RB It’s bureaucracy that impedes you.
JC Exactly, it impedes…
JA The implementation…
RB The Brazilian State assumes that every citizen is a scammer wanting to take money from the government.
RB So you must defend yourself to the max against all coup attempts. So, every time you apply for a grant, there are many requirements, and after that you have to give an expense report, and it’s so crazy that you just give up.
RB It’s very…
JA We give up.
JC We give up, and that’s what it was like for me. It was a huge loss, because it was years of producing activities, reuniting artists from all over the world in Salvador. And when the time comes for us to receive recognition—and it’s not a lot of recognition—it’s a smaller recognition than we already had before.
JA It’s not recognition, it’s reimbursement.
JC It’s a reimbursement of what we had already produced with our own funds.
RB It’s just a way for you to stay active because…
RB Because you are already doing it, you’re already investing in it, you are already putting it in motion, you are already spending your own money.
JC Yes. And I already had involved a community, right? I had a community involved, we had social work in schools from the neighborhood, where we did shows for the schools. We practically did it for free, and we didn’t receive support from anyone. Nothing. The only support we received was from what we did; we rented the space for events and accommodation and we created artistic residencies, and brought people from the United States to this space, to produce inside this space, so that we could take activities to the community.
So, it’s a crazy double-edged sword, and if you don’t know how to work it right, you end up cutting yourself, and then there is the first cut, you see the blood and you say, “No, I don’t want this for myself anymore.” And then we were basically screwed. We had already taken a big blow, but we took a big blow for now and then we stopped to look and we said, “No, let’s settle down and think about the future and produce again later.” I’m the kind of guy who is an entrepreneur and I like to create things and invest in things. If it doesn’t work out, I create it again and I’ll see where it goes. So, my dream is to start a circus school, so it’s crazy to be able to buy a circus big top, put together a team to build it, but it’s a need. Before I thought I wanted to do this in Salvador, but Salvador has three schools, two circus schools, one in UFBA with a space… Then I thought, why didn’t I think about my city? which currently doesn’t have anything there. We do have the second largest theater in Bahia in Camaçari, we have Cidade do Saber, which the Workers’ Party brought to Camaçari with Luiz Carlos Caetanos’ management. It’s a copy of Cidade do Saber, which is in France as well. He brought it to Camaçari. So, this has also changed the cultural character of the city, but not as much. Let me put it this way: I started a business in Camaçari with Capvara the Clown. Capvara has always been a business. Capvara has always been a business and has never been an artist, because to be an [individual state registered] artist, it was so bureaucratic get the DRT [registration] that I said, “No, why do I need the DRT to prove I’m an artist?” It’s better to be CNPJ [a small business] to prove I’m an artist and be my own businessman. And I do it, because if it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t have any direction. And it's still difficult, it hasn't reached the pinnacle of art or the payback/reward, but it's uplifting to me. Whenever I think about producing, I [feel proud that I] made this happen, you know? I was with that person, I [helped make] that person who they are today. I have two Colombian friends. Their first performance was an incredible hair hanging performance. They put on their first public performance in our space [House of Sustainable Arts] and recently they tagged me on Facebook saying they had won a very big prize in Dubai, and for me that was like…
JA They are reaching the world with that act now.
JC Yes, with that act, with that show! So for me, it was gratifying. Well, I did it! I helped in their process of becoming big, but my process still isn’t big yet, you know?
JA But I think that’s what makes you an artist, because you have this impulse to create, you know?
RB Of course.
JA Despite the conditions, this is what becomes an artist with minimal resources. And really it is the autonomy, even without resources, that I think defines the artistic process, because when…
RB It’s freedom.
JA Yes. Because when you get mixed in with the bureaucracy, you don’t have…
RB …the freedom to create…
JA …or to express yourself.
RB Exactly, yes… I believe that people learn from their own mistakes and that the government will somehow reflect upon these aspects. We now have a golden opportunity, because you have people who are interested in culture within the federal government. And there is a whole discussion now about the development model of cities and the country, which is deeply linked to the creative economy. So there is even a financial interest behind it. But the government needs to limit the bureaucracy, it needs to simplify it. And at the same time, these policies need to be controlled more and more by peers who produce. Because those who produce [culture and art] are the ones who really know and understand what does or does not make sense for you to issue an invoice, not the bureaucrats from Brasilía [capital of Brazil]. The people who produce are the ones who know what happens here or there. So you have to de-bureaucratize. You have to make the digital process of accounting/invoicing and reimbursements much better. You have to put people who practically understand production to evaluate the accounting process and establish protocols and parameters so that all of this is approved by the Court of Auditors and the Judiciary.
