"The Kognitif platform is a source that provides an opportunity to regenerate language, to cultivate liberal culture and take art to the social realm."
Kognitif isn't like other businesses. It can't be defined by an old, profit-driven business concept; it's far from it. In 2009, just at the outbreak of Spain's crisis, Kognitif was created by Arcadi and his wife Sara. Until then, each had worked on cultural activities and social events, but by 2008 they were both left without projects. They decided to fuse their interests and build something that could bring together and be fuelled by all the creative people they'd worked with previously. For that reason, Kognitif is a network of people with shared values and work ethics.
Both coming from events backgrounds, Arcadi and Sara began to question the business system and the professional system. "We wanted to regenerate this for Kognitif: having a macro-scale objective; trying to change people's perspective; the opportunity to work with people who actually want to work and the endless possibilities that could be endeavoured this way. This is why Kognitif started."
to cooperate with others, esp. to remedy something
Kognitif's mission statement, 'sinergiar' (synergise), is based on the idea of interchange; the interchange of knowledge and collecting it all together.
"I really like the notion of sinergiar, it's very applicable. Beyond this, we always aim for the number people working on a project to be as large as possible. We collaborate and combine our ideas to form a fabric, so that each project has its own unique foundation."
Kognitif always tries to bring projects to the street, inviting the public to connect with and accept any intervention that they do. Beforehand, locals are contacted about any intervention so that they can have an understanding of the concept, and so that they can figure out more about the identity of their area. When working on a social level, Arcadi says it's important not to impose with graphic art, but rather to let the people get a hold of the iconography behind it and embrace it as their own. "For a project to reach its maximum potential, we first need to understand the social reality of the area."
Who are the people in Kognitif's network?
There are two branches, the visual creative artists, and the people who work behind the scenes. The artists could be specialised in any field, from graphic art and painting, to sculpture, inflatables or magic! There's involvement from the professional fields too, such as event producers, filmmakers, architects, planners, environmental consultants...the list goes on. "The key is to draw on the knowledge of each other to create a varied type of project with different aspects. We go from here: from this small support structure begins production, organisation and coordination."
How is a specific group of people formed to work on a specific project?
"It's natural. For example, with the Badalona Identitat(s) project, the challenge was to find an identity for the city through art, and it was obvious that we needed Jorge Rodriguez Gerada for his portative murals; we're always looking for a team that best fits the brief, and this usually occurs naturally." Some of the projects suit more corporate designers while others are better for individual artists.
The work of some people in the Kognitif network, clockwise from right: Isaac Jurado(magic); Difusor(art); Lo Siento(graphic design) Barrina Disseny(exhibition design); Max Gärtner (illustration); Ainize Txopitea(art)
Kognitif endorses art as a communicative tool, "as a weapon for generating content and transferring it to the public, with an ultimate objective to 'transform'."
So what types of projects do they do to achieve this goal?
The magic of Kognitif is that it has never done two similar projects, as the projects are always defined by their context. "What you're able to do in a context, realistically, is limitless, aside from physical boundaries.
Our projects don't have a definite type, except that they concern art, culture and society.
I don't dare put a label on them."
"I believe that the pattern of Form and Function is applicable in everything that's created."
Arcadi describes his interest in practising architecture, as every project, despite being in different contexts, follows the same pattern of Form and Function.
"For example, to put a value on the identity of Badalona, to claim the figure of the 'Metro musician' – this is all related to the form of the project, the aesthetical and visual aspect. This aspect is fundamental to succeed in transmitting a message to the public.
"On top of this, the functionality of art is so important; projects need to work. The function, in the case of 'Musics al Metro', is to celebrate 10 years of musicians performing underground. OK, I don't know if hundreds of musicians in the underground is interesting, but the challenge was that we could make it easy for people to see the poetic side of the celebration, and to give visibility to the work of musicians who choose to go underground in exchange for coins."
Right:"We want to make artists and their work visible"
Musics al Metro is the only consolidated project of its type in Catalunya that has channelled artistic expressions in public spaces for so long.
What projects has Kognitif worked on this year?
