Introduction: a project in progress

by Wendelien van Oldenborgh




[...] Brazilian culture has long since generated a wide-ranging pattern of communication, capable of including the most disparate discourses.
Maria Moreira



[…], a voice from Brazil can be heard, a voice very old in the tradition of this country, a voice that at a given moment received the name ‘anthropophagous'.
Suely Rolnik




A Certain Brazilianness is looked for, researched, as well as performed during the making of a work.



Productivity in situations of heterogeneity and conflict.
A Certain Braziliannes starts with the productivity of ‘difference’, which overlaps with concepts in different fields, for instance polyphony and polyrhythmic in music, use of pluriform text or -language types in literature or a non-hierarchical organisation of space: a productive result of multiplicity. A Certain Brazilianness puts the idea of fixed identities and therefore also national identities, up for discussion, in the acknowledgement that “identities are transformational, sliding and shifting in an ongoing complex stream of becoming (…)”



From a text by Lebbeus Woods, ‘Everyday war’, 1995,




In the endeavor to find an alternative way of working, A Certain Brazilianness became the title of a multidisciplinary project, based on relations and resonances. In a heterogeneous Brazilian culture a number of significant strategies, partly stemming from the social sphere, have led to impressive moments of production. We can mention the modernist movement in the 1920's, which launched the term “antropofagia” (literally: cannibalism) as a cultural strategy. The literary epitome within this movement is a polyphonic novel called “Macunaíma, the hero without any character” by Mário de Andrade. The development of the Samba as a national musical form, coming from within the Afro-Brazilian community is another example of heterogeneity and conflict as a productive force as well as the Tropicalia movement in the 1960's and 1970's, where music, cinema and visual arts carried on the anthropophagous tradition.

As a way of working, we transfer these possibilities to other areas and try them out. The central idiom is that of film. Two “stages” took place to give the research a direct position in a production process. In these active encounters the participants were performers as well as viewers and listeners. The word "stage" refers to both the phase of the project as to the place of action. The language of film and film production gives a basic shape to all the activities. The members of the crew/cast are all professionals within the cultural field and invited for their affinity with the field of interest.



1. stages . Each stage is a ‘production' event, set in a particular location where the 'crew/cast' engages in the combination of different acts and actions. The nature of the event is both reflective and perfomative. The participants are listeners, observers and performers simultaneously. The first stage was a mapping out of ‘a certain brazilianness' and has given material to structure the next stage, which has more public facets.

2. open archive . In the form of a website, a space is created with a direct relation to an audience. It is a depository and organisation model for the multitude of used references and produced material and to show the relationships among them. The website will therefore change in relation to the development of the process. (see also the website description)

3. film without a frame. The process is describable as a time-based-production, in which the ideas, situations, images and sound recordings of the stages will be used to build up a multi-voiced, polyphonic narrative.

All blocks are connected with each other in two directions. The ‘film without frame' registers the process, which builds up towards a plot resolution, and establishes the production.

Film as a reflexive medium and a productive space

The space of cinematic narrative has opened up a way to work with the existing relationships between reality and construction, between acting and being. Questions, brought up by real, observed situations enter into the world of projection and mediation, revealing strategies of perception and representation.

The film production metaphor allows for new dialogues to appear in the effort to look deeper into the field of interest: a certain brazilianess. The participants who form the ‘crew’ and ‘cast’ are invited for their connection with the topic as well as their expertise relating to the different areas within a film production process: image, text, sound and spoken language, and space.

The work inside this ‘film production’ space results in direct material, which stays open to be shaped towards different presentation forms.


The first stage: mapping and scripting

The location for the he first 'stage', which took place in July 2004, was the Parasite LP2, (created by the architects Stuhlmacher and Korteknie in 2001, as the first of the series they proposed: P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E.: Prototypes for Advanced Ready-made Amphibious Small-scale Individual Temporary Ecological houses), high on the Las Palmas building in the urban part of the harbour of Rotterdam. This area can be described as urban port space, which has lost its economic function and after being uninhabitable for some decades, is now evolving as a most wanted area for both entertainment and living quarters.

