Tamar Guimarães – Canoas


The short movie “Canoas” shot on 16mm film by Tamar Guimarães commissioned for the Bienal de São Paulo in 2010, is titled after “Casa das Canoas”, the house built by Oscar Niemeyer in the early 50s for himself and his family in the Atlantic forest surrounding Rio de Janeiro. In 1956, in that curvaceous and very beautiful house, or perhaps in its surroundings, the new-elected president Juscelino Kubitscheck shared with the architect his grand political plan of building Brasilia. We can imagine Kubitscheck saying “Oscar, this time we will construct the capital of Brasil” *, alluding to the fact that the city should be risen miraculously, in four years, far from the old coastline urbanized by European colonialism.
Brasilia is a dream grown out of a necessity to integrate the northern inhospitable regions never touched by progress in the path of urbanization, industrialization, education – in a word, the modernization path that the president had in mind for a country that he actually would only govern for a few years. Kubitscheck held power until 1960, then his adversaries accused him of corruption and of letting public debit grow to the excess. In 1964 the former president abandoned politics and in 1976 died during a car accident, the causes of which were never completely cleared. Although a shadow is cast upon its circumstances: probably Brazilians loved him and in this sense he was also a bogus king, potentially to be burned at the end of the carnival to propitiate an always better future. Although the military regime had prohibited any manifestations, more than 100.000 people went to the airport of Brasilia to hail the last landing of Juscelino Kubitscheck, an event followed by three days of national mourning.
Brasilia was an ideal city informed by socialist utopia. In that city private property should not exist – all the apartments belonged to the government to be rented to the workers. Ministers and workers would share staircases and elevators as good neighbors do, because in Brasilia upper and lower class districts should not be. The city was planned by Lucio Costa, the buildings by Oscar Niemeyer and the landscape design by Roberto Burle Marx. Niemeyer always asserted that man is infinitely more important than architecture and that politics is an act of thinking arisen from the need to perceive one’s surroundings to become aware of what isn’t well but can be continually improved.
Later, from 1964 to 1985, the military dictatorship ruled in Brazil for at least 21 years.
In several projects developed by Tamar Guimarães as well as in some of her collaborations with Kasper
Akhøj, the projection of a splendid modernity entangled with “order and progress” takes a popular-metaphysical twist, which, departing from earthly modern cities, appear as celestial visions. We refer to the project “A Man Called Love” (2008) and namely, to the highly bureaucratic astral city described in “Our Home”, in 1944, by the psychic medium Francisco Candido Xavier. We also refer to “Capitain Gervasio’ s Family” and its evocation of an ectoplasmic map connecting twenty astral cities hovering above an extremely large expanse of Brazilian soil.
The map was drawn by a spiritist medium living in Palmelo – a city of about 2.000 people, half of which are psychic mediums. The mediums in Palmelo practice the “magnetic chain”, a method for approaching different forms of illness. “Captain Gervasio’ s Family” (2013) was a film installation commissioned for and presented at the 55th Venice Bienniale “Il palazzo enciclopedico” and at the 31st Bienal de São Paulo “How to Talk about Things that don’ t Exist”in 2014 – the first Bienal de São Paulo since Oscar Niemeyer passed away in 2012.
“Canoas” on the other hand, before it was a film it was a cocktail party – a little true and a little fake one, a little real and a little imaginary – just like all parties are in order to leave room for
a flow of energy to be called forth by the guests as they interact, emerging into the invention of the unexpected and the unknown. Not unlike a glorious body, less singular and more plural, shaped by the emotions and the feelings of the guests, illuminating the environment with a different constellation of meaning.
In an interview with Pablo León de la Barra published by Vdrome, Tamar Guimarães compares the party to a minor carnival, as if the particular and intensified situation of the party could act as some temporary disguise, freeing subjectivity in the name of a new configuration of each single self, more objective or at least more collective. About the meticulous research preliminary to all her projects, Guimarães’ references for “Canoas” are multiple and range from Lygia Clarck’s therapeutic concretism, to the cinema of Jacques Tati, to Gilberto Freyre.
The demystifying parallelism of Guimarães tends to take the Brazilian modernism back to the idea that architecture, i.e. the house, mirrors the social and political Brazilian organization of an exquisitely patriarchal order, according to the interpretation given by Freyre in his 1933 essay “Casa-Grande & Senzala”, translated in Italian as “Case e catapecchie, la decadenza del patriarcato rurale brasiliano e lo sviluppo della famiglia urbana” (Einaudi, 1972). In the same interview with León de la Barra, Guimarães speaks of a hypothesis suggesting that Brazilian modernism was nostalgic towards the sensuality of colonial architecture, housing everybody under its patriarch ruled wing-house, wives, sons and daughters, lovers and slaves. Tamar Guimarães’ intention is always ‘micrological’, namely, to spot an entire historical moment in a fragment, or to quote Walter Benjamin: the individual becomes the theatre of an objective process. Tamar Guimarães converts thinking in an image that has a relationship with memory, unhinging common assumptions to sketch a more emancipated picture of contemporary possibilities.
The cocktail party was conceived by Tamar Guimarães after a visit to ‘Casa das Canoas’ – a visit which allowed her to see a phantasmagoria of elegant ladies chatting by the swimming pool. The party was organized by mixing a few actors and actresses, together with friends and friends of friends who crashed the party, people active in the Brazilian cultural scene, some of which active even prior to the military dictatorship.
Many among the guests to the small “pre-party” at Casa das Canoas would, shortly afterwards, join the opening and the party which followed it at the Cicillo Matarrazzo pavillon in the Ibirapuera park at the Bienal de São Paulo for which the project “Canoas” was made in form of a party that would eventually become a movie. The hermeneutic practice adopted by Guimarães to free the sensual potential of Casa das Canoas, often used throughout the years as setting for fashion shoots, music videos, movies and tv soaps, seems to reveal that modernism in Brazil, maybe has peculiar modalities, which are in fact perhaps are not different elsewhere. Beyond the dream of country democratization, modernism remained a bourgeois bobble, access to which was granted to the working classes as servitude, a bit like the case of the farming estates of the great land owners that Freyre talked about.
At the end of the press release, we are remind of a funny anecdote told by a friend of ours whose colleague from Rio de Janeiro is keen on Brazilian modernism. While he was explaining to our friend how great Brazilian modernism was and how so-so Argentinian modernism was, he suddenly stopped talking and looking straight in his eyes he asked: “And you guys, did you keep up modernism in Europe?”.

*We like to imagine the mayor of Genoa Marco Doria, with the president of the harbour authority Luigi Merlo and the new president of the Region, going to the studio of Renzo Piano on the heights of Voltri, to the extreme west of Genoa, saying: “Renzo, Genoa will be born again by rediscovering the sea through the canal “Blueprint”, we will let you build it and together we will make water return to where it used to be. We promise that and maybe afterwards it will stop raining in absurd amounts and Genoa will no longer bring good luck to umbrella sellers”.