Urban Interventions

Nelson Brissac

MADRID ABIERTO is becoming one of the few projects, all over the world, able to face a crucial question about contemporary art: the relation to the urban space. As a contribution to a discussion about its strategies and process, we present here a short balance of a project of urban interventions -Arte/Cidade- carried out in Sao Paulo, Brasil (1) .  


The proposal consisted of taking Sao Paulo as a field where questions about the city and art were being played. The contemporary metropolis as a complex and dynamic space, in constant change, creating new and unusual spatial, social and cultural configurations. When the new urban policies of revitalization and the established forms fail before the complexity and scale of the proceedings of globalization, we must discuss new urban and artistic interventions in megacities.

The project tried to promote interventions able to transcend their immediate surroundings and refer to the vast territory of the megacity and the global reconfiguration of the economy, the power and the art. To attract our perception towards situations which only show with the exploration in loco, the visual scrutiny. Interventions, which would take into account the process of metropolitan and global, restructure but would be opposed to the institutional and corporative appropriation of urban space and artistic practices.

How to consolidate the result developped by the most recent projects for the urban space? It is essential, to be able to operate on an urban scale, to create aesthetic and technical instruments and processes appropriate for the development of the proposals from the artists and the presentation of material, structural and political questions (relationship with communities and public authorities involved) put forward to be introduced.

Each edition of Arte/Cidade was prepared in three stages: a large urbanistic survey of the region, a selection of sites and the development of the projects of intervention. The survey, focussing on the social-spatial dynamics of the megalopolis is completed by a survey of the possible situations of intervention. Those areas were visited by all the participants, who contributed with important suggestions of readings and new sites, enriching the map proposed in the beginning.

How to take into account, on the occasion of preparation of the projects of intervention, the multiple and complex decisions which affect those urban situations? How to make possible for the participants, many of them foreigners, to operate with those factors? A group of support, including architects and engineers, took part in the development of every project, trying to stress to the limit their structural and technical potentialities and their urbanistic and social scope. The possibilities of intervention on urban areas and building, the problems of structural support and the use of materials were studied, in each case, having in view the experimentation and the transgression of conventional functions.

The complexity and the scale of the proposed situations do not allow a process of work that is not based on technical projects and the right operational supports. So it was sought to avoid an intuitive adequation with regard to the sites. As well as breaking the process, nowadays crystallized in projects for a specific site. To avoid the locations serving only as a context, as a background, for works, hardly allusive, simple commentaries on the situations.

How to assess the device created by the interventions as a whole? The urbanistic, economic, social and political effect the project caused? The fast process of global integration of the cities has basically changed the conditions and principles of urban interventions. Megaprojects of redevelopment and an important transnational institutions are carrying out a deep restructure of the cities on a global scale. Demanding a new technical, aesthetic and institutional list and new strategies for the action in the urban space.

Which were the results, strictly aesthetic, of the interventions carried out by Arte/Cidade? In which way the principles and proceedings set up by the projects had an influence on the artistic initiatives that, since then, had the urban space as a parameter? In retrospect, the different interventions may be seen perhaps as involved in part with sculptural strategies on a large scale. 


In other cases, not always they succeeded in mobilizing the social groups they were intended for. Other different conceptual and operational parameters needed to be introduced in this artistic practice with the aim of their effects being more intensive and inclusive. Strategies which will permit to face the institutional, discursive and economic apparatus characteristic of the city and the "world of art". To prove how a product of the urban space and culture -as well as the reception of this process- have become more and more submitted to economic relations and of power.

A way to approach this subject would be to analyse the future of the sites where the interventions took place, some of them converted into cultural centres, shopping centres and large projects of urban development with housing and office towers. Other areas became favelas or are used now for informal activities. The new uses of these sites are, therefore, of very different nature, as well as the part which the project may have eventually had in this process.

In front of the new relationship between art and urban development, which are the alternatives open in metropolies in process of global restructuration? Our option was to emphasize the large areas, extraordinarily complex and dynamic, excluded from the projects of urban development. To point out programs which relate the dynamic indetermination of these intersticial territories. To promote interventions which would potentialize urban situations linked to communities resistent to the existent design of the city and to the prevailing economic and social interest. A possibility of introducing new urban strategies.

In the last few years we have watched a phenomenon which has absolutely changed the parameters of evaluation of the urban space and the extent of the interventions: the global integration of the largest cities, with the appearance of great urban architectural projects promoted by international capital. Closely related to that process we see the tendency to the mega-museums, which tend to subordinate the production and the aesthetic perceptions to the same global spatial logic. A monumentality that steers the city and art towards the spectacle and the cultural tourism.

It is no longer possible to conceive projects for the urban space without taking into account that new large scale. Given the growing spatial, institutional and social complexities of urban situations, every intervention has to take into account that intense process of restructuration of the cities. That means the need to develop strategies in opposition to the spatial area, the architectural shape and the institutional or corporative instrumentation of art.

Interventions in megacities place the matter of the perception of large urban areas which escape completely from the mental map of their inhabitants, from the parameters established by urbanism and the grammar of the art for public spaces. Which are the subjects related to the perception, by the public, of interventions on this scale? When the cities are adopting strategies of concerned with marketing, housing development and cultural tourism, artistic practices must avoid the speculation inherent to those processes.

Could projects of artistic interventions on the urban space become a field of discussion about the processes of urban restructuration? Is it possible in the present scenery of administration of cities and culture, dominated by corporative and institutional operations with a great economic and political power, to create a public space of debate about the alternatives of urban development and artistic production?

Nelson Brissac é filósofo, trabalhando com questões relativas à arte e ao urbanismo. É organizador e curador de Arte/Cidade _ www.artecidade.org.br.

(1) Arte/Cidade teve quatro edições, a partir de 1994. A primeira ocorreu num matadouro desativado, na região sul da cidade. A segunda, no centro, em três edifícios e na área por eles demarcada, cortada por um viaduto. A terceira, ao longo de um ramal ferroviário, na região oeste. A última, em 2002, na região leste da cidade, antiga área industrial, num recorte de cerca de 10 km2.