Essay Vera Pallamin , 06/2008
A Policy of Disagreement
We do not want to expand the art within reality, perhaps the reality within art and, if possible, reality within reality itself.
IN THE FIRST SCENES ONE SEES AERIAL SHOTS OF A LENGTHY URBAN AGGLOMERATION, DENSELY VERTICALIZED, WHOSE LIMITS DO NOT APPEAR IN THE HORIZON. AN ENTHUSIASTIC VOICEOVER NARRATOR TRANSFIGURES THE IMAGES OF THE METROPOLIS INTO A SCENARIO FOR A SPORTS CONTEST. IN THE MIDDLE OF ITS STREETS, SOCCER PLAYERS RUN FAST TOWARD A FIELD: ‘VÁRZEA.’ IN A REMARKABLE CHOREOGRAPHY, THEIR BODIES MIX WITH MUD, WORKING HARD IN THE ABSOLUTE NOTHINGNESS. THEY END UP PROSTRATED, WEAKENED, COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED, WITH NO EXCEPTION. A TACITURN SOUND TAKES US OFF THE SCENE, AND THE SPACES OF THE SOCCER FIELD ARE DERIVED FROM THOSE OF URBAN PRECARIOUSNESS...
The metropolis and urban life, their conflicted sociabilities and the ways in which they deem spaces for coexistence (un)available are issues continually raised by collective BijaRi. The urban landscape that their art deals with is not the one that is readily accessible to the instant perception. They are interested in the (in)visibility of cultural tensions impregnated within public spaces, the emergence of contrasts that set people and material resources apart, the struggle between social groups for the right to the city.
Formed twelve years ago and comprised of artists and architects, BijaRi presents us with aesthetic interventions in which the art consists of thinking about oneself, thinking about the city, most of all this (non)city of São Paulo. By the urbanistic comprehension that sharply permeates their work, the city is not a background, a support, a gimmick; it is, in itself, a protagonist, at the core of what is at play. Urban processes are approached as a sensitive field to be artistically reelaborated, in an aesthetic reflection that includes the adoption of a critical stance with regard to its sociopolitical values. These processes, under the scope that characterizes the group, are not approached based on abstract references, but rather in their direct relations with the urban concreteness. Their physical dimension is understood in the light of social relations that take place, replete with controversial aspects, almost always fetishized.
Estão vendendo nosso espaço aéreo (2004), which used different languages such as posters, acts of celebration, multimedia presentations, postcards, and balloons, centered around Largo da Batata, a traditional working-class region of São Paulo, configured as an important intersection of bus lines. Remodeled under new demands, including the insertion of a subway station, the area started to be included in sales of “potential for construction” bonds (locally Cepacs), a recently established financial procedure for adding value to real estate, implemented in urban deals between the state and investors. The aesthetics of ‘modernization’ of the landscape involved in this operation leads to the gradual expelling of habitual users of those spaces, destructuring relations consolidated there for decades.
This phenomenon of ‘enoblement’ of certain urban perimeters, along with the due replacement of its users or inhabitants, to the detriment of the poorest, was also at the core of the piece entitled Gentrificação (2005). Defined by the group as a “viral intervention,” it consisted of sticking two thousand posters in different locations of the metropolis of São Paulo that are currently targeted by this type of transformation. This intervention developed into new situations and conflicts, generating 468 ocupação subjetiva (2006), an action aimed at criticizing the eviction of 468 families from the Prestes Maia building, which was the largest vertical occupation claiming for habitation here in Brazil. The field here was characterized by the controversy involving the existence of various closed and abandoned buildings in the central region of the city, coupled with the absence of housing policies for the low-income population (both of which are maintained to this day).
BijaRi’s opposition to “social cleansing” policies implemented by the São Paulo city hall are clear in Lave suas mãos (2005), João bobo (2005), and Combate (2005). This series of works staged in the main squares of the city’s historic center, emphasized the clash of the means for appropriation of public spaces, the social contradictions on which they are based, and the forceful removal of the homeless in the region, so as to make it apparently free from the poverty common to it.
