Isto tambén sou eu (I am this also)
Curator: Colin Ginks
June 20 – July 7, 2012
Liberdade Provisória, Rua Pinheiro Chagas, 48 – 2º, Lisbon, Portugal
An interview with the curator of Isto também sou eu/I am this also, Colin Ginks. The exhibition looks at what queer art means in an age when so much its imagery has entered the mainstream.
Lisbon is the cool jewel of Europe. Slightly off the beaten track, it is probably best known for its nightlife, with Bairro Alto, the area of the old city filled with small bars and restaurants, most popular with both locals and tourists. As a former centre of colonial power, Lisbon has all the trappings of European capitalist pomp, counter-balanced with an urban shabby chic that gives the city a perpetually romantic fin-de-siècle feel, made even more apparent by the current economic crisis that has hit Portugal so hard. Still, Lisbon ploughs its own cultural furrow of art, music and literature; and the gay scene, small in comparison to many other European capital cities, mixes old school with retro new wave.
DÁ-ME TODO O TEU AMOR (DIRTY LOVERS 1) (Give me all your love, Dirty Lovers 1) José Gonçalves (Left)
DÁ-ME TODA A TUA FORÇA (DIRTY LOVERS 2) (Give me all your strength, Dirty Lovers 2) José Gonçalves (Right)
Isto também sou eu/ I am this also, is a group show of queer art by contemporary Portugese artists, and I spoke to the exhibition’s curator, the artist and writer Colin Ginks.
Can you explain the title of the show – I am this also?
It came to me during a fit of pique directed at myself and, at its simplest level, it’s an emotional cri de coeur. I’m an artist working to establish myself commercially in Portugal, in what is a new market for me and I found myself unconsciously sublimating my ‘gayness’ out of fear it could compromise my saleability. It’s something I’ve done many times and it’s a personal, aesthetic dilemma I have.
Do you do that purely for commercial reasons?
I’m not sure my best work is expressed through the spectrum of my homosexuality – nonetheless this is at the core of my being and I am intensely proud of my sexual orientation. I wouldn’t have it any other way – and I’m not sure everyone would say that – so my creative coyness is personally quite confusing. From there, I began to wonder how other artists deal with this issue.
BELO HORIZONTE (Beautiful Horizon) Henrique Neves
Is it a particular issue for artists in Portugal?
Trust me, there are many bent artists working here, but Portugal, as a Mediterranean society, has always had a more southern and suave, less activist, approach to its sexual politics. Discretion is the key and, to be frank, I think this encourages a certain dishonesty and intellectual cowardice. Nonetheless, a wind of change seems to be blowing, if I’m going to get all blousy. A new generation seems to have left its hang-ups at the door, and that inspired me to be a bit more brave.
What do you think the term Queer Art means right now?
That’s a tough question, because my impression is that it’s a term that belongs to a more politically active past. It’s tempting to believe gay culture has become rather bourgeois overall. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but I wondered if I was going to get indifferent reactions to this project because banal, queer-informed, imagery has invaded the visual mainstream in so many ways. Obviously, I am aware there are wonderful, daring artists exploring their sexual identity, but I wonder if this is a post-Queer movement. It’s become rather more blurred, which is a fabulous, amazing thing. Anyway, as a shot in the dark, I felt we had to start somewhere, and call a spade a spade.
FRONHAS (Dirty Pillows) Colin Ginks
So what is it about Portugese culture – or perhaps more specifically Lisbon culture – that makes this show particularly prescient?
Well, I mentioned that there seems to be a noticeable change in urban society here. Lisbon, where I live, is a capital city – I can’t speak for the rest of the country, or even other major cities, like Porto, but I wouldn’t be surprised if similar circumstances are happening elsewhere – and this is the first generation that does not look like ‘Mini-Me’ versions of their parents. In a rather amusing, if somewhat sinister, development, an editor of a national newspaper accused the kids of pretending to be gay to rebel against their betters and elders who brought down a dictatorship and sparked a revolution! Well those betters and elders have also now brought the country to the brink of economic disaster.
So the economic crisis is also a factor in what’s happening?
Artistically speaking things are especially fertile right now, which is ironic considering Portugal has been particularly hard-hit by the economic crisis, bailouts and cutbacks. Maybe because there’s so little money to chase after, the artistic community has just said ‘fuck it’ and decided to do its own thing. I don’t know that anyone should be made to suffer just to put food on the table, but the creativity in the air is exciting.
GENERAL IDEA – FODA (Fuck) João Pedro Vale (Left)
O QUE TENHO DE FAZER PARA ACONTECER (What do I have to do so it happens) Telmo Costa Branco (Right)
What were your criteria for choosing the artists and the work to be included?
I’ll be honest and say I wanted quite established artists. I felt we had to raise the bar for others to follow in the future. Other people have been brave enough to try this sort of thing here, and their efforts quickly spluttered and disappeared back into obscurity. I don’t want this to happen. I am an ambitious person. I’m business-savvy and I want results. I wanted a commercial sponsor and got it. I want people who wouldn’t normally pay attention to sit up and take notice. It was important for the show’s credibility that the artists participating were shown to have some conception of the current artistic discourse. I didn’t want tasteful nudes or Internet-bound kitsch. I was preparing myself for an onslaught of the figurative – no disrespect to figurative artists, I’m one of them. Queer art is inextricably linked to body representation, and of course that can be interesting, but I had no idea how varied the proposals would be. These are often truly excellent, serious artists – the work practically chose itself.
What kind of work are you including in I am this also?
This is a genuinely diverse, exciting show. There are Portuguese artists who have since relocated or begun working in other international arenas, such as the US, Berlin, Paris and Brazil. There is installation, video, performance, painting, drawing, photography, mixed media and wordplay and it’s 100% queer. It is a survey of an auspicious moment that looks out and connects with many threads. It is not an insular experience, but nonetheless provides an ambitious survey of ‘Portuguese-ness’ at an icky, memorable time in the country’s history.
What would you most like to happen as a result of the show?
My one concern, my one hope, is that the critical, media-orientated mainstream makes the effort to get out its comfort zone and comment. I want gallery owners to sniff around. What have they got to lose? Many of these people are themselves queer, and it is their scepticism that will be the biggest hurdle to the show’s far-reaching ambitions.