This first event was discursive. The casting for the occasion served a more metaphorical than practical function and guided the presentations and discussions along the lines of some considerations within the film process: text, sound, and space.








Maybe the subject and the object, they are not even fixed. You know ...   in an experience people are always changing roles....



And Macunaíma is the hero....



(fragments of the dialogue that took place in the first stage)


In the presentations and discussions the participants have explored the meaning of polyphony and heterogeneous structures, within their different disciplines. The aim was to connect the different narratives, idioms, methods and positions and find in the overlapping areas room for recognition where A Certain Brazilianness could be traced.





... And also: the giant has two names... the giant is Piaimã, which is a name coming from the Indians, and another name is: Venceslau Pietro Pietra, which comes from Venice, in Italy. So he has a link with Europe, and he is double, just like the Orishas from the Afro-Brazilian cult, the Candomblé, who are linked with the Catholic Saints in Brazil. There are doubles every - everywhere, ... there are doubles everywhere...


"We begin to 'understand' African music by being able to maintain, in our minds or our bodies, an additional rhythm to the ones we hear...Only through the combined rhythms does the music emerge, and the only way to hear the music properly, to find the to listen to at least two rhythms at once."


Erik Davis in Roots and Wires: Polyrhythmic Cyberspace, the Black Electronic.



Monobloco is a »bloco do carnaval« from Rio de Janeiro, founded by a shared ideal of an original samba »bloco« from the favela (the slums) and an experimental rock band (Pedro Luís e a Parede). Their music is like a wall of sound (»parede« also means »wall« in Portuguese), like all samba, which is played by a »bateria«, a multitude of percussionists. Each element takes up an equally valued space, and never one has to step aside for another, or annuls that other.



Polyphony ... not just in terms of acoustics, a layering of different sounds, but also different elements, coexisting, but in their difference and never collapsing into a single, kind of unified, harmonic, whole.

(Monobloco plays: rap do cartao postal, from 2001, we hear several voices: Milica: how do you dance? Wen: we'll dance the samba later... Milica, laughing, shaking her head with the rhythm: what is the name of this?)

(fragments of the dialogue that took place in the first stage)


Tia Ciata, Hilária Batista de Almeida (1854-1924), was a priestess in the Afro-Brazilian cult in Rio de Janeiro. Her house was a personal dwelling, but also a meeting place for r seligious rituals. The parties in her house (originated from celebrations for the 'orishas', the saints of the cult) became known to all groups of the city, and it was one of the places where, allegedly, samba was developed. The ground plan of the house can be seen as a visualization of the experience of 'social proximity by layered accessibility'. From the street to the back yard is a route from public accessibility and shared experience, via forms of quasi-permeability towards a closed part, purely for the cult. Each stage in between was accessible, the activities like dance and eating could be enjoyed by the guests, but for those initiated in the cult they simply had more layers of meaning.



this type of organization is common to practically all religious buildings ... ever ... this is really an organisation of a religious building.



yeah... but what happened here is that the institutional and the personal, private division, just collapses, because THAT IS HER HOUSE

(we see the silhouette of Mario, framed by the window which shows us a perfect view of Rotterdam's colourful new architecture ...)

(sound of a chair being pulled, someone sits down, whistles....)



So WHO IS Tia Ciata (laughs)



She was someone with a particular sense of hospitality. She was the first one coming from a very recent slave-past, who had some kind of presence in the cultural life of the city, OUTSIDE the restricted community




The house plan of Tia Ciata can be seen as a model of a particular organisation of space, but especially as a set of conditions for a social situation in which not only being together, but also 'contamination' was possible.


The second stage: Polyphonic Stage

The second location, which was chosen for a productive event, was another parasite, located next to a catholic primary school in Hoogvliet, a post war satellite town of Rotterdam. The architect is Alex van de Beld of ONIX, and its recent placing an initiative of International Building Exhibition Rotterdam: WiMBY!



