Coletivo Coletores

“We Live in a City that Casts People Out”

Formed by multi-disciplinary artists Flávio Camargo and Toni Baptiste, of São Paulo, the Coletivo Coletores (Collectors Collective) proposes the discussion of urgent topics such as the right to the city and the fight against racism and exclusion. The duo works with different artistic media such as graffiti, photography and video projection.

Toni Baptiste: We introduce ourselves as a collective. In contrast to this assumption that there’s a boom of cultural collectives from the urban periphery, we believe that what’s occurring is greater perception of these collective manifestations from the outside. This way of organizing is much older than our existence. We can trace a timeline from the quilombo communities, the terreiros of Candomblé, samba yards, posses [funk & soul dances in the periphery], hip hop crews, punk gangs, to now, arriving at cultural collectives. In reality, today’s peripheral collectives are very similar to the posses that organized the parties my father went to in the 1960s and 1970s – parties that weren’t just for leisure, but also a time to organize collective efforts, discuss the implementation of a bus line in the community. Parties were often an excuse to discuss something more complex. This horizontal way of organizing is continued to this day by these collectives.

Languages in Dialogue

Flávio Camargo: We started with a graphic production, which was a response to our relationship with graffiti, and then came photography, the production of optical, mechanical and sound devices, digital media, video projections. We had a phase where we worked with what we call low technology. The work Autônomo is a low-tech sound device that produces sound from images. We built an electronic circuit, supported by cardboard plates, using electrical components that we got from taking apart other devices. While we work, we think a lot about our grandparents’ baggage, dismantling a radio, a machine or a television to fix it. We often saw people around us trying to understand technology from the inside, unlike today’s high technology, which is much more closed, hermetic. They are for use only, but not for appropriation. We thought it was important to bring that back.

Toni Baptiste: And we have a Gesamtkunstwerk way of thinking, this idea of a total work of art. We try to develop something that’s a work of art that is visual, but also architectural, that has a sound, that builds a relationship with people. We’ve been developing these languages, always in dialogue with the land and with the social context.

Living City

Flávio Camargo: Videomapping is basically video projection onto an uneven surface. We have a piece, Resista! (Resist!,) which we began in 2014. And we keep putting layers on it, like an open-ended work. Resist! is a piece composed of different sequences of images of demonstrations by resistance movements, such as Martin Luther King’s march to Selma, the Palestinian uprising, the movement in Chiapas, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, or the Mães de Maio here in Brazil. The first presentation of this work was on exterior walls of residences in the Vila Flávia community, by a stream on the east side of São Paulo, a mapping of monumental scale in a space not recognized as monumental.

Toni Baptiste: When we do or see these projections onto buildings in the city center, we think: damn, that’s cool, the city becomes more alive! So we construct this language in the peripheries as well, to bring this perspective of having the right to the city, a city that’s at work 24 hours a day, not only in the center, but also in the peripheries.

Erasure and Memory

Flávio Camargo: A very important process for us is to give new meaning to spaces and work with memory. We deal a lot with the idea of the social and cultural erasure of part of the population, which is a daily process, not just a historical one. When we project the image of Tereza de Benguela onto the Igreja dos Homens Pretos in Penha de França (East São Paulo) or when we project the phrase “we are alive” onto buildings, which is a phrase that represents the Andean and Latin American people, it is precisely to try to raise awareness of the history that precedes our existence, and to think about our present. And what is our present? Our present is still one of black genocide, represented, for example, in Marielle’s projected image.

Toni Baptiste: At an event for Heritage Day here in São Paulo, we created a project that gave new meaning to the Borba Gato statue. With video projection, we use the statue as if it were an empty structure and pour a golden liquid into it. At first impression, the less attentive in the audience might think: “How beautiful, a golden Borba Gato, this is the ‘value’ of the story”. And then that’s when the gold begins to move, the gold turns blood red, and then we project a series of images, from engravings and watercolors from the colonial period, enslaved Black and indigenous people, to images of contemporary barbarism, such as those of the disappeared during the military dictatorship, the police slaughters, bringing out the true legacy of Borba Gato and the bandeirantes on our society. It’s kind of unveiling what that statue really means. That’s the impact. The people in the area love that statue as it is, but when they saw the projections they were able to make this new association.

Lack of Public Space

Flávio Camargo: I think we live in a very tense relationship with the city, with tensions that come from the lack of a truly public space. We live in a city that casts out those who are different, the very idea of the existence of urban peripheries proves this. We believe in an ideal city, not utopically ideal, but one that is possible for people. A city that welcomes, gives space, creates relationships of dialogue, where the public square can be the center of relationships. Our work relates to the city in this sense: it tries to create, to awaken some kind of thought, of dialogue, so that those spaces become more accessible to everyone.

Tânia Caliari is a journalist. She lives in São Paulo.

Translation: Zoë Perry.

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