Just across the Tagus River from Lisbon is an expansive, derelict, historic industrial estate in the small fishing town of Barreiro, Portugal. To artists Tim Ralston and Diana Cerevino, it was a goldmine. The couple founded PADA Studios in 2018, and within two years, they have presented over a dozen exhibitions, and over 100 artists have participated in the residency. Its unique location within the industrial park, as well as quick access to central Lisbon via ferry, provides a wealth of local inspiration and resources along with access to major museums and galleries. Their vision for PADA places emphasis on connection and collaboration across practices and organizations.
Dovetail: What was the inspiration for starting a residency?
PADA: Starting a residency had already been on the radar for both of us individually. Then almost from the moment we met, we started to discuss how it could change our lives. The inspiration was to move away from London, to find bigger, better, cheaper studios, and to be able to focus more on making art. We knew that making this move could be isolating and therefore we wanted to find a space where others could join us. The residency grew from this idea. We targeted Lisbon, and in 2017 we travelled a lot around Portugal, and in particular the area in the south of Lisbon, where Diana grew up.
Dovetail: How did you find the industrial estate in Barreiro?
PADA: We got a pointer from a friend in Lisbon about Baía do Tejo, which is a series of industrial estates on the south bay of the river Tagus, and we decided to explore. The industrial park we found in Barreiro is really special, and instantly we saw the potential. Huge spaces, great facilities and a unique history. Barreiro is also well placed: close to the center of Lisbon, but just enough off the tourist path that it is quiet and very typically Portuguese.
It’s hard to explain the site. Half of it is abandoned ruins of heavy industry, and the other half, which was originally textiles, is now small companies, fabricators, mechanics, and a few artist studios. There are also five archives that document the history of the site, especially during the dictatorship when Alfredo da Silva formed Companhia União Fabril (CUF) the company that turned Barreiro from a fishing village into a huge industrial power.
Dovetail: What do you like most about Barreiro as the location for PADA?
PADA: Barreiro is a hidden gem. We are only 20 minutes from the center of Lisbon but the town feels like a fishing village. It is off the tourist path, the streets are quiet, and the bars are cheap. Sitting in a bar on the riverside at sunset is great, and the view of Lisbon is pretty unbeatable. But what makes the residency unique is Baía do Tejo’s industrial park. The site is a microcosm of industrial history in the 20th century, and a lot of the factories, machinery and infrastructure are still here to explore.
Dovetail: How long did it take you to get the project up and running since securing the warehouse that you use?
PADA: The span of time between finding the warehouse to the start of the first residency was just under a year. We really didn’t hang around when we found the space. The studio space was structurally good, and so we just needed to make some tweaks for studio layouts and to create the gallery space. We also put in better lighting and installed a good industrial kitchen. The accommodation was a little more testing: we renovated and furnished two cottages with six bedrooms — that’s a lot of bedding and towels!
Dovetail: When did your first residency happen?
PADA: In late 2018 we had a soft launch from August until December, working at half occupancy and inviting artist friends out. We asked them to test the space and facilities. It was a really vital process to get good feedback and for us to learn how to structure each residency, and how people would use the space. The first full-on residency was in January 2019 and we proceeded to do 11 back to back residencies, finishing December 2019.
Dovetail: As you’ve been up and running for over a year now and have consistently had residents through over that time, how do you feel it’s going so far?
PADA: We couldn’t be happier with the first year. PADA has become so much more than we could have expected. We have worked hard, learned so much and met so many artists from all over the world. The industrial park has become our home and we are slowly being joined by other projects, and by Portuguese as well as some international artists moving to this side of the river.
Dovetail: Are you doing anything differently now than what you initially thought or expected you might do?
PADA: I would say that for the first six months we had our heads down, working flat out. We weren’t really able to step back. When we did, we realized that we needed to delegate more. It is so easy to ignore delegation and plough on, but as we have asked for help from others we have seen the residency and gallery grow even even more quickly.
Dovetail: You maintain a really collaborative approach, especially with Turps alternative painting school in London. How important is this collaboration and connectedness for you? How does it influence the program?
