Friday, August 29, 2014
It was quite a struggle getting up and out today after a very fun but late night. (Exposição “ÁREA DE” de C. L. Salvaro Opening and Arcangelo Cafe.) After a shower, some strong coffee and mini pão de queijo, we made our way back to the Contorno by bus. Both Pilar and I didn’t have much energy or inspiration but our time here is winding down and we need to stay on course.
Getting off the bus, I start to recognize the area from our workshops with Maria Elena. Before even reaching the Contorno we encountered a calçada pattern that I wanted to photograph, and on the wall right beside it was another graffiti torso. I stood photographing for a few minutes as a delivery man left the shop and packed up his motorbike.
On the corner approaching the Contorno, there was another torso (much smaller than the others we’ve seen) on the side of a small structure that reminded me of the taxi comfort station near the car wash. The graffiti on other side of the building was much more simple, two drawings of crosses.
From there along the Contorno we notice many funeral homes, really quite a number of them. There’s a lot under construction that I find very interesting, perhaps it’s the combination of the patterns created by the tree shadows with the construction materials, and the open space creating a contrast with the other buildings in the distance. I linger for quite a while here with this fence. Perhaps I also need a bit of emotional space.
On the corner of this street there’s a house converted into a store with an assortment of ladders of all shapes and sizes placed in the windows and lined up in front of the building. On the opposite corner, across the street, is the restaurant where we ate with Maria Elena and the workshop participants. It’s quite a lovely place and Pilar and I decide to stop there and have a drink and sit at one of the tables outside.
We continue down the street, and I notice a building completely covered in glass that almost seems camouflaged with the sky. It’s very hot today and the especially bright sunlight makes it quite difficult to take in the surroundings and I find myself squinting and trying to create a visor with my hands to see what’s around me. I see a patch of green and shade across the street and head over there to a restaurant/catering hall with an assortment of plants growing on the outside of it. It’s a nice respite. There’s a home goods store and parking garages with funny surveillance signage saying smile you’re on camera.
Many of the buildings in this area begin to look familiar (the two tall empty towers, and the circular grey building) and we recognize Av dos Andradas, the street with the river in the middle, that we followed on our first excursion when we walked right past Av do Contorno. It’s rather funny to begin to recognize landmarks and collect memories of being in particular places, when initially everything felt so new and unfamiliar.
I hear a tapping noise and then see a little boy squatting of the sidewalk knocking a rock against the calçada rhythmically. Contorno goes uphill at this part and passes over some railroad tracks with a wide open view of the city. There are some houses that are built into the wall. I gravitate to this area, spending time photographing and playing with the sharp contrast of light and dark.
There are a number of houses across the street that also grab my attention, and the silhouette of a woman waiting for the bus. I generally try to frame people and cars out of the picture and today I found myself intentionally including people within the space. Paco Picalli, a business essentially used stripes in the same way that the pixação artists did on the stripes of the parking garage. I notice the way people use their surrounding to hang and store their belongings, as well as the overlapping patterns of ironwork that starts to create a visual chaos. Walking up to meet Pilar, there are a number of men on the street washing cars, but I’m too tired to engage or photograph any more at this point and we decide to head back home.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
10:30 am – 2:00 pm
Hot and sunny
On Tuesday, I was less motivated and felt less impressed by the beauties the “contorno” has to offer. My body resents too many planes and too much walking on stone sidewalks during the past weeks. Also, about ten days had past since our last field trip and the loss of continuity, perhaps, has contributed to this loss of momentum. It’s impossible to separate feeling achy to the lack of motivation I was feeling. How do change in moods interfere with one’s knowledge-seeking processes? Since one can’t avoid the “irrational” transformation of feelings, states, moods in the direction one desires, acknowledging the agency of embodied responses and the distortions such condition may be causing is the best option. Feeling tired and cranky makes me lose the ability to be surprised with the invisible details of my surroundings. I’m curious to examine this series of images and see if a lack of interest is evident in work I produce on a shitty day.
The first photo I made was a close up of a cotton tree, with lots of white balls hanging. Perhaps we have seen it in its previous state (with flowers, perhaps?) in other places around the city. We passed by a small market, displaying fruits and vegetables announced with hand-written signs. The use of hand-written signs is widespread in Belo Horizonte. The fruits and vegetables seemed very fresh, like others I’ve seen in the city, seem to be more “natural” than the tasteless fruit and vegetables found in the grocery stores in Greenpoint.
