WOOL Festival. A book to tell the ten years of stories, encounters and urban art in Covilhã. – Observer

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Lara and Pedro Seixo Rodrigues grew up in Covilhã looking at MTV, where urban art, from graffiti to illustration, was still just a mirage in Portugal. Between many trips, always looking at streets, train lines and bare walls, the duo of brothers moved to Lisbon. The two went to study architecture. “We started traveling to Spain where there was already a lot of graffiti. We spent a lot of time watching MTV, we absorbed a lot. When we moved to Lisbon, we followed developments anonymously. Afterwards, we went to the Fame festival, in Italy and in Spain to Assalto. We realized that it would be good to replicate the model in Covilhã. That’s how it was”, says Lara Seixo Rodrigues, curator, producer of the Wool festival that takes place between June 11th and 19th.

So it was, yes sir. A “shared passion” that is not a pure and hard business, but a project that developed its own identity, catapulted artists like Bordalo II and put the artist face to face with the public. A festival was thus made in the interior of the country, at a crossroads between generations, new and old, in which urban art is the meeting point to preserve the memory of an industrialized territory (and abandoned in certain places) and an art that is increasingly more in vogue. With a decade of sharing, the team that organizes the festival – which also includes Elisabet Carceller, wife of Pedro Seixo Rodrigues – decided, this year, to launch a commemorative book that looks back on the life of this festival. “The idea for this book came about two years ago because we wanted to have a kind of archive. These were very intense years, of a lot of struggle and persistence of a project that was born in Covilhã but traveled abroad. It had and still has an important role in the development of urban art and it is the festival that still maintains this identity. We had many stories to share. It had to be in a book”, reveals Lara Seixo Rodrigues.

On these pages are not only memories of various murals mirrored by Covilhã, but also texts by researchers, curators, architects, artists and programmers. But in these ten years, the stories that have been kept are really those of people from Covilha like Dona Rosa. “She IS a staunch supporter of the festival. One of the first murals was done near the window of her house. Soon after, she thanked the artists because she started to have company. She ended up doing some sewing work for us,” says the producer. Another memory, from the early days of Wool, is told through a resident who interrupted an artist, Gonçalo Mar, who was working with a skeleton and a ball of wool for his head and a sheep on his back, in a tent set up at the in front of a wall. “The gentleman turned to Gonçalo and said: you are painting a skeleton because it is the death of the shepherd because it no longer exists. Only the play had nothing to do with it. It ended up making perfect sense,” he explained.

But at Wool there is not only urban art. The festival is also made up of parallel projects, with great involvement between the artists and the population of Covilhã. A mirror of this are the guided tours and the Wool on Tour, where artists, “not necessarily urban” are invited to experiment on another scale. Another scale? Yes, in the middle of the street, there, face to face with whoever passes by, there are no studios or galleries. These are done in the open. There is, therefore, “a permanent contact”, of criticism, praise, warmth. Another of the most emblematic projects — and which symbolizes Wool’s community spirit — is Lata 65. Urban art reached out to the older population, reaching “more than 600 students, between 65 and 102 years old, with 48 actions carried out in 5 countries where doctors, teachers, farmers or plastic artists participated”, reads the commemorative book. From this idea came movements and projects such as the “Graffiti Granarchists”, in Aberdeen, Scotland, by older people who have been working with schools.

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With all these initiatives, political and financial support remains to be seen. And then, Lara Seixo Rodrigues, not being negative, is pragmatic. Not everything went well. Wool started with small support from DGArtes, going through a season without public funding and soon after having it again, and the municipality of Covilhã also entered, in spaces, in the design of the project. The festival was relying on the private sector, from hotels to restaurants, and, with increasing prominence, found itself involved in the political game of the region. “In one of the elections Wool became a political weapon. They were going to support the festival and then it didn’t happen. At that time, the community was very angry. From there, it was realized that the project had a lot of weight, but it still hasn’t taken the proper advantage of it. It is easier to perceive its real power outside Covilhã as an instrument of transformation than inside”, says Laura Seixo Rodrigues.

In eight days of festival, Wool counts with some “heavyweights” of urban art. Right at the head is Cinta Vidal, a Spanish artist, one of the most prestigious artists in the world, who brings a work well on her way to the city center. After several attempts to come and with last-minute cancellations, the wish was fulfilled in 2022. Another big name is Reskate, an Iberian collective, formed by Javier de Riba and Minuskula that will look at sustainability and energy transition, one of their most recurring themes, where they get involved with poetry and old billboards. In Covilhã they will take up lithium exploration, one of the most controversial topics in Portugal at the moment. We still need to mention Nuno Sarmento, a Portuguese illustrator and designer, who was challenged to build a 26-meter scroll with dozens of works by artists who passed through Wool. It will be on display in Covilhã on the pedestrian bridge over the stream for all to see. And of course, Mantraste, visual artist and illustrator, who will have a workshop on the relationship between tapestry and a new Covilhã, which will be on display at Galeria António Lopes.

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