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Modernism in Brazil Modernism in Brazil
by Alexandra Pereira
2009-11-04 07:43:29
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Modernism in Brazil was always contemporary of other distinct movements, however if the original contributions of all these groups to South-American culture are undeniable, their contributions on a global level are very poorly known or rarely recognized. Imagine a world where History of Art would have no Tropics lines. The first generation of Modernists (1922-30) was represented, in two distinct phases, by a genial and irreverent group, responsible for a set of Manifestos, works and publications: Mário de Andrade, Oswald de Andrade, Raul Bopp, Manuel Bandeira, Cassiano Ricardo, Menotti del Picchia, Guilherme de Almeida, Tarsila do Amaral, Alcântara Machado, Plínio Salgado, Di Cavalcanti, Anita Malfatti, the composer Villa-Lobos, among others. By the beginning of the 20th century, when the Modernists begun their activities, Brazilian literature and poetry was already the inheritor of a rich tradition, including the works by José de Alencar, Machado de Assis and Olavo Bilac. However the first Modernists brough totally original contributes.
 
02_lygia_pape_400In 1922 the Modernist Week inaugurated a period of intense activity by this first generation of Brazilian Modernists, soon (1926) Monteiro Lobato would publish his science-fiction novel on a futuristic world scenery with racial and genocide problems, which came true in many positive and negative ways, titled 'The Black President' (of the US), and from 1928 onwards the works by Brazilian architects such as Gregori Warchavchik, Oscar Neimeyer and Lucio Costa joined the Modernist movement. Other South-American Modernisms developed, the works of the young Borges were published (somebody called him around 1930 the 'ultimate apostle of criollism', a title Borges would be proud of), the Uruguayan short-stories of Quiroga and the poems of Juana de Ibarbourou were also present, so was Chilean poetry and the Peruvians with Huidobro, or publications as important as the vanguards in Vallejos's 'Trilce' and Martin Adan's 'La Casa de Carton'.
 
Curiously, and contrary to common belief, magical realism was not initiated by the 1955 publication of Pedro Paramo (in spite of the great influence that Rulfo's novel justifiedly had on many notable Latin American writers - including Octavio Paz and Garcia-Marquez). In fact, one can find the origins of magical realism already in the productions of the first generation of Brazilian Modernists - in the novel Macunaíma, of 1928, magical realism is clearly present and defined (30 years before Paramo), although one can still trace its roots to earlier South-American literature-poetry. Sadly, often magical realism is confused or enmeshed with fantasy literature, not taking into account cultural backgrounds nor specific characteristics of its mother-languages (another common phallacy lies in associating South-American literature almost exclusively with magical realism, when that's very far from the truth).
 
ernesto_neto_400The second generation of Modernists (1930-45), more soft than the first wave, included proficient novelists such as Jorge Amado, Rachel de Queiroz, Graciliano Ramos, Lins do Rego, Erico Veríssimo and poets as Drummond de Andrade, Cecília Meireles, Vinícius de Moraes (this one would develop Bossa Nova, in close collaboration with Tom Jobim), Murilo Mendes or Jorge de Lima. Influenced by both national and international inputs, they coexisted, just as the first and third Modernisms, with other movements and distinct contributions which enriched Brazilian culture.
 
Guimarães Rosa was, together with Clarice Lispector and João Cabral de Melo Neto, one of the three leading writers of the third generation of Brazilian Modernists (1945-78), sometimes also called Post-Modernists, because it opposed in part to some aspects of the first Brazilian Modernism. Guimarães Rosa, for example, introduced and created a limitless number of words and terms in his literary works, which came to be adopted both by every-day users of the language and other artists. Mario de Andrade, with his incredible talent, had done something very similar during the 1920's.
 
