Interview With Condomínio Festival Lisbon

What was your inspiration for starting this project?

It all started when one of us, one day saw a poster in the streets of Amsterdam where it read something like »theatre+ concert at Paul’s house«, following the address. Those lines worked out like a »click«, and the thought was, »wow, it is possible to present artistic proposals at someone’s house?«.

From that to the concept of CONDOMÍNIO Festival it all happened very organically. After some thought and research done, and after coming to the conclusion that it started to be common, in central European capitals, to open someone’s house to present projects and show stuff, a group of three people were united with the aim to make it also true in Portugal. But it was not only about the houses: together we developed the concept of the festival, which focus was in bringing the local community together in a place where they could discuss interesting topics in an informal and personal way, while at the same time rediscovering Lisbon through its private places and giving the opportunity to emerging artists (or just people with ideas) to present new projects in an uncompromised and friendly environment. We do it during one weekend, two or three times a year, and each day takes place at a different house, turning what is private in public for one day. This concept and identity is growing and evolving at each new edition, taking inspiration from the city, moved by the wish to discover more and more houses and the wish to connect more and more people with similar interests, as well as to promote ideas and actions that we consider of benefit to the general public.

Why did you choose the format of apartment exhibitions?

We don’t consider the apartments only, but the private places at large: it could be an apartment, or a house, an atelier, a basement, it could even be a hostel – and we’ve actually done that once in an associations’ garden. We privilege the private space for various reasons: it’s a place where most of the people can not have access in normal conditions; it is an informal and personal space, because it has the objects and identity of the people who lives in there; it is always a surprise when we enter the space (especially in Lisbon, which has a very specific architecture and urbanistic conditions); it tells a different story about the city, one that we can not know by walking in the streets; people tend to feel comfortable at the private space, happy and secure, while discovering hidden private gardens, wonderful river views from the window, fireman stairs at the balcony or an empty communal courtyard, many different aspects that make you more aware of the city you live in, of its many opportunities and blessings (especially today, that Lisbon is turning into a »tourist trap«, those views and elements remind us about the city’s beautiful natural identity).

Have you heard about some similar projects in Portugal in the past or in some other countries?

We know about other projects in Portugal that use private spaces to present artistic proposals, but we don’t know any that uses it as we do. Meaning that, for us, the focus is only one house for one entire day (afternoon and evening), where different projects take place (exhibitions, concerts, performances, talks, presentations, community dinner, workshops…). What happens is that people tend to stay, spending the time at the house, meeting friends, having a drink and basically enjoying the space while watching those several projects.

The similar projects we know about, in the sense they also use private spaces and thevenues, are actually festivals that last for two or three days, once a year, and that divide its activities for many different spaces (some of them, private ones), where the projects take place simultaneously. For example: Caldas Late Night (in Caldas da Rainha), Guimarães Noc-Noc (in Guimarães) and Festival A Porta (in Leiria).

Outside Portugal, we don’t have much information about specific projects of this kind. We now that there is some projects like this in Spain but we don’t have much information.

When did you start it? What was the cultural context in that period?

We started thinking about this idea in 2013, but the first edition took place only in May 2014, with a group of three people at the organization. After the second edition, we started to be four, and nowadays we are five and have made seven editions so far, in Lisbon. A different team is using the same concept and turning it into practice in Évora (a small city in Portugal).

I don’t know if the cultural context was much different back then, from what it is now, but one of our motivations to start the project was filling the lack of a place in the city to present new ideas in an informal way, where everyone could do it, independently of their background or cv, where the art could mingle with »normal life«, with political discussions, biological alimentation, veterinary talks or home-made beer. We hoped that CONDOMÍNIO could be this place, where everyone could experiment, find solutions and meet like-minded people, and we think it is, even when it takes place only twice a year.

How do you choose the artistic content? Are you working with performers with experience in site-specific art? The festival is international?

