ARTIST-LED CITIES: GUIMARÃES

2nd – 6th October 2014

‘Artist-led Cities: Guimarães’ is a research project that was undertaken by Glasgow Open House and funded by Creative Scotland. Its purpose was to allow GOH members, Amalie Silvani-Jones, Phoebe Barnicoat and Laura Campbell, to travel to Portugal and experience the art festival, Guimarães Noc Noc, in order to use the experience to inform the development of Glasgow Open House Art Festival ’15.

Ó da casa! is the collective behind Guimarães Noc Noc and is in many ways the Portuguese equivalent of Glasgow Open House. Both groups place an emphasis on ‘art outside the gallery’, preferring instead to embed their art festival programmes within the very fabric of their respective cities. Art, music and other events can be found in the unlikeliest of places during Guimarães Noc Noc and Glasgow Open House Art Festival.

Before
An email from Creative Scotland has sent Glasgow Open House into overdrive: we’ve secured funding for our research trip to Guimarães, and with only a handful of days left before we’re due to set off, there is a daunting number of tasks to complete before we can board our flight – booking flights is just one of them. We need to source a projector (preferably two) and a media player, write promotional material and translate it, somehow, into Portuguese; put together a slideshow presentation for Pecha Kucha Night Guimaraes Vol#8, edit our animation, pack the fragile artworks that we are going to exhibit as part of Guimarães Noc Noc, buy Euros —and find out where it is we’re actually going to stay.

There is little time to speculate what the festival might be like in real life. The closest I’ve come to experiencing it is through the brilliant but ambiguous promotional videos, and there is only so much I can glean from Google Translate.
I sense Guimarães Noc Noc is a hotly anticipated event within the city, but it is hard to gauge the scale and breadth of it.

The House With Crooked Windows
We had assumed we would be staying with the Guimarães Noc Noc team at their homes – sleeping on couches if we were lucky – but it transpires that they have provided us with a whole guesthouse to stay and exhibit in: ‘Casa das Janelas Tortas’, or ‘The House With Crooked Windows’ is a labyrinth of strange rooms with stranger doors, windows and furniture.

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Like many participating artists in Guimarães Noc Noc, we are exhibiting in a domestic space, and we’ve spent the morning devising an exhibition using our own artwork that we feel is representative of Glasgow Open House Art Festival — we allow the architecture and the domestic objects in the guesthouse to guide the hanging of the show. Drawings, paintings, sculptures, a tapestry and a video occupy the hallway, kitchen, bathroom, living room and two bedrooms. The Glasgow Open House open call video, a stop motion animation depicting Glasgow city centre, is proving to be our most popular exhibit. People recline on the couches in front of the TV, animatedly discussing the video. Children love it too; one young girl excitedly pulls her dad in from the hallway to watch it with her, pointing at the plasticine figures on the screen.

The atmosphere is relaxed and open. I ponder whether it is the domestic setting of the show that is allowing people to speak freely about the work and to linger afterwards, discussing the exhibition with us, the artists. A young Portuguese man happily tells me he doesn’t like the animation, but enjoys other aspects of the show. Another visitor, an elderly woman volunteering with the festival, comments, ‘Although the exhibition is by British artists, the work feels familiar to me because of the setting.’

Guimarães Noc Noc
Volunteers have arrived to invigilate our exhibition and we’re free to explore the ‘Noc Noc’ version of Guimarães.

What strikes me the most is the number of people wearing Guimarães Noc Noc t-shirt with its emblematic ‘g’ stamped on the front. Like the aftermath of a football match, supporters of the festival flood the quaint, cobbled streets, trickling into every area of the city. The festival touches everything, intentional or not. Everyday life becomes indistinguishable from something premeditated — is this man walking his dog about to perform? Creative interventions are everywhere; one only has to walk down an alleyway, or enter the next building to stumble across a happening underway. We turn a corner onto a square lined with cafes just as a young girl stands up from a pavement and begins to sing. On another occasion we spot a band using the façade of a café as a stage to perform. And as we make our way down an alleyway we look up to discover a performer on a rooftop.

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Specially made Guimarães Noc Noc lanterns signpost the 73 participating venues spread out across the city. The lanterns, which feature a neon number in the middle, are fitted with cut-in-half Ping-Pong balls that catch the wind, powering lights that ensure the venue numbers are visible at night.

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Guided by our Guimarães Noc Noc map, we track down Venue No. 58, an apartment building with an enormous garden at the back. Inside, it is clear that this building is home to a large group of creatives living communally. The rooms are filled with work made by the people living here, and there is some beautiful sculptural and photographic work by artists Paula Saavedra and Luis Pedro De Castro. The place has a provisional feel to it, as if the building and everything in it is raw material for the artists to play with. We go out into the garden— a makeshift sculpture park— and discover some rabbits and a young girl pretending to do the gardening. The girl, the daughter of one of the artists, is clearly used to meeting new people and confidently shows us her favourite spots in the garden.

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Venue No. 20, Casa Velha, dispenses with the conventional notion of art altogether, and instead contributes to the festival by offering out free wine and Iberico ham. This venue proves popular, and we spend a little longer than we should soaking up the atmosphere here.

Venue No. 5, Cineclube de Guimarães, is perhaps one of the more serious offerings of the festival and it showcases contemporary visual art by local artists. My favourite piece at this venue comprises photographs of closed doors and accompanying texts in Portuguese. Amalie suggests that the corresponding texts reveal what happened when someone knocked on each door. Perhaps this work is reflecting on the festival as a whole: for two whole days, Guimarães Noc Noc encourages the local people to lose their inhibitions in order to discover another side to their city.

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After
We leave on Monday morning, giving us no time to experience ‘Guimarães’ without ‘Noc Noc’. The experience has been surreal, and I am left with the feeling that Guimarães, with its rich and proud history, was created for the purpose of Guimarães Noc Noc, not the other way round. The signs will come down and the buildings will function as normal. But in my mind’s eye the people of Guimarães continue their festivities, beckoning strangers into their homes and singing loudly in the streets.