– Spring/Summer 2018

The Art of Gentrification: The Lisbon Version

Ana Teixeira Pinto

MAAT, Lisbon. Photograph: Paulo Coelho. Courtesy EDP Foundation Lisbon, and MAAT, Lisbon

On 7 August 2017 CNN published an advertorial about Lisbon titled ‘The New Berlin?’ To push the narrative that ‘austerity helped Lisbon’s creatives to succeed’ the piece deployed pictures of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), a waterfront building in Lisbon designed by architect Amanda Levete’s firm AL_A, which upon construction quickly became a fixture of in-flight magazines.1 To be fair the MAAT photographs well, rather better than it actually looks. In reality it feels cramped and crooked, and its function feels closer to a city branding initiative than a cultural institution: the wave-like shape ties old chauvinist tropes (Portugal as a nation of naval explorers) leisure fantasies (sea, sand and sun) and dynamic imagery (economic recovery) into the type of iconic landmark so appealing to PR-speak. The article reinforces this impression by advertising the city’s cheap rents to ‘creatives’ priced out of London. Seen from Berlin, where I am based, what is happening to Lisbon feels depressingly familiar.

As I land in Oporto, my taxi driver tells me he cannot afford to retire, his pension is too meagre. After 45 years as an industrial worker he took to driving, the only available job he could find. He usually takes the night shift. His story also rings familiar: I

  1. Mairi Mackay, ‘The New Berlin? How Austerity Helped Lisbon’s Creatives to Succeed’, CNN, 7 August 2017, available at http://edition.cnn.com/style/article/lisbon-cultural-scene/index.html (last accessed on 12 December 2017).

  2. Wolfgang Schäuble, who as head of the Treuhand (Trusted Hand) presided over the fire-sale of the former East German public companies, is now the German finance minister in charge of the troika’s asset striping. For an in-depth view of the Treuhand’s policies, see Dirk Laabs, ‘Why is Germany so Though on Greece? Look Back 25 Years’, The Guardian, 17 July 2015, available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/17/germany-greece-wolfgang-schauble-bailout (last accessed on 12 December 2017).

  3. ‘Orgulhosamente sós’ (proudly alone) was the regime’s motto; poverty was a state policy. In the 1970s, about 36 per cent of Portuguese households lacked electricity, 53 per cent running water and 42 per cent were not equipped with proper plumbing. Child labour was widespread, vast urban areas were occupied by slums and illiteracy ranged over 30 per cent. By the time the regime fell, over two million Portuguese people had emigrated to France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany to escape hunger and unemployment. See Luís Graça, O Período de 1926–1974: A Modernização Bloqueada. 3.1. Nacionalismo e Corporativismo (1926–1958) [Portugal, 1926–1974: the Blocked Modernization Process. 3.1. Nationalism and Corporativism (1926–1958)], Lisbon: Universidade Nova de Lisboa, 1999.

  4. The Carnation Revolution started as a military coup in Lisbon resulting in the overthrowing of the regime of the Estado Novo. This took place on 25 April 1974. The movement was supported by a popular campaign leading to the withdrawal of Portugal from its colonies in Africa.

  5. 1998 Lisbon world exposition. The Euro 2004 failed to find an audience, nationally as well as internationally.

  6. Denise Ferreira da Silva, ‘Unpayable Debt: Reading Scenes of Value against the Arrow of Time', in The documenta 14 Reader (ed. Quinn Latimer and Adam Szymczyk), New York and London: Prestel, 2017, p.89.

  7. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, ‘Eurozone Crosses Rubicon as Portugal’s Anti-Euro Left Banned From Power', The Telegraph, 23 October 2015, available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11949701/AEP-Eurozone-crosses-Rubicon-as-Portugals-anti-euro-Left-banned-from-power.html (last accessed on 12 December 2017).

  8. Fortunately the president did not hold the institutional power to dissolve the parliament since his mandate was too close to its terminus.

  9. Two years after the film was shot Colt Resources folded and its executives absconded, leaving behind unpaid wages and contaminated soil.

  10. Jason W. Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, London: Verso, 2015, p.2

  11. Together with Mariana Silva, he runs Inhabitants, an online channel for experimental video; see http://inhabitants-tv.org/ (last accessed on 12 December 2017).

  12. Descolonizando is a collective comprised of artists, academics and activists, which is informally connected to the campaign #decolonizethisplace. Their intention was not so much to protest the figure of Vieira but rather the narrative of the ‘benign’ colonist.

  13. Descolonizando had secured a permit for the event, the extremists did not, but the police refused to intervene nonetheless.

  14. See http://www.buala.org

  15. See Paul Ames, ‘Portugal is Becoming an Angolan Financial Colony’, Politico, 28 April 2015, available at https://www.politico.eu/article/angola-portugal-investment-economy/ (last accessed on 12 December 2017).

  16. The ‘Golden Visas’ have raised 1.39 billion euros since 2012. Chinese investors make up over three quarters of the 2,290 visa recipients to date. Other nationalities include Brazilians, Russians, South Africans and Angolans.

  17. For example, Amalia Pica, Mariana Castillo Deball, Iman Issa, Jonathas de Andrade and Marwa Arsanios.

  18. Oporto is run by multimedia artist Alexandre Estrela since 2007 from his own studio located on a former merchant sailors’s union perched atop Santa Catarina’s hilltop. The project never managed to galvanise the institutional scene, which remained trapped in its own parochialisms.

  19. Under his tenure as curator for contemporary art from 2005 to 2016, Culturgest exhibited artists such as Asier Mendizabal, Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, Jean-Luc Moulène and Dorota Jurczak.

  20. The controversy revolved around the collection of the SEC (Secretaria de Estado da Cultura), first promised to the museum, then suddenly moved to Serralves. The collection comprises 85 paintings by Joan Miró, which were formerly owned by the BPN, a bank whose immense debt was nationalised in 2008.

  21. The loan was contentious if not outright illegal. But unlike other figures implicated in the financial crash (the former Portuguese Prime Minister, José Socrates or the founder of BES, Ricardo Salgado) Berardo was never indicted.

  22. See Peter Wise, ‘Christie’s Pulls Miró Auction After Portuguese Protests’, Financial Times, 4 February 2014, available at https://www.ft.com/content/277c59a8-8dce-11e3-ba55-00144feab7de (last accessed on 12 December 2017).

  23. The notable exception was the choice of João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva in 2009.

  24. The exhibition described the metaphoric trajectory computer networks undertook from ominous, life-annihilating military technology, to ubiquitous, life-style gadgetry via the emblem of the ‘cloud’, once a deadly radioactive gas, now an ethereal data-saturated ecosystem.

  25. Liz Amos Associates is a headhunting firm based in London whose clients include Frieze, Lisson Gallery and the Tate consortium, as well as Serralves and Gulbenkian in Portugal.

  26. The space is run by Mónica de Miranda and Bruno Leitão.

  27. In September 2017, Lumiar Cité opened the exhibition ‘Mistake! Mistake! said the rooster… and stepped down from the duck', a collaboration with the project Hubert Fichte: Love and Ethnology (2017–19) (conceived by Diedrich Diederichsen and Anselm Franke for the Goethe-Institut and Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin).

  28. Andrew Stefan Weiner, ‘The Art of the Possible: With and Against documenta 14’, The Biennial Foundation, 14 August 2017, available at http://www.biennialfoundation.org/2017/08/art-possible- documenta-14/ (last accessed on 20 December 2017).