For each edition we make an open call where everyone can present their project. Then we make a selection based on the relation with the space, the quality and originality of the idea. We always privilege projects that present alternatives ways for living in the city, exploring the concept of community, environment care, sustainability, etc. We try to have a multidisciplinary program, which includes music, dance, theater, performance, film or video sessions, installations, exhibitions, readings, shows and workshops. We have the goal of showing emergent artists and projects that present new proposals in urban, artistic, social or cultural level. So there is space for people that have already experience in site- specific art as well for the ones that are trying out or are able to adapt their project to a different space.

Furthermore we ask our permanent partners to suggest one project/artist for each edition. We give priority for the local projects/artists but we also encourage projects coming from other cities and countries as long as they are relevant for the local community.

Where do you find the funds for a festival with a small audience? Does the audience pay to enter? Are you able to fund the works?

The festival does not depend on financial support or subsidies, existing thanks to the volunteer work and the dedication of its team. Although maintaining a free entry policy, wsensitizes the public to the importance of the contribution through money donation. For the festival to be sustainable, there is also a bar with drinks, snacks and dinners. The food and drinks are offer by the organic supermarket Miosótis, which is our only sponsor. All the amount raised through the revenue obtained is evenly distributed by the Hosts, Projects and Organization. We do not fund the works, but normally we try to support some of the cost with the money that we made in the previous edition.

How you gather the audience? What kind of advertising do you use? How many spectators you count per edition?

Our main advertising is through facebook and our website, but we also distribute posters in key places, like bars, associations, cultural institutions/schools.

In every edition we also try to build a relationship with the institutions and associations of the neighborhood, which help us on the advertising among the community. Our permanent partners also take an important role on the disclosure of the festival.

For each day of festival we have around 70/80 spectators.

What is the relationship between performance and audience in a private space compared to mainstream stages? How do you consider people you interact with?

Even before we answer this question we would like to enlighten than Condomínio presents more than performances. Here we’ll talk about performances in a less strict sense.

Any performance gains a different shape in a given space where is presented, being a stage or not. In a private space, also because the technical conditions are limited, sometimes the performers have to do big adjustments to the existent space. This adaptation fosters a different aesthetic approach that focus more on the content and less on the spectacularity. The private space boost a closer relationship between the audience and the performers not only because the space is smaller but also because becomes more intimate. We collected already some testimonies from the audience concerning this issue: the closer physical space is the more accurate their senses (more than just visual contact) and sensitive perception is. It’s easier to the audience to contact and get to know better the work of the performer. It’s more natural and desacralized than a stage, a conference or a concert room. In cinema and literature where usually you don’t have contact with the author, here it’s easy to contact directly. It puts both on a common basis: spectator and author. The roles of giver and the receiver are on the same level of importance.

As hosts we try to stimulate an informal environment where sharing is the main goal.

All the flats that hosted performances were inhabited? Why’s that?

Usually we choose flats that are inhabited, that already has a life with its memories, stories and personality. Any project presented in a place with these conditions is already another thing. We find it challenging for the projects to present in unusual environments, that will question their ability to present only in controlled environments like a conference room, a white or black box, a stage.

But it happened already three times to choose places that weren’t flats: an association for rehabilitation and urban regeneration, a youth association, and a public washhouse. Both proposed to us that we use the space in order to trigger it so it would become known to more people in the city.

How you choose the hosts? Is it difficult to find people to host the festival ? Do you have long-term collaborations with some of them?

In our experience, we have been really lucky to have proposals for each edition. In each edition we received 5 to 6 houses proposals, but of course not in the beginning. The first two places were friend’s houses that liked the project and let us do it.

After that we started to make an open call not just for projects, but also for flats/houses, that’s published on our site and facebook page, as well we print billboards and post in the city. We arrange an encounter to visit the place and to get to know the hosts. On this day we clarify their ideas about the festival, how it will work, when they’ll meet the projects that they’ll receive on their house. This visit is also important for us to understand if the festival fits regarding to the space, accessibility, relation with neighbors and housing conditions. After we visit all the houses proposed we choose two houses for each edition. People go really easy with engaging themselves into the festival offering their houses, but sometimes there are some hosts that when the actual experience starts to happen start to be a little bit nervous, what is expectedly normal and we have to be prepared for that. The long-term collaboration with some of the hosts happen sometimes, but not as hosts anymore. We collaborate with them in other ways, for examples, sometimes they want to propose a project for other editions or helping in the organization. For us is important to explore different areas of the city and to offer to the public the possibility to get to know different spaces every time.

