Boa Mistura is an artistic collective that consists of a multidisciplinary team that share their roots in graffiti and public space. “Boa Mistura” is a Portuguese expression that means “Good Mix” and it evokes the diversity that serves as a creative principle for the group. Although they had already painted a coauthored mural in 2001, Boa Mistura was born in Madrid in 2002, and after consolidating itself in the world of urban art on a global level, in 2010 they opened their headquarters: the Boa Estudio in Madrid. Their style is characterized by the hybridization of architectural, graphic and typographic elements, in polysemic artworks that allow multiple readings depending on the standpoint of the beholder. The simplification of shapes, the layering, and the dynamics between the flat and the three-dimensional are constant strategies in their work.
They have intervened numerous spaces in Brasil, Argelia, USA, Kenya, and China, among others. The founding members of the collective are: Javier Serrano Guerra, Juan Jaume Fernández, Pablo Ferreiro Mederos y Pablo Purón Carrillo. After the artistic intervention of Boa Mistura – of more than one hundred square meters – at Livensa Living in Getafe, we talked to Pablo Purón about the artistic act of intervening public space, the production of large format works and the role that art can have in the building of new urban landscapes.
As a group, you have been invited to intervene public spaces in different cities, as well as art centers and foundations, or in this case student residences. All these actions share a commitment to these spaces and a certain “collaboration” with them. Could you explain a little about the process of contextualization and dialogue with the space that you carry out when a project is presented to you?
When we are invited to participate in projects or when we detect an idea, the first thing is to study if it makes sense to do a project there. Many times it is thought that urban art can be located anywhere, but there are times when we feel that it does not have a place or that it does not make much sense to do a project in that emplacement. For this reason, the first question we always ask ourselves is whether it makes sense to work in that place. Once we agree that the answer is yes, we start looking at how to respond to that site.
Normally this requires some field research on the place: what is going to surround the work and with what is it going to coexist. At the end, art in public space is linked to that enclave where it will remain. It’s not like studio works: you paint them in your studio and they can end up hung in Berlin, Barcelona, London or China and it doesn’t matter, it’s a dialogue between the artist and the work. But in the case of street art, we strive to establish a dialogue and a link with the place where the works are going to remain anchored. This is perhaps the most important task for us, and definitely the one that takes the most time: to decipher that place, to find what that stimulus is, the thread that allows you to get out of the maze and develop an idea. This process is sometimes immediate, but sometimes it takes days, sometimes weeks… For us it is the spark and the starting point of a project.
Whether a project is good depends mainly on having been able to respond to the place. Throughout this process, we must connect to the community, that we see as important as the work because it is those neighbors who are going to live with that work. When we leave and finish it, it becomes theirs. We begin with the dialogue with those who are going to live with the work. The execution is what you already know, but how it will respond varies from site to site. At the end, each place has its own identity, its own characteristics and we give a very visceral response from our perception and artistic vision of this community. It does not have to be mathematical or scientific, but it is what arises for us from the stimuli we receive from places.
Do you feel reflected in the creative methodologies of any other referent, movement or artistic collective?
Partly. With these types of creative processes we have felt aligned with the Basurama collective, with whom we worked in 2012 for the first time. They are an architectural collective that apply this community-based process of first entering into dialogue with the people and involving them in the making of the project. Slowly, working hand in hand with them, we began to implement that process in our own projects that have made us develop and consolidate a methodology that we apply today.
In recent months, the group has carried out an artistic intervention at Livensa Living in Getafe, produced by Rebobinart. Occupying a total of 100 square meters, it was decided to superimpose letters that generated different words and created geometries with contrasting colors. The two chosen words were HOME – located at the outside wall – and UNION – located inside the building. Could you explain a bit the creative process behind that choice?
In the residence project we decided to work with two concepts that represented the two spaces in which we would work: the exterior facade of the residence and the interior common rooms. In this case, for example, being a newly built residence, it is a place that does not yet have its own identity. What we decided to do is to continue with a line of research that we are developing in our studio: a chromatic line of typographic superimposition that would provide a new story for this building where identity is still being made. The works become one more stone in the identity-building of this new urban development that is taking place in Getafe.
We worked with two concepts: outside with the word ‘home’ because we really understand the residence as the first home outside the family house for young people. When one goes to a student residence sometimes they have not lived on their own, nor have they had their own nest, it usually is the first home once one flies from the parent’s nest. On the other hand, with the word ‘union’ in the common areas of the interior, the meeting areas, we speak about the connection between the residents.
What effect does this ambiguity and these possible non-immediate readings of the work have on beholders?
In the end, the typographic game generates an abstract piece because it doesn’t really have an immediate reading. But we do like that behind this abstraction generated by the typographical superimposition, there is a reason – that someone can at a certain moment interpret the letters and read the word. But typography really is an excuse to generate color patterns, and rhythms that we alter. Actually, the artistic fact is the modification of the color that is generated from the overlapping of characters. If you overlap the letters of the word ‘home’ with those colors, the sum does not give you that color. We are modifying these colors and they generate the chromatic rhythms that we want and we look for harmonies. In fact, we call this series of pieces “Armonías” (harmonies).
On a technical level, it was a very large format work. Does this format leave room for improvisation? What role do planning and accident play?
