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

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Virginia Gil Araujo: In considering your work, it seems to me that BijaRi reworked ideas that are closely related to certain 60s and 70s art activities, such as the appropriation of places, which for BijaRi are ready-made for occupation. You either seem to use an ethical approach, or the reference to the 1967 New Brazilian Objectivity manifesto, i.e., reaching out to, and becoming involved with, communities while activating collective spaces as a political response.

BijaRi: Issues from the 60s and 70s are relevant today. Topics such as laissez-faire economics, globalization and environmental issues highlight the urgency of establishing micro-policies in which an attitude that is indifferent to urban issues is unacceptable to us. And we were trained at the USP (University of Sí¤o Paulo), within a political context in the School of Architecture and Urbanism; we didn't see any possible space in which we could act politically, neither through architecture nor through institutionalized conceptual art working through research conducted by artists who are completely isolated from objective reality and too formalist in their approach. We therefore started by looking for our own communicative space in that non-space that lies between activity-creativity, architecture and objective urban reality. This was a way of taking a political stance vis-a-vis institutions and the real, pressing issues in our daily lives. It's worth mentioning here that one of our first projects, Realidad Transversa (Transversal Reality) (2000), involved encouraging informal workers and other urban people living on the fringes of society to work in art spaces. This was a way of causing a short circuit in two very isolated spheres and of fostering exchanges and dialogue in a common space.

Questioning the art world and contaminating it with the atmosphere of objective reality is a necessary attitude for BijaRi. Our research led us to believe in artistic action as a micro-policy and vice versa, since a collective space is essentially a place for engaging in politics, and, for us, it's also where a creative act takes place. Following the new post-utopian school of thought and our disagreement with the current ways of producing urban form and content, we began viewing options for constructive action from the standpoint of the individual, through micro-policies, adjusting and designing the forces of resistance at the scale of the individual by activating potentially transformational social fabric and spaces: these ideas are set forth in the "Architecture and Resistance" manifesto.

VGA: To continue on the subject of potentially transformational situations, could you comment on BijaRi's and the experience of other collectives in Sí¤o Paulo's social and urban movements? I'd like to hear your views on the occupation of the Prestes Maia building in downtown Sí¤o Paulo. How was the relationship between an art proposal and social movements established?

BijaRi: You know, Virginia, it's difficult to speak in general terms. There were different kinds of barter exchanges and interests in that experience, which in addition to being very rich, was equally scattered, vague and controversial. We believe that occupation was an exceptional case, in which a parallel, autonomous, legitimate, and above all, peaceful system was in fact established. Not just due to its scale, but to the central location where it took place, right at a time when a socially coercive washing and cleansing policy was being violently pursued by various gentrifying agents. Both that occupation and others were a message from the immense number of groups excluded by society: "Look, there are a lot of us and we don't agree with your party; either you let us join it or we'll spoil it". Obviously all those socio-cultural movements were, and still are, disdained and criminalized to an extreme degree by the corporate media. What happened once again with the Prestes Maia building was the incorporation of different members of the enlightened middle class (artists, anthropologists, sociologists, film-makers) which lent an "underground" aura to that particular occupation: there was always some photographer, reporter or artist with a camera filming around the Prestes Maia, which ensured that police actions would not lead to greater violence and abuses, otherwise known as "police tactics."

Cultural programs such as courses, workshops and a library inside the building, created in collaboration with various humanist professionals in the humanities involved in social projects, nourished the housing movement in the media's mind. Society and the instruments of restraint were thus forced to discuss the legality of our actions, which by then were at the center of a series of violent vindications and confrontations. Issues like "social cleansing", the elimination of street dwellers, abuse of authority and collective resistance were aired to confront the prevailing authoritarianism. That was a great step forward. Conversely, however, we perceived a certain revolutionary nostalgia among the artists and a lack of clarity in the way each person acted in that context. Many artists in fact crossed the dividing line between collaborative action and the aesthetic dimension. They did so by joining the struggle: taking part in barricades, the provision of services and the internal decisions of the occupation. Inevitably, this often led to a class struggle (in the Marxist sense of the word). Their actions bordered on a paternalistic approach and undermined the potential of the relationship and of the most interesting contribution that artists could make: sharing actionable strategies, symbolic creation and contributing to a renewed sense of ethics.

Click to read the Interview with BijaRi Part 2

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About the Author
Virginia Gil Araujo holds a PhD in Art History from the Escuela de Comunicación y Artes de la Universidad de Sí¢o Paulo (ECA-USP). She lives and works in Sí¢o Paulo

Virginia Gil Araujo tiene un Doctorado en la Historia del Arte en la Escuela de Comunicación y Artes de la Universidad de Sí¢o Paulo (ECA-USP). Vive y trabaja en Sí¢o Paulo.

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