Foundation Home for Portuguese Emigrants in the World

Nelson Miranda has been developing projects centered around industrial spaces that, for various reasons, including the economic re-structuring after Portugal entered the European Union, end up becoming obsolete, falling into disuse and abandon. These structures are common in the countryside surrounding Portuguese cities. They can be glimpsed from motorways, railway tracks or tramlines, hidden by vegetation that gradually replaces them. Nelson Miranda’s creative process involves long reconnaissance trips and viewing of satellite images. His approach would be almost like that of mapping brownfield ground were it not for the artist’s refusal to systematise the objects he is studying. The formal and historical individuality of each architectural complex is explored via images. Miranda visits the sites several times over several months, looking for visual prompts that stimulate a psychological experience of the ruin – that experience and no other. Given the medium, his work inevitably aestheticizes. However, it invokes the aesthetic in the sense of nostalgia, a sentiment that, through its empathetic role, renders the image real thus avoiding a simple aesthetic enjoyment, an emptying of substance. There is also a preoccupation with the identity of the space, and this prompts Miranda to collect found objects that, when shown next to the photographic records, not only give witness to the past but recount the present.

The photographs we see in this exhibition are not strictly speaking images of an industrial space but are of a ruin situated on the outskirts of Santo Tirso and Trofa, a ruin whose remains evidence a previous commercial and residencial use. However, the exhibiting of these images implies, if not a condemnation, then a profound reflection on the current state of political and social affairs. Nelson Miranda confronts us with what remains of the Fundação Lar do Emigrante Português no Mundo (Foundation Home for Portuguese Emigrants in the World), a satellite city planned in the 1980s by an emigré returned from Venezuela and intended as a place to welcome others who, like himself, had wanted to return to Portugal. The enterprise included a cultural and sports complex, shops, services, hotels and apartments. The first phase of the works advanced relatively quickly. Structures such as Luso-Venezuelan Room were to have been the stage for cultural events that would finance the conclusion of the mini-metropolis. However, in reality the Foundation succumbed to financial difficulties in implementing the project. The building works are currently abandoned: there are traces of vandalism and also signs of occupation by extreme right groups.

Nelson Miranda's images suggest a mapping of the space and focus on the signs of its recent use by neo-Nazi groups - the most disturbing part of the exhibition, and what is surprising and remains after the initial shock, is the evident flow of utopia, in all sense of the concept, through the history of the same place. A celebration of a (utopian) idea of national identity expressed in the reproduction of houses typical of the ‘autonomous regions’ (the Madeira and Azores archipelagos). The architecture of the still-to-be-completed apartment blocks assumes a modernism already outdated and out of place in Portugal in the 1980s, a symptom of the cultural distance between those returning and that which they encountered here, resulting in the only heterotopia possible for the replication of the habits and routines learnt since their return. The Nazi iconography, a frightening and dystopic symbol. The reflex triggered by the co-existence and consequent permeability of the concepts stops an irony that appears to illustrate perfectly the scale of the social crises faced today in numerous countries and that endangers, in particular, the integrity of the European Union and its objectives.

The exhibition "Fundação Lar do Emigrante Português no Mundo" presents three distinct nuclei, in direct confrontation, inviting the observer to reflect, in turn, on the basic theme of the project. The main nucleus is centered around the ruin and the photographic record of it. In immediate dialogue with the photographs, found objects are presented – letters, architecture projects, drawings, posters, inter alia – revealing the spirit of utopia that motivated the emigré founders of the institution. Finally, an excerpt of a documentary “Casa Portuguesa, Casa Estrangeirada”(Portuguese House, House of Foreign influence) (RTP), in which the mentor of the project describes it in an interview with Helena Roseta.

Vera Carmo, in exhibition text, Espaço Campanhã, Porto

PT