“ (…) the evenings are high-spirited lively noisy with our sounds shout songs music they’re made colourful by our jackets scarves skirts hats the walls are one long stretch of graffiti drawings writing all muddled together all with slogans on top of the other against the bosses against sweated labor against all work against the ghettos against the clergy against the mayor against the trade unions against the parties against the city council against the men against heroin against fascists against cops against judges against the state against poverty against repression against prison against the family against school against sacrifices against boredom (…) "
The Unseen, Nanni Balestirni, 1987
INVASIVE SPECIES/ESPECIES NATIVAS
or Palm trees will grow over your cities
Palm trees and branches are symbols of victory, triumph, peace and probably also of many other things depending on the context and time. Today in Porto their presence is quite common throughout the city. They arrived mostly from Brazil and the former Colonies. Families and adventurers that made their fortune there, once back in Portugal, were planting them in their gardens and in this way they became a symbol of wealth. Palm trees are exotic plants and in these times of mass travel they symbolise holiday destinations and tourism. These last two interrelated meanings: wealth and tourism are quite relevant in my personal understanding of Porto today.
Built on solid stone overlooking the city from the top of one of its highest hills, the Cooperativa dos Pedreiros makes me think of a castle. During its Centenary history (100 years this year) this stone mason’s cooperative built the most important monuments and buildings of Porto and the surrounding areas. In an attempt to explore the complex dynamics inside and outside the Cooperativa dos Pedreiros I set myself two tasks: a photographic exploration of the inside and one of the outside of the building.
From the outside it’s impossible not to notice the presence of nature, which seems to be slowly taking over the deep walls and windows. Walking in the neighbourhood and talking to people the ‘sense of ruin’ doesn’t change. When I started exploring the inside my perception changed radically. The building is alive. Many small organisations and cooperatives are using the rooms and spaces once inhabited by machinery and workers. I decided to start collecting traces of a different presence of nature: a domesticated one, living in pots inside the different buildings of the complex in an attempt to explore and engage with the different people and organisations.
What is perceived as abandoned from the outside is instead a buzzing environment. This potted nature taking over from inside is revealing the presence of a number of hidden ‘gardeners’, using the building and keeping it alive. I decided to display some of the plants that sit in communal areas like staircases and corridors, which are shared by many people, as if were divided between floors of a building. I also felt that letting this plants escape from one photograph and appear in another was a good way to underline the symbolic meaning enclosed in them and their potential.
Going back to our palm trees, despite the massive number of empty and derelict buildings in the city (over 50.000) with my work I wanted to suggest a different way of looking at these spaces and at the plants taking them over: less ‘ruin centred’, disenchanted and romanticised, more proactive and positive.
Palm trees are a good metaphor for the complex layers of meanings and stories I encountered in Porto, unfortunately they tend to be quite big and they mostly live outdoors, there weren’t many in the corridors, staircases and rooms I encountered.
Ines Moreira (Curator)
Technical Unconscious is a cultural and multidisciplinary research project developed at the Fine Art School of the University of Porto, reactivating the postindustrial spaces of the Cooperativa dos Operários Pedreiros do Porto(Stone Masons Cooperative) in its Centenary, directed by Gonçalo Leite Velho and curated by Inês Moreira.
The curatorial project’s quest is to activate an immersive route along the technical and analogical production, as well as the embodied and unconscious knowledge that we transport – the resident artists and the visitors. Generating connections between the general concept of the project and the derelict spaces of the former factory of the Stone Masons Cooperative, the commissioned artworks explore “anachronistic” techniques, tools and materials found at these spaces, bringing it to the surface. The guests’ work processes begin with field work and, as a mindmap or a silicon circuit, produce connections among them, with the spaces and with the local stories.
The projects interconnect around eight nodes: building/place, postindustriality, material/machinery, science/knowledge, hightech, memory/archive, lowtech/ manuality and unconscious.
The activations occur in four moments: the first long residencies in 2013 – John Grzinich, Joana&Mariana, Manuel Granja and PostMaterial Archive – enabling the field work at the factory and at the headquarter of the Stone Masons Cooperative unlocking the information in the archives, of the spaces and the small stories around the Cooperative. A second moment during the Summer and Autumn 2014, when authors arrived to Porto in a series of three week residencies – Hiwa K, Daniele Sambo, Linda Brothwell, Cora Piantoni, Iztok Kovac, Moisés Manãs, Tomaz Furlan, Guidi + Racco, Relli De Vries – to develop insitu projects, individually or in collaboration with the community. Then, during the Autumn, the project was amplified by artist talks, performances, workshops and guided visits. Lastly, a public exhibition is presented, as an immersive route through six selected areas of the complex of the Stone Masons Cooperative, revealing the artworks and the technical work spaces – draft room, workshops, auditorium, hangar and the existing museum.