RESEARCH RESIDENCY IN SÃO PAULO
From October 15-21, 2012 I undertook a research residency at Casa das Caldeiras in São Paulo as a way to launch to the Lanchonete project. During that week, I met with friends, friends of friends, artists, a lawyer, and potential corporate sponsors; toured Centro with Pedro, a photographer, to organically record lanchonete that spoke to us; lodged at my favorite building in the world – Edifício Copan - and held an opening event with Coletivo Ghawazee at Pivô art space (also in Copan).
One deeper encounter was my introduction to a new acquaintance, João, who I met with him several times over that week. João and I had some friends in common: Angela who he worked with at Teatro Oficina as well as Paula and SWOON, American artists who I talked to about my work and relationships in São Paulo before their 2011 Encampment Ersilia project within the De Dentro e de Fora show. João had lived in the Encampment Ersilia under the MASP for a period of time and was now writing a book on that experience.
The first time we talked was on a Wednesday over feijoada and stiff caipirinhas at Marajá at Rua Martins Fontes, 153 in Centro. João approximated that there are 120-140 empty buildings in Centro, São Paulo. He referenced 5-6 ‘occupations’, communities occupying a previously empty building, and differentiated this from the term ‘invasion’, which is commonly used by the government and in the media to describe a squatting situation. João explains further by describing a late night scene he witnessed on Rua Martins Fontes when he looked out his window a saw four buses pull up in front of an empty building. There were 100 in each bus … they occupied the vacant building in an organized fashion. Together we visited the Sao João and Mauá Occupations. João knew folks in each of the residences who welcomed us and showed us around; however they are typically closed from 11pm to 6am to the outside public. These buildings have unique public space, e.g. library, art studio, meeting room; we were able to use the Lanchonete launch event – in part – as a book drive for a new library at the Mauá Occupation.
Occupations such as Mauá and São João are contested in the ever-militarizing urbanscape of São Paulo. In our talks, João mentioned that 31 of the 32 sub-mayors in São Paulo are retired military. João characterizes the mayor as a ‘house seller’ … and the Centro as a site of dense speculation for the housing market. ‘It’s violent’ he says. To learn more about these and other occupations, see: Frente de Luta por Moradia.
While in Sampa (a.k.a. São Paulo), Joel, a friend and cultural program director at Casa das Caldeiras directed me to the Coletivo Ghawazee, a collective of 11 women artists working in different media. After hearing my idea for Lanchonete and thinking how to introduce the project with an event he was sure that these women would have ideas… and IDEAS, they had! After four hours of discussion about the project, we exited Casa das Caldeiras with a simple question: How do we live with money? Almost like (I interpreted) how do we live with an abusive partner? How do we live with this thing that we can’t extricate ourselves from, which brings occasional happiness … pain, opportunities, accomplishments, shows the distance we are from others, and so forth. It was the distillation of Lanchonete to this question that gave shape to our opening event at which Ghawazee critically read – happened – the lanchonete as fixture, as economic signifier of their money-tripwired city. This question (as model) also gave form to a similar event the following week in Tokyo.
João came back around to help with the event; the following day he asked me if I’d noticed the way people reacted when he asked for contributions for the singer, Cosme, he’d brought to perform. I admitted that I hadn’t and asked him to write down his observations for me … his email follows:
It’s been 11 days since Feishoada Happened and here goes my report.
The event was a get-together for people who could be interested in the Lanchonete Project. Initially I thought the project was about an Anti-Capitalist Lanchonete, but later on I came to think it is somehow an experience about permanence and bonding in places meant for feeding and meeting.
I got there a little late, accompanied by Cosme. I was trying to gather a band for him but could not do so, in short notice and with zero reais. The result was that Cosme sang alone, with me eventually punching a table and a can in order to have some form of rhythm with him.
Before we started, I think the people where a little distant. We had to make some general changes in the space before starting. I did a little speach opening and introducing Cosme and how we met and talking about how I met Todd. I told everybody that they could give us money and that the money would go for me and Cosme. I think this may have made me look bad in the eyes of the participants. (this thing about money is interesting, if you think it was one of the main questions we should talk about openly in the event).
Unfortunately we could not, me and Cosme, take part in the talks about lanchonete project, nor in the activities with the ghawazee collective, but we got an invitation for Cosme to sing in Casa das Caldeiras, a very nice place in SP, so it was a victory.
As for what I believe could have been better, I think the people present should have had an open talk at some point of the meeting to make clear what the project was about and how each one could participate. But the individual talks may have done the job well, I dont know. As for the structure (where and how the actions would take place) I believe if we had one meeting between the people involved in the event before the Feishoada, things would go easily, but the event was great as it was.
Image of lanchonete on Rua Penaforte Mendes by Pedro Marques.
Todd Lester writes a monthly blog post on RU’s Dialogues detailing the preparation and implementation of Lanchonete.org, a 5-year residency project in Sao Paulo.
Lanchonete.org celebrates São Paulo‘s ubiquitous lunch counters and their role in the life of the Center. Lanchonete.org invites a group of international artists to reside in – and thus develop a relationship with – the Center of São Paulo, its citizens, institutions, issues and patterns. Begun as a research process, the project materializes into a community-owned restaurant over its five-year duration, and leaves behind a management structure - Associação Espaço Cultural Lanchonete - to contend with the inherent responsibilities of such an endeavor.
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