A Hybrid Institution
Can an art institution suggests alternatives to both gentrification and a country’s focus on financial assets?
Can a Kunsthalle — which makes part of the art system while maintaining a degree of autonomy — suggest a third line beyond economic crises and gentrification? Kunsthalle Lissabon is a hybrid institution. It has a German name but it’s not in Germany. It’s a contemporary art institution but in a post-industrial country that “did not experience modernity, modernism or postmodernity” due to an “anti-modern, rural and insular” form of fascism [see Ana Teixeira Pinto, The Art of Gentrification, in Afterall, no. 45, Spring-Summer 2018]. It is mostly active within Lisbon’s cultural dynamics, but it also works with platforms based on similar institutional typologies. Founded in 2009 in a vacant building along Avenida da Liberdade, which the debt-stricken Banco Espírito Santo had allowed artists to use, it is now located in the city’s Xabregas neighbourhood, with Luís Silva and João Mourão as its directors and curators. Paola Nicolin Whom do you collaborate with most frequently? Luís Silva, João Mourão Dialogue is a very productive force, and collaborations are important to us as they represent a publically visible manifestation of dialogues. We mostly collaborate with likeminded platforms committed to thinking critically about the world and the place that contemporary art occupies within it. Our 2019 programme shows how collaborations are so vital to us. Next year Kunsthalle Lissabon is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and we’ve chosen to mark the occasion by disappearing and letting our production infrastructure and online presence be taken over by four other institutions: Pivô, Cura and its Basement Roma, Kadist and ICA Philadelphia. They will be installing pop-up versions of themselves in our premises to think about how institutions relate to contexts other than the ones in which they originated. We’ll also investigate temporary disappearance as a way to reflect on the cultural infrastructure of a city like Lisbon. Kunsthalle Lissabon’s regular activities will resume in 2020. PN Why is it so important for ‘small’ to relate to ‘big’ nowadays? LS, JM Kunsthalle Lissabon has always tried to bypass binary thinking that depends on either-or structures. We exist in the world at large, but we’re rooted in a specific context. We want our message to be relevant for everyone, whether they’re physically visiting an exhibition, seeing what we do online, or reading our publications regardless of their location. We operate locally and globally at the same time. Being small allows us to experiment and be critical in a way that’s impossible or even unheard-of for larger institutions. Small is the place for self-reflection, thinking critically about the world and imagining other futures to produce collectively. For the most part, ‘big’ tends to reproduce existing power structures, from neoliberalism to patriarchy and so on. There are exceptions, but generally ‘big’ isn’t where relevant reflections on contemporary art and the world tend to appear. Institutions are led to believe that growth is an end in itself and not just a tool. Museums become bigger and bigger to attract more resources that will allow them to continue expanding. More often than not, this vicious cycle doesn’t benefit its constituents. Kunsthalle Lissabon is committed to thinking about de-growth as a response to a generalised state of institutional hyperbole. We’re not interested in becoming big, producing more or overproducing. But we do want to secure better working conditions for artists, curators, writers and ourselves. “Performing the Institution(al)”, for example, is an ongoing book series published by Kunsthalle Lissabon in which we depart from the idea of the institution and the institutional as a performative gesture. We’re all performing the institutions that define how we relate to one another, and we wanted to explore this in a way that could be made available to the public. The book format is an
Above: a photo of the residential and industrial area where Kunsthalle Lissabon is located, just outside the Xabregas neighbourhood in Lisbon Opposite page: the institution’s entranceway