PADA: To collaborate with other similar projects was a key goal for us from the start, to share experience, networks and energy. Turps Banana in particular were an inspiration and their approach to peer led learning within the studio environment influenced how we built PADA. Connections locally are also important and we have been able to connect with local small businesses, makers and fabricators, and other artists. At PADA we have six long term studios for local artists. This has the dual aim of connecting visiting international artists to the local scene, but also exposing local artists to wider networks.
Dovetail: As practicing artists, how do you balance your own work with the activities of the residency? Have you learned anything over time that has helped to make this balance more sustainable?
PADA: Honestly we have struggled to make work in the first year. We have invested so much in PADA that it has occupied us day and night, really. But we always knew that the set up would be like this, and we’re happy to put our individual practices on the back burner for a bit. This year ahead we are hopefully in a position to learn from last year, to take on help and find a better balance where we can get time to make our own work as well. Looking back at the first year of residencies, I think we have both learned so much from the experience personally as well, that we are excited to take in to the studio.
Dovetail: You’ve gotten to know people who are involved in the historic industrial estate, as well as other businesses and initiatives in the region, and have encouraged artists in residence to make use of a wealth of local resources. How do these connections influence the activities at PADA?
PADA: The industrial park has such a rich history. Within the park, archives document all aspects of local history, industrial and political history as well as archives of the de Mello family and the ports of Lisbon. The park has two on-site historians who have excellent knowledge of the archives, and offer guidance for the artists. As well as this access to the archives, there is a lot of history still standing to explore. We have access to the abandoned CIN paint factory to create interventions and install artwork, and on the north side of the park there is a wealth of ruins, old machinery, and industrial detritus for artists to explore, salvage and use. This history informs so much of what we do at PADA and the site really rewards artists open to engaging with the history or the industrial aspects of production and craft.
Dovetail: Do you find that Barreiro is changing or attracting more creative business or development as Lisbon is experiencing major growth, with many artists needing to move studios to more affordable areas?
PADA: Not a great deal, but I think the attitude is shifting. Barreiro is on the radar, and we hope that slowly a small creative community can redefine the industrial park. There are definitely more people in the Lisbon art community looking this way. We are at a crossroads regarding how the site may develop and we are hopeful that our example will encourage the site to be used for cultural activities that work alongside and complement the industrial history. There are big plans for the area with new bridges and airports, so we hope that this will be a positive for the area.
Dovetail: Has there been a moment that was really rewarding or took you by surprise in any way?
PADA: At the end of our first year in Barreiro we were given the Cultural Award for our work within the community for contributing to developing the arts scene. It was a shock as there are many other great initiatives here in other areas of culture, but we were really honored that our project had been chosen by the local community. We have been focusing internationally quite a lot, but were always really keen to situate the project within Barreiro as a way to encourage the arts here also.
On the residency it is always rewarding to see how productive people are during their time in the studio. We had an aim to provide excellent facilities for artists so they were able to spend an intensive period in production. But we are still surprised when 2 weeks into the residency, every studio looks like they have been here for months.
Dovetail: Have there been any challenges or things you’ve been working toward that you’d like to see happen in future?
PADA: The abandoned CIN paint factory is an amazing facility for us to use as artists. It is a playground for interventions and an amazing backdrop for work. We would like to consolidate this and guarantee it as a site for art. We have already installed a number of permanent works here but would like to open it in the future as a sculpture park and exhibition venue. In 2021 we hope the first exhibition will be with Recreational Grounds, a curatorial project in London that I [Tim] run with artist Fiona Grady.
Dovetail: What projects do you have lined up for PADA in 2020?
PADA: This year we will begin curatorial residencies, with two 3 month residencies. This will give the opportunity for a young curator to come to PADA and work alongside the artists in residence as well as work towards an exhibition of their own in the gallery. The first curator Julia Gros has already given the residency a strong focus and we are really looking forward to her show. In September we will again work with Turps Banana, to run a 2 month mentored painting residency. We will also begin work on a similar sculpture residency working with Turps Mass. •
This interview took place prior to the pandemic, in response to which in-person residencies were postponed. They are persevering through enhanced virtual programming and continued emphasis site-specific exhibitions, which are shared online. PADA Studios opens up residency applications on a rolling basis at padastudios.com.
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