TERRITORIES UNDER DISPUTE: the relations between artistic practices and social movements in conflict


The objective of our research was to analyze the formation of a hybrid territory in which issues and artistic practices, social, political and economic converge and allow us to glimpse some traces of practices that extend far beyond its specific case, marking much of the contemporary artistic production. Beyond the study of investigations, interventions and artistic and cultural practices carried out on Prestes Maia, we understand that it is important to take note of the theoretical output from the occupation, as well as get closer to the international debate guided, firstly by critics of the “October” magazine, like Hal Foster and Miwon Kwon, secondly, authors like Grant Kester and Nicolas Bourriaud, with his ideas of Relational Aesthetics.

Among all of the artistic production forms studied during our research, we selected three as guides for our discussions and analysis, they are: the activist art, the artistic collectives and the collaborative artistic practices. The first relates to what was held in the city of São Paulo, among other times, during the Prestes Maia occupation. However, keep in mind that not all collaborative practices held up in São Paulo in the late 90th and early 2000s could be considered as what we used to call artivism. The second one, the one made by the collective of art, refers to the art form performed in the same period in much of Brazil, more specifically, in our case, in São Paulo. It should be borne in mind that much of the activist art production is contained within the actions taken by such collectives, however, as we saw, it is not a homogeneous field, in a way that artists and collectives travels irregularly between various proposals of action, from the official circuits, galleries and museums, to the underground of abandoned buildings. The third concerns the collaborative artistic practices, which, in addition to encompass much of the actions carried out in Brazil, also covers the experiences abroad, from art to the community held in the United States, to the principles of relational aesthetics, proposed by Nicolas Bourriaud. Due to its scope, we opted for using this last example as a reading key to understanding the events in the Prestes Maia occupation limits.


ACMSTC (2003)


In the abyssal layers of the heart of the city of São Paulo, the Prestes Maia building, located on the avenue of the same name, occupied by the MSTC in 2002 and sealed by the government in 2007, may be able to represent efficiently these relations of contradiction and aversion that make up the center of the city as home of poverty and socially differentiated populations, in a negative way. The occupation of this building with lots of debts became a resistance icon against gentrification processes and repossession throughout the period in which housed hundreds of homeless families, brought social use to an abandoned building and expelled the drug trafficking. This urban fighting experience has not gone unnoticed by the São Paulo artists who, at this point, as they approached each other by common interests and discussions involving the right to the city, or in the words of Henry Lefebvre (2001) on the right to city ​​”as use value and not as a commodity/exchange value.”

On November 25, in a hurry, it was sent to other artists, collectives and other stakeholders an e-mail invitation to participate in the ACMSTC (Contemporary Art  in the Homeless Movement of the Center of São Paulo). During the three weeks that followed, meetings were held between the residents and the leadership of the occupation and those who would attend the event. According to reports from those who were leading the initiative, no one knew very well what to expect from ACMSTC because it was something that had never been done before. The atmosphere of doubt and fear was in the air at the same time that they had a strong desire to take the project forward. In the period when the meetings took place, many artists took the opportunity to visit the occupation and better understand the environment within which they were about to intervene. Once faced with the conditions of misery and poverty, some of the artists dropped out of participating in the project, such as the collective Los Valderramas, for example. Hastily organized and marked by chaos and urgency, the ACMSTC brought some artists used to attend the official art circuits, like Regina Silveira, Rochelle Costi, Paul Climachauska, plus more than 120 artists and about 600 participants.

“Integração sem posse” (2005-2007)


In mid 2005, the Prestes Maia occupation was facing a new threat of eviction by the government, the urgency overflowed and the urban guerrilla environment and housing struggle seemed to further intensify. The moment of tension that the biggest vertical slum in Latin America was facing caught the attention of some artists, several of whom had the opportunity to participate in the ACMSTC two years before.

After a few meetings organized hastily in the home of artists like Flavia Vivacqua and Mariana Cavalcante, it become clear that a shift in focus was necessary about their proposals and actions. In this new moment the art would not be the heart of the actions, it would not be a contemporary art exhibition in an unconventional environment, the goal would be to rebuild the media discourse, changing the logic of illegality of the occupation for their legitimacy.

The action that resulted from these meetings became known as INTEGRATION WITHOUT POSSESSION and first happened on a Saturday in July as a way of resistance to repossession that did not happened in that week. From there, the meetings started to happen weekly, every Saturday in the Prestes Maia building underground and later came to be called as “Cultural Saturdays.”

Felipe Augusto Pereira – Kultur der Metropole

Photos by: Thiago Judas

Some References:

– MESQUITA, André. “Insurgências Poéticas: arte ativista e ação coletiva”. Dissertação de Mestrado. USP: Departamento de História Social, 2008;

– ADAMS, Gavin. “Coletivos de Arte e a Ocupação Prestes Maia”. Artigo publicado na revista Cidade sem nome em janeiro de 2007;

– KESTER, Grant. “Theories and Methods of Collaborative Art Practice”. Exibição: “Groundworks: Environmental Collaboration in Contemporary Art” Regina Gouger Miller Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University (2005);

– KWON, Miwon. “One place after another: Notes on Site Specificity; October, Vol. 80 (Spring, 1997), Published by: The MIT Press;

– FOSTER, Hal. “Artist as Ethnographer”, em “The Return of the Real”. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996 (“O artista como etnógrafo”), tradução de Alexandre Sá e revisão de Angela Prada, em Arte&Ensaios, n. 12, 2005: 136-51];

– OLIVEIRA NETO, Sebastião “Situação Prestes Maia: o processo de colaboração entre artistas, coletivos artísticos e o Movimento Sem-Teto do Centro (MSTC). Ocupação Prestes Maia / São Paulo (2003/2007)”;