Pre-meeting notes - Brazil

We were met by Laura Barbi, Press Relations at the Brazilian Embassy. The meeting took place in the context of the exhibition Neoconcrete Experience at Gallery 32.

The curator Michael Asbury and his colleagues Sergio Martins and Caroline Menezes talked to us about the Neo-Concrete movement, it’s origins in the 1950s and its legacy. The context for the birth of this movement was a post-war, politically liberal Brazil where the economy was growing and change was embraced. The president from 1956-61 was Juscelino Kubitschek who reigned over the period of architectural confidence that resulted in achievements such as   the new capital of Brasilia. New museums had been built and the Sao Paulo Biennale had been inaugurated in 1951.

In Europe constructivism was a dominant movement and the Swiss architect and artist Max Bill was a prize winner at the Sao Paulo Biennale. The exposure to constructivism nurtured the development of two different camps of Brazilian concrete poets and artists, one in Sao Paulo, the other in Rio. The Rio movement was the subject of the exhibition Neoconcrete Experience and was linked inextricably with the newspaper Journal do Brasil, which through its supplement provided a mouthpiece for the movement’s manifesto. From 1956-1960 Reynaldo Jardim and Amilcar de Castro were responsible for the graphic restructure of the newspaper whilst the poet and critic Ferreira Gullar published uncompromising critical articles. It was here that Gullar’s theory of the ‘Non-object’ was given voice and artists like Lygia Clark, Helio Oiticica and Lygia Pape were given exposure. 

Whilst Kubitschek’s leadership was dynamic and liberal it was also costing the country and its debts began spiralling, a brief change of president was followed by a military coup in 1961. Whilst this brought a clamp down in artistic freedom the legacy of the Neo- Concrete movement was giving Brazilian artists a sense of autonomy and assertiveness. No longer did Brazilian artists look to the main movements of Europe and America but developed their own sense of identity. 

We were then treated to some wonderful slides of the cities we will be visiting and some interesting facts in a presentation given by Tom Falcao who represents the Brazilian Tourist Board. For instance Sao Paulo is 900 metres above sea level, built upon a plateau and has 22 million inhabitants and is widely regarded as the economic and gastro capital of South America and the architecture in Sao Paulo reflects a range of European architectural influences. Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery and in 1888 looked to Japan for the import of cheap labour, between 1892-1954 a steady influx of Italians came to settle in Brazil and these influences are seen most clearly in Sao Paulo and particularly in gastronomy. Information and pictures can be found on http://www.brazil.org.uk/school/index.html

Maurizina Silvia,in charge of Crafts in the Commercial Section of the embassy, told us a little about the state of handicrafts and recent government initiatives. She explained how Brazilian handicrafts were not competitive enough to sustain a market in the UK. She pointed out that many families rely on income from craft and that skills were passed down through the female line. Government programmes like SEBRAE were developing programmes that would improve products and increase market demand for the craft. What they were finding though was once the design team had left the community the families would revert to practice and the market would again fall off. The development teams are avoiding introducing machines and trying to understand better the community and its techniques to maintain the quality and  characteristics of the product. Social inclusion projects embrace handicraft and offer evening classes. Each year SEBRAE select the top 100 products as examples of good practice http://www.sebrae.com.br/setor/artesanato/acesse/premios/top-100. Maurizina quoted figures from 2002 that stated 8.5 million people were working in handicraft and the contribution to the economy was around $R 28 billion. 

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Following our meeting at Gallery 32 we then had an informal discussion over some sandwiches at the Artquest offices. The following points came up:

A request to include a couple of art college visits into the itinerary to gauge the opinions of the upcoming generation of makers and artists. This is now being incorporated

Is a visit to the house of Sitio Burle Marx possible when we are in Rio? This is not possible since it would require a whole day out of the itinerary.

Is there a museum dedicated to the development of 20th century architecture? No

Is there a studio craft movement? The definition is something not understood – Ann to have further discussions around this with colleagues in Brazil.

Are there collectors of craft in Brazil? No

Are there bilingual Craft Magazines? ARC DESIGN (Architects and Design) It’s site has some sections in English WWW.ARCDESIGN.COM.BR 

Is there a list of the best co-operatives in Brazil? We will find these at Artesol who we are meeting with.

Are we meeting with the British Council? Yes and Ann will arrange a de-brief before leaving for the UK

More information on the audience for the Paralela seminar event was requested. Ann to feeback

There were several different opinions around inoculations but Ann suggested that everybody follow the advice of their own GP. Ann had been advised to use insect repellent at all times to avoid mosquito bites – a brand of sunscreen/repellent called Skin So Soft by Avon was recommended.