Francisco Salas: …I constantly entertain images of darkness, of blackness and night too… And I wonder why, if once, without words… and a different feeling – something more remote, more earthly, closer to the ground – washes over me, carried by the voice of your music…. I don’t know. Strange thoughts. This search for oneself in other people’s voices, this search for a voice for one’s inner voice… that which barely utters a sound, which lives in darkness too, but not because of this is any less alive.

This attraction to darkness, this desire to dwell in it, penetrate it and speak from within it… Does it have to do with a particular moment in your life or does it mirror something or respond to a need felt during this particularly dark time? Or is it perhaps an understanding, a dwelling in the darkness that is not negative or shadowy but necessary in order to comprehend the luminous?

Loreto Martínez Troncoso: Where to begin, si est-ce qu’il y a un commencement quelconque – if there is a beginning at all… And suddenly I am reminded of a phrase at the start of A Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez, which sometimes comes to me in a whisper in the dark, “The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point”.

Reading you it occurred to me that “From darkness” could be the title of this exhibition. And when I stop to think about it, it’s true that night has been with me for some time now. En la noche [1], 2010, if not La ferme (soliloquio de un insomne), 2009 [2], was my first attempt at consciously listening to those inner voices chattering, joking, laughing, and then falling silent… To this more amorphous, less rational material that exists between the thought, the said and the withheld. At the time I was reading L’infinito viaggiare, by Claudio Magris, which in the preface alludes to the distinction Ernesto Sábato made between diurnal and nocturnal writing that he summarized in his text Nocturnal Writing: “In the first, a writer, even when he invents, expresses a world in which he recognizes himself; he conveys his values, his way of being, his understanding and his conception and vision of the world. In nocturnal writing, the writer must come to terms with something that suddenly emerges in him and that he didn’t know he had: disturbing and even horrible feelings and instincts that surprise us, that appall us, that tell us what we could be, what we fear and hope to be, what by pure chance we haven’t become. We find ourselves face to face with the Medusa of life and when a writer meets his doppelganger, he might prefer that his other self say things other than what he’s saying”.

To actively listen out for these voices is to be, or to want to be, prepared to listen to your shadows – shadows which are yours but also ours, for no man is an island. To be, to exist in the world. Or, as Rimbaud put it, Je est un autre, ‘I is another’. Or, as who was it else that said, ‘I is a channel’.

So I assume this need is not born from anything personal. And yet… (I don’t think there is such a clean cut between “what I say and what I experience”). But, para já, it springs from the work itself, from my writing. If my writing were born from a need to express, at some point it came up against the difficulty and even the impossibility of expressing. Sometimes it’s hard to ascribe a name to things. (And sometimes one is struck dumb, speechless, incapable of expressing an opinion about what is happening in the world…). And there, in and out of the difficulty of, it came up against silence.

Silence can be a very noisy place – it can be inhabited and agitated by the thing unsaid, silenced, troubled. But it can also be a place of calm, tranquillity, and serenity… like a refuge, a home.

For a time I was fascinated by caves, burrows, huts… places that could provide a retreat and allow me to think, like in Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, where the man is free to say out loud, “I am a sick man” and unburden himself. Basements, corners, between walls… Gaps! Which are also cantiños to retreat to and breathe.

“Yes, my friends. A gap, a sodding gap!” I caught myself shouting out one day.

Sometimes it is necessary to “se mettre à l’ombre” (“move into the shade”), especially in these extremely luminous times, as so much light is blinding. It’s true that we live in (a) dark time-s… (For how long now?) And this darkness, this ‘blackness’, as you call it (this word immediately conjures up in me an image of viscous greeny-yellow bile) that dwells in us and unsettles us, is it not a darkness, an imposed blindness? In this world where everything is so visible and accessible, in which you are – or must think you are, or feel that you are – responsible for all your choices… Despite this, “We will choose for you”; “You choose and we’ll see what happens”; “We’ll be the ones to decide what will become of you”. And this great possibility of “being, feeling free”, doesn’t it carry a great responsibility? A responsibility, and with it, a huge guilt at not having been or not being able to.

