Sunday 19 March 2006


exhibition proposal drawing by PLB

Os Barbicanistas, An Exhibition that Never Happened (1)
A proposal by Francesco Manacorda and Pablo León de la Barra

‘I am only interested in what’s not mine.
The law of men. The law of the cannibal.’ (2)

1. Manifesto de Anthropophagia Invertida
Os Barbicanistas aims to explore the possibility to complement, via a geographical and theoretical inversion, the crucial notion of Anthropophagia as a possible synonymous of the Brasilian interpretation of Modernism. Such a response to modernity constituted a kind of rebellion to the pristine language of the avant-garde meant to be international and universal. Such tendency entails a move towards a pop vernacular meant to assert, yet more forcefully, one’s own identity. In his Manifesto de Anthropophagia Oswaldo de Andrade encouraged assimilation and cultural digestion as the key Brasilian modernist strategy in order to fight cultural submission implied in internationalism.

This intellectual tactic greatly informed the movement of Tropicalismo in the sixties and still represents one of the crucial aspects of the work of many Brasilian artists operating today. In cannibalism only the most distant enemy – the most resistant to assimilation– gets eaten, as if anthropophagy involved a fascination with radical otherness in a simultaneous gesture of homage and distance, of assimilation and subjective assertion. In this sense Brasilian modernism and Tropicalismo in their apparent opposition both represented a tendency towards the ‘Brasilification’ of modern and popular culture. Such a tendency pursues the inversion of the historical avant-garde ambition to rediscovering brutal primitivism (shared by cubism and abstract expressionism) inasmuch as ‘Brasilwood’ represented the point of departure for a ‘cannibalistic’ dialogue with the international standards.

In a double reversal, the movement of Barbicanismo is constructed as a direct mirrored inversion of the cannibalistic tendency. Instead of exploring aesthetic, political and cultural strategies of ingestion and ‘digestion’ of the west we would like to focus on the calculated attempt to make the enemy incorporate tropicality. Such a programme includes any ‘insertion into an ideological circuit’ that would encourage the tropicalisation of western models as the reversal to the filtered incorporation promoted by Anthropophagia. The imperative is to cultivate and grow pockets of brutal tropicalism in the core of globalised culture including from climate to social atmospheres and conditions.

Due to its perfect location, Os Barbicanistas will take place in the Barbican’s Conservatory in the Barbican Centre (3), a tropical nucleus in the heart of the epitome of brutalist architecture. This ideal location combines an enclosed organic space within an advanced modernist concrete landscape, representing an island of condensed natural exuberance. Such a scenario will host a series of artistic interventions including artists from tropical origin living in London and artists living in London with an inclination to be tropicalised. In the spirit of reversed anthropophagia Os Barbicanistas aims to infiltrate tropicality into the visitor, who will emerge from the experience tropicalised. Os Barbicanistas will last for a day only, constructed by a succession of explosive moments and events, and disappear afterwards.

2. Make your enemy eat you
Starting from the same nucleus, this exhibition project is constructed as a direct mirrored inversion of this tendency. Instead of exploring aesthetic, political and cultural strategies of ingestion and ‘digestion’, in the name of a global ‘Pantagruel Syndrome’, we would like focus on the calculated attempt to make the enemy eat us instead of eating the enemy, aiming to get aspects of Tropicalia assimilated by a different social context. This hypothesis implies the assumption that ‘Tropical truth’ could arguably be considered as much a universal language as modernism pretended to be; neither of those is more international, both of them are languages, mainly tools to articulate desires and concerns. While Modernism assumed different declinations, translations and adaptations according to the country that made it its, Tropicalia infiltrates a melancholy within every social and cultural industry, vernacularising the concerns of Brasilian modernism from Andrade to Oiticica, from Lina Bo Bardi to Glauber Rocha. Such a model seems more appropriate as a strategy of resistance today as - differently from the sixties in which US and Eurocentric model were opposed to national ones — today reverse anthropophagia represents a more adequate model to oppose globalisation within the culture industry.

3. This is not modernism
The process of universal diffusion of modernism was put into question as soon as modernity expanded towards the periphery as its ‘International Language’ got distorted into a series of dialects (e.g. Barragan in Mexico, Bo Bardi and Niemayer in Brasil, Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, etc). Reversing Anthropophagia does not aim to employ the same military spirit of conquest in reverse (this would simply be an upside-down mirrored modernism); it rather acts as a virus in order to undermine any system of universality as such. As Dominique Gonzalez Foerster identified in her exhibition Tropicale Modernité at Mies van der Rohe’s Pavilion in Barcelona, ‘talking about tropicality could be a way to identify a combination of landscape, abstract desires, and organic intentions, a very sensorial but also complex situation mixing the modernist will with an immature drift into the rain forest’… ‘Certain moments of Brasilia, Chandigarh or Hong Kong- and I am talking about moments, not only places; a combination of people, buildings, light, sound, plants, events that seem to display, citysize, a very inner state of things, what I sometimes call emotional traffic or emotional black market: the way we deal/negotiate internally to keep desire and beauty alive against all forms of control and authority. Tropical conditions seem able to reveal the beautiful, immature mess that generates modernity. The powerful, unconscious side of modernity seems to need a special light and context to be more active. Sometimes modernity by itself, especially when it comes to architecture, gets too dry in its abstract intentions; but balanced with immature desires, lots of water and plants, it becomes something more complex and more beautiful at the same time’. (4)

