Lisbon Street Art Tribute to Pessoa

Photo Credit: Joao Pina for The New York Times

Photo Credit: Joao Pina for The New York Times

The New York Times just published a fine article about the dilemma facing Portugal that a collection of the famed Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s papers might be sold and leave the country. What drew me to the article was the fact that it was on Pessoa, for whose work I have a great appreciation, but what brings me to write about the article here is of course the stencil graffiti illustration used in the piece and its larger significance.

I remember seeing this stencil the last time I was in Lisbon. It made a great impression on me then for the same reasons that bring me to write about it now, but the fact that it is the illustration for this particular article brings it to a new light.

There is a quality in Pessoa’s image being painted on the streets of Lisbon that anchors him to the city in a tactile, visceral way – the same way that he himself is so strongly anchored to the city. He was born in Lisbon in 1888, and lived there for most of life, a virtually unknown writer publishing little of his immense body of work before ultimately dying there in obscurity in 1935. Certain authors have always had an inseparable connection to specific cities. I think of Miller’s writings of Paris, or Hemingway’s fondness for Madrid, and of course Kafka’s embodiment of Prague. To think of these authors and their respective cities is to imagine their image cast against the physical streets of the city. In Lisbon, someone has literally done just that, and The Times acknowledges this testimony of individual action with their illustration.

As always, I find much larger meaning within this intervention than what is seen the surface. Let’s frame this stencil in the perspective of creating a public tribute to Pessoa in his home city. Imagine the individual who created this stencil decided that he was going to petition the city to create a new public monument to the poet apart from the rather uninspiring one which exists in front of A Brasileira. First, of course – would they have access to the city officials to get the proposal, or letter, even past the first filter given to public correspondence? And, if so, then think of the immense amount of bureaucracy, competitions, commissions… we are now looking at several years of process. And even in an alternate take – if the individual petitioned the local authorities with the desire that not only a public portrait be created, but that the artist put themselves forward as the one that would then create it? Mega-million lotteries hold better odds.

So, instead, in the course of a few hours, the stencil was made, and, most likely, in a few seconds in the middle of the night, the tribute was created – by the people, for the people in a direct creative action. No permissions, no commissions, no waiting.

But what is more, the image itself holds a tragic beauty beyond that of Pessoa himself which resonates with Lisbon. One of my favourite cities by far, Lisbon holds a beautiful if at times sad reminder of its past empirical grandeur. This is found within the portrait of Pessoa himself – his immaculate, stately attire, taken so much for granted at the time, but now a symbol for a past prominence in himself, in his home city, that is more reminder than reality.

Of course Lisbon has found a new confidence in recent years, a renewed vitality that brings the warmth, romance and brilliance it holds within the beauty of its stone-filled city to the surface. And in the stenciled portrait of Pessoa, I find that hope of renewal as well. His gaze looks literally to the street itself, in contemplation. In anticipation.

A staggering beautiful tribute to Pessoa, done fitting tribute by The Times.

World Urban Development Congress

I’m pleased to share the news that I have been invited to deliver a keynote address at the World Urban Development Congress in Riga, Latvia this October.

I’ll be addressing the congress on the development of creative urban environments – should be an interesting session, considering that my definition of what makes an urban environment creative challenges a lot of the usual notions. But I guess that’s why I’m there.

Joining me as keynote speakers at the congress will be Rem Koolhaas OMA, Charles Landry, Janis Dripe, chief architect of Riga City, and the economist Robert C. Kloosterman. For a list of the speakers and bios, go here. For more information on the World Urban Development Congress, go here.

New Work From CutUp

Last night CutUp installed their latest batch of work throughout London. For those of you not (yet) familiar with CutUp, they specialize in physically remixing the urban visual, taking down billboards, cutting them up into pixels, and re-installing them to create new images out of the original source material. While my personal favorite medium of their work is large-scale billboards as above, I also enjoy their bus stop hits, where they hack the light box adverts with their own remix. Here, a Spiderman poster takes an unexpected turn:

Most satisfyingly though, last night I got to spend some time with the guys and talk more in-depth about their methods and process. What can I say – I heart CutUp. For more photos, see the flickr set here.

Viktor & Rolf & One Amazing Dollhouse

I attended to the Viktor & Rolf opening last night at the Barbican for one of the following reasons:

A) I decided I don’t spend enough time around supermodels
B) It’s been too long since I’ve spent an evening drinking rose-flavoured vodka cocktails
C) I was invited because of my relationship with Premsela

It was all celeb, glam and paparazzi, dahling, but hugely enjoyable in its own right. Fashion exhibitions are incredibly difficult to pull off, but this one is exceptional. The highlight, obviously, was the insanely huge doll house in the centre of the exhibition. Viktor & Rolf essentially re-created the entire exhibition, which surrounds the dollhouse, in miniature. If you’ve seen their website, this won’t be a surprise, but in the context of the exhibition, it not only added a layer of appreciation to their work, but also created the simple joy of smiling as you enter the space and see something truly fresh and exciting in a show. I really can’t recommend it enough.

However, with my recent time being filled working on Urban Play, I came across one piece in the exhibition that made me pause for a moment and mix wonder and appreciation for where some of their ideas come from:

Mark Jenkins’ “embed” to the left, Viktor & Rolf to the right. Coincidence? Discuss…

At the Ecole Speciale d’Architecture, Paris

At the Ecole Speciale d’Architecture in Paris today as part of the final jury for the architectural design class being taught by my friends Karsten Huneck and Bernd Truempler of Office for Subversive Architecture fame.

As with most student work, there was a healthy range of ideas and varying degrees of talent on offer, but overall it was an fairly impressive selection of new thinking towards architecture by the next gen (well, France’s next gen). One piece that really stuck with me as I was walking around after the day was a project by students Berenice Gaussuin and Clair Tournier.

With a brief to redevelop an old firestation, they presented some impressively polished and well-thought out plans to gut the interior of the firestation and create an organically developing natural space within the building. Their ideas and execution of the project as they presented it reminded me of a lot of the thinking done in the second part of the Shrinking Cities project and even more radical explorations in terms of designing for shrinkage instead of growth in cities. Some nice work coming out of the ESA, guided by OSA. All hail the power of the acronym!

Amsterdam Talk: Hacking Reality

As part of Platform 21‘s excellent Checking Reality program, I have been asked to give a talk on “Hacking Reality” this Friday at their space in Amsterdam, how the virtual world and digital culture is altering our interaction with the real world, in particular in the realm of street art and urban intervention. To read more about my talk, go here.

Friday 6 June, 20 00
Platform 21
Prinses Irenestraat 19
1077 WT Amsterdam

Report Out: Urban Intervention as Design Masterclass

Previously, on…

As I wrote last week, I was an instructor for UQAM’s (University of Quebec in Montreal) Design International Masterclass. My workshop functioned as an creative urban laboratory to explore the objects and areas of the city with a new approach to design and the city: how can shared spaces, objects, visuals and aesthetics be created which invite creative participation by the public?

To say I was pleased with the outcome would be an understatement. For a more visual overview and a play-by-play in French, with a cameo by some of Montreal’s city officials who wanted to get inside the concept a bit more, go here.