(And after having got sidetracked, or maybe not, maybe fired up, now I can say this:) Here is the restful shade I wish to dwell in today. Again a retreat? A respite, in any case.

Writing this I have this sensation in my body like when you sit down on some grass under a tree to take shelter or to cool off from a scorching sun. Tiny rays of light find their way through the leaves. I look up, and moved by the gentle breeze, they seem like twinkling stars.

FS: As you say, Ernesto Sábato talks of diurnal writing and nocturnal writing, the latter where one opens oneself up more to the emotions… Why do you think it is in darkness, in the night, that one feels more open, more fragile, to enter the world? Perhaps because the solitude, the isolation, allows us to find ourselves?

LMT: Literally, I have written during the night for a long time now. From the moment that the buzzing city with its mechanical rhythm se acalma, becomes still. Instantly night falls, and in the distance dogs bark. Just as the body se acalma, the senses seem to stir. Even the movements of the fingers as they write, it is as if they are more conscious, more alive.

This kind of ‘nocturnal’ listening, which is more sensitive, more focused, and easily startled by noise, is like John Cage’s experience in the anechoic, or soundproof, chamber in Harvard Univerisity, when he expected to listen to absolute silence. He was amazed to hear two sounds, a high-pitched one and a low-pitched one. The first was the sound of his nervous system and the second his heartbeat, as the technician explained to him afterwards. From this experience and his research, John Cage concluded that, “the essential meaning of silence is the giving up of intention. Silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind”.

Maybe that nocturnal moment or state is a sort of relinquishing, an abandoning, an abandoning (to oneself), to the unknown (in oneself) and to the unforeseeable. From a state of calm and solitude. Although I do ask myself if we are ever really alone.

Often we talk of writing as a solitary activity and in literal terms it is. I write alone. I need this solitude physically and mentally. But in reality we are not alone. We face a multiplicity of voices and states and emotions which sometimes do not belong to us personally so much as socially and educationally.

It is in that moment, if not of solitude, of isolation, that as you say on se pose – I use the French term because it has so many different readings: (se) poser, (se) déposer, to shed, to throw down [arms], [cease flying] land, rest. 

During my nocturnal dialogues not only do I listen to my nervous system and my palpitations, but I also find many companions, “fellow travellers” as I called them for a while, even “lovers”. So many of my writings, sound pieces and/or performances summon other voices I meet along the way. One of them may even turn into a title, an example being the project I did for Galerie Paradise, which was nothing more than the extension inwards of the ground outside behind the gallery.


Spaces also talk. Just as absolute silence does not exist, neither does emptiness or a blank page. I don’t recall who it was who said that a page, like a canvas, is full with things, and the challenge is to unpick them all, open up the gaps and empty it. Who said it would be like an anatomy class? To retreat… into isolation… to try and see things more clearly from a distance.


FS: I recall that while we were talking in Porto you mentioned that you always speak of death, not referring to it as such but perhaps as a departure, an absence, the loss of the other. I found it very moving because although I’ve always wanted to see in your work a vital force, which I know is there, a tragic image came into my mind which although I feel it and comprehend it, I had never felt it quite so clearly, and which is a fatality…

Ultimately, our fatality is precisely that inexorable, inevitable end… I have always wanted to steer clear of the tragic in life, as it is precisely its everydayness that renders it not only unavoidable but also less unpredictable, don’t you think? But pain will never be predictable. I don’t know if you feel this too, but it’s like there is a kind of ritual preparing us for loss, which we must understand and take on board if we are to withstand the pain of loss. Like when you know that something is going to hurt and so you harm yourself on purpose so that when the pain comes it’s not as bad as the pain you inflicted on yourself.

