Monday, 30 May 2011

there is beauty in the city:bilbao - the video

As part of the bilbao exhibition last week, a looped film of all 140 or so images was shown on a huge 10 foot screen. here, for your delectation and delight, is the film.

vince o'toole - lisbon, portugal

three photos, two taken from the hilltop overlooking the city, the other was on the side of a tramline.

eleanor bennett - new mills, uk

thanks to eleanor bennett for these three great, evocative images - unfortunately although there is undoubtedly beauty to be found in towns, there is necessarily a difference between a town and a city!

All the pictures were taking in my favorite town - New Mills in Derbyshire.
I love taking images down there, I've done work for the local book shop and won an award with the WPO for an image I took of one of my friends there. Its a lovely place as well as the urban setting that also have a beautiful park and community garden.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

there is beauty in the city - may visit to bilbao #2 - the insider

Part two of there is beauty in the city's visit to bilbao is a counter to that tourist view of a city. Ph'a'ke's Igor Calvo gives us an inside view of the city he has known all his life on a walk that lasted 4 hours, and took in 6 distinct areas, all close to Igor's heart for one reason or another and which, collectively, offer an overview of a city outside the realms of the traditional tourist view.


ONE - Abando Train Station

Although a coastal city with an airport, those two travel opportunities actually lie outside Bilbao in different municipalities. The airport in Loiu to the north of Bilbao, and the ferry port in Santurtzi, some 15km to the west. So Abando train station came to represent the possibility of travel for a young Igor who would visit this spot and stand and watch the trains coming and going.

TWO - Irala

Irala is an area of Bilbao which lies outside the centre - ostensibly a public square, surrounded by apartment blocks. The square was regenerated in the 1970's by the city council but is now tended and looked after by its residents. The square is characterised by the use of graffiti as a regeneration tool, open plan seating areas, and a some berlin-style public table tennis tables. For Igor, this is a place of beauty - an example of how a space can be used to its best advantage and somewhere he can come to sit and think.

Interestingly, though, he wouldn't come here at night, as the atmosphere changes - to one of foreboding and fear. He was struck recently by a tv news report of a demonstration by the square's residents about the rise in crime in the square.


The geography of Bilbao, with the sea to the north and surrounded by mountains on all other sides means that its urban planners have to be creative in the ways they set out for the physical growth of the city.  The motorways coming into Bilbao are constructed on a series of huge concrete stilts, which allows for spaces underneath which are used in a variety of ways. Sometimes for much needed car parking space, but most often for areas of urban leisure.

One such space is Recalde Plaza, an area Igor has been coming to since he was a boy - a popular but tranquil park space where the peace is only interrupted by the ethereal rumbling of the overhhead cars. This is an area of contrasts - the chaos of the transport network against the tranquility of the park space, the colourfulness of the graffiti, the playground and the grass against the grey of the concrete and, as announced by one piece of 'green' graffiti, a contrast between the concrete structuralism and the green earth.

In Bilbao, you're never more than 100 yards away from a bar serving a beer at perfect temperature and a selction of mouthwatering pintxos.


Masustegui or Mount Caramel is a suburb of Bilbao, part of the district Basurto - Zorroza (District 8). It has a population of 4,069 inhabitants and an area of ​​0.81 square kilometers. This area of Bilbao has become home to a population of immigrants from Galicia in the North-West of Spain. In the 1950's they came to work on the estuary of Bilbao, and in the coal and iron mines. The area here was privately owned mining land and is situated  on the slope of one of the hills overlooking central Bilbao. The area has an autonomous feel, with the sort of white-washed housing type which is typical of Galicia but unlike anything else in Bilbao. Since the 50's the residents who had self built their community were living life in a sort of limbo, as there was a dispute over who owned the land, however, in 2010, they were finally awarded citizenship of the city and allowed to stay.


Spain is as religious a country as you'll find and Bilbao as a city is no different. There is a competition though, in the form of Athletic of Bilbao - the football team which selects only Basques to play for them - a modern day footballing anachronism. For Igor, the devotion is total. He says he cannot walk past this place without some form of overt physical acknowledgement - either a nod or a wave. " Each time I come I feel a chill and the hairs on my body stand on end" 


Practically every major world city is built around or along, or is inspired by a major river, and for Bilbao the Nervion is a majestic presence. The river metaphorically resembles a vein running into the heart of the city - the lifeblood of a city's existence. A large part of the Nervion in Bilbao is surrounded by the degeneration of the city's post-industrialisation, but once into the centre, it becomes the focus for some stunning urban planning - a home to the boat-shaped Guggenheim and other municipal river-oriented museums and restored and preserved relics of the river's past , as well as a series of spectacular bridges.

For Igor, the river allows a space for relaxation and contemplation - it fulfills an instinctual need to find the calm of water - and many an hour is spent sat on one of the river-side benches.

