I love you, Cristina
As tattoos that stick to the city’s skin, the messages posted on lampposts, walls, rubbish or electricity bins in downtown Porto are a part of the city, claiming their own space and competing with the communicative hyperstimulation of the streets. We place ourselves in Bakhtin’s position (1986), transposing the concept of dialogism to these images-icon-texts that are also scattered on walls, lids and windows.
In three areas of the city of Porto, we searched for the most unusual forms of communication, those that take over the city space (its walls, its ruins, the posts, the inverse, in sum, of the best advertising spot) to claim their right to exist within it. While walking through the parishes of Bonfim (Rua do Heroísmo, S. Vítor, Campo 24 de Agosto), Cedofeita (Rua de Cedofeita, Rua do Breyner, Rua do Rosário), Paranhos (Rua da Constituição, Marquês, Faria Guimarães), my eyes were trained to the small chaos that mixes with everyday life. Remnants of stickers and posters, graffiti, stencil, tiles. Visual records most of the time anonymous and pseudonymous. We attempt to question what these statements are, to whom they are addressed and what voices they represent (Bakhtin, 1986). Is it, as Foucault states, that “an anonymous text that is read in the street on a wall has an editor, instead of having an author” (1970/2009, p. 274)? What is authorship and what does it matter to those who pass distractedly by for the thousandth time in the continuous communicative flux of a street?
Following Moen’s words (interpreting Bakhtin), “according to this strong emphasis on dialogue, a voice can never exist in isolation. It never exists in a vacuum and is never neutral. The voice that produces a statement is always addressed to someone” (2008, p. 294). Let us arrange the images that follow one another in torrents through the city streets, trying to weave meanings into the apparent improvisation of its founding gesture. With the scalpel of the eye we scrutinize the dialogues that cross each other, as in a spider’s web, in which the flâneur is, after all, the spider.
Dialog 1 – The messages and the place they inhabit
“I love you, Cristina” is displayed in dozens of spots throughout the city. A small white sticker, printed in black letters, with no signature or other visual effects. Not only does the message catch people’s attention (a declaration of love), but its seduction arises from its repetitive character. At each step, “Amo-te, Cristina” subliminally attacks the brain, dialoguing with the passer-by in distinct places of the city. In the rush of everyday life, we hardly have time to reflect on this sticker, which, however, we start to associate it with a small street, a corner, some dirt. Like the stencil “Saudades 500 mg”, which punctuates doors and walls, providing a message between the melancholic and the hopeful.
Dialog 2 – The messages with themselves
There is another form of dialogue that we would like to point out here, that of the text-images with themselves or with others in the city. “I love you, Cristina”, as an example, is so dominant that it elicited a response, on a small tile, with the inscription: “I love you too Tina”. Sometimes, each message is a kind of substitute of itself, acting as varied questionings, multiples of the same idea. Thus: “H225JE [today] life is good for you”, “Today what is your super power?”, “Today are [days?] of madness”, “H21JE [today] is a rave alone at home”. Or “Je suis partout”, which is intercut with the variant/response “j’existe”.
Dialogue 3 – The messages and the institutional discourse
Stuck in the reverse side of the city, the text-images embody acts of resistance through art, even when their messages are, in form, innocuous. Let us not forget, however, the conditions of their existence as well as the fact that these messages (most of them anonymous or secondary in the informational whole of the city) do not aim to represent anything, but, above all, to trigger infamy (Agamben, 2005). Both their marginal physical condition and their formats and contents call for disruption. Moreover, these images dispute the space and ideological content with activist movements for the right to habitation and the city. All of them are a finger pointed at the dominant discourse, be it an abstract entity (the owners of power and money) or the municipality, in the figure of the Mayor, Rui Moreira. They are from the “Bastard Son”, for example, the sticker of Rui Moreira with a king’s crown and clown nose and the simulated toponymy plaque “Rua dos Legítimos Negócios de Família [legitimate family business street]”. Other messages are less sophisticated but equally acidic: “So many houses without people, take over” or “Tourist, go home”.
Which voices are those?
More direct to the target or subtle in the polysemy of their meanings, which voices do those messages hide? Even if these images are the product of a redactor (and not an author), are they not under the same conditions of surveillance, repression or punishment as all the other discourses that populate a city? Isn’t their very existence (even the ephemeral nature of their original condition) an indication of an authorship that makes itself absent in order to increase the impact of the universality of its enunciation? Let us return to “I love you, Cristina”. Is it a ridiculous declaration of love without past or future? Or is it the expression of love for the city (a message of optimism in the face of dehumanisation) by an ordinary Cristina? After all, I love you is the phrase, Cristina the signature. Although, in a hurry, it seems to be addressed to a certain Cristina. Let’s look for “500 mg”: it refers to the artist Add Fuel. Who is “Bastard Son”: graphic artist. Who these people individually represent (where they come from and what moves them) is essential to understand their work? Do we call these graphics a work of art? “What does it matter who speaks?” (Motta, quoting Foucault, 1970/2009, p. XX). Returning to dialogism. None of these messages is created without the intention of to be completed by the meanings that others attribute to them. Not that they faithfully transmit an idea to someone. Rather, they help to construct the thousand symbolic faces of the city.
Text and images: Teresa Lima
Agamben, G. (2007). Profanações (S. J. Assmann, Trans.). Boitempo.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays (V. W. McGee, Trans.). University of Texas Press.
Foucault, M. (1970/2009). Ditos & escritos III (I. A. D. Barbosa, Trad.). Forense Universitária.
Foucault, M. (1997/1970). A ordem do discurso: aula inaugural no Collège de France, pronunciada em 2 de Dezembro de 1970. Relógio d’Água.
Moen, T. (2008). Reflections on the narrative research approach. In B. Harrisson (Ed.), Life story research (pp. 291-308). Sage.
Motta, M.B. da (2009). Apresentação. In Ditos & escritos III (I. A. D. Barbosa, Trans.). (pp. V-XLVII). Forense Universitária.