Future Greats: Mariana Silva

Selected by Laura Barlow

By Laura Barlow

Mariana Silva, Social Forms Pavilion, 2018 (installation view, Pavilhão Branco, Lisbon). Photo: Bruno Lopes. Courtesy the artist and Galeria Francisco Fino, Lisbon Pedro Neves Marques and Mariana Silva, Environments, 2013 (installation view, e-flux, New York). Courtesy the artists Mariana Silva, Friends of Interpretable Objects, 2015 (installation view). Photo: António Jorge Silva. Courtesy the artist and Galeria Francisco Fino, Lisbon


The work of Mariana Silva explores the circulation and crisis of the neoliberal model in relation to collectives such as crowds, publics and the history of museums, as well as the more general social and economic systems within which we are forced to live. I first connected with Silva’s work in New York (where the Portuguese artist is based), while working on the 2013 exhibition Environments at the e-flux space, which featured videoworks she created in collaboration with Pedro Neves Marques.

The videos looked at a host of issues – our use of the planet’s resources, the constitution of a ‘public’, the control of free speech, the impartiality of media images and the intrusion of governments and other national and supranational organisations into daily life – but it was as much the research, the manner in which they conducted it and the discussions it provoked (a talks series they programmed was incorporated into the exhibition) that attracted my curiosity.

The double-channel projection Explore, Experience, Enjoy (2013–14) is one foundational work. Based on a virtual revisualisation of Information, Kynaston McShine’s 1970 exhibition of conceptual art at MoMA, it explores the ephemera of exhibitions as well as the relation between objects, spectators and the museum structures that facilitate and govern the encounter between the two. This in turn led to the ideas embedded in two works shown at the 2016 Gwangju Biennale, where this thinking was combined with notions about relations between the collective and the individual, and the binaries that govern how we look at a work of art. Such thoughts continue to underpin Silva’s exhibitions: each work explores the limitation of the medium and display. Medium, viewer and space are all in sync. 

The ongoing Friends of Interpretable Objects (2013–), which refers to Miguel Tamen’s book of the same title, sees Silva thinking about the modern museum defined by three objects: the specimen in the natural history museum; the artefact of anthropology; and the art object in the museum. In it she considers how objects and our understanding of them are animated, framed and reframed by the structures of an institution.

More recent work, such as Swarms/Throngs (After ‘Networks, Swarms, and Multitudes’) (2018), explores how insects – and concepts such as hives, flocking and swarming – have become a reference for complex organisational systems and the encroachments of a digital, networked society. In The Zoomorphic Eye (2017) – also shot in the circular format that moves away from the traditional rectangular frame of painting and photography – computerised representations of animal species and the way they organise are interspersed with characters who tell a fictional narrative about the visual representations of the planetary processes of extinction, progress and change. Silva’s work offers a means by which to interrogate autocratic processes and, simultaneously, a way to understand how we perceive the structures of our own lives.


Mariana Silva lives and works in New York. Previous exhibitons include Audience Response System at Parkour, Lisbon (2014); Environments at e-flux, New York; and P/p at Mews Project Space, London (both 2013). In 2016, Silva participated in both the Gwangju Biennale and the Moscow Biennale. Her solo exhibition, Social Forms Pavilion, was on view at Pavilhão Branco, Lisbon, in January.

Laura Barlow is a curator at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha. She recently cocurated an exhibition of works there by Mounira Al Solh, on through 16 February.

From the January and February 2019 issue of ArtReview, in association with K11 Art Foundation