Recently, there was an exposition of mural art, 'Del Mur a l'Art' ('Art for the Walls'). "We value working with artists who bring culture to the street, through morals and with morals. It's a great tool for communication." A similar project almost parallel to this was 'Espai es Paraula' ('Space is Word'), a project carried out with a language centre which teaches Catalan to immigrants. It consisted of a workshop on Carrer d'Avinyo, and it was special in that it didn't use the normal method of Form, like painting walls, but rather communicated a 'word' to the public in a "brief and non-aggressive way by not remaining in the space..." The workshop intended for people to reflect themselves simply using ephemeral words. "This could transfer reflections about citizenship, coexistence and sharing." Depending on how and with what a word was written, it changed and developed its connotation and meaning. "It's like if you write the word 'DIVERSITY' with toothpicks. It reminds some people of kebabs, and others of something else, and then you take a photograph of it and other connotations are made."
There have also been some "action projects" (live painting), as a great way to expose the artists and their work. Recently, they created B.A.D (Barcelona Art District) at the SWAB art fair, where you could see a creative explosion and watch 29 artists live-painting along a 100metre long wall.
Clockwise from left: a very recent exhibition (Metiendo La Caña) showcasing work of local artists; 'Stairway to SWAB' in metro stations; a piece from the Del Mur a l'Art exhibition; subtle, ephemeral words at the Espai es Paraula workshop; Lucas Milà's wall for B.A.D
Kognitif has tried to connect projects with the academic world too, with students and those who have difficulty showcasing their work to the public. Art and design schools that Arcadi has contacted all had the same idea of exposing students' work in metro stations, protecting it with vinyl.
"We want to involve students in the transformation of the creative scene."
Regarding this concept, he has an idea for something that could be very effective. "We could link the AMUC (Association of Street Musicians) with art students because the story of each musician could be portrayed with an image. To make a total project involving the Faculty of Fine Arts in Barcelona as an academic institution, TMB (Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona) as a public institution, and AMUC as a public institution:
"to make the creative and social fabric of the site itself and transform the metro into a place where people can stop, focus on the work and maybe even feel happy...
This would be the ideal project."
What past projects have been especially exciting for Kognitif?
"The project that was the most complete, and the most expeditious, was the 'Identitat(s)' project. Here we had the opportunity to practise all of our ideas and concerns, all that Kognitif wants to do. It's a project that defines who we are and what we do." The project consisted of three large public interventions (graphic art on public walls of the city's culturalicons), three workshops and an exhibition, all relevant to each other. With it, Kognitif really practised the essence of SINERGIAR because everybody participated: many locals and even schools and shops. "Really, it was a project that submerged the city into its social fabric."
It seems that the project made a very positive impact on the people in Badalona; the feedback for Kognitif is constant and direct, and at the time, the general participation from people was great. Arcadi loved the method of reaching the locals and exchanging with them through art on the street;
"there's a power that you can't compare with being indoors."
For the exhibition, which showed 34 portraits to represent Badalona's 34 zones, residents in each area were photographed by Alvert Johart. Kognitif got the participation of local businesses by displaying these photographs in commercial, distinctive areas.
3D scans of every face were made and morphed for Jorge Ridriquez Gerada's face mural. Of course, there was also the mural of the fish kite by Barri Groc and Sixeart's devil icon.
"Basically the project aimed to generate the symbols of identity, and what the identity of a city is made of. Above all, this is two things: the people who live in a city, and the cultural icons that represent the people."
Barcelona has a creative scene that is famously dynamic and exciting.
"It's fantastic to be involved with it. Every day you discover something new." Arcadi describes how for many years Barcelona's cultural scene had been like a secretive establishment that was difficult to infiltrate, but now there seems to be a regression.
"I'm glad to live in a generation that wants to practise art and culture in non-conventional ways, by taking it to open streets and out of the 'tyranny' of closed rooms."
Over the last two centuries, art has marked the culture of the world; culture only seemed open to those with knowledge about it.
"This is finally changing, and it has been accepted that people need to express themselves, and that the public should be able to benefit from art whether they have money or not. The authorities' policy of zero-tolerance towards creativity in the city seems to be easing off bit by bit. In the late nineties, word got out that you could paint the streets in Barcelona, so many great artists came here from abroad. In other places you couldn't do what you could do here. Obviously, creative work in public space is often short-lived, because it's hard to please everyone without facing a conflict of interests, but we want the contrary. We try to engage the public with the work, because we want 'zero-tolerance' to become 'tolerance 100!"