LMT: I don’t remember having said this so seriously, but consciously or not, I must have expressed it. (The image of the saying “You are what you say” came to me not long ago when I found myself in the middle of a storm of information, pictures, and stimulus that our eyes typically absorb consciously or subconsciously on a daily basis). For this is what I am, a legged pulsation that walks, rambles and grapples with the passage of time and the anxiety amongst other things that goes with it. The road towards the night – the night from which we never wake… The onward march and its signs warning you that maybe the day will come when you ask yourself what have you done with your life, what it is that has prevented you from living, being. The realisation (conscious or not) that one day you may say to yourself, “It’s too late now! So why wait?”

It’s funny but yesterday I was with a friend who introduced me to the music of Babatunde Olatunji – I awoke this morning with the lyrics in my head and I tell you it made my day:

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a Gift. That’s why we call it the present.”

My friend said, “Altamente! […] Eu é mais “today is the same as yesterday, a World without a tomorrow”. Pode ser! Tem varias leituras. A que gosto: Não amnahã, assim que acorda! (Maybe. There are several readings. My favourite is, ‘There is no tomorrow, so remember!’)

The performance piece À espera (2015) [3], talked of this and of the apprehension that sometimes cries out, “Have you never heard death call at your door?

Often, once I’ve unpicked the knot of feelings I’ve either articulated or hallucinated, I wonder why I inflict or impose this sort of reflection on my public. So often I have said, “Next time I’ll do a comedy”, but I never manage to pull it off. I’m not sure I ever will. Maybe behind this revelation of feelings is a deep desire to wake up, knock on the door – mine and other people’s – and shout, “Wake up! Look around and remember that we are not alone in the world. We never have been. Let’s not forget what we humans have done and what we do for each other. My hypersensitivity gives me no peace. Every day I get emotional, sometimes to the point that I’m incapable of doing anything, because of the “shame I feel of being a man”. Other times my emotions surprise me: they reconcile me with mankind and allow me to go on. For example, did you see that firefighter who refused to supervise the shipment of a whole arsenal of explosives, bombs and detonators to Saudi Arabia? It bowls you over! How do my everyday actions and decisions impact on a system that is imposed on me/us and which at the same time I feed into? Do I practise what I preach? I often ask myself this. And often the answer is vague [diffuse and lazy; a wave that “comes and goes”), woolly.

When I paused and looked up from writing to you just now, I remembered a scene from the film L’An 01 (1973), by Jacques Doillon, starring Alain Renais and Jean Rouch, where they ask, “What if we took a step sideways?” I can’t help reproducing the entire passage: “They say, happiness is progress, take a step forward! And that is progress, but it is never happiness. So what if we took a step sideways?  What if we tried something else? If we took a step sideways, we would see what we never see”. [In the picture, a man standing by a window in a flat steps to one side and finds himself facing a curtain] What are you doing? I’m looking inside my head. If we took a step sideways, queues would not lead to box offices. If we took a step sideways, guns would not fall on soldiers. [In the picture, a dustbin lorry and two men collect rubbish bins. One of them steps to one side, and instead of tipping the bin into the lorry, empties it on top of a stationed car.

The other one asks: What are you doing? Just having a bit of fun (Laughter)]. If we took a step sideways, kicks wouldn’t land on bums. [In the picture, a man walks towards us. One side of his face is marked. He stops and says, looking to the camera, “I stepped aside. I turned around. He too stepped aside and – boom – he banged into my face! If we stepped aside, instead of going home we’d go to our neighbour’s house. [In the picture, a man facing his front door looks at the next door neighbour’s door. He steps sideways. He calls at the door. Once… twice]. – Hello? – Good evening. It’s your neighbour. I’ve never dared to talk to you, so I thought I would start now. You see, it’s stupid to live next to each other and not know each other… – It’s time you came in. Come in!”

When I wrote to you, I wondered if this feeling of “being alone in the world” is a thing of modern life or if it is confined to my generation. This feeling, this longing to “live together”.

