ARCOMadrid 2014

February 22, 2014

The 33rd edition of ARCO Madrid Contemporary Art Fair offers in 2014 an experience worked around its visitors. There is an oasis for charging phones, a food court arranged as a German Biergarten with live DJ sessions, an open TV set and a radio station. This is a first. What used to happen behind closed doors, including eating, now finally plays in the open. Lovely art as well.
This year's highlights include the Cornwall Eden Project in the Atacama Desert by Michael Najjar; or Sanja Iveković Sunglasses, a wonderful project resulting from the collaboration with various women's shelters, in which the artist attaches a picture of a model to a personal story of violence and abuse. The beauty of the models takes over the stories of pain and suffering and confers the women a strength that could not have been perceived with the text alone. 
 Below is a selection of artworks. 

Hans-Peter Feldmann, Sonntagsbilder | Mehdi Chouakri Gallery, Berlin

Caio Reisewitz, Pirituba, 2014 | Galeria Luciana Brito, São Paulo
Caio Reisewitz, Joaçaba, 2010 | Galeria Luciana Brito, São Paulo

Los Carpinteros | Ivorypress, Madrid
Michael Najjar, Sands of Mars, 2013 | Galeria Juan Silió, Santander

Miguel Rothschild, Insomnia XIII, 2013 | Kuckei + Kuckei, Berlin
Ralf Ziervogel, Endeneu Rot, 2012 | Kewenig Gallery, Berlin
Sanja Iveković, Sunglasses, 2002-4 | Galería Visor, Valencia

Tomás Saraceno, Sagitarius, 2013 | Andersen's Contemporary, Copenhagen

Tomás Saraceno, Carina, 2013 | Andersen's Contemporary, Copenhagen
Elger Esser, La Grande Be, 2009 | Kewenig Gallery, Berlin
José Dávila, Untitled, 2013 | Galería Travesía Cuatro, Madrid
José Dávila, Untitled, 2013 | Galería Travesía Cuatro, Madrid
Knopp Ferro, Space 21:31, 2014 | Dan Galeria, Sao Paulo
Ian Monroe, Lines of Light 14, 2014 | Galería Casado Santapau, Madrid
Carlos Garaicoa, En Construcción (VI), 2012 | Galería Elba Benítez, Madrid
Luciano Romano, La Città di Marmo, 2010 | Galleria Studio Trisorio, Neaples

Richard Mosse, Lost Fun Zone, 2012 | Galería Leyendecker, Tenerife

Adelita Husni-Bey, Working for a World Free of Poverty, 2014 | Galleria La Veronica, Modica (Sicily)

Opening, ARCO's section for galleries with a life shorter than seven years and with a focus on the youngest art scene, presented very interesting work by Adelita Husni-Bey, and with a great format. It's a  series showing the global economic growth percentages according to IMF data with coloured Lego pieces.

The Solo Projects section focuses this year on Latin America with Manuel Mérida (below) as one of the selected artists. 
Manuel Mérida | Espace Meyer Zafra, Paris

The communal spaces look like this:
Cover picture the Oasis at El País

10 Great Things About Rocinha, Rio's Notorious Favela

February 17, 2014

17 February 2014

There is something special about Rocinha, the dense informal neighbourhood in Rio's South Zone. Newcomers keep arriving and long term residents don't move out despite the infrastructure shortcomings and the security issues of the place. Its convenient location and cheaper rents could explain the phenomenon but there are surely more reasons to add. Personally, I find Rocinha deeply moving and after a closer look, I came out with a few reasons why.

1. The setting

Photo by Globe Traveller

West view to São Corrado

Rocinha has a stunning setting. 

It is a 200ha area on a sea facing hang that spans from the Dois Irmãos peak, the majestic rock you see from Ipanema beach. Not sure what the mountain formation is and whether it radiates the heat it absorbs, in any case you get something coming its direction. 