In the late 50s, when Bossa Nova had just been born, another Brazilian Arts movement emerged: Neoconcretism. In 1959, the first exhibition by the group of Neoconcretes took place at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, opening on the same day of the publication of the Neoconcrete Manifesto by the Journal of Brazil (in reaction to orthodox Concretism and positivism in art). This group was led by the poet Ferreira Gullar, together with Theon Spanudis, Reinaldo Jardim, the artists Amilcar de Castro, Franz Weismann, Ligia Clark and Ligia Pape. On their Neoconcrete Manifesto, they stated:
 
cildo_meireles_400'The expression Neoconcrete indicates a position in face of 'geometric' non-figurative art (neoplasticism, constructivism, suprematism, Ulm school) and in particular in face of Concrete art taken to a dangerous rationalist exacerbation (...) The Neoconcrete, born from a need to express the complex reality of modern man within the structural language of the new plastic, denies the validity of the scientificist and positivist attitudes in art and re-places the problem of expression, incorporating the new 'verbal' dimensions created by non-figurative constructive art. The racionalism steals to art all its autonomy and substitutes the intransferible qualities of the artwork by notions of scientific objectivity; thus the concepts of shape, space, time, structure - which in the language of the arts are connected to an existencial, emotive, affective signification - are confused with the theoretical application which science makes of them. We do not conceive the artwork as a 'machine' nor as an 'object', but as a quasi-corpus, that is, a being whose reality is not exhausted in the external relationships of its elements; a being which, decomposable in parts through analysis, only gives itself fully to the direct, phenomenological approach.' 
 
On that same year, Neoconcretism (sometimes presenting itself as a 'revanguard') exhibited in Bahia, incorporating new elements and gathering adherents, including Helio Oiticica, Willys de Castro, Aluisio Carvão, the poets Fortes de Almeida, Clarival Valladares and Melo e Sousa. The following year, the movement would exhibit again in Rio and São Paulo, where new elements joined the group; it would have to face the hostility of São Paulo's orthodox Concretes. The books-poems-performances like the Neoconcrete Ballet of Ligia Pape and Reinaldo Jardim, or the maquete of an Integral Theatre by this last one, Oiticica's visual artwork (one of them gave its name to Tropicalia) and Gullar's poetry and theatre plays (suggested for the Nobel) are among the original contributions of the Brazilian Neoconcretes - some later integrated with many other foreign and national inspirations/influences by the Tropicalists, in the late 60s.
 
Simone Osthoff, 'Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica: A Legacy of Interactivity and Participation
for a Telematic Future' (2004 - complete article here: http://www.leonardo.info/isast/spec.projects/osthoff/osthoff.html) writes: 'Oiticica made two large installations in the late 1960s that he referred to as "experiences." Entitled Tropicália and tomas_saraceno_400Eden, these environments gave a new spatial context to his previous works--Bólides, Penetráveis and Parangolés--by placing them among natural elements such as water, sand, pebbles, straw and plants. Oiticica invited viewers to take off their shoes and inhabit the spaces through leisure activities (such as the simple activity of lying down). The first of these environmental installations, Tropicália, was mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro in 1967. Tropicália and Parangolés are seminal works within the history of Brazilian art. Addressing the possibility of the creation of a "Brazilian image," Tropicália gave name to the emerging Tropicalist movement and opened a cultural discussion that is still far from exhausted. Among the many complex issues raised was Oiticica's notion thatthe myth of "tropicality" is much more than parrots and banana trees: it is the consciousness of not being conditioned by established structures, hence highly revolutionary in its entirety. Any conformity, be it intellectual, social, or existential, is contrary to its principal idea .

Tropicália was the product of an aesthetic of cultural contamination that Oiticica expressed by the writing on one of his Penetráveis: "A Pureza é um Mito" (Purity is a Myth.) In Tropicália, Oiticica made an important reference to the role of the media by placing at the center of his tropical environment a TV set. In 1968, he wrote, 'Entering the main Penetrable, undergoing several tactile-sensorial experiences . . . one arrives at the end of the labyrinth, in the dark, where a TV set is permanently switched on: it is the image which then devours the participants, because it is more active than their sensorial creations.'

