6. 3. 2020

Arts in parts: the ecosystem that is Melides Art

by Sara Andrade

 

But not in an uncertain part. Melides Art is the address which serves as the starting point for a concept related to artistic creation that has no post code or geographical pin. A series of ecosystems which are even borderless - though feature multiple disciplines and cultural performances in a specific time and space. Only they don't run out in that time frame, they go beyond any schedule. Because here, the whole is truly bigger than the sum of its parts. 

The first time I crossed paths with Miguel Carvalho, the name behind these ecosystems, was in the very house you see in these pages. Fall/winter was still far away, the rentrée was still a mirage and the summer sun warmed - way too well - any impromptu road trip, like the one we engaged in on that friday, august 30th 2019. We wanted to see up close this project that was a stage for an array of artistic disciplines and languages and meet the man that - however, never alone, he'd immediately say - passionately and effortlessly promotes them and make them happen. He had a straw panama hat, which we'd confirm later on is a trademark as iconic as his beard. He welcomed us barefoot (or something in the same lines of relaxed) and confirmed that laidback vibe whilst showing us every nook of the house and outskirts of it. He commented on the heaviness of the door, the first time we invaded his space, arguing that "the idea is just that, to have a different rythm than the one we have in the city. It's supposed to be heavy. It's supposed to take longer to open it." You're supposed to stop and look, and to wander slowly, in an environment that's painted beige, but is never vanilla - in that (non)sense people sometimes say that vanilla is boring -, wander in the tranquility of a harmonised colour palette that is only disturbed (as it should be) by the works of art that pop from the wide walls and great halls. Some will be temporary, others will be part of the decor, all of them are and will be forever the stars - on that day and furthermore: "the origin of this idea I cannot dissect it, because my life is a sequence of events and they're all intertwined", says Miguel, back to 2020, when we meet yet once again to discuss Melides for this Art issue. The founder refers to this idea called Melides Art, that is not a hotel nor a collection of houses, nor a local hostel or weekend getaway - or, better yet, it is all of that, but beyond, it is a Meca for the Arts, even if in a microcosmos kind of way (growing and growing, let it be noted). Here, you may ehibit art on the walls, throughout acres and acres of land, and in performances that can either happen in the middle of the living room or outside in the backyard. "This idea", shares its author, "essentially is the result of an intent, of a permanent restlessness regarding life, regarding looking for creation opportunities, and to make it in a way that is viable and sustainable. The basis is this restlessness towards life and a search for creativity in which creativity and art are vessels for existencial answers, answers of hope. This is what Melides is all about. Even in its meaning: it's a concept that has no physical space nor conceptual limits. It doesn't have a physical location - I mean, it's a rural hotel, with housing units and people can buy those units, but that's merely instrumental, because Melides exists as an idea, it's an intent of approaching and relating to the world and others in a certain way. It can happen anywhere - I hope it happens everywhere, that this is an infectious idea and inspiring and that it can be replicated, that's what Melides intends to be." And this idea is that of a system of exchanges done in different levels, promoting open encounters related to a multiple of artistic languages, as well as making viable the artistic creation - and this is the most specific synthesis, in terms of definition, the concept allows, because being open to create and manage projects, as long as they are connected to production, creation, art, is limitless. Whenever you try to go into details about this concept - which has seen acoustic concerts in a living room at full capacity, glee ensembles outdoors, exhibitions outside mid nature and artistic residency - will always feel like reducing it to something when it's so much more. 

"This idea essentially is the result of an intent, of a permanent restlessness regarding life, regarding looking for creation opportunities, and to make it in a way that is viable and sustainable. The basis is this restlessness towards life and a search for creativity in which creativity and art are vessels for existencial answers, answers of hope. This is what Melides is all about."