You get an idea of what the place was like right on top of the neighbourhood, when you are still surrounded by fruit trees and a lush vegetation. Rocinha - ie "little farm" - was once Rio's farm land. In the area around it were the sugar cane fields and coffee plantations. The workers, wanting to live close to their work, built small homes in the thick jungle where Rocinha is located today. The rapid growth of the favela in the early 20th century was due to the growing demand on cheap labour to build the infrastructure of the surrounding neighbourhoods and the lack of housing options.   

2. The people

Rocinha has caring, friendly and proud residents.

"What? You don't take pictures of people?" Luciano, a construction worker, complained. "You are missing out the most important part of Rocinha". And right he was.

According to the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística) Rocinha has 69,161 residents but Léo, the president of a local residents association sets the number between 180,000 and 220,000.

One of these extraordinary residents, and a game changer, is Lino dos Santos Filho, known as Tio Lino. With the motto "trade your weapon for a brush" he set up Rocinha Mundo da Arte, an organization that teaches music and arts to children with the intention of keeping them away from drug trafficking.

I met Felipe, an 18 year old Tio Lino student who was selling his art, lovely miniatures of Rocinha made with recycled materials. There was a wonderful mix of gratitude and pride in Felipe's explanation of his work.

3. The community

Photo by Rocinha em Foco
Rocinha residents love their community.

They work hard to improve their living conditions and speak up from the many associations they've created.  

They are proud of the community. First thing you hear is that Rocinha is a much safer place in terms of petty crime than the wealthier surrounding areas, where entrance doors are never kept open or kids don't play unattended.

Their care for each other, the strong bonds, the commitment to the group and the protective spirit, something arising in lieu of state care, have also turned out to be a source of happiness. 

4. The music

Picture by Daniel Hoffman
Rocinha loves music.

Especially samba, forró and funk carioca. You can hear it from the windows while walking around and at the weekends at the Baile Funk (funk dance), an event that has grown so popular that even attracts local celebrities. 

Rocinha has also a samba school, Acadêmicos da Rocinha, that is good enough to parade at the Sambodrome during the Rio Carnival.

5. The architecture

Picture by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Rocinha has beautiful constructions.

2010 Rocinha got a pedestrian bridge designed by the Rio-born architect Oscar Niemeyer who, allegedly, did the work pro bono. Funded with the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) resources, the bridge links the community with the new sports facilities. 

The same Growth Acceleration Program has financed a lovely social housing complex in the Rua 4. The project by Atelier Metropolitano is built on a former bus depot and houses local residents that have been evicted by the widening of the road (Rua 4). They received the flats for free and will after 5 years get full rights on them.

6. The streets

Rocinha has some lovely streets.

In an extraordinary upgrading operation a small alley, Rua 4, was widened to a 12m landscaped road. Before the works, the alley was 60cms wide and had, according to the Municipal Health Authorities, one of the highest tuberculosis incident rates in the country. The new road is a wonderful space, with brightly painted buildings, small squares and stairs linking the various levels.  Despite it being closed to car traffic, residents and shop keepers love it. According to Rio on Watch there aren't any drug stands (bocas de fumo) or armed guards there either.

7. The squares

Photo by Atelier Metropolitano

There are many public squares in Rocinha.

This is great since (1) organized public space is essential for community building and leisure and (2) it is a bit of a rarity in informal communities where space is scarce and not masterplanned. Most of the favelas I have visited did lack public squares.

8. The leisure activities

Rocinha has plenty.

Besides the dancing, the beach and the stunning hiking, there is also since 2010 a new sports complex. The place has a swimming pool, a gym, sporting courts, a football field, a surf school and a skate ramp. It was built with the purpose of getting kids into sports and forge some Olympic champions.

9. The beach

Photo by Rocinha em Foco

Rocinha shares a public beach.

Just a few minutes walk from Rocinha's São Corrado entrance it's a long stretch of a sandy beach. A wonderful asset regardless of water quality and a place to expand shall high density feel too oppressing.

10. The transport

Picture by Daniel Hoffman
Rocinha has a wonderfully efficient transport system. 

