the economics of a short-circuit

originally published in Complex order: intrusions in public space / spmb, Eduardo Aquino, Karen Shanski, Plug In Editions, Canadá 2009

"In this way we will move away from literal representation to find more than a simple image, but rather an operational structure to help us think the culture of the city through the space of the museum." Karen Shanski and Eduardo Aquino, in letter to the museum

"We are not suffering from a void, but from adequate means to think about everything that is happening." Michel Foucault

In Projeto Camelô* Karen Shanski and Eduardo Aquino search for conceptual tools to decipher questions in the present world and to participate in its becomings. The work is about the enlargement of the field of artistic action by establishing a debate that is ethical, aesthetic, and political in character, and, as well, a reflection on the object itself. [1] Art is understood as a creative field overlapping active, integrating process with the involved players and the nature of their relationships. Shanski and Aquino both have a background in architecture and a practice under the name SPMB that searches to expand and to evolve new models of operation/practice. Through interdisciplinary strategies they are committed to creating a new understanding of a practice "that seeks to subvert the instrumental view of architecture and the disciplinary categorization of art". [2]

Projeto Camelô is the third project of a series called the "Trilogy of Exchange", where different exchange systems are questioned in relation to the context of each project, while at the same time critiquing the institutionalization of the artwork. Tapume (Re-partição) was presented by Aquino at the Centro Cultural São Paulo in 1998, and 111101 was realized in Canada in 2000, simultaneously in the cities of Winnipeg and Ottawa. Tapume appropriated the circulation game of the museum, of artworks, and of the city by incorporating a relationship with São Paulo garbage collectors. 111101 is a critical exploration of the idea that information and knowledge have both become a form of currency in contemporary life. In the case of Camelô there is a political action, a "short-circuit between the differences found in Brazilian urban centres". The project can only be understood as a multi-centred process, an operational structure with respective players and established relationships, where its development escapes the control of the authors. According to the interwoven circuits, these relationships assume different natures, reiterating and transforming them.

The sign, the ‘camelô table’, an instrument and base for the activity of an exchange system, part of an informal economy, invades the museum as a physical presence organized on a grid to be potentially multiplied. This "sign" – which is on the visible and invisible threshold of urban centres in Brazilian society – was extremely present at the MAM (Museu de Arte Moderna) in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The one hundred "richest" people of the city were invited through letters to participate in a transaction at the museum of art through the camelô table. Copies of the one hundred letters were lined on the exhibition wall wtih names and respective addresses. The camelô table, multiplied in a field at the museum (i.e., the table + the model + the museum) establishes a boundary which is at the same time distancing and connecting two worlds, the richest and the poorest financially.

This elite was invited to acquire an object of art. These objects are models of constructions, white, equal, demounted, packaged, presenting the juxtaposition and disparity of two icons in the carioca* landscape: the favela* and modern architecture. Both are identified as systems of elements generated from a given lexicon: it is evident that the models' almost modular components can be put together fixed to create a defined spatiality. The identification of how these two systems are indexed, of how they relate to the city, is observant. The model in this system operates as an exchange value which assumes its price at the moment of the transaction. If the transaction occurs it becomes a sign of transference of a monetary value, from the elite’s property, to the realization and improvement of collective life conditions of the poorest, catalyzed by the artists/architects, legitimized by the organization Viva Rio and by the space of the museum. In this case, at the moment of the transaction, the model becomes more than an object of art. It acquires a "monumental" character related to the memory, like commemorative coins or urban icons do when they mark an event (here, the transference of the money and the consequent creation of gardens in the favelas). In this way the action attains a historic value and an indexed value in the art market, provided that it would not have, in principle, an added value to continue to circulate as an exchange value in any marketplace. In this case, the value of the object of art is an exchange value, resonating the transfer of the money, overlapping in both directions: both the model, as it is acquired by the richest (according to the appropriation) and the gardens, in the processes of realization by the young and by the engaged favela communities.

The social roles and distances present in society and in the urban milieu are, in principle, reinforced through the museum and the artists as mediators and witnesses of this transaction: the exchange of money for an object of art for a garden. Any social relationship inevitably implies alterity and risk; the strategy of the authors attempts to establish other relationships in these identified circuits and enforced power structure. The "short-circuit between the differences", due to the social thickness in which we live, is difficult to activate because of the high degree of indexation of the players and the relations involved in the process. The restlessness and the engagement can be provoked by an understanding of the enforced power structures, the disparities of income distribution, and the symptomatic performance effects of some players present at Galpão das Artes, through the pulsating and stagnant force relationships of the letters, the tables, and the models.

Shanski and Aquino defy a system of production and exchange (an economy in a broader sense) where the exchange value, dictated by the marketplace, predominates. They indicate the problematic disconnection of aesthetic, ethical, and political practice – understood as a creative field and transformational force – to value of use. The “short-circuits” occur through the unforeseeable unfolding of the project itself.

*Camelô: street vendor. Carioca: native of Rio de Janeiro. Favela: slum, shantytown.

[1] See Suely Rolnik, ‘Despachos at the museum: Who knows what may happen …’, in ‘The Quiet in the Land’ (2000)

[2] Karen Shanski and Eduardo Aquino in Panorama de Arte Brasileira – book p. 27