JA Jonatas, you touched on a topic that I wanted to hear more about. You said you the Northeast doesn’t have the habit of occupying public squares and watching a show. But I have seen you perform many times in public squares. So, I wanted to talk about this occupation of public spaces by artists who I know more in the Bahian context, but I’d like to hear more examples from São Paulo too.
JC I don’t know if this was the case in São Paulo as well, but in Bahia, I believe that for a long time the government suppressed street artists from being able to work and have their activities in public squares. There is this difficulty, yes, and particularly in Bahia. Most of the times that I performed or did an activity—we call street performances “rodas”—it was communicated with the government. Never once did I do an intervention or an occupation. I scheduled it every time. I requested the space for my performance or event. And the two times I went… all my stuff was detained, so…
JA You were beaten once, too.
JC I was beaten by the police, also due to being and performing in a [public] space. But what I find interesting about this is the majority of the times I was performing in the street, there was no audience. Maybe that’s what Jamie is trying to get at…
JA You create your audience!
JC And then you need a [specific] joke that the American clown, Avner the Eccentric, says, which is getting a “yes.” Everyone [in the crowd] is always so quick to say “no,” because they know you [the clown] will put them in an embarrassing situation, such as stopping them in a public square and staring at them. People [in the square] will say, “No, I’m leaving.” So, what you’re looking for is a “yes.” And that “yes” will be direct, you will be direct, you’ll say to them: “I want you here.” You will say “yes” and boom, there’s no “no,” because their “no” has been nullified, and you are here. So, I started to create a “yes” routine [when performing my clown act]. And what does this “yes” routine entail? Watching people and seeing the exchange of glances they give me. So, once they have exchanged glances with me and I have understood that exchange of glances, I have already made a joke here, and like a novel, I am creating a story until that person is stuck and stays for what will come later, which is the show. And then it’s a matter of hunting, one by one. Once you have 10, it’s a big play. Make those 10 make the noise of 1,000. Applaud, shout. Then people passing by across the street will join in and think, “I want to know why they are making noise.” And that’s how you form a demonstration, it’s using a little, just a little, to create a loud voice, and this loud voice will grow into a big crowd. It’s a strategy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes a dog appears—
JA —or a drunk—
JC Or a drunk, and saves it. I have a very Christian idea about my show. Wherever there is one, two or three will gather to see Capvara the Clown.
RB You are there.
JC I will be present.
JA And Ruy, do you have any experiences watching or studying a group or occupying streets? How are they received?
RB So, undoubtedly when you work, for example, with a political mobilization movement in the culture area, there is confrontation with the government, because normally what you do is, for example, what the Cultural Workers’ Movement [Movimento de Trabalhadores da Cultura] did for a long time was occupy public buildings, like the famous occupation of the Funarte de São Paulo building. Meaning, you have to force a situation of negotiation or present an agenda that is not being recognized because… what Jonatas is saying is that the rule in Brazilian society is to say what the rule is. It’s a government that suppresses whatever it considers to not be in compliance with the law. So, it’s not like you have the conditions for people to do it within the boundaries of the law. You are already dealing with a negation. You don’t have those conditions, but still you suppress anyone who is willing to enter into law or wants to present one, for example. Why do you want to put on a show in a public square? You want to enter into law? Did you inform us of what you will be doing? Did you ask for permission? And so on and so forth. And still the government’s hand will reprimand you. It’s because this is the government’s first instinct, to establish a very clear border between formal and informal, legal and illegal, between what you can do and what you can’t do, and it only knows the language of political violence, of police suppression. So, this is the rule. So, what you normally do when you think about a political movement for a cultural worker or cultural producer is to try to expand this limit and make this border more permeable. How do you make this border more permeable? By passing public policies. That is, you have to make the government recognize that it doesn’t provide you with the conditions needed to produce. However, the government will refrain from suppressing whatever is feasible as much as possible. It will invest in the production, training, space, it will invest in urban infrastructure, in building a public square, a theater, etc. That is, you have to force the government to react, to respond not with their first instinct, which is suppression and political violence, but with negotiated public policies, despite how hard it is, despite the costs of occupation and building vacancies and things like that. Because it’s about that too, but nowadays there is an accumulation, in my opinion, in São Paulo city, for example. Although it’s different now than when I did field research in this area, which is a solidarity economy behind those artistic and cultural production projects. So, for example, there are already artists cooperatives today, theater companies, music groups, slam poets. You now have artistic producers who create associations. At the same time, if they associate, when they form these cooperatives or associations, it becomes easier for the government to recognize them. It’s easier for them to gain this recognition, because there is already a law in place, there is already a legal form that incorporates and takes into account these artists’ existence. There is a division of labor, of professionalization. So, the companies already have people who are accountable or who make contacts or who have a contact within the Secretary of State for Culture of São Paulo. There is a transit there and that guarantees that the government will not suppress artists and, eventually, it may even invest in projects and things like that.
