Nova Sintra Gardens
Published from Porto, 27th August 2012
Introduction, Interview & Photography by João Drumond
Illustrations by Pandora Complexa
Video & Sound by Ana Manuel & Paulo Catumba
Translation by Lúcia Ribeiro Sousa
Jump to the Interview
Rui Vitorino Santos and Júlio Dolbeth are, respectively, the left and the right side of Pandora Complexa — an alter ego shaped as a blog, a tool built in order to publish regularly their work that couldn't wait for commissions to come out. Each daily post consists on a pair of illustrations drawn from unplanned themes, inspired by their daily lives, their imagination or individual thoughts, always seasoned with bits of irony and sharp daringness. A selection of 500 of these drawings was bound together within the book Pandora Complexa 500, published by Plana Press in 2008. Freelance illustrators and professors at the School of Fine Arts (University of Porto), they teach subjects related with Illustration, encouraging its integration within the Design course. Also in 2008, together with Lígia Guedes, among others partners, they founded the Dama Aflita gallery, a space exclusively devoted to Illustration exhibitions, housed at Picaria Street and shared with Matéria Prima, disseminating, promoting, supporting and transforming a practice until then relatively marginal, within Porto, in a mandatory meeting spot for fans, with regular exhibitions with portuguese authors (José Feitor, Jucifer, Marta Monteiro, André Lemos) but also foreign ones (Luis Urculo, Mike Redmond, Nous Vous, Craig Atkinson).
Rui and Júlio took us to the Nova Sintra Gardens, a property that once belonged to the family Wright, acquired by Porto City Hall in 1932, a park that now houses the head offices of Águas do Porto (the city waters and sewerage company). Hidden behind the trees and the romantic corners one can find a "graveyard" of old fountains taken away from the city center over the years by public works. An open air museum with free entrance from monday to friday with an unexpected view over the Douro river and the train line that connects the two city train stations — Campanhã and São Bento. To get there, get out from the metro at Heroísmo station and follow (Rua) Barão Nova Sintra street (check out the map).
How did you guys meet and which was your first work together?
We met in the School of Fine Arts when we were studying Design. Working together and living in the same building enabled us to do several projects, some of them more informal and some more serious. The first thing we designed made toghether were some flyers for an event at the old bar Anikibóbó named 12 spaces in a Courtyard, commissioned by Joana Pimentel.
What has changed within the Design education system since you were students up to the moment you became teachers?
One of the biggest changes began in the teaching staff, nowadays all trained in Design and most of them with professional experience in this field. The programs have also been adapted to the specific needs of Design, not only in the latest technology but also with the possibility of working printing techniques (engraving, screen printing ...) which in our time as students was not possible (we just had the opportunity to experiment it when studying in other countries in Erasmus program). Another major change for us was that Illustration end up having more visibility in real curricular contexts, which ultimately confirms our suspicions that there was a considerable interest in the area.
Tell us about the Pandora Complexa project. How did the name and the idea came to the light? Which expectations did you initially had and in what did it effectively became?
The project popped up in a very informal way. We wanted an exercise that almost forced us to draw in a disciplined way. It may seem a paradox, but the idea was to draw as there was no tomorrow and somehow show this work without being dependent of invitations or commissions.
The first idea was the project to be very narrative; hence the need to create a character that was transverse to the visual expression of each one of us, something like a daily chart. Pandora came from the need to be a name understood in several languages, Complexa because we wanted this sometimes seemingly trivial nonsense stories to refer to the daily life of a character with a nonlinear life.
How and where do you archive the hundreds and hundreds of sketches?
The notebooks with the originals keep accumulating on the shelves or in boxes. To the last show we did, we felt the need to organize them. Right now the notebooks are numbered, but still expanding all over the house. It is not strange to find notebooks in weird places such as the kitchen.
Your project has already converged in a publication. How did this opportunity come to light and how does it differs from the blog?
The publication came early. One of the incentives was the feedback that we received through comments on the blog. From then on we had some invitations for collaborations always as a collective project. We received this invitation from Plana Press to be their first publication with a selection of 500 drawings.
What's your opinion on Independent Publishing?
It's a great way to show and give visibility to material that would otherwise be hidden in drawers. The current conditions of the publishers are not always compatible with strange universes or even with the work of authors who are not well known yet. Another feature of independent publishing has to do with its distribution - although the circuit is quite limited, those who follow it turn out to be an informed public and will eventually get this kind of material without questioning the issue. This aspect is very important for the authors since the feedback is fairly direct and serves as a stimulus for new projects.
This kind of publication ends up being a direct mirror, it shows almost in real time what is being produced. This immediacy and newness is not always easy to find within the mainstream publishers, where the commercial constraints are definitely more rigid.
