Fragmentos e Souvenirs paulistanos, Vol.1
Galeria Luisa Strina, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Before I left for São Paulo, my grandmother warned me that thieves would cut off my fingers to get my rings, and friends said I could watch a local television station dedicated to reporting nothing but the day’s murders and violent crimes. While there was no truth to these tales, the city did seem to be too vast and dangerous to allow for any romantic sense of discovery on foot or a feeling that I could access it merely through an abundance of time, curiosity or meditation. Neither residents nor tourists here have the luxuries of the flâneur – and neither do the city’s artists.
‘Fragmentos e Souvenirs Paulistanos, Vol.1’ (Fragments and Souvenirs Paulistanos, Vol.1), an exhibition spread over three gallery floors that gathered impressions of São Paulo from local and international artists, confirmed that this particular metropolis is best seen from a distance – both the distance provided by the gallery itself (located on a sheltered, up-market street) and that afforded by Conceptual artistic approaches. As the exhibition’s title suggests, the most authentic view of São Paulo is one generated by fruitless navigations, fragmentary memories and the piecing together of the physical remainders or everyday objects that conjure them up. These ‘souvenirs’, like one of Franz Ackermann’s ‘mental maps’ (1994– ongoing), say less about the place we visited than our memories of the experience there. The impression of the metropolis we’re left with is chaotic, incomplete and often incorrect.
Armin Linke’s Favela Paraisópolis, São Paulo, Brazil (2001) both confronts and confirms outsiders’ prejudices about the city’s social problems. In the foreground a young kid with a loose shirt falling from his shoulders faces the camera with indifference as he slogs up a street beneath a criss-cross of telephone lines. Behind him the makeshift brick and tin roofed dwellings of the favela where he lives are overshadowed by the towering high-rises of one of São Paulo’s richest neighbourhoods. All of it can be seen with Thomas Struth-ian clarity, as a clichéd observation of the proximity of the city’s wealthy and its poor.
If every work in the show had attempted to illustrate São Paulo’s social paradoxes, the result would have been a collection of literal interpretations that criticize or romanticize this condition. Luckily other works said more about the city with less information. Objects drawn from its urban fabric, sometimes imitating the agglomeration of tacked-on pieces or the scraps of materials that often seem to make up its streets and buildings, were recontextualized in the gallery, frequently employing the languages of Minimalism and Conceptualism. Artists recycled such everyday objects as tennis shoes, newspapers and coins as metaphors for specific social conditions. Jac Leirner’s Adesivo 41 (Cavellini 2) (Sticker 41 (Cavellini 2) 2004) is an assemblage of found stickers and paper scraps arranged on Perspex, but to no greater effect than simply to create order out of the city’s detritus. The Brazilian artist Marepe leaned a prefabricated wooden door against the wall as if awaiting hinges or a layer of paint. But next to it the artist fabricated a matching window out of wood (A Porta e a Janela, A Door and a Window, 2004) – the door was no longer a ready-made but a sophisticated elaboration on a piece of two by four, or
a piece of local artisanship.
The majority of works were made through a subtraction of information or a withholding of facts and observations. Marcius Galan’s Foco (Focus, 2004), two framed white surfaces dotted with clusters of red pins, seemed to represent a concentration of crime scenes or some other grim statistic. But there was no legend to this map, nor any lines or boundaries. A piece that at first promised to provide statistical information turned out to be a kind of voodoo or acupuncture on paper. Similarly Jorge Macchi’s As Folhas Mortas (Two Empty Folha de Sao Paulo) I (2004) is a delicate lacework