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Brazil and Rio Reflections
Submitted by Lottie on Sat, 2010-07-17 08:07
I planned to spend one month in Bahia experiencing the deep symbiotic relation to nature that permaculture pointed to, for me. To continue learning capoeira with masters as a way to deepen my understanding of how one can acquire another’s culture and experience by emulating their body movements. I then intended to live for three months in Rio to subjectively explore the emotional and psychological landscape of the city and investigate the idea that “the favela is the university of malandragem” as I was told by one of the many people I had previously quizzed on the subject. I wanted to work with a filmmaker while I was there to make a video to elaborate on and develop Street Training ideas.
During my four months in Brazil I researched very remote ‘wilderness’ places and the hyper-urban super-cities of Rio and Sao Paulo. In Bahia I lived a very physically active, socially engaged life. Intimately connecting with nature and people through dance, music, ritual and work. In both places I had a daily practice of capoeira, running, walking or swimming, always some activity that brought much of my awareness to my whole body thus enabling my attempt to ‘think through’ my body, noticing sensations within and without especially in relating to water, the moon, dancing, sex and capoeira.
I found the more attention I paid to my thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations the more information they revealed and the more pleasurable they became I was acutely aware of what was going on around me as if the door to real contact with the outside world were deep within me. People, movements textures, sensations began to pulsate and allow me to enter their rhythm. The way a man shuffles from one foot to another as he waits on the pavement for a bus, the way a girl turns her head to lock eyes with her friend, the sunlight on the surface of the concrete floor, the lyric rise and fall of bird sounds, the air cooling the sweat on the side of my neck as I take my first step and begin walking towards the sea.
I was researching how we are changed by and how we may change our internal and external environments through interacting with places and people. I describe the methodology I used as a combination of psychogeography and phenomenological ethnography. Psychogeography is connected to the Situationist International that emerged from Paris in 1968 and is described as the study of the effects of place on the mood and emotions and Phenomenology is investigation into and description of conscious experience. I was encountering Brazilian culture, through reflecting on the information my senses provided me. I was also continually seeking to rethink what teaching and learning can be and seeking to invert power hierarchies, looking to places and people who are considered of low social status and asking them to teach knowledges I found them to have and that I saw as missing in dominant, mainstream societies and cultures.
“Humans are tuned for relationship. The eyes the skin the tongue ears nostrils – all are gates where our body receives the nourishment of otherness…..for the largest part of our species’ existence, humans have negotiated relationships with every aspect of the sensuous surroundings, exchanging possibilities with every flapping form with each textured surface and shivering entity that we happened to focus on…. The colour of the sky, the rush of waves – every aspect of the earthly sensuous could draw us into relationship fed with curiosity and spiced with danger…. And from all of these relationships our collective sensibilities were nourished.
During the first part of my trip I spent time living simply, training capoeira everyday and spending time interacting with the sea. Then I lived in a field for 11 days I trained with inspiring masters, took part in lots of music, dancing, singing, rituals and physical work. I became very awake to nature and felt myself to be wilder and more instinctive in my search for and enjoyment of a varied array of sensual pleasures that my bodily sensual engagement with nature afforded. No more wasting energy if I find myself fidgeting with my fingers or toes I realised its an expression of anxiety and let it go, became still and waited for it to pass and wait for sensations, I have to try again and again and again to relax and pay attention. As I’m walking alone back from the river, at dusk, across the fields I realise relationships with nature are reciprocal - richer, more layered and meaningful, more fulfilling when I allow myself to realise the pleasure nature takes in my sensing of it.
When I arrived in Rio I felt shocked and to my surprise, perceived a society totally divorced from sensual interaction with natural phenomena, this was isolating and scary. A tacit assumption was inferred, that we can get everything we need form other humans and human made things without direct experience of the ‘more than human world’ of nature. I’ve known this in theory for years but unexpectedly now I was experiencing it on an emotional and physical level as sadness and pain. I felt I was in a society living with total abnegation sensual pleasure through engagement with the immediate environment. And a lack of social cohesion.