JA It seems to me like it’s a process of democratization, right, and it needs government representatives to change the policies that are happening right now to people from the periphery who are occupying spaces in the municipal, state, and federal governments. This is what could change politics to serve the people, right? I have one more question: what is the social function of art? We talked a lot about money and resources, but what about the social function?
JC I think art is a huge political tool and I think if an artist manages to get visibility with their work, then they have a huge role in society. And art has a role to play. For example, a musician’s role is to put lyrics to a melody. We talked earlier about rap and the importance it has today in São Paulo’s music scene. It’s the same thing with samba in Rio de Janeiro and the idea of maintaining culture, right? The peripheral culture that we know samba comes from, it comes from the periphery, and it’s one of the things that connects people.
The funny thing is, rap and samba are in the same vein. Rap comes from samba. Samba has the bem bolado, which is the faster rhymes which comes from the [tradition of using] boxes of matches and the guys do an exchange of rhymes. And that was made for the peripheral community, it was a singular space, a single moment of distraction, of absorption, of hearing a new word. So, that’s how I see art, when speaking about music. Music has this potential to put lyrics [to a melody]. The circus, in my case, already has a certain artist who will talk directly to an audience and will make a greater political commentary—the clown. The clown has also had an important political history since the beginning of the early centuries, right? For the jester, the king was someone he could ridicule. So, clowns have placed an important role in talking to society and showing that royalty could be ridiculed.
So, that’s how I see art. It plays a huge political role, and this role involves sharing information, and I also think art is calming, it makes people calmer, it’s like a deep exhale, a medicine that we need to treat this human exhaustion. You need to either make art or observe and absorb it; so that everyone in society is benefited.
JA Ruy, do you have any reflections?
RB No, I agree. Jonatas emphasized two dimensions that I think are very present in any definition of art, which are the matter of power… art that challenges power and the matter of reflection. Art makes you think and reflect. At the root of it, the drive that art expresses is the drive of negation. For example, an artist can say, “Look, this isn’t a drinking glass,” despite an object having the shape of a glass and having been made and used like a glass. An artist will say, “I’m going to show you it isn’t a glass.” And so an artist can take it apart and put it back together and say, “No, this is a sculpture, this is a doll, this is something else and isn’t what you think it is.” I mean, the role of art functions to reframe by deconstruction. And upon deconstructing something, it questions established hierarchies and limitations. It questions structures of power, economic structures, structures that were historically built by conflicts and social conflicts and can be rebuilt in another way. So, art is this negative drive that points toward the future, meaning it exploits those limits and transforms those limits anew, and in this sense, it’s essentially utopian. That is, art speaks to something that is present in that moment but not completely developed. So this drinking glass, which is a potential sculpture, which is a doll, which is a kid’s toy, is not fully developed and the artist develops its potential. And to me, this is the most fascinating thing in the artistic world. This constant quest to transcend, to go beyond, to negate that which exists. There is a limit, and [the artist] ensures this limit is surpassed and thought about in other ways and re-envisioned. In short, I agree that it is a little like nature, the essence of art.
JC I also get this idea of “giving the kid the drinking glass,” and it made me reflect on the following: art is very much a child’s process. So, I think that all artists have to have an infantile side, a childish side, in order to develop their process and their artistic side. I see that both in music and in the visual arts. I often see this “child,” even in my own performances. It’s a child, Capvara the Clown is a child, it’s that playfulness. And you play with your own infancy and transform it into an artistic process. So, that’s how I see it. All artists have a child-like essence when they begin to think about and create their artwork. That's the imagination of a child when a child takes a lifeless toy and makes it a car with a motor or when a child takes a drinking glass and gives it little arms and makes it a doll. So, this is a process of regression and becoming a child again.
JA I have the pleasure and ability to imagine. Art imitates life, but it also projects other possible lives. Wonderful! Friends, we have arrived at the end of our conversation. Would you like to share anything else?
JC I’m so glad Ruy could join us. This was my first time on the podcast as well. I think we had a great conversation. It was great to have this dialogue from both sides of society.
JA From two sides of Brazil.
JC And from two sides of Brazil: the Southeast and the Northeast. It has been very gratifying for me to hear your experiences and your point of view. So thank you so much for today. Thank you Jamie as well for giving me the space.
RB I also wanted to say thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you both. It has been a great pleasure, my dear friends.