Surender, Surender., by Nikolai Nekh

In recent years, the historic centre of Lisbon has witnessed the regenerative discourse of gentrification and, at the same time, the presences-absences that take place there. The spoils of urban rehabilitation subtly show the manufacture of residential segregation on finer scales.[1]

I believe that in the origin of the concepts are the affections.[2] Perhaps for this reason, Nikolai Nekh, a resident in a typical Lisbon neighbourhood, initiated a project whose starting point is fragments of objects found in the streets of the city he inhabits: chairs, bed frames, drains, among others. Over two years, the artist took them to his studio and recorded them photographically, taking them out of their context and presenting them as a detailed cataloguing of functional remains. One of the objects found, a protective TV pad, originated the model of an imaginary building conceived in a modernist style: the Museum of Gentrification.

Based on this idea, the artist starts a process of reconfiguration of forms. Nikolai designs a set of exhibitors that would serve as support for the photographs of the objects found. These exhibitors are a formal and chromatic allusion to the scaffolding of the works that are part of urban rehabilitation. The intangible interior of this imaginary Museum would consist of the photographic testimony of the remains of gentrification and, at the same time, the exhibitors/scaffolding which are a reference to the most ephemeral part of the process of construction and rehabilitation of buildings.

Returning to the Museum’s model, it was conceived in an artistic residence in Beirut. By coincidence, during his stay, the revolution in Lebanon began. Popular demonstrations invaded the streets of the city and the artist climbed to a hotel’s rooftop to dive into a swimming pool and photograph the revolution from a distance. Nikolai’s gaze over the city and his body takes refuge in the building’s comfort. However, it is the distance that prevails, the physical and emotional detachment that brings us back to the global processes of gentrification.

Back in Portugal, and in another coincidence, Nikolai turned to a private passenger transport company, where he was attended twice in a row by an immigrant driver called Surender. The title of the exhibition Surender, Surender. refers to these fortuitous meetings, but I believe that the sound of the word, its phonetics, also brings us closer to the English expression surrender. Where are the gestures of resistance to gentrification? The artist denounces the ephemeral trials in the neighbourhood he lives in. His actions of collection and photographic recording, his formal compositions are a poetic testimony of global cities, which metamorphose among the invisible rubble of urban regeneration.

Surender, Surender., by Nikolai Nekh, at Balcony Contemporary Art Gallery, curated by João Silvério, until January 19, 2021.


[1] MENDES, Luís, Gentrificação e a Cidade Revanchista: que lugar para os Movimentos Sociais Urbanos de Resistência?, Forum Sociológico Online, 18, 2008, available at:

[2] Allusion to the concept of affection in Deleuze & Guattari from the work: DELEUZE, Gilles, GUATARRI, Félix, What is Philosophy?, Columbia University Press, New York, USA, 1996 (1991 ed. original).

Margarida Alves (Lisbon, 1983). Artist, PhD student in Fine Arts (FBAUL). Researcher by the University of Lisbon. Degree in Sculpture (FBAUL, 2012), Master in Art and Glass Science (FCTUNL & FBAUL, 2015), Degree in Civil Engineering (FCTUNL, 2005). She is a resident artist in the collective Atelier Concorde. Collaborates with national and foreign artists. Her work has an interdisciplinary character and focuses on themes associated with origin, otherness, and historical, scientific and philosophical constructions of reality.

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