At the start of my stay in Rio I woke up to see that I had scrawled the words ‘chaotic shaman’ in red marker on a piece of paper during the night.
I wanted to find out if other people were going through a similar transition from an active, sensual interaction with their surroundings and coming more to a perception of the city streets as flattened empty spaces to move through. I felt this conformism was enforced by repetitive citations of potential dangers from upper and middle class people. After a few days the need to disengage from the multitude of activities and currents that constitute Rio streets became evident, the best way for me to exist in the streets was to adopt a demeanour as blasé as the ordinary women on the streets who I began to emulate. Sensual engagement with the heat, dust, beggars, tensions and constant attention that were a small part of all that is the area called Lapa where I spent my time, seemed to threaten to destroy me. I saw a lot of street poverty I felt so much as a result that I decided to stop thinking about it and looking at it, it felt like a bottomless pit. I decided that there is nothing interesting about poverty it just kills people quicker
I went to the bus station in Rio and made interviews with people who had just arrived from the countryside for the first time to start a new life. The questions I asked were about the things people do for pleasure in rural areas. These people’s answers confirmed my perception of a flattening in sensual experience they consistently described playing in the rain
“In the country everyone plays in the rain, in the city if people go out in the rain they get sick.”
When I asked people who are ‘naturalised’ or grew up in the city, questions about pleasure in relation to nature where not understood in the same sensual terms. “I go to the beach with my friends, play football” this seemed to point more to interaction with other people than nature. A security guard working at the bus station said this
So the question what is the correspondingly engaged activity? What connects people to and beyond themselves?
I came back to the idea of Malandragem, in Rio I realised that there are so many kinds of Malandragem that class gender and place on the economic spectrum play a part.
“malandragem is not something you can learn in a academy its something you learn in everyday life. Malandragem influences your life. Its a rhythm it’s the way of walking of people from ‘communities’, on the morro when you walk up and down a ladiera you have it . A Malandro is a person who knows how to deal with situations. It helps if you live in the morro the way you walk down the hill, the way you turn into an alley helps you to have malandragem. If you don't have rhythm you won't be able to walk easily down the morro you loose your balance. The way the kids play in the morro too they are always running, stopping, moving around, going here going there, climbing on the roof top, climbing coconut trees, up the hills and turns and alleyways. It’s really different to the kids who are driven to school in the car. If your life is very straight you are very straight and your head is very straight. When you live in a favela its completely different to if you are rich or middle class there are different rhythms. It really helps a lot to be in a place like that because you have to learn how to walk in that space there are a lot of holes in the street, you might start by falling a lot when you get used to those kind of streets your body will be different.
“Malandragem is looking like you're gonna go that way but then going another way, ducking and diving - always being different to the time before”
“ Mandinga is a lie and a malandro is one who knows how to use it” (Mestre Poncianino – in conversation at Capoeirando, Ilheus, Bahia January 2008)
In the capoeira roda and outside it, the ways we move send messages that establish certain things about us in the minds of others. Awareness of how gestures and movements are perceived and their skillfull application of this performativity in life enables a certain freedom to move where we want to move, this can be seen as malandragem. In the capoeira roda players continually watch each other looking for signs of what their opponents next move might be and estimating such things as mood, degrees of aggression, playfulness, experience and resilience. The use of feints and tricks are as much part of capoeira as attack and defence moves.
“before entering the roda, players watch eachother warily out of the corners or their eyes”
G.Downey, in Learning Capoeira, Lessons in Cunning from a Brazilian Art Form He quotes from interviews with Mestre Moreas who talks about the differences in the ways Europeans inhabit their bodies and also how middle class people, both European and Brazilian, are more stiff. He says that Europeans have to work harder to attain the soft and strong body of a capoerista and be able to quickly change direction and move on multiple axes.
I become so curious about the nature of shadows as I moved in and out of them are they sensing trickster entities?
