Amilcar Packer tells the story of Como_clube in Sao Paulo, a mutant platform for artistic creation and an environment of undisciplined living which favors free movement between genres, generations, political and socioeconomic situations, fostering performance-related productions.
COMO. Como? Como. Como_clube
For at least the last year and a half, Facebook timelines, tweeter feeds, newspapers, blogs, journals, TV channels, radios, people in the street, in bars, buses, in the elevator, in the subway, in bed–everything concerning Brazil has been about conjectural political analyses under dispute.
“We” celebrated that the demonstrations initiated by Movimento Passe Livre (MPL) for public -meaning free- urban transportation magnetized the whole country in June 2013 starting an irreversible process of “mass” politicization and libertarian experimentation. The experience of embodying the street also followed by violent police repression had the power to put in movement multiple processes of singularization and differentiation, which molecularized into different battlefronts. Paradoxical, antagonistic and heterogeneous collective and individual public experiences shared geographical place and timing, so that bodies, space and time could never remain the same. But now, on the 2nd May 2016, it seems that all these multiplicities have been forcedly crystallized in polarizations and macropolitical discussions on representative politics and corruption by a media and juridical manipulation and capture of narratives that has been mobilizing anger and frustration, converging to falsely legitimize the impeachment of democratically elected president Dilma Roussef by conservative and ultra right wing forces. Of course it’s less linear than that and one should also be aware that the governments of PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores / Labor Party) made alliances with dubious agents and sectors as well as removed itself from several historical fights like those for indigenous territories demarcation, against police violence, black genocide, feminicide. But, what we are facing now is the worst of the worst. It has been so violently absurd that it became a frequent joke to say that Brazilian politics is far more complex and full of surprises, therefore more interesting to follow than the TV series House of Cards. Unfortunately it is not a joke, as people’s lives and dreams are at stake, as well as traditional communities, territories, and ways of life. The fascist right-wing fold we are facing carries the colonialist, oligarchic, racist, moralistic and genocidal reality of Brazil, which has always been present and active in various degrees.
I am totally against any totalitarian, authoritarian, fascist, reactive, reactionary, racist, xenophobic, misogynic, homophobic, transphobic, right wing and conservative demonstration at any level. Still, it’s become increasingly urgent to understand why there has been such a lack of political imagination and experimentation within what we historically came and are used to call the“left”, or at least the institutionalized left. How has the global left become conservative and reactive, -even reactionary- as it has mostly fought to guarantee what has been achieved, adopting a defensive posture of protection and fear instead of assuming a continuous propositional engagement? Without disrespect of the social fights, and human rights that the left has fought for and won, I believe we must face the fact that what we have so far achieved has been very little in light of the last century’s global integration of capitalism. We have left what in the beginning of the 1990’s Gilles Deleuze was diagnosing as a “society of control” and are entering a different era adding new folds in the violent, repressive, subjugating and exploiting capitalistic systems.
So within this context it becomes even more relevant to talk about Como_clube. In my perspective Como was and in some level still is, a site for micropolitical experiences; a place for a politics of desire, which has a contagious and disseminating power for producing subjective displacement from transcendent values by mobilizing inventive vital forces. Como_clube can and should be seen as a precedent (there’s a few oasis in the desert), creating the possibility of opening gaps in space, time, and corporeal experience… It is a shrill burlesque scream for difference, a belief that experimental artistic practices still have the power to denaturalize, and de-territorialize the givens to produce other existential territories. Imagination is a performative activity–imaginaction–, meaning a political, clinical and (aesth)ethical intervention in the world.
To some extent, I was part of Como_clube but at the same time I wasn’t, so everything in the following lines is in between, at the borders and unclear. I will avoid describing specific activities and works developed in and by COMO as you will find at the end of the text links that can provide you with an extensive and detailed set of material, documentation, and information.
Suggested soundtracks during reading:
“Como eu, como você” – “Like me, like you” or “I eat, I eat you”. “Como” in Portuguese (also in Spanish) can mean “how?”, “what?”, “like” and “(I) eat”. These 4 meanings are key to understand the multilayered unstable radioactive subatomic system of Como_clube, which was initiated in 2011 by artist Thelma Bonavita in partnership with several artists, mostly coming from contemporary dance and performance. Como_clube had for more than 3 years as headquarter or clubhouse, the duplex flat number 905 at the 9th and 10th floor of Esther building (1938), one of the first modernist constructions of Brazil, located in front of Praça da República, downtown São Paulo. Como_clube, as many artist-running-space and artistic self-organized experimental collective initiatives has been functioning in different layers, speeds and fronts, with simultaneous private and public programs, from performance presentations, installations, talks, seminars, workshops, dinners, printed and online matter production, to study groups and residency programs. It has as well regularly collaborated with several practitioners active in different fields like for instance Karla Girotto, Peter Pál Pelbart, Gustavo Silvestre, Ad Ferreira, Sheila Ribeiro, Marie Ange Bordas, Wagner Schwartz and developed partnerships with artistic collectives like Post Spectacle and Agência Transitiva. Como_clube is not a group, neither a collective, it is a call for an open collectivity (collective+activity).
