Sónar Festival in Lisbon, a relationship that starts now

Sónar was born in 1994 in Barcelona by Ricard Robles, Enric Palau and Sergi Caballero. This is a festival of arts, design, electronic and experimental music. The festival has organised events in Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Reykjavik and Istanbul. Lisbon now hosted this great event for the first time and will be the city that will accommodate it for the next five years, as Patrícia Craveiro Lopes (one of the festival’s Portuguese partners) says in an interview with Expresso conducted by Rui Miguel Abreu. The festival is divided into two parts: Sónar by Day and Sónar by Night. Sónar +D is the Sónar festival’s international conference that “explores creativity as a driving force for change in the 21st century.” It is divided into exhibitions, talks and AV shows. This piece is about the Sónar +D exhibitions and reviews the festival as a whole.

I have already written about my musical experience at Sónar (not here, but in another magazine) without having addressed the festival as a whole. Now that I’m writing about Sónar +D, I didn’t want to miss that opportunity. Sónar is an avant-garde festival that promotes the encounter between art and technology. It is an essential reference in the electronic music world, for example. Sónar +D, which is much less well known to the audience, is no less high quality than the rest of the festival. Its programming is equally thrilling.

The exhibitions took place at Hub Criativo do Beato. There were several installations in different buildings, such as the machine room of the Mill Factory. In this room, Alessandro Cortini designed the Nati Infiniti installation, specifically for Sónar. Cortini installed multiple speakers throughout the Mill’s four floors. The sound of the speakers generated a rather immersive sonic atmosphere and the architectural lighting responded to it. Nati Infiniti is an installation that works on the volatility and constancy of sound propagation in space. The joint installation between ArtWorks and the collective berru also has to do with sound. Like the previous installation, Object Memory was an invitation from the festival and focuses on the exploration of sound memories and industrial echoes. It consisted of a horizontal iron plate eighteen metres long and two millimetres thick. This plate reproduced sounds created by the artist and musician João Polido Gomes. Artworks is an organisation dedicated to the production and development of art installations. The collective berru is the current resident of the No Entulho programme (a residency programme run by ArtWorks). This work explores the way memory is created in our increasingly digital reality, but also how this process is shaped by humanity’s relationship with machines. We also highlight Francisco Vidal’s Casulo Still Free. The artist was challenged by Sónar to discover a way to immerse the audience through virtual reality. This work has the collaboration of musicians Beat Laden and Xullaji, was programmed by André Louro, set design by Mica Costa and photography by Nhadimnelo. This work flows between drawing, sculpture, music (spoken word) and digital art. Using the metaphor of the cocoon and butterfly, this piece has the form of an immersive installation, in a technological and non-technological way. The cocoon is composed of felt and symbolises protection, while the virtual reality experience is the butterfly. For Francisco Vidal, “any non-place in any transport port, bus stop, train station or airport can be a space of liberation and metamorphosis.”

Other exhibits include The Murder of Pablos Fossas by Forensic Architecture, Nine Earths by D-Fuse, News Feed 2022 by Rudolfo Quintas, Induced Theorems & Wordly Conjectures or How to get trapped in a loop by André Gonçalves, Alter Ego by Cadie Desbiens-Desmeules, Wetland by Cláudia Martinho, Synthetic Messenger by Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne and Earthworks by the artistic duo Os Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt).

The aesthetic of abandoned industrial spaces is a trend at major contemporary art events like this. Venues that have nothing to do with the art world, dubbed by their agents as unconventional. I wonder if the festival’s audience, in particular Sónar +D, knew about the history of Hub Criativo do Beato. I found very little information about this place’s historical and social context. The works’ captions only gave the names of the old factories and their type of industry. Before this building had a foreign word in its name, it hosted several factories. The Marvila and Beato neighbourhoods have always been working class areas. Nowadays this class has been replaced by digital nomads, and what were once factories are now start-ups and co-working spaces. Sónar +D has occupied the former Milling, Pasta, Biscuit, Bread factories and the old Confectionery. The importance of a festival like Sónar in the city of Lisbon is unquestionable. The international networking between cultural agents and artists is very positive for the city’s culture. However, this festival’s audience is not from the city, or at least the great majority of it. The entrance conditions and its international reputation mean that the festival’s public is made up of young, upper-middle-class foreigners. For most young people from the great Lisbon area, it is impossible to pay for the tickets. For example, the general pass for all the events and shows of the festival cost 150€. We could say that this is a fair price, considering the quantity and quality of the events and shows themselves, of course. But the result of this strategy needs to have an audience capable of supporting it, and that audience was not, and could never have been the people who live in the city. The festival fails in these two issues: in the social and historical contextualization of the venues it occupies and in not including the local community as a target audience.

Rodrigo Fonseca (1995, Sintra). He studied at the António Arroio Art School, has a degree in Art History from FCSH / UNL and a master's degree in Performing Arts from the same faculty. He organizes and programs the festival Dia Aberto à Artes (Mafra) and is a founding member of the cultural association A3-Apertum Ars. He was co-founder of the publishing house CusCus Discus. He is a music and performing arts critic for Umbigo (2020), ArteCapital (2021) and Rimas e Batidas (2022). He is also a resident DJ at the DARC cultural association, music producer and sound technician specializing in concerts and shows.

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