But then I know that all this is an exaggeration. Of course my life, my, our, everyday lives are full of gifts, lights, and steps aside. It would be unbearable if it weren’t so. One has only to look around a sua volta, and see the small things, the small gestures… A smile, a look, a touch, a sympathetic ear. Even in this eternal loop, we only have to slow down and listen. As Thomas Bernhard reminds us in his book, Extinction, exaggeration is “the art of tiding oneself over existence, of making one’s existence endurable, even possible.” I would like to link this to what Renaud Burel was whispering to me only yesterday: “It’s no good fooling around with writing when you’re dipping your pen into your own blood”.

I realise that the moment of publication is privileged. Whether during a performance or an exhibition, although in the first instance the perception of what you provoke through convocation is more tangible… If there is a public, if people gather at these assemblies it is because they are curious to find something that either comforts or surprises them. So why not share with others and talk about what dwells inside us, in the knowledge that what we carry inside does not belong to us alone? (At least, I don’t think I am the only one to be occupied, even obsessed, by the passage of time…)

This “I” that talks, summons, manifests itself, is a human being, a sentient being, a being, a being in the world… And that is what I want to convoke and share. The voices of a feeling, a being, a perceiving in the world.

FS: Darkness, night… the shadows you often summon and from which you emerge are, as you say, necessary places of retreat. Here you can rest from the glare of the media imposed by a bustling society that no longer listens to itself, let alone to anyone else. But, when in darkness human beings, like plants, seek out the light. I find that when reading you or listening to you from a dark place, or a silent place, you show me the way towards the light, because even when one is disappointed or in a state of confrontation with somebody or with oneself, your work is cathartic and leads me to react, or wake up, from this anaesthesia which permeates our lives sometimes. Do you get this same reaction when creating your work?

LMT: E ainda bem! You see, you feel light in what you hear [laughter].

For me writing is this nocturnal activity. Or it’s the nocturnal state I want to infuse in my writing. And when I talk of writing, I’m not referring only to writing a text for a performance or a sound piece or a film… I mean also writing in and with a space, in dialogue with it (here there are various voices), with the light, the journey, the fullness and the void, with temporality… (orchestrate it…). With its atmosphere, its temperature, its being… These are things one can feel on entering a space, which one can enhance or alter, in the case of an exhibition space, for instance. In a sound piece, it’s also a question of playing with the rhythms… But ultimately, it’s not so much what you say as how you say it. I remember recently, at the end of one reading, a man carrying a guitar on his back said to me, “what you do is music”. And it’s true – first great care is taken over what is said and published, and then equally over what is not said and published, over what is non-material but which is there all the same, latent, and a part of it.

I write constantly, I construct for every occasion, situation, and encounter. I don’t know how I manage but I always end up writing at the last minute. If not every day, then at least almost every day I take notes on things I’m experiencing, feeling, on things I hear or read… But it’s as if I felt this need to “take the floor”, driven by a sense of urgency to formulate or concentrate. On the one hand it’s as if I have the need almost to feel the other, as it were, this other person that will enter the space and will give him or herself up to whatever happens there (more or less).

That’s it, a happening. “Art is a meeting”, somebody said to me once. It’s a coming together or a falling out. And on the other, writing or formulating almost at the end (at the end of what?) is like putting yourself in a situation.

To stop, stay still and listen. What is dwelling inside me at the moment? What moves me? Sometimes it’s a piece of music. Sometimes a phrase. Sometimes a situation or a sensation. Sometimes it’s a vast emptiness… A silence or a great magma of emotions, impulses, desires and fears too (and sometimes there are voices that emerge during these processes that would do better to keep quiet). It’s like a preparation, an initiation. And once you’re fastened, imbibed by all these “voices”…

– Jump!

– … and don’t look down because if you do you’ll fall and that’s what you get for looking.

