This summer we chose Lagos for our holiday destination. We were looking for beautiful, quiet beaches, nice hot stretches in the sun, cool places for drinks before dinner, and, yes, a little bit of buzz. No more expectations. The truth is we had much more than that: we ended up being struck by what we found on the city walls.
As you start to wander the alleys you literally bump into pieces from international artists such as ROA, BEZT, SAINER, ARYZ, SEPE, ONUR or BORONDO, to mention some, in addition to works from well known Portuguese ones as MÁRIO BELÉM, MAISMENOS, ADDFUEL, amongst others. It wouldn’t be as dazzling if we were in Berlin or Buenos Aires; the thing is it takes place in Lagos, a tiny spot on the Portuguese map, a small picturesque village. How the hell is this happening here?
If you take a closer look you’ll find that all murals have a second tag that spells LAC. LAC goes for Laboratório de Actividades Criativas (Creative Activities’ Laboratory). One of their projects is called ARTURb – Artistas Unidos em Residência (United Artists in Residence), a yearly venue in which street artists are invited to create original pieces and release their concepts for the streets. The last verb we’re using is totally appropriate because part of the beauty of the residence is that it happens in a prison.
We went there and interviewed Jorge Pereira and Nuno Pereira, two of ARTURb mentors:
VNA: You’ve got quite an impressive street art movement going on here. How did this start and why in Lagos?
JP: ARTURb is one of LAC’s initiatives. We constantly strive for diversification, new art features, street art was a natural extension. Also, it is part of my work, I do stencil. I grew up at Lisbon’s south bank where almost all of the Portuguese movement began; I was very influenced by what happened there. But most of all we felt LAC needed to grow, be more visible, closer to people.
NP: LAC is a 20 years old, non profitable Association that is now handled by a small group of people from different art fields: I am a musician, Jorge is a visual artist, Maria João is a dancer. But it wasn’t like this before. LAC was managed by different people…
…and had a somewhat peculiar image in town (ironical laughters); because of this place, of course.
VNA: That was precisely my next question: how come did you end up in prison?
NP: The city hall granted us this building.
JP: In 1994, when Lisbon was chosen to be the European Capital of Culture, a national artist asked for a space where he could work on his collage pieces. The city hall conceded this building to him. The place was a mess: roof falling apart, sparse groups of people living here and there… very depressive, dark place. The city didn’t like it. . You see, in the past it had been a convent, after that a prison, a ‘home’ for hundreds of retornados* in the 70’s – you had entire families living here, one prison cell for each – , and a dwelling for homeless and drug addicts in the 80’s and the 90’s.
VNA: A building with a heavy load.
JP: Indeed, most avoided it. We needed to rid the place of that image, take art to the streets, show our work and, through it, bring people in. This is how ARTURb began back in 2011.
NP: The project is an artistic residence where artists are invited to create their pieces inside the building and then present them in a final exhibit. The difference is they also work on the streets to draw attention to what is happening here, in a sort of self promotion.
VNA: What happens outside is what you call MY WALL, right?
JP: Not quite. ARTURb has several moments in itself. ARTURb in MY WALL are those huge murals you see around town. It is another way of promoting it but detached from the residence.
NP: A kind of a pop-up.
VNA: Do artists actually work in prison cells?
NP: Yes; and on other areas of the premises as well.
VNA: They get to experiment the opposite concepts of freedom and reclusion.
NP: Exactly, the dichotomy between imprisonment and creation.
VNA: How do they feel when they first get here?
NP: They’re amazed.
JP: After getting used to the place they love it.
VNA: ARTURb’s fifth edition will be this September. Who will you bring to Lagos this year?
NP: So far we have confirmations from AKACORLEONE, REGG, ALIAS, MR WOODLAND, and BOSOLETTI.
VNA: How do you foresee ARTURb’s future?
NP: ARTURb can exist as it is as long as walls are granted… it is possible to reach a certain moment in time where this town may no longer be able to absorb the project. If that moment comes we will probably need to expand elsewhere.
“LAC teaches how to roll out a carpet that connects the street to the gallery, occupying all spaces with a fine curatorship, in a familiar relationship with the artists and without forgetting that street art deserves to and should occupy galleries and institutional spaces, but it is in the streets that it is experimented, reinvented and gains shape. Red carpets are good for being burnt.”
Artists Residence – September 7-19
Opening – September 19
Exhibit – September 19 to October 31
For more information visit:
All pictures courtesy LAC.
*The retornados (from the Portuguese verb “Retornar”, to return) are a Portuguese population who fled their overseas colonies during the decolonization process which was managed by the revolutionary National Salvation Junta, in the following months after the Carnation Revolution.