Art|Basel Statements
Jaime Welsh
13 – 18 June 2023 Art|Basel Basel
Press release


Madragoa is delighted to present Tulllia (recto/verso), a new site-specific installation by Jaime Welsh (b. 1994, Lisbon). The project centers on a thirteen-year-old boy who rests absorbed within a reinvented proxy of the interiors of the University of Lisbon, designed in 1952 by renowned Portuguese architects Porfírio Pardal Monteiro and Daciano da Costa, under the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar.

The presentation is accompanied by the text below, written by Fernanda Brenner in response to this new production.



The first time I saw an image by Portuguese artist Jaime Welsh, a Swedish film came to mind: You, the Living by Roy Andersson (2007). The connection between the artist’s and the filmmaker’s poignant and sly images was immediate. Welsh’s sumptuously mounted tableaux-vivants-like photographs could quickly turn up in an Andersson film when seen in a sequence.

For The Guardian’s critic Peter Bradshaw, in the Swedish film there are extraordinary visions of lost souls adrift in worlds that he can only describe as resplendent with vivid, hyperreal drabness — Welsh’s peculiar universe seems to follow the same logic. In his work, classical composition painting is deliberately addressed and subverted. There is always something simultaneously too familiar and estranged as if the place is wrong, the time is out of joint, or the shoes are someone else’s. In the case of Tullia (recto/verso) (2023) - presented as a site-specific installation in Madragoa’s booth at Art|Basel Statements 2023 - the lying down boy could stand for the ancient Roman King Servius Tullius, murdered by his daughter Tullia Minor. The scene is staged at the sumptuous building of the Rectorate of the University of Lisbon, built during the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, where an academic painting of the parricide scene is hung.

Once the first commandment of documentary photography has been broken by removing figures from their natural setting and recreating existing locations in post-production, there is no longer any real way to make contact with a personality or a place. Welsh is interested in the shell that is left and in which new narratives can be projected. He straddles truth and fiction by combining real people and places — but not necessarily people and places that would go together. His work seems to overlay and question the architecture of power and the architecture of the self.

In The Oval Room – the first image the viewer encounters – his controlling temperament (here I think again of the Swedish film director) is evident. The carefully posed subject, cinematic lighting, and subtle reflex of a crestfallen kid on a mahogany table could stand as the epitome of loneliness. In this eerie scene, we see a fragment of the painting by Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (1857-1929), the centerpiece of the photograph, as mentioned earlier, precisely the horses’ heads. The oval table is the classic stage for official meetings and more or less dangerous liaisons. One can feel the presence of the decision-making suited man without any trace of them. The kid is what is left, worn-out and hopeless. His fatigue conveys a disquieting impression that we are witnessing the last breath of a doomed world.

The Swedish film follows the action through a series of slo-mo deadpan scenes, from the dinner party to the electric chair. Welsh’s camera – so as Andersson’s – rarely moves. It is placed as statically as a painter's easel, and the resulting pictures look like something made by a Flemish master. The well-chiseled characters created by both image-makers look like they are trapped in the chambers of some refrigerated limbo. Andersson takes his title from lines by Goethe: "Be pleased then, you, the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot.”; once again this feels like an accurate epithet for Welsh’s stunning work.





Fernanda Brenner, 2023



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