Várzea (2006), an award-winning video made by the group along with Ricardo Iazzetta, amplifies this line of action. In it, if on the one hand we view our city and cultural references typical of it, on the other hand, we view the very contemporary urban condition: in current terms, the way in which the video was produced is reminiscent, to the overwhelming majority, to a game that is lost beforehand—as ratified by the recently published book Planeta favela, by Mike Davis. The appropriateness and conciseness of its scenes, its metaphorical articulation, and the way in which its sonority leads one from a state of profusion to an agonic tone comprise the atmosphere of this haunting piece.
In their aesthetical formalizations linked to video art, performances, installations, and design, BijaRi operates with both analog and digital media. In the multimedia realm of image production, one of the inescapable questions for art has to do with the pervasive stretchings of the image culture that stem from its use as a privileged market device. Currently, when we are under the impression that ‘everything’ is exposed or, vulgarly, about to become exposed, artwork using digital image is constructed as if ‘on a razor’s edge.’
The group’s interventions are characterized by a state of alert regarding the situations and conflicts taking place in the city, and the choice of the adequate moment for artistic action. Many of their formulations are based on an urgency associated with certain events, as for example the expelling of the homeless from the center of the city, of the 468 intervention mentioned above, or of Porque Luchamos? (2007), which was in synchronism with the coming of the U.S. president to the city.
Their lineage of work, which includes a series of critical actions—of which we mentioned only a few—lays bare the relation between the aesthetical and the political, that is so often discussed within the current state of art. As we know, this controversial field pertains to changes that occurred in the realm of experience, in which critical and political radicalism was lost at the same time. As philosopher Jean Baudrillard put it, in our contemporary situation we find ourselves immersed in an “integral reality” of sorts, one which supposedly absorbed all of its transcendence, wearing out the notions of opposition and confrontation.
The idea of resistance has certainly changed, and along with it the ways in which culture rethinks and transmutes itself. The duo resistance/political action no longer resonates in our cultural practices at all. Perhaps, however, we might think of resistance as disagreement, discordance. And we might think of political action not as that of the great refusal, but rather, according to philosopher Jacques Rancière, as the policy of disagreement. In these terms, interventions into the sensitive can be simultaneously strikes of power, and poetic acts can be at the same time argumentative, adverse, dissentious. Thus, a significant field of comprehension opens itself up to contemporary art movements, such as these turned to the art/city relation. Nevertheless, one must pay attention to the fact that dissentious action does not take place within a terrain of guarantees, therefore it is always in danger of cancelling itself within the realm of established consensus.
In the field of art, this inner articulation between the aesthetic and the political must not be taken as equivalent to the idea of, ultimately, eliminating the asymptote relation between art and life, enacting the complete dissolution of art in the world, and thus nullifying it. On the contrary, this is an effort to reaffirm it. It is along these lines that we can grasp the efforts involved in the group’s initiative of attempting to expand “...the reality within art and, if possible, reality within reality itself.”
The holder of a degree in architecture and philosophy from the University of São Paulo (USP), Vera M. Pallamin is a Ph.D. professor at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at USP. She developed postdoctoral research on the relation between art and the public sphere at the University of California, in Berkeley (USA), and at the Università degli Studi di Firenze (Italy), and is the author of the books Arte urbana – São Paulo, região central (1945-1998), Editora Annablume, 2000, and Cidade e cultura, Editora Estação Liberdade, 2002, among others.
Interview Denise Mota, 2008
Is every artist supposed to go where the people are?
This question faces us with an important issue for the group, the distinction between people, multitude, and masses*. The people have been traditionally viewed as a unitary concept, by which diversities are reduced to one. The multitude, on the other hand, is multiple, comprised of various inner differences that can never be reduced to one single identity. The multitude is a multiplicity constituted by all singular differences. Masses are comprised of all types of species, but their essence is indifference: every difference becomes submersed and drowned out in the masses. If the crowd is not an identity (as are people), nor is it uniform (as are the masses), then its inner differences must discover the common factor that allows them to communicate and act as a group. Thus, if we stop and think about art as being part of the production of what is common, and about the multitude as singularities that act in common, then we believe that the proposal of art is the same as that of the crowd: to create and act in defense of what is common. That is the position of BijaRi.
Is it the artist’s duty to discuss reality?
