Big Things on the Beach

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Visit to Barcelona

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ImageTouching down at Girona Airport one thing was clear, the sky! Having left a dreary, damp and depressing Edinburgh at a very civilised 9am that morning, only a short bus ride separated us from the sun, sea and sand of Barcelona.

After much fun and adventure on the underground our little group was being checked in by the less than hospitable staff at the Hotel Barcelo. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. A quick change and a debriefing by the only friendly person in the building, the barmaid and we were off to the Rambla del Poblenou, the local restaurant district. Completely at random we somehow manage to discover a delightful restaurant which quickly begins to fill up with locals, always a good sign. Wine, women, one man, no songs, a couple of shots of something strange on the house and bedtime was beckoning so we wobbled off back to the hotel for some zzzz’s.

Click below to read on for more of Rab Brown's trip report. This trip is part of the 2007-08 Public Art commissioning course.

First thing Saturday morning, well several alarm calls after first thing for me, and we are up and out, into the warm sunshine, blue skies and onto the pale sands of Barcelona beach. Our mission: to experience as much public art as Barcelona has to offer and especially since the 1992 Olympics when over 100 public artworks were commissioned, there’s plenty to get round.

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Bifilar Sundial, by Rafael Soler
Walking along the promenade, the first thing we encounter is Rafael Soler’s Bifilar Sundial Soler is a bit of a sundial specialist with many interesting specimens to be found around the world.

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Arrangement of concrete chairs
Pretty as it was, I found the arrangement of concrete chairs which you can see in the background to be much more enticing. Perhaps it was the low morning sun casting long shadows around them but there was something quite captivating about these empty seats facing out to sea and sun. It somehow reminded me of those pictures of wrinkly, orange old ladies sat in rows and rows along Miami beach.

Wandering further along the beach it was interesting to see that even something as mundane as a children’s chute could be made into something with visual impact. A lesson we are only just starting to learn in this country.

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Fish, by Frank Gehry
After a quick stop for breakfast, we arrived at Port Olympic, the focal point for beachfront art in Barcelona. Here you will find, amongst other things, the famous Frank Gehry “Fish” and Rebecca Horn’s “Wounded Star”. and Juan Munoz’s “Una Habatacio on Sempre Plou” (a room where it always rains) This artwork seemed to be one of the more popular, if somewhat disturbing, pieces of art.

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Una Habatacio on Sempre Plou, by Juan Munoz
Juan Munoz’s “Una Habatacio on Sempre Plou” (translated as ‘a room where it always rains’) seemed to be one of the more popular, if somewhat disturbing, pieces of public art along Barcelona’s waterfront.

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Crescendo Aparre, by Mario Merz
Leaving the beach behind us we wandered towards the city and immediately came across my favourite piece of the trip, “Crescendo Aparre” by Mario Merz. The piece is a representation of the Fibonacci series in red neon, each number of the series individually set into the pavement behind glass squares and spread out proportionately so that the final square is so far away that you can hardly see the rest of them from it, making me wonder just how far into the city this piece went.

By now it was so sunny that we had to hit the shops to buy sunglasses via a disappointing mosaic piece by Lichtenstein which was sited in the centre of a roundabout and a model of the world’s first submarine ‘The Ictineo II’, made of wood and launched in 1862!. We headed up Las Ramblas for a quick bite to eat and then, negotiating the weird and wonderful world of Barcelona street artists, all the way to Passeig de Gracia to view our first, but certainly not last, pieces of Gaudi architecture in the shape of Casa’s Mila and Batllo. A strikingly organic building which seemed more like a sculpture, I am amazed, not to mention jealous, to discover that people actually still live in them.

By now it was time to head back into the Gothic quarter to meet our speaker for the afternoon, Ruben Santiago, a well respected contemporary artist currently based in Barcelona and resident at the art centre ‘Hangar’. It became apparent while listening to him talk about his work that he has a penchant for ‘guerrilla art’.

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Bird, by Rueben Santaigo
Meeting him at his apartment felt quite strange at first but we were made to feel very welcome and soon he was showing us his past and current projects while we quizzed him on what it was all about. Apart from his ongoing theme of breaking the law in the name of art for projects such as “ID” and the self explanatory “Turning a Public Toilet into a Spa,” I found the most striking thing about his art was that he didn’t seem to concerned about it being seen by anyone in particular, but the importance was in making and placing of the work in the public realm. A perfect example of this being his current project; looking for dead birds around the city which he then ‘mummified’ with silver-plating and returned them back to where he had found them for an unsuspecting person to discover and wonder what it was all about. Below is an example of one of the birds.

After some discussion about Rueben’s past work and his submission for our 2008 temporary public art commission in Portobello, which involved covering a 50 square foot area of the beach in cobblestones, we were guided through the city to our tram stop taking. On our way there we took in various public artworks, graffiti and the Parc de la Ciutadella with Rueben giving us an insiders point of view on what we saw.

Sunday was our last day so we had to move fast to get everything done on our itinerary before catching the bus to Girona Airport at 3pm. After a strong coffee at the hotel we were up and away bright and early to Parc Guell to see more work by Gaudi.

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Parc Guelle
What an amazing place Parc Guell is! The park is huge and covered in fascinating detail. I was expecting a park, with some sculptures dotted around it, but it is more like the park is the sculpture. Commissioned by aristocrat Eusebi Guell and completed in 1904 the place almost defies description. A mass of colour and detail some areas are so organic that at first you sometimes don’t realise that they have been sculpted at all. I could go on at length but it’s probably best to just look at the pictures below. What a great place to spend a lazy Sunday taking in the view over the whole of Barcelona and chilling out to the sounds of the local buskers.
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Parc Guelle Iguana

Last stop before the mad rush to the airport was the Sagrada Familia, more Gaudi, and something that simply has to be seen if you are in Barcelona. Still under construction after more than 100 years (it was started in 1888) this was Gaudi’s baby, he was a very religious individual and, when funding ran out, used his own money to keep the project going, site managing it for over 30 years, until his death in 1926. The amount of detail covering this massive structure is staggering, all I could think about when looking at it was “where did he find the time to do this alone, never mind all the other projects he completed in his life.” Go and see it.

By now all that was left to do was get our bags and bid farewell to this amazing city, not to mention the sun, and head back to Scotland for some dark, cold drizzle. I can’t wait to go back.

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mt_gallery:Photos from Barcelona 

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 May 2008 18:49  

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Big Things on the Beach is a public art trust in Portobello, a seaside suburb close to the city centre of Edinburgh, Scotland. It was formed by a group of residents in 2003 to explore the potential of the seafront as a site for engagement with public artworks by both emerging and established artists.

Since 2004 we have commissioned artists to create substantial temporary artworks, trained ourselves and others in the process of commissioning public artworks through international site visits and guest lectures and successfully raised funding to these ends.

Our current project - The Big Welcome - is supported by Creative Scotland, Portobello & Craigmillar Neighbourhood Partnership and Edinburgh City Libraries