Please upgrade your browser

For the best experience, you should upgrade your browser. Visit our accessibility page to view a list of supported browsers along with links to download the latest version.

Joana Maria Pereira

PhD Work

Mute Legacies: Notions of discontinuity in contemporary art

Built from disparate figures and fragments, this practice-based research develops provisional chains of connection to contest the hierarchical division between those who have the power to speak and those who do not. Reflecting on how silence operates, I draw out links with the Portuguese Fascist regime and its legacy. One way of addressing this question is to imagine a scene in which a man is called upon to sign his name yet can only leave in its place a fingerprint. This fringe of reality – with which I became familiar in childhood – does not merely highlight the problem of illiteracy in the dictatorship; a full understanding of the cultural, social and political implications of this, and also other scenes, demands a different kind of attention, one which I argue is inseparable from certain bodily manifestations.

Starting from this premise, I explore the connection between the body and silence, while interrogating the relationship between words and power, and silence as the lack of power and mobility. I propose a different approach to muteness that challenges its conception as stillness to include a paradoxical sense of mobility. I learned from John Cage that what we call ‘silence is all of the sound we don’t intend’: this means ‘free of our activity’. Silence thus functions as an interval, or a spacing effect, which in the context of this research is also the taking place of the body as evidence of a certain perception of power.

Without directly addressing the regime, the intention of this PhD is to think about and employ a working methodology based on silence that might disrupt the continuity/unity of speech in order to draw our attention away from speech and its associated hierarchies of power towards mute figures. This means I move away from Salazar’s discourse and any historical facts towards the possibility of discovering a complexity of meanings outside speech and utility, implying the exigency of thinking of language beyond its verbal/abstract dimension.

Throughout this project a process of reorder is often used instead of order. Three key concepts intersect in my reflections on the link between silence and the body: Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of ‘spacing’; ‘punctuation’ in the work of Blanchot, Derrida and Barthes, and the Deleuzian formula of the ‘interstice’. Discontinuity is a way of working (and thinking), used alongside an emphasis on the fragmentary and the provisional as primary methodologies of this research. These are strategies that are also borrowed from non-linear writing, cinematic montage and art-making practices that involve social-political concerns (as is common in postmodernist sculpture, rooted in the nomadic, hybrid and dematerialised art of the 1960s and 70s). Functioning as a work among works, the written component of this project becomes an assembly of texts in the form of notes, letters, micro-narratives and quotations. Fundamentally both the written and visual components of the research draw attention to what is not there (or was not intended to be there): mute, concealed, displaced, replaced. The fragmentary, combined both with the logic of repetition and the material quality of the work, conveys a sense of mobility to undermine the sense of dogmatic control. Reorder can be renamed mobility, because what the experience of muteness seeks to address is the dynamics of a shared vulnerability, allied to the idea of both corporality and openness.


  • PhD


    School of Arts & Humanities



  • Joana Maria Pereira is an artist working across multiple art practices; often using the form of installations she combines writing, prints, objects and/or moving image to explore the sense of the provisional, by this means questioning notions of totality and permanence.  Her current research by practice focuses on silence, while drawing out links with the social-political structure of the Portuguese Fascist regime and its legacy to address the value of what is rendered mute outside speech and utility.   

    Since graduating with a BA in Sculpture from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto in 2003 Pereira has been presenting her work internationally in conferences, talks and exhibitions. She has lectured at institutions that include USP and Unesp in Brazil; Faculty of Architecture and Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto in Portugal, and University for the Creative Arts and De Montfort University in the UK. In 2017 she was a tutor in the new postgraduate Printmaking programme at the University of Porto.  She has recently been awarded an FCT Doctoral Studentship to support her studies at the Royal College of Art in London.