Monday, 6 May 2013

Guest post: "One can´t make omelets without breaking eggs - Regarding the project Temporary Occupations", by Elisa Santos (Maputo - Mindelo - Lisbon)

I enjoyed very much listening to Elisa Santos talking about the Temporary Occupations. Projects like this one, which bring people together around an idea, which look for new ways, which make things happen ‘despite’, they always draw my attention, they transmit enthusiasm to me, they remind me that a lot, so much indeed, is possible when people want to. But there is a limit and Elisa is determined to remind us of it. There is a limit that the will to do should not surpass; because we have a responsibility and because we owe respect, to the works, to the artists and to the audiences. mv 
On Jaimito´s Facebook, 24th of July Av., Maputo, 2011. A citizen is leaving a comment on artist Azagaia´s installation.  (Photo: Ocupações Temporárias)
It is a fallacy, one frequently used in these times of scarce resources, to assume that it is possible to do without means, crossdressing the argument with epithets of innovation and entrepreneurship. The whole exaltation, more or less naive, more or less politcally adjusted, that it is this “magic” that will save us, is a serious contribution towards disinformation, decapitalization and the implementation of a strategy of mediocrity, in any field. This is my firm conviction. And it is equally firm with regards to any field, but even more in what concerns the artistic and cultural field in particular.  
In 2010 I challenged a group of six Mozambican artists to make an exhibition in different molds than the ones they were used to and as an answer to a pressing issue in the city of Maputo which they themselves were proclaiming: the suffocation felt by artists, caused by the lack of spaces of presentation (the existing ones have a closed and repetitive programming) and of audiences (equally closed and repetitive). This suffocation was not related to the quantity of woks produced, but to the incentives for creation, since the spaces for critique, the opportunities for discussion, for the exchange and contact with new languages, tecniques and issues seemed to bypass the circuit of presentation of the capital of Mozambique.
Meeting with artists for the 2010 edition. (Photo: Ocupações Temporárias)
To make an exhibition, or rather six exhibitions, in two months, with a coordination/production totally unknown to the local agents and possible funders, with a group of artists doing a number of other things that would guarantee their living and without an institution formally promoting it, can it be considered venture without means? It may seem like it, but it´s not. The first “version” of Temporary Occupations  - this is the project name – was discussed in meetings on a esplanade, was produced on coffee shop tables and using free public Wi-Fi; its opening date was set to coincide with the Jo’burg Art Fair, in the (perhaps naive) hope that curators, commissioners, buyers, collectors that would attend the event might become interested in Maputo, just around the corner; Facebook and a blog were the main means of promotion and communication. These were the means available. The artists themselves put their own means at the disposal of the project. The first Occupations had a financial support of 3.000USD. In our final report we accounted for the pro bono contributions (production, design and translation, for example), but we were never able to account for all the means that were made available in order to make the Occupations happen.
In 2011 we wanted to risk again. We thought that it would be easier to raise funds, because we had a file that proved our seriousness and transparency in managing the project, the involvement of the participants and the sustainability of the idea, which did not have as a base a fixed, heavy and expensive structure estructure and that, above all, there was a need, that is, it was not a commitment imposed by a calendar, but an action justified in the city´s artistic and cultural context. All arguments were acknowledged, we were praised and pointed out as an interesting case – both in what concerns the essence of the project and its management -, nevertheless, the financial resources, in particular the funds for international cooperation, are aimed at reinforcing institutions and civil society, where we did not fit because we were not a legal entity, that is, the project was not based on a formal organization, did not correspond with the calendars of funding allocations, did not guarantee its existence for the next year. Even though, we persisted and the subject chosen for the Temporary Occupations 20.11 was Precariousness.  The opening took place on the 11th of September and we had the support of Goethe Institut in Maputo and the Swiss Embassy, in a total of €2000.
View of artist Paulo Kapela´s installation in the streets of Maputo, 2012. (Photo: Ocupações Temporárias)
The conditions for this version of the Occupations were even harder than the previous year´s, nevertheless, it mobilized the artists of 2010 and those of 2011, and once again friends, acquaintances, strangers who had seen us the year before and, once more, there was a lot of investment (also financial) on behalf of those involved. The result was very positive, but, as an international commissioner said, it had reached the limit of what was possible, of what was acceptable. Because there is a limit for the dignity (of the works, of the artists, of the audiences) assessed according to the conditions of presentation, of production and enjoyment of an exhibition.  
In 2012, the Temporary Occupations, under the theme of Foreigners, finally had what one might call “the means”, thanks to the exclusive funding of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which decided to support the exhibition in Maputo and to propose and promote it in two more countries (Cape Vert and Angola) and also to schedule in 2013, in its head office in Lisbon, a documental exhibition of the whole process. Without these resources, without this support, the Occupations in Maputo wouldn´t have happened, not in the molds they did actually happen, not even in the molds of previous editions. It wouldn´t have been possible to insist on askingalways  for the support of the same people just to prove that we have the capacity to make things happen, when this capacity, although acknowledged in theory, did not get in return the support of those institutions which aim to support this kind of initiatives. Without these means, the Occupations would have terninated in 2011.
All the editions fulfilled the initial objectives: to attract the attention of different audiences that would be confronted with the works in the public space; to confront the artists with new spaces. Although it is not possible to count the number of visitors, the works have undeniably been seen by thousands if people. Another, more specific, audience - that of cultural agents, artists and arts students – also saw the Occupations and there was a lot of conversation, discussions and stands regarding the initiative. To prove this, one may consider the interest expressed regarding the dates and themes of the following edition, the ways to apply, as well as the invitations to talk or write about this initiative.
Although the Temporary Occupations were seen, since their first edition, at distance, from a number of programmers, critics, curators, gallery owners and other artists, we have not managed to gain international notoriety, to draw the attention of new markets, namely the south african one, to give national visibility to the production of contemporary art; these were very big challenges that we wouldn´t be able to reach when the big majority of promotional materials was not translated, there were no catalogues of all the editions, there was not a good technical support or good images of the works, there was not a website or a good archive, allowing to access the information and the documentation of the different exhibitions.
Installation by artist Bento Oliveira at the Porto Grande airport on S.Vicente island, Cape Vert, 2012. (Photo: Ocupações Temporárias)
The great importance of the support received for 2012 and 2013 is exactly the fact that it made available financial and other resources, that made the exhibitions and other actions possible in order to internationalize the artists and to give visibility to a new production stemming from the emergence of an artistic community with new practices, different discourses and other proposals of intervention.  
As I stated in the beginning, the praise of the lack of resources as a potential instigator of creation and production, is false, and it may even become dangerous in what concerns the quality and independence of what is being produced.  The Temporary Occupations would be different with more means, with other menas, but would have never existed, as nothing exists, without means.

The exhibition Temporary Occupations – Documents may be seen at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon until May 26. Admission is free.

Elisa Santos was an independent cultural producer until 2002, when she took the post of Director of Production at the Teatro do Campo Alegre in Oporto. She worked in projects of cooperation and development in Angola and Mozambique between 2003 and 2012. She is a consultor in the fields of volunteering and cooperation, maintaining her activity as producer in the cultural field.

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