Smoke was commissioned by the Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council for the Berwick Ramparts Project in 1996. Berwick is a garrison town located on the border between England and Scotland. Contemporary artists were invited to make work in response to the town’s unique character, particularly its imposing Elizabethan ramparts. Nogueira worked in the Stanks and Magdalene Fields, common grazing land between the town and the sea. Her installation comprised two small kiosks painted black, one of which dispensed black kites, the other black umbrellas. In addition she positioned a black bench where visitors could sit and look out to sea, a large black flag on a nearby golf course, and a black stepladder on a verge overlooking earthworks. As part of the commission, Nogueira also made a five-minute video which is the principle component of the work now owned by Tate.
The video, shot in grainy black and white, shows all the elements of the site-specific installation. The kiosks stand sentry-like, the outline of their dark shapes stark against the countryside. The stepladder looms out of tall swaying grass. The flag flaps against an overcast sky. The long bench appears, first vacant and later occupied by pensioners. Nogueira encouraged visitors to use her kites and umbrellas and several scenes show the kites dancing in the wind, their shadows playing across the ramparts. As the video progresses the sky grows overcast and dark, then brightens again. A flock of pigeons are released from boxes; they soar away over the walls. The images are accompanied by a soundtrack of ambient noise: birdsong, the flapping of the kites and the flag, murmuring voices and the gentle hum of the wind. The video functions as a documentation of the Berwick event and as a poetic work in its own right.
Nogueira was born in Brazil. In 1975 she moved to London and remained there for the rest of her life. She is predominantly known for sculptural installations using everyday objects. The critic Rainer Fuchs has described the allusive resonances her work evokes, saying, ‘The objects which Nogueira uses or refers to possess a poetic narrativity and referentiality ... they evoke the motif of a place which is extremely occupied with emotion’ (Fuchs, ‘Paradox as Plausible Logic: Notes on an Exhibition of Lucia Nogueira’, Lucia Nogueira, p.12). In the Berwick installation Nogueira referred to real objects in the town’s landscape. By rendering them in solid black she drew particular attention to them. The matte black surface of the objects has an elegiac and uncanny quality; it also recalls the monochrome sculptural assemblages of Louise Nevelson (1899-1988; see Black Wall, 1959, Tate T00514). In the video, the objects appear as mysterious and lyrical props; the viewer is encouraged to imagine narrative possibilities for them
Nogueira intentionally made work that left questions unanswered, deferring closure and implicating the spectator in creating meaning by bringing to the work his or her own memories and imagination. In Berwick, she accomplished this by encouraging interactivity with the elements of her installation. The video’s subtle, almost ephemeral quality encourages a different type of engagement through contemplative reverie.
Smoke was produced in an edition of ten; Tate’s copy is number four in the series. In addition to the video, which can be either projected or displayed on a monitor, the work includes a kite and an umbrella. These objects, which formed part of the Berwick installation, are integral parts of the work but are optional for display.
Andrew Wilson, Dan Graham, Alexandre Melo, Charles Esche, Simon Grant and Ingrid Swenson, Berwick Ramparts Project Guide 1996, exhibition catalogue, Berwick Gymnasium Gallery, 1996.
Anthony Downey and Rainer Fuchs, Lucia Nogueira, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Eugen Lendl, Graz, 1997.
Andrew Wilson, Lucia Nogueira, exhibition catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 1993.