Alentejo and Extremadura. Art and Territory(ies)
I. The regions of Extremadura in Spain and the Alentejo in Portugal coexist in a unique geographical, social and cultural context. A territory characterized by vernacular relations of neighborhood between the inhabitants of both sides who gravitate around the border that divides Spain and Portugal. This is soft border region, locally known as the raia, or borderlands, a concept that portrays the local environment both in physical and identity terms, while at the same time a measure of ambiguity is present. The territory is bound up with a common feeling of living on the periphery, where our relationship with people on the other side has become the key to the problem of lessening the negative effects of isolation local people feel which are bound up with inhabiting a border region. As a result of its peripheral nature, today the region as a whole faces the complex challenge of a collective feeling of rootlessness whose most immediate consequences we are now beginning to experience.
II. What is the current state of this cross-border peripheral region? What are its needs? What is the outlook for the future of its inhabitants in the context of increasingly rampant globalisation? Can the local culture contribute to halting the evident advance of social desertification by providing effective instruments for meeting the needs of the territory as a whole?
III. In this cross-border region, active forces are the MEIAC, a museum funded by the Junta de Extremadura [the Spanish regional government] and the Centro de Arte e Cultura da Fundação Eugénio de Almeida [the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation Art and Culture Centre] based in the Alentejo. The raison d’êtreof each cultural project is based on the concept of territory involving a distinct reality, while both focus on contemporary art and have a far-reaching impact: as distinct entities they have long sought to foster the social and cultural development of Estremadura and the Alentejo, respectively: their own territories.
IV. In the wake of a series of experiences of a sporadic nature, the natural symbiotic border proclivity of the two territories brought together the Junta de Extremadura and the Fundação Eugénio de Almeida in 2018 to sign a collaboration agreement for the sharing of exhibition projects by the MEIAC and the Art and Culture Centre with the aim of fostering the interest of each region in learning about and engaging with the reality of that of the other through the work of currently productive artists associated with their own territories. Thus an alliance was forged which meets the need to bring together two entities that agree that contemporary art can (and should) provide a further dimension that contributes to fostering the growth of their own territory: a shared territory.
V. As part of this collaboration agreement, VEXTRE (Virtual Extremadura) was presented at the MEIAC in Badajoz in 2021. The project, conducted by Extremadura artist Maite Cajaraville around the concept of expanded reality in the territory of Spanish Extremadura, has now, in early 2022, come to Évora, as planned. Thus, in a short space of time, naturally and almost spontaneously (reflecting many aspects of life in the raia), the project has grown as it follows its predetermined trajectory: destination Alentejo. The narrative thus expands to encompass the wider territory as a whole, whose profile as a strategic unit for development to be achieved jointly and sustainably is so lacking in visibility.
VI. In sum, ALVEX – AL(entejo)V(irtual)EX(tremadura) provides a realistic approach to the territory both we and they inhabit. It portrays a wholly objective view of what is natural, produced by means of a demiurgic-technological process which enables an array of data to be presented based on multiple aspects of the world we experience. ALVEX materialises and at the same time dematerialises the truth about the territory and communicates it, aseptically, to the spectator, offering a powerful tool for the analysis of this divided whole – two regions and their raia.
VII: This exhibition is the final stage in a joint initiative involving the MEIAC and the Art and Culture Centre. This experience has enabled a number of relevant themes to be developed that encourage us to think about and study the outlook for our immediate future, on the basis of which we can explore the real opportunities that contemporary art and culture can provide for the global (non-globalised) development of our territory. In Estremadura and the Alentejo, the MEIAC and the Art and Culture Centre are already preparing for the next step, affirming their relevance as effective agents for the cultural, social and economic development of the two regions within the framework of cross-border cooperation between Spain and Portugal.
Francisco T. Cerezo Vacas