Igor also chose this remnant of an old river taxi-stop as a symbol both of the river's importance and former glory.


It was a privilege to get Igor's insider's tour around Bilbao - to be shown the not-so-shiny parts of a city normally 'un-visited' by the city-break tourist - and towards the end of the walk, which lasted approximately 4 hours, we found ourselves walking out of the city centre, following the river. The street named Deustuibarra runs for miles out of the city, hugging the river, and is lined with the  run-down buildings familiar to all of us who live in post-industrial cities. This whole project was born as a response to how people who live in such cities  and  those charged with the task of regeneration  view their cities and so it was fascinating and appropriate to happen upon an artists collective's response to this area and this problem. The series of pink signs - and there were at least 50 or maybe more of them - were attached to successive buildings, and gaps and offered a series of suggestions -  possibilities of how this once thriving area, now deadened by the loss of industry, could be re-vitalised with, ok, a little bit of money but more importantly with a lot of imagination and vision. This artistic intervention was funny and inclusive in its approach but most importantly hit right at the heart of the problem faced by the post-industrial city.

this suggests the building could be turned into a flea market

this derelict building as we can see below could become a bar

Friday, 27 May 2011

there is beauty in the city - may visit to bilbao #1 - the tourist

As everyone knows by now, there is beauty in the city recently took Bilbao by storm - or maybe that should be the other way round. Since the start of the year, we here at bitc have been highlighting a different city each month and so it would have seemed odd not to take the chance to put Bilbao under our spotlight.

So, this month we are presenting a view of Bilbao which comes in two parts. Firstly, the tourist view - a simple snapshot presentation of a stranger's perception of a strange city. And secondly, inspired by a previous work of Anna Francis - Official Tour Guide - Stoke-on-TrentPh'a'ke's Igor Calvo gives us the insider's view of Bilbao - a look at those urban areas not necessarily at the forefront of the Bilbao City Guides.


bitc to bilbao from glen stoker on Vimeo.

there is beauty in the city : the conversation - #8

number 8 in a series of conversations with between photoartekomite's Igor Calvo and there is beauty in the city's glen stoker. This response from igor -

Usually, the human map of Arriaga Square consists of the citizens of Bilbao going to the theater (that gives its name to the square) to consume culture or those who cross it in their way to the Old Town and tourists who arrive both to the tourist office and to enjoy the architecture of the building.

Although, only some times, people decide to make other use of this emblematic place in Bilbao. Without having to ask for permission, without having to apologize for gaining it, the citizens themselves have decided to "occupy" the Arriaga Square to show their indignation over the ineffective and useless Spanish political class.

Monday, 23 May 2011

there is beauty in the city bilbao - the selections.

There were about 140 entries to There is Beauty in the City : Bilbao and from the start, Ph'a'ke's Igor and Susana, the exhibition organisers planned to select three images to print. The images would represent the past, the present and the future. Here are those three images, along with the texts supplied by the artists and the reasons for selection.


Intervention #37

Author: Elena Llanos
Place: Zorrozaurre

Elana wrote: Beauty is not only in determined places, there are no places more beautiful than others, I think it has to do with our sensations in each moment and what a place reminds us with. It can be in an emotion, a feeling, a memory that becomes to fruition in the places we live in.  Many times it is far away form the places established as nice, out of the postcards. They are our places, where we resort in searching of what make us feel good or give us pleasure.
The photo is taken in Zorrozaurre's bank. It's a place where time seems to have stopped. It is linked to the river, as I think Bilbao is.

selection criteria: Bilbao has always been a city closely linked to its estuary, a city with a strong industry tendency that had its zenith in the times of industrialization, when to the margins of their everlasting estuary came ships load with countless goods and stuff to land them on the docks at the edge of the Nervión.
But the city left behind this time to change once again, and from an industrial city it has become a city of services.
However, we can still find traces of that past, as that crane placed in an old dock that remains as a milestone and a witness of a city that left behind its industrial infrastructure.


Intervention #33

Author: Rodrigo Fuentealba
Place:  R.A.G.'s building.

Rodrigo wrote: I have chosen this place because it is a building that is going to disappear from the urban landscape.

From sustainability point of view, it is worth mentioning the high energy cost that will be used for its demolition, adding the cost generated by the construction of a new building in its place. I think it is in good conditions and it has many possibilities to be reused.

From patrimonial point of view, is a representative building of Rationalist Architecture of Bilbao Ensanche. It is a work of Diego de Basterra, former Architect of Bizkaia Diputación. He was one of the men who helped making up the city look nowadays we know.  Apparently, politic-financial power together with property speculation have finally obtained its architectural importance reclassification by relevant organisms and authorities, removing any kind of legal protection category, being able to erase it definitely form day to day landscape. 

