SITU, founded and curated by Bruno de Almeida and developed by Leme Gallery, is a platform of artistic production and research that promotes a dialogue between art, architecture and the city. The project commissions Latin American artists to create temporary and site-specific works for the external spaces of the gallery.
The choice of this building (a project by Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Metro Architects) is due to its strong architectural features and also to its complex history of construction, demolition, replication and expansion, which can be taken as a representation, on a small scale, of the evolutionary processes of São Paulo and of many other contemporary metropolises.
The curatorial focus falls upon artists whose researches gravitate around architectural and urban space issues. In addition, there is an emphasis on Latin American artists, as they have another bodily and intellectual understanding of space that comes from an intense familiarity with the complexity of the public sphere and of the urban and social processes which are specific to Latin America.
By chaining a disparate series of artistic proposals that relate both to the building and to the adjoining public space, SITU intends to continuously engage and incite a broader and more heterogeneous audience. The main purpose is to conceive artworks and researches that contribute to a broader questioning of contemporary urbanity understood as a complex physical-social matrix.
SITU #1 | José Carlos Martinat
SRE / Open Data / SP
16.07.2015 – 30.08.2015
José Carlos Martinat’s (Peru, 1974) research and project happened simultaneously to a rising wave of financial scandals linked to large contractors and politicians in Brazil in mid 2015.
When invited to conceive a site-specific work that would ponder upon the contemporary city, using the gallery’s building as a catalyst, the artist decided to focus on a notion of built environment as the result from a series of agreements and negotiations that take place behind the abstraction of politics and capital. Martinat was interested in the ability to handle the discrepancy between what is disclosed and omitted and how this enables undeclared forms of government that endorse a submission of the social body to the logics of economy. Within this structure of power the most powerful currency is information.
For his installation, the artist places on top of the gallery’s walkway a small device composed of a thermal-printer connected to an online software which extracts and prints statistical information on the costs and revenues of the State of São Paulo. The information is taken from a State-owned website (www.transparencia.sp.gov.br) which was created by the government to provide access to the citizens to State information. In the installation, statistical graphs are printed in real-time as tax receipts and the coupons are thrown to the exterior of the building where they accumulate on the courtyard and can be read and taken by passers-by.
SITU #2 | Daniel de Paula
03.09.2015 – 12.12.2015
Daniel de Paula (USA, 1987) gathers several core rock samples that, in Portuguese, are technically called testemunho (testimonial). These are the result of geotechnical surveys; drillings for the exploration and recognition of the subsoil, which are necessary for dimensioning and defining the type of foundations for any large construction. The core samples are composed by layers of rock sedimented over millennia, which form a time-line that ranges from the present day to periods prior to human history.
The “testimonials” collected by the artist come from drillings conducted for public works of urban mobility in the State of São Paulo, such as the subway, motorways, the Rodoanel (São Paulo’s Beltway), among others. These great axes of displacement are the main vectors for the urban structuring, strong inducers of territorial expansion and crucial factors for the formation of land price and use.
For his installation the artist organizes the testimonials chronologically according to their geological age and places them on the floor of the gallery’s patio. By bringing together rocks from several geological eras and from distinct places of São Paulo’s metropolitan region, Daniel de Paula contrasts the time of formation of the earth’s crust with the time of construction and expansion of the city. Clashing two divergent perceptions of soil, one guided by its symbolic value and another instituted by an exchange and negotiation worth.
SITU #3 | Ricardo Alcaide
19.01.2016 – 15.03.2016
Ricardo Alcaide’s (Venezuela, 1967) project is motivated by the ambiguous character of the gallery’s patio, that despite being freely accessible, it is rarely used by passersby. The artist believes that this is due to some sort of immaterial barrier that results from its own architectural configuration. Something that is recurrent in our experience of the city, where semi-public and public spaces are increasingly configured as privatized or immaterially “fenced”.
In order to problematize this question, Alcaide designs a large black volume that occupies the entire patio of the gallery, nullifying this external space and almost entirely blocking the two entrances to the building. For its construction he choses a wood that is commonly used in building as a framework for molds of in situ concrete. Due to the obstruction of the normal access into the building, the artist creates a second wooden structure on the opposite facade, signaling a new entrance through a door that is customarily closed. This new access refers to the original entry of the gallery’s first building (a project by Mendes da Rocha), demolished in 2011 to make way for its reoriented and retrofitted replica, the structure that exists today.
Through the occupation and almost obliteration of a (semi)public space and the subsequent adaptation of the gallery’s entrance route, Alcaide induces a reexamination of the visitor’s physical relationship with the building and subverts the normal functioning of the institution.
SITU #4 | Beto Shwafaty
Matriz Fantasma (Velhas Estruturas, Novas Glórias)
02.04.2016 – 25.06.2016
Beto Shwafaty’s (Brazil, 1977) project is based on a historical and geographical research about the region where the gallery is located, the district of Butantã. While delving into the colonial past of the site the artist notes that, in the seventeenth century, São Paulo’s first sugar cane mill was assembled there, an engine used to grind sugarcane, which was moved by human or animal traction.
