Camden Sentido Legacy

2016's Camden Sentido curator's visit to Brazil

In 2016 I curated a cultural programme in Camden, entitled Camden Sentido, which celebrated the links between the London borough and Brazil to coincide with the Rio de Janeiro Para/Olympic Games and the 2016 São Paulo Biennale. As part of this programme I launched a new international strand to the London Borough of Camden’s annual arts programme and invited Brazilian artists and galleries over to the UK to be part of the conversation. One artist in particular, Gustavo Ferro, and I continued the conversation beyond the programme and he became my host artist in Brazil.

RIO DE JANEIRO AND SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL

This June 2018 trip was my first ever to Brazil and I was very excited about the experience after having heard so much about it and the scene from the artists I had worked with in 2016. Sadly my host, Gustavo Ferro, was unable to be in Brazil at the time of my trip due to unforeseen circumstances. Although I was sad he would not be there for the visit I was pleased to have Tash Kahn, artist and DOLPH Gallery Director, accompany me again.

As Tash and I were left to our devices more on this trip, rather than staying with our host and having them with us all the time, I felt more of a cultural tourist than in Mumbai. This had the impact of feeling more explorative where we happened upon culture and conversation a little more. However, saying that Gustavo had introduced me to several artists and galleries that I had then arranged visits with, so although he was not present he had a huge impact on people I spoke with.

I have since commissioned Tash to write another article as she has seen both places with me but from an artist perspective, as well as my host Gustavo Ferro and UK based artist, Flora Parrott, who has partaken in many residencies in Brazil and it is integral to her artistic practice. These articles are about place and how changing perspectives or re-looking at a city can impact how you move around it.

Whilst in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo I was interested to learn more about the recent history of the country and its current political standing. I enjoyed discovering the social responsibility many of the artists felt and how most of their work reflected local history, politics and responses to local audiences.

As with Mumbai I did not allow myself enough time in both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, however, the time there was incredibly fruitful. It was an incredible opportunity to see the places and have conversations with people my host, Gustavo, had previously spoken to passionately about. Like Mumbai these two Brazilian cities sat heavily on the artists I spoke with and were incredibly influential to everyone’s practice. I was able to speak with six artists and three galleries/ateliers in Rio de Janeiro and eight artists, two curators, two galleries and the Bienal in São Paulo.

Whilst in Brazil I was inspired by the diversity of artistic styles but the similarities in how everyone was responding to the current political landscape in Brazil, as result I have broken up my conversations into Communities/Built Environment, Politics/History and Dream Big.

Communities/Built Environment

I was fortunate to have a long conversation with Paul Heritage, Founder and Director of People’s Palace, an organisation that played a large part in the British Council’s cultural Olympic projects in London, 2012 and Rio de Janeiro, 2016. With projects that saw Brazilian artists create bespoke performances that took place in people’s homes in East London, in partnership with Battersea Arts Centre, through to initiating and continuing choirs made up of residents of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. It was incredibly interesting to hear how Paul started the organisation, in partnership with Queen Mary University, and continued to expand with thanks to some strategic fundraising and income generating work. Paul was very helpful in giving me an overview of Rio de Janeiro’s set up and how communities exist together in a very mixed and creative city and was very open with how they continue to realise their programmes and how you can have a successful career in brokering and realising projects with innovative international cultural relationships.

Daniel and Leandro’s studio, Rio de Janeiro
Daniel and Leandro’s studio, Rio de Janeiro

Daniel Murgel is a Rio de Janeiro based artist who runs Atelie Sanitario along with Leandro Barboza and Guga Ferraz. Daniel spoke the most fluent English so was our main point of contact at this space and whilst talking through their practice, in particular his and Leandro’s creative collaboration. They are working in a non-defined partnership looking at self constructed architecture and restoration, specifically how buildings get fixed or changed for purpose in an ad hoc way – something that was very apparent when walking around Rio de Janeiro, an up-cycling of buildings with a ‘make do and mend’ attitude. Daniel’s admiration for classical painters leaks into their work and they use domestic colours within their installations that he calls ‘think paintings’. Everything in their studio was part of these constructed think paintings, from the colour tests on the walls, to the small piles of dust, to the built sculptures made from found objects to Leandro’s day job, his architectural restoration work. The work that most caught my imagination whilst there was their newly built pizza oven on the roof of the atelier, a motif/object they want to build in communities and art spaces all over the world. Its sculptural appeal and functional one is what interests the artists, it’s about constructing with communities own creative infrastructures and creating spaces to ‘break bread’ and talk with one another.

