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interview transcript

Date of Interview: Jul 01, 2013
Location: USA
Topic: A North/South, Coast to Coast conversation between Beatriz Valls (Los Angeles) and Mister Basurama (São Paolo)
Interviewer: Beatriz Valls

LatinArt:  In what way does this title influence our conversation? North/South, East/West: is there a dialogue? Are there any differences between one and another in terms of your work?

Basurama:  The cultural differences between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo are abysmal. Rather than two different cities, they’re two different planets. But there are strong similarities too. Wealth, poverty, lack of job security, automobiles, garbage and garbage trucks exist all over the industrialized world. I think the north/south difference is definitely the largest. Although Sao Paulo is in the "North" of South America, you realize right away where you really are.

LatinArt:  What are you working on presently?

Basurama:  At the moment I’m working with a team of artists and architects on a project involving ephemeral intervention in a very controversial area in downtown Sao Paulo. It’s a 4-km fast track that takes cars from the center of the city almost to the first ring around the city. This elevated highway, known as Minhocão ("minhoca" is a slug in Portuguese, and "minhocão" is something like "sluggo") was designed as a fast road to reach and leave the city center, but the effects of its colossal scale and its symbolic presence in the neighborhood weren’t taken into account.

However, the "Elevado 5.0" documentary showed a curious side of this phenomenon. Some residents used to coexisting with the Minhocão actually preferred to have it and criticized those who wanted it removed from the district. Its dominating presence leaves no one indifferent and the debate as to whether to leave it be or tear it down changes depending on who’s in power.

Our approach is to prompt a call to action: transforming it "here and now with the means at our disposal". The title of our project, "Parque de Atracciones Minhocão" (Minhocão Theme Park) is a statement of intention as to how we view that urban space. Our response to a totalitarian imposition of infrastructure is that any gross anomaly in the city can be changed into an interesting place in which to get together and make use of it in a playful, participatory way. The intervention takes different shapes: a "children’s" park made with recycled materials (1) - a narrative on closed public spaces(2), an aquatic party - but they all have the same aim, which is to pervert the use of the Minhocão in a positive way.

LatinArt:  What formats and channels do you resort to?

Basurama:  Basurama has always been a mélange of formats. Our projects have almost always stemmed from available resources rather than from a planned practice. We identify strongly with garbage collectors who find things by chance and place a value on them, but also with artists and children, who start playing with whatever they find without any sort of prejudice.

From the outset, the context that has contributed most to our work is everyday reality, because it’s a complex field but also a very enriching one. When you do something that has a bearing on the everyday life of a place, the response is always surprising, and to my way of thinking "surprise" is one of the most valuable sensations for a creator nowadays.

We also shift a lot between formats. A very special moment in our coming together as Basurama was realizing the ubiquity of waste in contemporary society. Waste is inherent to industrialized society and it can take the shape of a billboard (3), an airplane cemetery in Arizona (4), or a neighborhood full of abandoned houses, as was the outcome of the housing bubble in Seseña.(5) Human beings learn to live in this great dump by turning a blind eye to it, but each time you relate honestly to waste, the mechanisms of everyday reality stare you in the face. We like to work as much with the physical plane as with the symbolic one, with tangible and intangible garbage alike.

LatinArt:  Why do it with people?

Basurama:  I think working as a collective has helped us not to become obsessed with individual authorship. In our RUS project, which began in Miami in 2008 and took us to 18 capital cities in America and Africa over a period of four years, two of the premises were to work with specifically local waste (using the idea that garbage is part of culture) and to do so in a public space. The third, which focused on collaborating with other local collectives that worked within the context of urban intervention, was a logical consequence. You can only make a project a success by working with people who are familiar with the context. Besides, in each project establishing contact with other groups working in similar ways has helped us to weave an international network, which is a valuable intangible capital.

LatinArt:  Who is your audience?

Basurama:  Our experience has shown that the people who understand our projects best are children, because of their lack of prejudice and because they are more willing to touch things and participate. We often say our projects are suitable for children aged 0 to 99.

LatinArt:  What are your aims?

Basurama:  I would say the spark that moves us, the spark that’s always there, is a desire to do what we like to do under the best possible conditions, while always demanding a lot of ourselves in terms of the ingredients of our work. We want to add value to the waste materials we work with, add greater use to spaces and add happiness to the public that receives and participates in our work.