This is something Rocinha shares with other favelas but still worth mentioning. There are vans and motorcycle taxis moving people around in the community for R$2,50. The mototaxis work out brilliantly. There are stands in various spots but you can stop them anywhere. They carry a spare helmet and are quite fun to ride.

All in all, Rocinha has aspects residents should be proud of and planners and community workers, take good note of. Granted, there are other aspects far from ideal and in need of improvement. There are still open sewers, uncollected rubbish piles and a heavily armed police marching around, not to mention the drug gangs and the associated burdens. But this should in no case be a reason for denying Rocinha some of its greatness or stigmatizing its community for the shortcomings they haven't created and aren't responsible for. 

History of Rocinha by Mundo Real

by PS unless otherwise stated

The Multipurpose Cable Car of Rio's Largest Favela

January 30, 2014
30 January 2014

The Complexo do Alemão, a 300ha sprawling neighbourhood in Rio's North Zone, has since July 2011 an additional transport system: a cable car that links five of its hills. The system, already used for connecting communities in Medellín and Caracas, is the new black among city planners. But does it work for the community? I went to Complexo do Alemão to find out.

First thing I got to know about the Complexo do Alemão is that it is far more populated than what statistics say. My guide Mariluce, a local resident and a census worker gave me a glimpse: "there are 130,000 dwellings in the Alemão. An average number of 3 people per family household would result 400,000 residents but there are far more people per household than that. In any case, the official estimated population of 60,000* is far from reality."

I met Mariluce at Bonsucesso, the first cable car station at the bottom of the hill and the connection to the suburban rail and bus network. We took the cable car to the last station and walked our way down.

Bonsucesso Station
There are 6 stations linking a total distance of 3.5km. It takes 16 minutes to reach Palmeiras, the last station. The system consists of 152 gondolas, each taking up to 10 people. The project cost was R$210 million (approximately US$87 M / 63 M) and was built with PAC resources (Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento / Growth Acceleration Program) in partnership with the federal and state governments.

"See?" Mariluce says, "the stations are all at the hilltops and that's an issue. Nothing is under your door here. We have to walk a lot, so when possible we do it downhill. There are already minivans and motorcycle taxis bringing us to the transport hub. There is really no need to make the steep climb to the cable car. We use the cable car for the return trip home when it is an easy stroll downhill." 
The steep road to Adeus Station

Apparently not even the free cable car ride is a strong enough reason for doing the 30-minute uphill walk to the station. Each resident gets a free return ticket daily and further trips for R$1; this is cheap compared to the regular fare on bus (R$ 2.75), train (R$ 3.20), tube (R$ 3.50) and boat (R$ 4.80).

But I completely get Mariluce's point: transport was not a pressing matter at the Alemão. According to her, there is only one primary school for the whole community and no secondary school. There are no proper public squares and generally, very few places where the community can get together. This is outstanding especially since new space has been cleared around the cable car infrastructure.

"Certain areas around the cable car structure would be great for cultural / social centres but the prefeitura person liaising with the cable car company fears that a one-storey construction would soon turn into a multi-storey one, compromising the safety of the cable car. So rather than doing something out of this opportunity, they do nothing and guess what happens? The place becomes a waste dump," explains Mariluce.

How about the area around the stations? The Colombian city of Medellín has built libraries, vaccination centres, schools and parks around the Metrocable stations, with a very positive social impact.

"Here at the Complexo the only buildings allowed next to the stations are the UPPs."

UPP at Alemao Station

UPP at Palmeiras Station

The UPP or the Unidade de Policía Pacificadora (Pacifying Police Unit) is a program created in 2008 in the state of Rio to reclaim territories previously controlled by gangs of drug dealers. UPPs are established after the territory is "pacified" and the BOPE, Rio's elite police force, has left. "Pacification" doesn't necessarily happen smoothly.