What is the best outcome of this experience? And what parts you didnt enjoy?

We think it’s meeting all these new people with different approaches towards life, and to be able to give people the opportunity to show their art in an informal, unexpected, and free way. It sounds cliché, but it’s an unimaginable source of knowledge to literally enter into someone’s space in order to encounter amazing projects there. But the best thing is to see that after participating in the Festival, different projects/artists (that meet at the festival) get together to build a collaboration/partnership. Until now, we know about around 8 different collaborations that were born after meetings in CONDOMÍNIO.

There are logistics, production work, and e-mailing that can be hard and consumes a lot of time. As we are developing the project on a volunteer basis it is especially difficult to find the time between our main work. Sometimes just to find a meeting day for all of us five is an headache.

Is it worth it? Will it continue?

Yes, it will continue. We’ve started to receive more and more emails from people we don’t know asking when the festival will happen again or just offering their help – so that shows us that this is something that people need and are missing and that makes it worthwhile.

Should art be linked with a place where artist lives?

It is not an obligation – nor should it be a rule – but it is an interesting exercise. But it depends on the artist’s work, the concept behind it, the target audience. But definitely there should be always alternative spaces to show art outside of museums or theater houses.

Is there any followup after the performances? (people mingling, talks between artists and public)

Since we have around 15 different projects taking place at each house, staying there from 3pm until 0am, usually there is plenty of time for people to mingle and talk. It happens in a very natural way, artists and audience are very close, and they tend to be together before and after the performances. At dinner time, everyone is united around the same room, tasting the same food! Probably it’s thanks to these talks that take place after presentations that different collaborations between artists have been born in CONDOMÍNIO.

What new things do you think homemade culture (performance art and theater in private spaces) brings to art? Is the apartment a rich medium to produce a different type of art?

The simple and natural communication with an audience from different ages (from children to adults and older people). The proximity between audience and artists. The connection with the »real life«. The concept of collaboration instead of competition. The necessity of adaptation to a specific and more intimate place gives an opportunity to the evolution of the work and increases its meaning. We don’t know if any of this is new, but it is for sure valuable.

What has 2017 brought to you and to the festival?

The last edition of CONDOMÍNIO went really well. We had »full house« on both days and again around 30 projects taking part in two different venues. For us as organization, it went all very peacefully, and we could also really enjoy it as audience too (in the first editions it was impossible because there was always something missing, something to do)… A new member has arrived to our team, and we redesigned the image of the festival. After seven editions, we started to feel the need to change a bit, and it was really a good idea, having a kind of »restart«. The concept of the festival is still the same, but we feel more and more confident in it and in ourselves as organizers after each new edition. The festival is also starting to be known by more and more people, and we are receiving more proposals for taking part in events where we can talk about it. Apart from the fact that the festival is »growing« in this sense, we still feel it is a very intimate and special event, where we invite and meet so many interesting people, ideas, spaces… And the feedback from the participants is very rewarding.

The houses we choose for this 8th edition were very interesting, one of them was a kind of art-residency/hostel, where one could see different artworks and performances in each room, and the other one was a beautiful house right in the heart of one of the most important squares in Lisbon – it is actually one of the last flats in this square where people still live – the others are all offices, warehouses, hostels or decrepit.

For us, and from the reactions we feel from the people attending and participating, we can say that being inside these places is really a special experience, and it makes us feel that this should really continue.

It rained like hell on the first day, but the house was full anyway; we ran out of food and drinks by the end of the night, but it was still a real success, so we start to feel more and more that the city needs this kind of event, and for that reason, CONDOMÍNIO belongs more to Lisbon than to us. We wish that one day that this team can no longer proceed, and other people will follow, so that the concept doesn’t disappear and continues to bring change, diversity and urban discoveries to everyone taking part.