In this text, also titled "Tropicália," and in others, Oiticica called attention to the dangers of a superficial, folkloric consumption of an image of a tropical Brazil, stressing the existential life-experience that escapes this consumption. This concern also informed his second large installation, Eden, exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1969. Eden, like Tropicália, contained different areas for participants to explore in a leisurely way. Eden was, however, more abstract in its architectural references than was Tropicália's direct allusion to the favela of Mangueira. Avoiding the notion of representation in art, as well as the construction of a tropical image for exportation, the Eden experience, similar to the rebirth of the senses enabled by Clark's objects, invited viewers to rediscover pleasurable ways of inhabiting space. Some facets of the Eden experience are also present in Roy Ascott's Aspects of Gaia.' 

lygiaclark_dialogueTropicalism was born in a tradition where language and semantics are deeply connected with music, visual and stage arts. Very often the development of new artistic movements was accompanied by a total reinvention of the language, which entered the lexic and semantics of daily users and other artistic disciplines - will Modernism be on the streets? is it already, in a certain way? - and that is a very interesting phenomenon, connected with the shaping of a malleable identity. Eclecticism was always a deeply cherished value among Brazilian artistic movements. This eclecticism spreads beyond arts, to different areas of knowledge, and beyond borders. Everything is, as a principle, worth analysing - and much of it is worth fusing through experimentation and serendipity.
 
That's how Tropicalism could articulate the philosophy of Heidegger or Schopenhauer with the music of chorinho and Levi-Strauss with the architecture of Gaudí, Dorival Caymmi with Joyce and Stan Getz, Godard with batuque, Abstract Expressionism with tangos and Sartre Neoconcrete, Drummond's poetry with atonalism and dodecaphonic music with Neimeyer, Fellini with Joao Gilberto, indie and Villa-Lobos with futurism and Minkowsky, samba with Einstein and Spitzer's linguistics, erudite music and Jung, African rhythms with Cervantes, magical realism and the Concretes. Often through juxtaposition of heterogeneous compositions, stanzas-rhythms, verse-sentences, words and sounds-syllables, creating new meanings with game and irony, in a digression from the folk or indigenous onomatopoeia to the concretist or futurist effects, fusing candomble with the most sophisticated sounds, a chess game, a matrix. A synchronization of musical weavings, of successive simultaneities.
 
oiticica_400The Tropicalists made a stance: even if we're some hours behind according to Greenwich or several degrees bellow the line of the Tropic, our time is simultaneous, our influence is recyprocal, our second is the same space-time everywhere: a door to a different, creative reality, our present can even become your future in some ways, as Borges proved so well with his fantastic influence abroad, his own inventions (by a man who ironically always declared: 'I did not invent anything, I just read a lot'). The message that there are no Tropics nor Meridian lines, just a fluent recyprocal tunnel connecting everything, was and still is assimilated by younger creators. The rest is imagination and public convention, decided in some random center of the world - 'here is the center, there is the periphery'. Excuse me?
 
Modernism evolved, thus, in different ways in different continents, and this should be studied by Art Historians and Art Critics. In South America, it was always very clear for the vanguards that they were connected with the past - be it national or international traditions, works and ideas - as much as with a global future (this is well expressed, for example, in one of the ironic slogans of Tropicalia, a note towards many members of European and North American vanguards, their heartbreaking absence of contents and ideas and the 'imaginary meridians' created in the arts world: 'Be a marginal, be a hero'). Time and space are not separate notions, meridians are not conceived inside such concepts dividing the here from there and the last decade from twenty years ahead - this has to do both with cultural aspects and linguistic traditions of South-America, sometimes dictating the developments in visual arts. The way how Modernism is still often presented and taught in Europe, as a cut or a cleavage with tradition, doesn't make much sense in South-American terms (nor does it make sense in practice either). Modernism and its derivations were always much more a cut with hegemonies than a cut with traditions. We, of course, came to a point in contemporary art when avant-guardes develop traditions of other avant-guardes (sometimes mixed or recombined with traditions of not-so-avant-guardes, and that's perfectly acceptable, even desirable), while we can trace avant-guardes' tracks many centuries back in time - they were the inventors, the innovators on each century. Inventors are not geographically distributed. If we miss that, we miss a part of human nature, a part of human time, a part of human creation and a part of our possible understanding of human richness. 
 