Although it seems like a minor historical datum, the fact is that these devices were part of one of the first and most important colonial “industries”, and were also responsible for the strengthening of a patrimonialist and slave-based socio-spatial hierarchy, whose echoes are still felt today. This type of engine is also a symbol of a strong relationship between power and land ownership that underpins what would be the structuring model of the Brazilian territory over the past 200 years, responsible for a late urbanization process loaded with many disorders.
For his installation, Shwafaty occupies the gallery’s courtyard with an original sugar mill and engenders an installation in three successive moments. First, the mill is exposed with a constant movement powered by an electric motor that the artist juxtaposes to the ancient piece. After, the device is dismantled in all its parts, which are catalogued and reorganized. Finally, the pieces are removed from the space, which is occupied by its traces marked on the ground and by a sound-installation with the recordings of processes connected to that object.
SITU #5 | Sandra Gamarra
02.09.2016 – 28.01.2017
Sandra Gamarra’s (Peru, 1972) project is established from the building’s structural grid, an orthogonal mesh cast by the formwork used in the construction of the gallery’s concrete walls. For the artist, the grid is a fundamental element for understanding how Man has structured his physical and social space. It can simultaneously be read as a symbol of the modernist ideology, representing the human order before the “chaos” of nature. And also be interpreted according to the pre-Columbian civilizations, for which the grid represented a greater mystical logic through which man could understand the order of nature.
Wishing to juxtapose these two notions of the same element, Gamarra creates a set of concrete blocks that are similar in size and materiality to those of the gridded facades and places them horizontally in the patio. The composition formed by these pieces outlines a central void with a plan shaped as a stepped cross, a fundamental symbol for pre-Columbian cultures. Referred to as the Incan Cross or Chakana, it symbolizes the connection between the earthly and the “superior” world and its shape is structured from an orthogonal grid.
The outlined Chakana has one of its ends open to the street, inviting pedestrians to come into this cross. In the Andean mythology the center of the Chakana represents the unknown, the unimaginable and the sacred. It is from within the installation that the visitor discovers another set of grids; constellation-like lines draw an immersive map of Southern America’s land routes and a subtle gridded texture of fabric is embossed on the fallen concrete blocks.
SITU #6 | Pilar Quinteros
Friends of Perpetual Movement
30.03.2017 – 01.06.2017
Pilar Quinteros’ project starts from a reflection on the history of the gallery’s building which is a replica of the former project, to which was added an adjacent building. The ‘cloning’, displacement and expansion of this building problematize the boundary between the reproducibility and the singularity of the architectural work, as well as the idea of conceptual and material inseparability between the project and the specificities of the urban context for which it was originally intended.
Reflecting on these aspects, Pilar Quinteros developed a research of replicated, displaced or nomadic buildings and encountered unlikely parallels between the Leme gallery and one of the main architectural symbols of the city of São Paulo, the Luz Railway Station (Estação da Luz). Since 1867 the station underwent continuous modifications and reconstructions which are part of the biography of the metropolis and of the collective memory of its inhabitants. But despite its immemorial presence and intrinsic connection with the city, this station crossed the Atlantic Ocean by ship, brought from the UK, dismantled piece by piece, until arriving at São Paulo.
Quinteros proposes a symbolic intersection of the stories of both buildings, Leme Gallery and Estação da Luz, through an architectural juxtaposition. The artist adds to Paulo Mendes da Rocha’s building a clock tower which is similar to the one at the Luz Station. Such tower was for many years the city’s main spatial and temporal reference point, establishing the official hour that all citizens should follow. But the replica constructed by Pilar Quinteros seems to deny this referentiality, subverting several aspects that are taken for granted about this well-known element.
SITU #7 | Ana Dias Batista
07.11.2017 – 27.01.2018
Over the set of pichações (distinctive street writing found in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), drawings and writings that have been accumulated over time in the gallery’s blind facades, Ana Dias Batista (Brazil, 1978) adds another painting that is commonly found around town. The language is graffiti and the motif is that of a wall of stones. A type of drawing that is usually commissioned by people wishing to curb unwanted paintings on the walls of their properties. Unlike the pichação, such graffiti is legally permitted and socially accepted. Thus, one type of language is strategically used to avoid a congener, playing with a code of conduct that exists between those who paint (legally or illegally) the walls of the city. The wall commissioned by Ana Dias Batista, despite its formal similarities with others, seems to operate according to another logic. It is late in avoiding any kind of illicit writing and seems to coexist on an equal basis with them. When it is interrupted by the gallery’s courtyard this two-dimensional wall is transformed and broken up in numerous concrete road obstacles that are distributed over the floor of the patio, which despite being open to the city is usually used as private parking. But such obstacles also do not seem to fulfill their original function of ordering and limiting automobile traffic. Their quantity is excessive, their positioning is illogical and redundant and they do not impede the circulation of vehicles in that area.