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November 2022

Field Notes: Pedro Neves Marques, “Vampires in Space,” Portuguese Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale

Federico Rudari

Pedro Neves Marques, “Vampires in Space,” Portuguese Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Film still. Courtesy of the artist.

Pedro Neves Marques, “Vampires in Space,” Portuguese Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Renato Ghiazza. Courtesy of the artist.

Pedro Neves Marques, “Vampires in Space,” Portuguese Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Film still. Courtesy of the artist.

Distance and detachment can be both sources of suffering and opportunities to search inside oneself. To live a purposeful life on his own terms Henry David Thoreau made his home in the woods, an exploration he chronicled in 1854 in his book Walden. [1]1
Henry David Thoreau, Walden (London: Penguin Books, 1854; 2016).
Today, introspection is more complicated than ever before. Capitalist expansion has touched the farthest corners of the globe and our consciousness and, thanks to our hyperconnected present, feels utterly inescapable in the experience of life. This condition unites contemporary Western societies, carrying within it forces of homogenization and normativity. How then can we escape? To live meaningfully and free from judgment, Pedro Neves Marques suggests that we take to outer space. Curated by the established duo João Mourão and Luís Silva, “Vampires in Space” is Neves Marques’s immersive multimedia narrative installation at the Portuguese Pavilion for the 59th Venice Biennale. Neves Marques’s exhibition contrasts starkly with the sumptuous Venetian Gothic style of the Palazzo Franchetti, and after climbing the multicolored marble stairs located under a gilded coffered ceiling, the “Vampires in Space” installation, designed in collaboration with Diogo Passarinho Studio, transports visitors into the futuristic yet minimal interior of a spaceship. Here, the only light source is a three-screen video featuring a fantasia of scenes of everyday life from a queer space odyssey.

Pedro Neves Marques, “Vampires in Space,” Portuguese Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Renato Ghiazza. Courtesy of the artist.

On a centuries-long trip far from Earth but not yet close to an undisclosed destination, the five vampires of Neves Marques’s film share feelings of claustrophobia and freedom from judgment in the spacecraft’s interior. Destined (or cursed) to live forever after being infected by the contagion that unites them as vampires, the five travelers are perfect candidates to join the long-haul extra-terrestrial journey. Who are they? Lorna leads the mission, traveling together with Alex, in a quest to understand vampirism; Selena, a transgender person, hopes to find a new family in their companions; Itá, who was once the commander of the mission, is now confined to their bed amid struggles with their mental health; and Emma, who is dealing with amnesia, can only remember the feeling of physical intimacy with long-gone lovers. The journey seems ongoing and unending, one in which questions about the future of the human species alternate with gradual discoveries of individual identities and growth in interpersonal relationships. Space is a boundless, malleable context in which the five vampires can experiment with expressing their uninhibited and true selves, protected by the darkness that surrounds them: “after all,” as the curatorial statement quotes from a poem by Neves Marques, “in space it is always night.” [2]2
See João Mourão and Luís Silva, curatorial statement, “Vampires in Space,” .
The characters typify their own personal stories and peculiarities, which, despite their fluid individualities, make them distinguishable from one another. Nonetheless, they are bound to a common species. Not a genetic family but connected through contagion, they rewrite through their own experiences the rules of communal life and cohabitation. The process of identity formation remains a pivotal question throughout Vampires in Space and links Neves Marques’s trans non-binary reality to a fantastical film that the artist defines as autofiction.

Pedro Neves Marques, “Vampires in Space,” Portuguese Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, April 23–November 27, 2022. Photo: Renato Ghiazza. Courtesy of the artist.

The narrative of the installation engages three discursive threads: the fictional, the personal, and the political. While the vivid sci-fi film introduces us to an imaginary future dense with references to our time, five poems printed on cotton paper hung on design modules made of different materials (foam, wood, acrylic, and fabric) and scattered in smaller rooms around the primary exhibition space suggest the deeply autobiographical nature of the work on display. Vampire Poetry, a set of five poems exhibited here for the first time, relates the space adventure in the film with Neves Marques’s own personal journey. The Portuguese visual artist, writer, and film director borrows from the lexicon of vampirism to distill their own experiences of gender and mental health, of pop culture and dysphoria. Most striking in their poems is the importance given to family (or better, families), not one imposed by biological or nuclear bonds but chosen by elective affinities. As they write, “Beyond / Gender / Orientation / Or age / A family of two / Is sometime enough / To make dreams / Solipsistic.” [3]3
Pedro Neves Marques, Vampire Poetry, 2022. Digital print on cotton paper installed on design modules (wood, foam, fabric, acrylic).
At the same time, Vampires in Space is a subtly yet deeply political work. Vampires are outcasts, forced to leave Earth after being pushed to the margins. “Different” creatures, often portrayed as vehicles of contagion, they represent a potential threat to the conservative status quo. As Susan Sontag discussed in her two essays Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, the possibility of contagion and, consequentially, how ill subjects have often been addressed as threats to public order. [4]4
Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors (New York: Anchor Books,1978 and 1989).
From tuberculosis to COVID-19, in order to prevent the spread of diseases, institutional powers have long sought to exert control over vulnerable bodies. Following this history of seclusion and regulation, Neves Marques reframes exposure as a tool for resistance, even if it must unfold in the protected darkness of an unusual quest for and through space. Their works calls for the reappropriation of spaces of confinement to shape a new reality that will find a home on a different planet. Contagion freed the five vampires not only from the fear of contagion itself but also of death. The journey of indefinite duration they have embarked on is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experiment, risk, introspect, and fail. As Neves Marques writes in the poem “In Space It’s Always Night,” “Or when asleep / In Space / Our boredom / Our pain / Our longing / For love, / And understanding— / There is no time to lose.”

Time and space are both essential tools to decipher Neves Marques’s vision, and the installation at the Palazzo Franchetti invites visitors to venture into deep space while standing still in time. Certain moments and places can shape our lives, existences, memories, melancholies, and future realities. But the vampires’ universe offers the possibility of self-determination somewhere, at any time. Intimacy takes place in an environment that is both shared and isolated, as when Emma, the youngest vampire onboard, reads comics to recall her youth, or when Selena settles in with the newly found family they desired for so long. Addressing isolation and contagion is not only relevant in social and political terms but in aesthetics. Bodies are primary tools of perception and interpretation, and they make us feel others as present beings and facilitate our experience of artistic objects. Bodily connection makes it possible to find what is missing or elsewhere. Imposing restrictions on movements and relational exchanges means limiting one’s possibility of sensing the outer world. Art itself carries within its material nature the trace of the artist’s physical action, and, as Siri Hustedt writes, meaning and presence cannot be separated: any aesthetic experience refers to an intersubjective one. [5]5
Siri Hustedt, Mysteries of the Rectangle: Essays on Painting (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005).
For this reason, Neves Marques proposes a solution that binds the relationships we build with one another to our experience of art, as something fearless, inclusive, and free of judgment. Condemned to eternity, vampires are the ideal explorers and experimenters of this limitless space.

Federico Rudari is a doctoral researcher in culture studies at The Lisbon Consortium, UCP Lisbon. He focuses on the phenomenological understanding of contemporary cultural production and its perception by individuals and collective audiences, questioning how mediation can be effectively achieved in exhibition spaces. Following his interest in artistic practices and the relationship between research and civil society, he has contributed to different exhibitions and projects around Europe. He was part of the project 4Cs: from Conflict to Conviviality through Creativity and Culture as editor, curator, and assistant project manager and worked in research and project management at the Cities Programme of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, addressing issues of participation, sustainable practices, and housing.

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