Thelma Vilas Boas is an artist and local activist who whose primary focus is working in a local bar, Bar Delas, and serving the community that use it. She says it’s about taking care of people, and encouraging them to take care of each other outside of the bar setting, with the bar being more than just somewhere to come for a drink, it’s also an ‘activating space’ – a place where the community can come together and take part in creative activities whilst enjoying the traditional notion of what a ‘bar’ is. Vilas Boas’ art practice started out as film and photography production, however she has evolved and her work is now this social enterprise, the pub is owned by two women with her at the forefront of the activity programming. Her attitudes towards the local community are amazing, citing that some of the young people she works with, their parents call the pub their church. The bar is becoming an international beacon for Brazilian women taking charge with their onsite workshops covering everything from creating protest signs to debate the current political climate all through way through to discussing every day women’s rights.

Bruno de Almeida is a curator of two very interesting concepts/spaces in São Paulo, SITU and 1:1, with both exploring the links between art, architecture, city and community. Bruno works primarily with Latin American artists to create site-specific works. For SITU, the artists work with the external spaces of the Galeria Leme building with temporary and site-specific works, which relate both to the building and to the adjoining public space, while 1:1 is found on the top floor of Galeria Jaqueline Martins and out in the public realm near the gallery. Both of these programmes are unique and very inspiring. Bruno is a curator on the up, and is to be a de Appel student this year. He says of his approach, “by chaining a disparate series of artistic ideas that speak directly with the public space, my projects intend to continuously engage a broader and more heterogeneous audience, inviting them to think critically about the city and the processes that shape it”. Bruno wants to take the work directly into the community as well as keeping it within the gallery setting, smartly working with various audiences and levels of engagement and blurring the lines between institutional and every day criticism.

João Loureiro’s exhibition at 1:1, São Paulo
João Loureiro’s exhibition at 1:1, São Paulo

Bruno’s artist at 1:1 is currently João Loureiro who gave us a tour of his work in the gallery and also his local intervention in a supermarket around the corner from the space. João is primarily a sculptor who questions the everyday and the relationship between form and function and our habitual behaviours towards things. João’s work at 1:1 was incredible, a comment on Brazilian approaches to art, exchange, and the city, with a replica made from polystyrene with dead flies on of Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) which was exchanged in the 70’s with the UK for a Henry Moore’s Two-Piece Reclining Figure: Points (1969-70), which João has made in miniature in raw meat and displayed at the local supermarket’s meat counter. These two pieces speaking to each other across the Central district of São Paulo, with flies being released weekly that have been ‘hatched’ on old Moore meat replicas (as these get renewed every week so they keep fresh in the supermarket.) João spoke in length about his other work and Tash and I were very inspired by his approach of thinking laterally and stretching ideas to where you would not expect them to go.

Politics/History

Guga Ferraz is an urban artist who creates interventions into Rio de Janeiro’s landscape. Most often his work is politically charged and examines issues of urban violence and how individuals navigate/own the city and how you can make a city feel like a ‘place’. This political backbone to his work is something apparent in many conversations had with all artists on this trip. With the location of his studio being a few buildings down from a huge burial ground of 50,000 black slaves brought to Brazil by the Portuguese 500 years ago really grounds his work in the conversation about who owns the space, who built the space and how do the people of Brazil continue to grow, own and build upon it to create their own future and a better history.

There is a strong female art presence in Brazil with many of the women artists I spoke to also being strong political activists, another of these was Rio de Janeiro based artist Paula Dykstra. Paula spoke about her dislike of the term ‘artist’ as it denotes a form of betting on people in an economical sense. Her work focuses on looking at the divided art world, those who make work for money and those that don’t, she is the latter, however she works for a leading female collector in Brazil so sees both sides. She believes that self organising is the only way to get your voice heard and create real change in your communities and across the world with her work questioning, what is the power of an island? A question she said was as relevant for Brazilians as Tash and I as UK residents.

