Reading time: 3 minutes
Fundação Iberê Camargo, Porto Alegre, Brazil
September 30, 2017 – February 4, 2018
Possibly the most explosive of movements in Brazilian culture, Tropicalism is now five decades old since its first signs of life in 1967. The much talked about anniversary of the movement, however, imposes the urgency of a critical revision that surpasses any other fleeting impulse for mere celebrations. Half a century after its release, the album Tropicália or Panis et Circencis – conceived from the fusion of the baianos (in the figure of Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil et al.) and of the São Paulo group Os Mutantes – still collects powerful questions to help understand Brazilian culture now and then. Among rich allegories in discrepant images, dissonant chords and experimental radicalism, the work demands that new glances be thrown upon itself in an attempt to read the country in the light of the present troubled time.
In Theses on the Philosophy of History, from 1942, Walter Benjamin states that “historically articulating the past does not mean knowing it ‘as it actually was.’ It means appropriating a memory as it flashes in the moment of danger.” Relentless and idealized, the nostalgic look may run the risk of passing a steamroller in history and limiting the possibilities of reviewing a cultural movement or even an artistic work.
The present exhibition chooses as a starting point the enigma proposed by Caetano in Baby, the seventh track of the album. It is the sweetness of Gal’s voice, the emblematic feminine figure of Tropicália, who warns her interlocutor: “I don’t know, everything goes blue with me / everything goes fine with you / we live in the best city of South America.” Seen up close, the verse designs a dilemma never solved by the author himself, since the city is never properly defined, explicited. A brief investigation of historical facts – Caetano lived in São Paulo when he wrote the song – leads us to believe that, in fact, the utopian city mentioned in the verse at the time would be São Paulo, due to its cosmopolitan air and its port of gigantic metropolis. An exercise in informal speculation though, and a kind of common sense spread throughout the decades, leads us to agree that Rio de Janeiro is such the city proposed by the baiano composer. No need to resort to scientific sources to support such an argument – fact is that the carioca does not hesitate to sing and cheer Baby as if carrying the full conviction that the song speaks about his city, the seaside resort of wonderful contradictions, while the rest of the whole country still refers to Rio as the eternal marvelous city.
The present works in We live in the best city of South America elect Rio de Janeiro as the utopian metropolis quoted by Veloso and weave among themselves a speculative network on the controversial hypothesis. To excavate the intricacies of the unstoppably ambitious city projects that attempted to elevate Rio to the metropolis of the tropics proves to be one very curious exercise. A territory squeezed between the mountains and the sea, the balneary has always suffered from the voracious desire for destruction of modern man – from the infamous “kick-down” of Mayor Pereira Passos in the early twentieth century, through the frustrated attempt to integrate the urban fabric in the architectural delirium of Le Corbusier in the 1920s, materialized in the modernist aspiration to tame the ocean with the Flamengo embankment undertaken by Carlos Lacerda in the 1960s. And it is precisely with the modern man that Baby’s voice seeks interlocution. The problematic tropical modernity and its murky social utopias are at the heart of what Baby “needs to know”.
In the face of empty public coffers, in absolute bankruptcy, Rio de Janeiro, 2017, is a city (and a state) where there is no way of ignoring the debacle of the idea of a supposed racial democracy, of an idyllic land blessed by Utopia. Rio de Janeiro, forever a city-project, and like any project, always on the verge of a collapse.
Curated by Bernardo José de Souza and Victor Gorgulho