The cultural landscape of Porto

Lately, the Saturday afternoons I spend in Porto are booked: they are dedicated to new discoveries related to the city’s cultural landscape. The discoveries touch Porto’s natural environment, the man-made structures and features, and the character and values of its people.

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Yes, this article is about the new, third edition of Um Objeto e Seus Discursos, that goes on from the beginning of March all the way to December here in Porto. The idea is simple: meeting weekly at a different place, with a different group of interesting speakers, whose starting point for a talk is an object significant for the city and its history, be that history distant or quite recent.

Thanks to this initiative, I have already had an opportunity to visit some spaces normally inaccessible to public and learn lesser known facts and episodes about Porto. And after two years, there is still so much to uncover about its cultural landscape. The 2016 discoveries started with food: the history of “tripas à moda do Porto” was addressed, but it wasn’t all – the typical dish of Portans could be tasted as well!

And there is so much to look forward to! I am especially curious about visiting the Palacio da Bolsa, where Gustave Eiffel’s desk is kept, finding out if one of the bodies buried in the Clerigos church really belongs to Nicolau Nasoni (there is archaeological research ongoing), or discovering lesser known details of Porto’s urban history through a visit to over a century-old public toilets.

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Phonambient

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Some months ago, I wrote about a project named “PortoSonoro” here on the blog. That great idea, mapping contemporary acoustic urban heritage and making the data available to researchers and to general public, has now expanded: the “Phonambient” has been born.

I found out more about it some time ago in Casa da Música in Porto, during an eventful week in February dedicated to the project presentation. The musicians and researchers behind “Phonambient” are linked to the cultural association “Sonoscopia”. They value intuition, creativity and research equally: the project contains a combination of scientific and artistic components, and offers a fresh view onto the city life of today.

Besides the presentation, a talk I had with Gustavo Costa, one of the main people behind “Sonoscopia” and a PhD researcher, was valuable to understand the project relevance and its current scope. “Phonambient” is, briefly, and extension of sound mapping ideas of “PortoSonoro” to other cities in Portugal and abroad, as well as exploration of possible (artistic) uses of the sound archives created.

The “Phonambient” people are experts in recording sounds, and it is crucial even nowadays when sound recording devices are inexpensive and widely available. They are interested in various forms of artistic transformations of the acoustic archive they created, and that is what the Casa da Música event was partly about (imagine, one could find out what plants from around the city have to “say”!). However, the point of the project is also to make the urban sound archive available to other researchers and artists, to be used freely. This can be of great value for anyone who explores contemporary city: linguists, for example, among many others, as the archive contains a section devoted to local expressions and slang. And once in the future, thanks to this archive, it will be possible to reflect on the soundscapes of today.

“Phonambient” is an open, collaborative platform: the “Sonoscopia” teams work with local teams in each of the cities where the project has expanded (besides Porto, for now those are Braga, Tondela, Castelo Branco, Guarda and Fundão, plus one international partner city – Abu Dhabi). So, there is a possibility for the idea to grow and transform, independently of its initiators.

Right now, the project is expanding in geographical terms, as well in terms of abundance of data acquired. And that abundance is a big challenge: the huge amounts of data need to be filtered and organized, and it takes time and effort in terms of their categorization.

In a word, the value of “Phonambient” is that, being open to collaboration, these artists/scientists simultaneously keep creating and envisioning future research territories.

Find out more:

The Douro valley experiences

The Douro valley on a warm, golden autumn day is a great place to be. There are people who travel half the world to get to see it, and I am so privileged to live nearby! Last weekend, the time has come to pay a visit to the region, passing through Mesão Frio, Peso da Régua, Pinhão and Quinta do Seixo, where I spent most of the afternoon.

The Alto Douro region has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001 and it is one of the world’s oldest recognized and protected wine production regions. And its contemporary life is flourishing amazingly!

An average Portuguese is probably as much as a wine expert as a professional enologist in countries with less wine culture. Wine is a part of their everyday and a major pillar of the national economy. Never forgetting the traditional modes of wine production (which can be known from azulejo panels or learned about in museums), they however opted for the use of latest technologies in this industry nowadays. So there are robots, computerization and wine institutes with highest precision instruments involved to get the best of what nature has to offer.