– Nobody can. It must be said: it can’t be done. And the writing goes on. The unknown that we carry inside… Writing – that is what you achieve. It’s that or nothing. […] Writing is the unknown. Before writing we don’t know what we are going to write. And with total lucidity. […] It’s the unknown of oneself, one’s head, one’s body. Writing isn’t even a reflection, it’s a faculty one has alongside one’s person, parallel to it, of someone else who appears and advances, invisible, endowed with thought and anger, and who sometimes, through their own actions, are in danger of losing their lives. If one knew what to write before starting, before writing, one would never write. It would not be worth it. To write is to try to know what we would write if we wrote – we only know afterwards – beforehand,

it’s the most dangerous question we can ask ourselves” [4].

Before I started writing to you, I remembered that the last time I was really surprised, scared even, was after completing À espera. I recalled a conversation I had on the telephone with my mother the day before the performance. I was on my way back from Serralves, after testing the microphones and saying out loud for the first time the complete text of what I had just written for the occasion. My mother wanted to know how I was. “Well…”. “What’s the matter?” “It’s just that I don’t know why I’m always talking about these things”… And I remember her words exactly: “You have to talk about what you like”. I don’t remember what I replied. What I do know is that I can’t say I like talking about death exactly and I don’t think I did, explicitly, but I did talk about feeling dead or murdered in

my everyday life by the “recent events in the world”[5] and by the consequences felt in our dailylives. Alone and together. 

[Amongst many other things…]

Immediately, I start writing at an unstable table. Maybe the days are like this. A swinging, a funambulating, between past, future and present. In my processes, moments of writing (and not only then) there is always a moment when I try, need, to capture, open my senses to what is happening around me. To return to the body, to the being. Here and now.

FS: During a recent conversation you said you were “revisiting” the films of Maguerite Duras, films such as Les mains negatives (1978) and Agatha et les lectures illimitées (1981), where Duras’ narrative visual is a prolongation of her writing and where the voiceover traces an intimate journey through the images and characters… like an inner voice that speaks. I don’t know why but in her films I feel a solitude (as I sometimes do with your work) that comes over me even when the voice is talking to me or the characters are on screen. Is there a common chord between Duras’ films and your writing?

LMT: That’s odd because whilst looking for the passage where Duras discusses the act of writing, I chanced upon these phrases (it’s been a while since I read them, but I think they talk about this quite a lot, about solitude):

“Without solitude one achieves nothing. We cannot see anything”. (Further up:) “This is in the book: the solitude of the entire world. It is everywhere. It has invaded everything”. (Lower down:) It is a way of thinking… but with the only quotidian thought. There is also this in the function of writing and before anything perhaps we should say that we should not kill one another every day from the moment that we are able to kill one another every day. This is to write a book, it is not solitude”.

I don’t know if I can continue to write after these words. What I do know is that if not all, most of films and books are full of cries and silences. And I…

[To be continued].

[1] Sound piece for a single spectator. Les Vagues, Frac des Pays de la Loire, 2010, and the Spanish version: Entrar en la obra, 1, 2011, Marco, Vigo.

[2] In Spanish, ¡Calla la boca! (soliloquio de un insomne) – performance accompanied by Clément Robert on drums, as part of the exhibition “Treasure for theatre”, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de La Ferme du Buisson, 2009. Years later an adaptation of this piece gave rise to the self-published CD Queimada, made in collaboration with Gustavo Costa and João Pais Filipe (percussion and objects), Henrique Fernandes (double bass and objects); serigraphy: Oficina Arara, Oporto, Portugal.

[3] Festival “O museo como performance”. Fundação Serralves, Oporto, Portugal

[4] Marguerite Duras, Écrire – Writing. Éd. Gallimard, 1993.

[5] Even today I was remembering this piece by Roman Ondak, Announcement, 2002. A message on the radio that sounds like a jingle: “Please pay attention to the following announcement: As a sign of solidarity with recent world events, please continue to do whatever you are doing for one minute”.