Read the conversation between Luiz Camillo Osorio, PIPA Institute’s curator, and Coletivo Coletores, one of the Awarded artists of PIPA Prize 2022:
1 – I would like to start by asking about your background: yours and the Coletivo Coletores’. Did it start as an art collective or as political and cultural activism? Are these things together in your work?
We started Coletores in 2008 on the outskirts of the East Zone of the city of São Paulo, at university, we were in the same class of the Visual Arts undergraduate program. We started working together in a group activity when we took an Art History class, and the name “Coletores” came from one of the researches we made on nomadic peoples, whose main characteristics were gathering, bricolage, community as well as the absence of fixed residence. Since our first project, our focus has been on the discussion of territory, occupying the city, and the right to the city as well as the lack of cultural institutions and the lack of investment in people and stories stemming from the outskirts. So our work has always had a political and sociocultural nature. At the same time, we began our first project linked to educational art, working as teachers at public schools in the state of São Paulo and developing artistic projects through open and temporary art studios, carrying out projects through public notices, Sesc non-profit institution, museums and collaborations with NGOs, collectives, and other artists.
We graduated from university in 2010 and in 2011 we went to a postgraduate course in Design and Humanity together, at FAU-USP. In 2019, Toni Baptiste got his master’s degree in Information Science from ECA-USP, conducting researches linked to art, technology, and the city in connection with rebellious cultural movements.
As we have no physical space to produce, the collaborative nature of our production is constantly changing, always seeking to balance our values and the demands from the spaces which welcomed us, generating some kind of social sculpture (close to Beuys’ research) as well as relational artistic projects (as in Nicolas Bourriaud). In this way, art, politics, education, and technology became a distinctive part of our nature throughout our 14 years of production. This has resulted in the oddest collaborations. From carrying out a traveling art studio to the professional education of teenagers and young people, or the occupation of wifi squares in the city of São Paulo, or partnering up with the Secretariat of Health to discuss measures against COVID-19, and even developing a HUB that projected the work of over 20 Black and Indigenous artists from all over Brazil, becoming one of the biggest antiracist actions in the country.
2 – How did the East Zone community you came from respond to the Coletivo Coletores project? I have read a comparison you made between today’s collectives coming from the outskirts and the parties your parents’ generation used to go to in the 1960s and 1970s – parties that were not only leisure but also a moment to bring the community together in a joint effort as mutual-aid groups, to discuss the implementation of a bus line in the community, etc. What is this articulation like, connecting art, party, engagement, and community?
We come from neighborhoods located on the border of São Paulo’s East Zone, Toni is from São Mateus, which borders on Santo André, and Flávio is from São Miguel Paulista, which borders on Guarulhos. We studied in Itaquera, a borough located halfway from our neighborhoods. In the beginning, we started by articulating with other collectives and events near these areas, and little by little we moved towards downtown and eventually got to Penha.
From our point of view, those who were brought up in the outskirts already have a community perspective in their DNA, either implicitly or explicitly, either because many of them have large families and you have to learn to live together and share within your own home or because of daily working-class issues, the street markets, the parties, the street soccer, the “rodas de samba” (informal gatherings of samba musicians), the capoeira circles, the religiosity or the urban cultures such as Grafitti, Skating, Soundsystem, the Hip Hop movement, Funk and, more recently, the Ballroom community. These are some examples of group activities that historically fight, in their own way, for the right to exist and the right to the city. Through a process that consisted in researching and listening to older and more experienced people, we gradually understood that our current, contemporary organizations are the continuity of ancestral movements, which come from Indigenous peoples from before the invasion, including quilombos, terreiros, and, eventually, the movements we have today. It was this acknowledgment that made us realize that our work would only mean something if we embraced the discussion about memory in our production, specially memories that were erased from history, that prevent us from connecting directly to our ancestors.
3 – From what I have seen, the collective came from the idea of thinking the city as a platform for artistic actions. Thinking collectively and acting collaboratively. What is this process like? How do you choose a new intervention space or territory? In each case, I suppose, with new partners and collaborators.
We do have some very particular ways and whims of production. We like to walk around the city, ask about the history of places; when we partner up with an artist or institution, we always like to understand the context of the territory. After that, we design maps/diagrams in our minds or in drawings, about which we always talk and look for things in common. A characteristic we like to approach in the places where we perform our interventions is the discussion about erasure. This is a priority in what we do because one of the elements of our action is the activation or resignification of these places. And to each place or action, we come up with different contexts, which can communicate to each other though. For example, we have recently worked on a project to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the São Miguel Paulista chapel, which has mural paintings made by Indigenous people. We have also recently performed an intervention to debate Paissandu Black men’s church. Both churches have been through historical erasure and reconstruction processes, and both are connected to historically marginalized and persecuted peoples.
4 – You also say that the production happens on the move, especially in the outskirts. Your action is more focused on the designing of processes, thinking the city as a flow crossed by conflicts to be led and transformed. I.e., it is an idea of public art that does not reproduce the monumental logic, creating some kind of public performativity. Does this make sense?
