Touch the Sky
Alvaro Urbano’s eight-city tour brings a glimpse of sky to the world’s most congested locales.
Story by Angela Cravens / Photography by Daniel Fern'ndez Pascual
Like many of the best plans, this one started with a small idea.
In 2006, artist Alvaro Urbano, who had been quietly creating conceptual works — more like a cheeky collection of products designed to assist the world citizen in adjusting to a rapidly changing world — debuted his “sky glasses”. Resembling 3-D glasses, they’re fashioned with a series of small mirrors inside the lens, so the view is forced upward and the wearer only sees sky. In a statement, Urbano described the impetus as “a means to get away from the city. It shoots the user towards antisocial behavior and escaping its individual and own reality.”
Fast-forward two years, and the 24-year-old Urbano is still playing with the sky, though this time, the Madrid-born, NYC and Berlin-based artist’s work has landed him right smack into the middle of the urban environment. Antisocial? Hardly.
Urbano’s Project Sky finds him in the middle of various thoroughfare in the worlds’ most congested cities, standing in the midst of the crowd like a surrealist sandwich board peddler with a mirror strapped to his back, projecting a clear glimpse of sky for the tired masses who stream past him. At once performance art, social commentary and victimless system-bombing, the work seeks to remind city-dwellers of the frenetic pace of modern day life. In the face of relentless consumption, as well as the constant pump-and-flow of traffic, Project Sky asks that we pause and take in the sky for a moment. More personally, it allows Urbano a glimpse into the human experience, asking anyone who will listen if people will indeed slow down and observe, possibly even admire, the “not-for-sale product” that is the sky.
“In New York everybody either kept on walking, or girls put on makeup in front of the mirror — they did not see anything beyond their own reflection,” muses Urbano from his latest site, Shanghai. “In Mexico City people started to become shy in front of the mirror, but also curious about what was happening. Since I speak the language, that helped us to get in touch, and they dared to ask about the project. I got very nice reactions. In São Paulo, a guy invited me to have a ‘walking-breakfast’ and explain the project. In Tokyo, it was the contrary! In their own way, Japanese people acted, politely, as if they did not care, but after a few seconds they turned back to have a quick look. In Shanghai everything gets really informal. People just touch, kick, and ask questions, even if verbal communication does not work because I don’t understand the language. Smiling just solves everything.”
The process is straightforward: Urbano descends on each locale and places himself among the advertisements and harried commuters. Traveling with a team that consists of architect Daniel Fernandez Pascual and musician/VJ Borja Conde, with architect Jose Esparza holding down operations in New York, each visit is carefully documented. The resulting photographs are a bit like a Magritte ripped from its environment and dropped into modern-day rush hour. Says Urbano, who will next visit Hong Kong, Mumbai, and finally London, “it is all about a documentary process, obtaining data from different sources, and recording everything.” In September, he’ll collect the data into a publication.
Ask Urbano his vision for the future, and like a true post-millennial urbanite, he shares a healthy dose of anxiety (“like be careful guys! 75 percent of people in 50 years will live in big cities”) but his long strange trip around the world has also infused him with an enthusiasm for the differences that make us tick. Though he sees a future megalopolis with “massive developments” housing this large population, he believes they can “take into account everyday life, the traditions and social behavior of the new inhabitants of megalopolis.” He stresses the importance of maintaining locality in these places, so as not to build a future that looks like a single, sprawling cul-de-sac. It’s a vision that he believes is attainable.
“I rely more on everyday psychology,” he says, “basically, that any utopic idea can also be done, and that it would be even stranger not to do it.”
To see more, go to, www.project-sky.org.