 
Ate Lyrics - Caetano Veloso
She ate my heart
Took a bite, bit, chewed, swallowed
Ate my

She ate my heart
Chewed, crushed, minced, swallowed
Ate my

She ate my little heart of chicken in a fricassee
Poor me!
She ate my big heart of lion in that scary dream
And she still told to me that's how a great
Poet is born

A blonde has to eat your heart
No, I just want to be a champion of the song
An idol, a slob, a myth of the crowd

But she did not understand my intention
Swallowed, sipped, tasted, ingested
Ate my

She ate my heart
Swallowed, sipped, tasted, ingested
Ate my
 
Let's Eat Caetano Lyrics - Adriana Calcanhotto, 1996/7
Let us eat Caetano
Let us enjoy it/show ourselves/tell the fruit of it ['desfrutá-lo']
Let us eat Caetano
Let us start it
Let us eat Caetano
Let us devour it
Swallow it, chew it
Let us lick the tongue
Order and orgy
We want cod
People want sardine
The man of pau-Brasil
The man of Paulinha
Stripped by Bacchae
In a show
Let us have a banquet
In the superbacanal
Meat and carnival
For the obvious
For the incest
Let us eat Caetano
By the front
By the verse/back [verso]
Let us eat it raw
Let us eat Caetano
Let's start it
Let us eat Caetano
Let us reveal our-selvesnaked [revelarmo-nus]
 
1. 'People want sardine' - refers ironically to the supposed episode of the Anthropophagy of the first Bishop of Brazil, Bishop Sardinha ('sardine'), by the indigenous Caetes, after a ship wreck, which is doubtful - although people seem to enjoy the folkloric story.
Calcanhotto returned to the Anthropophagic terms to defend the 'digestion' of culture (that is, give a continuation to Tropicalism) but in her song 'eat' has a different/more sensual connotation - 'make love with heritage' rather than eat/swallow it/destroy-dominate - these inversions of meaning were already involved in the Tropicalism and in the Anthropophagic movement from the 20's - they have obviously to do with the two different meanings of the word 'eat', but above all they stress the change of cultural attitudes: from Domination to Simultaneity.
 
2. Pau-Brasil - Brazilian Poetry Manifesto by Oswald de Andrade, from the same year of the Surrealist Manifesto by Andre Breton (1924). 
.................................................................................................................................................
 
Photo 1 - Lygia Pape, Ttéia I, C. 2002, Installation, gold thread in square forms, Central exhibition, Arsenale, Venice Biennial, 2009.
 
Photo 2 - Ernesto Neto, Leviathan Thot, Pantheon, Paris Autumn Festival, 2006.
 
Photo 3 - Cildo Meireles, Red Shift I. Impregnation, 1968-84, Tate Modern, 2008.
 
Photo 4 - Tomas Saraceno (Argentina), Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplads along the Strands of a Spider's Web, Installation, elastic ropes, 2009, Central exhibition, Giardini, Venice Biennial, 2009.
 
Photo 5 - Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica, Dialogue: Glasses, 1968.
 
Photo 6 - Helio Oiticica, Penetrable Tropicalia.


    
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E.S.Cenote2009-11-06 07:32:51
Have published an e-book combining erotica and science fiction. It's the first of five providing Vayna's story, who is born a slave and slowly progresses towards the freedom she ardently desires. The book's URL is www.eloquentbooks.com/Vayna of the Steppes.html The publisher can be reached at marketingmanager@eloquentbooks.com Thank-you.


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