LatinArt:  Do you view yourselves as educators?

Basurama:  We view ourselves more as learners than as educators. Being in contact with waste materials leads to a radical change in the structure of values that society, schools and universities teach. In our relationship with reality, the material world and spaces, we identify more with the attitude of a young child who’s not aware of the negative qualities of the world around him or her. A cardboard box lying on the floor is a structure made of a certain material, with certain shapes and colors, but the negative connotation around the concept of "garbage" projected by society onto a given object, doesn’t exist for kids.

Furthermore, working with a readily accessible, free and endlessly abundant raw material makes you reflect on the possibilities of replicating your work in other places through the free circulation of knowledge. If you do a brilliant, fun, successful project that has a positive effect, the best thing you can do is share it with as many people as possible so that it’ll multiply more quickly. We feel we’re educators in the sense that we make our technologies freely available to be used anywhere. We believe more in an economy of abundance than one of scarcity.

LatinArt:  Do you consider yourselves activists, a political collective?

Basurama:  To the extent that our work is committed to the reality in the urban context, it is committed politically. Activism has a very admirable virtue, which is bringing action to bear on a reality, almost like a dogma, to discuss different issues. I personally very much identify with that attitude in my work, in regard to issues that interest me. I don’t know if by closing off a plaza with a fence thereby "converting" it into a zoo (6) containing invented animal species is art or activism, but it’s our personal response to an urban issue.

LatinArt:  How have new technologies been useful to your work?

Basurama:  Basurama’s startup coincided with the arrival of the Internet in our lives at the end of the nineties, and I think it has totally affected the way Basurama has taken shape and the way we understand our work. As the web develops, the changes have an immediate effect on the way we organize ourselves, which means our structure is pretty dynamic and has mutated continuously from 2001 to the present.

At this moment the Basurama network is at an early stage, but each focal point – Madrid, Boston and Sao Paulo-- is creating an historical structure that can be used throughout the network or by anyone accessing it. For instance, during the past two years we’ve developed a technology for the construction of inflatable architecture based on recycled plastic. We’ve used that technology for projects in Istanbul, Casablanca, Bangkok (7), Sao Paulo (8) and Cairo, but people have written us from other cities like Recife in Brazil, telling us they want to use that technology as a protest banner against the demolition of a port facility. For us it’s better to share that knowledge and generate a solidary "economy of abundance" to make use of such tools, than to keep it to ourselves and say: "I’ll only do it if you hire me and take me to your city", which is the traditional approach.

LatinArt:  Do you think what you do is art?

Basurama:  In Basurama our background is architecture, but our work tends to be difficult to pigeonhole and we take that as a compliment. Wherever we’ve worked around the world, it’s drawn attention that we’re transforming local waste, that we’re doing it on the streets and offering it freely to people.

LatinArt:  What’s the moment of "finding things" like? How do you arrange things after that? What’s your creative process?

Basurama:  We asked ourselves the same question at the RUS 9 project. Is there a perfect working process that can enable us to take our work anywhere, given that there are so many different contexts and such different cultures? Our work deals with waste and with the ways it is produced, in a very wide-ranging way. We feel comfortable doing a photographic exhibition on consumer landscapes in Latin America (10) and at the same time doing urban-art interventions on the street, but I can also understand that there are people who can’t quite decide whether Basurama is an artist group, an NGO, or a traveling circus. It’s a little of each.

LatinArt:  What’s your concept of temporality? What is permanence to Basurama?

Basurama:  Projects last for different periods, depending on the circumstances. For me, the most successful projects are those that change the collective imaginary. We artists normally produce artworks that can be considered prototypes or simulations, since we don’t know how they’re going to work: they need to be explained, placed in a context, etc. When one of these prototypes is well received by the public, the artwork starts taking on its own life, the viewer embraces it, documents it and adopts it as something good and applicable to their lives. That’s when the work of art and the artist transcend completely, because they have an effect on popular culture, which to me is the highest form of culture. Jaume Plensa’s piece in Chicago’s Millennium Park is a brilliant example. It’s the most fun place in Chicago. We experienced something similar with our "RUS Lima. Autoparque de Diversiones" (RUS Lima. Auto Theme Park" project) (11). The transformation of an abandoned viaduct into a playground with swings was viewed by the people of Lima as something supernatural.

