Grão is a project by Portuguese multidisciplinary studio Pedrita that takes surplus decorative tiles and combines them so that each one becomes a single "pixel" in large-scale murals.
The colour and tone of each tile is digitally recorded so it can be used as part of a larger image, which can only be understood from a distance and which can be a reproduction of a scanned image, such as the photo of a porcelain dog and a clock in this example.
Closer up, the viewer cannot make out the larger image but instead sees a seemingly random arrangement of patterned tiles.
The first demonstation of the Grão technique is on show at the National Tile Museum in Lisbon until October 25.
Below is some press info from Pedrita followed by an essay by Paulo Henriques, director of the National Tile Museum:
GRÃO is a visual composition and reproduction system that first of all aims to give new life to end-of-line, industrially produced tiles. It also aspires to become an innovative option for the rehabilitation of the urban built heritage.
It recovers discontinued production tiles and uses them as units of decorative cladding panels, destined both for architectural façades and for the refurbishment of other urban structures.
Made up of hundreds, or even thousands of tiles – these form the “grains" that build an image of monumental presence – these panels aim to be part of the urban landscape in a bold and innovative way.
The GRÃO system can be applied to large surfaces (main and side façades, walls, etc) and encompasses two possible moments for the visualisation of an image depending on the distance between the panel and the observer: on a human scale, anyone walking close enough to the panel can see the various designs and motives of the individual tiles that compose the image; on an urban scale, the whole image can be viewed from a distance.
For the first life-scale project, a "still life" composition demonstrating the GRÃO system was created and presented at the National Tile Museum in Lisbon from July 18th to October 25th 2007.
THE “GRÃO" SYSTEM CAN BE APPLIED TO LARGE SURFACES (MAIN AND SIDE FAÇADES, WALLS, ETC.) AND ENCOMPASSES TWO POSSIBLE MOMENTS FOR THE VISUALISATION OF AN IMAGE DEPENDING ON THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THE PANEL AND THE OBSERVER
Every image reproduction technique has its “grain". It is its smallest unit, which optically eludes the human eye and allows us not only to see the unthinkable, but also be confronted with the unexpected. Whether we speak of silver ISO “grains" in processed photographic film, or ink “grains" – dots – in printed reproduction, and also of light “grains" – pixels – in screen-based reproduction, it is through their predefined combination that we perceive a given image. It is by matching each of these grains to a specific colour and tone and then combining millions of them in different variations of size, spacing and intensity, that we can determine the definition, proximity or magnification of an image.
In Portugal, the tile mural is a façade cladding technique that is both of renowned tradition and of great artistic and historic importance: from the white-and-blue panels of the baroque churches in Porto to the monumental panel by João Abel Manta near the �?guas Livres Aqueduct in Lisbon, it has for centuries held a strong presence in the landscape of Portuguese cities. Apart from building façades, the tile mural has also been applied to structures such as viaducts, bridges and tunnels that have an often un-desirable urban impact. In these cases, tile cladding has been frequently used to lessen – but also sometimes to intensify – the visual impact of these public works in the urban context.
“Grão" is a visual composition and reproduction system that first of all aims to give new life to end-of-line, industrially produced tiles. It also aspires to become an innovative option for the rehabilitation of the urban built heritage. It recovers discontinued production tiles and uses them as units of decorative cladding panels, destined both for architectural façades and for the refurbishment of other urban structures. Made up of hundreds, or even thousands of tiles – these form the “grains" that build an image of monumental presence – these panels aim to be part of the urban landscape in a bold and innovative way.
The“Grão" system can be applied to large surfaces (main and side façades, walls, etc.) and encompasses two possible moments for the visualisation of an image depending on the distance between the panel and the observer: on a human scale, anyone walking close enough to the panel can see the various designs and motives of the individual tiles that compose the image; on an urban scale, the whole image can be viewed from a distance.
Making use of digital technologies, a selected image is analysed and divided into areas of different colour and tone values; these areas, composed of units that will be translated into already existing tiles, will later be manually adjusted, in order to assure the final image is visually more interesting.
The tile selection for the panel composition is an important step of the process: taking into account the colour range of the image to be reproduced, this selection is made so that the largest variety of available designs and motives are used, which will guarantee an increase image definition.
For the first life-scale project, a composition demonstrating the “Grão" system was created and presented at the National Tile Museum in Lisbon (MNA), as part of the centenary commemorations of its founder, engineer Santos Simões.
