Getting Giffy Wit It: A Q&A With Miguel Feraso Cabral

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Local gif hero Miguel Cabral doesn’t only use his artistic talents for the sake of Público, one of the top news outlets in Portugal, where he’s a web designer on a small team. It seems like he saves his best bits for his own pet projects. His “Lisbon Postcards” gif series is just one of his many artistic outlets, and perhaps where you can best see just how much he is inspired by Lisbon, and how humor can be the best medicine for a town overwhelmed by tourism.

" I like humor. All my side activities have it somehow." - Miguel Feraso Cabral
” I like humor. All my side activities have it somehow.” – Miguel Feraso Cabral

Atlas Lisboa: Our favorite gifs in your series poke fun at what Lisbon has become since the explosion of tourism. What are your thoughts on the city as a trendy destination?

Cabral: About the tourism boom, I believe when we say something-boom, “boom” means “too much, too quickly.” I am emotionally divided about it. I feel proud of my Lisbon for being so attractive to so many people, but the “too much” element can be very annoying. At first, I liked to see those tuk tuks once in a while. Now there are simply too many. I also really liked seeing some areas being renovated — now I feel like the true Lisbon is disappearing.

Sometimes I see it as a dumb virus, with the smell of money in the air. It gets to me when I see those hipster restaurants popping everywhere, with slate board menus and with names ending “-aria” and screaming “handmade food”, “traditional” and “vintage.” They’re all the same. In a way, it’s almost a hidden insult, like they think: People are liking this kind of crap now. Let’s give them more of that!

It gets to me when I see those hipster restaurants popping everywhere, with slate board menus and with names ending “-aria” and screaming “handmade food”, “traditional” and “vintage.”

I know this phenomenon is good for the economy, somehow, but I believe that only pursuing economic growth without thinking about other values is screwing the city (well, the world, in fact). I don’t have a solution, but I think we can’t handle any more tourism if we just keep on multiplying the same things, without serious thinking and planning.

Okay, so that’s a resounding “no” on slate boards and handmade mustache-crafted artisanal hamburger-arias. Where do you go when you want a good meal?

I’m not questioning their food quality, because some of them are really good. It’s the unimaginative packaging thing that annoys me. I’m not attracted to gourmet or pseudo-vintage new restaurants. I like good food, but usually I’m not very excited to discover the new popular places to go or to eat. I tend to keep it simple.

Adega das Mercês, in Bairro Alto is one of my go-to spots. They offer good Portuguese food with no fancy tricks, and it’s not expensive. The tuna steak is great and some of my friends like their pataniscas (fried codfish) a lot. It’s become a kind of joke among us because when I walk in, the owner asks, “The usual?” I almost always choose the bife à casa (house steak). As a matter of fact, the name of the facebook page I recently created, “GIF com Batatas Fritas,” is a private joke about that, since it sounds very similar to bife com batatas fritas in Portuguese. My close friends know that I like a good steak.

Aside from typical big-meal restaurants, is there a place you go to have a coffee and draw on napkins when you’re working on your next artistic endeavor?

I had a spot for a couple of years where I developed a lot of ideas for my short films, sketches for paintings, cartoons, etc. It was Café Tati, near Centro Vasco da Gama, in Cais do Sodré.

At some times during the day it’s quiet enough for me to sit there with a glass of red wine and sketch or write. It’s very laid-back. I haven’t been there for a while, but it’s a place where I can say hi to the staff, like a neighbor. Obviously, I like that feeling.

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How did you come up with the idea for the gif series?

The idea of making the “Lisbon Postcards Series” was accidental. From where I work, I can see the Cristo Rei statue on the other side of the Tejo over the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge. I imagined the statue doing some jumps to this side and decided to make a gif about it.
Then I started to pick some other iconic Lisbon images and make some unexpected, nonsensical loop animations, and it became a series on the subject. I’m very pleased to see the way it has spread all over social media. I happened to be talking about the gifs with someone I barely knew, and their reaction was, “No way! I just saw those! That was you?”

So what’s next on the horizon for you?

I’m keeping the “Lisbon Postcards Series” for a while. I’m sure that in the meantime I’ll find another subject to explore as well.

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Cabral’s (Many) Other Projects

Cabral isn’t your typical starving artist story, considering that his favorite meal is a nicely-prepared steak. He began his career as an architect, but after three years in the field, Cabral decided it wasn’t for him.

“At the time, I had a lot of work on my hands, which made quitting a difficult decision. The next step would have been to hire people to work for me…The idea of being a manager was not appealing. I have always preferred doing things directly.”

Next, he began a 10-year-long teaching career as a public school instructor in drawing, geometry, and art history classes (among others) in the Algarve and in Lisbon. During this time, he also founded the experimental music record label Rudimentol . In 2008, Cabral quit teaching, kept the label, and shifted his professional focus yet again.

After 20 years of working in firms and schools, you’d think he would be exhausted, but no. Not even close. Despite being chained to a desk at Público, he still has a lot of energy to design and execute various pet projects on his own time.

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And then there’s his own musical career. Cabral is a drummer, percussionist for occasional improvisational music projects, and the composer for The Nevermet Ensemble. He also plays his own custom-built instruments like the “latacantante,” an electric banjo with two strings made from a biscuit tin and a piece of drawing board, and the “bin varactor,” made from dismantled  hairdryer and mixer engines, a toy organ, Walkmans, and other materials, remotely controlled by knobs and buttons on a wooden plank. There are others, like the “cadeirofone,” that have to be seen (and heard) to be believed.

“I have always tried to keep some side activities going, like music, illustration, video, etc. I’m moved by the fun of doing it,” Cabral says.

“All my projects are much more serious than simple hobbies, I may say, since they involve hard work and a lot of time. Some have financial return, but the focus is always on pleasure. The fun is in the process of doing it and the adrenaline of turning it loose on the public and seeing the reactions. Since my main income is covered by a desk job, it gives me freedom. I can do whatever I want and be as crazy or silly as I please with no fear whatsoever.”