LatinArt:  How do you decide on projects?

Basurama:  For reasons involving basic financial sustainability, the projects are carried out using government, private, institutional or NGO-based funding. If we’re working on something that is of benefit to society, if we have an abundance of materials all over the world, the know-how needed to do a project, and can always count on communities that are interested in taking part, why aren’t we doing it on a regular basis?

LatinArt:  Tell us what the Noche Blanca (White Night) in Madrid was about, and how the project you did in Madrid in 2010 came about. What was the experience of doing an event in your home town like?

Basurama:  The Noche en Blanco was a cultural event that was born in Paris and then extended to cities worldwide with a simple idea: opening museums all night long while at the same time organizing other cultural activities, offering a wide-ranging list of options. This approach was an overwhelming success. Prior to the financial crisis in many cities, Madrid among them, the event turned into a monster of major proportions: a colossal budget, an absurdly large target audience and everything taking place in just one night.

We had participated with interventions in pervious years, but when we were offered the position of acting as the general curators, we were confronted with several contradictions as to what the White Night had turned into, and what we thought the Noche en Blanco or any other cultural event in the city should be. From the beginning initial proposal dismantled the basic premise of the assignment one by one: fleeing from the idea of a one-night event and from art as a spectacle for the masses. We proposed that the projects shouldn’t be for rapid consumption but should instead form part of the city’s heritage after the Noche en Blanco.

The management of the Noche en Blanco, conducted in tandem by Pablo Berástegui and Manual Villa, accepted our starting points and we had their support throughout the process. The production stage was very interesting, as we were able to invite the creators we most admired to create site-specific projects in our city: illustrators like Jean Giraud-Moebius and El Roto, performers such as the Yes Men, writers like David Tuba, theater troupes such as Animalario were all among them. Many were unable to participate, but just contacting them and telling them about our idea was a great joy. Those who did accept also accepted the way we wanted to play the game: creating projects that would last beyond a single night, that would encourage civic participation and be a permanent fixture, and that would use the context of the city in a playful way.

Thanks to that direct contact with the city government, we were able to gain access to processes to which normally you don’t have access, either as a curator or as an artist. For example, we managed to ensure that all the participants would have access to the city council’s management centers (storage depots for public-work leftovers, public lighting leftovers, even Christmas lighting!) so that they could use them as raw materials for their projects. We organized a competition for projects to open up the process even more to participation by other artists, using the same guidelines.

It was very satisfying to watch the projects take shape and develop, to see interventions that transformed waste materials and that following the Noche en Blanco were installed in marginalized communities in the suburbs (12) such as Zuloark’s "la Gran Vía/la Gran Obra". The EXYZT (13) collective’s project, for example, took shape over the span of a full month in the city center, with the collective living and working there in an improvised city and making paellas with other Noche en Blanco artists. It was a wonderful blend of work and play.

Despite our aim of changing the approach to the Noche en Blanco to eliminate the event’s contradictions, that was the last time it was held. Following the general meltdown of the Spanish economy, initially they announced that it would take on a biennial format, but the fact is that it won’t be held again. In times of wholesale crisis, dinosaurs can’t survive, and the Noche en Blanco was a dinosaur that reflected its times.


1) Balançar eu Adoro, Minhocão "suspended" park, in Marechal Deodoro square.
2) Balançar eu Adoro, Minhocão "suspended" park, in Marechal Deodoro square.
3) basuramatv features Basurama’s video productions. Presidential debate, basuramatv and dinerotv are some of its hallmark pieces.
4) AMARC. Image from the Pan Am series. Tucson, Arizona 2012
5) Proyecto 6000km. Image: (Residencial Francisco Hernando (PAU El Quiñón) and Radial 4 toll highway (
6) Santa Cecília Zoo. Minhocão Theme Park. São Paulo, 2013. (
7) Plastic Bang!kok (
8) A Bolha Imobiliária (the Real-Estate Bubble) (
9) RUS. Residuos Urbanos Sólidos (Solid Urban Waste). Several countries, 2008-2012. (
10) Pan Am. Consumer landscapes in America. (
12) la Gran Via/la Gran Obra. Zuloark for the White Night, 2010 (
13) City isLAND. eXYZt for the White Night, 2010. (

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