Forming Ideas Brazil research visit post journey notes by Ann Jones - Brazil

Forming Ideas Brazil research visit  25 February – 10 March 2010


Curators who took part:


Stephen Beddoe: Programme Manager Artquest, University of the Arts, London

Michelle Bowen: Visual Arts Officer Arts Council England East Midlands

Yvonna Demczynska: Director Flow Gallery, London

Richard Edwards: Visual Arts Officer Arts Council Officer London

Deirdre Figueiredo: Director Craftspace, Birimingham

Melanie Kidd: Head of Exhibitions the Hub National Centre for Craft and Design, Sleaford

Christine Lawry: Chief Executive Wallford Mill Crafts, Wimborne

Jackie Lee: Visual Arts Officer Arts Council England West Midlands

Martina Margetts: Snr Tutor Critical and Historical Studies, Royal College of Art, London

Sara Roberts: Independent Curator, Winchester

Kelda Savage: Independent Curator, Manchester

David Sinclair: Exhibitions and Education Co-ordinator, The Civic, Barnsley


The curators were selected from an open application process. Arts Council Officers and ArtProjects and Solutions scored each application separately against set criteria. Whilst excellence in the application was the most important factor selection also took account of regional spread and range of expertise. 


The Purpose of the research


Forming Ideas is a curatorial development programme that aims to stimulate debate around craft practice for curators working in the UK. It also aims to forge relationships with art and craft professionals in and outside the UK to encourage the display of challenging craft. 


Brazil has an exciting profile for contemporary visual arts and design and a growing reputation for excellence in community engagement projects that involve crafts.  We were hoping to encounter artists who cross the boundaries between art, design and craft and to see a range of social engagement projects that harness arts, crafts and design. We hoped to meet people we might work with in the future.


What we encountered (see the full itinerary)


The visit took the group to three different cities –Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, beginning and ending in Sao Paulo.


Our first meeting in Sao Paulo was with Artesol, a nationwide (state and corporate funded) agency promoting co-operatives that use traditional craft practice to make traditional products. Artesol has integrity and the work was of a high quality, what was interesting however was to find out that Artesol is now concentrating on literacy development and less on craft skills. This meeting was complemented with a presentation and reception at ACASA the following evening. Like Artesol ACASA promote projects and co-operatives that develop traditional craft practice but the difference is that the objective is to make innovative products more to contemporary taste. Both organisations did excellent work. ACASA also worked with Forming Ideas on helping identify projects and individuals and more practically with setting up meetings in Brazil. 


The reason for travelling when we did was to use the Paralela Gift Fair as a focus to our first few days in Sao Paulo. The fair featured work by designer makers and co-operatives and Maria Andrade the co-ordinator of the fair was exceptionally helpful in profiling our visit in media and within the design community. On our first day the group were able to give individual presentations to an audience of almost 100 art and design professionals at Musea da Casa Brasileira. This also benefited the cohort in terms of familiarising each other with our institutions, work and particular interests in Brazil. Martina Margetts gave a particularly good presentation on the work of the RCA and a snap shot of what were the pertinent issues for UK craft practitioners. Our presentations were very, very good and profiled the UK creative sector as vibrant, open, innovative and highly knowledgeable. The presentation can be found on the Paralela website –


The range of organisations and individuals we met with during the following days in Sao Paulo was extensive from privately run contemporary art galleries, to a range of social development projects, visits to international designers, museums, projects and private foundations. We were exposed to current design practice and the appropriation of craft skills into that design practice, contemporary art practice, the social and economic needs of some of the poorest communities, street art and architecture. Everybody had different high-spots but overall Sao Paulo had energy and sophistication. 


We then flew to Rio and here the itinerary disappointed some of the cohort and therefore would have benefited from their greater input. We had very little time in Rio and people wanted to see different and additional things – we managed to satisfy most people but there were tensions. It probably isn’t fair to say because we were there for such a short time but Rio was the least interesting from an artistic perspective. 


