THE WISE GRASSHOPPER CROUCHED ATOP A BARCELONA BUILDING
It’s the summer of 1993. You happen to find yourself out walking down Av. Diagonal, passing by Plaça de Francesc Macià, and, suddenly, you look up to find something alarming or, at the very least, surprising: a giant grasshopper crouching on top of the Barcelona Surveyors’ Association (CATEEB) building. You’re wondering what in the world the creature is doing up there.
Walking onto Carrer del Bon Pastor to get a closer look, you see that the building’s facade is full of a sequence of big, colorful letters, which don’t appear to mean anything. If you’re like many Barcelonians, you immediately realize this must be the work of Joan Brossa, the Catalan poet, playwright, graphic designer and visual artist, whose works can be found all around the city. That educated guess turns out to be correct, and you feel privileged to have stumbled up on his latest urban poetry installation after it had just recently been mounted.
Poema visual per a una façana (“Visual poem for a facade”) is a visual spectacle inaugurated, amidst great expectation, on June 15th, 1993 by Joan Brossa, in collaboration with the plastic artist and designer Josep Pla Narbona. Brossa’s choice of letters will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his work. He was obsessed with the alphabet and particularly passionate about the letter “A” for being, in his mind, the superior symbol of origin.
The giant, three-ton grasshopper that sits atop the facade was chosen by Brossa to symbolize wisdom in a tribute to architects, whom he admired. The steel locust, which stands three-and-a-half meters tall and seven-and-a-half meters long, is an imposing, striking figure; it looks as if it’s set to catapult itself into the air. The poet designed the insect, but it was crafted by Josep Pla-Narbona. It sits there, adorning the entrance’s bright, dynamic exterior and imparting its “wisdom” upon all who stop to appreciate it or enter the building.
Poema visual per a una façana consists of a series of 100 colored letters, 50 of which constitute the “Col·legi d’Aparelladors i Arquitectes Tècnics de Barcelona” sign while the other 50 are arranged alphabetically across the entire façade (in bottom-to-top and left-to-right order); you’ll notice that the letter “A” appears most often, partly because it represents the word “aparelladors” but also because of, as mentioned before, Brossa’s fascination with the letter.
The installation of the poem marked the culmination of a two-year renovation of the association’s headquarters. The building’s transformation gave it “room to grow” so to speak, and, once the refurbishment was complete, ideas were tossed around to think of ways to facilitate a greater public presence.
The CATEEB Board of Directors made an imaginative and risky bet: commissioning Joan Brossa to the task; at that time, Brossa had just finished the Poema visual transitable en tres temps (“Visual poem passable in three parts”), situated between Horta’s Velodrome and Labyrinth parks, in which he began to apply what he called “experimental poetry” to urban planning and architecture. Previously unnoticed amidst the Barcelona bustle, the CATEEB’s facade was given new personality and visual appeal.
Twenty years after the poem was installed, the CATEEB commemorated the unique piece of cultural heritage with a plaque detailing the authorship and meaning of the work. You can find it on the pavement in front of the building’s entrance.
To cap off this this story, we leave you with Joan Brossa’s poem “El Llagost” (“The Grasshopper”), which he wrote in honor of his 1993 project:
Enmig de l’expectació general, un gran llagostIn the midst of general expectation, a big grasshopper
ha aparegut al cim del Col·legi d’Aparelladors.
El carrer ha estat paralitzat unes hores.
El cònsol de Mèxic ha assegurat que al seu país
aquest insecte, que en diuen chapulín, és considerat
pels indis autòctons com a símbol de la saviesa.
Estudiat el fenomen, els entomòlegs han deduït
que l’aparició de l’insecte significa un homenatge
als arquitectes i aparelladors de Barcelona
per la seva provada solvència.
I, d’aquest dia ençà, el llagost no se’n mou.
has appeared at the top of the Surveyors’ Association.
The street has been paralyzed for hours.
The Mexican consul has assured that, in his country,
this insect, which is called a “chapulín,” is considered
a symbol of wisdom by native Indians.
Having studied the phenomenon, entomologists have deduced
that the appearance of the insect represents a tribute
to the architects and surveyors of Barcelona
for its proven solvency.
And, since that day, the grasshopper has not moved.
By EMILY BENSON
Photos by ISABEL TROYA
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