Museum of Gentrification, by Nikolai Nekh at Balcony
Nikolai Nekh was born in Slavhansk-na-Kubani, a town in southwest Russia. The artist has been living in Portugal since he was 13.
Nekh’s perspective on Lisbon is an external one, but not in its entirety. His perception of his hometown, although he initially lived there, also feels distanced. He remains somewhat detached so that he can behold his changes, aspirations, illusions, ambitions and downfalls, from one city or the other. Likewise, in a possible head-to-head between them, he can find their similarities and dissimilarities.
Throughout the years, the artist has turned his attention to wandering around Lisbon and collecting artefacts found in the city, things that have been thrown away or dumped on the streets. Hurriedly pulled out of houses that were up for sale or for rent. Spoils that failed to resist the property-crushing mill and which, with its voracity, turned the city into a more difficult place to live, gradually losing its identity. Nekh’s imaginative gentrification museum emerged as a result, proving to be a pressing need for debate and reflection on the city and, more importantly, its people.
As if it were an observatory, Nekh’s work, apart from setting up an imaginary museum, has established numerous artistic endeavours that shed light on the social inequalities caused by technological and economic growth, which has shown itself to be blind and rampant when it comes to human concerns.
This critical and clear-sighted approach to capitalism and its social impact on the most disadvantaged, as well as the class struggle, has been Nekh’s hallmark in works such as Postcards from the City Raduhznyy, 2008, or Achilles Heel, in 2018, at MNAC.
In the 2021 exhibition Surender Surender, at Balcony Gallery, the artist turned to photography. Alongside the sculptures, scaffolding and bed frames strewn around the gallery area, there was also a large image of the artist photographed in a hotel swimming pool, peering out of a large window over Beirut, a city in turmoil at the time. The artist seems to have no intention of encouraging voyeurism in us – we are not actually seeing Beirut -, but rather he suggests, through the image, that he is observing the city from a distance, warning us of the lethargy in which we find ourselves when it comes to political and social issues.
The pieces that emerge initially in the current exhibition Museum of Gentrification, curated by Diogo Pinto, and currently running at Balcony Gallery, are made of wood lacquered with acrylic enamel in multiple colours. They are eight criados mudos, furniture pieces used for putting coats on, arranged ascetically in the gallery like an advertising poster or a shop window. This reinforces the idea already announced by the artist that “he does not work with symbolism but with remains”.
When it comes to producing images, he is concerned with how they can produce deceptive or illusory results. The advertising and hypnotic images of estate agents are not very dissimilar to the language employed in ascetic and hygienic art galleries.
Colourful and polished, these Criados Mudos are neatly and obediently positioned in the gallery.
In between the crowd of pieces is Utopia, 2023, an inkjet print on paper. This is a black and white photo alluding to a nostalgic idea of the future, a sci-fi fantasy that once was part of a collective memory of development, modernity and technology, all of which have proved ineffective given the environmental conditions and the course of humanity.
A series of photographs featuring a leather jacket shot in different positions can be found downstairs. The series’ multiple titles imply that the jacket is an estate agent in free fall.
The enigmatic wooden circular pieces (or “discs”), coated with metallic-coloured adhesive tape and bearing the names of Lisbon’s streets, are pleasing to the eye and hint at diversity, since they are made up of different configurations around the edge.
Lastly, the piece A home where dozens of pine nuts can live rent free, 2023, is a glass aquarium with a pine cone inside.
Museum of Gentrification, by Nikolai Nekh, is on show at Balcony until December 2.