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Casa Artistica - Artist Center

Project: Artist/Cultural Center - all foto's Copyright © Casa Artistica
Adress: Rua de Lavadeiras



About the project:

Recovering old houses in Olhão is also discovering treasures

From Barlavento by Bruno Filipe Pires - March 26, 2017

Alexandra Gonin sold her apartment in Paris to buy the former residence of the Cocco family, on Rua das Lavadeiras, in Olhão. Actress and classical dancer, she promises to recover the building, little by little, with her own hands. «The artistic house» will be a cultural center open to the community. For now, it has also saved a forgotten memory of the city's history.


“In May of last year, I wanted to bring my mother on vacation to a place that was spectacular. The idea was to visit several places, from Faro to Spain». It didn't go very far. «We spent a few weeks here in Olhão, and I can say that I fell in love right away», begins by saying Alexandra Gonin, 49, a former dancer at the Paris Opera. So, «I saw some small houses for sale, but on the last day, before returning, someone showed us this incredible building from 1923. As soon as I arrived, I sold my apartment and called to say that I wanted to buy it», she says.

“I always had the idea of ​​one day creating a residency for artists, but I didn't think I could go that fast,” she admitted. With a recognized career in her country, Alexandra Gonin has a large network in the French cultural universe, which she wants, soon, to challenge herself to get to know Olhão. She thus became an unexpected ambassador for the city. “Actors, painters, singers, writers, I know a lot of creative people from all over Europe. I would love for you to come here, and be able to work on an artist residency», preferably, «that you can share with the community».


On Friday, March 10th, she opened the first group show on the ground floor, a former workspace. The walls are bare and the conditions are minimal, but there is an energy that also seems to be part of the building. Anyone passing by takes a look, and there are those who dare to enter to see the paintings that depict interiors. Mostly from houses like this one. Energetic, Alexandra Gonin continues to explain the project. «I don't know much about the life of the Cocco family, but we are going to try to make a small book with old photographs and also to tell about the conservation and restoration process. There, at the entrance, we want to have a mural where we can have memories of what is being done here. For example, if an author one day writes a poem here, we want it to be available for anyone who wants to read or buy it. If we have a musician who comes here to record songs, or a concert, we want to have the recording. Who was here and did what », she describes her with enthusiasm.

Referring to the Cocco family, “they built it and were very happy to have bought it. It was a concern, as they didn't want it to be demolished to make way for yet another featureless, cold building. «They are fantastic people, in fact, they gave me much more than their house. They also gave me a story that conserves to be shared”, she promises. The space had several uses, it was rented, had commerce and served as a warehouse. Even so, a few cans of preserves with the name of the Italian family remained. “They are fantastic. When we first came here, there was no electricity and everything was dark. My flashlight bounced off the cans and I thought, My God, they're beautiful!” she jokes. «When I called to buy the house, that was one of the requests I made: I want it as it is, and with everything that is there». The agreement was fulfilled.


Ballerina and quarry

“I didn't have time to do tourism. I fell in love with the house, the city, met some people and made my decision », she says. She did not worry about the task of restoring the centenary building, because despite being a classical dancer, she has already restored «alone seven old houses, throughout her life. It had to be. I started with a small studio and then moved on to larger ones», sometimes depending on the needs of family life. “Some because they were closer to my children's school, others because they really needed someone to lend them a hand. But the truth is, each one was bigger than the one before. It's a matter of motivation. In fact, dancing Swan Lake is not that different », she jokes.


And since there's talk of ballet, Gonin plans to teach at his new residence. «My first idea was to teach in a place where there was sun. I looked at the map of Europe and came further and further south. For me, another requirement was the environmental issue. Here, luckily, we don't have nuclear power stations or petrochemical industry», which put Andalusia out of the question. The other side of the Algarve «also doesn't, because I did a lot of research. I had heard a lot about tourism and I know that the west side is full of modern construction. I didn't want any of that”, she stresses. She had already passed through Sintra, 10 years ago, during the shooting of a film. At the time, she bought a tile panel at the Alfama market. “I never found a decent place to put them. will be in this house, for sure», he guarantees.


Gonin has a small annex, which, in the past, would have served the caretakers, so you won't lack privacy when receiving your guests. “I've already realized that there's a lot I can do besides dance classes. There are other teachers in the city who can also come here to teach yoga classes, for example». Despite the quick start, the Frenchwoman is in no hurry to finish. “It will not be a project to make money. Anyone who wants to do exhibitions here, just help me pay for electricity. Only that. This is not my personal project. It's something to share. I hope that people will come and find something interesting to contemplate, and that they can feel touched by the art», he concludes.


Italians in the Algarve

«From what I could understand, at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century, several Italian families came to Portugal», linked to the salting of tuna and sardines. In Vila Real de Santo António and Olhão, olive oil and sauce canning factories were born, either by independent initiatives or by foreign branches.


«From the beginning of the First World War until the end of the conflict that followed, it was the height of canned food in Portugal. Everyone produced and exported», says Victor Vicente. In fact, the Fototeca de Lagos has published a curious photograph. It is the record of a marriage in 1924, of a Sicilian family, from Marettimo, who settled in Lagos at the beginning of the last century. The caption is a bit complicated to interpret, but it identifies Salvatore Cocco (cousin of Paolo Cocco, the man who was responsible, among other things, for the construction of the Cine-Teatro Império de Lagos), father of Giuseppe Cocco, a nonagenarian who still lives in look.

New artist center

Alexandra Gonin is renovating the house with the aim of starting an artists' center. The idea could not have come at a better time, as Olhão has been gaining more and more popularity in the cultural milieu, especially with the foreign community. Despite being at a very early stage, it already welcomes an informal exhibition by the collective «The Olhão Artist Initiative», with works by Justine Albronda, Piers de Laszlo, Meinke Flesseman, Jeffrey Gaylord Carter, Edwin Hagendoorn, Paulo Gago, Cecilia Persson Carter, Paulo Serra, Jill Stott, Diederik Vermeulen, and Antonia Williams. Gonin is a sculptor and is also the model for several artistic photographs taken in the house.

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