server not found: Interview with Filipa Oliveira

server not found is a series of investigative interviews where the cultural paradigm is debated: a critical and collective archive on visual arts, performance, theatre, music and cinema. In the first issue of snf, I talk to the artistic director and curator of Casa da Cerca and Galeria Municipal de Almada: Filipa Oliveira.


Francisca Portugal – To contextualise Casa da Cerca’s activity in the urban fabric, can you briefly describe the role of an Arts Centre in the Almada community?

Filipa Oliveira – For many years, I was an independent curator and I never thought much about the role of museums until I started working in one (first in Évora and now at Casa da Cerca). It’s been a central concern and thought in my activity: what is the role of the museum in the place where it is located? And how can the museum contribute to the development or thinking of that community? It is an important subject for me. A cultural institution must have a civic dimension in its community. It must be a place of encounter, possibility, diversity and freedom of expression. For me, it is a place of community creation, from the neighbourhood community to the city community. Cultural institutions create different communities that can then take on an active and participatory role. Casa da Cerca was already a place of community when I arrived. I’ve just been trying to strengthen those ties with projects where we think about our neighbours. As my colleague Mário Rainha Campos, responsible for the education service, says, we put the compass in the centre of Casa da Cerca and draw a circle. It’s a process that takes time. It is fundamental to know the communities, understand who is around us, what fabric they are made of and what can be done with them. It takes time because, first of all, we need to know our institution and then start getting to know the community. For that reason, curators should stay longer in front of institutions to benefit from a time relationship that is a marathon and not a sprint.

FP – What is Casa da Cerca’s relationship with the artistic community? And how do you foster national and international bridges?

FO – When I arrived at Casa da Cerca, the place was particularly important, organizing mostly exhibitions of Portuguese artists, with the regular presence of local artists. I had to move away from that to turn Casa da Cerca into a contemporary centre with a clearly international discourse (obviously, the local and national are also part of it). The defence of Portuguese artists, those from Almada in this case, is not achieved by working only with Portuguese and local artists. I think that’s counterproductive. We need to establish dialogue and bridges together and, with the understanding of the internal and external, realise that we are all somehow thinking along the same lines. That is a contribution to local development. However, this does not mean that I currently organise more exhibitions with local artists, I actually do fewer exhibitions with local artists. But, for example, Pedro Barateiro’s most recent exhibition at Casa da Cerca was his first in Almada, even though he is an artist from the city. For me, this is working the local fabric. Almada is part of a large project called Mural 18, from the metropolitan area, where an application was made to support artists and artistic production. We thought about working and encouraging the local fabric. In Almada, we decided to support mostly local artists who were from or lived in Almada. This means that several artists from all areas receive commissions.

FP – What are your methods for building a diverse and representative programme?

FO – This is a question that I have been thinking about. In the larger spaces, we always do an exhibition of a Portuguese artist, an international artist and a group show. Then, I progressively opened Casa da Cerca and we went from three, four exhibitions a year to twelve, together with Galeria Municipal. They are all our own productions, we seldom organize international events. It was a radical change in the way Casa da Cerca works, how it produces and supports artists. Including small things. For example, all the artists working at Casa da Cerca receive an artist’s fee, something that didn’t happen before and still doesn’t happen in many institutions in Portugal. This year, under a challenge proposed by my colleague Mário Rainha Campos, we’re going to think about how we can work with local artists and how Casa da Cerca develops itself alongside the current programme. We are going to start a project of virtual visits to studios with artists from Almada, beginning with a small number of artists with whom I want to talk and get to know their work better. From this initial list, each artist nominates the next. It’s interesting to follow this logic, where the curator’s power is curbed and I stop having the ability to choose in my hands. It will be the beginning of a project to develop, in addition to the bridges we are creating with the different stakeholders. For example, Ar.Co and Culturgest.

FP – The museum shares the exhibition space with a botanical garden. Can you talk about the environmental and ecological agenda of Portuguese museums and, in particular, of Casa da Cerca?

FO – That is a serious question, to which I still don’t have many answers. We are light years away from having an ecological conscience. Although we have improved a little bit… This aspect is now beginning to be pondered and to enter the museums’ thinking, also reflecting on more ecological practices and the reduction of our footprint. The next exhibition at Casa da Cerca is about gardens and ecology and there will also be a germinator, where you can germinate seeds. We are inviting local restaurants to use the seeds we will be germinating. On Tuesdays, it is possible to do gardening and volunteer in the garden. We offer workshops on how to use materials for painting because, actually, this botanical garden is designed with plants that can be used in Visual Arts. That cycle is very beautiful and this is a unique garden with an amazing collection. But we are still figuring out how we can be more ecological in curatorial practice. I don’t want to be purely local either, that’s going back a century! Ideally, we prefer artists to come and live here, under a residency format. That will happen this year, with the Italian artist who will come to Casa da Cerca. He’ll spend a month producing his work here, which is not only ecologically more sustainable, but also, from a performance point of view, being able to be on site to see our work is also much more interesting. We are in this process. However, this doesn’t mean that the artist doesn’t have to make trips and return the works to the site. Other things are tiny little practices. For example, making less vinyl, finding alternatives to not having so much plastic in exhibitions. We must find visually interesting ways and at the same time sustainable. I think there is a lot to be done. We need to find ways for museums to commit to ecological sustainability. Personally, I have a lot to learn.

FP – What will the institutions of the future look like? Is Casa da Cerca an institution that thinks about that?

FO – In the issue that celebrated Umbigo’s 18th anniversary, I wrote a Manifesto about the Museum of the Future. Actually, it is more related to the practices mentioned in the first question, about the role of the museum and how it relates to its community. The idea of the Museum of the Future reminds me of an expression: “the place where your shadow falls”. This place should be the one welcoming the foundations of the Museum of the Future. It must know the community well, be a place where the latter feels comfortable and where a neighbourly relationship is created. This civic relationship of the museum is a fundamental issue. The relationship with artists is also decisive and is not only based on the objects they produce, but on the relationships that these artists can build, based on these objects, with the community and with the museum. There is a brilliant piece by the artist Luis Camnitzer in response to a director who told him that the museum is not a school: he made a piece where he states that “the museum is a school, the artists learn to communicate and the public learns to make relationships”. The idea that the museum is committed to communication, where everyone feels comfortable, where artists communicate and work, and where the public has an active and participatory role – not just a role as spectators, but as an element that talks, works and thinks. Institutions should follow this path.

With a background in Arts and Humanities (Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon, 2018) is a public programer and an independent curator in contemporary art. Currently, she is taking a Master in Fine Arts in Curating from Goldsmiths University of London while dedicating her research to non-conventional exhibition spaces and alternative curating methodologies. (portrait by Hugo Cubo, 2020)

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