Las Palmas, Apofenia – a case study
In 2017, a group of four young artists founded one of the most unusual contemporary art spaces in Lisbon. Radical, vibrant, this group would end up creating a remarkable site for experimentation: a laboratory made by young people, whose works show the energetic, and sometimes entropic, chaotic universe of newly formed artists. Conceived by Aires de Gameiro, Hugo Gomes, Nuno Ferreira and Pedro Cabrita Paiva, the Las Palmas project was not the only space managed by artists in Lisbon, but it was the one that stood out the most given its nonchalant communication and curatorial strategy. But Las Palmas also welcomed many Portuguese and foreign names, leaving an undeniable mark on the history of contemporary art and curatorship in Portugal.
But this is a very brief historiography that little details the true driving force of Las Palmas.
There is something quite noble, generous and aggregating in Las Palmas, which has been able to deal with the traits and precariousness of the so-called “provisional installations” (by Sandra Vieira Jürgens). Basically, they are the contexts of all current contemporary art, culture and young artists.
Those who were at one of the numerous inaugurations certainly felt that fraternal atmosphere of sharing and complicity between the artists who exhibited, those who had already done, those who wanted to, those who would show their work months or weeks later and those who conceived this project. A crowd aligned conceptually, with the same rapport, in a generation open to humour, irony, post-irony (or new sincerity) and experimentation with colour, forms and materials. Young people who, like others in the past, broke with the taxonomic positivism of plastic and artistic categories or categorizations, making room for questioning, discussion and laughter.
It is important to underline that this space had no institutional pretensions. It never happened under any circumstances or at any time. It was a place with total freedom to become a project of friends, for friends and for those who identified with it. And that was the potential of the idea.
Three years later, after many exhibitions and three different spaces, Las Palmas’ enticing nomadism accumulated many collective and individual exhibitions and a portfolio full of projects and works. But the demands of the project and the circumstances forced this platform to take a break and the future is yet to be written.
The history of non-institutional artistic spaces, or of spaces managed by artists, has shown two possible paths of development: either they end after a few years, leaving behind several remarkable events and episodes which, although fleeting, mark artists, curators, gallery owners and periods of a city; or they progressively move towards institutionalisation, lato sensu, guaranteeing their legacy, but calling into question the founding spirit that inspired them. Those who become extinct are more than those who persevere after entering the deep logic of the art system.
And if the Apophenia exhibition of Las Palmas now seems to be an exercise in indirect institutionalization – welding the project to the organizing and welcoming institutions, giving them a statute and an aura that is probably indifferent to them – it is more accurate to see it as a moment of celebration and a turning point in the curatorial concept – which seeks, in the first place, the shapeless and informal hybridization of Las Palmas to exhibit, sharing also the inherent risks. This propensity for “risk” and “error” are at the basis of the project (as they had already said in an interview with Umbigo #71, in 2019), without having been subtracted from this exhibition, being commonly shared by all the artists present. After all, what is on display is not only the work of the four founders: it is the work of these together with that of several artists who have worked with them in this lively and festive space, in a way dilating the concept of “chain reaction” that is implied in this show.
In this way, Apophenia is a meeting point and a reunion with the work developed after Las Palmas. It is the continuation and revision of the names and authors involved, as well as the reflection on the influence of the alternative (which persists, as Vieira Jürgens shows) on the institutional. In other words, it is a place that also allows maturation and some maturity.
The identity of the space, its defining feature, is the colour – the pink. Colour makes the place. For this reason, the project was able to occupy different spaces, in distinct areas of Lisbon, without ever losing its initial profile. In other words, space was not as or more important than its idea. Pink is an artistic, curatorial, architectural, dynamic and flexible device, now used in the space of Fidelidade Arte, following the same line of thought of the three venues previously occupied by Las Palmas. And this device allowed to communicate the exterior, being at the same time the starting point for several exhibitions and fostered the party spirit – so important in the alternative movements of the past and that it was lost with time.
Apophenia is materialized in uncertainty, in similitude – it is the scientific expression that designates the resemblances with people, animals or objects that we identify in the clouds. The works are what they seem to be, without ever being exactly so. They exist in a state of doubt and continuous, perpetual questioning. They stimulate laughter, surprise or the reinvention of production methods, especially pictorial ones. Many of these artists are the Diogenes of modern times – dissident, cynical (from the extinct school of Greek cynicism), indifferent and concerned (but not too much), cosmopolitan and even obscene.
In Aires de Gameiro, Eduardo Fonseca e Silva & Francisca Valador, Hugo Brazão and Nuno Ferreira, there is the hybridization of painting, colour and sculpture that goes beyond their usual materiality and drawing, messing with scales, materials and movement. Humour and the interchange of signs, meanings and languages are proposed by Catherine Telford-Keogh, Jason Dodge, José Taborda, Pedro Cabrita Paiva, Primeira Desordem and Stefan Klein. The drawing is worked between abstraction and representation in Arno Beck, and again Aires de Gameiro and Maria Miguel von Hafe. Lito Kattou and Rowena Harris propose sculptural objects: one uses more or less radical and anthropomorphic forms, another focuses on minimalism and deconstruction. And, finally, Holly Hendry installs several machines of a vaguely organic and eschatological similarity, between wonder and amazement.
Apophenia is a triumph of informality and an unprecedented exhibition culture in Portugal, capable of adding humor and laughter in an overly formal system based on predictable modes of acting and agency. In this context, it is a case study – like those that emerged in the late 60s and established a platform for reflection and experimentation for art. Since then, they have reaffirmed the existence of “independence”, “autonomy”, “alternative” and “informality”.
This is not the first exhibition of this collective of artists – they had already exhibited at the gallery Lehmann + Silva, Porto, in 2020. But Apophenia is a broader show, without being encyclopedic or hermetic, which addresses the past of the project and prepares a future that will go through its transformation, like many similar ones, into a third way of development for these “provisional installations”.
 Umbigo has compiled – for four issues straight – a series of artist-run spaces, with edition by Carolina Trigueiros. Las Palmas was the first project approached in this section.
 Using Sandra Vieira Jürgens’ definition, alternative is a term that “of a radical and generalised process of questioning the established and normative, with consequences for the creation of a vast network of organisations and structures, through which practices, theories, modes of production and ways of doing enshrined in the existing definitions of creative production and the circulation and installation of artistic works are changed.” (Jürgens, 2016: 177)
 General characteristics of projects similar to Las Plamas, established, studied and developed by the critic and curator Sandra Vieira Jürgens in Instalações Provisórias: Independência, autonomia, alternativa e informalidade. Artistas e exposições em Portugal no século XX (2016).