I first came across the Portuguese artist Bordalo II while wandering around exploring Lisbon. Protruding from the brick wall of one of the buildings in the street was a huge wasp, made entirely of garbage. During the consecutive weeks after that, I continued to stumble across these colossal Big Trash Animals in other hidden places throughout the city, before realising his work has plagued the streets all over the whole world. Coincidentally, Bordalo II was also holding a temporary pop-up exhibition in his studio last week, so I decided to check it out. The exhibition turned out to be so popular and sought after, that it was extended for an extra week.
For two years, Bordalo II has worked at this venue, and ATTERO now marks the last opening of the studio. It offers visitors an intimate insight into the raw space where the creative magic has happened. Despite the studio being situated in a very remote place outside the centre of the Lisbon, it was uncomplicated to find due to a very long queue of people leading directly to my destination.
Waiting patiently for an hour or so, I began nearing the entrance as the sky was turning indigo, and a giant monkey hanging off of the front of the building came into view to greet us, illuminated by the spotlights in the twilight. Visitors are directed through Bordalo II´s journey as an artist, starting with his first trash installations. On a smaller scale, these surreal pieces depict sardonic scenes, with a focus on politics and society. We see a circus scene, with a bear cracking the whip while a man is forced to balance on a unicycle trying to juggle at the same time, another scene shows “modern pray” with worshippers holding their holy smartphones, bowing down to an electrical socket. Other pieces show scenes with equally poignant messages.
As the visitors follow the path into the next room, we are then faced with some of Bordalo II´s signature pieces: the Big Trash Animals. These animals are beautifully rendered, and from a distance, you would not even realise they are made entirely from rubbish. If we look beyond the surface-face aesthetics, we realise there is a much more serious intention behind Bordalo II’s artwork other than just looking good. By using rubbish – something undesirable, disgusting and discarded – and transforming it into something beautiful and eye-catching, Bordalo II implores people across the globe to actually take notice of it. The world is littered with so much rubbish, that many of us have become blind to it. So many people are oblivious and ignorant to the gravity of our consumerism and our wasteful lives, but Bordalo II dramatically and effectively creates awareness of these issues with his arresting series of trash installations.
Bordalo II has chosen animals as the main subject in his project, ironically building them from the rubbish that is harming them. Not only does it create empathy, as these furry creatures are something we are able to identify with, but also as it highlights some of the helpless aspects of our environment that are directly affected by man-made pollution and waste.
At each turn in the studio, visitors are in awe by the beauty, vibrancy and craftsmanship of every piece of work. The rustic nature of the interior completely fits to the artist’s style, and his colourful and expressive artworks pop out even more dramatically from this bare backdrop. The artist reminds us of certain species we have driven to extinction, and others we have endangered. He reminds us that global warming is a real threat. And the most impressive part is that Bordalo II does all this by creating something attractive, compelling us to open our eyes to the fragility of our environment.
Another part of the project highlighted in the exhibition focuses on ocean waste. Two video installations show the live footage of floating trash creations – one turtle and one human skull, both made from ocean waste, assembled and presented in the ocean for the duration of the filming, before being removed immediately afterwards. Bordalo II collected rubbish to make these pieces directly from the sea, 80% of which was collected from the coastline of Lisbon. These video installations again use an alternative method to create awareness of the issues of ocean pollution and the affects plastic has on the aquatic environment as well as our own health.
After walking through the studio and watching the evolution of the artist, we are lead around the final corner through a giant, immersive and magical underwater scene (again, made from discarded plastic and junk), to receive a final punching message. Occupying the entire back wall, from floor to ceiling, was a hard-hitting installation showing two halves of the face of a man, two halves to our world, and two halves to our whole reality. On one side, we see a luscious, idyllic, green landscape, with shrubbery, grass and trees growing wild and free, encircling a little pond. On the other side, we see the rotting skull of the man, and a dark, depressing mountain of rubbish and consumerist crap, polluting the other side of the pond. The scene is both incredible and deeply disturbing at the same time.
Hopefully, Bordalo II’s spectacular work is creating more awareness of the issues of pollution and waste, and encouraging more of us to look at the way in which, and what we consume.
Click here to see where Bordalo II’s Big Trash Animals have popped up over the world.