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A Pictorial Testimony of What Barcelona Really Is

What do I think of when I think of Barcelona? The fragrance of the stylish metropolis! The smell of dog piss pops in my mind first, along with the sight of the pavement covered homogeneously with dried patches of golden shower. Add the irresistible charm of canine excrement, and you have the olfactory and visual extravaganza that is Barcelona. I cherry-picked a handful of the photos I took over the last few months to showcase the artistic delight that we, residents of the city, enjoy any given day. We live in a constant state of catharsis.

Composition with man-hole

The symphony of geometric shapes is counter-balanced by an organic masterpiece that blends in harmoniously with the strict mathematical forms. It is a manifesto of techno-optimism: life, represented here by the warm, brown manure — itself a source of fertility –, permeates the artificial, the grid of the pavement, a civil engineering marvel that, on one hand, is an indispensable fixture of civilized living, and, on the other hand, an abstraction that dissolves our bond to the very soil that our species has tread on for aeons.

We must not ignore the intrinsic humour of the composition. The act and the outcome of defecation are often considered unsanitary. We construct extensive infrastructure to conceal the path of our excreta from our bowels to their final resting place. However, a dog, an ally of humans, is allowed to transgress social norms, and confronts us with our hypocrisy. In this picture, the canine artist made this confrontation explicit by arranging to defecate next to a man-hole cover, the sealed communication channel between the truth and the concealment.

The undeserved gift

This is the darkest, most unforgiving piece of the collection. A heart-wrenching sight, it provides a stark antithesis to the techno-optimism of the previous entry. Seeing fecundity planted at the foot of the metallic stalk of a street light, we immediately think of a tender woman offering love to a soulless man, or a spoilt son abandoning his mother, forgetting the gift of years of loving and caring. The dog who offered the fertile substance had thought it would provide essential nutrients to a tree or a large plant to allow it to thrive and multiply, but the cold steel pillar is ignorant of the kindness showered on it.

Industrial technology devouring the organic, the flesh-and-bone is anything but a novel idea. It has been with us since at least the Luddite movement, but a more contemporary connection to this image is the bleak perspective of cyberpunk horror, such as the Tetsuo series of Shinya Tsukamoto. All warmth is lost, alienated organic beings are stranded in vast spaces of concrete and steel — this is the atmosphere captured in this photo.

Cats too

The narrow girth and pointy ends leave no room for doubt: what we see here was crafted in the guts of a small, carnivorous animal. Heterogeneity is a core value of a functional democracy, and the streets of Barcelona are witnesses to the city’s commitment to this value.

The Catalan capital is undeniably cosmopolitan: apart from the various streaks of people from Spain who call this place home, we see an extraordinary array of residents from all over the world, as well as a large transient population. The tasty pastries of Raval are concocted by sweet-toothed immigrants from South Asia, the Chinese real estate agents and Chinese banks near Tetuán underline the importance of the city as an international investment opportunity, and the only language spoken on the vomit-soaked streets of El Born is Essex English. Why wouldn’t the multiculturalism extend to pets?

The pavement in Barcelona is ready to display the discharge of any species with pride. Dogs are accountable for the majority of the discharges, followed by a tie between pigeon droppings and the regurgitated sangria-paella infusion of an endemic ape species colloquially known as guiris. Tobacco-enriched dried saliva adds a true Spanish character to the blend through the time-tested habit of spitting. Feline excrement, pictured here, is a rare sight, and so are the droppings left behind by the adventurous boars that populate the upper slopes of the Collserola. One could spend a lifetime exploring this diversity.

Tagging

It is an ancient desire to signal our existence by leaving physical marks behind. In fact, this desire is the hallmark of life itself: the most primitive forms of organic entities that are capable of self-replication also have the capacity to emit chemicals to declare “I am here.” No wonder then that both humans and canines have a wish to tag the places they visit.

What we see in this picture is the fascinating example of interspecies communication: the graffiti artists left behind tags, to which dogs respond with urine. It is like a call and response cycle in music, a succession of two distinct phrases played by different musicians, where the subsequent phrase is a commentary on the first.

The smell and composition of urine are as unique as the graffiti tags. Identification is possible through the symbols left behind — let those be of chemical or visual nature. This leads to core question of this opus: can we understand one another or is communication futile? The urban tribes who can read the tags and identify the artists cannot possibly interpret the urine traces, and even much less likely to recognize the identity of the dogs involved in creating them. The same applies to the canine visitors: they can perceive the graffiti, but cannot attach a meaning to it. The impossibility of mutual understanding is underlined by the spatial separation of the different types of messages, as well as by their arrangement on orthogonal planes.

Cascades of gold

Blessed are the kidneys that produce so much beauty. It is the Victoria Falls of urine. Observe the wide spatial arrangement of the different streaks, potentially originating from several dogs over the course of months, or even years. Masterpieces like this are not created overnight.