So, as a hybrid open affective constellation of people, COMO had to constantly think and shape its structure and functioning system to create new bodies in response to both the environment -understood as the city- and the socio-cultural and political context, new members and participants as well as by digesting the immanent values and needs that emerged from the produced practices and accumulated experiences. As a laboratory for young artists Como_clube functions as some kind of public test field, which is part of the “como=how” kernel, and commitment to process, experimental and research-based practices more than with finished, and stabilized objects to be exhibited, shown in the sense of becoming a show or a spectacle. It doesn’t matter what, whereas the “how” is developed and unfolded. The “how” composition of COMO is then an explicit ethical requirement to shape its system as an anarchic platform for ongoing collective development, discussion and presentation of individual and collective works and practices with no external or pre-defined limit of time or space. The works of COMO and its members would then spread from Esther building to exhibitions like the São Paulo Biennial of 2014 or to unexpected improvised street performances that had Praça da República as one of its main urban interlocutors (photo “Preta”). “Everywhere is my land,” as says the work of Brazilian visual artist Antonio Dias, a phrase that could also be seen as one of COMO’s mottos.
COMO functioned as well as a tropicalist electroclash anthropophagic cabaret, an informal experimental inexpensive restaurant and bar, a place for clubbing and hosting party people, a house both in the sense of a night-club and fashion “maison”, promoting performative and discursive practices, gender impersonating in an everyday basis with a lot of make up, body make up, and a looooooooooooooot of glitter; really a lot! Como_clube provided a permanent voguing-strike-the-pose state where wigs were literally flying (by the means of Helium gas ballons) and where anything could be used by anyone. So the inherited idea of anthropophagy from 1928 Oswald de Andrade’s “Manifesto antropófago” was inherent in COMO’s imagination and strategies as it was constantly evoking appropriation as critical assimilation and embodiment as empowerment. A different set of tools for a different productive copy-paste, sampling and mixing system in order to dissolve the idea of original and copy as one of the main colonialist subjugation logics. The constant defy was to sustain instability and uncertainty as part of the process of liberation and vitality.
The titles given by COMO members to programs, activities and works can also show a little of its intelligent debauchery, mockery and performativity: Espancamento (Spanking), Sistema performativo de estudo de tradução (Performative system for study of translation), Indumentária Popular Cut and Paste (Popular Copy Paste Dressing), Ping-Pong relacional (Relational Ping-pong), Jardim Equatorial (Equatorial Garden), Como_no_como (How at how, or I eat at I eat, or I eat in how), Balada filosófica (Philosofical ballad), Come Queer, Frágil (Fragile), Como_clube vai para o buraco (Como_clube goes to the hole), Como_bazar Baixa costura (Low couture bazaar), Transclubecomoagente (Transclublikeus), Como sair do armário (How to get out of the closet), Fashion in Erection: the Final One: Apartment Beach!, Atendimento esotérico (Esoteric service), Como colinho gera colinho (How a little lap entails a little lap), Fervo (Boil), Le ping-pong d’amour. Also, in 2012, Como released as Indiegentes (indie+gente or indie people) a record without ever recording a single song, having only music titles and its lyrics, covers and graphic material.
During a couple of years, COMO studied and planned, with the help of a lawyer, to become Como_Igreja (Como_church) as in Brazil religious associations, churches and temples are exempted from paying taxes and have a specific range of possibilities to find financing. “Teologia dos editais: Encaixotando Helena” (Teology of open calls: boxing Helena) was one of the initiatives COMO performed within the context of a bigger program: COMO emancipado: a prática de viver sem edital (Como emancipated: the practice of living without open calls) for which Como_club decided not to apply to any kind of open call and developed a series of strategies to finance its activities from opening a club membership, asking for donations of whatever could de used, sold or eaten. So it is not only about “When attitudes become form” but also about when they become fun, as joy, delight, pleasure, happiness, and gaiety are certainly main tactics for resistance and emancipatory practices.
In La société contre l’état, Pierre Clastres (1974) describes the specificity of the functioning systems and political organization in most Amerindigenous societies, specifically their distaste for any centralization of (political) power and decision, their disgust for the idea of command and obedience, their execration for Unitarian principles and their abomination for the State. Clastres also explains that leadership is a contextual, provisional and relational position mostly for the achievement of a specific function or goal and the leader is the one in the communities which has more responsibilities and duties over its members and never the one with more power or privileges. It is interesting to understand and therefore also to reinforce that Amerindigenous societies didn’t lack or surpress states, that they are not at a primitive nor future social and political stage in a supposed linear teleological history of the development of human societies. The form of the state is a permanent latent capturing lurking form always waiting for some kind of gap or breach to install itself and to abduct narratives and desires as a Unitarian and centralizing funnel. Thus, they/we should constantly repel the state in order not to dead-end in a nation-state, in a vicious state of State.
Como_clube has a kind of counter-state effect in its constant search for establishing self-organized autonomy and even chaotic and anarchic decentralized functioning systems. Elaborating choreographic cleaning and infrastructure maintenance and inventive financing is a structuring performance with conceptual implications. By the end of 2014, COMO had to leave the 905 duplex flat and celebrated its burial at “Buraco da minhoca” (Hole of the worm) under a viaduct in downtown São Paulo, which was used for a couple of years as a place for parties, demonstrations, film projections, public classes. By that time, many of its members had moved from Brazil, thus radicalizing COMO’s molecularization and putting the club in a stand-by, ashes-to-ashes mode. But you never know when or where COMO will appear next time; maybe it is already doing something in another galaxy or parallel universe, multiverse, preparing its phoenix return. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter because paraphrasing the anthropologist: you can leave COMO but COMO will never leave you.
Como is love and hate,
but mostly everything in between,
beyond, above and over…
Como is an invitation.
>> More info and useful links: