Bruno de Almeida
The founder and curator of SITU, Bruno de Almeida was born in Salvador, Brazil in 1987 and lives and works in São Paulo. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Oporto, Portugal, and a Master’s Degree in Architecture from the Accademia di Architettura della Svizzera Italiana, Mendrisio, Switzerland. Formerly an architect in London, he has collaborated with institutions such as the Independent Research Institute of the Fondazione Archivio del Moderno, Mendrisio; the Kunsthalle São Paulo; Pivô Art and Research, São Paulo, and Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York City.
AN ONGOING SITE-SPECIFIC RESEARCH PROJECT
SITU is a platform for artistic production and research that promotes a dialogue between art, architecture, and the city, inquiring into the possible reverberations and contributions of a broad questioning of contemporary urbanism, understood as a vast and complex physical-social matrix.
The project sequentially commissions Latin American artists to take over the external spaces of Galeria Leme in São Paulo, Brazil, conceiving temporary and site-specific works that relate both to the building and to its adjoining public space.
The choice of this iconic building, a contemporary art gallery designed by the influential Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha in collaboration with the São Paulo-based firm Metro Arquitetos, relates not only to its bond with the realms of art and architecture, but above all to its strong architectural features and complex history of construction, demolition, replication, and expansion, which can be viewed as a representation, on a smaller scale, of the evolutionary processes of cities such as São Paulo.
The gallery was first built in 2004 and stood in an area that, since the 1990s, has comprised São Paulo’s new financial center. Six years after Mendes da Rocha’s original design was constructed, a multinational corporation bought the entire block where the gallery stood and began constructing its headquarters there; as a result, the gallery had to be demolished. However, because it was a project by a renowned architect, before the demolition process got underway a relocation of the building to a nearby plot was negotiated. After many discussions and sketches for new architectural possibilities, the gallery was rebuilt in 2012 as a replica of the original project, with the addition of an adjacent construction that was once again designed by Mendes da Rocha and Metro. In the space between the clone of the original edifice and the additional new one an outdoor space was designed that opened itself to the city and articulated the memory of the old building and its contemporary neighbor. This external area is the main stage for SITU’s commissioned site-specific works.
SITU’s curatorial focus falls upon artists whose researches gravitate around architectural and urban space issues, as well as other related topics. In addition, there is an emphasis on Latin American artists, who have a particular corporeal and intellectual spatial understanding that comes from their first-hand experience of the specificity of Latin America’s public sphere and its urban and social processes.
By linking a diverse series of works in deep connection to the building and to the public space adjacent to it, SITU seeks to create a meta-narrative that can embrace each specific project as part of a larger investigation. By prioritizing and engendering works that are not innocuous representations of reality but rather vectors able to generate critical spatial conditions, the project aims to serve as an instrument through which pressing issues can be formulated, discussed, and propagated.
SITU #1 | José Carlos Martinat
SRE / Open Data / SP
16.07.2015 – 30.08.2015
José Carlos Martinat was born in 1974 in Lima, Peru, where he continues to live and work. His project grows out of a reflection on the financial scandals that have become increasingly frequent in Brazil since mid-2015. When invited to conceive a site-specific work that would reflect upon the contemporary city and employ the gallery’s building as a catalyst, he decided to focus on an understanding of the built environment as the outcome of a series of decisions, agreements, and negotiations that take place behind the abstractions of politics and capital, often creating breaches of the administrative and legislative sphere.
Martinat was interested in how to handle the discrepancy between official narratives and reality. The balance between what is disclosed and what is omitted, as well as the interplay between the concreteness of reality and its representation, enables the creation of undeclared forms of government that are legitimized through the abstraction of graphs, tables, and measurable results of profits and expenses. This way of understanding the “urban” is the simulacrum for a submission of the social body to the logic of economics, one that promotes the supremacy of abstract space in opposition to social space. Throughout this process, the actual city is but a distant and abstract reference, and within this numerical landscape the most powerful currency is information.
With this in mind, Martinat has created an installation that consists of discreetly installing, on top of the gallery’s walkway, a small device that consists of a thermal printer connected to an online software program that extracts statistical information on the costs and revenues of the state of São Paulo. The statistical graphs are printed as tax receipts and these coupons are thrown out of the building, where they can be read and taken by passers-by.
The information is extracted from a state-owned website described as the “gateway of the citizen to the main data of the Government of São Paulo,” a platform created by the government to provide access to state information to whoever wishes to consult it. In spite of this claim, however, the web interface and its content are not easily comprehensible to the average citizen.
By materializing public information and casting it out into public space, the artist inquires into the dialectic capacity of inert elements in the city, such as buildings, to activate a critical engagement with the urban reality, understood beyond its mere physical form. What the installation reminds us is that space cannot be taken only as a support, a receptacle, or a passive reflection of the immaterial forces that shape it. It is a raw material that can be shaped as a clandestine conductor of information that can fly under the radar of the existing authorities.
SITU #2 | Daniel de Paula
03.09.2015 – 12.12.2015
Born in Boston in 1987, Daniel de Paula lives and works in São Paulo. His installation uses a kind of rock sample that, in Portuguese, is called a testemunho (literally, a “testimonial”). These core samples, which serve as geological information for dimensioning and defining the type of foundations for any large building or construction, are composed of layers of rock that were laid down over many millions of years, forming a timeline that ranges from the present day to periods prior to human history.
The installation consists of repetitions of this element, which are laid out and spaced systematically in an area covering most of the patio floor. The samples are organized chronologically, so that the youngest rocks are closer to the road that runs outside the gallery and the oldest, dating as far back as 4.5 billion years, are closest to the back wall.
