Photographing heritage

Porto has a very special photographer: Luís Ferreira Alves is dedicated to capturing Porto’s spirit through its architectural heritage. As much as to the city’s historical landmarks, his architectural photography focuses to the more contemporary built legacy created by protagonists of the Porto School of Architecture.

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They actually seem to be the reason why Luís Ferreira Alves dedicated to the architectural photography in the early 1980s, after some soul searching in the area of experimental film and amateur photography. At that time, he helped out a friend who needed photos of his project for an exhibition, and after it was presented at the Faculty of Architecture, interest was raised among architects and commissions followed. Alves then made a risky move: he abandoned his permanent job to dedicate completely to architectural photography.

It turned out the right choice.

Now we know him best through beautiful photos capturing his city and its heritage, like the ones that embellish the recently reissued luxury album Sentimento do Porto. But there is one more curiosity about this author: he specializes in exposing the process of heritage transformation through photographing restoration works. These are far beyond the documents testifying of the works done in the project dossiers, they make one rethink heritage and see it more clearly as a living thing, with a potential to change and adapt to the present times.

This gives visibility to the hidden layers of the monuments’ and the city’s history that often remain inaccessible and overlooked, and (here I borrow the spot-on expression of Pedro Bandeira), helps demystifying heritage that comprises a significant part of our surroundings and daily lives.

My “discovery” of Luís Ferreira Alves comes just on time to share the news of an exhibition that is about to be open in Porto: “Nasoni – Regressos” is about the restoration works on the city’s symbol – the Clérigos church. The opening is on April 21st, 2016, in MMIPO (Museu da Misericórdia do Porto). No need to mention the name of the author!

Details on the exhibition are here.

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The Light of Lisbon

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There is something special about the light of Lisbon, something magical and inexplicable that has always enchanted artists, writers, poets, ordinary Lisboetas … as well as the rest of us who have been visiting the city. But how to explore, grasp and understand that magic (without killing the charm), how to explain and present such a complex, subtle, intangible feature in a museum?

An excellent (and still ongoing) exhibition, “The Light of Lisbon”, was created this summer, based on love for Lisbon and an combined artistic and scientific approach to the phenomenon of light. As such an unusual exhibition theme requires unusual collaborators, one of the curators was a physics professor, while another came from the area of film and cinema. The space: western tower of Terreiro de Paço, recently acquired from the military authorities and converted for cultural purposes, overlooking the Tagus river and the main city square.

The exhibition cannot be put neither in a scientific nor in an artistic box: actually, the secret might be in the fact that the rational, emotional and the experiential side to the exhibition worked so well together. All my senses were captivated! Pieces of art from the Museum of Lisbon collection (some of them have never been displayed before), poetry that could be listened to, the museum space with windows wide open, letting the view gaze towards the cityscape at times and the very light in question pour in, all that acted in a synergy. Light is a dynamic and changing phenomenon – wonderful timelapses from the very museum roof and the films displayed capture that very well.

And so, it is proven: the materials Lisbon is built of, the colours of its façades, frequent winds that clear out the air, the number of sunny hours, topography, reflections from the water surface, and the interplay of so many other factors have their role in enabling the particular Lisbon light. There are many complex but measurable features to it! Still, for science there always remains an inexplicable bit. As “The Light of Lisbon” shows, its magic and its sense can only be grasped and transmitted completely by bringing art, intuition and experience into play.

Photo credit: Nuno Cera, 2008

Between ephemeral and eternal: the stone caravel

Here we are in the Lisbon’s district of Belem, approaching the white tower, built exactly 500 years ago to defend the Tagus estuary. The concrete jungle and asphalt rivers of Lisbon coexist with the serene park and the breezy walkway along the Tagus (Tejo) shore, just a few dozen meters away.

The wide river promenade was once a setting for an important exhibition: “Portuguese World Fair” took place there in 1940, just at the time when the rest of Europe … well, had other things in mind.