Even though the idea has no physical space or conceptual limits, it has a starting point, an address that sees it being born and grow, marked on the GPS as Melides Art but disguised in the wilderness if you choose to see it in the satellite view of Maps. Why? Because the planning of structures that Miguel calls 'studios' was completely thought of to be one with its surroundings: "The arquitecture was concocted by the atelier of Toni and Tomeu Esteva [Esteva i Esteva], a father and son atelier that's done a series of iconic projects in the international hotel landscape. And I thought of them as the pefect architects for this for several reasons", says Carvalho. "They are artists, who found in architecture a viable way of life and expression. The father was a sculptor, so I could tell him this idea and he'd immediately understand what we were looking for. And what we were looking for was that the space was a studio, with the capacity to welcome many people, as well as works of art and performance pieces, but at the same time that it was an invisible space, that it didn't overimpose the territory, the beautiful landscape of pine trees that punctuate the sand dunes, and that seemed like an impossible proposal. I mean, how could we have these buildings with generous dimensions but invisible? And that could promote a permanent relationship between the inside and the outside - many people end up losing track of if they're indoor or outdoors. And the solution he found from an architectural point of view was a very minimal structure of lines and angles that develops itself in a colour palette very narrow: not only is the building toned very similarly to the dunes (looks like the house has emerged from them, like a sand castle) as he used a very limited selection of materials. All the studios, inside and outside, were coated with a single material, which is this kind of industrial clay that's highly resistent, exactly so you could entertain people and serve as an atelier and not being damaged. For the rest of it, the selection of materials was also scarce: pine, which was locally sourced, glass... And then you have the interior decor, by James Waterworth, who took the inside of the studios to a whole new level of refinment." Why call it studios and not houses or homes? "A studio, in its origin, is the english word that can signify a place of creation, a place of living, a certain tipology, so it has a certain amount of ambiguity. And we reside in that ambiguity. We are a place in which people can spend the night, but it's also a place of creation and a place of meeting. That's why we call them intentionally studios, because we want them to be all that. And also a space to showcase, and exhibit, and of artistic residency. And of lingering. Temporarily, but that's the whole point, too."

Being mesmerized by the architecture and spaces - outside and in - is natural (and encouraged), but letting the admiration go no further than that is missing the point of Melides completely as an idea (as a movement, I dare say). Its beauty is not in the incredible combination of wood with the structure tones, nor in the pools that seem to be in love with the trees around them; it's in the manifest, in the purpose, in wanting to be a space of creative exchange, with subjects that facilitate that exchange and lend their spaces, connections, knowledge to make sure this idea that is Melides Art grows - there and/or anywhere else in the world. And the human part of the place is the core of a project only limited by the boundaries of imagination - and we all know imagination knows no boundaries: "every idea, if they have a physical expression, are easier to comprehend. Even the process of creation, if it has a physical structure at its service, will bring more opportunities to its creators. Melides, as a physical space, aims to be that, a place where artists and creators alike can cross paths in something that is a net of spontaneous exchange, and in that spontaneous exchange of ideas, new ones are born. That physical platform only exists because those who decide to be part of the project, when they do so, also agree to expand this idea, through their network of contacts, through their energy and ability do make happen". And adds: "one of the great joys I have, when looking at this project, is that he really lives off the people that participate in it. They do as much as or even more than I do, I can give you an example from 2019 - i don't like calling it an event, because an event gives off the idea of entertainment, these are more encounters where the artists present their art and explore joint ventures of their art with other people's arts, that can be the same genre or totally different, like a poet performing with a cello or when a dancer decides to meet a musician or a poet or a filmmaker. And these encounters, that are, in itself, performances, are open to the public, anyone can sign in, can volunteer to be part of it, it's not a private club, which is what I think the world is becoming - an open space where people cross each other in a random and continuous way. Last year, we easily had more than 50 encounters. Some with 800 people, others with 50, 100 people. In the summer months alone, we've had two a week - that's like 24. Then there were more, but spread over in time."

"Melides, as a physical space, aims to be that, a place where artists and creators alike can cross paths in something that is a net of spontaneous exchange, and in that spontaneous exchange of ideas, new ones are born. That physical platform only exists because those who decide to be part of the project, when they do so, also agree to expand this idea, through their network of contacts, through their energy and ability do make happen."

