A guerrilla performance
São Paulo Bienal, São Paulo
September 5, 2016
Performed: 2 hours 44 minutes
With Marko Brajovic, Tiago Ferraz, Jascha Herr, Rafael Menova (carriers), Beatriz Chachamovits (front lady), and Alexis Milonopoulos (executive producer)
Images: Marcelo Elidio, Marcello Dantas, Alexis Milonopoulos, Tiago Ferraz
Special thanks to Ivan Yushkov, Kamil Zhurakulov, Silvio do Nascimento Chaves
Fyodor Pavlov-Andreevich Studio: Anna Shpilko (director), Katya Gimaletdinova (co-ordinator), Yulia Vavilova (assistant), Vladimir Kudryavtsev (production co-ordinator)
The Foundling secretly arrived in São Paulo to hit the Bienal with its opening gala dinner served for a good hundred of Brazilian and international art VIPs. After last autumn’s intervention at Christie’s London VVIP dinner, I thought the piece should make its way to yet another city I consider my home – and there is no bigger art event in Brazil than the São Paulo Biennale. As a side note, Brazil is in severe crisis right now. Its grandeur and shine of not long ago are definitely a thing of the past. Also, the glassbox at the Bienal was intended as a personal message to someone special. To begin, I sent about a dozen emails to its chief curator Jochen Wolz – but never heard back. So, I reasoned that the box would definitely be noticed, unlike the emails.
Alexis, Marcelo, Adriana, and my dear taxi driver friend Silvio, arrive at the Ibirapuera park and start making circles around the Bienal building to size up the dinner entrance situation. Apparently, there is not much movement happening, so we decide to park in front of the building across the road, the MAM Museum, and have a proper look. Marko, Jascha, Tiago, and Rafael arrive. We get the box out of the car, and leave it in the bushes located between the Bienal and the MAM.
Marko walks to the entrance and confirms it’s all quiet – even though there is a long reception table at the door with some ten receptionists, all set to receive the guests. We start planning the route, so the reception and security don’t see us while the box is being carried.
Beatriz, who just joined us, goes to the reception and stays there for a while pretending she’s nervous because her friends are late. She keeps on looking at her phone and at the street. Beatriz is dressed better than most of the actual guests we encountered later – she’s way too sexy for the park. At a certain point, one of the receptionists tells her the dinner entrance is no longer there: ‘It’s such a mess here today! Sorry, Miss! Our management just decided that the dinner access will be moved to the main entrance of the building, so we are wrapping it up here. And, by the way, go and check on your friends, they might have already arrived!’ – ‘Oh no, you don’t know my friends, they are just awful! They make me wait here, and are probably enjoying it! Look at me, do I look like I fancy waiting at all?’ Having said her piece, Beatriz walks back and relays the news. We immediately drive the box to the other end of the building.
I walk to the main entrance and straightaway run into the artist I really adore, Francis Alÿs, whom I last saw in Rio, where we tried to brainstorm on a project at Favela Rocinha (shame, it never worked out). He’s one more person – on top of us ten – who knows what’s going to happen. Francis has his suitcase on him and is on his way to the hotel: he’s not much of a posh dinner type of person. Still, he gives me his blessings. That’s important. My other friend, gallerist Daniel Roesler, arrives, and I ask him to go and check for me how the access to the dining area is organized. A few minutes later, he’s back saying that all the guests are asked to use the elevator, which comes to collect people every 5 minutes. I thank Daniel, and walk back to the box. It’s time to go.
I’m leaving my clothes with Alexis and getting into the box.
Alexis is tightening the box with 18 screws. When the box was on holiday in Moscow, we slightly altered its size, so it looks and feels even more claustrophobic than it was. Today is the new box’s premiere.
We are all set. Marko sets in the belt; the four of them count to three, and lift up the delivery.
