Monday, November 13, 2006

Journey To The Edge Of Europe

For 4 days I have been in Lisbon, in particular for the Arte Lisboa fair but also for a well deserved holiday. It is easy to become jaded when stuck in London for too long and despite the odd weekend out of London I have spent most of the summer in our hot, smoggy city. Don’t get me wrong nobody loves London more than me but it has its faults and every now and again it is good to have a change of scene and with autumn well established and winter on its way I needed to expose my solar batteries to a little charge. I also wanted to see what the Spanish and Portuguese speaking world had going on in terms of art. What follows is a speedy rush through what I stumbled on.
Lisbon really does feel like the edge of Europe, a ten minute ride on the ferry across the river to Cacilhas provides great views of the city and an insight into the Lisbon docks 15 years earlier, on this side of the wide estuary of the Tejo river is an ungentrified dockside with fisherman lining the dock and derelict warehouses covered in graffiti, some dockside warehouses however are still holding on and continuing their business and one interesting peek through a particular open door showed a handful of guys hand making large barrels. Just outside the ferry terminal is a variety of stalls which look like they could have been there since the early years of the last century, in some cases the food which is being sold appears to have the same vintage. Back in Lisbon the variety of restaurants is huge, from simple traditional Portuguese standards to modern European food Lisboan restaurateurs pride themselves on the freshness of their food and with this in mind it is not unusual in more traditional establishments to be offered to look at the food on offer before it is cooked. Lunchtimes around the Mercado da Ribiera you will find inexpensive food for market traders and visitors to have with their lunchtime ‘bica’ (espresso) or beer. One evening meal at Charcuteria on Rua do Alecrim showed the quality and style of Portuguese food, there were no huge flamboyant gastronomic gestures evident in other European cuisine but the pate, bacalhau and olive oil were better than any other I have tried across the Mediterranean.
The Lisbon evening doesn’t really get started until 11pm and although a walk through Bairra Alta is an experience not to be missed the Fado tourist traps are best avoided, from bars and clubs numerous drunk British, German and Dutch tourists spill out onto the streets in their masses with the more unsophisticated Lisboan students and a handful of unsavoury types, however a walk to the southern reaches of the Bairra and to the edges of the Chiada and Bica areas appears to offer some hope to those not looking for chemical help with their night out or for stag/hen do territory. This area at the bottom of the hill and before the main Alta stretches seems to be showing some interesting developments, quiet doorways open into buildings hosting small music venues, cafes, artists studios and galleries alongside the traditional shops. In what appears to be a quiet, scruffy and historically marginal part of town a small, quiet scene is emerging, for the less hedonistic or those with an eye on the more subtle edges of culture this is the place to explore, just walk and keep your eyes and ears open. It was in this part of the city that we found Number 84 Rua da Boavista which is home to the gallery vpfcreamarte and the Plataforma Revolver artist studios, we strolled up the main staircase and had an enjoyable hour looking at Inez Teixeira’s large scale paintings, the Plataforma group exhibition and the work of Monica Gomes and Raquel Feliciano on show in their studio next door in the same building. The artists at work in such spaces were a pleasant change to the more marketable examples at the art fair across town and with the not for profit space arte contempo and the Rigo 23 show of his hybrid street art/sculpture/installation/documents in Galeria Ze Dos Bois in the Bairra Alto it was a good look into the edges of the Lisbon art world, if this small view is anything to go by the less mainstream end of Portuguese art looks ready for wider recognition in the rest of Europe.
Despite my usual reservations about art fairs it was nice to see a Havana based gallery invited to the fair and Celma Alberquque’s gallery from Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The Lisbon galleries Galeria 111 and Artfit showed work by some interesting artists and Galeria Sopra need a mention for the courageous and exciting styles of work by their band of artists, this is a gallery unapolagetically forward thinking, it is obvious that market trends are not in their thoughts when selecting work for the gallery they are allowing their artists to push boundaries in the art marketplace, long may it continue I for one will be keeping an eye on their progress.
Lisbon was an interesting experience professionally and as a tourist, the art on the street was interesting enough without going into the fair and galleries.
I hope that I can get back to the city soon and spend a little longer next time.


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