a documentary directed by Marcelo Mesquita and Guilherme Valiengo
about São Paulo’s street art and artists, particularly Os Gêmeos, Nunca and Nina
a piece I've written for Pull Focus, a cool Vancouver organization that happens to be founded and run by a friend of mine.
Art is communication, art is connection, art is even war. In the case of São Paulo, Brazil’s sprawling grey city, and in the case of the documentary Grey City about some of São Paulo’s artists, the terrain for this art is the street, more precisely the walls in the street.
In the 1980s, São Paulo took the world stage as the epicenter for urban visual street art known as pixo — graffiti and tagging. Its antecedents, Pixação, “wall writings", originated in São Paulo in the 1940s and 50s when citizens painted political statements in tar on walls in response to political slogans painted by political parties. Pixo’s evolution through to today has maintained that spirit of dialogue and defiance—a kind of urban calligraphy where some of São Paulo’s most marginalized endeavour to tag as high as they can, in as many public places as possible, incontrovertibly asserting their existence as a form of challenge to the city’s privileged who consider pixo ugly, ignorant, and illegal, much in the way they view the pichadores (the pixo makers) themselves.
The 80s re-emergence of pixo was an organic extension of other street art forms like hip hop and break-dancing. Such was the route for Os Gêmeos, the twin brother graffiti team featured in Grey City. With the same nimbleness of their breakdancing, identical brothers Otavio and Gustavo moved toward paint, starting first with pixo and then expanding their work into more pictoral murals. Today, their early pixo style can still be found within their murals, and the impetus to connect and converse with their city is at its heart.
Os Gemêos is out to communicate, to engage, and to contribute something positive for the public good—these are their guides. Producing their work during the day is critical to the process and to their pieces: how else will they know what’s going on, what they need to say, and to whom? How else will they connect directly with people and engage in real time? That’s how they see it. And what they encounter speaks back to them through the smiles and joy returned by passersby—this enthusiastic feedback loop affirming for them that they’ve honoured their vocation and their destiny.
Graffiti, however, also operates within the framework of the city’s regulatory, mercantile and political interests. So the war this artform engages in is often with the clean up crews contracted by City Hall to paint over the murals not deemed to be “artistic”—so, armed with grey paint, a subjective and anonymous army disappears the art, randomly and arbitrarily. However, in a metropolis of almost 20M people that sprawls across almost 8,000 square kilometres (the largest city of the Americas), the effectiveness of the clean up efforts doesn’t really keep pace with the artists, and so a kind of dialogue reverberates between leagues of creative resistance and the amorphous apparatus mobilized to squelch it.
This is where the graffiti movement truly embodies its role as a public art. No one possesses it, directly challenging the fundamentals of capitalism, and no one really controls it either, though many try and wish they could. In the case of Os Gemêos, their rigorous code of conduct keeps their work “clean”, in the sense that their concern with public good means shunning any form of negative messaging, and their tireless commitment to producing such work, in proliferation, eventually attracted international attention, rendering their colourful contribution to the city’s walls more and more challenging to object to.
Os Gemêos’ progressive rise to worldwide acclaim has ironically jettisoned their work to the reaches of national sanction too: they were commissioned to tag the plane of Brazil’s national football team competing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Perhaps, though, this is a most apt illustration of remaining true to the artists’ animating values—speaking truth to power—in this case attaining lift off with jet engines; though, told not to paint the jet’s engines covers, they did it anyway, ever true to another animating force of the grafiteiro, tagging where authorities don’t want you to. Perhaps not quite biting the hand that feeds them, we could fairly say that Os Gemêos is willing to paint it.
Here in our own grey city, Vancouver is now home to the latest Os Gemêos piece, Giants, thanks to Vancouver Biennale and their partnership with Ocean Cement on Granville Island.
Giants is an ongoing Os Gemêos project, adding Canada to the Giants growing international family of Greece, USA, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Brazil and England.
As Os Gemêos believes, “Every city needs art and art has to be in the middle of the people”, so Vancouver now has art, in the middle of the city, and this art happens to be a kind of people in its own right—Giants—an excellent symbol of art’s enduring heart, which is 3 dimensional, multiple, central, colourful, and gigantic.
Here's the film trailer .....
my thoughts on boyhood (the film) by Richard Linklater
Making anything takes time—making something with your hands, making a decision, an observation, a change—it takes time to do, and it also takes time away to reflect. The leisure of allowing time’s force to bear itself upon one’s work is seldom afforded, especially in the case of film. Michael Apted’s Up series is based in the passage of time, but sequentially, across 8 discreet segments that express the 49 years it so far encompasses. Boyhood gives us 12 years, but all within one piece.