This is just the tip of an iceberg that won't melt in any circumstance, as long as there is will and passion for the arts. In fact, Miguel Carvalho's own space, one of many in a land he foresaw with 34 residences of 600 square meters, has been a recurring stage for many and different artistic manifestations, be it an afternoon-long or prolonged in time. That is his purpose, after all, he assures us: "I have nothing there [in the studio]. I occupy a space, am a regular visitor and am involved in the promotion of a project. But that studio has had multiple residencies (and others too, it's important to note that). We don't communicate all residencies because residencies are a space for collecting oneself, but I can say that we've had some of the biggest names of the world in painting, cinema, contemporary poetry, this year we'll have one from contemporary dance... people that noone has seen, but were there creating. In a more public way, and I can mention it because he already has, Salvador [Sobral] was there, recently, preparing his Jacques Brel concert, with a selection of amazing musicians. And I saw that he spoke about it in interviews and syntethized perfectly the experience that we wanted people having there. Which is being able to feel at home and being in a space totally focused on creating, but in a space that inspires it, calm, that it doesn't disturb the process, quite the opposite, it encourages it. (...) I think Melides is a modest contribution, but it was still important for this concert to happen."

Knowing the concept behind Melides is assuming it's a selfless project, but Melides [Art] is purely selfish, as beautiful as egoísm can be. Because Miguel Carvalho vibrates transcendently with each painting that rests on his walls, each sculpture that takes a bit of ground in his land, each note invading his living room with a view over nature, each piece that has win him over from an unexpected artist that is now his friend for life. "There is no formal structure of curation at Melides Art, one of the proposals we bring is to really be a network, or better yet, an open ecosystem, because a network doesn't assume an energy exchange nor does it have a common goal which is survival.", he starts by explaing how everything happens and evolves. "A network can be a still and set reality. Though it may imply an exchange, an ecosystem predicts all kinds of exchanges - that makes it the right expression for what we are doing. We are trying to build an ecosystem that starts off in a physical location, but it's not limited, neither is, that physical structure." That's why saying there's a curation makes no sense, because as the ecosystem evolves and works at its best, that curation happens on its own. He continues: "the idea of ecosystem is that of a structure of biotic and abiotic agents that organize themselves in a network of energy exchange prone to their survival. Society is an ecosystem. But there are also creative ecosystems and of creation and of future and of inovation. And that's what I'm trying to make happen. Melides is that. And how do you sustain that ecosystem? This is where studios become more relevant, because they are vital elements for the ecosystem to work. The agents of an ecosystem are, usually, not identical. Diversity and heterogeneity of the elements of an ecosystem is what it gives vitality and beauty to it. So, my interest is that of a creation of an ecosystem, because it is sustainable, diverse, creative, renews itself, it's everything that Melides Art aims to be".

