The measure of a shell

Pingala, an Indian mathematician living in either 2nd or 4th century BCE first identified the Fibonacci sequence in a study of the metre in Sanskrit poetry

Pingala, an Indian mathematician living in either the 2nd or 4th century BCE first identified the Fibonacci sequence in a study of the metre in Sanskrit poetry

Unsurprisingly, for this installation of cobble-embedded neon, Italian artist Mario Merz chose the Fibonacci sequence, a ratio occurring naturally in objects such as the nautilus shell. Though defined by various Indian mathematicians as early as 200 BCE and onwards, the formula received its name from an Italian, who defined the equation (Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2) in 1202. That means, starting from 0 and 1, you add the two previous numbers in the sequence to find the next, producing the sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 …

The ratio of numbers in the Fibonacci sequence defines the proportions of the nautilus shell, the branching of trees and the arrangement of leaves on a stem

The ratio of numbers in the Fibonacci sequence defines the proportions of the nautilus shell, the branching of trees and the arrangement of leaves on a stem

This is another work in Configuraciones urbanes (Urban Configurations), which stretches the length of the Moll de la Barceloneta. Each neon number in the sequence is protected in its own cavity under shockproof glass, arranged at a distance from its neighbours that corresponds to its position in the sequence. Is the concept of laying out the dimensions of a shell an attempt to reflect Barceloneta’s close relationship to the sea? In fact, Merz used this sequence in much of his work, interpreting it to signify universal creation and growth. According to the Tate, which houses six of his pieces, he had “a fascination with the material and metaphorical qualities of natural objects with ideas regarding infinity and repetition”.

This sequence is much used in computer algorithms and is related to the so-called golden ratio, or approximately 1 to 1.618

This sequence is much used in computer algorithms and is related to the so-called golden ratio, or approximately 1 to 1.618

Mario Merz (1925–2003) is an interesting artist. His father, an architect, taught him a sensitivity to the “human, intimate and natural” occupation of space. Later, he sank his roots into the passionate post-war scene of 1950s Turin. Here, he mixed with influential writers like Elio Vittorini (the communist author of Conversations in Sicily, an oneiric and beguiling novel that is a coded criticism of fascism) and Ezra Pound (whose fascist and anti-semitic politics made him a controversial figure among English poets). Along with the sculptor Marisa Merz, who was also his wife, he was a key developer of Arte Povera (poor art): a movement that attacked the perceived establishment with an art using mundane and unconventional materials. Other international figures linked to this movement are the Greek artist Jannis Kounellis and the Catalan artists of the Dau al Set (seven-sided die) movement, whose founders included Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies.

In 1202, an Italian mathematician named Leonardo Bonacci, known as Fibonacci, wrote a book, Liber Abaci (Book of Calculation), which brought the sequence to the western world

In 1202, an Italian mathematician named Leonardo Bonacci, known as Fibonacci, wrote a book, Liber Abaci (Book of Calculation), which brought the sequence to the western world

Crescendo appare / Growing in Appearance, Mario Merz, plaça Pau Vila, Moll de la Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.377711, 2.187846 to 41.376372, 2.187541

References:

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/mario-merz-1623

http://www.theguardian.com/news/2003/nov/13/guardianobituaries.italy

Get the guide BCN Free Art 01: The Port and Barceloneta! Go to www.poblesecbooks.com to purchase a print copy.

The capital A’s sharp lines erupt from the vegetation like a futurist manifesto

Walk through a poem in Horta

Poetry, theatre, prose, sculptural works and even experimental film: his output was prodigious in all these media yet Joan Brossa described himself solely as a poet, and he is remembered as one of Catalonia’s greatest. So to understand Brossa’s sculptural installation, his visual poetry as he called it, you need to understand a little of the man.

Set among olives, cypresses and carobs, this Mediterranean poem in three tenses visually conjures a Greco-Roman past

Set among olives, cypresses and carobs, this Mediterranean poem in three tenses visually conjures a Greco-Roman past

As a child and adolescent, though unable to apply himself at the several schools his parents enrolled him in, he was an avid reader at home. His other lifelong passion was magic, and he would visit Barcelona’s first magic shop, El Rei de la Magia – one of the city’s oldest businesses – which still operates today at C. de la Princesa, 11. It’s well worth a visit if prestidigitation is your thing.