The most amusing moment during our last walk was passing by a reflective building with two sculpturally shaped bushes, placed symmetrically by the building entrance. There is a feeling of fantasy and fakeness emerging from this kind of architecture and décor. But it is always surprising to observe the movements on the street reflected on the glass curtains. The undulating topography of Belo Horizonte emerges at different scales along our walk. Its most immediate expression is the sidewalks turning into stairs, mostly along streets intersecting “Contorno.” But the surrounding hills also emerge at a distance. At some point along the walk, I saw the favelas – informal settlements – taking over the surrounding hills. This view of the landscape allows us to visually juxtapose two such different realities, in terms of class, built spaces, geography, etc. While spatially segregated, two contrasted neighborhoods overlap in one frame.
We passed a big construction site and Tamara started performing her “dance with construction fences,” repeatedly. Using a small camera, she documents walls, fences, and barbwire while moving in space, like “dancing” with the architectural element. In the meantime, I see people staring at her, trying to understand what’s going on. To make it more of a funny scene, I start stretching out in the middle of the sidewalk, head down, since my body feels heavy and achy. Soon after, I suddenly lost Tamara, again. Later, she comes out of a parking garage and tells me to go inside to drink coffee with the owner. The woman working at the garage, we think she’s the owner, was very sweet; she told us she has had the business for over a decade. It consisted of a big warehouse, at that time almost empty, with a small office space by the entrance. She served the last bit of coffee in her thermos in two plastic cups.
I found a silkscreened image of a black woman on a construction fence made out of patches of wood panels worn out by time. Why is this portrait placed in front of a construction site? I noticed an intercom, protected with a metal grid and a lock, even though it did not seem to be very expensive. It seems like everything is protected around here. I noticed a few new types of mailboxes, which seem to be becoming a theme among the photos I have made. I’d never seen built-in mailboxes before! Are they perhaps a Brazilian invention: the built-in mailbox typology?
Although this seemed to be a very nice neighborhood, with lots of old and well preserved beautiful houses, I could not help feeling infinite tediousness, which seems to translate well in this post. I can’t think of any interesting highlight happening during our field trip. I kept thinking; “there are so many electrified fences I can photograph. Now, fences are definitely not as interesting as the first ones I encountered.” Does this mean anything? Does my work lose its value as I lose motivation? Why am I feeling this way? Is it that I am getting used to this city? Is Belo Horizonte a [not-so-new-anymore] “new place” to me? Why do I lose my ability to be surprised over time? Or perhaps it was a matter of too many planes and not enough sleep; tomorrow might be a bright day again!
August 26, 2014
I’m guessing it’s about 10:30 am by the time we leave the apt and it already feels like a hot day. We stop for juices next to the bus stop and then take a collective taxi to Av. Getulio Vargas. We still have to walk a way but it brings us closer to our starting point. Just as we approach Av do Contorno, I see a black and white polka dotted dress on a mannequin outside of a used clothing store. Remembering our no stopping into stores before our excursions lesson but very tempted by the dress, I look to Pilar for a sign. She’s generally supportive of shopping, and gives me the go-ahead to try it on. Through a narrow corridor and winding steps there’s an upstairs loft area filled with clothes. After going back to get Pilar, we end up leaving with a whole bag full of purchases. The women who work in the store are all very sweet, and invite us to come back again.
Back outside, we approach the Contorno right at the point of the large construction project where we left off last time. During my second dance with construction fence there, the gopro stopped filming after only a minute or so. I consider doing it again today but it doesn’t seem as appealing now, perhaps approaching the site from a different angle at a different time, somehow the moment has passed. So we continue our counter-clockwise route along Av do Contorno. Maybe we’re already tired and things start to feel more familiar and normal the longer we’re here, but there isn’t much that calls out our attention.
There’s a calçada pattern I haven’t seen yet with a dot in the middle that gets more damaged as I reach the far corner. The road here, Rua dos Timbiras, is a rather steep hill and the pavement is worn in a number of places revealing the cobblestone pavers underneath. I love seeing these patches of times past, and I feel especially in tune to them after spending the day yesterday walking around Oro Preto.
Across Av do Contorno, on the outer rim, are other houses nestled and stacked into the hills. This avenue feels much smaller here, compared to the sections at the beginning of our journey. There are a number of places where it appears someone painted over the graffiti and then it was tagged again, creating multi-layered pixação. There’s another stone wall with densely covered in pixação, which makes me think about the way in which the graffiti responds to the existing surfaces and surroundings.