The samples used by de Paula, obtained from a group of São Paulo-based construction companies, all originated from drillings carried out for transportation projects in São Paulo, such as highways, tunnels, subway and the Rodoanel (greater São Paulo’s beltway). The chronological layout and the description of the firms and consortia responsible for the construction of these public works are explained and detailed in the exhibition’s accompanying booklet.
The artist’s decision to focus on public works of urban mobility comes from a reflection on the great influence of such projects on the structuring of the city. Apart from shaping the urban territory and affecting the movement of people, large-scale mobility works are “political achievements,” since they function ideologically to maintain a progressive image created for the city, and serve as instruments for the implementation of macroeconomic policies, such as energizing the real estate market by opening up new areas for urban expansion. There is, therefore, a symbiotic relation between political power and a select group of private firms, creating an unspoken pact that benefits both parties, either through unconventional forms of “stimulus” to the heavy construction sector, such as the overestimation of service prices, or through generous contributions to electoral campaigns.
Daniel de Paula’s work comes at a time when investigations into several construction companies are unveiling these and other undisclosed deals with political figures, thus bringing to light deeply rooted corruption schemes involving many of the same companies responsible for the infrastructure works referred to by the artist. One of these firms, the construction giant Odebrecht, was responsible for building the current gallery.
SITU #3 | Ricardo Alcaide
19.01.2016 – 15.03.2016
Born in Caracas in 1967, Ricardo Alcaide currently lives and works in São Paulo. His project grows out of a reflection upon the ambiguous character of the gallery’s patio, a space that, despite being open and freely accessible, it is rarely used or experienced by the passers-by. The artist believes that there is some sort of immaterial barrier that hovers over that space, a private character, seemingly emanated by its architectural configuration, that inhibits any sort of informal and spontaneous use of the space. Alcaide identifies this feature as something which is recurrent in our experience of São Paulo and many others cities, where semi-public and public spaces are increasingly being privatized or immaterially “fenced.”
For SITU, the artist has conceived an installation that exacerbates the tensions that arise between idealized notions of space and the reality of their day-to-day use and appropriation. Alcaide has designed a large black geometric volume that occupies the entire patio of the gallery. The face that presents itself to the passersby rises on a ramp from the ground, close to the sidewalk, increasing to six meters in height at the top of the wall at the rear of the patio. The volume diagonally dissects the gallery facades, nullifying the external space and almost entirely blocking the two entrances to the building. In the construction of this monumental element the artist has employed a wood that is commonly used in construction as a framework for molds of in situ concrete, the same construction process used in the gallery’s walls.
Due to the obstruction of the normal access into the building, Alcaide created a second wooden structure on the opposite facade of the gallery, signaling a new entrance through a door that is customarily closed. This new access refers to the original entry of the gallery’s first building, which was demolished in 2011. The process of re-designing and enlarging the gallery for its new location (as explained in the introductory text) entailed a relocation of the entrance to the patio area.
Through the occupation and near obliteration of a (semi-)public space and the subsequent adaptation of the gallery’s entrance route, Alcaide induces a reexamination of the visitor’s physical relationship with the building and subverts the normal functioning of the institution. His installation creates a spatial condition that is located on the threshold of conflict and of an “institutionalization” of provisionality. He thus takes advantage of the friction between rigidity and institutional improvisation, something that is often present in our experience of the city, in the clash between “official” architecture and the makeshift constructions that are cumulatively coupled to it, which are the result of intricate and informal territorial pacts that are parallel to the official legal-normative order.
SITU #4 | Beto Shwafaty
The Phantom Matrix (Old Structures, New Glories)
02.04.2016 – 25.06.2016
Beto Shwafaty was born in 1977 in São Paulo, where he continues to live and work. His project is based on historical and geographical investigations into the region where the gallery is located, the district of Butantã. While delving into the colonial past of the site, the artist noted that, in the seventeenth century, it was the site of São Paulo’s first sugar cane mill, where human or animal traction was employed to grind sugarcane.
Although it seems at first like a minor historical fact, sugar mills formed part of one of the first and most important colonial industries, and were also responsible for the formation of a specific set of social relations that have strengthened a socio-spatial hierarchy whose echoes are still felt today. This pervasive model in the formation of the national territory was guided by the expansion and consolidation of monoculture and of landowning schemes in which large portions of land were deposited in the hands of a few individuals. This model established the basis for the consolidation of a patriarchal and patrimonial society whose political, economic, and social powers are still today concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite. This type of relationship between power and land ownership has underpinned the structuring model of the territory of Brazil over the past two hundred years, resulting in a late urbanization process pervaded with multiple disorders.
For his installation, Shwafaty has employed an original wooden sugar mill to structure the entire project both materially and conceptually. The installation, which occupies the gallery’s courtyard, is transformed by a series of successive moments. In the first, the mill is exposed with a constant movement powered by an electric motor that the artist juxtaposes to the ancient piece. (This movement is unproductive since the engine is not grinding sugarcane.) Over the course of the exhibition, the mill will be gradually dismantled and in its parts will be catalogued and rearranged, in order to be re-signified. Finally, the pieces will be removed from the space, which will then be immaterially occupied by a sound installation that carries the memory of the processes connected to the mill.
By bringing this type of colonial engine back to the place where it first appeared, the artist creates a collision between two different historical epochs. Nevertheless, this colonial piece is resuscitated only to gradually vanish during the exhibition, evoking the imminent obliteration of certain historical buildings, cultures, information and societies, as well as the same erasure and disappearance processes that permeate the spatial development of cities.