Joshua Sofaer

33 Proposals for São Paulo

This was the week of my presentation ‘33 Proposals for São Paulo’ at Centro Cultural São Paulo. There was quite a crowd (who were all these people?) and it all seemed to go well, with Patricia doing a magnificent job with the translation. I presented my 33 proposals alongside previous examples of my work and something of what I have learnt here during my trip, much of which has been part of previous blog postings.

Some of the proposals are so slight they are barely worth proposing, while others would require a great deal of involved negotiations (and money) to realise. But I can assure you that at least part of me wants to make them all.

Without too much context, I represent them to you here.

PROPOSAL 1

33 Proposals for SP

Rather cheekily I offer the presentation as my first proposal and at the end of the evening it was the only one that I had actually made.

The first proper set of proposals is to do with rubbish itself. One thing I am interested in doing is to question the aesthetic properties and possibilities of rubbish and so,

PROPOSAL 2

I would like to:

Beauty Contest

I would love to organise this. (Actually, I think I know somewhere to propose this one.) A public call would be issued across the city and people would pay a small fee to enter. Instead of daywear, eveningwear and swimwear, we would have the categories, plastic, paper and metal, searching for an alternative aesthetic to the Playboy image of beauty, and fabricating the costumes entirely from trash. There would be a big cash prize for the winner.

There would be no restrictions on age or gender to enter, but if it is still all a bit too girly for you then perhaps you would prefer:

PROPOSAL 3

in which I would like to:

Rubbish Sports Day

I’m not entirely sure what this is yet. I don’t want it to be simply kicking cans instead of footballs but I do want to pick up on some of the popularity of football here in Brazil to entice people into playing with waste. Perhaps there could be can crushing contests, cardboard folding competitions etc. This would give catadores a head start, which would probably be a good thing.

As regular readers might recall, my rubbish research has led me to become a collector of Brazilian waste bins. The strange ‘baskets on legs’ that appear in various forms. I am interested in the aesthetic, rather than the utilitarian properties of these strange objects and so:

PROPOSAL 4

is to:

Bin on Pins

Perhaps people would start throwing things into it, which would be quite fun.

I have been really interested in the relationship between the municipal waste collection and the organised but informal system of catadores. Don’t forget, 100% of municipal waste here is landfill but at the same time 90% of aluminium is recycled. Catadores search out the cans wherever they are.

And so:

PROPOSAL 5

I would like to,

Golden Can

Now I know this is a bit mean but we all live in a lottery culture whether we like it or not. Of course most probably, I would never know what happened to my solid silver can but I would still like to make it.

However, there is no escaping,

PROPOSAL 6

Meteorite

Each São Paulo citizen throws out an average of 850 grams of rubbish each day. For a normal Brazilian life span of 70 years, that means every individual is responsible for 22 tonnes of waste over the course of their life.

Despite its huge landmass, Brazil hasn’t recorded any giant meteorites, so I thought perhaps they would like one of their own. (A few thousand miles away in Mexico, the Bacubirito meteorite is one of the largest single space objects to have been sent on a collision course with the Earth and survive. It is estimated to weigh 22 tonnes.) I would like to cast a giant meteorite in recycled aluminium weighing 22 tonnes as a kind of totem for our individual responsibilities.

As well as these aesthetic considerations I have been giving some thought to pragmatic ways in which I might work with the waste collection system.

I was really interested in the catadores carts. If I am completely honest, my attention was drawn predominantly to the way that they looked, rather than anything else but I did notice that they are often quite cumbersome in their steering.

And so,

PROPOSAL 7

is to:

Engineer

I don’t really mean this in the patronizing ‘do good’ way that it comes across. I am simply interested to see what happens if you bring two sets of experts together, in this case engineers and catadores.

I have been very interested to learn that as a citizen, you are responsible for the pavement directly outside your house. This means that some areas are paved with ornate marble mosaic and others are completely unmade.

PROPOSAL 8

Pavement

This proposal is to shift the emphasis from graffiti on the walls to mosaics on the pavements and to try and encourage a competitive spirit in the design of pavements outside your homes.

As you will see, in my trial, I have used discarded disposable ice-cream spoons in the design (and you will see why a bit later) but the general idea is to use the rubbish that you might throw out on the pavement, to make the pavement design.

A much longer-term project is,

PROPOSAL 9

Seeds

I have been interested in thinking about what catadores collect. Of course their primary concern is to try and make a living, so they collect items for which they will be paid. But I have tried to think about some alternative economies.

Having really enjoyed the abundance of fruit here, I wanted to think about the status of the seeds of these fruit that are so readily discarded. In this proposal, catadores are paid for collecting seeds. These seeds are planted and the fruit harvested. I want to create an orchard out of rubbish.

This project is not economically viable, insomuch as the ‘set up’ costs would be more than the yield from the fruit but nevertheless as an idea it presses the question of how value is determined and understood.