"I once read an interview with a music producer, who answered the question "What is the best thing that's happening now with music?" And he said, "How everyone can now make it at home". He was then asked "What is the worst?" - "How everyone can make it at home."" Arcadi feels that, in the opposite way, this is the same problem with being able to practise art and culture outside. "There's competition between artists for the 'great mural' and obtaining high visibility."
Left: Del Mur a l'Art exhibition
We wondered how the current lack of money has affected the city's creative scene.
"Good things and bad things are happening." Arcadi has noticed that people seem to be more daring, and since many institutions can't afford to outsource, they're more open to other proposals.
"Perhaps in the past, when there was more money involved, projects became less. But now there's a need to make things the same way, if not bigger and better, in order to communicate and generate reflections in a world that is falling to pieces."
He noted that more groups of people, collectives and 'artivists', want to take culture to the streets, and that there seem to be more original ideas, but that the war in public space between advertising and art has caused many artists to use the advertising formula to sell themselves and their work as a brand.
On the other hand, he describes, there's more international trade and open dialogue, and a bigger flow of people. Barcelona's internationally attractive character, by being neither too small nor too big, having the sea, the mountain, a good climate, generally open-minded people, and an intense cultural activity, means that many creative people come to live here, but run business or have exhibitions where there's a greater volume of work and more money, in places like London or Paris. "They just live here where it's comfortable, enjoyable and generally cheap. It's logical."
The current lack of work here means that BCN is home to a lot of creatives, but not necessarily where they showcase their work
A tribute to Enric Mirales by Jorge Rodriguez Gerada: a giant sand montage on the ground to bring together family and friends of the architect on the tenth anniversary of his death
What seem to be the most successful ways of working?
"The most interesting way to work is with a small team, concentrated and compact. However, every member has their own site where they work freely.
I think this is the future of business. Not being separated means you can't nurture ."
In terms of making a team for the project, sometimes the people needed to fit a project brief are obvious to him, but to create a really great idea, it often needs to be raised from many different viewpoints. He refers again to the notion of 'SINERGIAR', and discussing an idea with people specialised in different areas, always seeking the exchange of knowledge and ideas. "But for the project to develop successfully, it must be a confluence of these different disciplines rather than a mix, and then each individual puts their own vision into practise as part of a shared concept. I think this is the most beautiful and the most interesting way for a project to unfold."
Kognitif's final goal is to continue transforming.
"We never want to be able to fully define Kognitif, because then we'll have lost a bit of the essence. All of our work is defined by specific contexts, and when the context changes, so do we."
And a little bit about Arcadi himself?
"Ha, I'm like air and water and I constantly need to flow, to be moving and doing different things. I actually studied culinary arts, and had to make presentations. From there I got involved in event production and short film production. I've produced music and written screenplays as well as set up a successful cultural space in Badalona...but no, I wouldn't consider myself an artist. I think my karma wants me to set up the framework for people who have something to say, and who know how to say it, and help them do that as well as possible.
"I feel fulfilled doing this. I know it sounds a bit clichéd, but I live in a constant learning cycle. Every time I do a project, it's completely different than the last. I'm a sponge always absorbing new things, and it's fantastic for me. But I know I'll always be concerned with culture in public space, art in all forms, and I want to continue to take in all aspects of this through interchange."
Finally, what's next?
Kognitif is currently developing some work with the Urban Landscape Institute of Barcelona, Sala Razzmatazz and the city of Sant Adrià de Besós. We can't wait to find out more!
For now, be sure to look out for the INSIDERS exhibition in N2 Gallery from September 6th, which will showcase the work of artists on the Spanish scene. Also, don't miss a lecture Arcadi will give on 'Tradition-Innovation' in Sala de Conferencias del Centro (at Arenys de Mar) on October 6th.
Keep updated here on Kognitif's website, blog and facebook pages.
Some previous work for Razzmatazz, with artist Otone
Photograph credits: Clara Nadal, Oriol Moragrega, TMB, 'lesgolfes' tumblr, Kognitif