I learnt the term bandandragem an updated version of malandragem that means a relyiance on guns and violence rather the than quick wits and straight razor the tools of the archetypal malandro. I felt this was predominantly the arena of men and was afraid of going into the social circles where this was occurring. I wanted to know how people are living by their wits, taking responsibility for themselves with minimal interaction with centralised state system. Is this is happening in all strata of society? Are we all also undoing our ability to be quick and cunning with habitual thinking and repetitive routines? I realised that in doing what I have always done I reproduce my own oppression, limiting and preventing independent liberatory action. In Rio, I perceived people living in a divided city under, multiple layers of control. Those who live ‘on the asphalt’ exist under the oppression of the state and those who live in favelas are subject to racism, exploitation and prejudice from the outside and inside the favela they often live under Drug Lord’s totalitarian regimes policed by teenagers on drugs with guns. Both places have self policing, social conformism and constant reproduction of ideas that keep their hegemonies in place. Perhaps malandragem is a liberatory and complexifying element in this game
So I avoided the overtly violent and risky situations and defined this interpretation of malandragem; If the road is laid out straight and clear for the privileged in society every one else has to duck and dive to get what they need and want. This consideration of privilege allowed me to investigate gender. I feel that rigid gender roles apply in Rio, men have more freedom of movement than many women in the gender role drama that constitutes a major part of in public space in Rio. Men are also constrained by roles in patriarchal societies, machismo being another layer of control to be negotiated by the very oppressed and exploited majority and though life is very hard for poor men it is even harder for women. It soon seemed however that the term Malandragem doesn't apply to women in the general sense, and if it is used to describe a woman it will have undertones of loose sexuality. Both malandragem and gender roles are inextricably woven into Brazilian culture. To come straight out with the question, “what is malandragem?” seemed to show a crass lack of any sense of cunning. I decided to come at it by trying to avoid the assumptions I’d already formed about the malandro type. To follow my desires and curiosity and watch myself survive, duck and dive and notice myself and others when we were using cunning or exploiting a situation to our advantage. I became aware of how complex and multifaceted cultural differences can be when I began walking on Rio streets and reflecting on how I was perceived and the feelings and thoughts I had as a result. Gender differentiation is fervent and I was perceived in the street primairily as female rather than as a person where as in the UK depending on how I dress in the streets it is possible to be perceived primarily a person and then as female. Along with this gendered gaze came a good degree of sexual predation to which I felt vulnerable. I explored how malandragem might manifest in certain aspects of Brazilian culture; through capoeira, which has been described as a malandro science, dance afro, baille funk and by watching the ways women walk. Merging with the forces and flows of conformist and liberatory behaviours I invoked Exu the trickter Orixa of candomble and hoped to find malandras/malandros to apprentice myself to.
Suddenly just as a carioca funk track came on, loads of kids in tight Lycra and covered in glitter crash the party, they bump and grind and spin me up in their wild exuberance. I'd never seen anything like it, such small kids doing such sexual movements, such inventive moves, I rocked and ground, sweated and jumped together with them. A tiny boy hugs the bum of a teenage girl as she bobs it up and down holding onto the bar. The crowd is mixed; middle class people look shocked and amazed. The kids laugh at me as I dance free and funky and some kind of harmony is created between us. The kids are crazy for the funk, and the dancing is so explosive - and to my protestant-conditioned mind really rather wild. We’re dancing at in a record store in Lapa and coming outside for air I make friends with the women who are with them. One of them is called Eliza from the favela, Morro dos Prazeres, that literally translates as hill of pleasures. Eliza is the head of the community association and deals with everything people need with - light, post, water...we talk for a while and she invites me to visit the favela. With what I think was a canny awareness of the benefits of bridging social capital Eliza does what ever she can to make me feel welcome. As a result of this Marcia Derraik the film maker who I was then starting to work with and I made a documentary that explores how young women create safety and joy for themselves through bodily practices with a focus on me wanting to learn their dancing in the streets.
