Fifth in a series of conversational nuggets about the transformation of cultural life in the marvelous city.
Sculptor (and blogger) Raul Mourão has been working with grilles since the late 80s. Not the barbecue kind, but the sort he saw taking over Rio de Janeiro’s every portal and orifice, as residents put up bars to protect themselves against rising crime.
“I thought we were going to have to live with the drug traffic and the paramilitary gangs forever. I’ve always lived in Rio, I’ve always loved it,” he says, confessing that he has considered moving, “for five minutes”.
“São Paulo is a very interesting city,” he adds. “Most of my collectors are there, the museums. Here in Rio the scene is more fragile. The galleries are smaller.”
After Mourão had been working with the grilles for about twenty years, the Intrépida Trupe acrobatics company asked him in 2009 if they could use his sculptures onstage. Mourão was against the idea; he feared the sharp edges would hurt the dancers, that the soldering wouldn’t take their weight.
Maybe the dancers sensed something that escaped the artist. They went to his studio and played with the sculptures. At a rehearsal that Mourão attended, a performer put one sculpture on top of another and gave it a push. It swung until the momentum gave out.
“Since then, I stopped working with the grilles and have been doing kinetic work,” Mourão explains to a couple of visitors in his studio. “Before, I wanted to send a message. Now, it’s anti-conceptual, there’s no idea behind what I do.” Getting up from his chair, he walks around and one by one taps into motion about eight sets of raw welded iron rods hanging on the walls, or placed on the floor.
The first set brings to mind a grandfather clock; another, a swinging penis. A third is a house with a roof that rocks. Others are simply playful geometrics.
Mourão’s move from stasis to kinesis took place just as Rio was starting to transform. “The work gained beauty, lightness, interactivity, that coincided with the moment when grilles began to disappear,” he happily notes.
There are still a lot of grilles in Rio. But last August the city removed the iron fencing around the downtown Tiradentes Square, partly to give courage to those who would venture to do the same. With a more artistic cast, the square is becoming an extension of the reinvigorated Lapa neighborhood. In March, Columbia University opened an urban research laboratory there.
Another timely phenomenon, Mourão notes, was the animated movie Rio. “That was conceived of six to eight years ago,” he says. “It premiered at the moment the city was turning around. Rio is as important as the Olympics and the World Cup. It’s among the ten top-selling DVDs for children ages five to ten. In five years, they’ll be ten or fifteen years old, and will be seeing the Olympics in a real city that they’ve only ever seen in a cartoon.”
Last month Rio de Janeiro hosted a new contemporary art show on the refitted Mauá dock, with 28 foreign exhibitors out of a total 77. Curators Elisangela Valadares and Brenda Valansi Osorio teamed up with business pros Luiz Calainho and Alexandre Accioly, and received a reported US$ 600,000 equivalent investment from city hall, plus a reported almost US$ 3 million equivalent in private funding for the project. Even though ArtRio‘s four days competed with a giant (and equally successful) book fair at the other end of the city, it was a stunning success.
“The official estimate is that it sold three times (US$ 70 million equivalent) what the São Paulo art fair last sold,” says Mourão. The organizers reportedly expected 20,000 visitors– and got 46,000. “The fair can encourage new collections, get young people , people who’ve never bought anything, to buy art,” says Mourão, explaining that art fairs remove barriers usually posed by the more formal museums and galleries.
Not satisfied with the movement of cash towards art nor with the novelty of movement in his Lapa studio, Mourão is propelling himself to places and partnerships not usually associated with contemporary art or artists. In November, he’ll participate in the group show Travessias in an abandoned warehouse in the Complexo da Maré set of favelas, along with Luiz Zerbini, Lucia Koch, Marcelo Cidade, and Marcos Chaves, among others. The show is curated by Daniela Labra, Frederico Coelho and Luisa Duarte. Geographer Jailson de Souza, creator of the Complexo da Maré-based Observatório de Favelas NGO, is coordinating the show.
“We’re moving around more. I see Rio as one of the world’s principal cities in the future,” Mourão exults. “Culture can be a gigantic tool for transformation.”
In Portuguese, the word for change is the same as the word for move, mudar. The city that was home to composers Noel Rosa and Tom Jobim, poet Carlos Drummond, film director Glauber Rocha, and writers Machado de Assis and Nelson Rodrigues, as well as the birthplace of samba, choro, bossa nova, architectural innovation and so much more is… mudando, and the time has come to make the most of what it has to offer, says Mourão, while his sculptures swing and swing and swing.