One way or the other, every artist places his or her own reality under discussion. Our background in architecture compels us to constantly battle the city. The exercise of living everyday life with a critical stance makes you suffer a series of stimuli and tensions. The interventions arise from a sense of urgency that attempts to bridge the gap between your view of a possible reality and what the actual reality is. In other words, we attempt to create another possibility for viewing the world, living with it, ascribing meaning to it. We place ourselves down in this fragile trench, trying to move forward with creation amidst the dryness that characterizes relationships and the contemporary urban imagery, and seeking immaterial products, subjectivities, and affections that deny the forms compromised by capitalist accumulation.
In these twelve years, which work posed the biggest challenge to the group, both in artistic and logistical terms?
It was the work we did near the Prestes Maia building—which was the largest vertical occupation in Latin America, with more than three thousand people. The project lasted for about four years, and counted on ten actions by BijaRi and a hundred other ones by other collectives and artistic movements. The funniest thing is that never for a second did we regard those actions as a project; they would result from a sense of urgency that compelled us to act upon reality and attempt to transform it, using our subjective occupations, our bodies. In 2003, the first artistic exhibition was held at the building. It was extremely questionable, in terms of an actual collaboration. It took a long time before the role of each party in this process of exchange between artists and social movement was understood. The artists grasped the fact that their best weapons are “artistic,” by means of which strategies, shapes, and subjectivities become powerful. We also understood that learning about politics and about organizing a large number of people into a network was the greatest thing that the movement offered in return.
BijaRi creates based on the relations between individuals and with the city, and has São Paulo as its central investigation site. What other city would you like to work in?
It is very difficult for an artist who works with urban intervention to carry out an intervention in a state or country other than his or her own. Our approach to developing public art projects was to always seek a close connection with the context in which the work will intervene (be it social, political, architectural, etc). That is why we now believe in lasting projects. It is not impossible to work outside of São Paulo, but it would take time, research, and sensitivity. We believe that Latin American cities have more to offer us, both for the sociological and aesthetical similarity, and for the URGE that we feel to let those splits be perceived, to strengthen other relations that are common to all Latin American cultures.
Besides Tropicalism, what are your influences?
Initially, the collective was named Fábrica da Bijari (“Bijari Factory”), in a reference to Andy Warhol’s Factory (multiple languages and pop iconography), and to Brazilian Indians (Bijari is name derived from Indian language Tupi). Such attitude was already a fruit of the Brazilian Anthropophagy and Tropicalism, by which different foreign cultural references are processed from the vantage point of local culture, to become raw material. Given our architectural background, the Situationist legacy became a must, and processes such as derivation and psychogeographies became more and more of a part of the group’s procedures, blurring the boundaries between art, politics, and reality to create intervention strategies. In politics and philosophy, we transit through the Nietzsche-Espinosa-Deleuze legacy, and finally through the multitude, as in Negri and Hardt. Some critics, such as Brian Holmes, Marcelo Expósito, and Suely Rolnik (who collaborate with magazines Multitud and Brumaria) are important influences. In the pop and entertainment world, music video directors such as Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Lars Von Trier, designers such as David Carson, Neville Brody, and Saul Bass, and woodcut typical of the cordel [Brazilian Northeast literature]. We have gone full circle and arrived back at Tropicalism!!!
You have already stated that social movements are more important influences than critics and curators. Is the Brazilian art circuit unable to grasp artistic manifestations with political content?
When BijaRi got started, our work aspired to be institutionally independent, with no relation with the “art world” whatsoever. Our effort was focused on producing actual change in the political sphere. When we started to discover (especially outside of Brazil) artists and critics with whom we had affinity, it became clear that we were not up against the art world, but rather that we had communication problems within the Brazilian art system. Social movements, psychologists, and architects became more important to our dialogue than local critics and curators, who usually looked at our work from a formal standpoint, and were not as interested in the work’s actual intention and potency. The question that posed itself to us was: How and why relate to curators and institutions? Dialogue is necessary in order to build a shared body of knowledge. It is in this space that political art and Brazilian critics stand: without a good dialogue.
Nowadays we know that these questions about taking part or not in the “art world” are a false problem. The question is how to entertain a critical dialogue with the institutions and the capital. The key lies in how to maintain the integrity of our project and yet continue to intervene in that context. Many museums and galleries outside of Brazil contribute in a positive way to the development of artistic-political processes. Here, the boundaries between capital and art are less defined, and it is more difficult to obtain support. One must have a very clear idea of the project and the ways for making it viable, without losing it or selling it. It is like walking on a razor’s edge.