My interactions with Eliza and the other women at Morro dos Prazeres was a process of delicate negotiation. I wanted things from them and they knew they could benefit from having me around. We also wanted to bond in friendship. I think we were all aware of the benefits simply knowing people from outside your usual demographic can have. I wanted to find a way for them to benefit financially from the skills and knowledge the girls have by suggesting they gave baile funk dance classes. I wondered if this would be to bring them into a knowledge economy and at the same time I was aware that we were enriching our selves and adding value to ourselves as products. Along the lines of the immaterial worker who is herself a product and who travels around gaining and exchanging value through social interaction was this the model I was using and was I exploiting them in a new way?
I also continued my own personal practice of experimenting with how I may shape my environment with small spontaneous behavioural acts and I convened Street Training sessions. Two as research and one as a live art performance event. Research walks were undertaken to explore free improvisation in relation to the immediate urban environment with musician Lila Carlson, actor Luiz Ramos, actress Marcia Lorena Cabrera Antia and artists Danilo Volpato, Julia, Ducha and Omar. We began wandering, generating and responding to movements, tiny gestural propositions as we generated a dynamic trajectory. During one night walks, spontaneously I orchestrated that we lift Lila and carry her off on our shoulders. We proceeded to climb and play. We found the remnants of a fire in the middle of the pavement and drew with the charcoal all over everything, we watched some animal I have never ever seen before snuffling around through the park railings, swang on scaffolding, came across a park full of cats we carried tiny kittens a few meters and then gave them to women waiting at a bus stop. This took place in Centro Velho a really destroyed and crumbling, desperately poor part of Rio with colonial buildings and real darkness, at some point I was crying, everyone was riffing off the environment, the up lights outside the fire station, the cobbles, even the cars. Techniques for personal, joyful acts in public space were innovated and later applied in the official first Rio Street Training session.
I went to see a documentary about Glauber Rocha at the cinema in Santa Teresa. There was one scene I think set in Pelorinho where a woman in a kind of monks cassock is walking along the street that is lined with people, she is shouting “amor e liberdade”, “love and freedom” I re enacted it the next day and asked Marcia To film me the day after. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQbYojnDYQA
On 16th April 2009 The first Rio Street Training session was attended by 11 people, a perfect sized group. They were:
Actor Luiz from Spain
I felt the first Rio Street Training session was a roaring success with lots of positive written feedback and warm feelings shared. Two artist here in Rio, Ducha and Cata, want to do more sessions and two artists based in Minnesota want to take it over there.
I introduced Street Training, described its roots in the University of Openness faculty of Physical Education. I showed the Street Training website, described Street Training commissions and collaborations.
We leave the office of the residents' association, and walk past the 'community security' - a young man with a rifle slung around his shoulders. We head down the steep hill and wait for the bus. While waiting we are climbing on the roof of the bus stop, and playing a game with two balls - throwing them over the advertising at the bus stop. I head towards a traffic cone to use as a mega phone, but remember it's marking the police sentry at the entrance of the Favela. The police can't enter the favela and only go in on execution missions so they stand guard 24 hrs outside. I change my mind about the traffic cone mega phone and join the bus shelter climbing.
All eleven of us travelled by crowded bus with a massive joke argument ensuing between a drunk guy with a little girl on his lap and his 'friend' sitting five rows back from them. We get off the bus at Largo de Guimaraes and walk up the steps of the beautiful old building Largo das Lettras, where we do some prep and team building activities. As darkness falls we are leading each other blind around the garden and terrace. I’m wandering eyes closed, lead by 7 year-old Eva. A friend called Roberto sees us and decides to join the group. In discussion of the eyes closed activity people said it sensitized them and they began to trust each other.
