Faile Erects a Ruined Temple in Lisbon

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Last month, street art collective Faile finished a public installation in conjunction with the Portugal Arte 10 festival in Lisbon. The duo’s creation, Temple, is a full-scale, half-demolished wreckage of a church constructed in Praça dos Restauradores Square.

Here’s how the collective describes the concept:

Temple marks the duo’s migration from a more strictly visual medium into the realm of site specific environments. While its structure is the ruin, Temple should not be read as a memento or celebration of decadence but instead as one of collaboration and renewal. […]One might object that Faile’s use of religious objects devalues them by making them simply one more signifier in a visual system, divorced from their power and specificity. But the logic of Temple is neither the trivialization of pastiche nor the critical distancing of appropriation. Faile’s process is more aptly described as 3-D sampling, in which seemingly disparate pieces are brought together and reconstituted as something wholly other, but still animated by the energy, the spirit, of the original … The result is a new site of public communion that recognizes religion as the social artifact that it is, but reminds us again of an underlying desire for unity that is often occluded by our urban edifices, be they cathedrals or skyscrapers.In any case, it was from the shores of Portugal that Christendom first made its way across the oceans, from Goa to Benin and Bahia. … Like all ruins, Temple reminds us of the fragility of our most timeless institutions even as it lays the groundwork for its own sort of Renaissance.

On the eve of its last weekend in Lisbon, I emailed Patrick Miller, one-half of the duo, to ask a few questions about the project. In the interview, he talks about Faile’s new experiments with control, how to access the divine, and the tiled, patterned ceramics of Lisbon. More images (courtesy of Faile) are below. Video from Vernissage is available as well.

Can you explain how you came up with the patterns along the bottom of the installation? It’s clearly inspired by the azulejos throughout the city, but were there any distinct patterns that you used or did you just make your own custom ones?We originally started working and researching the project 2 years ago traveling through Central Portugal, and we visited many castles, monasteries, and palaces, as well as the city of Lisbon. Stemming from the original inspiration of Luca Della Robbia’s ceramic work, which is highly regarded in Portugal, we also started exploring many of the artisanal qualities that make Portugal so unique. This, of course, lead us the azulejos.

Much of our work deals with deconstructing images and the serendipitous layering that occurs through time. Walking the streets of Lisbon you experience such a rich world of design rooted in the tiles throughout the city. You also experience this sense of time as you see them age, decay, and eventually begin to be replaced with other tiles abstracting the original pattern. This really resonated with us and the link it shared to our work.

Given so much of the Temple was original artwork, the azulejos seemed like a great place for us to directly reference the style and history of the city. So in this, we chose to work with traditional designs that existed within the city. We modified some of the tiles to reference elements within our work, but the majority were traditional designs. All the azulejos and type tiles are hand painted ceramic tiles and made to be laid out on site, highlighting that strong link to the city.

How long have you had this idea to make a temple? The idea really came about once we were invited to participate in Portugal Arte 10. As previously mentioned it started with Della Robbia and then just kept evolving from there. We had a few different designs in the beginning but temple as a structure came together pretty fast, the numerous elements took the most time.

How long did the process take from start to finish?The process from start to finish was just under two years. The strangest part was trying to be artists, architects, and engineers on the project. We learned a lot along the way.

Do you see your work as inherently spiritual? That is, do you think someone with the right frame of mind access the divine in this temple? Well … we’ve always been inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and others in “man’s search for meaning.” This idea of creating a modern day mythology reflecting our society’s values and temptations has always been appealing. Along with that, there’s always been this appreciation of religious iconography, symbolism, coding, and the objects that come from our reverence for the divine and/or the unknown. Our work tends to have elements of bewilderment and enchantment; using Faile as an entity is something we play with, i.e., “Will I ever find Faile, Search among the stars” or “Saved … On the Wings of Faile.”

Seeing people stumble upon the Temple in Lisbon, stopping and wondering what this is, searching their tour books to find the reason for this—it’s gratifying in the sense that it momentarily captures and captivates people to believe that this is a relic to some strange culture that’s been unearthed in the heart of the city. Since the idea is really built off a re-imagining of sacred object as art, if you enter with a healthy amount of imagination, I suppose anything is possible.

Do you feel like this is part and parcel of your “street” work? I mean, do you see installations in general as an extension of the previous street work?Yes, completely. The Deluxx Fluxx arcade was along the same lines too. They are these momentary unexpected experiences that you stumble across while you’re waking down the street. They take you to another place, slightly confusing, and yet something you (hopefully) leave with a smile. We still strive to create this in the simple images you find on the street or in our work in general, but as we’ve grown there is the desire to take this further.

Is the Temple an attempt to make something more permanent, something that can’t be stolen as easily (like the prayer wheel)? And if so, are you liking the process of having more control over the user experience? The first night the Temple was open to the public the Scuba Horse sculpture was broken, by accident we believe. With any public work, you have to accept some level of collaboration (if you can call it that) for better or worse. This makes “control” a difficult word. Part of what’s always been appealing about working on the street is the lack of control and embracing the unexpected. The meaning behind Faile is rooted in that spirit and a
lot of our work in process and aesthetics reflect this.

I think that’s the beauty of the Temple in a way. It’s not permanent, but it tricks you into believing it’s always been there. As we hope it will travel, I think it will feel very different in other cities than it does in Lisbon as so much of it was inspired by that city and its sacred places. Hopefully, it’s the spirit that will remain the same and that is what’s worth holding onto.