Listening to Miguel talk of all the details that build this ecosystem that was born out of his mind and materialized through his hands and personal and professional relationships, such as any creative work from whatever area of expertise, is assuming his connection to art has been one of an intimate nature - and it has, but not in the way you might think. His background is a lot different from that of someone who studied the art disciplines and is today a painter, a sculptor, etc. "My father was a diplomat and, in the phase of his career when I was born, he was always abroad; I didn't live in Portugal. So, when I became a young-adult, I also led my life outside of Portugal. And I've had many activities, in the industry, technology, I've always been an entrepreneur, I've always been backed by investors that believed in the projects I promoted and those projects I did in the corporate world were interesting projects that also made me collect the skills to be able to get here and have the necessary resources to go ahead with these ecosystems. And I've always had great affection for ideas, for the transformative ability of ideas and the longevity of ideas. Because we all have an expiration date, - uncertain, yes, but short -, but ideas don't. If we start thinking about how ideas are 100, 500, 1000 years old and still occupy us, still direct us, still promote us as people, that's fascinating. The revolution Duchamp brought to the arts also fascinated me, through ready-made, the value of intent and context, and how context can dictate the significance of its content. And, I think it's important to say this because noone is born an orphan, this project evidently is rooted in what is the energy of my mother, the energy she always put in everything she does. An entrepreneuse, she was always an amazing planner of social projects, an incredible promoter of Portugal's image and I saw that first-hand. My father was always a person intimately connected to poetry and philosophy and he passed that on to me. Later on, I crossed paths with a person who's a great friend and that I admire a lot for what he has done in contemporary art as an artist promoter and as a thinker, and he's a person that breathed constantly what the models of Art and mechanisms of museums and art commerce were. It's Stefan Simchowitz. And Stefan is a friend from my teen years, with whom I spent a lot of time in the United States, in Los Angeles. But later in life, we ran into each other and decided spontaneously to start a support project to an artist that wanted to engage in an idea that it was hard to accomplish. Since I had industrial experience and he came from the world of Arts, we had this will to get together and help this artist. And together, we ended up concocting many projects for a wide number of artists, which we helped by organizing exhibits in museums, galleries, open-space venues. And to see the enthusiasm and commitment he has with his ideas and the artists' practice was very inspiring and was, in a way, a model that I then came to follow autonomously in my relationship with artists from different areas. There's a selection of people, artists, like Johannes VanDerBeek, with whom I have a close relationship with, that made me see that art has a fundamental meaning in people's lives. And it's not merely decoratif, and it's not a pretext of social gathering; objectively, artistic creation is fundamental in Men's existence.”

"There's a selection of people, artists, like Johannes VanDerBeek, with whom I have a close relationship with, that made me see that art has a fundamental meaning in people's lives. And it's not merely decoratif, and it's not a pretext of social gathering; objectively, artistic creation is fundamental in Men's existence."

Knowing this, it's almost obvious realizing that the acres, besides the studio, also serve as ground to an Art Park that punctuate the paths along the extension of terrain and, also, an Art Pavillion - and pavillion is used in english because it is the foreign term that best describes it, as a, in a simplistic way and as the Oxford dictionary says, 'temporary building used at public events and exhibitions'. "The pavillion", says Miguel, "is the first structure (it's not the only, there's a selection of structures dedicated to creation, we'll be building a recording studio and a post production studio for movies, and we want to have spaces that work not only as exhibition locations, but also as creation locations). Besides the Art Pavillion, Melides has a set of cultural propositions, one of them a permanent exhibit of sculptures; and it has a second exhibit called Transformer. It was a proposal from Marc-Olivier Wahler, which was the director of Palais de Tokyo and of the Broad Museum, in Michigan. When I invited him to do a sculpture park, he said he would be delighted, as long as it was something new, because he wouldn't do any other park where you would just put a piece in nature and that's it - which, really, is wat happens with most sculptures. If you go there multiple times, you won't see the same set. He wanted an artistic intervention that could evolve, that's why it's called Transformer, in which there could be a relation of tension between the artistic creation and nature." And he did it. In between the studios, there are works of art by Marnie Weber, Robert Melee, Olaf Breuning, which present themselves differently each new day, so different from the one before, as neighbours and visitors can testify: "people who participate in this ecosystem are more than neighbours; they come from all over the world and, in its own way, believe in this idea. And that's why they are here. These are people that, in their own way, have done everything to make sure this idea progresses. The similarities they have is that they have lived all over the world, have succeeded in different areas and saw in this ecosystem a channel to approach life in a different way. The way they access and participate in the creation of art, because there is also here an idea of co-creation, without them it would be completely impossible to materialize this idea as it has been materialized. Not everyone is connected to the arts, but they have this will of having or seeing in this a pathway. But these are people that, in some way, were innovative in their fields.They got into a reality with pre-established systems and created a new one. These are people who have a connection to innovation. And innovation, by definition, is related to creation, they realize this proposal may be ethereal, that actually has lots of value. And this, for me, is the most important thing." And for the Art world as well.

This article was originally published in Vogue Portugal's Art issue, from March 2020. 
Para ler este artigo em português, veja a edição de Arte da Vogue Portugal