4. London: an unaware Brasilian colony (5)
London represents not only one of the possible antithesis to the Tropics – climatically, socially as well as architecturally. It nonetheless was a crucial city for some of the protagonists of the Topicalia movement who spent time in exile in this city, where they could perform cultural Anthropophagia. For both Helio Oiticica and Caetano Veloso, London represented a point of reference on a geographical but also on cultural terms. Conversely, this show aims to include artists living in London, based as unwilling ambassadors of tropicalismo as a mental construct and an ideological notion. The project aims to evoke in London’s inhabitant saudade for Tropicalia as a state of mind not only related to geographical origins, but an intellectual and emotional exile shared by people of different origin and background.

5. The Exhibition as Penetrable
The curatorial concept and the installation of the show will take the shape of an organic informal structure to tropicalise the viewer. Works will be assembled within the domesticated jungle and made resonate to each other in order to constitute a succession of filtering devices. The exhibition would import Helio Oiticica’s strategy – as developed in Tropicalia 1967; Eden 1969; Nests 1969 – within the curatorial domain and turn the group exhibition and the Barbican’s Conservatory into a single Penetrable. Conceived as a filter and a mental and experiential organic structure, the installation will have an entrance and a separate exit form where visitors would get back in to the world tropicalised. Individual artworks will be activated as a succession of stimuli allowing the viewer to reach for Oiticica’s notion of Supra-sensorial. The exhibition and events happening within it will be organised around a series of symbolical anonymous elements: an entrance demarcating the visitor’s stepping into the tropics; a series of hammocks where to have tropical intellectual conversations; a soundscape imported from the tropics; fruit, juices and cachasa. Works of art would be disseminated in the domesticated jungle, with the visitor encountering them within the giant jungle penetrable. To explore the tropics and to become a Barbicanista, visitors will have to create and wear their own parangoles. The domesticated jungle will devour the viewer in order to implant in him/her tropical desires via a forced assimilation and incorporation: devouring Tropicalia, towards a reversed Anthropophagia.

6. Invited Artists:
Alexandre da Cunha would place transformed found objects in the garden and could contribute with makeshift structures like the bar.
Armando Andrade will design a series of posters, available to the public, illustrating through the technique of concrete poetry, a new manifesto of reversed Anthropophagia; he would also present somewhere in the garden a slide show on the relation between tropical nature and brutalist architecture
Assume Vivid Astro Focus will present Butch Queen Realness With a Twist in Pastel Colours a curated video programme made of a collection of videos centred on the notion of moments of ecstasy. This would be presented within a dark box in the jungle where the visitors could dance in its inside.
Gilbert and George would be invited to spend an afternoon in the conservatory walking around as tropical living sculptures.
Lali Chetwynd will be commissioned a performance around Ligia Clark. She would also guide a workshop where vistitors would create parangoles and masks to wear in the garden.
Oswaldo Macia will present one of his bird symphonies. Alternatively he could be commissioned to run a bar that provides visitors with cocktails, personalised perfumes and sounds from the jungle.
Phil Collins would present Carioca Karaoke project, a variation of his Smith’s The World Won’t Listen karaoke that he produced in Bogota and Istanbul. Alternatively the artist would give and take salsa or samba lessons.
Ryan Gander will be commissioned a lecture or a guided tour aimed to explain, through his method of loose associations, the links between the Barbican and the movement of Tropicalia.
Tetine, the funk-carioca band made by Bruno and Eliete would be in charge of an evening performance and of a small cinema where to screen avant-garde Brasilian film.
Tonico Lemos Auad will be in charge of disseminating glitter and banana skins across the entire conservatory, in order to create discreet demarcations of the Barbicanista’s territory occupation.

1. Os Barbicanistas exhibition proposal was developed under an invitation made by Carlos Basualdo with the aim to create a local satellite in London to his travelling exhibition Tropicalia, Os Barbicanistas never happened because of lack of funding from the Barbican Centre.
2. Oswaldo de Andrade, "Manifesto de Anthropophagia" in Dawn Ades, Art in Latin America, Yale University Press, 1989, p. 312
3. The Barbican Estate is a housing complex in the City of London. Built on a site bombed in World War II, it was designed by architects Chamberlain Powell and Bonn and is one of the most extreme examples of Brutalist concrete architecture. The Barbican opened in 1969 and houses 4,000 inhabitants in 2,013 flats. Today it is a self contained concrete outpost for a possible future built in the past. Barbican is also a Latin term, which used to mean a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence to a city or castle, usually situated outside the main line of defence. The location of Os Barbicanistas Movement inside the Conservatory in Barbican, makes clear the exhibition’s position: in a Brutalist world the defense of the values promulgated by Tropicalia: freedom, disorder, confusion, experimentation, incorporation: towards a Reverse Anthropophagia.
4. Tropicale Modernite, A Conversation Between Dominique Gonzalez Foerster and Jens Hoffmann, Pavilion Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona, February 2 to February 25, 1999.
5. Nobody knows the precise number of Brasilians living in the UK. The Brasilian Embassy in London estimates that there are 80,000 of them.