), by his successful self-preservation. By virtue of his capacity for this distance, he stands unimperiled on the solid ground of the shore. He survives through one of his useless qualities: the ability to be a spectator”. Mauro Cerqueira’s sculptures, videos and publications question, physically and conceptually, the existence of this distance.

Pedro de Llano

Exit Express, no. 60, 2011


Guimarães (Portugal), 1982. He lives and works in Porto (Portugal).


2011 Senhor dos Aflitos. Centro de Artes Visuais, Coimbra (Portugal).

China. Antigo Posto dos Correios, Castelo Branco


Trepadeira nº1. Solo Project, Swab Art Fair, Barcelona (Spain).

2010 Serin e as trepadeiras. Laboratório das Artes, Guimarães (Portugal).

Michael. Galeria Gomes Alves, Guimarães (Portugal).

Looking the City. Threshold Artspace, Perth (United Kingdom).

Engoliu a espinha e foi operado para o poderem enforcar no dia seguinte. Curated by Adriano Pedrosa. Solo Projects. Arco, Madrid (Spain).

Jim. Galeria Graça Brandão, Lisbon (Portugal).

2009 Como passos num chão oco e escavado por baixo.

Empty Cube, Galeria do Instituto Politécnico de Tomar (Portugal).

Sua boca, aberta para gritar, estava cheia de terra. Kunsthalle Lissabon, Lisbon (Portugal).

Falling from Grace. The Mews, London (United Kingdom).

Desenhos do Sol. Round the Corner, Lisbon (Portugal).

Lição nº 2. Espaço Campanhã, Porto (Portugal).

2008 Derrapagem. Galeria Reflexus, Porto (Portugal).

A Festa do Fim do Mundo. A Sala, Porto (Portugal).

Se morrer morri. Galeria Reflexus, Porto (Portugal).

2007 Menos que zero. Galeria Gomes Alves, Guimarães (Portugal).

Base. Atelier da ESAG, Guimarães (Portugal).

2006 Wacky Races (a dialogue with André Sousa).

PêssegosPraSemana, Porto (Portugal).

Rocket Ship. Apêndice, Porto (Portugal).

Fuckers. Wasser-Bassin, Porto (Portugal).


2011 Il Buen Vicino. Curated by Alessandra Poggianti. Chiesa del Luogo Pio, Livorno (Italy).

An Urban Silent. The Exchange and Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance (United Kingdom).

Oreja Naufragio (a dialogue with Julia Spínola). Galería Heinrich Ehrhardt, Madrid (Spain).

Sem pé (a dialogue with Nuno Sousa Vieira). Galeria Casa Triângulo, São Paulo (Brazil).

Pé esquerdo (a dialogue with Nuno Sousa Vieira). Galeria Nuno Centeno, Porto (Portugal).

Somewhere Else. Curated by Direlia Lazo. A Galeria Nogueras Blanchard, Barcelona (Spain).

Art for Life / Art for Living. Swab Art Fair, Barcelona (Spain).

X Prémio União Latina. Centro Cultural de Cascais (Portugal).

O Museu em ruínas. Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Elvas (Portugal).

Ceci n’est pas une rétrospective – In. Tranzit + W.C. Container. Padaria Independente, Porto (Portugal) 2010 A culpa não é minha. Museu Colecção Berardo, Lisbon (Portugal).

89 Km. Colección CGAC. MARCO, Museu de arte Contemporânea de Vigo.

Obras en Exposición

India ink and collage on paper – Series of 30 (23 x 31 cm) – 2011 – Postais do Porto is a series of pieces in which I make photographs of Oporto hold a dialogue with texts about the everyday life of the people living in the city centre. I’ve also added part of the accounts from a stationer’s that was located in the same building as my workshop. Hence we find vestiges of an economically prosperous past together with the shortages of the present day. Mauro Cerqueira.