So, what we see, Boyhood’s narrative conceit at first reading, is 12 years in the life of a boy, Mason, from 6 to 18, following with him through his own becoming. And it’s true, we do see this. What we also see though, when the screen drops dark and we walk away, is the work of an artist bringing to bear the inimitable insights that only time grants, when invited to.
Boyhood is infused with love and tenderness, cutting us all some slack about what’s imperfect and misguided in the shambolic jumble that is being alive and living a life. In Boyhood, people restrain themselves, without withholding; not settling for too little, yet accepting each other’s limitations because each seems to be aware that they too have their own.
Everything is mundane and anodyne, yet it’s all, also, potent and consequential. Like the fado singer who wails into words the deepest mysteries of what it means to live, Linklater, the mercifully milder balladeer, reminds us about the bittersweet truth that all is finite, and yet, splendidly, as Mason begins to comprehend, all we ever have is now. So use it well.
Linklater does—he uses time to tell this story, longitudinally checking in with now, twelve times. It’s across the passage of time, and through Mason’s growing, that we understand the ripening of self-knowledge and world wisdom; that, in the process of maturation and becoming, there’s no short cut. Time is a constant, and while we’re a part of it, the only way forward is through. So, what’s gained while we witness Mason feeling his way into his life and into his own becoming, is really our own. Witnessing the wilderness of Mason’s intimacies, we know our own; but we’re not on our own, alone, Linklater seems to say. Somehow, we’re all with Linklater, the film’s ultimate witness, a man who seems to have deliberately structured this work to document his own growth, looking back while casting forward from here, and what he sees and learns seems to lay perfectly over, or become embedded within, the gaze of a growing boy. The parallel lives of these two separate people are shared, and the continuity between them reaches across time and the screen to join with all of us.
In Boyhood, Linklater captures and conveys his own maturation as a man, exploring his own understanding of (his) life, and his own maturation as an artist, sorting, still, through his creative cosmos for what matters. And what he seems to be discovering is that these two things cohere: the artist and the man are one; the boy and the man are one; the maker and the witness are one—there is seamlessness between who we are and what we do, or there should be, or can be. And that’s what we can hope for, reach for, and make for ourselves.
We may all be just winging it, as Mason’s father confirms to his son, but what we do matters, and it matters most, Linklater is saying, to ourselves as much in our solitude as in our connections. At some point you’re no longer growing up, you’re aging, but no one can pinpoint that moment exactly, so take care, pay attention, notice the flow of the minutiae, cut a little slack, know that it matters, and take the time to make it so.
So, I broke more rules last night, and was even better at it 2nd time 'round.
I saw Frances Ha, in a bone fide movie theatre, and treated myself to a coke and popcorn. I then meandered home along the seawall on South False Creek.
At Spyglass ferry dock, I came across one of the public pianos, and a young man was playing the entire soundtrack from Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, barefoot. I sat on a bench and listened for a while, watching a few skiffs skim across the creek dodging sailboat squats.
Further on, I bought a cup of coconut ice cream and continued meandering. Close to home I jumped in a car2go because I was tired, and was then completely enchanted by a song on CBC's The Signal, so much so that I sat in the parked car to hear the song finish.
Le Fabuleux Hier Soir de Zoe
Here's that Signal song, inexplicably called Obvious Bicycle, which is a great title. The band is Vampire Weekend.
France Ha, by the way, is great. I think it's the most accomplished film by Noah Baumbach so far. Co-written with Greta Gerwig, the dialogue resonates and elucidates, even for those of us past our 20s. And Gerwig's Frances finely conveys the complexity of drifting when it gets away from us, and how a returning to self can be as light and gradual as the initial cutting loose. Sometimes without any one particular, discernible moment, or gesture, or decision to do so, we come back, very much in the way we drifted off - an accumulation, through time, composed of circumstances and gestures and decisions, none of which mounts to enough on its own. It calls to mind a poem I wrote about a boyfriend I once had, D:
to drift is not to flow
to rock is not to roll
to want is not to will
What rules were broken?
Not so much rules as my practice of living on a very modest budget. So I splurged, intentionally. I took myself out, with a promise to do so free of worry and regret.
Frances Ha went to Paris for a weekend. I went to the movies.