Monday, 24 September 2012


Jonathas de Andrade, 'O Levante' (The Uprising), 1st Horse-Drawn Cart Race in the Center of Recife.

O Levante
(The Uprising)
Jonathas de Andrade

The idea of ​​the project was to undertake whatever would be needed to make it possible to hold the 1st Horse-Drawn Cart Race in the Center of Recife.

As farm animals are prohibited anywhere in Recife, everyone who gets about by horse is made invisible from the point of view of the law. Only by dealing with the race as if it were scene from a movie – by being able, therefore, to have it considered as being to some extent a piece of "fiction" - is what would make the event feasible and fit to obtain the authorizations needed to make it happen from the official point of view.

Two things about the presence of men and horses pulling carts in every part of the city. On the one hand, they are apart from the ongoing developmental logic of the city (and the Country), their presence contrasting with the traffic, the asphalt, the 40-storey towers and, on the other, an entire design for civilization that runs in the opposite direction, the men with carts and their horses are echoes of rurality which point to the origins of this region. Little by little it dawned on me that these men, carts, and nags are just other pieces of ballast from a much greater circuit of rurality, which cuts across the city and contains within itself a design for civilizing that is underpinned by another paradigm – all of its own and non-hegemonic: a rural parallel civilization that coexists in the proto-urban Recife of a super-under-developing Brazil. There are men who cart thrown-away food and vegetables from the street markets to the various small enclosures in their backyards in several places in the city; folks who go about the city by horse; horse fairs that take place throughout the week in various neighborhoods and nearby towns; there are competitive spear-the-ring races; cavalcades; and the Ramo (the Branch), a grand procession of men on horseback and driving carts that takes place at year’s end.

Alongside this panorama, from the point of view of legality, having farm animals within the urban perimeter is not on. Recife is officially regarded as an entirely urban city, unlike several others which combine rural stretches with urban ones. Therefore, all this rural circuit is illegal: the carts, the horses, the fairs, everything has to be invisible to the eyes of the authorities and, as absolutely concrete fact, it does exist in the marginalization and by virtue of a certain pact of cynicism. I have always thought that this contradiction is tantamount to a madness that is very revealing of the forces and ideologies present in the city. That is, what is understood, in silence, is that laws do not need to be exactly complied with, but they are there as reminders of who the real owner of the land is, and are used with a false legitimacy and the façade of democracy, to evict anyone who makes a nuisance of himself when it suits the owner.

The idea of ​​the project was to celebrate the giving of existence to the carts and horsemen by having them take the city by storm, the means being a cart race in the center of Recife. What would be impossible from the point of view of officialdom became possible because a movie was being shot. That is, the race would exist in movie and fictional terms and therefore could be authorized by the administration of the city/ the authorities. As to the men driving the carts, for them, the movie barely existed, what existed in concrete terms were precisely the race and the prizes. The race was advertised exclusively by pamphlet, handed out at the horse fairs, and relying on the by-word-of-mouth credibility of the horsemen collaborators and fans of horse fairs. The pamphlet announced the date, the prizes, the place they should gather at and a note that the movie "The Uprising" would be recorded there.

In this case, art was what made it possible to have the node that meshed concreteness and invisibility, marginality and celebration, impossibility and insurrection, illegality and fiction. It was art that sparked off something that was absolutely uncertain and quite risky which would bring the men with carts and horses for a race through the city. It took place. After a long delay and being darned scared that no-one would turn up, 40 carts and various horsemen appeared and it all swelled to massive proportions that were difficult to control. Despite the difficulties in managing and organizing it all, the race was run and 10 carts won goats as a prize. And before the prize-giving ceremony, a procession moved through the city with all those present. In a huge mélange of people, horses, carts, everyone got mixed up, climbed on the carts, got on to the sidewalks, and mass and action kept on being added to the procession. The cavalcade began on the route set; after a gallop, a cry went up; anarchy; and when it arrived in the final straight of Guararapes Avenue, it took on a life of its own that spurred the center into party spirit; burst through the original route and flew out of control in a magnificently autonomous way.

The rite blessed invisibility in a celebratory existence. The men with the carts didn´t give a fig for the movie, and the project became a pretext for taking the city in a coup and at the gallop. The ground was churned up - the paw, the horseshoe, the horseshit. Characters were incorporated. Any protagonism of the team was wiped out and dissolved into the mass. The front was taken by the horseman, a herdsman minstrel bellowing out improvised verses about the scene, the cart flying along. Forces came to the fore pulling on the reins; rhythm; momentum - ecstasy and disobedience. The sound of the horses' hooves on the asphalt was multiplied, echoed off the walls of the buildings and spread throughout the city. The sound silenced and set the boundaries of the territory. An atmosphere of a trance being underway. Presence of spirit, incorporation of desire - Pure Candomblé*. The uprising became more that of the tremendous, sensory and corporeal passing into being of formulating policy, and the project gained new meaning from its own reinvention.

And in all this state of disgovernance, the footage ended up stamped with all sorts of unpredictable elements, which I am now editing in a video installation and a dossier-photodocumentation.

The 1st Horse-Drawn Cart Race in the Centre of Recife took place in a context of imported rules, taken from boxes and whisked away when this fits in with developing the power of those who pronounce on rules. The asphalt city, the prohibition on carts disguising the backwardness. The backdrop is a system with a development plan, the power structure of which is cemented by the total dependence on the looseness of its own structures. This same spirit of underdevelopment with all its cosmetics and looseness offers up its constituent breaches as a space for the new invertedness, for other forms of permanence so that experimental freedom might be exercised within the oppression that it protagonizes.

text by Jonathas de Andrade

The Project was commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary.

*Candomblé – A religion derived from African animism that has developed in Brazil and which uses trance.

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