In the end of June 2011 I have been nominated by Simon Sheikh for the 1st edition of the Visible Award – Fondazione Zegna-Cittadellarte Fondazione Pistoletto. Judith Wielander and Matteo Lucchetti, the curators of the prize, asked me to submit a proposal for it. In their words, “The Visible Award is an international production award devoted to art work in the social sphere. The award is set up in response to the desire and need, which already underlie the cultural activities of Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto and Fondazione Zegna, to communicate and make known a possible rethinking of the role of art which can be brought about by heightened awareness of the part played by those contemporary artists who work on engaging creative processes that consider art and society as intertwined and indivisible fields of action”. I didn’t win the prize but it was very stimulating to think of this new project, entitled Relação [Relationship]. Here I’m only publishing the initial text that I have sent to the curators. I must thank Simon for his trust in my work and Usina’s collective (presented in the text), for the inspiring meetings.
You ask me to establish a relationship between the concept of this new work and my experience as an artist. If there is one thing I have learned about myself in the recent past is that every time I meet a demand – be it from a curator, from an institution, or from a prize like this – I end up seeking new ways of “not fitting” into the demand, sometimes even frustrating expectations. Not in disrespect, on the contrary. I take things so seriously that I cannot avoid making an issue of it, understanding the very proposition as an active part of my research, of my intellectual and artistic practice.
In the descriptive enunciation of this prize, a few words caught my attention, in this order: “intertwined”, “indivisible”, “responsible relationship”, “involvement”, “interaction”, “commitment” and “cooperation”. As an artist who has been collaborating for years with certain Brazilian social movements, I know that this type of suggested and sought after relationship, enunciated in the prize’s description, is not always easy to carry out. Because, even in ideal circumstances, even in a situation of totally shared practices, sometimes there are differences that render relationships not very frank and/or totally unequal.
Thus, the following project will not exactly be the project of an artist in relation to a social sphere or to a community, but, before that, a manifestation of this very relationship, both in subject and in form. This work seeks to investigate and point out certain limits and conflicts inherent to the collaborations, avoiding that they should be perceived only in a celebratory key.
So, instead of me working in collaboration with a community to which I do not belong, I chose to develop a project about a group of architects who has been working with popular movements for the last twenty years in the process of building another spatiality (I recommend referring to item ‘Network’ before advancing to the description).
This work is not just about the relationship of these architects with Brazilian social movements, but also about my relationship with those architects and about my relationship with these very movements. And of the architects with the architects.
Three years ago I was called to work in this architecture collective. My function there was to elaborate a cinema project with the collective, imagining a special way to document the different works in progress, involving the families of the movements in the process of making films.
Since then I have followed the setting up process of the first “urban commune” of Brazil’s largest social movement, of rural origin. I have also documented the collective design process of the first training center of the Homeless Worker’s Movement, elaborated during a series of meetings with the building team who will work in the site – militants who are also bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and painters.
In parallel to such processes, I started to record in video some of the meetings of our collective. In these meetings I have always been impressed with the capacity that the architects of the group have of mobilizing theoretical/sociological issues in a very deep way, grounded on daily practices. Of all issues approached, the most recurrent is that of rethinking/redefining what the role played by the collective is nowadays. The collective’s aim has always been very clear: to work with organized movements for a large scale transformation. But, in practice, there are differences even in the political projects. There is enormous frustration on the part of the architects who often find themselves reduced to technicians/service providers.
In the collective’s meetings, all these issues are widely described and debated, and such meetings became, for me, more interesting than the processes in the building site themselves. (Perhaps due to my very condition as an artist who, differently from the “artists-architects”, need not to give concrete answers to real problems).
As I recorded the meetings, I defined another recording device: the camera is always positioned to correspond to my point of view of the meeting (next to my seat), as a participant itself. I do not resort to close-ups or to zooming, so that the frame shows both speaker and listener: people always appear in relation to one another. The conversations are recorded uncut, pausing only to change tapes. In the moments I speak in the meetings, the camera is not pointed towards myself, so that it shows only people looking at me (looking towards the camera) and one hears my voice.
It is important to highlight that this collective works in a radically horizontal manner: all decisions – including administrative, regarding the architectural projects and political – are all taken collectively, in such meetings, where all have equal right to a voice. At the same time, dialogues can also conceal power structures. Meetings around a table or in a circle are often only apparently horizontal, because they are at all times crossed by power: there are people who speak better than others, people who speak more than others, gender issues, people who have been in the collective for longer, and who are, consequently, more experienced and influential in the group’s decisions… It is understandable and fair that there is respect for the more experienced, but new ideas that could transform or advance collective practice are sometimes ignored or belittled. I am interested in observing, as I record the meetings, not only the debated themes, but also the group dynamics and its complexities. The notions of a “economy of generosity” and of a “active listening” will be investigated: the generosity would be for me to speak for two minutes if the other spoke for two minutes only, because if I speak for a long time, the other necessarily will speak little; active listening would involve listening not only what the other speaks, but fundamentally to listen to that we do not wish to listen, that which escapes our control. When we hear what we do not wish to hear, we can transform ourselves and turn our work indeed plural/collective.
I have recorded a series of meetings, and I plan to go on recording others, and I do not know yet how to describe what use/final result this material will take. Besides such reflections about the relationships/collaborations of the collective with social movements, of the architects with the architects and my own relationship with those architects, the idea is that the very video recordings are to be debated collectively (and the resulting conversations be recorded as well), so as to reveal my own relationship/collaboration with the architects, to render visible the very construction of this artistic project. In the collective’s architecture projects, authorship represents the expression of the group rather than that of the individual architect, and in the case of this project I imagine a balance – or a conflict – between my individual authorship as an artist (who makes choices regarding camera shoots, framing etc.) and collective authorship (when the collective subverts the rules I laid down, as shown in the image below: in last year’s evaluation meeting, taken place in December 2010, when it was my turn to speak, the architects placed a bathroom mirror on the table, so that my face appears in the frame, despite my resistance).