SchoolParasite "het Beest", photo archive


The location was this time more literarily used as a film set, but at the same time as editing room and as projection screen. On the »film set« the events were open for development and inviting to be used as a productive stage. The location became a »movie-machine«, a performative space, which turned the production of event, script, sounds and song into direct presentation.

To bring A Certain Brazilianness to the set we first turned the parasite into a model for the spatial and social concepts, which were found in the house of Tia Ciata. With the set design by Milica Topalovic, the interior was broken up into three zones, where three 'scenes' could take place simultaneously. The conditions were set to test the possibilities of polyphony, simultaneity and a social dynamic within heterogeneity, (with possible conflicting interests), inviting productive actions and acts of renewal and invention. Within these parameters, we sought to bring back the cultural values that were found in A Certain Brazilianness to a here-and-now reality in this Rotterdam suburb.



Design for the inner space of the parasite conceived for the event by Milica Topalovic


Three zones were mirroring some of the spaces in Tia Ciata's house and the 'scenes', the actions that were proposed in each of them, would relate to the use those spaces would have had. There was a 'front room', which in this case was a small stage area, where a jam session was to take place. The front room of Tia Ciata's house was the closest to the street and it was this room where musicians of the different areas of the city of Rio de Janeiro and of the different social classes would meet each other and improvise (see also Urban Image and Otherness, Maria Moreira 2004). In this 'front room' zone in the parasite a 'scene' took place where raps and beats were developed, based on a mixture of Brazilian sounds, brought material by guests and initiatives from the participants. Three members of the crew/cast (Scep, Zillion and 2Dope) lead the session with some prepared tracks, worked out raps and their talent to improvise. An invitation to join went out to target groups, found in Hoogvliet. The main reason to choose hiphop music and rap was related to the understanding of 'a certain brazilianess' as an antropofagious spirit of adopting, digesting and using musical forms and language codes in a culturally changed way. Since rap is based on strongly coded languages, it brings us to the field of subjectivity and social dynamics specifically. Within these codes, however, hiphop offers an extremely flexible attitude. Suggestions for lyrics came from the crew/cast, and initiatives for beats and spontaneous lyrics were brought in by the guests. Ricardo Basbaum for example let his existing work with the personal pronouns 'you' 'me' confront with this set-up. See for the description of his conceptual framework: Differences between us and them







Hear this motherfucking slur, I'm a motherfucking actor... You're going to be me.... Ai... hold on...
YOU and ME


You want to be you or you want to be me?


Today... you're gone be .... ME

(fragments of the dialogue that took place in the Polyphonic Stage)






The two other zones were a conversation zone, relating to the dining area in Tia Ciata's house: a room, deeper into the house, where conversation would have flowed easily; and the 'kitchen', where originally the food was prepared. In the conversation zone, dialogue was developed through interviews with guests, but also with members of the crew/cast. In the »kitchen« of our model, not only food was being prepared and offered, but also the sound and video recordings were mixed and the images projected »live« onto the large window towards the street.






But it is nice when you know what you're doing and you can control the mic



Because it's powerful the mic,



Yeah the mic is powerful,.. yeah... it's powerful

(fragments of the dialogue that took place in the Polyphonic Stage)


The creation of sound pieces was central, but the games that were played out between the cameras and the performers, the ones that were watching and the ones that were controlling the microphones, the ones that were entering and the ones that were inviting, were very intertwined and full of life, productive conflict and exchange. Different languages were heard: Papiamento (from the Dutch Antilles), English, Surinam Creole (Sranan Tongo), Portuguese and Dutch, it was not directly clear who would be using what and who would be understanding who at once.



Scep sings (to the tune of a new beat 2Dope created for the occasion):

You dance .., you dance .., Me watch .., me watch ..






The following stages

The project is still in progress and with each platform, on which A Certain Brazilanness has an opportunity to act, to research and therefore to produce further, a new stage will be created.



September 2005

Wendelien van Oldenborgh is an artist working in Rotterdam.