Galeria Dama Aflita became an important vehicle for dissemination of Illustration in Oporto. What inspired you to start this project and how, after nearly four years, do you think you influenced the cultural landscape of the city?
Both of us organized exhibitions of illustration for some time and at some point we felt the need to have our own space without being always dependent for support or assigning places for the exhibitions.
Galeria Dama Aflita_ arises from a convergence of factors that fortunately came to the benefit of the project, one of them the possibility of us renting a space that belongs to friends. When we started the project we felt an absence of spaces dedicated to Illustration and Drawing, at least with the dignity that we believe it deserves. There were some hybrid spaces, stores that sold drawings and illustrations, but we had no knowledge of a showroom dedicated exclusively to Illustration and worked with this entire universe. On the other hand at the time there was an increasing interest in Illustration and Drawing, however it was difficult to see in Portugal works exhibited in a gallery context. This caused us some surprise as we knew that outside Portugal it was a quite matured practice.
Regarding the significance of our space to the city, we do not really know how to answer. It is interesting to see that after our opening, some new projects emerged in the city, as well as new "Illustration" exhibitions. For this reason we like to think that Dama Aflita had some significant importance.
We had the opportunity to see exhibitions by portuguese artists, foreign artists, satellite events such as workshops and parallel exhibitions at Pensão Favorita. How do you manage your scheduling and curating work?
The core of the project is definitely the exhibitions. Only afterwards we try to create some events and dynamism around the Illustration and Drawing. We have produced workshops, but also tried to develop some work which can relate to the exposed material or concerts from the artists themselves, like the musical project from Nicolas Burrows from Nous Vous, or inviting other musicians like Rudolfo for Júcifer's exhibition.
We also tried to create a cycle of conversations which we named Dama Talks (like the Ted Talks, you know), but it is not always possible due to author’s availability. We are also receptive to several projects that have been presented to us. It is somehow ironic as our space is quite small and familiar but we have been managing to host some projects with great visibility — as the Independent Publishing Fair with integrated concerts.
Is it possible to make a living out of Illustration in Portugal?
What’s the future for young illustrators?
The utopical answer to that question would be yes… but we don’t know many illustrators in Portugal that live only on their work. However we know portuguese illustrators who can actually make a living only illustrating, for example André da Loba, but for that he lives in New York, however in the context of children's books illustration the present and the future is brighter.
You’ve been invited several times to work in the public space. Tell us more about some of those projects and in which way the contact between Drawing and Space is important to you.
The public intervention began as a continuity of the Pandora project. We started by painting a storefront for our first exhibition at Gesto Porto and since then it has been a snow ball. Maybe the most interesting project was the one we developed for Sisley. What surprised us was knowing that in Italy someone knew about Pandora Complexa and thought that we would be the “chosen ones” to start a new project for the brand, the “Art in Store”. The feedback we got was surprisingly over our expectations, since that for the first time we had an audience much bigger that could keep up with the process of painting the storefronts. In this project we tested for the first time the contamination of individual work into a collective, we had the perceptions that even thought having different visual approaches, they work well together.
Tell us about the place you chose to disclose.
How did you come up with a consensus?
It was not easy; although we work very closely together and live next to each other, we do not necessarily attend the same locations. We did know that we didn’t want a well-known touristic area (although we have no problems about it). If we like Palácio de Cristal (which we do) we’ll not ignore it because it is touristic. However, with our contribution we would like to give visibility to a neglected place in the city and this one sounded perfect for the purpose. We liked the fact that there is a cemetery in this park which has lost its original utility. It is currently a memory of the city and acts as mere object of exposure. The fountains still maintain their original names, in most cases the name of the street where they used to supply water to the residents. Right now this fact creates a bucolic landscape where nostalgia reigns.
In which ways does this city and people influence your work? What did Oporto gave you and what do you expect from it?
Both of us are outsiders; we came initially here to study. In my case (Rui), the adaptation process was a little more complicated - I am from the south of Portugal and always thought that the winter here was longer than in rest of the country which made the city grey and with little life, where the degradation effect of the rain became more visible. After surrender to this fact and embracing the city I realize that what makes this city unique is precisely this differences that were initially putting me away from loving it.
We can say that there is an Oporto city before and after 2001, which coincides with the European Capital of Culture. Because of that event/occurrence public spaces were renovated, a range of initiatives opened the city to its population and Oporto’s downtown, once a desert, began to be inhabited and now it starts looking more alike any other European metropolis. Nowadays we feel lucky to live in Oporto. Here you have independent projects coming to light more and more often and people finally discovered that there is a city center ready to be lived and enjoyed.