Helena Lopes (1941 - )

5=4+1 (1994)

Etching and aquatint on card
height: 29.5cm
width: 20cm

Donated by Helena Lopes 1997


On her right hand Helena Lopes has five digits, and on her left hand she has four. One finger, although it has been physically absent since her birth, has always been present in Lopes' imagination. In the title of the series Lopes describes her left hand, a conjunction of four physically real digits with one imaginarily-present one, via a simple sum: 4+1.

The '+ 1', Lopes' missing, imaginary finger, is represented by the final image of the series as what Lopes calls a ninho: a Portuguese word that may be translated as nest or breeding ground. Her image of a nest represents the imagination as a productive place, where things that are not physically present are created, and can be felt as fantasy or as memory. 5=4+1 is a therefore an autobiographical piece but, outside the artist's particular experience of absence, it examines the way in which the human imagination is able to compensate for things that are missing.

The series was produced in a very tactile way, beginning with the artist covering each of her hands with black masking paint, imprinting her fingers and thumbs onto copper plate before etching away their outlines. The images therefore begin with a very basic action: a fingerprint. Like making, and then looking at, the imprint of one's own finger, the series is a translation from touch into vision, from sensation into image. And like looking at a fingerprint, the images created by Helena Lopes' tactile process stimulate our sense of touch when we look at them.

Starting from an examination of part of her own body Helena Lopes' 5=4+1 becomes a meditation on the productive power of the imagination and the entwining of touch and vision.

Isobel Whitelegg, 2008

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