THE FORMS AND PLACES OF THE CONTEMPORARY AZULEJO
By Rosário Salema de Carvalho, Ana Almeida, Inês Leitão and Patrícia Nóbrega
A sculpture with an equivalent dimension of a three-story building, fully covered by 17 000 azulejos [glazed tiles] of different colours that result in a variety of compositions, illuminated by 15 000 LEDs. This is a possible and formal description; however, it does not reflect the multiplicity of understandings present in Pop Galo, the work by Joana Vasconcelos that proposes a critical and contemporary view of a piece that is part of the national imaginary – Galo de Barcelos [Rooster of Barcelos] –, and is covered by azulejos, another Portuguese symbol.
The legend of Galo de Barcelos, with its origins in medieval times and believed to have arrived in Portugal via the Routes of Santiago de Compostela [Caminhos de Santiago], might help explaining the fortune of this figuration within the potter tradition of Barcelos. This symbol was later "(re)constructed" by the Estado Novo [Portuguese authoritarian regime] as a symbol of Portuguese identity and presented in several national and international exhibitions, becoming a national icon after the Portuguese World Exhibition of 1940. Since then it has been frequently recreated by different generations of artists (Fernandes 2014, 45; Fernandes 2016). Among the known traditions, the Rooster of Barcelos has also been associated with peasants' wedding ceremonies and with matrimonial rites (Alves 2007, 118).
Vasconcelos' Galo, in its Pop version, engages in a critical appropriation of a past and of an idea of nation that are in this work upgraded and reinvented. The artist uses traditional materials such as the azulejo [glazed tile], which also experiences a metamorphosis in terms of its shape and relation with the artificial lightning from the LEDs, that trace the traditional punctiform design of Barcelo's Rooster, simultaneously emphasizing its technological aspect.
This essay presents Pop Galo as a sculpture that opens new perspectives for the use and exploration of one of the types of art that most characterizes the collective imaginary and the Portuguese patrimonial heritage – the azulejo [glazed tile].