The SITU Project’s sixth edition features the participation of Chilean archaeologist-artist Pilar Quinteros. Curated by Bruno de Almeida, the project emerged with the objective of getting out of the conventional exhibition and research ways of thinking and discussing the urban space via site-specific works in dialogue with the modernist and brutalist architecture of the Galeria Leme building, designed by the architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha in partnership with Metro Arquitetos, and its surroundings.
Pilar Quinteros, born in 1988 in Santiago, has gained international recognition for her projects that start from the relationship with drawing to interventions in public spaces and landscapes. In 2014, the artist was awarded the Future Generation Prize of the Pinchuk Art Center and there she developed the work “Fuente de la amistad de los Pueblos,” which attracted the attention of the curator who decided to invite her to participate in this project.
To develop the work “Amigos do Movimento Perpétuo” (Friends of the Perpetual Movement), the Chilean spent a month in São Paulo researching the history of the gallery’s headquarters that had been demolished in 2011 and relocated to a new space a few meters away. The artist, who has been working with the concept of nomadic and displaced buildings since 2014, was intrigued by the fact that the new construction is a replica of the previous version also designed by Mendes da Rocha.
From a survey of such occurrences in the city of São Paulo, she came across an unlikely parallel between Estação da Luz and the Leme Gallery building. The Estação, as well as the gallery, also underwent a series of continuous modifications and reconstructions that began in 1867 and continued until a fire in 2015 resulted in its almost total destruction.
Another important parallel between the two constructions is that, although the Estação da Luz has an intrinsic connection with the city, it originally had its parts brought from the United Kingdom, France and Ireland—only its masonry was local—crossing the Atlantic Ocean by ship to reach São Paulo. This discovery eventually encouraged Quinteros to “clone” its clock tower to counter the Leme Gallery building.
We spoke with the curator Bruno de Almeida about the genesis and meaning of this work.
I would like to start literally from the beginning: how did the idea of the SITU project come about?
I already had a keen interest in developing a research that explored ways of thinking about the city and architecture through art, as well as getting out of the conventional exhibition space and creating a direct relationship with the public space. In this way I proposed to the Leme Gallery to make a new use of its external spaces and transform them into a base for a series of site-specific works that relate directly to the building and the adjacent public space. In addition to its formal features, the Galeria Leme building brings together a number of other ingredients that make SITU research more complex. It was projected by a central author of the school of architecture in São Paulo, the architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha (in collaboration with the Metro Architects) and its history of construction-destruction-displacement-reconstruction is, to a certain extent, representative of processes of urban evolution of São Paulo and of so many other great cities. In addition, I was also interested in creating a mechanism to give artists the possibility and support to create new and unseen works that would not take place within the “normal” structures of most exhibitions. All these interests and desires have been defining the structure and premises of the project as it is today.
Modernist and brutalist architecture continues to be a great reference for contemporary Brazilian artistic production. Did this influence your willingness to develop projects that explored this topic more deeply?
Modernist and brutalist architecture are very fertile ground and interest me greatly. However, SITU can be understood, a priori, as a project that explores a direct relationship between art and architecture, its scope is actually much broader. The great underlying question transcends architecture as a “theme” and approaches the city as a complex set of social, economic, political, cultural, historical, etc. interrelations which, although intangible, are responsible for the physical structuring of space that corresponds to them, and reciprocally, this constructed space ends up molding the society that gives it shape. Within this process the architecture appears as a key piece, but it is only one of many factors. So what I propose to all the artists that I invite to SITU is to think of the Leme gallery building as a catalyst for a broader reflection on the city. This approach has meant that all the works presented so far have gone much further than a formal conversation with the building or a direct response to themes solely related to modern and/or brutalist architecture.
Why the Chilean artist Pilar Quinteros for the sixth edition of the project?
I’ve follow with interest the work of Pilar even before starting to develop the SITU. I saw it for the first time in 2014, when she was named to the Future Generation Prize of the Pinchuk Art Center and there she developed a work that fascinated me a lot, called “Fuente de la amistad de los Pueblos” (https://www.youtube. With / watch? V = zZ5xBHk6JeE), and since then I have followed her projects. I decided to call her for SITU because her research fits well with the project premises. Her work is based on a very blunt and spontaneous reflection on the contexts in which she intervenes and constantly touches on issues related to the city and architecture. Pilar has also developed several projects for the public space and this made me think that SITU would be a good experience for her research. In addition, I was interested in bringing to the project an artist whose work had an aesthetic radically opposition to that of all previous projects. I really like the humor and the playful and unpretentious character of Pilar’s work, characteristics that did not appear so much in previous editions of the project. I was satisfied with the final work because it carries these characteristics and is both provocative and unlike any other, which I think is very positive.
The artist started from a research on replicated, displaced or nomadic buildings until she encountered an unexpected parallel between the Leme gallery and one of the main architectural symbols of the city of São Paulo, Estação da Luz. Can you tell me a bit about the methodology of her research here in São Paulo?
