Archives for category: street art Ciutat Vella

The last few months have been turbulent ones here in Catalonia, and it’s been nearly impossible not to get caught up in the action, hence the lack of publications during this time.

While the independence issue has been at the forefront for the last 7 years or so, since the Spanish government moved to decimate the “estatut” agreement which gave the Catalans more autonomy, and recognition of their cultural identity, it’s only this summer that things really began to heat up.

The president of Catalonia since 2015, Carles Puigdemont is a lifelong believer in the independence movement, in contrast to his predecessor Artur Mas, who was a fairly recent convert. In June, Puigdemont and the independence-minded majority of the Parliament decided to fulfill their election promise and call a binding referendum on the declaration of an independent Catalan Republic. There had been a vote in November of 2014, but it was largely symbolic, and mostly ignored by Madrid. This time, however, Madrid started using every weapon in its arsenal to prevent the referendum, which was slated for the 1st of October.

Over the summer, there was much back-and-forth between Madrid and Barcelona, which culminated in Spanish Civil Guard (paramilitary police, which evoke images for the Franco dictatorship for many) forcing their way into various Catalan government offices, in search of referendum-related materials. This was accompanied by the takedown (and re-birth) of referendum websites, the prohibition of referendum advertising on Catalan public media. There was also police intervention in public meetings to discuss the referendum. Needless to say, none of this sat well with the Catalan people, and massive street demonstrations, beginning on the 20th of September resulted in the imprisonment, without bail or trial, of two leading independence activists known as the “Jordis” for their share first name, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez.

Adding more fuel to the fire, the Spanish government decided to deploy 18,000 National riot police officers and Civil Guard, who were put up in cruise ships near the port.

The days leading up to the referendum were about as tense as I can remember having experienced since coming to live here, with all manner of threats being lobbed from Madrid toward Catalan leaders, citizens and media. The evening before the vote, people occupied the schools where the voting was to take place, organizing games, classes, workshops, and other activities to pass the time, and protect their polling places. The morning of the 1st was a rainy one, but people began to gather outside polling stations before sunrise, waiting to cast their votes, under the constant threat that the police moored at the port could appear at any time. The police did appear at some polling places, and exercised the restraint one would expect from a saber-rattling Madrid–some reports cite nearly 1000 injured, while others claim numbers in the single digits. The photo and video evidence which is abundant online seems to support the former numbers.

During these last few months, the citizen mobilization in the streets has been an impressive exercise in democracy which, whatever one’s feelings might be on the independence issue, has been unique for its lack of violence. A big part of those mobilizations has been the amount of postering and wheatpasting that has been done all over the city. As a street art blog, I felt it necessary to document some of it for you.

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The majority of the shots in this post (including the first-ever shot of myself) are the work of the urban pop artist TVBOY. They are part of a series of famous artists from the past with touches of the present, including a Frida Kahlo Iphone selfie–the shot in which I couldn’t resist joining the famous Mexican artist for a rare narcissistic arm’s length self-portrait. The shot of Serge Gainsbourg comes from the artist Valerie Maho, and the great Muhammad Ali in stencil was created by RAF Urban. The other image (from sm172) which I’ve included is a darker reflection on our pop-selfie culture and is a statement on the voyeuristic bystander syndrome which seems to be a side effect of all of us being able to record and photograph all that we see, while forgetting to experience it, or get involved when necessary.

Today’s shots come from the free walls at Tres Xemeneies, near Avinguda Paral·lel, some random wanderings through the neighbouring Raval, and a new location (at least for me): the Jardins de Walter Benjamin, which are just near the Port, and mark the last frontier before the city gives way to Montjuic Park. As suggested in the title, the “gardens” themselves are nothing to marvel at, but the walls, which separate them from the playground of a local school, are the main attraction.

The Raval was full of tributes to famous faces, among them Debbie Harry, Kafka, Dennis Rodman, the late Prince, Jesus Christ (by artist sm172), and Football Club Barcelona’s favourite tax-dodging wunderkind, Neymar Jr.

As my geo-tagging feature on my camera app has become a bit unpredictable with the latest android update, my locations aren’t quite a precise as before. That said, a good wander round the Raval/Poble Sec area does a body good!

 

Longtime readers may remember a post from just over two years ago which featured an outdoor public art installation called the Galeria de la Magda. It wasfound just at the end of the Via Laetana at the corner of an empty lot. As rumors of a new real estate/property bubble loom and rents being to rise once again, the walls of this lot have been fenced off by what looks like the typical materials of a construction project. It is in a prime area of town, just between the old city centre and the beach, so I’m actually quite surprised the lot remained empty for as long as it did. A bit sad, but in a vibrant, international city like Barcelona, the only thing that’s really constant is change.  There was a bit of wall left outside the fenced-in area where artists such as sm 172 have used the space to artistically air their grievances.

