Inspired by Cool – LaFutura’s Coolhunts

LaFutura 2019 took place in Lisbon Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 25-26. During the afternoon of that first day, we were treated to guided cool hunts, where students and faculty from the University of Lisbon showed us some of the city’s most interesting places and things.

I opted to follow Dr. Nelson Pinhero Gomes, a professor from the University of Lisbon’s Cultural Studies program. The trek he took us on was meant to show Lisbon’s start juxtapositions–gentrification alongside trenchant poverty, disparate immigrant communities side by side, 21st century innovation housed in classic architectural structures. For example, the above picture shows the exterior of Lisbon’s Mouraria Creative Hub, a place where artists, designers, and other cultural creators learn entrepreneurial skills and pay reduced rents thanks to government subsidy.

As we wandered Lisbon’s streets, learning about both the visible and the less visible signs of change, I kept wondering to myself what “cool” meant. Early on in our adventure, Pinhero Gomes explained his view that cool hunting followed in the footsteps of dada and surrealism, seeking out moving signals of bigger cultural forces. These are thoughtful, telling insights. I also wondered, though, how much cool has become synonymous with consumable. So much of what we saw were interesting stores, delicious foodstuffs, changing neighborhoods rocked by the influx of new and destabilizing money. Is business the only resilient force of creative inspiration left?

Surely, it isn’t. Surely, there are cool things that have nothing to do with the market, or that are rebelling against it. For me, one of the most striking things we saw that day were posters like the above, which decorated a wall separating the sidewalk from a massive construction site. These posters were artistic renderings of people who had been displaced by gentrification and were in search of housing. Still, I don’t think I should call what I felt inspiration, per se. I wasn’t staring into a future I wanted to embrace. What was cool about it was that the city seemed to be facing its problems, if not literally then figuratively. There were dozens of these posters, all similar in design, weathered by the elements yet still persistent, hanging, there.

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