[click on the cover to download the PDF version of the magazine, or click here to view it at ISSUU]
This is the first time Urbânia magazine has been published in a language other than Portuguese, my mother tongue. Throughout the editorial process, it was interesting to perceive that some words and expressions that are at the basis of this project do not have an exact English translation. A translation may exist, but it loses meanings and ambiguities that are present in the original terms.
I learnt, in practice, that trying to find equivalent terms is one of the most frustrating parts of the translation process, because languages are not symmetrical. In the same way the contexts in which languages exist are not symmetrical.
The meaning of every word and expression is constructed from the specificities of its original context. If there is no precise word in a language to name a practice, it may be because that practice does not exist in that context, or because it does not exist in the same way.
Rather than considering this a problem that needed solving, I chose to assume the failure of translation. And decided to use this editorial text to contextualise some terms, while introducing some of the magazine’s contents.
Dja Guata Porã
The Guarani phrase Dja Guata Porã identifies the act of “walking together” and, at the same time, “walking well.” As Sandra Benites and Pablo Lafuente tell us, the exhibition Dja Guata Porã: Indigenous Rio de Janeiro may be understood as an act of walking whose trajectory “is not defined from the beginning, but is rather constructed in a dialogue between indigenous and non-indigenous knowledges (and peoples), which therefore implies conflict, but not confrontation. A conflict that will always exist, because the indigenous and non-indigenous are different bodies that talk together, moving according to their respective demands. A construction that will always be made without a predefinition, because the living object in movement needs to appear in varied versions.”
The word mutirão has its origins in the Tupi word motyrõ, which means “working together around a common goal” and, at the same time, “mutual aid.”
In a mutirão, people cooperate and help each other, fulfilling different functions around a shared goal, such as building a home. Some people prepare and carry the concrete, some lay bricks, and others carry water for those who are thirsty, among other lighter and heavier actions, each of them essential for the construction of the home. Work is alternated with group lunches – cooking, serving and cleaning are also part of the mutirão, and should not just be the responsibility of women – and, once the home is ready, the mutirão is celebrated with a party.
The Tupi term resulted in many other versions of the word, most of them no longer used – motirão, muquirão, mutirom, mutirum, mutrião, muxirã, muxirão, muxirom, pixurum, ponxirão, punxirão, putirão, putirom, putirum, puxirum. At the Quilombo Ribeirão Grande Terra Seca, where Nilce de Pontes Pereira writes, besides mutirão they use puxirão, picheca and reunida.
The Latin origin of the word canteiro, which may be translated as “construction site,” points back to the time of the guilds, the Gothic cathedrals and the predominance of stonework. Canthus referred to the labourer who worked with cantaria, who polished and sculpted stone. Such a worker was an artisan, and he didn’t need a design to guide his work. Drafting happened within the canteiro itself, in the form of schemes. There was no technical drawing, made far from the construction site, which started to happen in the Renaissance. The English “building site,” or “place to make buildings,” eliminates that link to the labourer. That detail is important, because the architect who designs in his office draws curved lines that are difficult to construct, while the canteiro architect worries, among other things, about techniques that make work easier and safer, in continuous dialogue with the labourers.
The ConstructLab collective, invited to create the furniture for the experiment of a cultural centre installed in the middle of Vila Itororó’s open construction site in São Paulo, define their practice as follows: “Unlike the conventional architectural process, in which the architect designs and the builder builds, in ConstructLab the project’s conception and construction are brought together. The designer builds and continues to design on site. The construction site is no longer the place of uncertainty where the design contends with reality, but the context in which the project can be enriched by the unexpected opportunities that occur on site”.
As I narrate in the long text I bring to the magazine, actions and debates that took place at the Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto transformed some aspects of the design that was at the basis of the restoration project of the area.
Some readers may wonder why I chose to emphasise this context in the publication, considering that it originates from osloBIENNALEN. As a result of the impossibility of doing a residency in Oslo as originally planned, I felt that the most honest approach, besides including collaborators who live in Norway, would be to address my contribution to the Biennial – the notion of “public as mutual” – from my own context and from the places where I had participated in residencies, Utrecht and Warsaw. The former is present in the essay on the unlearning process undertaken by the Casco Art Institute – Working for the Commons Team; and the latter in the essay on the Common Space, Individual Space exercise, practised for decades by Grzegorz Kowalski with art students. The initial plan was to publish only the newly commissioned text by Benjamin Seroussi on Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto, but I decided to include the text I wrote in 2017 out of respect for the Vila’s former residents, as every talk about the Vila is also an opportunity to legitimate the former residents’ narrative, against the official narrative written by those in power, and with the intention to add another time layer to the discussion. Somewhere in his text, Benjamin talks about the “agreements” made by those who shared the space of the canteiro/the experiment of a cultural centre. At the time I wrote my essay, as the readers may notice, there were no “agreements” yet, but “rules.” Practice, with all its contradictions, has more beauty than theory.