Notice the plastic black item somewhat resembling a more solid form of excreta. At first, it looks alien, and intruder intent on destroying beauty and aesthetics. It is the shape and colour that allow it join the composition, in fact, to become an indispensable part of it, adding a sense of depth and scale to the image.

Ambiguous phase

A playful physical experiment is unfolding in front of us. Is this urine? The way the liquid finds its way through the cracks of the tiles indicates so. Or is this excrement? We do see a well-defined shape, hinting at the presence of solids. The amoebaesque shape is quintessentially organic and the free-flowing boundary invites the spectator to come up with associations of his or her own imagination. It is both a Rorschach test and a prompt to spur creativity.

That is the playful part of the work, but there is more to it. The substance desires to emerge to a new dimension, to become the sphere crossing Flatland. This is the will of a living entity aspiring to transcend the constraints imposed by the physical world. The unknown canine artist has a depressing view on this possibility: the shape is flattened out, hardly emerging from the plane, clearly showing the disillusionment of the work’s creator.

Gentrification

Barcelona pitches itself as the Silicon Valley of Europe, and rightfully so. While local universities repel rather than attract talent, venture capital is absent, entrepreneurship is restricted to the unemployed young who try to scrape together a living by crashing series of low-tech ventures, other aspects of the city mirror the Valley area almost perfectly. Local area trains are as inefficient and inconvenient as the infamous BART, but with the respectable habit of frequent service disruptions due to technical breakdowns, strikes, the weather, or just because. The city also attract an extraordinary number of petty criminals, ranging from the ubiquitous pickpockets through property agents to bankers.

Yet, the most apparent parallel is gentrification: posh cafés open one after the other, serving the same sour coffee as the crummy bar next door, but for ten times the price. Apartments rented out on AirBnB fetch ten to twenty times more than ordinary rental arrangements, so entire blocks can be filled with Anglo-Saxons. Neighbourhoods transform, squeezing out the original residents, allowing only the rich and the affluent to thrive.

This square is in Poble Sec, the latest district to undergo gentrification. The true marvel of this opus is that the dollops of turd are also gentrified. We see a neatly arranged parallel of two perfectly cylindrical objects, of just the right consistency, beautiful texture and the right shade. This is the Gucci of dog poop.

Competition

The Spanish economy is fuelled by testosterone, and nowhere it is more apparent than in the economic powerhouse of Catalonia. The aggressive attitude is conducive to business, the free market forces shape society for a better and more efficient tomorrow, and only countries like Burkina Faso, Turkmenistan, or East Timor can match Spain in competitiveness and productivity.

We witness here an artistic interpretation of the eternal race between individuals: the dogs hardly leave a patch of surface unadorned. Let that be horizontal or vertical, it does not matter: the mark must be there. A dog that does not assert itself will be vanquished, its gene pool has no role in the future of canine kind. Ruthless as it may seem, the competition serves a good purpose and it eradicates the inclination for idleness. An additional advantage is that the traces of the exemplary behaviour are at the eye-level of human infants, making them appreciate competitive thinking right from the start, so they would never fall for the languor of Marxism or the peril of ennui.

Disobedience in the spring

This vibrant still from Montjuïc is rich in meaning and the captured evidence required a close collaboration between the dog and its owner. The successful co-ordination must have been the fruit of years of shaping each other’s character. The owner imprinted his or her personality, habits, and wishes on the dog, and in turn, the dog’s nature shaped the owner as a person. The perfect sync blurs the line between owner and possession, making them peers of equal standing, but that is not the main point of this composition. It is only a necessary, although important, condition to express the main message. The pretentious times we live in we want everything wrapped and neatly isolated in a plastic bag. This desire extends to dog waste: we require it to be picked up, enveloped in a bag, and disposed of in a bin. Here the waste appears in a raw and naked form, boldly defying the bin, its legitimate abode. This mutiny is the essence of this impromptu street art.

What we see here is illegal, a severe violation of the law, and the perpetrator is subject to fines and possibly persecution. This dimension adds tension, one can already see the police catching the poor soul, handcuffing him or her, and separating from the beloved companion, the dog. The painful and forced parting is an emotion we can all strongly relate to. The owner of the dog deserves accolade for accepting the danger, and doing so for the selfless reason of exposing our conceit through art.

The saturated green colours imply the arrival of spring, the time of the year when the growing vegetation requires the most nutrients it can extract from the soil. It is almost as if the greenery was reaching out towards the nourishing gift that the urban landscape sorely needs, yet it cannot accept.

On the beach

The first great beach to the south is in Castelldefels. Beach-goers can enjoy riddles like this: do these charming little chunks originate from the same canine anus, or from different ones? Their proximity hints at a common intestinal ancestry, but the diameter and texture make us entertain a doubt, with the emergent possibility of at least two dogs having been involved in the creation. A visual inspection will not suffice. The riddle forces us engage other senses: olfaction and touch. If the result is still inconclusive, we may turn to gustation, our most primordial yet most robust way of telling things apart.

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