In > Journal of Artists' Books, Número 32, Columbia College Chicago, Center for Book and Paper Arts, pp. 29-31. Fall 2012. ISSN 1085-1461.


From the introduction > “Alternativa Zero” is one of the most remarkable artistic events for the Portuguese aesthetic innovation. It took place in an institutional space now disappeared, the National Gallery of Modern Art, at Belém in Lisbon, near the river Tejo (Tagus), in 1977. It was due to the initiative of José Ernesto de Sousa (1921-1988). In 1997 the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art organized an exhibition entitled "Perspective: Alternativa Zero" (*) where was reconstructed, two decades later, an episode, a situation that has forever influenced the way of doing and acting artistically in Portugal. Ernesto de Sousa was a multifaceted personality, a plastic artist (or aesthetic operator as he preferred to describe his creative activity), a researcher with an ethnographic leaning with interests in African but also Portuguese folk art, an art critic with links to cinema. He directed a movie, "D. Roberto" (1962), which contributed to start the discussion about the renewal of cinema in Portugal. He participated actively in the genesis of the Portuguese Cinema Novo movement (influenced by French Nouvelle Vague/ New Wave). He also carried an extensive activity of dissemination within the movement of the cineclubes (or film clubs, cultural structures that broadcasted quality films and promote debate, and constituted a pole of resistance to the totalitarian political hegemony of Estado Novo).

Ernesto de Sousa is a fundamental personality to refocus the discussion about what was the artistic vanguard, and the memory of what was to be contemporary in Portugal. Intellectually, he moves away from the neo-realist aesthetic widespread in the Portuguese cultural life of the 1940’s, and to which was committed (preferring it then to the surrealist events that positioned themselves to other directions). Finally he followed his personal paths that led him to discover and contact artists decisive to the expansion of the aesthetic consciousness, such as Joseph Beuys, who Sousa interviewed at length at Kassel’s Documenta 5 (1972). Along the same lines he testified a special empathy with the Fluxus movement; Robert Filliou was another of the artists with whom he got involved, whose work and attitude he especially defended and promoted. This set of intellectual characteristics made of Ernesto de Sousa a person open to new artistic proposals that were emerging in the Portuguese reality. In what concerns "Alternativa Zero", he incorporated a series of acquisitions relating to the freedom of expression, so inherent to the changes arising in the visual arts scene in the 1960’s. These changes found the social and cultural conditions to express themselves fully with the institutionalization of democracy following the military coup of April 1974 which put an end to Estado Novo and the colonial war.


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