Beatriz is leading the procession, but she is no longer saying: “The artist is arriving, please step back everyone”. It's not going to work here (like it has in Venice) because of the stupid elevator. However we already rehearsed the new text: ‘It’s a very important guest; he’s on the list, but the box is super heavy; so let us get him into the elevator and then I will come back to give you his name.’ Poor reasoning, sure, but nothing else sounds as convincing.
All the ten receptionists (all wearing black) are there to stop the procession. The elevator just left. Everything is going wrong. Rafael is trying to take some pictures, but even that doesn’t work, as everybody around us is nervous, so he has to put his phone back into his pocket.
While Beatriz is name-dropping in front of the ten receptionists, Jascha and Marko are trying to convince the security: “We will only use the elevator and come back straight away “– pleads Jascha, but nobody wants to listen.
“No no, sorry, I mixed things up, his name isn’t Vik Muniz, my bad. His real name is Marcello Dantas!” – while Beatriz is saying this to the reception, curator Marcello Dantas is actually filming her. Then he and his friend step in: “C’mon, let them use the elevator. He won’t be able to eat much anyway. He’ll just be staring at the food”. Nothing works. While this conversation is happening, the box is being dropped off in front of the elevator door, the belts are being removed (it’s time for security to try to convince the carriers not to take the belts away) and Marko, Jascha, Tiago, and Rafael disappear.
While this conversation is happening, the box is being dropped in front of the elevator door, the belts are being removed (it’s time for security to try to convince the carriers not to take the belts away) and Marko, Jascha, Tiago and Rafael disappear.
One of the receptionists goes to check if the box could be opened easily. She counts the screws and gets sad.
Some of the guests believe the box is dangerous. The security goes: oh it’s actually an art exhibition, anything is possible, everything is safe!
Not much is happening. Almost all the guests have already arrived, but many of them, especially the Brazilians, don’t seem to be too excited about the glassbox. In Venice, London, and Moscow the crowd was going mad taking pictures and selfies non-stop, including celebrities and the art world powers. Here, they do see the box, yet they somehow ignore it (event though, while waiting for the elevator, they spend some minutes in quite an intimate space with the body encased in transparent glass). But, busy with their phones, they manage to avoid it, and it looks to be on purpose.
The answer is simple. The upper and middle class Brazilians are used to terrifying poverty and semi nude bodies sleeping in front of them on a street wherever they go. Need and social immobility live next to the rich and famous at almost every city of Brazil, especially in São Paulo. The only possible response is not to notice it – and that’s what they typically do. A nude body in a glass box is not to be noticed precisely because it resembles poverty and despair. This surprising revelation dawned on me right there and then.
Police and ‘bombeiros’ arrive at the same time (the Bienal team called them before even touching the box - current situation in Brazil designates all legal action, especially at the potentially delicate intersection of art and violence, to a sensitive category. They also expect the mayor of São Paulo to arrive to the dinner and don’t want any political complications).
The receptionists close the door almost entirely, so the photographers and the cameras can barely see the box. Bombeiros are happy to open the box, but the Bienal team decide not to. They leave, and a few people from the outside sneak in to take pictures.
Portuguese prime minister arrives. He looks at the box and smiles. My taxi driver friend Silvio is all of a sudden amongst the press, which, instead of covering the high-profiled visit, is covering the high-profiled reaction to the box. Silvio (who showed some weird ID to PM’s press team) is asking: 'Mr. Prime Minister, am I right understanding that the corruption we have in Brazil came here all the way from Portugal?' Once the PM is in the elevator, the São Paulo mayor arrives. The entire group of receptionists take him to another side of the building. Silvio runs after him: 'Mr. Mayor, do you know there is a naked body in the box at the door out there? Do you want to come and see?' The Mayor wants to, but his assistants don’t.
The longest period of waiting is exactly this one. The box is full of water from inside, and it’s quite hard to breath in there. The Bienal team already knows what to do, but they have to wait until the mayor leaves the building. Once this happens, a few park workers come in and bring a large trolley. They load the box and roll it outside.
The box is left in front of the building.
Alexis opens the screws and the performance is over.