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At the starting point, in front of the Belem tower, an unfocused gaze quickly centers at a stone caravel: this is the area from where Portuguese ships departed to explore the unknown continents, back in the epoch of discoveries and glory. The Monument to Discoveries was built on the occasion of the mentioned Fair: Henry the Navigator and many other famous Portuguese of those times are sculpted in stone, with heroic expressions and brave postures, reflecting also romanticization of the epoch and its admiration by the then regime.

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However, the structure we see now is not the original one: the monument designed by the architect Cotinelli Telmo in 1940 was not meant to last at all. Like most other exhibits for the Portuguese World Fair, it was conceived as an ephemeral structure of metal support and gypsum coating, to last one summer. And so it was, after a while, in 1943, the monument was demolished, though some politicians found it a very powerful symbol of the nation’s aspirations and wanted to keep it.

There is evidence that the architect himself was against its reconstruction (however, I couldn’t find more details on that issue). But, he didn’t live to see it reconstructed. In 1948, he died after an accident – while fishing, he was dragged by a wave that crashed him against a rock.

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All the others thought reconstructing the monument would be great, once the idea was revived in the late 1950s.

And so, in 1960 (on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death), it was rebuilt in concrete, dressed with stone, and given some extra functions: exhibition space, auditorium and a viewing terrace on top, to become one of the most visited sites in Lisbon of today. The square in front was decorated with a marble wind rose and a world map depicting Portuguese discoveries, a present from South Africa.

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In fact, the history of the monument is all about the political decisions, that made possible both creation of the first, ephemeral one, and building of the present structure, revived in stone. Outliving the poor architect and the Salazar’s regime too, the monument is today symbolizing pride of the glorious Portuguese 15th and 16th centuries. And more universally,  facing the unknown and making the world change.

Many Portuguese, not to mention foreign tourists, don’t know the above facts. I am happy to have found out this story in an exhibition on life and work of Cotinelli Telmo, that has just ended in the very monument’s exhibition space.

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Photo credits: 1st – from the 1960 brochure issued on the occasion of the monument opening.

Source: http://www.padraodosdescobrimentos.pt/wp-content/uploads/Doc1.pdf?6f4ee7

The rest of the photos – JS.

A day in Barcelos.

Barcelos is overwhelmed with roosters of all sizes and materials: being the symbol of Portugal, they are of even greater importance for this city’s identity, since here is where the legend of the rooster coming alive to proof injustice is directly linked to. There is even an interpretation center dedicated to the famous “galo”. However, without some prior research, a visitor cannot grasp all the stories from Barcelos’ past. For example, next to the ruins of the palace that belonged to the dukes of Braganza, there is a stone cross with carvings that tell the rooster of Barcelos story. Without a single line of interpretation! Thanks to some homework done, I know that, according to the legend, it was created exactly by the man who was saved from death by the miraculous rooster, and that it depicts the details of what happened. The question to which I couldn’t find a satisfying answer is the dukes’ love for enormous chimneys. There used to be four of them in the palace, and now that it is in ruins, only one left, of magnificent proportions and irrational position in terms of heating possibilities.

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The traditions are strong, however not overwhelming, because there is also room for contemporaneity in this city. The great place to experience how old and new intertwine and complement is the Pottery museum. I was enchanted with the exhibition of Sofia Beça, a ceramics artist from Porto, named “Memórias à flor da pele” (still ongoing, btw!). From what I understood, it has to do with recovering the past feelings and sentiments and capturing them forever in clay. But it was also aesthetically pleasing and really corresponding with the exhibition space.

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Passing through to reach some more traditional pieces like roosters or amphorae, I noticed the sculptures of two fat children – “meninos gordos”, named Mateus and Ana, who lived in the 19th century, and had some kind of desease that made them extremely obese. They were an attraction wherever they appeared, so poor kids traveled across Europe and also visited Portugal. The story of them became then a motif for a line of portuguese ceramics. This sculpted pair can also be interpreted as a direct critique of the consumerism of the present epoch, I am sure.

