14-21: Duarte Amaral Netto at Galeria da Boavista
The post-Troika was an illusion, after the vows to reform the unspeakable neoliberal system. Since then, little or nothing has changed. The recipes and precepts are the same: maximise the touristic flow, profit from foreigners, speculate, sell, sell, sell and gather short-term profits, to then apply them in nobody knows what.
In tourism and its chains – real estate, vernacular architecture, hotels – Portugal is just for the English to see, packed with AirBnBs and cosmetic rehabilitations. Tourism highlights the worst of Portuguese culture: servile, shallow, cheap, driven by the consistency of what is easy, quick, and basic. Planning is non-existent, contradictory, and conflicting.
The major projects – the “big investments”, but also the small ones, such as houses and villas – appear on the edge of the “street”, something brilliantly described by Álvaro Domingues, appropriating almost clandestinely an always incoherent territory. They emerge almost spontaneously, in the middle of natural reserves, gutting territories and forever damaging the landscape. Basically, they create even more problems in an eroded socio-economic fabric, which struggles to access decent housing at reasonable prices.
Until recently, we lived the outdated political development model of motorways, which explains the limited tendency to understand – because they are always interconnected and tentacular – the complex issues of the natural, rural and urban environment. The individual has replaced the collective. Or yet: the individual decimated the possibility of building the collective – frail after decades of dictatorship.
We are still reaping the worst of that era.
Culture is that of the individual, based on the ethical and aesthetic desires of each one, permanently irreconcilable: the pink house in a white urbanisation; the bathroom tiles on the building’s main façade; the lions on top of the entrance walls; the dark, metamorphic stone lining the exterior skirting boards; the roundabouts; the PINs – Projects of National Interest – made to feed suspicious elites; the dams; the over-intensive culture.
But where is the problem? The problem is always the lack of political culture and – trespassing the limits of this piece’s initial approach – the absence of cultural and educational policies that critically train and teach the eye and mind to the problems of cities, urbanism and regional and urban planning. The issues of the polis, politics and of that forgotten thing called Res publica: Republic.
The exhibition 14-21 by Duarte Amaral Netto, curated by João Seguro, is a detailed and critical, almost clinical, portrait of this Portugal still in mutation, without ignoring a poetic and vaguely decadent perspective. 14-21 is a journey from north to south, from the coast to the interior, which documents the economic, social and urban strategies developed after the exit of the Troika in 2014. The 21 of 2021 is just a comma in this chronology because the effects persist. Amaral Netto shows only part of the political consequences of the post-Troika era – an endless period, which will not be forgotten in contemporary history books, and not even what came after (the post-pandemic) will be overlooked.
We enter the Galerias Municipais – Galeria da Boavista as if we were entering a real estate agency. We find a vision, a dream, a desire. The first contact with the exhibition is made through the language of marketing and the logic of neoliberal capital, which covers any public policy or aspiration, at the base of the problems described above. These Anúncios CBW – Prime Real Estate (2021) are succeeded by Interiores (2012-2015), which show the same libidinous language of buying, selling and owning.
Reta (2014) is a long walk through a depressive and euphoric, negligent and humane, anachronistic and modern Portugal. It is an essay about the best and the worst in Portugal, the purposeful dismantling and accidental redemption, always revealing something surprising, worthy of mention or attention, if only for its immature ignorance or innocence. It is the Portugal we hate. And the Portugal we love.
The exhibition ends with the short film Raquel (2021). As the curator says, “it questions the fluctuation mechanisms of the economic, social, housing and political dimensions that condition our lives in 2021”. Raquel, the character who shares her name with the film, embodies the difficulties and frustrations of today’s modern life, filled with shortcomings and few support structures. But, above all, it is the portrait of the failed dignity of hard work and the inability to overcome and progress socially and economically, which affects many of those who live on the peripheries of large urban centres.
The post-Troika did not bring post-Capitalism or post-Neoliberalism. The chain and the system remain, with no escape routes or alternative paths. Fighting this Leviathan looks like suicide. At most, 14-21 also shows us the melancholy of a built country, lacking the ability for any sort of revision and deconstruction, since it is just another wheel of a gigantic cog, subject to the same world order and globalised machine.
We ended the Troika period as we will probably end the post-pandemic: like Raquel, we will miss the autonomy and the independence we should all have, and the sum of the underlining problems will just grow… in this country that we love as much as we hate.
Let there be hope for politics.
Or hope for tourism.
After all, crises are always paid for later. Afterwards. By the generation to come.
14-21, by Duarte Amaral Netto and curated by João Seguro, at Galerias Municipais – Galeria da Boavista, until September 26.