Cinema sem fio [Cinema without string]
The children’s game Telefone sem fio literally means a telephone without wire, from a time when phones still had wires. (Although, in fact, fio is not wire but string, and a literal translation of fio would give us another children’s game, a string telephone.) This game, which in English is called Grapevine, is conceived for relatively large groups, and may be played by both children and adults. The group sits in a circle or a line. A person begins the game, whispering a sentence in the ear of the person sitting next to her. This person must then whisper the same sentence (or what she heard, or adding her personal touch) to the next person, and so forth, until the last person says out loud what she heard. The message rarely arrives in its original form, and the final sentence often carries a series of misunderstandings or inventions that emerge along the way. Inspired by this game, the film club Cinema sem fio, conceived by Fabio Zuker as one of the actions of the Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto project, had its programme decided in each session, with the direct engagement of those present, taking surprising and unexpected turns that, at the same time, constructed a collective string (or wire) filled with meaning. A programme without a string (or wire) predetermined by a curator, but still wired, com fio. Another meaning that escapes an objective or efficient translation: confio, in Portuguese, means “I trust.” Fiar means both “to sew” and “to have faith.” Co-fiar: to sew together, shared trust.
Formação de público [Formation of public]
When I received the invitation to take on the role of Coordination of the Education Department at Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto, my first proposal was to avoid the words “coordinator” and “education department,” using instead “Person Responsible for the Formation of Public.” “Responsible,” as the person who responds to that task, and “formation” as constructing the publics and constructing the notion of public itself, rather than teaching. Families had been evicted from that area in the name of a specific understanding of “public.” In my understanding of “public,” it would be necessary to emphasize the presence of these same people in any decisions about that context.
Autoformação de público [Self-formation of public]
Forming publics should not be mistaken for reaching publics. The expression “target audience” presupposes the existence of a given public, or given publics, and the realisation of activities directed at those publics. What if we inverted that relation, practising an actual act of listening, so that the publics propose what they desire? So that the publics define themselves as such, even by deciding not to participate in the process?
During the research process for my work at osloBIENNALEN, Martin Berner Mathiesen introduced me to the network of non-European immigrant artists Verdensrommet. I became interested in working with them, especially because they were creating online strategies for mutual aid during the pandemic. I told them about the editorial project “public as mutual,” and asked: how may this magazine be useful to you? How may the magazine’s structure (and that of the Biennial) contribute to your practice?
Rodrigo Ghattas, co-founder of the network, explains that the word Verdensrommet means either “‘the world’s room’ or ‘the universe,’ ‘outer space.’ We’ve chosen that name because it represents a plurality of voices and livelihoods that can coexist together. But it also represents being a foreigner, or alien, which might be representative of the experience of being an immigrant in a new society. It also refers to a ‘floating experience,’ like astronauts in space, which for many of us might be the case in our attempt to land in Norway”.
osloBIENNALEN became known for being a biennial conceived entirely for the public realm. The building that housed the Biennial offices did not have exhibition spaces or artworks on display – except for Mette Edvardsen’s living books library and the toilets reformed by Lisa Tan – and hosted 60 artists’ studios. As can be seen in the booklet titled “Public as public policy,” included as an appendix to this publication, the creation of artists’ studios at the headquarters at Myntgata 2 was underway, and one of the relevant actions of the Biennial in the local context was to facilitate this process. By engaging with processes rather than results (akin to what would happen in a studio), and with performative rather than installation-based practices, this biennial was characterised by time, rather than space. Artists were invited to engage in long-term dialogues – three, five years… The notion of “biennial,” which refers to something that happens every two years, was imploded. There would be enough time to listen, experiment, err, think together, do differently, begin again… The Biennial’s structure and strategies could be rethought, on the basis of inspiration and problems that would emerge on the way. But there was no shared understanding of the meaning of such extended time. After a first year of production there was a deficit in the accounts, which made the project and the curators’ position fragile. Instead of lasting until 2024, as planned, the Biennial is finishing now, in June 2021.
After watching Ane Hjort Guttu’s film Frihet forutsetter at noen er fri (Freedom Requires Free People, 2011), I approached her and asked if she would be up for talking with Jens, the protagonist, who during the filming was eight years old and is now 18, in order to develop something together for the magazine. I was interested in the fact that the film was a joint construction, despite the asymmetry between herself as an adult and him as a child. Ane took Jens’s criticisms of the school seriously, and only began to register the daily occurrences at the school after he interpellated her, saying something like “you should go there and see how bad it is.”
Pedagogical documentation, as practised by the Ateliê Carambola school, who wrote one of the essays of the magazine, does not refer here to the registration of a pedagogical process. Or not only, not exactly. It is, in the first place, a documentation that is pedagogical in itself.
Curiously, Jens approached Ane the same week I invited her, saying he wanted to watch again the film they had made together 10 years earlier, and that he would like to make another film with her. I know now that they met and actually finished shooting the new film. For the magazine, she chose another route, which perhaps is not that far from the original invitation: Ane engaged her former teacher Dag Erik Elgin and her student Stacey de Voe as interlocutors, for a process of intergenerational composition of a work and a text.
My biggest frustration with the limits of translation was, without a doubt, not being able to find a word that does justice to the Portuguese inacabamento. According to William James Packer, who was responsible for copy editing the magazine, “unfinishment” does not exist. “It could be ‘unfinishedness,’ but I find the word slightly clumsy/ugly,” he said.
But inacabamento happens not to be pretty, and it is good that it is not. Things that are too pretty, too perfect, too efficient, do not allow other people to enter.
As happens in Paulo Fochi’s educational itineraries, also part of the magazine, “what is common to all the itineraries is that they end with an affirmation of inconclusiveness, which is proper to human beings and to the nature of knowledge, and stresses the circularity and continuity involved in the learning experience.”
Dedicated to Eva González-Sancho Bodero