During the Civil War, he gave free magic performances at different centres of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) until he was called up to serve on the Lleida front in 1938. A few short months later, he was wounded in the eye at the Battle of the Segre, and invalided out of action.

In the late 40s, in a country still devastated by the Spanish Civil War, Brossa burgeoned as a poet. He was able to do so thanks to the tutelage of J. V. Foix, a brilliant noucentista poet, and by joining a clandestine study group, where he learned Catalan, which had been outlawed by Franco’s dictatorship.

The capital A’s sharp lines erupt from the vegetation like a futurist manifesto

The capital A’s sharp lines erupt from the vegetation like a futurist manifesto

As a founder of the Dau al Set (seven-spotted die), an artist group and magazine which included Catalan artists such as Antoni Tàpies, Modest Cuixart and Joan Ponç, Brossa penned their revolutionary manifesto, “La presència forta” (The Strong Presence), a quasi-futurist attack on the rigid retrograde values of Francoism that controlled post-war society. The Dadaist-inspired work they produced showed the influence of experimentation with surrealism and existentialism, and later, the political awareness of Marxism.

Brossa’s sculptural and urban installations owe as much to his passion for magic as to his growing experimentation with conceptual art. The playful idea of a magic trick predominates in his Accessible Visual Poem in Three Tenses: birth, journey – with pauses and intonations – and destruction. It is a journey on which you are invited to embark.

Punctuation symbols – “with pauses and intonations” – lead viewers on a journey, representing life’s many joys and tempests

Punctuation symbols – “with pauses and intonations” – lead viewers on a journey, representing life’s many joys and tempests

Joan Brossa was given this commission by his friend Esteve Bonell, one of the architects who designed the Horta velodrome. The poet conceived one of his visual poems for the adjacent park. The installation is meant to be experienced in three separate tenses: from the capital letter A, which forms an entrance arch sixteen metres high – on the crown of the hill to emphasise its stature – to the ruins of a similar letter, symbolising destruction, decline and of course, death. Along the way, a journey of punctuation symbols – exclamation, quote and question marks, colons and brackets – scattered across the grass represent the many ups and downs of life’s adventures. Brossa originally wanted swings instead of benches in the park, to accompany the Mediterranean vegetation – olives, cypresses and carobs – but a fear of vandalism foiled that idea.

Among other of his works scattered around Barcelona, you can see his Poema visual Bàrcino (Visual Poem Bàrcino, 1994) next to the Cathedral, Lletres Gimnastes (Gymnastic Letters, 1997) in carrer Rauric, and A–Z amb figures antropomòrfiques (A–Z with Anthropomorphic Figures) in the gardens named after the poet, up on Montjuïc Mountain.

Brossa’s sculptural and urban installations owe as much to his passion for the playfulness of magic as to his growing experimentation with conceptual art

Brossa’s sculptural and urban installations owe as much to his passion for the playfulness of magic as to his growing experimentation with conceptual art

Poema visual transitable en tres temps: naixement, camí – amb pauses i entonacions – i destrucció (Accessible Visual Poem in Three Tenses: birth, journey – with pauses and intonations – and destruction). Sculptor: Joan Brossa. 1984. Jardins de Marià Cañardo (Horta Velodrome) Coordinates: 41.437235, 2.148552
Other Joan Brossa work:
Poema visual Bàrcino (Visual Poem Bàrcino, 1994). Plaça Nova. Coordinates: 41.384167, 2.175000.
Lletres Gimnastes (Gymnastic Letters, 1997). C. Rauric, 6. Coordinates: 41.381392, 2.174852
A-Z amb figures antropomòrfiques (A-Z with Anthropomorphic Figures). Jardins de Joan Brossa, Montjuïc Mountain. Coordinates: 41.368117, 2.166818

The ruins of the once-majestic capital A symbolise destruction, decline and of course, death

The ruins of the once-majestic capital A symbolise destruction, decline and of course, death

References:

http://www.escriptors.cat/autors/brossaj/pagina.php?id_sec=3042

http://www.fundaciojoanbrossa.cat/

Actualitat literària sobre la revista Dau al Set a LletrA, la literatura catalana a internet (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)

http://www.fundaciojvfoix.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Arthur-Terry_Readings.pdf

Sited on the crown of the hill to emphasise its height, the capital letter A is the first hint you have that a Brossa work inhabits the vicinity

Sited on the crown of the hill to emphasise its height, the capital letter A is the first hint you have that a Brossa work inhabits the vicinity

Get the guide BCN Free Art 01: The Port and Barceloneta! Go to www.poblesecbooks.com to purchase a print copy.