And into the night, we walked together into the streets of Santa Teresa. We started interacting with everything by drawing on it in chalk, I used a traffic cone as a mega phone to sing a funk song from Gaiolas da Popozudas “now that I’m single no one’s gonna hold me down” The man in the picture shop was amused. Eva and Alex drew on the lamp posts, the pavement - everything, everything. People started to walk dancingly, climb the railings by the road, jump off things and then. ....Julia found two wooden boards, lay them purposefully on the ground. Some one drew an arrow and a kind of cartwheel performance began. People took turns to jump and spin on the boards. We 'sculpted' ourselves in inverted positions and gently manipulated each other into slow motion backwards flips. Heading off again, Alex found a moth or butterfly on the road and drew a home around it to keep it safe. The home was as far as I tell in the shape of a penis, or maybe a mushroom. He then found a piece of paper and made a plane. The night was cool and breezy as he let the plane fly. A gust took it in a breathtaking swoop sending it gliding off sharply to the left, into a property, Ducha climbed over the wall to retrieve it.
At the place where people wait for the tram there was a man who some how began making very authentic animal sounds. We gathered around him amazed and laughing a lot. The tram lines became the focus. Some one took pieces of discarded cardboard, placed them on the rails and pushed them along with their feet. Lots of people tried this dry skiing. Then balls were rolled along the rails, the game interrupted once in a while as trams or buses went past at high speed. We speculated about what would happen if you put a 5 centavo piece on the track. Then we were picking up newspaper lying on the ground, holding it above our heads and running fast downhill till we let it fly off behind us. Mitchel found an abandoned umbrella, climbed up some steps at the base of a ladeira and jumped off using it as a parachute. Eva wanted to try, it was a huge drop for such a little girl. We arrived in Lapa at the Arcos where homeless people live and have fires. The light from the lamps is a special tinge of orange. We lifted Eva above our heads and carried her in procession through the crowded streets - Eva shouting 'amor!'. Luiz picks Alex up and carries him on his shoulders we all walk past surprised people shouting 'amor e liberdade!'. We arrived at bar Gomes and together sat around a table to eat and drink.
The activities from this session will go into the Rio training manual and this is the guy have commissioned to make it and make wood cut for the cover. I think he and I should write a cordel together - they are sung, so I would make a melody for it and sing it. I'm wondering how to incorporate singing into the next session. Singing under railway arches is a fave technique which would work nicely.
‘Dance is the sincerest form of prayer’ a phrase that came into my mind, I think I read it in Barbara Browning's book Samba - Resistance in Motion, one day while I was swimming at London Field’s Lido. To me it means to feel the life of my body in its entirety, a buzzing, which when it mounts in stillness and then bursts through to follow as it moves me along it’s trajectory.
My work developed according to the very open plan I made before I left. I was in Bahia for one month and Rio for three as intended. I made a short trip to Guarapuava university near to Curitiba to give a talk and do a Street Training session in order to train up the students to carry out their own ongoing sessions, which they now do and upload images to www.streettrainig.org
I experienced true, live improvisation in the situations I convened, trying to understand how to create the conditions for this is one thread I’m now developing. I realised that urban and rural environments can both equally shape and be shaped by our behaviour. A thread of gender difference and the power of women’s embodied sexuality in shaping place and self this will be further explored and developed with Marcia Derriak when she comes to stay with me funded by Artists Links Brazil.
The main problem I experienced during the residency was that my bank cancelled my credit card three times and I had a difficult time accessing money. Roberta tried to help me with this but there was no other solution that to have a friend wire me large sums of money and I had to hold on to cash, which I felt uneasy about collecting from the bank.
I flew to Sao Paulo and then to Bahia where I visited Salvador, Fazenda Ouro Verde near Itacare, home of capoeira Mestre cabelo and mestra tisa and site of cultural events such as batuke and permaculture, Kilombo Tenonde near Valenca home of Mestre cobra mansa and site of Permangola capoeira and permaculture events and Fazenda Pura Vida permaculture project, all at edges of mata atlantica and close to the river contas.
I’m making plans with Marcia Derriak to organise a gathering of relevant people to talk about the themes we have in common. I would like to go back to Rio and develop the work I have started.
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