The Complexo has 8 UPPs, 5 of them at the cable car stations. The plan is to include schools, health care and leisure activities (UPP Social) around the UPPs. Mariluce is very skeptical that this will ever happen.

Is the cable car project still a meaningful one? Very much so. Although only 30% of the residents uses it, it has become a major weekend attraction bringing up to 7,000** tourists per day. With a return fare of  R$10 for non-residents, the cable car is a good source of income but more importantly: it brings tourism to the community which means increased security, additional revenue (if only more facilities were built!) and social pressure for improvements. 

Stalls at Palmeiras End Station

Having said this, the community feels that, for now, they haven't benefited so much from the cable car and that it would have been far more meaningful to invest the money in improving the sanitation system, which is still in many parts an open sewer. The communities set to receive the next cable cars, such as Rocinha, are fighting the project on similar grounds. They allege that basic sanitation is the priority, followed by an efficient rubbish collection plan. No one who has been to the communities can actually disagree on that: an improved transport system is a great thing but there are other, more important issues to be addressed first. 

Waste spread in Rocinha

Cable Car (Teleférico) by Odebrecht Transport, operated by Supervia
Stations: Bonsucesso, Adeus, Baiana, Alemão, Itararé/Alvorada and Palmeiras
Opening times: Mon-Fri 6am-9pm, Sat, Sun & holidays 8am-8pm
Architect: Jorge Mauro Jáuregui at Atelier Metropolitano

Guide via Guia das Favelas
"Conquering Complexo do Alemão" / The Economist / Dec 2nd 2010
"Cable Car Still a Source of Controversy" / Rio on Watch /  Jan 3rd 2014
"Rocinha Says No to Cable Car" / Rio on Watch / July 25th 2013

Pictures by PS

*Demographics by the Instituto Pereira Passos
** O Globo figures

Tomas Saraceno's Floating Spaces

November 05, 2013

Tomás Saraceno's floating spaces are growing in scale and impact. Wonderful this spider web at the K21 Ständehaus in Düsseldorf on show till next year and his cloud cities project.

Tomás Saraceno seems to have found in the art world the experimental ground that architecture fails to provide. A trained architect born in Argentina and living in Germany, Tomás has been imagining bubbles, cloud cities and other fluid spaces for quite some time. His understanding of "space" gives an insight to his work: 
"What space is? I don't know... A pure negotiation between people? Space is something we can share. It is continuously invented and reinvented by the way we relate and interact to each other. Space is undefined; the collaboration between people creates it. The audience is important, they make the piece..."

In Orbit 2013 / Photo by Studio Saraceno
In Orbit  is a lightweight structure conceived for the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, K21 Ständehaus, in Germany. It spans 25 meters above a covered courtyard and consists of 3 levels of steel wire mesh that are kept apart with huge inflated balls. The visitors can move freely on all 3 levels, floating like spiders.

Other works by Saraceno include Cloud City, 16 stainless steel modules linked together with acrylic floors for the Metropolitan Museum in NYC and an inflated walkable roof at the Hangar Bicocca in Milan. 
On the Roof: Cloud City, 2012, MET NYC / Photo by Studio Saraceno
On Space Time Foam, 2012, Hangar Bicocca Milan / Photo by Studio Saraceno
Cloud City, 2012 / Studio Saraceno

Galaxies Forming along Filaments, Like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider's Web, 2009, Venice Biennale / Photo by PS
Another great project Tomás was involved in is The Cloud, a proposal for the Olympic Park in London done in collaboration with the MIT Senseable City Lab that sadly lost against Kapoor's Arcelor Mittal Orbit Tower.

The Cloud, Olympic Park London, 2009
Everything we can think off, can be. So, if Saraceno has clouds in his mind, sooner or later we'll all experience the sky.

Tomás Saraceno / In Orbit / 22 June 2013 - autumn 2014 (estimated)  / K21 Ständehaus Düsseldorf
The Cloud / Olympic Park London 2009
Cloud Cities / The Endless Series 2006

Cover picture by Studio Tomás Saraceno

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