The Hidden Law of a Probable Outcome: On the Development of a Southern Kunsthalle
by João Mourão and Luís Silva
In the beginning there was the hoax. Our claims were orbiting around a certain idea of performativity conducted through lies and deceit. Through faking something until it became real. Tess McGill was instrumental in this as, for us, she embodied to perfection such a performative gesture. “If you want to be taken serious you gotta have serious hair,” she tells Cynthia, her sidekick, and this became a mantra of sorts during most of Kunsthalle Lissabon’s early existence. Cynthia, however, also had her share of knowledge when it came to hoaxing and faking something into existence and at a later stage, in a quasi oracle-like fashion, provided the insightful: “Sometimes I sing and dance around my house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.” Bam! Reality check… In the end, Tess was right and Cynthia wasn’t (Tess was, after all, the hero of the story and Cynthia nothing more than her amusing and flamboyant sidekick), the hoax stopped being a hoax and became reality, real life if you will. In a twist of faith similar to that of our Hollywood fictional companion, very insidiously and without any of us noticing or being aware of the shift occurring, Kunsthalle Lissabon slowly became a real institution, or at least one according to our very peculiar understanding of what a relevant institutional platform can currently be.
The hoax, however, didn’t just disappear. Either it gradually transformed into something else, or it was gradually replaced by something else. It could also be that from the beginning it was already something else: we just misinterpreted it and gave it the wrong name. To this day, we haven’t figured out what happened, and I imagine we never will. It doesn’t seem that relevant. If the founding principle of Kunsthalle Lissabon was to hijack the mainstream and infuse it with criticality, how could we have done it, without budget, staff or any of the prerequisites for proper institutional activity? Through the only thing we could provide: hospitality. Hospitality thus became, and still is, at the core of what Kunsthalle Lissabon is about and how we choose to enact (perform) the institutional. Our guests, whether they are artists, curators or invited writers, as well as the audience, our visitors, the people who see our shows, come to our lectures or read our books, are the reason we work. Not only are they the recipients of what we do, they are also, and maybe foremost, the source of the relevance, the meaningfulness and the creativity of our endeavour. The notion of radical hospitality has been put, in recent years, at the centre of the discussion about institutional practice. To us, hospitality is not only a condition for inhabiting the institutional, it is an ethical imperative, and being such there is no way around it. Whether it is an intellectual construct or an empirical fact, or maybe both, is irrelevant; hospitality presents itself as a very specific and socially imprinted way of doing things (cue southern hospitality and associated stereotypes) and the radicalism of positioning it at the heart of the institution lies in signalling very explicitly that there is life beyond budgets and audience numbers (and debts and bailouts). There is being together, thinking together, working and acting together, refusing to feed and being fed by the market and its ever-expanding demands and offers, and, of course, always having a great time!