Writer, theatre director, playwright, scenographer and actress among other things, she creates parallel worlds in the form of books, gardens, cultural evenings, performances and radio plays. She takes them everywhere, but is based in Antwerp and Lisbon.
“You don’t go home to a place; you go home to a person.” She said this about a play she was putting on, talking about someone who was always moving house (Babbot). This from someone who was “made in Angola”, born in Lisbon – in 1974 – lived in Macau and studied in Utrecht and Helsinki, and moved to Antwerp because she found someone to make a home in the world: Christoph De Boeck, musician, creator of sound cosmogonies, Belgian. Eleven years later this romantic-artistic partnership has given rise to a variety of creations, including a daughter – Zoe. Belgium clearly holds a fascination for her. “There are people from all over the world here and an extremely diverse artistic and cultural environment that is combative and discursive – which is actually something you get at all levels of this society. It is a motorway country: in the negative sense because it is literally one big highway, with all the lorries that pass through here on their way to the rest of Europe, and in a positive way; it is a highway of knowledge, because of the constant exchange of ideas, cultures and peoples. That’s the wonderful thing for someone like myself, who is from a country where the sea is more important than the land. As the channels of communication are always working, you will find lots of people interested in the same things as you are. In Antwerp I have met many fellow souls.” She has also encountered the seasons of the year (“in Portugal I never noticed the coming of spring”) and the skies. “The skies in Belgium are marvelous. If you like the Flemish School of painting, you finally get it – ah, they saw all this from the window. I am completely Belgianized. My daily routine is perfect; I do everything on foot or by bike. Everything is to hand. I work a lot at home. I am more of a hermit than in Lisbon and I have much more time.” What she misses in Antwerp are Portuguese friends and the banter that’s only possible in your mother tongue. “There are lots of invisible things I can’t explain. I really miss the Portuguese sense of humour. Belgian humour is jovial, it’s caustic. The Portuguese are terribly romantic, even when we don’t want to be. I suppose I like these two worlds and I can have both. It’s perfect.” It was not always like that for the woman who has travelled all her life. She was always a bit of stranger wherever she was. “At first it was horrible because I went here and there, and people from one place or another would ask me ‘when are you leaving?’ as soon as I arrived. Now it’s different, now I am from everywhere. Living in two worlds has given me not just flexibility in the way I relate to my “otherness”, but also a “foreignness” in how I relate to others. You end up choosing what you want to be in both places – that doesn’t mean you are a different person in every place; it means you choose the right amount. In the Hortus project there’s a very beautiful line by Paracelsus which is ‘the dose makes the poison’. Maybe the difference between being an alien and being normal is merely a question of dosage. There is also a wonderful line by Caetano Veloso when he sings “close up, no-one is normal”. We are all the same. But this clear understanding that we are all aliens was only possible after I put myself in the physical position of being a foreigner.” Patrícia Portela has never been pigeonholed, even within the arts. She is someone who messes up fixed ideas, someone who provokes thought, a professional “questioner”. She moulds words, and sees ideas as things that involve all the senses. She has created virtual travels for a performer-astronaut (in Wasteband) and written plays which began with a text built up live on screen and ended up in museums, by way of half derelict warehouses and the kidnapping of people on buses (the Flatland trilogy, the tragic story of a Flat Man who discovers that he was missing one dimension). This won several national and international prizes and went into book form (Para Cima e Não para Norte, which was published in Brazil in October last year) and Odília, história de uma musa confusa no cérebro de Patrícia Portela. But she has also done films (the scenography of Inventário de Natal and as one of the leads in the fantastic Kalkitos, both directed by Miguel Gomes), à la carte radio pieces (AudioMenus), the biography of an extraordinary human (A colecção privada de Acácio Nobre), avant-garde cultural soirées, utopian encounters, literary salons and even gardens – Hortus, an interactive sound installation for a garden with a story that circulates in a loop, accompanied by visionary readings about the near future. This opened last summer in Brussels and Lisbon and in the autumn in London and Latvia. All of this was done with the Associação Prado – Ideias Ruminantes, her other home since 2005 (http://espacoruminante.blogspot.pt/). Perhaps the nearest (in)definition of what she does is creator of parallel worlds, with tangential connections to the real one. Her most recent is a book, published this autumn by Editorial Caminho, which at first was a philosophical gourmet meal for the end of time. O Banquete nourished all the senses of the public who attended. Seated at a table (which in Lisbon snaked around one of the majestic halls of the Ajuda Palace), they were served extraordinary delicacies and texts in the same vein by several performers. The play was considered one of the 10 best of 2007 by the Belgian press and toured worldwide for a year, while Patricia decided to turn it into a “proper” text. In the meantime, she got sick of the smell of food. “In the middle of this project about immortality, I got pregnant! A high-risk pregnancy, life and death, and me, a fan of this neo-liberal idea that we interfere with the world but that the world doesn’t interfere with us, that we are going to have a child and then return to work. I realised that nothing I had planned was going to happen. Any emancipated woman who has read Simone de Beauvoir at 14 years has problems dealing with something she can’t control. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was in free fall, and I needed to come down to earth. My daughter was 2 days old and while she had a nap I wrote. Then she woke up. The book became something that was not only mine, it was ours. Three and a half years later, the book is finished and is dedicated to Zoe because she wrote most of it. And this book is about me”.
by Maria João Guardão
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