A quick overview
It's unclear what the Fábrica is. And that has always played in favor of what happens there. First in what its physical contours is concerned. The FBP is an abandoned building, vestiges of the administration place of a former war material factory. It has 12 mutant rooms, which are both concert halls and art galleries, theatre and cinema, jewelry shop, second hand shop for clothes and other things to use, dining rooms, bar, or simply bookstores. But it is also a huge outer wall, which draws out a yard, and where several layers of graffiti that have been deposited, as layers of memory. It was also a circus tent for two years, where concerts, exhibitions, performances and aerial acrobatics took place. It is also a huge terrace, a place for theater shows and circus, summer concerts and ball games for children on Sundays afternoon. For three years Fábrica lent three basement rooms to the artist Teresa Carneiro, who created there a gallery exclusively dedicated to drawing. Every month there were presented new works, some of them built in under artistic residencies. Fábrica is also the workshop of the artist Joana Villaverde and the workshop of the sculptor Miguel Figueiredo. They are resident artists almost since the founding of Fábrica.
The institutional design of the Fábrica is even more deformed than its physical configuration. It all happened with a verbal agreement between a private enterprise and a real estate company that owned the old factory of war material, there to build a luxury condominium. The agreement stipulated that we might occupy the former administration building and the surrounding terrain, while the City not allow the construction of the condominium, to be built at the other side of the street (a project by architect Renzo Piano). When the construction ended, the building and the land ownership would pass to the City Hall, in return for municipal investments in the condominium infrastructure.
From the beginning Fábrica was managed and sustained by a verbal agreement, that is to say, by an allowed occupation. Nothing more vulnerable. But isn’t this the condition of almost every community dedicated to the invention of unlikely objects?
What then is Fábrica Braço de Prata, as an institution? A legal firm illegally installed in a building that will become propriety of the City Hall and which has not been evicted by its current owner due to the protective action of the City Board itself. One fact that has created its own justification, an unusual performance that forced legal reason to extend his idea of public art.
This paradoxical condition, only possible in a country like Portugal, is perhaps the basis of the fundamental freedom that exists in the Fábrica. Our illegality prevents us from applying for grants or sponsorship funding, and as consequence of that, we were freed from the need to live in constant expectation for the external financial aid. We have not received a single cent from the Ministry of Culture. It's an extravagant model. A private company that provides the conditions for a community to impose a sovereignty without conditions. The private company is the careful manager of all costs and all profits to ensure sustainability of a territory that is used, not for that company, but by the floating community that makes its habitat there.
The great difficulty was to ensure that this sovereignty had some continuity. The more libertarian versions, such as occupation of territories outright abandoned, had already shown too fragile. Tolerances depend on too many people outside the building, and on too much militancy from the people inside. The idea was to use a private company. The company ownership, with its legal and financial obligations, provides the conditions for a community sovereign. And this community does not have to worry about anything. There has no need to mobilize activism, no need to appeal to solidarity. Each member of this community uses the Factory only in their own benefit. Thanks to the "invisible hand" of the private enterprise that holds it, it produces a collective benefit that, ultimately ensure the survival of all. And these members don’t have a specific role at Fábrica. Randomly occupy different places many times. Sometimes they are musicians, sometimes they come to prepare objects to display, or to participate in a discussion about a book finished editing, sometimes they are simply drinking a beer and chatting with friends, or just visiting the exhibitions. And the "harmony" between these several assemblages results in an overall budget, managed by a private company, but placed entirely at the service of the community that inhabits the Fábrica.
To provide conditions for the private dimension of the ordinary, to invent a small territory of communism with capitalist devices - this is therefore the fundamental idea of the Fábrica. Because the Fábrica is doomed to be illegal, private enterprise is also the legal protection of the territory. Regularly, it is the private company that is required to appear in court and seek to reduce the penalties enacted against the anomalous situation of that place.
But the most difficult role of the private company that manages the factory is to establish selection criteria and timing of artistic proposals that come to us from all sides. And these criteria are what are less obvious. How can someone refuse a concert or an exhibition, precisely within a territory of common property? But that is where the line for the survival of the factory has to be drawn. Our choices define our identity. But, since we have not received any grants, we can’t give us the luxury of having criteria of identity too. We do not seek to create a style book. Our criteria are a balance between our desire to put more emphasis on the artists we most admire, and the need to ensure public for these artists. Without these criteria Fábrica would not be attractive to people who support it financially, that is, those who pay the ticket and consume in our bar. There is necessarily a "commercial" purpose that inspires some of our criteria. We can’t repeat too often concerts that invariably don’t attract audiences.
These criteria are less restrictive in the field of exhibitions. Because the people who visit them, also come to the concerts, the bookshop, bar, or simply to other concurrent exhibitions, it is impossible to establish an equation between the content of what is presented and its reception by the public. But that does not free us of the difficulty of selection. Rather, because the exhibitions have a greater impact than the concerts (we have seven exhibitions per month, while the concerts are usually 50 or 60 in one month), and because they also represent follow-up of artists in the process of finalizing their work, each piece expresses a commitment much more intimate than the one that exists with the musical bands. Most of the time used in programming, both with musicians and artists, is spent in the analysis of their proposals and discussing criteria we invoke for their exclusion or inclusion. As with the musicians who come to us, the artists who show their portfolios are realizing that our judgments of taste have several grounds. Firstly, a certain rebellion against the canonical institutions, like museums and art galleries. But there are other criteria that guide the construction of our exhibition schedule. Because we have several rooms presenting works, we try that in each month people can access different aesthetic registers simultaneously. Put side by side, video installations, objects of design, painting, sculpture, drawing and often graffiti. Authors are defined by almost contrast conditions. In nearly 300 exhibitions already held, we have received particularly Portuguese artists. But we have done artistic residencies with people coming from Germany, France, Poland, Italy, England or the United States. Rare are those who do not have a professional relationship with the works they create. Since graduates of art schools (especially ArCo, Faculty of Fine Arts Faculty of Lisbon or Lisbon Architecture) to teachers of those schools.
Visits to our online catalogs, significantly, are more numerous after the exhibition had been dismantled. It shows that our archive of photos and texts of works on exhibition, is recognized as an asset useful as a form of parallel access to a panorama of contemporary art in Portugal. This is perhaps the most striking dimension of the factory: the collective memory of free access. Our site retains all the weekly programs of the last three years. It tells not only the history of alternative music from the beginning of XXI century in Portugal, as a large part of artistic creation in the fields of fine arts. Both in the field of jazz as pop / rock, or even the worldmusic of fado, any visit to the online collection of our newsletters directly leads to the greatest national encyclopedia of bands ever made. Sporadic and occasional, or with a technique of high-fidelity, hundreds of concerts at the Fábrica are now available on the Internet. Some of the recordings were made during the first months of existence, sometimes with mobile phone cameras, which record the concert and, almost greedily, also the atmosphere, the decor of the room. And in all these recordings, which grow every day on the internet, it turns out that whoever recorded these discrete images of a concert is experiencing something unique and absolutely contingent. It can be said that the existence of the Fábrica is much more virtual. The number of entries on the Factory in Google (blogs that tell small stories about the Factory record diary, sites that advertise events, news in newspapers) and the hundreds of small and large video circulating the internet infinitely exceed the small reality material of everyday life. There is a paradox in this metaphysical disproportion between cause and effect. All the remains of Fábrica Braço de Prata have a much greater reality than what caused it.