A more direct way of doing this would be to make that information available directly to the consumer. And so, for,

PROPOSAL 10

I would like to:

On the Can

I have visited both catdores cooperatives and private companies that act as intermediaries between catadores and recycling companies. One such company was paying R$2 per kilo; which means that catadores need to collect 36 cans for R$1. Printing this information on the can itself would simply disseminate the facts of this economic exchange.

More didactic (and perhaps less interesting) is,

PROPOSAL 11

Nine Thousand Seven Hundred

Every day 9,700 tonnes of rubbish are driven in trucks from the city of São Paulo to the landfills at the periphery. 9,700 tonnes is equivalent to 10,000 Classic Volkswagen Beetles, 2,500 African Elephants and 40 Tian Tian Bronze Buddahs. That is a lot of trash. I would like to produce a children’s counting book, where each of the numbers relates to the amount of rubbish thrown out by São Paulo in a single day.

One of the tremendous benefits of working on these ideas here in Brazil has been to see some of the places and meet some of the people that are key to the waste collection and disposal systems for myself. I am interested in thinking about ‘meetings’ as a kind of artistic practice. Art allows us to think in a way or to do things that we might otherwise not do.

PROPOSAL 12

Can Tours

Visitors would be escorted on a day trip across some of the key sites in the life cycle of an aluminium can. The trip would include visits to the places the average public does not normally see: the canning factory, catadores cooperative and recycling plant as well as those that they normally do see: the retail outlets and personal space of a consumer. The idea would be to imbue the kinds of places we normally encounter with the ‘back story’ of those places we do not.

Of the many different things that I personally collect, one of my favourites is my collection of disposable ice-cream spoons. I have thousands. (You will understand now, why my design for the ‘sucata pavement’ was made with this trash.) Actually, I’ve collected quite a lot of spoons here in Brazil, many of which I have picked up off the street.

And so this leads me to perhaps the most self-interested proposal,

PROPOSAL 13

Ice Cream Spoons

I would quite happily pay well above the recycling value of the plastic, especially for examples that are not yet accessioned into my collection.

In terms of the process in this proposal, as an artist I am interested in inverting the commonsense assumption that the catadores ‘need our help’ and rather want to think about how their expertise might be of value to me.

As for the spoons themselves, what I am concerned with is the value of material culture that exceeds the material value alone.

In this regard I would like to think about forms of rubbish collection that are not predicated on economic models.

And so to,

PROPOSAL 14

Sorting by Category

In which rubbish might be sorted by, for example, colour or by weight rather than by is scrap value.

Or,

PROPOSAL 15

Waste Bin of Everything

In which somehow the accumulated waste of an individual would become the mountainous subject of a sculptural classification. Perhaps this could be in the form of a museum diary, rather than a sculpture, with a day-by-day archive of one person’s waste. A collection of rubbish that is never thrown out.

Underlying this proposal is the idea that rubbish may tell us something about ourselves; that material culture holds useful information.

Nowhere is this sense of knowledge being held by material objects more powerful than with the printed word: books.

This leads me onto,

PROPOSAL 16

Book to Book

I haven’t completely worked this one out yet but there is something in it that I am interested in pursuing. Proposal 16 explores the palimpsest: the idea that a piece of writing has been effaced to make way for new writing.

I want to hold a contest to gather books. Clues could send teams of people out on a bibliographic hunt: great works of literature, history and science; cookery books, play texts, political tracts. These books, with their collective knowledge, meaning and power would become the recipe for a new set of books. The paper would be passed through the recycling system and like the alchemical dream, would become a fresh publication. In this way, the new publications are themselves and all the books of which they are constituent parts: a kind of hidden material library.

You may recall my visit to the wonderful beginnings of a ‘Waste Museum’ in a disused office room off the main corridor of the municipal Secretaria de Serviço that deals with waste management.

PROPOSAL 17

Mobile Waste Museum

The rest of the proposals are really about socialisation and citizenship: about what it means to be a Paulista.

In many ways Brazil is the world leader in terms of what it does with its rubbish, certainly in terms of recycling. One of the reasons that I was so interested to come here after working with rubbish in Japan in 2008 was because Brazil has overtaken Japan as the foremost recycler of aluminium in the world. In Japan aluminium is so successfully recycled because people are ‘good citizens’ and wash and dispose of their waste in the ‘correct’ fashion (all rubbish is separated before it is disposed of, in specific coloured bags and you write your name on the bag of rubbish before you put it out on the designated collection day). In Brazil the success is due to one thing: money.

In this society which is so predicated on economic difference as the benchmark for social status, the issue seems to me to be less about the environmental ramifications of waste disposal or collection and rather more about those who throw that rubbish away or are given the job to collect it.

And so to,

PROPOSAL 18

Coffee

This simple invitation may well produce unexpected results.

I am interested in the social status of catadores. In some sense they are celebrities. They are high profile – known around the world; they are visible on the streets; they are depended upon. And in another sense they are outcasts, considered the dregs of society.