That is exactly what we do, we call it projective video performance. We seek to act on spaces with different audiences and contexts, we understand that art is to everyone, so we always try to find a way to be in public or to resignify spaces so that the art-audience relation happens, it doesn’t matter whether it is a cycle of performances in a gallery, a museum, a party, a garage, a school, a cultural center or even a monument. The projective video performance happens when we have authorization to be in that place and we can think much more deeply about the potential relations of our work. We develop a video project, sometimes with a synchronized sound, thinking about each element of the space, designing an equation with: space + audience x time / content. This is what allows us to design our actions and we try to extend this to other projects we are invited to as artists, collaborators, or advisors.
5 – The use of technological resources is an essential part of the Coletivo actions. Has it always been this way? Can you talk a little bit about the digital graffiti project? How does it work?
The use of technological resources is woven into our production in different moments, but we can surely say it is not the essential part of our actions as most of them can also be performed in other ways. What happens is that our research also discusses the uses of technologies in the cities, so using these resources allows us to access places and reflect on our world through a praxis that is only possible by those who use them. Our origin is in the outskirts of São Paulo and even with technological delays and apartheids, there are very particular uses of these technologies by those who come from this reality, and that is what interests us. We started using technological resources, for example, in a context in which technology allowed us to plan some kind of hacking of artistic and cultural circles, opening ways for us to use other elements and artistic languages of our production. If we compare, we will see that in our production, history, philosophy, drawing, or architecture play a much bigger role than the use of technological means. We come from a design tradition in which those who create need to follow all the steps of a project, we have embraced this into our art-making process and, that way, we seek to understand whether technology has a place in a given process.
This is what happens in “pixo digital” [digital graffiti]. We learned from the streets before learning from the academia, through graffiti (which is considered illegal) we learned ways of looking at, hacking, and occupying the city. At the same time, we have developed ways of making our actions visible in the urban space. Traditional graffiti is basically paint, a medium, and the will to occupy a space, it is an ephemeral art form. What we do with the digital means is tensioning these possibilities, transforming an already ephemeral thing into something even more ephemeral, bringing graffiti closer to performance or even to site specific. If graffiti is static, we can give it movement through the digital format, and since we do it without any authorization, but we are working with light, this does not constitute an environmental crime, as is considered traditional graffiti. This way, it allows a more fluid action through different territories.
6 – For you, whose actions take place out in the streets, what was this pandemic period like? Could you migrate and act in the online world?
It was something really hard for us, firstly due to the loss of very dear people to COVID-19. At the same time, it was complicated because of the lack of resources, given that the main Brazilian cultural institutions didn’t manage to include in their emergency public notices a special focus on the outskirts and places out of the main circles. It was a process of going back to our roots and performing guerrilla actions without any earnings, focusing on projecting or producing online content to inform people about safety measures related to COVID-19 prevention. During this time, the Secretariat of Culture of the City of São Paulo saw our work and reached out so we could extend our health-related actions to other outskirt areas besides the East Zone (where we live). Our actions reached 5 greater areas of São Paulo, interposing dorm towns, hospitals, and cultural centers. This project had a huge repercussion, which led us to another very important project called “Voices against racism”, curated by Hélio Menezes. In this project, we planned an itinerary that performed artistic interventions in São Paulo city, projecting Black and Indigenous artists’ works. It was quite a cool action, and we should also talk about our partnership with Denilson Baniwa, called “Brasil terra indígena” [Brazil, an Indigenous land], which was performed at the Bandeiras Monument. In a nutshell, the beginning of the pandemic was really hard, and, little by little, the nature of our art allowed us to not only keep creating but also to expand how we connected and produced with other artists or institutions.
7 – What has the circulation in art institutions been like? What was it like to receive the PIPA Prize? What are the other plans and new projects of Coletivo Coletores?
The last 4 years have been quite interesting to us, we have expanded the creation of our projects and collaborations with artists, collectives, independent cultural spaces, and more traditional art institutions. We feel that the spaces are more open to other ways of thinking and making art. We had the honor of participating in the 2018 International Biennale of Contemporary Art of Dakar, we have just participated in the International Architecture Biennale of São Paulo, we have developed collaborative projects with Instituto Moreira Salles in São Paulo, with the Museum of the Portuguese Language and now also with the Museu das Favelas. Meanwhile, we have been interviewed by big media outlets specialized in art and architecture, Arte1 channel, Contemporary & magazine, Bravo! Magazine, Arte Brasileiros are some of the outlets we have talked to over the last 2 years. So, when we won the PIPA Prize, we felt like it was the completion of a 15-year cycle of work and, at the same time, something that can pave the way for other circles, spaces, artists, and institutions to know our work. We are currently developing an animated short film, a musical album with the soundtracks of all our performances, and a book about our 15-year journey. At the same time, we are also going deeper in our research about some topics related to memory erasure.