20 feet tall and made of trash, ‘Plastic Rooster’ a sight to see

20 feet tall and made of trash, ‘Plastic Rooster’ a sight to see

Portuguese social artivist Bordalo II debuts his latest statement sculpture downtown as part of a DATMA exhibition. Massive in scale, vibrant with color, it demands attention.

Don Wilkinson

The New Bedford Light, Published June 20, 2024
Full article HERE.


There’s a 20+ foot tall pile of trash on lower Union Street and it’s quite a fowl sight.

Created by Artur Bordalo, a Portuguese street artist and social artivist professionally known as Bordalo II, “Plastic Rooster” was commissioned by the regional cultural organization DATMA (Massachusetts Design Art & Technology Institute) for their sixth season’s cultural exhibition “Transform: Reduce, Revive, Reimagine.”

Massive in scale, vibrant with color, and constructed with decidedly untraditional and unexpected materials — most of it plastic debris — affixed to a skeleton of steel, it demands attention. The understructure was assembled by 11th grade metal/fabrication students at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School under the supervision of welding technology instructor Stephen Flowers, utilizing blueprints provided by Bordalo II’s team in Lisbon.

With the critical assistance of the City of New Bedford’s Department of Public Infrastructure, the skeletal form was installed on the public green on the north side of the YMCA. It was ready for Bordalo II and his team to transform the bare bones into a bantam of Brobdingnagian breadth and brow.

It will be on display there through 2029.

Bordalo II, who was born in Lisbon in 1987, spent many hours observing his artist grandfather, Artur Real Bordalo, working at his easel. At age 11, he began spray painting graffiti on walls before going on to study painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Lisbon, but never finished the program. He began calling himself Bordalo II in honor of his grandfather.

But his biggest inspiration — and he would argue that the biggest inspiration for all street artists, “even if they don’t know it” — was Banksy. He soon began adhering and incorporating three-dimensional objects into the wall art, and the murals transitioned to something more hybrid.

Deeply concerned with ecological issues, including climate change, environmental destruction and viral overconsumption, he began utilizing the detritus of society, such as broken trash bins, old wooden doors, automobile bumpers, discarded toys and more.

Bordalo II would visit abandoned industrial factory buildings, long ago stripped clean of anything of value by thieves and scrappers. They were often a shelter for junkies and other unfortunates. He utilized the debris to effectively make site-specific installations and posted his efforts online.

He was concerned that he might just be considered “just a crazy guy messing with the trash.” But his postings led to invitations. And gallery exhibitions. And sales. And commissions.

Well before the rooster in New Bedford, there was “Plastic Mom and Baby Monkeys” in Miami, “Plastic Macaw” in São Paulo, “Plastic Mole” in Hamburg, “Plastic Clam” in Bora Bora, “Plastic Squirrel” in Oeiras, Portugal, an elephant in San Francisco, a lynx in Lisbon, a llama in Santiago, and dozens more around the world.

Not one for traditional art supplies, Bordalo II (and team) incorporated hoses, segments of a toddler’s toy car, faded nets, splayed bicycle tires, traffic cones, flotation devices, remnants of a wading pool, plastic fencing, barrels, milk crates, street signs, a toy horse and a life-size plastic penguin.

But why a rooster for New Bedford? If one were selecting an animal to be emblematic of the Whaling City, then the obvious choice would be — duh — a whale. But at this point, that’s more than a bit played out. Ditching the cliche is not a bad thing.

Perhaps a pigeon? Too pedestrian. A seagull? Too squawky. A wharf rat? Let’s not go there.

From Halifax, Nova Scotia, down the Atlantic to Florida, many restaurants list “New Bedford Scallops” among their seafood options. Clearly, the NB modifier has a bit of cachet in the culinary world. Scallops are delicious and considered an aphrodisiac by many.

The distinctive fan shell is a perfect symmetrical form. But a 20 foot scallop assembled from trash? That’s the stuff of an early ‘60s sci-fi B movie about irradiated sea creatures seeking revenge on a hapless fishing town.

So why a rooster? According to Lindsay Mis, executive director for DATMA, when Bordalo ll accepted the commission, he was provided with a short list of animals for consideration, including the aforementioned seagull and scallop as well as cod, octopus and rooster.

The artist is Portuguese. New Bedford is heavily populated by Portuguese immigrants and their descendents. And the rooster is the national bird of Portugal and it is considered a symbol of good fortune and justice due to a bit of folklore.

According to the legend, a man was falsely accused of theft and sentenced to death. About to be hanged, the accused pointed to a roasted rooster on a banquet table and shouted “It is as certain I am innocent as that rooster will crow when they hang me!”

The noose was fitted about his neck and he seemingly dropped to his death. The rooster stood up and crowed. The judge ran to the gallow to discover the man was still alive, as the knot had been poorly tied. Certainly, a tale of faith and redemption.

Despite growing up in Portugal, Bordalo II claims he had never heard that story. But somehow it seems like a bit of serendipity.

But I have my own take on the rooster as a symbol of New Bedford. With its lifted spurred claw and puffed up chest, the rooster epitomizes resilience, self-assuredness, and a lust for life and a lust of the amorous variety. And the rooster, despite his smaller stature in the barnyard, is loud, determined and scrappy, exuding a confidence that borders on cockiness … just like New Bedford.