These kinds of pieces, which have a geometric and chromatic study behind them, have little room for improvisation. Because we really got there with the paving made and adapted so that the geometry is perfect. It doesn’t have much room for more visceral parts like those of more organic works that you almost create with the rhythm of your bodily movements with the brush on the wall. Yes, there are certain margins of variability in the piece that are given by the context and the environment. Designing on the computer screen, where in the end you create color guides, harmonies and color relationships that work on the screen, is not the same as transferring them to the wall. That with which the piece itself coexists makes you modify it. From the light it receives, to the original color of the wall, the floor, the sky… There are many factors that lead to modifications. In the specific case of the residence, of the original colors of the proposal, we modified practically all of them in situ , because you see how they coexist there, not only with each other, but also with the surroundings.
Finally, about the production process, how do you as a collective face an order of this magnitude?
The four founding members met in the world of graffiti at the age of fourteen. However, as we grew and began to work in a more professional manner on large-scale projects, we started to build a sporadic team that grows and decreases depending on the size of the projects that Boa Mistura studio has at any given time. There have been times when we have needed to become a team of twelve people, and among them there have been interns who have become part of the team. Right now, Javi Ballesteros and Irene García are permanent support members of production. In Livensa Living Getafe, the conception and design was carried out mainly by the four founding members, in a process in which Irene, who knows well our methodologies, even collaborated. Javi, Irene and María were essential assistants in the production, logistics and execution phases of the murals.
In the case of Livensa Living Getafe, you have developed a design commissioned by a brand, without giving up your style or your social commitment, incorporating the values of ‘home’ and ‘union’ that will contribute to building community. On the other hand, you have carried out quite different projects with the UN and with NGOs . What dynamics are generated in projects with this type of entity?
Well, normally working with this type of counterpart allows us to delve into contexts that are very alien to our day-to-day life, and very enriching. Reciprocally, they are very nourishing projects both for what we do and leave in these contexts, in these places, and for what we receive in these places. In the end, they are organizations that we use as a key to enter certain neighborhoods. For example, in Kibera (Nairobi, Kenya, 2016) with Kubuka, which is the association that worked there, and with « Ghetto Youth Focus Foundation » GYFF; or then Entrepazos when we went to Buenaventura (Colombia). They are agents who are already working on the field, who know the communities, who already have previous social work done there, and who act as a prelude so that when you arrive, you are endorsed by someone who already has a foothold in that place. What it allows us to do is to carry out a certain type of project, which we understand more as mid-term artistic residences, because in these cases much more than in any other the will is to respond to the local context and to a place that usually suffers from certain marginality, very heavy routines, crime rates. They are contexts in which whatever you do has a very strong responsibility with the people who live there. This happens with any intervention made in public spaces, but in these cases it is more evident because these are places where there is usually no access to other types of proposals.
What are the challenges when making artistic interventions in a totally different cultural context?
It gives us time to work in which we insert ourselves into the community, we try to experience the place as much as possible from within, and once again viscerally respond to the reality of the site and translate it into a project. I think it nourishes us a lot because it puts us in that urge to be in a place totally outside your comfort zone, totally alien to you, and try to get enough of the place and what you breathe to translate it into a project. artistic that also has the validation and approval of the community. These types of associations normally lay out a carpet for you to enter the communities and there is prior work done that greatly facilitates the work. Looking at what we contribute, it is also an approach to the neighborhoods from a totally different place, because art is a transversal tool, we also try to involve the neighbors in the execution of the work itself or in its conception . It is something that in some almost playful way is involving the neighbors in a transformation of their community.
Boa Mistura’s works are characterized by their symbiosis with space, the majority being ‘site specific ‘ and made depending on the place. This gives them a three-dimensional character that a flat mural would not have, since they incorporate the depth of architectural and landscape elements. In contrast, lettering, messages or simply typographical symbols are often introduced to establish the privileged point of view to look at the work and be able to read it. This in and out game gets even more complicated at Livensa Living Getafe, with the duality of having made a mural on an exterior wall and one on an interior wall. It seems that you do not stop generating new creative challenges.
Boa Mistura attends to the present and the challenges that it entails. What do you think are the new borders that artistic interventions can help breaking down?
From the first time we worked in a community, which was in South Africa in 2011, the neighbors themselves made us feel the responsibility we have as agents of transformation of public spaces. At the end, we are imposing our work in a place that does not belong to anyone and belongs to everyone, and somehow there we began to feel the responsibility towards those who are going to live with our work. We have always tried to respond to places in the most sensitive and coherent way. I believe that our line of work is going to continue going that way. Yes, there is one factor that is a fact: that urban art is increasingly popular and present in cities.
There is an urgent task of introspection and of understanding what is happening with street art, and in the end, among all the agents that make up the ecosystem of public space, we must organize and channel everything so that it is something that responds to specific needs, and not something that is produced in bulk and without any reason in the cities. Urban artists are crucial, of course, but also real estate developers, urban planners, architects, urban art curators, heritage conservators… Among all these agents who are condemned to coexist in public space, the challenge is to channel urban art and to avoid being flavour of the month, an empty embellishment solution for cities, but something that really makes sense in each place instead.