One of the collective’s commercial clients supported the action against Bush’s visit. Have you ever lost commercial jobs because of the political content of your art?
This is a very interesting issue. BijaRi adopts a stance that is simple—and at the same time radical, here in Brazil—with regard to the division between commercial and auteur work. We openly take on the contradiction of doing artistic-political and corporate work at the same time. To some artists, we are a bunch of sell-outs, commercial to the extreme; to the commercial world, we are too artistic. In this small space we establish ourselves, believing that it is possible to make art with quality while remaining independent, paying for the research needed with the money from commercial gigs. Sometimes we sense uneasiness from some commercial client, as was the case with the censorship that was imposed to us by [music festival] Skol Beats in 2005. We were invited to make a live-image presentation at the main stage, and then we received a message stating that we were not allowed to screen images with contents related to politics, religion, soccer, or sex. In most of our relations with commercial clients, however, the opposite takes place: they usually admire our artistic work, even though it is often acid.
What work(s) is BijaRi currently involved with?
In July we are going to present the Multidão zero performance, with thirty people, at Galeria Vermelho, as part of the Verbo event. The work discusses the issue of protests, forty years after May 1968. Other projects include:
Natureza urbana: a partnership with architect José Subero (of the Dominican Republic). At the Galerias Subterrâneas exhibition, in the city of Curitiba, we occupied galleries at bus terminals, and turned an advertising billboard into a vertical garden. The work was conceived for the city of São Paulo, which is now experiencing a shift in visual paradigms with the removal of advertisement.
Disk mobilidade: in keeping with the proposal of interventions aimed at discussing the urban nature, we have created, for the Motomix 2008, a project of mobile gardens in dump boxes normally used to carry waste in the city. The dump boxes were turned into gardens with images.
Entropicália: remixada e amplificada: we are going to present a previously unseen audiovisual piece that remixes the Tropicalist movement, bringing together experimentation and the politics of our times, at Itaú Cultural.
Visionários: curated by Arlindo Machado, among others, seventy experimental artists from Latin America were selected for the exhibition, which kicks off in August here in Brazil, and will travel the world for two years.
* The concept of multitude that we are working with was developed by Michel Hardt and Antonio Negri, and published in the book Multidão, guerra e democracia na era do império, Editora Record, 2005.
Comment biography Denise Mota, 06/2008
Twelve years ago, one visual artist and nine architecture students (eight from the University of São Paulo and one from the Armando Alvares Penteado Foundation) created a common space in which to do college work, throw parties, develop artistic projects, and discuss matters related to the moment that they were going through. The multiplicity of identities seeking the same objectives gave birth to BijaRi, a collective characterized by the notion of unity in diversity since its early days.
This feature is present in the group’s various artistic and commercial projects in Web art, video, performance, installation, live shows featuring sound and image manipulation, graphic design, music videos, video dance, intervention, and activism. A tribute to the first address, in the vicinities of Instituto Butantã, the word Bijari is rooted in Tupi [Brazilian Indian language] and means “the scab that falls off is the skin that renews itself,” which is reminiscent of sources of inspiration to the group, such as cultural anthropophagy and Tropicalism. The capital “b” and “r” make the name easier to read in any font, and according to collective member Rodrigo Araújo, “they highlight the BR, for Brazilian.”
Together, Araújo, Eduardo Loureiro Fernandes, Flávio Araújo, Frederico Ming Azevedo, Geandre Tomazoni, Gustavo Godoy, Luis Maurício Brandão, Olavo Ekman, and Sandro Akel engage in a permanent discussion about where boundaries and borders are, what they are, and why they are formed—be they physical or psychological, explicit or camouflaged by the urban landscape. Just as they aim to break away from normally accepted schemes—such as tacit divisions between rich and poor, bosses and employees, first and third worlds—, the group also departs from traditional parameters of art production by developing corporate projects using the same language and the maximum possible criticism.
