The poster

Images of popular culture in the 21st century

When you look back at the city’s festival posters a few years from now, it’ll be easy to spot the one from the year of the pandemic. The image for La Mercè 2020 speaks about the origin of the festival, as well as the way we’ll experience it this year.
 
However little interest you may have in design and illustration in Barcelona, you’re likely to have heard of Reskate Studio. Reskate was set up in 2010 by Sant Sebastian’s María López and Barcelona’s Javier de Riba, who often use the aesthetics of bygone times to talk about the world today. They met in Vienna, where she was working in a design studio and he was working for an advertising agency. They met up again in Barcelona, when María came to pursue a Master’s degree in typography. These were tough times for Javier, the last-in first-out employment criteria having left him jobless. The two of them started thinking a lot about how to be creative and earn a crust at the same time. With their shared love for sustainability, recycling and craft techniques they started turning old skateboards into surfaces for artistic creation, in a joint project with Edu Pi. They illustrated some of them, but their main task was to find artists and invite them to decorate old skateboards for exhibitions. As lettering experts they also started to create murals for the entrances of the exhibitions they organised. It was a natural step to move into greater mural artwork. They ended up creating huge murals in various places, from San Antonio (Texas) to Shenzen (China) and Vienna (Austria), sometimes even using photoluminescent paint to portray two realities in one. You’ve probably seen their creations as one of them has become quite famous in the city. In 2017 they decorated the façade of the District Office in Gràcia, with a respectful work, perfectly linked to the festive tradition and aesthetically accomplished without being too overbearing. It’s no surprise that what was conceived as an ephemeral work would end up on the façade in Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia for a whole year. The two artists are experts at plunging into the aesthetics of times gone by. Neither was it a surprise that the comedy duo Venga Monjas asked them to come up with the 1970s stage set for the video clip Enséñame a amar, a cult piece of music by Joe Crepúsculo.
 
Posters in the modernista style, old-fashioned packaging and granny’s matchboxes are just some of the sources of inspiration for a pair of creators who don’t use images and publicity formats to sell anything, but rather to launch messages taken from popular culture and share them in public spaces. From large-format murals to the humblest of objects designed by these creators, you’ll find sayings you haven’t heard in a long time (“A frozen winter helps the wheat grow”, “Forgetful folk have strong legs”). These are snippets of popular culture that carry as much weight in Catalonia as they do in the Basque Country.
 
The poster for La Mercè 2020 is a perfect example of this traditional culture placed in a contemporary context. It depicts a Mercè that could easily have come from a poster from the 1940s. Here she is a girl who represents the hope of the latest generations, taking an active posture and holding a locust, the insect which plagued Barcelona in 1687 and drove its people to put their trust in La Mercè, the Virgin of Mercy. When the calamity had passed, the saint was named the patron of Barcelona. Today, this insect alone explains the whole history of a patronage and a festival, with the shadow of a smile on the immaculate face mask worn by our Mercè, a sign of the times which is as symbolic as the representatives of the natural world that surround the girl.
 

In the hair of La Mercè 2020 you’ll find birds which conjure up festive music, lizards which change colour and transform in the same way that actors and actresses do on stage, and trees with long roots representing the tradition which links us to the land. Because biodiversity and the struggle to protect it are also a sign of the times we live in, a time of a pandemic where the humble locust represents, at the same time, a traditional past, and a more natural and sustainable future world.