Façade, 2012. Courtesy Pivô. Photo: Daniel Athayde
The symbolism of São Paulo’s Copan Building is incongruous. Like so many historic landmarks, the events it has survived are at odds with the vision upon which it was founded. Built between 1957 and 1966 by Oscar Niemeyer, the Copan is an emblem of Brazil’s modern project—which was interrupted by the country’s turbulence and political events. Modeled after Le Corbusier’s famous concept of “Unité d’Habitation” (in which work, life, and social services mingle), the Copan has, throughout its history, been a thriving urban center, a site of desolation, isolation, and violence, and today, a place of renewal with over 5,000 people working and living on the premises.
As of September 2012, the Copan is also now host to Pivô, a new platform for contemporary art founded by a group that includes an artist, two architects, and two self-described “art managers.” Set apart from white-cube gallery spaces and museums in the city, Pivô took over 12,000 square feet of abandoned space in the Copan. Its founders describe it as a place for experimentation, specifically dedicated to the creation and presentation of new work, dialogue, and an engagement with the city’s architectural and artistic past. All of these intentions were felt in the inaugural program, which interwove multiple exhibitions and projects. For this interview, I spoke with Fernanda Brenner and Marta Ramos, two of Pivô’s founders, as well as Diego Matos, a curator at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake who, in an independent role, organized one of the main exhibitions now on view.
Lauren Cornell: You were working in art in São Paolo before. How will you distinguish Pivô’s mission and program from other art spaces in the city?
Marta Ramos and Fernanda Brenner: São Paulo has seen an incredible rise of art galleries in the last ten years as well as renovations of institutional spaces and museums. All of them offer a wide program in visual arts but with the restrictions that go with their commercial and institutional nature. We missed having a space with no such boundaries that could show how the artist works and how the process of creation unfolds. The idea that we are not a white cube is very important. We give the artist a space and an unavoidable issue (the imposing architecture). There are not many other similar options in Brazil.
LC: On the night I visited Pivô, a rally was being held only a few blocks away. A hundred or so young people were in the street chanting in protest of the gentrification of the area—specifically one building where artists and families, who had been squatting the building for a long time, were being evicted. What is it like to open a space in central São Paulo now when the area is changing so rapidly? And what role do you see Pivô playing?
MR & FB: Pivô’s location is one of our major concerns. We want to promote an ongoing dialogue between the processes in contemporary art and the dramatic changes within the city. This area of central São Paulo is going through a very complex process of real estate speculation and gentrification, from which the Copan is somehow a survivor.
The fact that the Copan is one of the greatest landmarks in São Paulo, and that the space that Pivô occupies was completely abandoned for twenty years, is one of the points that motivated us to rethink how an art center should function here. The idea is to keep the signs of decadence, and the layers of its history, physical and political. So the space is ready to receive art by letting the processes of the artists working directly on it to reveal the formation that the space should take, as if the whole real estate property was an installation.
LC: I appreciated the sense of experimentation; it seemed as though many of the works had just been finished—that the dust of construction was still settling.
A number of the featured projects, like Lucas Simões’s white-walled maze and Amalia Giacomini’s vertical black stripes painted on walls and beams, disorient visitors and literally make it difficult to comprehend and navigate the space. Will most of the works commissioned for Pivô be architectural interventions in the space?
MR & FB: This is a certain type of work that motivates us most, although not exclusively. Our goal, since the very beginning, was to reactivate the space by establishing dialogues between the works of art and the abandoned space. Architectural interventions are, clearly, more suitable for this specific line of inquiry but Pivô’s program will be broader. The idea of the project is to create a program that investigates the contemporary processes of cultural creation and urban matters in many different ways.
LC: Diego, Pivô invited you to organize one of the inaugural exhibitions independent from your work at Tomie Ohtake. Can you describe how you conceived the exhibition and its premise?
Diego Matos: The drama of the decadent, historically loaded architecture of the Copan poses a challenge for a curatorial project. It’s also essential to recognize how the Copan exists, beyond its physical structure, in relation to other public spaces downtown. I intended for the exhibition to reverberate within this larger urban circuit in flux—a palimpsest of movements and constructions.
The title “Da próxima vez eu fazia tudo diferente” is colloquial Portuguese and translates as “(In the) Next time I would have done it all differently.” It sounds strange but it was my intention to subvert the language constructions of past and future. This title is also derived from Rogério Sganzerla’s film Documentário (1966) which is in the show.
Given the iconic status of the building and the urban shifts of 1950s São Paulo that it so powerfully evokes, I felt it important to establish layers of temporal friction: many of the works deal with notions of shifting time and perception. It was also important to highlight that several local artists, most of them working within the paradigmatic strategies of Brazilian conceptual and experimental art of the late ’60s, are also attempting to understand the breakthroughs of the country’s main intellectual modern project, which was interrupted by the dictatorship in the mid-1960s.
The show intends to evoke a contextual awareness, with the artists’ works amplifying the irrational spaces or dimensions of the Copan Building, as opposed to the rational clarity that its façade presents.
LC: I was struck by a video by Guilherme Peters, which features a man armed with an AK-47 gun dancing through the back spaces, hallways, and along the ledges of the Copan Building. Can you tell me about this work, and how it relates to this idea of contextual awareness?
DM: In his work, titled La terreur sans la vertu est condemnable et la vertu sans la terreur serait impuissante (2012) (or, in English, “Terror without virtue is condemnable and virtue without terror is powerless”), Peters used the abandoned space, where Pivô would soon take up residence, as a stage. The piece features the figure of an armed terrorist dancing through the dark, empty space; his trail illuminates the odd and ruined areas of the building, which can be seen as the “irrational” side of the building’s magnificent modern façade.
His path also deconstructs what might be a typical or linear progression through the Copan, as he connects the spectacular rooftop and terraces with forgotten interior spaces. His looping route recalls the disruption in Brazil’s modern project as well as the difficulty in activating a connection to our so-called traditional modern period. This circularity of movement reflects a recursive, fragmented connection to the past which resonates with the show’s premise.
LC: Outside of several large-scale installations, there were several strong video works in the show. Can you discuss how you see the works of Luiz Roque (the artist who made a work about the future reunification of Korea) fitting within the show?
DM: There are two works by Roque in the exhibition. The first one, The Triumph (2012), shows us the apparently absurd reunion of North and South Korea. Using a fruitful repertory of science-fiction references, he tries to establish ties between past and future. His portrayal of a different country’s social and ideological order, from the mock perspective of the official government, demonstrates how culture—art, sports, music—are instrumentalized for the purposes of national power and a unified image of society. This can be reimagined within a Brazilian context, in terms of how art and architecture is used to establish an international image. Today, contemporary art often deconstructs or subverts formal processes that legitimate cultural traditions.
In his other video on view, Geometria Descritiva (2012), Roque presents us with the instability of a given ideal landscape. The sphere breaking the glass presents the imminence of a possible changing time. The looping nature of the video points to the circularity I mentioned before. It is important to notice that both of them were not produced for the show but they were integrated into the curatorial narrative, establishing other layers of interpretation and intensifying what I call a contextual awareness.
LC: Marta and Fernanda, going forward, with so many works being made especially for the space, will you consider keeping them afterwards and perhaps forming a collection?
MR & FB: These installations are born with an ephemeral condition. We are not currently thinking about creating a collection. However, it is important to document all the processes and the results in order to show them through an open archive online. That is one of our next goals.