A trip to Atelie397 in São Paulo made for a wonderful meeting with artist and curator, Flora Leite. She has curated the current exhibition, Que Barra, in the space and walked us around it as well as gave us a look at her own practice. Flora’s work is site specific in nature and heavily politicised. Always looking for the ‘odd spaces’ in buildings to use or looking at historical stories to re-tell she wants to examine meaning and material, “materialisation – what is matter’s (political) meaning?” Her latest work, a firework recreation of the Southern Cross star constellation embodies several of her artistic themes, including astrology, looking at the power of real vs. fake, discovery and ownership – the stars were named by someone, they did not name themselves. The latter point being something she, as a Brazilian artist, examines a lot in her work specifically how Brazil as a country came into being and the colonising of it by the Portuguese. And this political edge to her work is seen in the exhibition at Atelie397 with the artists responding to or being selected for their resonance with May 1968, and the 50th anniversary of a huge Brazilian political crisis. In 1968, Flora tells us, there was a huge preoccupation to look at LGBT culture, race, feminism, and questions about freedom. Brazil was the place to experiment types of freedoms and how this needs to happen again, and many of these conversations are starting up again in today’s world political climate. Flora says, “my daily life, when I am making, do I feel most free. But there’s no such thing as absolute freedom”.

Que Barra exhibition, Atelie397, São Paulo
Que Barra exhibition, Atelie397, São Paulo

Dream Big

On a visit to BREU space in São Paulo and I was able to speak with the studio holders Virgilio Neto, Rafaela Foz, Julio la Pagesse, Pedro Vercosa, Gabriel Pitan Garcia, Renarta Neon about the space and their own practices. BREU is a space for young artists, like the founders, to try experiments with their practice. As a non-funded space they are constantly trying to find ways for it to pay for itself beyond their studio rent, with the money enabling the exhibitions. As Renarta said, “money never happens! Only 14 galleries in São Paulo get state funding and there are hundreds of creative spaces and organisations in the city”. However, this does not make it a negative city to produce art in, rather it is a close-knit network and they all support each other. “In São Paulo there’s a big circulation of people and money, things need to happen, you need to make your city”, said Virgilio, continuing, “the Bienal is very important to the scene and giving it a world profile but the people of São Paulo are used to high profile events so art is nothing special to them, it becomes a bit every day”. BREU are creating a fairly unique space in São Paulo as it is multifunctional and supports a wide network of young artists as well as working with the local University and other educators who run workshops and classes on site. BREU has a shop at the front, that they’re testing out at the moment with vintage clothes and small art works for sale, the main gallery space which mostly has seen film and sound exhibited within it, and at the back a space for workshops and talks. The gallery is long with equal square footage upstairs which houses the artists’ studios and an open air kitchen – a theme in the art spaces of Brazil, and the place most people will congregate during an event in the space. Another unique outlook BREU have on the art scene is, as Julio said, “crazy, why do artists make work? No one ever asks you to make anything, but we do”. This sense of privilege the artists have that they are able to make work and have it seen, as well as help other artists work be seen is central to what they do, they are a platform and safe place, BREU is an important live space for early career artists in a very bustling and creative city.

BREU space, São Paulo
BREU space, São Paulo

One of the highlights of the trip for me was meeting with Mariana Sesma, Advisor for International Affairs and Flavia Abbud, Institutional Relationships and Partnerships Manager for the São Paulo Bienal. Both Mariana and Flavia gave us a lot of their time and insight into the Bienal as well as private tour of the Bienal venue at the initial stages of install for this year’s incarnation curated by Gabirel Perez-Barreiro. They explained how São Paulo was an ‘intense’ city for contemporary culture and it is important to them the Bienal contribute to the scene with a free programme of events and educational programme, and this is what makes them different to other biennials, or Documenta or Munster Skulpture. Founded in 1951 by an Italian industrialist the Bienal was created to mimic Venice Biennale and by 1962 was the first biennial to be curatorially-led rather than internationally-led with country specific pavilions. It has always been innovating the international cultural landscape and it endeavours to continue to do so. The amazing Bienal exhibition space is a huge building, aircraft carrier in scale and designed by Brazilian modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, as Mariana said, “The building is an industrial space, it was never meant for human scale”. Some of the most memorable/difficult pieces of work the building has housed for the Bienal include a swimming pool, real life vultures, the building became a single large cage…the list went on. With the Bienal and building being able to continually push boundaries and host large scale contemporary art interventions and experiments it is no wonder that almost 1 million people attended the 2016 Bienal exhibition, and within this 1 million includes a large amount of local people, as Flavia commented, “the event is expected by local people, they don’t always go to galleries, but they always come to the Bienal”.

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