Near one of the city’s most important transport hubs is the neighborhood of Sants, from which the train station gets its name. Once an independent village separate from the city of Barcelona, this residential neighborhood has a strong sense of identity due to its industrial root, and is home to what is considered to be one of the longest commercial streets in Europe, the Carrer de Sants.

Because of its rich industrial history, many of its buildings are perfect places for the once-common phenomenon of youth squats which become something like self-managed community centers, hosting all sorts of activities. As they are squats, there often arrives a moment when the building’s official owners decide to take control of the space, which usually means that squatters are asked to leave.

Such was the case of Can Vies, a squat that was established in 1997, and which became an epicenter of all manner of activities, performances and workshops. Its moment in the spotlight came in early 2014 when the building’s owner, the Barcelona Transport Authority decided to demolish the building.

The occupants, as well as others sympathetic to the squatter movement, didn’t take the forced eviction lying down, and the result were some intense days of street protests which made national news, and also spread to other Spanish cities.

The city ultimately decided to cancel the demolition, but not before destroying a good portion of the building, leaving basically ruins and parts of some of the walls. Two of the photos in this post show what remains of the squat, which has become something of a monument to resistance. The Can Vies website is still active, and activities, and plans for reconstruction, still continue.

Another photo is of a mural tribute to Can Vies which is on the previously mentioned Carrer de Sants. Finally, there are some random tidbits I found while wandering the surrounding streets.

Ever since the city council began its crackdown on antisocial behavior in 2006, finding examples of urban art in Barcelona has become increasingly difficult–to the point where nowadays when I go out wandering the city, it’s nearly impossible to find new work outside of the permitted places.

These shots come from one of those morning meanderings through the Raval and the Old City Centre. Finding a silver lining in this situation is about as difficult as the hunt for new art, but if I suppose the scarcity means that it’s much more satisfying when I do find something interesting.

Toward the end of August, as the traditional vacation month was reaching an end, I made my way down to the ever-changing street art site known as the Tres Xemeneies, which has become an outdoor canvas with the blessings of the city council. These can be found near the end of Parallel Avenue, just below the famous Apollo Disco and Theatre, and is hard to miss due to, as the name would suggest, the three huge smokestacks from the old electrical power plant, well-preserved reminders of Barcelona’s industrial past.

It’s now a park, which is more of a concrete than green space. As a result it has attracted its fair share of skaters who are perhaps looking for an alternative to the overcrowded plaza in front of the MACBA. The covered ampitheatre-like structure has been opened up after being fenced off for nearly a year, and has become home to two large murals, as well as a place to lay one’s head.

It seems to change quite frequently and is worth the trip if you don’t want to stray too far from the city center.

During the first week of August, I travelled to the Portuguese capital, as a friend had graciously offered up her flat, and the two cats who live there, for accomodations.

The city was as splendid as I had expected, and not overwhelming for a 4-day stay. I’m not sure if I managed to scale all seven hills, but my urban climbing muscles certainly received a decent workout. I would almost imagine it as a slightly more dilapidated Barcelona, spread out over San Fransisco-like terrain. My use of San Fransisco might possible be influenced by the fact that the old heart of the city has a number of old-time trolleys, if you’re tired of climbing the cobblestoned hills. I actually didn’t use them because they were always packed to the gills.

I did the double decker tour bus (good value for a quick tour and some historical context), but my most enjoyable trip round the city was in one of the hundreds of Tuk Tuks that now sputter their way through the narrow web of streets in the old city centre. The 45 minute tour was 50 euros, and was guided by a cheerful, well-informed university student. He was also quite intuitive, glossing over things like the history of the two or three cathedrals we passed, but making a point to stray off his beaten path and pass by some fantastic street art, particularly some famous pieces which form part of the Lisbon street art tour.

The first mural was a clearly political piece, as our guide explained some of the political heritage of the city, which soon became evident in a lot of the graffiti I spotted throughout the city.

I missed the official street art tour, by the way, but was able to find some of the important landmarks on my own, for example the GAU, or Galeria de Arte Urbana.

Other things not to be missed in Lisbon are the sardinhas assadas and fado–both of which I was able to enjoy in the same outdoor patio, which despite the crowds and the terrible Tripadvisor reviews, I quite enjoyed.

Impermanence is one of the things that most appeals to me about art found on the streets. I can return after a few days, weeks, or months, and find a completely different work of art. There are many people that would lament the damage done to the two images I present today, and I doubt that the person who scratched out the eyes on the stencil of the little girl from C215 had art in mind when he or she acted. Nonetheless, I think we have to accept, or even embrace this proces of decay and regeneration in the creation of a completely new work of art. If we want protected art, we can always go to a museum where the works are mostly (with this recent exception caught on video) protected from accidental and non-accidental damage. I’m not even sure damage is the correct word. Transitional blemishes?

Every August, my neighbourhood of Gràcia celebrates its annual summer festival in which many streets are decorated by the residents, concerts are held and you can find vendors selling everything to homemade soaps and crafts to cheeses and traditional food products. The population of the “barri” goes up by about tenfold and the streets are abuzz from about 10 in the morning until the local police start moving people out of the area around three in the morning.

The pictures you’ll find here are mostly daylight (as the evenings have become nearly impossible to navigate due to the crowds and seas of selfie-sticks being carelessly waved about. There are a few night shots, but only when I was fortunate enough to find a hole in the crowds.