Taking into account that, such industrial architecture collection, besides  being included in patrimonial routes as part of the modern movement, in its moment was contemplated the possibility of installing there a modern art museum, and in the last years it was suggested to reuse it like flats, failing both ideas.  
But in sum, unfortunately it is today one more example of the destruction of our city historical memory, opposite to the fearless glance and voice of everybody.

Selection criteriaThe RAG building still remains as an example and witness of the problems and unresolved issues that a city like Bilbao, in many aspects still in transition, must face.
Factory and gas station, with no space and no place in the future of Bilbao, still an example of the buildings from such an important time in the history of the city, is waiting for its demolition. Even if we do not know when it could happen, given the uncertain economic days to which we face.
In any case, it appears that the time is over for the RAG, leaving the building in a limbo of difficult balance until the time of his disappearance arrives. Another industrial element that will give way to a new element in the race to create a new city.


Intervention #81

Author: Erica Liquete

Place: Casco Viejo

Erica wrote: I have always spent a lot of time in the Botxo, although I am not from Bilbao.

However, since some weeks ago, I can say I am from Bilbao, and more specifically from Casco Viejo.

That is why I have chosen this photo, as it was taken from the balcony of my new home.
I've got lots of favourite places, but this one represents my new life stage.

Selection criteria: If something seems almost an impossible task, it is to show in a single image the future of a city. How to show something that has not taken place? How to illustrate what lies ahead?
If we would have to start somewhere, we should begin by saying that the future of Bilbao will be the one its citizens want it to be. But for that, you need a young city, which attracts more and more people with its prospects for future opportunities to fill the city with their hopes and dreams.
After several decades during which the city experienced a population loss drip, Bilbao is today, once again, an attractive city that increases its number of citizens each year and does it, moreover, attracting more and more people at heart of the city.

there is beauty in the city went to bilbao and held an exhibition

When Ph'a'ke (Photoartekomite - Igor Calvo and Susana Martínez Ximénez) contacted us back in January to ask if they could make a There is Beauty in the City exhibition in the Basque capital city of Bilbao, we could never have imagined just how much the city's people would take this project, dreamt up as a response to the post-industrial situation in Stoke-on-Trent, to their hearts.

The opening night of the show which took place last tuesday, 17th May,  saw about 240 Bilbaoans turn up to the Sala Rekalde gallery to see the 140 photographic submissions shown on the huge 10ft screen. The 15 minute showreel which depicted all of the submitted images ( a principle which lies at the heart of us here at there is beauty in the city) had the crowdin a thrall - amazed and amused at the areas of their city deemed to be beautiful enough to be depicted with our small magnet. At the end of the film, they broke out into a spontaneous round of applause - a sound to gladden the heart.

There were two undoubted factors which underpinned this amazing response. Firstly, Igor and Susana's tireless work ethic and keen understanding of the project's raison d'être. These two really haven't stopped on this project for the last 4 months - a constant talking up of the project - they used their local media to the utmost effect, meaning that queues of people turned up on the two occasions to collect their magnets, in fact many more people than magnet packs, and an astounding 60,000 hits to their blog. They canvassed everybody, from the normal Bilbaoan to council representatives. There is Beauty in the City was given airtime on Basque television and printspace in its newspapers. As an exercise in promotion, watching Susana and Igor at work was a real education. Their hard work more than paid off and they both thoroughly deserve the feeling of contented satisfaction they both must have felt on hearing that unsolicited round of applause on tuesday night. They also have the eternal gratitude of us here at TIBC.
The other factor was the public of Bilbao. They quite obviously loved this project. It's my guess that the people of this city, the capital of small area of northern Spain which is in search of a degree of autonomy from national Spanish rule, jumped at the chance to proudly display and share and promote their beloved Bilbao. Whilst it may be true that many of the entries were quite conventional and conservative in their approach - we think that at the centre of this project is the idea of a celebration of the city, and the response of the people of Bilbao was most definitely celebratory.

The Spanish odyssey for There is Beauty in the City doesn't end here. Ph'a'ke have two further venues in Bilbao in mind to show this exhibition - which will represent different building use and socio-economic areas of the city. And further afield, there is the tantalising possibility of another collaborative link-up, this time with a group from Galicia, in Spain's north-west. We're really excited about the prospect of the Beauty extending its reach even further. Watch this space for further details.

So, a great big thankyou to Igor and Susana - and an equally great big thanks to Beautiful Bilbao and its Beautiful people. Here is what it all looked like.


Hanging the three selected prints.
Each image was beautifully printed and represented, from l-r: the past, limbo, the future.
This panel comprised a 15cmx10cm print of each submitted image.

The Submission Map was a perfect representation of the area covered by the project. A large central concentration was counterbalanced by some determined outposts.

The film screen

An early visitor
One of the many television crews

The screen here showed a looped film of the 25 video testimonials made in the lead-up to the show.

Booklets produced in Spanish, Basque and English, plus some magnet packs just in case there was anybody who had yet to get themselves one.