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17th Nov 2019

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Art to protest politics in Spanish town

At some point in early 2012, Pablo Lag stood in front of an abandoned, half-constructed house in the centre of Alicante, Spain, and kicked in the door.

"The space had been under construction for years," he said. "I mean not with people working there. Nobody was looking at it."

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Lag, a young art curator who used to work in neighbouring Murcia, was frustrated with what he calls the "very strange [culture] policies" in the region.

The year before, the government of Valencia, the south-eastern region of which Alicante is a part, had re-opened the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art - the MACA - after footing the bill for a €12 million renovation.

“Now they don’t have enough money to do any interesting exhibitions,” Lag told EUobserver from New York, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in curatorial studies.

Plus, he said, the museum is only interested in what he calls “blockbuster artists,” while today’s generation of young Spanish artists is “one of the most interesting generations.”

Once inside the abandoned building, Lag changed the locks on the door and began work on an art exhibition, he said, “to let the neighbours know what is happening, to make people in the world know what is happening in Spain.”

When Spain’s building boom went bust, in 2008, the frantic construction across the country came to a standstill. Today many concrete skeletons litter the country’s coastline.

“You cannot imagine,” said Lag. “In the south-east it’s just insane. There are like thousands and thousands of [unfinished] buildings.”

At the same time, the Spanish government began slashing culture subsidies as it tried to rein in spending under pressure from financial markets and EU leaders.

Next year’s budget for culture is almost half of that of 2009. The value added tax on culture, once a preferential eight percent, on 1 September this year jumped to the regular tariff of 21 percent.

As a result, said Lag, there are all these empty buildings but very few galleries or other exhibition spaces.

“The artists draw attention to the absurdity of the national urban landscape,” it reads on the exhibition’s website, and to “the disastrous cultural policies of the last couple of years."

“The exhibition [shows] that we can do interesting projects when we adapt to the current situation,” it adds.

The exhibition, dubbed Jaula de Oro, or Golden Cage, in reference to the MACA’s new expensive but supposedly uninteresting premises, was inaugurated in August this year and consists of works of seven different visual artists.

Among them is a tall plant painted pink, by Marlon de Azambuja, an out-of-place electric hand dryer, by Fermín Jiménez Landa, and a collection of front doors from people who were evicted, by Nuria Guell.

They have been on display ever since. The door to the building has been left unlocked.

“Most of the pieces are still there,” said Lag, who checked with locals on the state of the exhibition. Just the plant is dead.

“You can definitely see that time has passed,” he added. “But not much else.”

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