The winner of this year’s contest was no big surprise, Verdi street, which almost always takes the grand “premi”. Verdi’s theme this year was Japan, and it seems the spring cherry blossom festival. Other street themes included Avatar (I think I’m one of three people on earth who’s not part of an uncontacted tribe who hasn’t seen the Cameron blockbuster), the four seasons (“estacions” in Catalan), one street and a plaza devoted to art and artists, a circus theme, sweets and cakes, cornfields, two radioactive waste sites, a virtual zoo (which by the time I arrived had taken quite a beating from both the rain and drunken decoration thieves), and just one protest-oriented street which is quite near my house. The protest street was inspired by the iaioflautas, a protest group who, despite their age,are one of the most active when there are street demonstrations anywhere in Spain. Another spectacular street was dedicated to the Moulin Rouge, complete with a large-scale model of the Eiffel Tower, which was cordoned off later in the week as its base began to give way.

This event is one of my favourites of the year, though it seems to be rapidly outgrowing the neighbourhood, as the number of tourists visiting Barcelona continues to grow exponentially.

You’ll note that the gallery this year is huge, so I’ve placed it after the text. It’s actually a pared-down version of what’s on my memory card. I just didn’t want to leave anyone out.

One of the drawbacks to living in a beautiful Mediterranean city nestled between mountain and sea is that we have a bit of a microclimate, which is, generally, quite mild most of the year. Having said that, summers in Barcelona can be quite stifling in terms of heat and humidity, and this past July was no exception.

Like many people in Europe, my home lacks air conditioning, and I spend most of these humid nights with every possible door open, waiting for a stray breeze. I have a small fan, but even at full capacity it can’t manage to cut through the 80 per cent humidity–at nearly 2 am. A result of all this is that I generally haven’t been sleeping as well, and one of the side effects that I suffer when I’m not fully rested, are floaters–those pesky spots that swim in and out of your field of vision all day long. Closing your eyes only makes them even clearer.

I thought of this when I found these two images, very similar, and about a month apart. I’m not sure if the spots were from the original artist, or later added, nor am I sure if this is actually the same location, but I feel like someone placed them there with me, or my sleep-deprived field of vision in mind.

Over the last week or so, an army of small, simple figures have descended upon the neighbourhood of Gràcia. Many of them are decorated with hearts, ladders and euro symbols. After I placed a few of them on my instagram feed, a commentor informed me that they are the work of an Italian artist called exit enter. There isn’t much information, but after a bit of digging I managed to find a Pinterest board and a newspaper article/interview. From what I’ve been able to gather thanks to Chrome translate, the childlike simplicity of the work is far from accidental, and fits in very well with a message that seems highly critical of the frenetic, information-saturated, tech-dependent world. The balloons and ladders can provide us a means of escape to childlike lightness, an exit from the Huxley-esque dystopia of facebook feeds, twitter timelines and multi-tab web browsing.

Thanks for stopping by, Exit Enter, and I hope this isn’t your first visit to Barcelona.

Ada Colau

Ada Colau

Manuela Carmena

Manuela Carmena

This past 24 of May, autonomous communities and municipalities all over the Spanish state held elections. The excitement and anticipation were more than I’ve ever seen, and it actually seemed that many people really felt the importance and impact of their vote–something rare these days. The reason for this is the disillusion generated by the two main parties, the Partido Popular (center-right neo-liberal party) and the PSOE (center left, literally Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) and the CiU (the now-separate Center-right coalition of the Democratic Convergence Party of Catalonia and Democratic Union of Catalonia) here in Catalonia–which stems from numerous corruption cases and a general perception disregard for their constituents.

The problem, until the 24 of May, was the lack of alternatives. In this last election, the anger which took root in the 15M movement as well as other social activism finally took shape in parties like Podemos, Barcelona en Comú (formerly Guanyem–we win), and Ahora Madrid.

Despite the media and their polls favoring the traditional parties, the new upstarts made an impressive showing, most notably in Spain’s two largest cities, Barcelona and the capital, Madrid.

In Madrid, the candidate from Ahora Madrid, Manuela Carmena, was able to take the mayorship from career politician and aristocrat Esperanza Aguirre, through a left-wing coalition.

Similarly in Barcelona, Ada Colau, best known for her activist work with the anti-eviction group PAH, was elected mayor, unseating incumbent and big-party favorite Xavier Trias of CiU.

Here you find two stenciled portraits which recently popped up in Gràcia.

Whether the change referred to in the title of this post will extend beyond the initial election results remains to be seen…

2015-06-25 12.54.15

Just to the north of one of my favourite squares in all of Barcelona, the plaça de la Virreina, we find this larger-than-life image of the character Walter White, the main character in the immensely popular Breaking Bad. This image is the work of axe colours. I wish i had more to say about this series that wasn’t second-hand, but I haven’t had the opportunity to see even a single episode The reason is pretty much the same as the reason I haven’t updated this blog as much as I would like over the last few months.

Changes in my work and free time habits have provoked an inexcusable neglect of my little project here, one which I’m hoping to resolve between this summer and the next academic year. I also hope to be able to catch up on films and tv series, as I’m woefully behind on that aspect of pop culture.


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