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As cathedrals go in Barcelona, the undisputed champion would be, of course, the Sagrada Familia. You won’t find any pictures of it here, not because I don’t love it, but because a google search will yield hundreds of thousands of photos that would be much better taken than anything I could manage with my modest mobile photography skills. But I digress…

There are a number of other cathedrals worth checking out, most notably the Cathedral of Barcelona and the bustling plaza which surrounds it. My favourite, however, is in the Born neighbourhood, and a bit closer to the sea, hence the name: Santa Maria del Mar. I won’t post any pictures either, as I would hardly do it justice–but I definitely recommend it.

While you’re there, after you’ve marveled at majestic Basilica, take a turn onto a small side street called Mirallers, marked on the map here, and start walking along this street till the end. You should also be careful not to miss the surrounding streets, especially carrer d’en Rosic and carrer de Grunyí. Be on the lookout for some of the huge, old doors that have been covered in stickers, pasteups and all different sorts of images. With all signs pointing to the disappearance of the Galeria Magdalena to make room for a new construction project, this may be one of the only outdoor galleries we have left, aside from the free walls.

 

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.

Sweet spot in doorway chaos

While I was searching for different doorways to make up my recent post on door projects, I stumbled upon this from Alice Pasquini. I see from her facebook page that she’s been doing a lot of mural projects in the NY/Jersey City area, which are my old pre-Barcelona stomping grounds. I can only hope some of them survive until I make my yearly Christmas pilgrimage back to the East Coast. And that the notoriously fickle Northeast winter is kind to me, at least for half a morning.

I generally enjoy focusing on close-ups in order to capture the most detail possible of smaller images, but as I take more and more photos of bigger murals, I find my attitude changing a bit. Last week I decided to retrace my steps and take some wider angle shots. If you’ve been a loyal reader of this blog you will certainly recognize some of the images from previous posts. By capturing the entire door or wall, it puts the images in a sort of context.
As a sometime translator I know the importance of context in understanding a message, and I don’t see why the case of street art should be any different. In fact, as the context is constantly changing, perhaps it’s even more important, and perhaps can change the meaning of each of the little pieces as the collage evolves. I don’t know if the artists have this in mind as they work, but it’s something that has changed the way I appreciate the urban art landscape.

One of the teachers who had the most impact on me in my years as a university student was Ilja Wachs, who taught a course on 19th century fiction. He was a chain-smoker, constantly bumming cigarettes from me during our bi-weekly conferences in his office where we would talk about the personal project work I was doing in addition to the class assignments.
My project second term was the novel The Brothers Karamazov, which I dutifully read and prepared a well-detailed outline which would culminate in an analysis of the main character’s motivations as well as his relationship with the world around him, careful to include details from the novel, to show that I’d really read the book. After I’d presented my outline, Ilja stubbed his cigarette out on the sole of his shoe, took my 5 page pre-magnum opus and tore it into little pieces over his tiny, grey wastebasket, overflowing with small coffee cups and what I can only imagine were the outlines of my classmates.
“That’s bullshit,” he told me. “Go back and read it again. And re-read it. You’ll find something new every time. Then we can REALLY talk about this book.” So I did re-read it. Not twice, but 1 1/2 times. And some passages dozens of times. Which is pretty good considering the number of books I’d bought and never opened. And he was right. The re-read always revealed something new, as if Doestoevsky had secretly changed something around while the book sat on my desk between reads. The paper that I wrote is long lost, but still remains one of the most meaningful pieces of work I’ve ever done in my life. Without an outline and not a single citation of the text. Just my impressions as I strolled, and re-strolled the side streets and alleys carved out by Dostoyevsky.
In case you’re interested, here’s a video of Ilja in action.
I try to take the same approach when I walk through the streets looking for my shots. Barcelona is geographically a small city, so the possibilities of finding completely new images every trip through are finite. As I’ve stated in previous entries and in my “about” page, part of my objective in this blog is also to re-visit certain favourite places and watch them change with time, an opportunity we don’t have in a museum with their scolding security guards and multi-million-dollar works protected by glass and laser alarms.
Here are a few re-visit shots, in various states of flux and decay.

As always happens when I make one of my morning downtown treks, I went looking for a few specific shots I had seen on various blogs and newsfeeds, and ended up with about 15-20 blog-worthy shots. I had initially gone out looking for new work by the artist Alice Pasquini and of course they came in bits and pieces, spread out around different surfaces in the labyrinth of the old city centre. I’m proud to say that even after nine years in Barcelona, I still frequently get completely lost within these winding streets, the sun blocked by hanging laundry, my path often dotted with puddles of water from the early-morning high-pressure hose crews, unmistakeable in their knee-high rubber boots and thick green aprons. To be lost among all of this, with the soundtrack of the beeping of delivery vans jolting into reverse and neighbours holding conversations out their open windows is a pleasure, albeit a brief one as I eventually come to a rambla (of the Raval or THE Rambles) or an iconic street like carrer Hospital or Ronda Sant Antoni. Maybe the fact that Barcelona is a city where someone can lose themselves so easily even after living in it so long is one of the reasons I still choose to stay. And of course, all the spectacular shots that I snap in my moments of disorientation simply add to the fun.