We pass by Cafe Viena, a large, dark, densely packed and richly decorated restaurant/bar with sidewalk seating. Even though we haven’t advanced very far, we decide to stop for a drink. As soon as we sit down I realize my pen exploded in my bag and ink spilled everywhere. They have a very long list of beers, the menu touts “the largest selection in all of Latin America”. We order one of the house brews and two glasses, and I begin the process of unloading everything in my bag and wiping everything down. I pack things back up and then head to the bathroom upstairs to wash my hands which gives me a chance to check out the rest of the place. Upstairs there’s a large eating space set up with Minero style buffet lunch that looks much fancier than our usual spots. Most people there are dressed nicely, and seem to be breaking from the office for lunch.
When I return to the table, Pilar is brainstorming for a title for another upcoming project. Without my pen I feel lost for a moment, unable to make any notes, etc… but then relax into the moment. The waiter comes by and suggests that when we’re done, we should put away “the machines”. I look down at the table and see that Pilar has her camera and iPhone out. He further explains that a boy from the street could come by and take them. There have been a number of occasions, that I’ve been surprised by Pilar’s seemingly cavalier approach to leaving her things out, equipment, bags, etc… in public spaces on the street. Perhaps living in nyc it’s become second nature, but I don’t leave my things laying around like that. I appreciated this moment to try to see things from his perspective. He’s a waiter, working hard to make a living, but he also has an inherent sense of the complexity of the place and people’s varied situations. Perhaps he felt responsible as an employee of the restaurant to look after the well being of the customers. In any case, I found it interesting that he decided to say something to us about this.
Right next door is another bar with essentially the same thing, a place to sit down and talk and drink beer, but with a completely different feeling to it, much more like the places we usually go to here. The facade of the next building over is covered in black and white stencils with writing that says “Estudio da Carne” that looks like it could be an alternative art space. As I take a photograph, a woman is opening the lock, so it seems like a good opportunity to find out, so I ask her what is it? A studio? A gallery? She laughs and says it’s a restaurant! On the corner of the same street there’s another place that looks quite delicious, so we sit at the chairs set up on the sidewalk and share a salgado (salty snack) with catupiry (type of soft cheese), which ends up being mostly chicken but still quite good and filling. Needless to say, we spent quite a bit of time on this block, between the beer at one end and the snack at the other.
From there, again the surroundings didn’t seem all that stimulating. Then we reach another large construction site, and I suddenly feel compelled to do a dance with the fence. Without thinking I realized I was incorporating some of Maria Elena’s ideas, counting my steps within each breath, which is generally around 4. As I did this, Carla’s contrasting approach that counting kills any form of creative expression in movement jumped into my mind and I started to focus more deeply on my center and feeling the connection of my limbs to the center. As I was reaching the end I stood for a moment focused on the security camera and then suddenly the garage door started rolling up. I was startled and and thought I might have set off a motion center, but then a car started driving down the ramp. I stood there filming for a moment and then planned to retrace my trajectory back to the beginning filming with a more fluid intuitive approach. The man driving the car rolls down his window and asks me something, a security guard approaches and I’m guessing he asks me what I’m doing. (Now that I recognize the work Mossa (Miss), I understand when someone is trying to get my attention.) I tell them I’m an artist doing a dance with the construction site, I think its a tango but I’m not quite sure and I continue on my way. The way back feels more free and intuitive, moving the camera fluidly across different levels, low, medium and high and pausing for moments throughout. Peripherally I can see people watching me and I’m sure they think I’m very strange but maintain focus. At the end I still want to take some still photos. Pilar has been waiting a while, she says she watched part of the process and people’s reactions and still had time to stretch etc…
Across the street, I spot a sign “Contorno do Corpo” which looks like a gym, but for a moment at least it seems to encapsulate our explorations of bodies and the city (focused on this perimeter of the planned city.)
Stopping at the bank, I notice that a large part of the space in front of the building is cordoned off with stanchions and chains. There’s a lone motorbike parked in the center of the larger area to the left. To the right there’s a narrow path next to the neighboring building leading to the bike parking rack. It seems Bank of Brasil has very clearly defined ideas about how it would like people to use this space.
On the next corner there’s parking garage painted in yellow and black stripes. I notice how the graffiti writers have strategically used these lines as a surface, with some tags spanning several yellow stripes. On the adjoining wall, the black stripes are covered in white spray paint. As I take a picture, a woman comes out and asks what I’m photographing and I explain my observations to her. She is very distraught by the pixaçãdores, and complains that they keep coming back to cover her walls. She invites me in for coffee, so I call Pilar in to the garage. The woman has a little register and kitchen area set up inside the garage, that she’s had for going on nine years. She asks where we’re from and what brought us to Belo Horizonte. When she hears we’re doing an art residency she tells us there’s an art space down the street and a dance school and walks us to the other garage exit, calls over a young man washing cars outside, and points out the dance school.
