Independent Spaces for the Promotion of Contemporary Art in Porto and in the Present Day
In recent times, several alternative spaces dedicated to promoting contemporary art in Porto have emerged, in a parallel activity to museums, art centres and commercial galleries. Many of these places are run by groups of emerging artists, marked by interdisciplinarity, production, exhibition and cultural exchange. But also, by the informality, the community sense and the dynamization of the city’s artistic and cultural life, feeding other narratives beyond the already established ones.
The history and theoretical reflection on this topic are not recent. Even the literature review is prolific. Sandra Vieira Jürgens, critic, art historian and curator, clarifies in Instalações Provisórias (2016) that in the 1990s, in Portugal, a generation emerged that stood out for the founding of several independent spaces, through artist-curators and experimental artistic and curatorial exercises. In Porto, several structures appeared, such as W.C. Container (1999-2001), PêSSEGOpráSEMANA (2000-2007), Salão Olímpico (2003-2006), or Uma Certata Falta de Coerência (2008). Jürgens reflects: “the history of alternative projects and spaces has not come to an end. Their reality has triggered vanishings but also transformations, it has been fragile but enduring… Despite its short duration, its cyclical renewal is remarkable. Each of these initiatives is a vital contribution to the emergence of other spaces.”  New alternative spaces are appearing, different from the previous ones but with the same assumptions – the experimentation, production and dissemination of artistic practices, parallel to the commercial and institutional system. After visiting and observing in loco several independent art spaces in Porto, it is fundamental to present and make these projects known. We have interviewed some of the people in charge to get to know them, their programming and their contribution to the city’s artistic and cultural life.
Galeria Rua do Sol, which emerged in 2013, is in Rua Duque de Loulé, as part of CCOP (Círculo Católico de Operários – in English, Workers Catholic Circle of Porto), where the collective that gives its name to the exhibition venue – José Oliveira, Luísa Abreu, Gonçalo Araújo, Joana Ribeiro, Vítor Israel and Miguel Ângelo – also shares the studio. Created to ensure a venue for exhibitions, conversations or film screenings in a sustainable way, Rua do Sol has a regular programme, whose intent is to present not only the group’s output but also that of artists with whom they have similarities. Without a defined curatorial identity, what distinguishes it is its plurality, mutability and durability. The location nurtures dialogue and interaction with the artistic and local community, with events organised at the CCOP. The collective highlights its programme of artist residencies, with the support of CMP (Câmara Municipal do Porto – in English, Porto Municipal Council), telling us that there will be a new editorial project to archive each month’s programme. After a year, this will become an object of memory.
De Liceiras 18 is an experimental, independent and artist-run space, which monthly welcomes international artists from several areas and in different professional stages. In an old house in Travessa de Liceiras, it is a temporary and dynamic artistic community, in a relationship with the city. Founded in 2014 by Maja Renn, it is currently managed by Xu Moru. The project is a safe place to experiment and develop new ideas. Residents seek to be in tune with their artistic interests, needs and desires, where the community is a spontaneous platform for collaboration, learning and sharing. This temporary community of creatives is mostly renewed every month, with an Open Studio at the end of the month to present their work and findings. This opens the doors to the community in a special and welcoming environment. They are currently seeking funding and partnerships with entities from all over the world.
Okna – Espaço Cultural, founded in 2016 by an informal and interdisciplinary group, is currently located in Rua Igreja de Cedofeita. It is a space dedicated to artistic programming, educational projects and entertainment activities to create and present collaborative works between Portugal and Eastern European countries. The venue opened in 2018 and since then has had a regular programme. The aim is to allow emerging artists to experiment and share ideas and curatorial processes, according to intercultural dialogue, sharing the concept of New East. The most renowned project is the BEAST FILM FESTIVAL, which takes place annually in several cinemas in Porto. At this moment, they are developing a project of residencies and preparing a programme of field trips with the support of CMP, to welcomes curators from Eastern Europe in the city, in a cultural exchange. They want to be a kind of cultural embassy of Eastern Europe in Portugal.
Atelier Logicofobista, in Rua Anselmo Braancamp, which aggregates Bazar Esquisito, Museu Vivo do Tasco Tripeiro and an exhibition venue with regular programming was founded in 2017 by Ruca Bourbon and João Bragança. The name is inspired by a Catalan surrealist movement that emerged in the 1930s, associated with revolutionary politics and action. The Atelier hosts bi-monthly openings with artists with whom they have aesthetic affinities, whether they are emerging, renowned or outsiders. A visit to the Bazaar, with second-hand objects, as well as the tavern’s tripeira atmosphere of Museu Viveo in the basement, where events with DJs and cuisine are organised, make each event unique. It is also important to mention the Atelier’s connection with its street, aggregating several studios such as Oficina Arara.
