Shes explored cities around the world, and now the Italian artist has cast her eye on the Minhoco, a controversial badge of a splendidly untidy megalopolis
In the center of the largest city in Latin America, amid a woodland of closely packed towers, snakes an elevated road of more than three kilometers, slicing from east to west. During the week the traffic rumbles past apartment blocks, and automobiles swing by the upper floors so closely that residents can almost touch them as they whip past or, more frequently, as they idle in So Paulos notorious traffic. In the evenings and on Sundays, when its closed to vehicles, paulistanos descend on the elevated road for cycling, walking, or partying. What was once a liability for the citys development has now been reclaimed; what was once a scar is now almost beautiful.
This is the Minhoco, or giant earthworm: an ungainly, controversial, but sometimes treasured insignium of this splendidly untidy megalopolis of 11 million. And the highway growl in the shadows of this years So Paulo Biennial, the regions most important contemporary art exhibition, which opened last week amid political protests. The short movie Disseminate and Hold, by the artist Rosa Barba, introduces into Oscar Niemeyers serene white pavilion the everyday disorder of the elevated highway, backed by a charging, drum-heavy rating by the German-Brazilian group Black Manual. Its one of the finest works in the exhibition, and it subtly connects Brazils ambitious architectural past to its troubled political present.
Im always attracted by these non-pretty, functional places, the Italian artist tells me when we gratify for a drinking at a rooftop hotel bar whose privileged view of the sprawling city offers an apt backdrop. And Brazil was always a rich place of history for me. The encounter with Brazil came through readings, through Vilm Flussers history here, but also through the architecture. When I came here last year for research, I strolled over the Minhoco after visiting the Copan house a worn, serpentine tower designed by Niemeyer in 1966, closely hemmed in by the road and the surround houses. I was so impressed how, in one second, when the traffic wasnt allowed to enter anymore, the people instantly took it over.
The Minhoco was completed in 1969, at the height of Brazils military totalitarianism.( This past June, it was officially renamed the Elevado Presidente Joo Goulart, in tribute to the Brazilian chairman who was ousted by a military junta in 1964.) If your visions of Brazil tend more to the beaches of Rio or the moonscapes of Braslia, Barbas film will introduce you to a rougher, more delirious urbanism. Shooting on foot or from the back of a vehicle, Barba pans across Brutalist towers, filthy ribbon windows, demotic apartments festooned with graffiti. And yet its messy, unpredictable character is what builds So Paulo so intoxicating: this is a city where spaces fold into one another and lives collide.
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