We Operate in the Vacuum, and Other Tales

Ronald Duarte and Abel Duarte, Images courtesy of Pedro Victor Brandão

Once upon a time there was a very high hill. Then, an apartment building appeared on the hilltop, with a giant swimming pool pointing towards the Guanabara Bay. From the apartments’ windows, all of Rio de Janeiro can be seen, including the Corcovado, Sugar Loaf, the bridge to Niterói and beyond. The capital of the country had yet not been transferred from Rio to a distant flatland so a former dictator came in person to celebrate the opening of the new belvedere. Some years later, unplanned neighbors took over the building’s surrounding. People with no place to live started to build their own shacks. What a contrast: the slums and the building. Three bedroom apartments, four units on each level. Eleven stores, the last one is a penthouse with a 360º view. The pool became a target. Bullets shone at the façade while the “community” would walk in with their tires and attitude to have a swim. Close, leave, sell, run, since then the water is gone. This huge emptiness hangs from up above. Since then, the water comes in, from the roof, down the walls, through the pipes, and the wind blows. Last February, that community was “pacified” by the police, meaning they have collected the guns and removed the criminals. There is no funk party anymore at that court. Another void, another vacuum, and the wind blows. Real estate bubbles flying all over.

Travel inside the tram

A friend from São Paulo was so impressed to find an active and interesting art scene in Rio de Janeiro when she came for a curatorial research. She says it seems like nothing happens in town, because she never hears about what goes on here from outside. Even though Rio is the city with the most museums in Brazil, there is a huge institutional void. Lack of consistent programming and other administrative issues make most visits to museums in Rio interesting only regarding the architecture. For a city this big with so much available space, the feeling of emptiness is overwhelming. But there is a lot going on, just not easily visible for the visitor. After all, Rio de Janeiro is the home city of many great artists. And, they are not asleep. The vacuum generated by the absence of institutional support doesn’t completely suffocate alternative models of art production.

Alexandre Vogler, Image courtesy Pedro Victor Brandão

“It is easy to disparage what we cannot have.”

Apartment 1002 has finally opened its doors. They had been closed for 15 years. The new owner talked to Ronald Duarte, artist and good friend of his, about shaking the place up while he remodels and fixes the ruin 1002 has become. Ronald introduced him to Bruna Lobo, another artist who has experience in organizing shows in private apartments. Many phone calls later, and a group of people who are not a group started to spend time at the flat, experiencing the place, the neighborhood and the surroundings.

Bhagavan, Image courtesy Pedro Victor Brandão

It all started 3 weeks before the opening, short notice and no budget. It was named “O Rapozo e as Uvas” which is a mix of the building’s official name with the Aesop’s “ The Fox and the Grapes” fable. It was never meant to be an exhibition, rather a creative lab where the process would be open to public during a weekend. Some works were developed and shown while others remain unfinished. Such as the apartment, which was being transformed while we artists were there working, what was visible was always changing. The most impressive piece, though, is the view. There is this new perspective people can reach from the top of a mountain. This time of fast changes triggered by all the big international events to come requires reflection and attention. The apartment provides that space and experience.

Babalon, Image courtesy Pedro Victor Brandão

Many works dealt directly with the windows and the view, such as Alexandre Vogler’s sight test and Ronald Duarte’s laser beam reaching Christ while on Abel Duarte’s hand. Other artists worked directly with the apartment’s debris and objects. Guga Ferraz turned the freshly exposed wall insides into gold, and Baghavan transformed furniture pieces in castles of cards. Babalon was opened for everyone who wanted to grab an instrument and play along, even while keeping the bedroom doors closed. It is important not to bother next-door neighbors. They were all officially and unofficially invited, a few showed up and no one called the police. Hurray!

Guga Ferraz, Image courtesy Pedro Victor Brandão

The fairy-godmother

It all started in 2001, when a house for sale was home for the most important art show in Rio that year. Orlândia, Nova Orlandia and Grande Orlândia were organized by Márcia X and Ricardo Ventura. They led to many other shows in the same format.

Bruna Lobo, Liza Machado and Gustavo Sotero, Image courtesy Pedro Victor Brandão

Associados, in 2007, was organized by Ricardo Ventura and the art collective Opavivará at Ventura’s own house. But not only empty houses become temporary art spaces. Artists Bruna Lobo and Jonas Aisengart invited about 20 artists to add works to inhabited apartments without removing any furniture or personal items. Projeto ApArtamento took place in 2008 and 2010 and more editions are yet to come. Last year, curator Bernardo Mosqueira organized a show in his own new house before moving in…this apartment shows list could go on and on. It is important to highlight that alternative models interest both well-established and young artists. There is a common urge impelling us to take over fractions of space and time, to make things, to show, to experience, to exchange. Empty spaces tend to be filled. Vacuum surfers, here we go!