Dentro, in Rua do Almada and developed by Carlos Campos, Beatriz Bizarro and Maria João Ferreira, emerged in 2017. It is a space of artistic intervention inside a studio. If in the beginning, it was the product of Carlos Campos’ need to exhibit his photographs, it soon became a place where several young people present their artistic exercises. The gallery is seen as a space of creation, where the studio and the multidisciplinarity of the team are used in an experimental, communitarian and dialogic way. Being an intimate space is one of the distinctive factors, as it facilitates relationships between the group, the artists and the public. During the pandemic, they created the Conter project, with several online exhibitions, where the artists could intervene in the virtual gallery space through photographs or videos, with various artistic practices – an alternative way to reach their goal. They also want to invest in offering training courses and culturally and artistically promote the surrounding area. Dentro has the advantage of multiplying and expanding in a practical, informal and experimental way.
Ócio, as a space for artistic production and programming in Rua Duque Terceira, opened in 2019. It consists of João Soares, Nelson Duarte, Daniel Assunção, Maria Miguel Von Hafe, Raquel Peixoto, Hugo Oliveira, João Parra and Noémi Silva. They also organise events in other cultural spaces, through the electronic music label Mera. It’s like a family, who came together to intervene directly in Porto’s cultural and artistic life. After moving to the current location, they decided to open an exhibition space, inviting artists with whom they have affinities, as well as Ócio members. Among their events, they highlight Mera Transmission, a livestream music festival, Perímetro: música avançada e autoedição, with the Lovers & Lollypops label, or the Bicycle Festival, with Praça da Alegria. What distinguishes Ócio is the idea of family and the connection to music. They are preparing new collaborations and a programme based on exhibitions, concerts and performances with the support of CMP. Ócio is a project in mutation, always adaptable, curious and eager to do things.
Ocupa, in a former butcher shop in Rua do Bonfim, was inaugurated by Alexandre Teixeira and Filipa Valente in April 2019. It arose from the yearning to exhibit Filipa’s art, but they had the opportunity to occupy the space and create this project. Without a defined curatorial line in the choice of artists, they take into consideration their relationship and the will to work from a deactivated butcher’s shop. Its advantage is the fact that the artists can experiment, regardless of their age and point in their career, but also being an exhibition-only venue and a space that still retains its characteristics. You can visit the exhibitions that open regularly or wait for the exchange with Madrid artists and independent spaces, the occupation of an old painting greenhouse and the launch of a publication. They also have a crowdfunding campaign to guarantee the sustainable continuity of their project.
Lameiro, in Rua de São Roque da Lameira, is a free and experimental cultural venue dedicated to the exhibition and sharing of emerging art, created by João Melo in 2019, and also coordinated by Diogo Martins. The aim was to create a structure for emerging artists’ projects, crossing several artistic fields and inciting conviviality. The venue, which is a housing estate, has several common areas and a garden, which allow them to explore various points of fortune. They organise an artist residency project called Residir, to support young artists in working with local communities. The first edition will take place in Bonfim and Campanhã, with the support of the parishes. The chosen artists will receive creative grants through an open call. Two exhibitions will be opened: one in Largo das Fontainhas and another in the old quarter of São Vicente e Paulo. Lameiro is known for providing intergenerational dialogue, community access to the arts and cultural revitalisation.
Birra, in Rua Ferreira Cardoso, is a cultural space in permanent mutation. Formed by Celine Marie, Inês Lopes and Ana Gonçalves in 2019, it aims to bring together a community of artists from different areas, encouraging creation and exhibition. The project came about when Celine and Ana were looking for a place to work after finishing their studies in theatre. However, they began to expand it to make it an exhibition venue. And, with Inês jumping on board, it became a tattoo studio. At Birra, there are countless possibilities: movement or silk-screen workshops, photography and comics, side by side with exhibitions and openings with music gigs. In the future, they want to invest in training for children, develop the commercial aspect of things, do a green project and build a virtual gallery. Birra is an independent space that complements the offer of similar entities so that more young artists can divulge their work.
Leste is a venue dedicated to artistic exercise, experimentation, programming and critical thinking, founded in 2019 by artist and curator Leonor Parda. She has been developing a programme, whose objectives are the conception and dissemination of transdisciplinary artistic practices that address issues relevant to contemporaneity. At no. 65 of Calçada da Póvoa, and with little more than a year of regular programming, it already has its own perspective and a singular curatorial line, showing bodies and people with realities outside the dominant discourse – women, trans and non-binary -, as well as other bodies, existences and expressions that do not fit the norm. They disseminate artists with different affinities, as well as with poetic-political practices. Leste wants to contribute to stirring up the cultural life of the city, trying to escape the logic of productive compulsion and resisting institutional absorption. Leste wants to be a fierce wind that agitates and moves the city.
Ultimately, the current independent venues for contemporary artistic dissemination in Porto are the engine of the city’s artistic and cultural life. Especially since 2010, several structures created by young artists have emerged. They present a new flow of ideas, practices and discourses, parallel to the commercial and institutional system. We must add that several projects have not been mentioned here but are still worth discovering. Many of these places have been supported by the city council and the state. On the one hand, it allows them to maintain some sustainability, visibility and legitimacy; on the other hand, it is essential that they continue to have an alternative, critical and experimental stance, so that their missions remain challenging, disruptive and refreshing in the city.
 Jürgens, S. V. (2016). Instalações Provisórias: Independência, autonomia, alternativa e informalidade. Artistas e exposições em Portugal no século XX. Lisbon: Sistema Solar, CRL (Documenta). p.550.