I started to think about the catadores dogs. Dogs are kept by humans for security and companionship but I wonder if they are not also a point of greater identification for a general public than the human beings who are their ‘masters’.

PROPOSAL 19

Dogs

PROPOSAL 20

Bottle Portrait

I don’t imagine these portraits to be explained – just to be there. I like the idea that catadores, or rubbish collectors, might meet themselves when at work, and for the rest of us to think about the human contact that our trash will face when it leaves our hand.

PROPOSAL 21

Biography

…because the lives of those who are forgotten are often far more interesting than those who are placed on a pedestal.

And while we are mentioning pedestals.

PROPOSAL 22

Statue

Charles Baudelaire developed a derived meaning from the French term ‘flâneur’: that of “a person who walks the city in order to experience it”. This term has been used as a way of understanding some contemporary art practices that engage with the city.

Although they are not ‘strolling’ (rather they are determined hunters of valuable rubbish) the catadores are contemporary flâneurs – always on the streets, experiencing the city.

For,

PROPOSAL 23

I want to:

Street Map

Many streets would have multiple names and many streets would have the same names, so this isn’t really a practical mapping solution but it would allow us to think of those streets in a different way.

The fact that they are on the streets, experiencing the city and looking around them carefully, means that,

PROPOSAL 24

…we could

Missing Cat

Taking this one step further, we could invert the idea that catadores are somehow on the margins of society, outside state control and make them agents of state policing.

PROPOSAL 25

Spy

Another thing that we saw at the Secretaria de Serviço was the live tracking of the municipal garbage trucks, so that the location of each truck could be determined.

PROPOSAL 26

…is so obvious that perhaps it has been done already. Make this tracking public.

Computer

The idea here is that as a public we are encouraged to follow and track the truck that is coming for our rubbish. It would enable people to check when the truck destined for their street was due, meaning they could put out their trash with pinpoint accuracy, thus reducing the amount of rubbish left on the street.

Perhaps I’m living in a dream world to think that people would engage with such a website and of course it is reliant on people having access to the internet but the incentive here is to get people thinking about citizenship and taking pride in their city.

If this most recent set of proposals are about rethinking the status of rubbish collectors, then the last set are about citizenship itself. I have made projects with these kinds of imperatives before and one of the mechanisms that I used was personal proper names: my name, your name.

So, for São Paulo I would like to use the incredible billboards that mark the way into the city, from the airport and along the motorways. I would like to engage a discussion and hold a competition and for,

PROPOSAL 27

…to print the:

Billboards with Names

Or perhaps not even the names but,

PROPOSAL 28

…rather the:

Billboards with Faces

I would love to see that. But even more, what I would like to do in São Paulo is,

PROPOSAL 29

Name a Street

Actually, I am already making this project in Porto, Portugal with an organisation called NEC. We are in negotiations at the moment with the City Council to be allowed to do this and it now looks like it is really going to happen. It is very exciting. But I have been really impressed by the fact that so many of the streets in São Paulo are named after the citizens who made it. What I would like to do is to name a street after an ordinary citizen. To engage a public debate on who we want our role models to be, to select a winner and to rename a street. All the maps would then have to change.

And then perhaps there could also be an exhibition dedicated to that one unknown individual.

PROPOSAL 30

Museum of One Citizen

In which an ‘ordinary’ person would be given the space and attention usually reserved for those deemed ‘exceptional’.

Art practice offers us a permission to do things and to see things in a way otherwise not expected. At its best, art can flatten the hierarchy of what is considered worthy of our attention: it can make a piece of trash a diamond.

It is this ‘way of looking’ that is at the heart of,

PROPOSAL 31

Tours

This is a curated series of tours of places and sites that are not usually public. From the domestic house to the sewers underneath MASP, each tour would allow visitors to see their city in a new way. The point of these tours is that they are delivered by artists or gallery tour guides. They offer an ‘art’ perspective on what is clearly not art.

The works that I am proposing here this evening are above all about conversation; about trying to kick start a debate.

And in an effort to really push this incentive,

PROPOSAL 32

…takes to the streets and directly addresses the public.

What do you think of SP

So no matter what they are, love São Paulo or hate it, these are the answers that will be published.

And so to my final proposal:

PROPOSAL 33

Washing Rubbish

To wash something is to care for it, to nurture it, to value it, to recognise its worth. I want to engage hundreds of people in this exercise. We take the trash, we sort it and wash it. This vast expenditure of useless energy nevertheless asks us to rethink our relation to material culture; what we choose to keep, what we throw away, and why.

2 Responses to 33 Proposals for São Paulo

Yay! I really enjoyed the proposals and even thought of one I'd like to see too – catadore trading cards, recycled card stock with the catadores picture and a few details , to be traded by young and old alike to get a complete set. A way of revaluing the catadore, even if it does create more objects.

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