From Rio we went to Belo Horizonte – the group were getting very tired by now and a late arrival at the hotel and problems checking in did not improve this. Miraculously our first appointment was with ceramic artist Maximo Soalheiro who was so inspiring he completely energised the group. From there the mood lifted as the quality of work we encountered soared…and the sun came out! We visited Niemeyer buildings landscaped by Burle Marx, a collection of crafted tools and objects from working life and a handi-craft market.  Fernando Maculan, Snr Architect at A&M Architecture organised a series of presentations from designers, artists and architects working in BH. The presentations, punctuated with food, drink and conversation, gave us the opportunity to glimpse work by members of Laboratório Piracema de Design. Piracema is an initiative that works with communities to improve design of products that reflect the vernacular, appeal to contemporary markets but use traditional craft skills in the making. The projects presented were outstanding and have to be seen as best practice in craft development. Our final day in BH was spent at Inhotim a collection of outstanding examples of contemporary art bought by Bernando Paz and housed in pavilions, or placed directly in a wonderfully landscaped environment. Inhotim was a wonderful experience.


For the last day of our visit the group returned to Sao Paulo where we were privileged to preview Pavilhão das Culturas Brasileiras, a new museum to be opened in 2011 that will provoke dialogue between contemporary design, craft and folk art. The museum is being curated by Adelia Borges who gave us an illuminating lecture that helped pull the strands of our research together. 


Working with ACASA was a positive experience and getting to know and spend time with individuals such as the Renata Mellão, Eduardo Wolk and of course Paula Dib and Fernando Maculan was a privilege. 


Before departing we were given lunch at the British Council where we were able to brief Stephen Rimmer and Malu Penne on our visit and potential future interests.  


In summary the work we experienced was exciting, fresh and of high quality. We were received with great hospitality and generosity by our Brazilian colleagues and this encouraged open dialogue.  The cohort was well-balanced in terms of experience and breadth of interest and new working relationships have been brokered as a result of the visit. It was a diverse group and the range of work we saw was diverse, nevertheless in general people kept an open mind and saw benefits to visits they might not have made had they been alone.


This cohort have been by far the most engaged group in relation to using the website. 


The visit to Brazil confirms my belief that research visits work best when the country and culture visited is less familiar.  People compare less and bond better due to unfamiliarity of the work, aesthetic and environment. 



What might have been better

Presentations tended to be long and people’s interest was often lost – this is the dilemma is in trying to acquaint the group with the work of many in such a short space of time. The formats should have been easier to digest – more breaks for people to network, refresh their brains and stretch their legs. FI should have been more active in designing the meetings.


The cultural difference in eating patterns proved contentious at times. The Brazilian’s make much of lunch and that’s the main meal of the day, our main meal is dinner. Some of the cohort felt it a waste of time eating during the day and expensive since they were also eating a second main meal in the evening. When in Rome. 


Ideally longer between selection of cohort and actually travelling. There were three options for timing: 1. Feb/March for Parallela 2. August for Parallela and 3. September for the Design Biennale. August is a bad month for most people to travel and the Design Biennale was specialising in Industrial Design so the earlier date was agreed.  Also the Forming Ideas programme is already running over time. If we had had longer it would have given the cohort more research time and to input into the development of the itinerary. 


Larger mini-buses: On transfer days the bus was really uncomfortable due to our entire luggage having to be accommodated on the bus as well as the cohort. 


Foreseeable outcomes


It seems too early to crystallise the potential outcomes but Maximo Soalheiro, Marcello Drummond and Adelia Borges are individuals that most members of the cohort expressed an interest in working with in the future. To allow people time to digest the experience we are aiming to have our first cohort meeting in mid-June when we will look at how the group want to disseminate issues uncovered to their colleagues. 


Some cohort members are meeting earlier than June at other associated events. 


ArtQuest is likely to develop a guide for Brazil.


David of The Gallery@the Civic is aiming to curate and exhibition for All Diversity Festival in Autumn 2011, based around the visit to Brazil. The theme of the exhibition will be the Brazilian capacity to combine the positive elements from other cultures with their own to create an intense hybrid culture.  


Yvonna currently wants to curate an exhibition from Brazil and maybe introduce a few Brazilian artists to the gallery from time to time. 


Melanie from The Hub feels she could influence practice at the Hub, by looking at the craft processes used within social enterprise projects. This might not be an exhibition but perhaps influence outreach and participatory work. 


Christine would like to work collaboratively with other curators from the cohort on an exhibition.  She will also be exhibiting baskets purchased on the visit within the context of an exhibition of work by a contemporary British basket maker September 2010. 


Lists of contemporary jewellery galleries in the UK/Europe have been sent to jewellers in Brazil.


Ideas around BH developing an arts festival are being discussed with Paula Dib and Fernando Maculan.


FI management are looking to develop ideas around brining all FI cohorts together to discuss common themes across the research visits and to consider the potential of staging a tangible legacy event.


The interim evaluation of the Brazil visit is likely to be completed by end of May 2010.