The car wash area is quite a fascinating improvised work area in the street, complete with a television set, seating, and a mobile cart for supplies and tree as improvised rack for hanging things. From there I enter the dance school which is quite a magical atmosphere, I’m greeted by the dance teacher to tells me about the wide variety of classes they offer, introduces me to one of his students, and they even give me a little demonstration! By this time Pilar is outside stretching again, she’s tired and starting to fade, so we head towards a plaza she’s identifies on the map as a good ending point.
Getting there, we pass a truck with all kinds of religious signs, like Daniella’s husband was telling me about, a warehouse full of plants, and one more female torso graffiti that looks like it someone had modified with additional marking covering the breasts and public area. I start to recognize the next block from our visits to Lydia’s studio as part of the Maria Elena workshop, and the plaza where we did our synchronizing exercises. From here we take the bus back to the center, by the park we run into Wilsin (the man who makes sculptures from cans) chat for a bit and then head directly to Bem Natural!
With Graça on vacation for the next two weeks, Pilar and I are looking for our yoga fix and set out to check out another class recommended by our new friend, Denise.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
I’m happy to be up early and inspired to do a bit of processing on the computer before heading out on our trip to Ouro Preto.
I just had a momentary realization about how important it is to make selections of images. Taking the time to make the difficult decisions of which shot is better, which images are the keepers, saves a lot of other work in reformatting and retouching. View, decide, be selective.
It’s surprising to see organic elements mixed in with the construction supplies in the lobby this morning. The streets of Belo Horizonte are empty today. We pass by a stack of stools and crates chained up to a post, presumably by vendors to secure them on their day off.
I took this photograph immediately after seeing a man laying on the sidewalk on the way to the bus station. He was covered in pink flowers and leaves. I wondered if it was a joke that someone played on him or if he was dead and this was a memorial. It was quite a shocking sight, that made it seem like he’d been there a very long time, except there were no flowers or leaves anywhere else on the pavement. Two women stood a few steps away giving away some papers with religious information. I wanted to stop and ask them if there were affiliated with the man lying on the sidewalk or if they knew what happened to him but instead I pulled out my camera and took this photograph of the sidewalk.
We had a little bit of time before our bus, so we walked around the bus station looking for something to eat. I could hear the surreal sound of birds, and then on the top floor we came across a large area filled with birds in cages. We finally opted for some fresh juice and headed on our way so as not to miss our bus.
From the bus, we see incredible landscapes, lots of mountains and urubu, the wide-winged black birds.
Ouro Preto is exceptionally picturesque, with a dark history as the center of the rush for “Black Gold” and former capital of Minas Gerais.
I love the all of the architectural details and the lacy curtains and napkins.
The wooden store signs hang from the sides of the buildings.
There are also these wonderfully patterned wooden shutters on many of the windows…
…and a number of public fountains throughout the city.
There are churches everywhere in Ouro Preto. Since we got a late start, we didn’t have much time. The one church I wanted to visit was Santa Efigenia dos Pretos, it was built by the local black slave community in 1742. Legend has it that it is richly decorated with gold that was smuggled from the mines. It turns out its also the furthest away on the highest hill. This long uphill walk gave us a chance to observe the street life, many people sitting outside on their steps or in windows, chatting with their neighbors. Once we arrived to the top of the hill, the church was already closed but we were just in time to see the sunset over Ouro Preto.
Then there was the long walk back down the hill.
It was getting dark already and we decide to stop off for a drink.
Here’s a great 360° view of Ouro Preto I came across online:
Saturday, August 23, 2014
How incredible it is to find myself within a group of like minded people, while we don’t share a common language, we do share a number of common interests and threads.
Animar – to animate, to give life
I’m continually impressed by these women and the way they incorporate research into their work.
Language – the importance of being able to communicate with others.
Maria Elena is a storyteller.
Fantasmas – ghosts – memories that haunt one, unsettled matters, unfinished business
Photography as meditation.
Video as dance.
Photo and video is a return to the past – editing is reliving past moments.
I’m not even sure where to begin at the moment…but as soon as we were back outside again I felt inspired…to take photographs and to make things happen but also to get back to “making work” (sounds strange) to processing all of the material collected to date. There’s always something – sit back relax and let things happen.