Pilar stayed in São Paulo for a month to produce the work but her research and our conversations began several months earlier. There were many email exchanges and conversations by Skype and also a lot of online research by Pilar. In our first conversation I told her the history of the gallery building and she was very interested in the whole process of construction, demolition, displacement and reconstruction of the current gallery as a replica of the previous one. Her interest in nomadic, displaced and reconstructed buildings has existed since at least 2014 when she developed the work “Chile Universal,” on the Chile Pavilion of the Universal Exhibition of Paris (1889), a building that was built in Paris, Chile, rebuilt, declared a national monument in 1986 and exists today as a museum. That is why she had already given much thought to this subject. In the survey for the SITU, Pilar made a survey of several buildings in the city of São Paulo that would suit this investigation and finally considered Estação da Luz, specifically its clock tower, as the most appropriate symbol to counter the building of the Galeria Leme. When she arrived in São Paulo the idea was already well defined and the month she was here was to build the piece and to make final decisions.
The subject of the displacement, brought by Quinteros, reminded me of an affirmation by the Argentine artist Pablo Siquier, whose central research is the structures of buildings. He told me during an interview that what we see in the main capitals of Latin America are often precarious and displaced copies of the French, Italian schools, and so on. If we take Brasilia and the main cities of southeastern Brazil, do you think this applies to our modernist architecture in relation to Le Corbusier and Bauhaus?
Le Corbusier and Bauhaus are extremely specific cases that have taken place in political, economic and social contexts, which are very special, and which, therefore, find very few parallels around the world. In any case, Brazilian architectural modernism, in its best examples, managed to give sensitive and intelligent answers to the natural, social and cultural specificities of Brazil, producing high-quality buildings and leaving behind an architectural legacy that is in no way behind Europe. But of course much of the built heritage of our cities are copies of other countries and cultures that fall short of their original models. I believe that it is the result of a strong colonial remnant, but also that it is not limited to that. Nor do I think that it is a process exclusive to Latin America—nowadays, for example, entire cities similar to the Parisian neighborhoods are built in China, with replicas of the Eiffel Tower, which in turn is also in Las Vegas. This is an issue that transcends the diffusion of specific “tastes” or architectural styles of reference and is fundamentally based on political and economic pacts and the urban vision promoted and produced by them.
Quinteros uses the symbolism of the clock tower, which runs through the history of world architecture as an element of domain and socio-spatial organization. Do you see a relationship between this symbol and the modernist architecture of Paulo Mendes da Rocha, and its heritage linked to the socioeconomic ideology that marked the 1960s here in Brazil?
I have a certain difficulty in drawing such a comprehensive relationship between this symbol and Paulo’s architecture, because both sides are very rich and full of meanings. As you said, the “clock tower” runs through the history of man and each type of tower represents a way of understanding the time-space relationship that is unique to each culture. Paulo’s architecture is fundamentally a humanistic, poetic and constructive inquiry of great wealth and with several layers of meaning. In the case of the work of Pilar Quinteros we have to take into consideration that the artist chose a very specific clock tower and not the “symbol” of the clock tower. On the other hand, the intervention is made on a very particular building/context and not on the “modernist architecture of Paulo Mendes da Rocha.” For SITU, Pilar chooses a clock tower of Estação da Luz, a very important building in the history of the expansion and socioeconomic development of the city of São Paulo. And this tower was for many years the main visual and temporal reference from which citizens could orient themselves in a city in constant metamorphosis. On the other hand, unlike several other clock towers, those of the railway stations had a symbolic function of controlling the flow of people and goods across the territory with precision, uniformity and efficiency, based on new ways of understanding time, strongly linked to notions of “time savings” and “time value.” The artist “removes” this element that is the most characteristic of the Estação da Luz and places it in the Leme gallery. But we have to keep in mind that Pilar’s tower is positioned horizontally, its watch has no hands and during the exhibition it will change places over the gallery roof. That is to say, the Pillar is subverting the basic characteristics of this architectural symbol and juxtaposing it to another completely different building but sharing a common history since both were “symbolically” displaced, replicated and reconstructed.
The participation of Pilar Quinteros marks the sixth edition of the SITU project: is it possible already to take stock of it?
The stock so far is very positive but with the awareness that there is still much more to be explored and improved. Each project is a new challenge. Questions and solutions are never repeated. The construction of each idea and its materialization has been a very rich and enjoyable learning process with each one of the artists. It also seems to me that the works done were very important for the individual research of the artists and this is very gratifying for me. In addition, the project has had good reception and visibility, and has circulated in a very interesting way in Brazil and abroad.
SITU #6: Pilar Quinteros
“Amigos do Movimento Perpétuo”
Curated by Bruno de Almeida
Through July 1, 2017
Galeria Leme, São Paulo