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Art & Social Space
Interview with BijaRi in São Paulo, Brazil. Part 2
by Virginia Gil Araujo

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Interview with BijaRi by Virginia Gil Araujo 1st Part

Virginia Gil Araujo: Those strategies of negotiating, intermediating and establishing encounters between opposing symbolic contexts are a recurring theme in BijaRi’s work; specifically, your relationship with occupation movements that took place in Intervenciones Urbanas, an event organized by the university and UNESCO in the city of Pelotas, Rí­o Grande do Sul.

BijaRi: Exactly. Ocupación [Occupation], an intervention in which we took over an abandoned building in downtown Pelotas, was wholly inspired by the aesthetics and strategies of the movements with which we had contact in Sao Paulo. The program we were invited to take part in was part of an event to celebrate the restoration and renewal of the city’s historic center, which had had a very rich past but had lapsed into a sort of decadence. Pelotas has a clearly defined European urban layout: medium-height buildings following the same style, aligned with right-angled streets. In the middle of those palaces, theaters, and middle-class libraries in an area so proudly protected and revitalized by the local city council, stood the “carcass”of an unfinished, 50-meter building that had been abandoned for ten years.

That building, with its inherent paradoxes and such a strong symbolic presence in the city’s landscape, had been incorporated, accepted and absorbed by the population. To us, however, that was the most real and revealing aspect of the city, which sought to glorify an image of prosperity, while hiding and excluding another part. We therefore decided to appropriate the building and question it symbolically. The idea was to create a situation that would reactivate its setting, along with the deadened sensitivity stemming from everyday coexistence with a hollow, ghost-like construction. We were really looking for a provocative intervention. The image of the urban occupation of housing was thus a decisive means of focusing on unused, run-down spaces.

When we made known our intention to use the building to make a “work of art”, its real estate administrators showed great interest. We not only secured a permit to use the building, but also to tap into the power grid of a merchant bank on the ground floor. Little by little, red, black and yellow plastic tarpaulins began invading the abandoned structure. At night, those tarps were “turned on”with a lighting system that we installed. Before the intervention was under way, a part of the community became upset, particularly the “administrators”of the building. Once the intervention was in place, we received a court order to leave the building and dismantle the intervention, under the pretext of “encouraging a real occupation”. The case was taken up by the local media and they renewed the debate, not just in regard to that building, but more generally as it concerned center-periphery issues; the possibility of various forms of expression and culture coexisting there, and particularly the validity of the “public art”project in which we were participating that questioned the context of “urban renewal.”For us the project’s success lay precisely in having activated a space that had symbolic potential, which led to a destabilization that called for people to take a stand. What was significant for us was the reaction of the youth: young people in Pelotas carrying around the fences that had been removed on police orders. Young people were taking responsibility for the subjective occupation and sharing the authorship of the project with us! Students at the Federal University of Pelotas prolonged the intervention with their own actions.

VGA: You spoke of sharing the authorship: could you comment on how a joint approach is established in the creative process and the issues that authorship raises?

BijaRi:Well, talking of eliminating authorship is a little complicated since we live in a capitalist system, in which a brand is often valued much more than a product. As a group of artists working as a collective, we obviously share the authorship internally. Now, I think that the art collectives like us that have burgeoned in Sao Paolo during the past five years want to overcome the traditional art-world model, which is based on individualism, bourgeois isolation, formalism and the promotion of the individual, and is indivisible… I think this movement seeks to recover art as a collective, everyday space, which had been lost. At the same time, it also wants to recover its own political space for art and for life.

We conducted an interesting project with other groups of artists (visual, performance, musicians) called Cubo. It was a multimedia installation (a large cube for multiple projections), which moved from plaza to plaza in downtown Sao Paolo, reconquering those spaces through work that raised issues on survival in the city center. Here it didn’t really matter who had done what part of the work, which was a collective endeavor, since its strength lay in multiplicity and creative diversity. An interesting thing happened with the Estrecho Dudoso art project in Costa Rica, since at a certain point artists from different places who were invited to carry out intervention and interaction projects in a public space realized they had common interests and motivations and began sharing ideas and actions and working jointly. So without denying the authorship-based nature of artistic thought — which is also a way of assuming our responsibility—we believe in a more open, collaborative process.

VGA: What was BijaRi’s experience in Costa Rica?

BijaRi:We were invited by the curators, Virginia Pérez-Ratton y Tamara Dí­az, to take part in Estrecho Dudoso, in the Tráficos curatorial section. We didn’t have a previously planned project. The group’s intention on arriving in Costa Rica was to see what came up. Due to the difficulties we had in getting legal approval for our initial idea —a more physical, sculptural intervention involving a public monument—we ended up looking for alternatives and reinventing things.

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