Actually, Portuguese wine producers don’t hesitate to take the best of both worlds, and that can be seen in Quinta do Seixo: in 2007, the old structures there were recuperated and a modern winery constructed, upon a design by Cristiano Moreira & Associados. Cristiano Moreira (1931-2012) was a professor at the University of Porto, with significant experience in industrial facilities, and, in my opinion, refined approach towards the beautiful Douro landscapes, both cultural and natural.

Voilà, here I am at the Quinta do Seixo: at first glance, it seems to be an immense complex of vineyards, with a well-maintained old building, perfectly integrated into the landscape. During the tour, I discover lots of contemporary elements invisible from the outside. And later, with some a posteriori research, I realized the scope of construction works done!

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The quinta (the wine production estate) is situated near the village of Pinhão. The view to the wavy hills in all shades of green and earthy autumn colours is breathtaking. And there I come to the recuperated building itself. There is nothing in it that is not in harmony with the landscape. The technology is only visible from the inside: the robot-presses for the grapes instead of human labour and steel barrels for the wine to be preserved up to highest standards, the video-projectors everywhere and the latest-generation illumination. Maybe even a little too contemporary presentation, if you ask me!

Update: the interior design is a project of another architect, Paulo Lobo, who is responsible for many interesting contemporary interiors in Porto (thx Marta Costa!)

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But then, after the theoretical part, I get to taste the port wines, and that is an experience involving all senses. From the dark and elegant exposition and interpretation spaces, one gets to the bright, sunny tasting area, opening towards the landscape. Oh, how cleverly were the mirrors used to reflect the western sun and create shades and reflections! The division towards the outer space was nothing more but the thin glass surface that stretched throughout the entire length of the room. However, I was blessed with the best possible weather, so I spent most of my time outside at the terrace. The view stretched from Pinhão in the distance to the green terraced landscapes all around. The building and the terrace were just……nature rearranged: the layered stone façade with rich texture, the earthen esplanade with touches of grass and moss, and the shiny spotless glass surface reflecting once again the landscape.

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Silence is broken by glasses tinkling in a toast. And then, a sip of vintage ruby port crowns this magic experience.

Photos: all mine except the first one, which comes from http://www.afaconsult.com/portfolio/29911/92/adega-da-quinta-do-seixo.

Close your eyes and walk through the city

One of the ways of seeing things differently is actually…not seeing them at all! In urban spaces, diverting attention from overwhelming visual information to other sensory experiences can be particularly immersive and revealing. Nowadays, with technological solutions widely available and affordable, artists, scientists and creatives that deal with sound and urban space can explore this realm in most amazing ways.

And luckily, Porto is among those places where innovative and creative research in this domain is done, too. The acoustic heritage of this city has already been recognized through a project named PortoSonoro. Voices, identities, characteristics, celebrations, resonances and particularities of Porto have been registered, mapped and made available for the general public. Ahead of heritage institutions, the PortoSonoro team has already been working on documentation, classification, dissemination and artistic interpretation of the sound heritage of Porto, and the people behind the project are professionals in music and acoustics.

The goals are widely set: mapping the city sound marks, both historical and present-day, registering everyday life of the city, including emerging slang and themes people discuss over a cup of coffee, creating the acoustic experiences through imaginary sound walks.

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Here is the link to PortoSonoro’s acoustic map: http://www.portosonoro.pt/cartografia-sonora

What an amazing range of possibilities to research the city life from here!

Anselmo, thank you for the info!

CAMOC 2014

CAMOC, the ICOM’s Committee for the Museums of Cities, had its annual conference during the first days of August in Sweden. The host was the Gothenburg City Museum.

This year’s topic was a very intriguing one – industrial heritage. CAMOC experts came from around the world, and the host country was the right place to find inspiring, state-of-the-art examples of what can be done in this area.

Thanks to the CAMOC’s grant, I took part in the event, from which I benefited at so many levels! It was great to see all the people I met at the ICOM Rio general conference in Brazil last year and to make new,  beautiful contacts and friendships. It was a privilege to learn from the leading Swedish experts in industrial heritage and to discover how they turn projects and ideas into reality. It was interesting to find out how museums around the world work beyond museum walls and how both experts and non-experts create numerous innovative, museum-like experiences everywhere, from Greece and Belgium to Japan or Australia. It was rewarding to share my own research findings and external views to the industrial heritage of Porto, and to find out it was inspiring to others too!