The audacity of bringing up conflicts that lie latent in the social fabric was a feature, for example, of Antipop galinha, made in 2002. By using an element as simple as it is potentially offensive—which became clear later on—, the group made palpable the untouchability of worlds located just one kilometer apart: the people who go to the Iguatemi shopping mall and street vendors at Largo da Batata square. The effort recorded diametrically opposite reactions to the appearance of a hen: a sense of unfamiliarity that came through as refusal and fear, in the affluent part of the city, and as cheerfulness and covet among the poorer people.
In 2004, Largo da Batata would be both the setting and the protagonist for another emblematic intervention by the group: in Estão vendendo nosso espaço aéreo [They are selling our air space], balloons, signs, and leaflets informed merchants and pedestrians of the repercussions of a project for “revitalizing” the area, and reported on the speculation practiced by “real estate sharks.” The action, which is part of a project by SESC São Paulo involving several collectives based in the city, was built around the architectural concept of gentrification—renovation of an urban property that results in the removal of impoverished people. Recordings of the work were screened in 2005 in Kassel, Germany.
The same struggle against gentrification gained new faces and strategies when BijaRi became an ally, between 2004 and 2006, with the families resisting eviction at an occupation of building Prestes Maia, in downtown São Paulo. Immersed in the problematics of the inhabitants, the artists joined members of nongovernmental organizations and other groups in a series of artistic and political demonstrations and actions. In one of those, BijaRi, along with twelve other collectives, such as Contrafilé and Frente 3 de Fevereiro, created Território São Paulo, a special room at the 9th Bienal de La Habana. Amidst judicial orders, police force, choppers, and TV cameras, the group used thousands of leaflets to write on the asphalt the number 468, equivalent to the number of families that would be left in the streets after the reclaiming of ownership of the Prestes Maia building by the government.
The challenge of creating within other urban circumstances presented itself to the group, which created actions for the 3rd Mercosur Biennial, in Porto Alegre (2001), and during the 8th Bienal de La Habana (2003) they carried out interventions in the city streets. The video Ocupação (2006) documents how an abandoned downtown building in the city of Pelotas (state of Rio Grande do Sul) was turned into a support for slogans and anonymous phrases taken from the urban scene, combining intervention and installation. The thematic of an egalitarian use of the city, one that favors all—rather than only those with the most capital—constitutes the core of the video.
São Paulo provides the setting for most of the group’s interventions, from Poesia dos problemas nada concretos (2002) to João bobo (2005) and Cubo (2005), in which a public structure of seven by seven by seven meters received projections of images manipulated live by the group and other collectives. In 2007, during the trip of United States President George W. Bush to São Paulo, the group used billboards spread throughout the city’s main streets, questioning the agreement between Brazil and the United States for ethanol production. The work developed into Porque Luchamos?, an installation presented at the 1st Biennial of the End of the World, held in Ushuaia, Argentina, in that same year.
Also in 2007, another world came into being with Reconstrucidades, a travelling interactive installation in which the group offered viewers a chance to rearrange their ideal city, visually and in terms of sound, based on new values and demands, with the aid of colored chips. Made in 2006, Várzea, a partnership with choreographer Ricardo Iazzetta that was awarded at the 16th Videobrasil, uses video dance to reflect on the predetermined roles assigned to individuals and countries in the contemporary global “concert.” In Várzea, the city of São Paulo—a muse, laboratory, and enigma that the artists work tirelessly to decipher—becomes one huge, simple soccer field in which different dreams and “jerseys” interweave with each other in a ballet of conflicts, overcomings, and survival tactics.
Reflections on nature and city are recurrent themes for the group. Their projects include the intervention Disk mobilidade, which turns dump boxes into gardens. The 40th anniversary of May 1968—and the very notion of demonstration—is the theme of a new performance involving thirty participants.
Bibliographical references 06/2006
A compendium of the artists’ interventions, exhibitions, and live presentations, as well as their commercial work in design, video, and other multiple media comprises the official Web site of the collective.
In this blog maintained by curator Régine Debatty, designer Sascha Pohflepp, and researcher Shin´ichi Konomi, BijaRi discusses its career, projects, and the concept of architecture as a “space under permanent construction.”
A blog kept by artists, journalists, members of popular movements, and intellectuals who, together with BijaRi, participated in demonstrations and cultural projects between 2005 and 2007, protesting against the government’s reclaiming of ownership of building Prestes Maia, in downtown São Paulo, occupied by 468 families.