With the resources from the prize, it would be possible for me to dedicate more time to this work and to develop it with better technical conditions, do transcripts and translations, but right now it is not possible to advance a precise final form. At this moment I can only envisage an archive with selected excerpts from the discussions, subtitles in English. It is also possible that this archive include short essays that I have been carrying out in the urban commune, where I reflect about what is the meaning of my being there. But it is too early to define how this archive will circulate, be shown, debated.
The collective with whom I shall work with
The architecture collective Usina was born in 1990, during the first Workers Party administration in São Paulo, when the “mutirão autogestionário” – the housing policy of self-managed participatory mutual aid – was institutionalized, to provide support and multi-disciplinary expertise to community-led initiatives and housing cooperatives. In the course of these 20 years the Usina has dedicated themselves to the building of new territorial experiences, involving the capacity of the workers themselves to plan, project and build, mobilizing public funds in a context of social struggle and urban reform. Appropriate technologies have been developed to allow for the construction of complex multi-storey buildings by the residents themselves. Housing is built through the participatory mutual help approach, with the self-management of resources.
This organization has worked with nearly 4,300 families from more than 16 urban popular movements across Brazil, keeping as important references the work of educator Paulo Freire and of the collective Arquitetura Nova (Sérgio Ferro, Rodrigo Lefèvre and Flavio Imperio), active in the 1960’s.
More than 60 people have been part of the collective, and the founders carry on helping young architects in the new projects. Today the group is composed by 12 architects, 1 artist (myself), 1 social scientist and 1 geographer and lawyer.
Usina is a self-managed collective. All members, regardless of age, gender, experience or profession, have the same rights and duties. Everyone receives the same hourly wage; all make proposals and decisions, and have access to all financial and operational data in the office. There are weekly general meetings to discuss current projects, exchange experiences, and make decisions about the collective. Everyone rotates through different roles such as coordination, stocking, and financial/operational management. Each member fills out their own timesheets, partakes in administration, general meetings, and soliciting new projects. All hours receive the same pay, signifying that all roles are critical to Usina’s work. Workers also account, and are reimbursed, for the time they spend on transportation to the office, projects or communities, taking into consideration that work includes traveling to the outskirts of São Paulo. This horizontal work structure, which seeks quality over capitalist productivity, is typically poorly rewarded, particularly as housing production requires vast economic resources. Today, Usina members must work extra jobs in order to be able to continue working in this social project. Therefore, the collective is always understaffed and always struggling.
 I have learned these ideas from Javier Rodrigo and Antonio Collados (Transductores – Pedagogías Colectivas y Políticas Espaciales).
 A reference to describe my way of operating in a more concrete way is my open-ended research started in 2007, called Projeto Mutirão, attached as an annex to the project. I still am not sure it will take up this format, but the present work can be thought out as a second phase of the Projeto Mutirão. The Projeto Mutirão is an open-ended research process that exists solely in the form of conversations and classes. The starting point for these dialogical exchanges are single take videos that investigate the ways in which self-organized cities are generated. These video excerpts are designed to kick start discussions. I vary my screening programme at each presentation to create different focuses for debate. Usually audiences made up of activists address formal issues, and those dominated by members of the art world explore political matters. However, since the intention is for the audience to constitute themselves as a self-conscious and concrete community, the resultant debate often heads off in directions unforeseen by its instigators. The attached DVD features highlights of the 70 “A.N.T.I. cinema excerpts” collected together as an archive to date. The videos mainly document political activities I’m engaged in and which I’ve filmed myself – like the housing and free transport struggles in Brazil. However the archive also contains some work by other film-makers. I also film all project events and incorporate excerpts from them into my ongoing activities. This makes them self-reflexive and transforms authorship into one of the subjects of my investigation. The ultimate aim is to re-think the role of the individual artist in collective-political-historical processes. The Projeto Mutirão Archive homepage is being made in collaboration with Florian Schneider entirely with free software and hosted at the kein.org server. Free software not only allows for the building of a virtual community, but the very development process of such software is made collaboratively, networked, in a self-help task force – in mutirão. Any person can see how the free software works and modify it at will. In the organization of the database, I was inspired by architect Christopher Alexander’s “pattern language”, replacing “patterns” by “excerpts”. In the presentation of the piece A Pattern Language – Towns. Buildings. Construction, of 1977, Alexander affirms “a totally new attitude regarding architecture and urbanism”. He sustains that the city and building will only ever contain life if they are the product of all the individuals that make up society, if these individuals share a common language of patterns corresponding to certain archetypal situations of the lived spaces, from an urban scale (example: pattern 1. “independent regions”) up to a daily life scope (pattern 253.”objects of life”). Patterns such as “children at play”, subjective but also pragmatic, normally deployed unconsciously in the production of architectural projects, can be combined with other patterns such as “sunny spot”, “bicycle lane”, until they form bigger units, such as housing, commercial and cultural units. In brief, no pattern (excerpt) is an isolated entity. Each pattern (excerpt) exists in the world as long as it is sustained by other patterns (excerpts): the bigger patterns (excerpts) in which it is inserted, those of the same order around it and the smaller ones inscribed within it. Note: “Mutirão” is a Portuguese word meaning a participatory mutual aid event.