Taking into account factors such as viewing the panel from various distances, the available exhibition space, the limited colour range of the raw material (there are very few bright-red tiles for example, due to glazing limitations, or simply because brighter colours are/were less used in this kind of cladding) and also the raw material’s finite nature (linked to the availability of existing stocks), this composition intends to work as a first sample of this device’s potential.
For this first presentation a “still life" was chosen as the subject to be reproduced, not so much for its significance in art history, or for its symbology, but rather because it is a recurring theme in the teaching of and experimentation with plastic expression techniques, such as painting or drawing, and is thus a sort of “test image" for future creations.
“Still life" was also chosen for the decorative nature of this pictorial category, easily identifiable and interpretable by any observer, regardless of his or her origin, nationality or visual culture.
The viewer’s experience of the two 3x3m panels on display mirrors that of printed or digitally reproduced images: in these images the units, or “grains" that compose them, are rarely visible to the naked eye, whereas in the panels composing the still life they have the tangible measurement of 15x15cm. Consequently, the interpretation of these panels takes place in two separate moments: by distancing ourselves from the panels, we are surprised by an image that we easily recognise, and by approaching them we are rewarded with the re-encounter of elements from our individual past, and also of our common heritage in Portugal. For if a “still life" is something to which we can all relate, all these tiles that populate our urban landscape remind us of places, both exterior and interior, which we thought we had lost.
All the tiles were purchased at the Cortiço & Netos company, which since 1980 collects and keeps ceramic cladding materials and ceramic bathroom fixtures from the main producers and resellers. The selected tiles used in the panels on display come from the following Portuguese factories and brands (some of them already no longer existing): Aleluia, Amarona, Azupal, Carvalhinho, Celena, Ceralco, Ceres, Cesol, CIC, Decocer, Estaco, Lufapo, Poceram, Sacavém e Valadares.
Two young designers, Rita João and Pedro Ferreira, introduce with this “Grão" project two central issues for contemporary society: what to do with the products that are available on the market which people no longer are capable or willing to consume – a problem that brings us to environmental concerns over the ways in which we are transforming the world – and also the relevance of a contemporary creator’s work which addresses real individual and collective needs in relation to consumer goods, equipment and communication.
The authors focused on what we can call surplus products or, to be more precise, the waste products of industrial tile production of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Through objective taste or interest, remainders of discontinued tile production lines were purchased and kept, with the purpose of making up a tile depository, with tiles later to be sold, not so much as products for the antique market – where in any case there is little demand – but as a practical resource for anyone needing tiles for modern cladding repairs for which may be short of a few pieces.
This all seems to be connected to a consumer mechanism. What no longer has its own market is retrieved as a commercial value and, in the context of “Grão", it may even be thought as an aesthetic intervention material for public spaces.
This is what Rita João and Pedro Ferreira now propose to do; their methodology was simple: examine the material at hand, reflect on its primary function and reinvent it as a functional contemporary artwork.
The cast of available tiles at the depository was systematically photographed, each tile considered as an autonomous unit, even in the case where a decorative motif is made up of two or more tiles. From there, each tile’s colour and light qualities were analysed and integrated into a broader colour and light spectrum, thus becoming abstract units suitable for composing any image.
By following this approach, the authors have been associated with the technique Ivan Chermayeff applied in the cladding of the Lisbon Oceanarium, although in that case all the tiles were specifically produced at the Constância Factory, using only blue and white, and manufactured according to a lasting Portuguese tradition.
In the “Grão" project however, the standpoint was different. The authors used pre-existing tiles, which are no longer functional nor fashionable, thus focusing on materials that are not purpose-made, and proposed contemporary interventions that can only exist, due to their scale, in large architectural and urban spaces.
This exhibition presents two small sections of a monumental composition which, seen from a distance, gives us back the reality of a bigger image, made up of pre-existing concrete referents.
As with the tiles used, which are anonymous creations whose sole purpose is to be decorative, so too the depicted image has been selected from the world of cheap and highly consumable motifs, found on calendars and “artistic" framed prints, the conventional and recognisably kitsch “still life".
The viewer’s gaze extends not only over the rejected products of consumer societies, but also over objects that come from aesthetic universes marginal to highbrow conventions of taste.
As an amalgam of the present-day consumption and production – marked by intersections of expressive languages and contrasting cultural universes, this project makes us ponder about the contemporary fate of industrial tile production.
Text by: Paulo Henriques, Director of MNA