Where the sky has fallen

 

Cel caigut (Fallen Sky, 1988), one of Beverly Pepper's Earthbound Sculptures: "seemingly born in or rising up from the earth"

Cel caigut (Fallen Sky, 1988), one of Beverly Pepper’s Earthbound Sculptures: “seemingly born in or rising up from the earth”

Sol i ombra (Sun and Shade, 1988) is the name covering two works by the north-American artist Beverly Pepper (b. 1922). Cel Caigut (Fallen Sky) and Espiral arbrada (Planted Spiral) transform the Parc de l’Estació del Nord into a unique landscaped environment. This installation is a rare Barcelona example of “land art”—a concept originating in the late sixties in reaction to the rampant commercialism of the art world.

Ceramic curves embedded within the grass seem to entrap the sky

Ceramic curves embedded within the grass seem to entrap the sky

Pepper has said of her work:

“In the seventies I developed the concept of ‘Earthbound Sculptures’, that is, sculptures seemingly born in or rising up from the earth.”

Cel Caigut is the most immediately visually impressive of the two pieces, the first work you’ll come across (unless entering from the direction of c. Marina). It is essentially a huge earthworks clad in ceramic tile—a homage to Gaudi’s trencadís style—that transforms the landscape. This is a total environment, one that invites locals to use and clamber over its forms, arranged like a benevolent sleeping dragon.

Cel caigut resembles a benevolent sleeping dragon—a prominent symbol in Catalan art since St George is Catalonia's patron saint

Cel caigut resembles a benevolent sleeping dragon—a prominent symbol in Catalan art since St George is Catalonia’s patron saint

 

The sweeping ceramic curves embedded within the grass achieve a rare harmony with the Mediterranean architecture of the adjacent Estació del Nord building.

Sweeping ceramic curves complement the Mediterranean architecture

Sweeping ceramic curves complement the Mediterranean architecture

In contrast, Espiral arbrada, a more discreet installation towards the rear of the park, nevertheless references and works in tandem with its more extrovert partner. If Cel caigut is sun, Espiral arbrada communicates the idea of shade. This wide ceramic spiral, planted with linden trees, creates an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity that is far removed from the city’s bustle. The space breathes a mystical and invigorating stillness, which the iron totems spaced throughout the park seem to reinforce.

Beverly Pepper's Espiral arbrada (Planted Spiral, 1988) breathes a mystical and invigorating stillness

Beverly Pepper’s Espiral arbrada (Planted Spiral, 1988) breathes a mystical and invigorating stillness

What takes this installation beyond the mere idea of sculptures in a park is that all the vegetation and even the shaping of the earth have been chosen to accentuate the sculpture.

The sculpture and shaping of the earth are one

The sculpture and shaping of the earth are one

The vegetation has been selected to accentuate the sculpture

The vegetation has been selected to accentuate the sculpture

So the species of trees, such as umbrella pines and black poplars flanking Cel caigut, linden trees on the Espiral arbrada, but also white and Canadian poplars, are all there to accompany the sculpture, not the reverse. Even the park’s modular, semi-circular concrete benches contribute to the plastic experience.

A huge earthworks clad in ceramic tile—a homage to Gaudi’s trencadís style—transforms the landscape.

A huge earthworks clad in ceramic tile—a homage to Gaudi’s trencadís style—transforms the landscape.

Pepper claims that her work “offers a place for reflection and contemplative thought within the context of active urban environments”. It is one of my favourite parks in Barcelona.

Cel Caigut (Fallen Sky) and Espiral arbrada (Planted Spiral) are a rare Barcelona example of “land art”—a concept originating in the late sixties in reaction to the rampant commercialism of the art world

Land art is a concept originating in the late sixties in reaction to the rampant commercialism of the art world

Sol i ombra: Cel Caigut and Espiral arbrada (1988) by Beverly Pepper at the Parc de l’Estació del Nord, c. Nàpols, 42.

 

Get the guide BCN Free Art 01: The Port and Barceloneta! Go to www.poblesecbooks.com to purchase a print copy.