Madalena Martins

Interview: Joana Jervell
Photos: Courtesy Madalena Martins

Attracted by Portuguese popular culture — by its sincerity and its simplicity — without losing its humour, Madalena Martins is fascinated by stories and emotions above all else. Whether through interventions in public spaces or the design of various objects, her artistic practice leads her to the constant rediscovery of new shapes and languages in the materials and narratives she explores. An adept of conscious and sustainable design, she tells us a little about herself and the ever-stimulating creative process.

How has your background in Communication Design influenced you and led you to what you do today?

It is important for me to share a message, to tell a story. Quite clearly, this comes from there. And the sometimes obsessive rigour in the finishes is, I think, down to my training.

How do you like to describe your work to those who are unfamiliar with it? What are its main references?

It is a visual language that tries to share emotions. A constant exercise of reinterpreting materials and stories that result in new forms, new functions. A sustainable design with a strong social and human component in the creative and productive process. And perhaps also humour, which is an inherent part of my work. I let myself go, relaxed, into a half-unlocked imagination, which amuses me a lot.

Up to what point is it important to appeal to the environmental (through the surplus materials used) and social (often using prisoners in the production of pieces) consciousness?

I would say it is essential. When I begin a project I always think about saving resources, reusing materials, looking for local or national companies and, of course, manual production in prison workshops. Being open about these values and the collaborations involved in the process is, I believe, essential.

How does your creative process work? Is there a method?

I don’t know if you could call my chaotic creativity a method. The start is always very confusing: materials, stories, production… it’s all mixed. And I love it. It starts as a solitary work that is then tested and finished as part of a team. Usually, each project brings something new and, in turn, new collaborations that enrich the entire process. But there is always a creative exercise that is limited by the production and the management of resources and costs…

How do you normally feed your creativity?

With a very nutritious soup! (Laughing) Permanent curiosity about materials. Simple stories that we are offered by the world and everyday life — or that emerge from my imagination. I also feed on the challenges that come from clients, with their end-of-line waste that is looking for a “new life”. From wonderful artists in all disciplines, whether they be visual, audio or performing. And even from Caramelo, my little bird that is currently helping me dream up some wings for the next installation in Paredes de Coura.

What particularly outstanding project have you completed?

The “Ephemeral Lightness of a Flower” installation in Vila do Conde. The client’s challenge was bold: to work with fresh flowers, with camellias. There is nothing more ephemeral than the freshness of a flower. And it was precisely this ephemeral existence that I sought to reflect there. A total of 400 beautiful camellias, each one suspended from a balloon, descending over a few days in a spontaneous dance until they fell to the ground, dry. It was a performative installation in which the narrative was conveyed by the decay of its elements.

And one you would like to develop in the future?

I would love to have inmates transform the plastic used in prisons into new pieces of design. To be more vigorous with the sustainable designs I have been developing. I have been working on a number of ideas in order to find a way to implement them in our workshop at Paços de Ferreira prison. This would be the fulfilment of an old wish that I hope will happen very soon!

What do you love most about what you do?

The novelty. Knowing that I am setting out on a new challenge. To create is one of the most fun things there is.

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