Out of many precious moments, here I will share a few of the most memorable:

Abandoned Places. Jan Jörnmark started to research abandoned locations accidentally. He ended up publishing several books of photographs: powerful and poetic, the “images worth a 1000 words” kind of photographs. It’s a pity that he, strategically, almost didn’t show any during his keynote speech at the conference…

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SAACKE. My dear colleagues Zé Luis Tavares and António Feio also research abandoned places, perhaps as long as Jan Jörnmark, and their work is at least as philosophical and poetic as Jörnmark’s. I hope that, soon, their findings will reach broader public. And we missed them in Gothenburg, even though their work was represented with a video!

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The Skateboard Guy. Professor Lasse Fryk used his son’s skateboard as a metaphor for the learning process: true learning is only possible through experiment and practice. Practice, and openness to challenges and possibilities of the contemporary epoch, make perfection!

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The textile museum in Borås. More than just a museum, it is a result of a joint effort of the university, the municipality and private investors. An abandoned factory has been converted into a multi-purpose creative center, opened this May. They already have converted 40 000 m2 of space, bringing all textile forces of the region together – from students to fashion designers, entrepreneurs and even innovators. And there are another 20 000 m2 to be transformed for the future tenants! The museum itself was bursting with colour and creativity. My favourite part (every girl’s favourite, I guess): a giant walk-in closet full of clothes, shoes and accessories, where it is possible and desirable to try everything on!

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Creative initiatives related to heritage in Athens. Marlen Mouliou explored them all! The Soundscapes/Landscapes project, that she experienced herself, sounded the most interesting to me. The idea was simple: interpreting the history and the atmosphere of a neighbourhood in Athens through its sounds, in real time. A hybrid, interactive artistic installation was commissioned by the Onassis Cultural Center of Athens and various artists participated. According to Marlen, the realization was brilliant – memorable and completely immersive. Something to investigate further!

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Photos: my own + k-blogg.se (Jan Jörnmark)  +  http://marinoskoutsomichalis.com/soundscapes-landscapes/

Invisible Places

“Invisible Places” is a conference dedicated to sound, urbanism and the sense of place, taking place soon, between July 18th and 20th, 2014, in Viseu, Portugal.

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There is an artistic part of the event too, aiming at “transforming Viseu into an acoustically conscious city”, as the curator Raquel Castro explained.

Within the tripartite structure of “Invisible Places”, uniting science, architecture / urbanism and art in public space, I am particularly interested in two of its streams: Architecture and urban planning and Urban sounds, identity and sense of place. And of course in getting to know the city of Viseu, which is an additional benefit of attending the conference.

More info: http://invisibleplaces.org/invisibleplaces.html

Quinta do Santiago: learning through experience

Among the many palaces I was lucky to visit over years, discovering Quinta do Santiago in Leça da Palmeira some weeks ago was by far the most imaginative and memorable experience. And I think experience is the keyword here! Not the investment or state-of-the-art equipment, because this cost just some good will, creativity and an elegant suit (but no, the visitors were not expected to be in suits).

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The strange visiting hours were the first twist, as we were supposed to appear (in whichever clothes) at 9.30 p.m. And then, we became part of a play! One of the three organized in Quinta de Santiago in a year. This time, the charismatic Joel Cleto was the main character, and the play was about him as an elegantly dressed butler, leading us through the noble family’s house. Revealing its secrets, Cleto was intertwining stories about the family members, urban history of Leça and building of the great port of Leixões, and the broader context of Portuguese history.

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The palace was interesting anyway, researched and restored carefully, but no written or audio guide could compare to this way of telling the story, nor inform so well. And the great thing is, Joel Cleto is an expert, in acting as much as in history & heritage.

By the way, the house was built in eclectic style by the Italian architect Nicola Bigaglia in late 19th century. The architect just gave proper form to the ideas of the owner, João Santiago de Carvalho e Sousa, who was educated in fine arts. And obviously passionate about every little detail of his home!

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For example, the house has an excellent ventilation system, so besides being pleasing for the eye and the sense of touch (photos cannot reproduce the variety of materials and textures used!), it is also very fresh and dry and simply … lacks that smell of old houses where windows are rarely open!

The old photo of the owner comes from here: http://en.cm-matosinhos.pt/PageGen.aspx?WMCM_PaginaId=27819

In regard to the insider views from the event, I called M. for photos! A big, big thanks*