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And then, the kingdom of roosters of all sizes, shapes and colours!

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The importance of roosters and other local traditions in contemporary life in Barcelos was obvious even outside the museum:  there were various processions around the city going on as a part of Easter celebrations. Here I share the photos of the Rooster band and the Green wine fraternity!

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Sensing Spaces. (just ended)

Too bad we need the UK visas, otherwise I would not miss the Sensing Spaces exhibition that just ended in the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The idea was to call seven architects/teams to make installations taking around 23 000 square feet of their interiors, and “reimagine architecture” by addressing not only the eyes of the visitors, but also by emphasizing olfactory or haptic properties of the exhibits. Engaging visitors went also in the direction of giving them opportunity for a creative experience – by letting them finish an installation (weaving colourful plastic straws in the white space of Diébédo Francis Kéré).

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One of the installations (Chilean architects Pezo von Ellrichshausen) was in a particularly strong relation with the exhibition space: it brought visitors high up to the ceiling of the hall, the closest possible to the gilded details of its decoration, that would otherwise not be experienced.

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Among the great seven from all around the world, two Portuguese architects were invited to participate! Siza and Souto de Moura, the Pritzker prize winners, were present with their works. Souto de Moura was exploring heritage and meanings through creating concrete copies of the door cases and juxtaposing them with the originals. And Siza…from what I saw on the photos, it was something in the museum yard, and the information available said that it was “beautiful” 🙂

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The architect’s own explanation, though, cleared things up: the installation was about “the birth of column”.

Some wonderful links:

https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/4 (a bit about the exhibition)

http://www.archdaily.com/475585/siza-souto-de-moura-kuma-reflect-on-their-sensing-spaces-exhibitions/

(Siza talks)

Metamorphosis – an exhibition about the potentials and possibilities of cork

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Browsing through the web site of IGESPAR, I have just found the ongoing Bienal EXD13, taking place in Lisbon (Jeronimos Monastery), between November 8th and December 1st, 2013. Among other events, an exhibition named “Metamorphosis” is a part of the Biennial. The exhibition is dedicated to exploration of limits and potential of cork in the realms of architecture and design. Interesting!

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Also, the names of participants assure this is something to look at.

Btw, the whole thing is organized by Experimentadesign, a team doing inspiring research within the areas of culture, design and the creative industries.

More info here: http://experimentadesign.pt/2013/en/01-01-04.html and http://experimentadesign.pt/

The intangible Portugal.

Heritage is not only about the material structures, of course. There is a whole range of oral traditions, performing arts, rituals, festive events, practices and skills to be thought of in that sense. People still have a basic need of physical and mental belonging to a particular context and those intangibles are still living and so much needed in the present times.

However, until recently, the traditions, practices and skills have been treated separately, country by country. Namely, the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is quite a 21st century thing and it has been just 10 years since its adoption now.

There’s a world intangible heritage list, with one entry from Portugal so far – the Fado, which was inscribed in 2011. It’s defined as the popular urban song of Portugal, emerged at the beginning of 19th century and associated primarily with Lisbon and maybe Coimbra. The keyword to fado is saudade (the untranslatable word for longing and melancholy and feeling of loss).

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Another intangible asset of Portugal, shared with several other countries and planned to be inscribed in the world heritage list is the Mediterranean diet. There have been some problems in the course of inscription, as far as I know, but having been to Portugal I can say there’s no better example of a living tradition! Something to be investigated and lived in-depth, so I hope, as there are senses and heritage and present time in the mix!

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There’s a museum dedicated to fado in Lisbon, they mapped a few fado-related things, which can be seen here: http://roteiro.museudofado.pt/

There will be an exhibition in Tavira (Algarve) dedicated to the Dieta Mediterrânica – Património Cultural Milenar, linked to its inscription, something to keep in mind for next February/March. Link: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00482&activityID=00094