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Artur Bordalo, and those helping him, have spent the last couple of days foraging for scrap. They’ve gathered car bumpers, old giant trash containers, and a bicycle.
On Wednesday, he’ll start to turn this into a giant red squirrel on the outside wall of The Workshop pub on George’s Quay. (Don’t tell it about the giant “people’s acorn” planned for Áras an Uachtaráin.)
Bordalo’s sculpture will turn a vacant space, earlier filled with rubble, into an artwork meant to raise awareness about the plight of the red squirrel. [Editor’s note: By Monday, 17 April, the artwork was up. You can see it here.]
Sending a Message
Bordalo came to art through graffiti when he was a kid, spraying the walls of Lisbon.
But he grew out of that, he says. “Graffiti is a bit egocentric. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I’m just saying it is.”
He wanted to be part of the conversation more, to share ideas. “In fact, to leave something good for society and the world.”
At first, he started to make landscapes out of pieces of plastic and trash, ones that were modelled on the works of his grandfather, a painter himself, who taught Bordalo about art.
Other influences include Steve Cutts, Pawel Kuczynsky and Spy, he says. Artists that are wanting to send a message, not just make a pretty picture.
As time went on, his works got bigger and bigger, and eventually evolved into a series he calls Trash Animals, he says.
“It’s to create images of the victims of pollution,” he says. “The images of them, with what kills them.”
He makes between 20 and 30 of his trash animals each year. From rabbits, to googly-eyed frogs, to open-beaked kingfishers. This time, he’s chosen the giant red squirrel, under threat from grey squirrels.
Bordalo’s street art is different to much in Dublin, says Rua Meegan, who was one of the people behind the book A Visual Feast: Irish Street Art in 2010.
“It’s three dimensional,” he says. “Most people I know would use paints. There’s no using other materials.”
Part of the reason that Bordalo is here in Dublin is that directors Meegan and Trevor Whelan are making a short film about his art, his life.
They met a couple of years ago in Berlin, and the directors have filmed the artist working in several different locations since.
Getting the film and the sculpture done has been a financial challenge, so they’ve relied a lot on the kindness of strangers, said Glen Collins, the producer.
Whelan agrees. “The amount of people this has brought together … ”
They got some money from the Irish Film Board, under the Real Shorts funding scheme. But that had to be stretched out a lot.
Collins kind of said he’d be producer because he didn’t really think it would happen, he said with a laugh. “In a way, I thought we’d never get it. But it’s come back to bite me.”
It was a learning curve dealing with Dublin City Council to get permission to put up the giant squirrel.
They needed to get reports done on conservation and the structure of the building’s wall. So the money they would have been paid themselves in fees went to that, said Collins.
There’s a lesson somewhere. “Don’t try to put an installation on a protected building,” Collins says, with a laugh.
At a meeting of Dublin City Council’s South East Area Committee on Monday afternoon, councillors gave the sculpture concept a broad welcome.
They were shown a visualisation that gives an impression of the size, rather than the texture, of the planned installation.
“I love wacky things like this around the city,” said Labour Councillor, Dermot Lacey.
Said independent Councillor Mannix Flynn: “There is a huge issue around the red squirrel and its endangerment (…) I’m well on for animating this particular corner (…).”
Fianna Fail’s Frank Kennedy used the opportunity to draw attention to the footpaths in the area, which he said are “diabolical”.
Whelan, Meegan, and Collins say they have had support not just from the council, but from all corners.
There are businesses – too many to list – who have chipped in with in-kind help: from Hammond Lane Metal Recycling for materials, to the Clayton Hotel who put Bordalo up at no charge, to the Workshop Gastro Pub, which gave their wall and has been feeding them for free.
“The generosity, in general, from everybody, has been amazing,” said Collins.
Once the film is out, it’ll premiere at a festival here, and then do a world circuit at other festivals chosen by the Irish Film Board, he said.
It’s unclear at the moment how long the sculpture will stay up for. The Dublin City Council presentation said that it will be there until September.
But similar installations elsewhere have been there for years, says Whelan. So, perhaps, it’ll become a more permanent feature.