I BECAME ACQUAINTED WITH PIXAÇAO DURING ADOLESCENCE DUE TO THE MANY PIXADORES IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD. I USED TO LIVE ON THE NORTH SIDE OF SAO PAULO, AND WHEN I STARTED GETTING CLOSE TO IT AROUND 2001 AND 2002 THE PIXAÇAO SCENE WAS PARTICULARLY STRONG THERE. I WAS ALWAYS IMPRESSED BY THEIR ORGANIZATION AND THEIR DARING ATTITUDE.
INTERVIEW BY SERGIO FRANCO
PORTRAIT AND PHOTOS BY CHOQUE PHOTOS
Photography came long after that, by about 2006. I first came close to pixação by collecting the folhinhas (“leaflets,” the signatures they exchange among themselves) and ended up owning a whole collection of them. From the moment I got involved with photography I had an instant interest in capturing their actions and began studying this theme, because practically no material existed on the subject. Pixação in São Paulo isn’t new; it has been around for about 30 years but it hasn’t been studied thoroughly so I aim to pioneer material in the field of photography, because no one has ever photographed the pixadores in action. Society knows pixação on the walls, but the act itself, the backstage, no one has knowledge of because access is very restricted. It’s a tittle complicated being accepted among these guys. —Choque Photos
Sergio Franco: What elements do you consider make up pixação? How does pixação differ from graffiti, and what makes pixação different from other forms of intervention in the city?
Choque Photos: The aesthetical attitude, which broke away from the New York tag and graffiti sensibilities. São Paulo has created its own modality. For those who live outside São Paulo, it’s known as tag reto, “straight tag.” Pixação has also established a more strict relationship with the city’s architecture; it occupies the verticality of the urban landscape due to the great preponderance of buildings. For that matter, pixação occupies the space a lot more efficiently than any other form of street language. It has veiticalized itself as writing.
What I find impressive in pixacao is that it occupies every abandoned space, and not just the subway and trains as has occurred in NYC. You’re able to find pixação that has been there for 20 years through these abandoned spaces. Thus, they utilize space more efficiently, from the ground to the top. They’ll climb buildings and do the pixos on rappel. São Paulo is a giant calligraphy book: the pixadores will fill it in so nothing will be left blank. I believe that the spaces left blank in the city awaken in the pixadores the same feeling as a blank canvas to an artist. When the pixadores see these spaces, they’ll project in their minds how that place will look with their imprint on it.
How is this search done for taking over the entire city with pixo interventions? What are the principles that move it? How do the pixadores mobilize themselves so that they will have an amplified circulation throughout the city?
There are three basic things that lead the guys to pixação; first is the social recognition; second is the entertainment and adrenaline; and third is the protest.
The vast majority of the kids are from the periphery and what are their options for entertainment where they come from? A small soccer field, a bar in every corner, and a crack house. Those guys don’t have a lot of options; there isn’t a public policy of recreation aimed at this public. For this reason, pixação became a way of recreation for the periphery, or the outsiders; it’s the greatest option for these kids. Relating this to social knowledge, I would say that these guys, in their majority, have problems with their families. Parents are absent from their upbringing so they look for a second family in the streets. They refer to their pixo group as family. Since the guys don’t have recognition at home, they look for it in the street, and it’s the alternative they find.
But such social acknowledgement is internal, because they are the only ones that understand the letters; the writings are so sophisticated that they are the only ones who can read them. To society it’s an indirect recognition, once it sees pixo as an aesthetic aggression against their bourgeoisie standards of beauty. They say that through their actions the bourgeoisie won’t be able to have the spotless white buildings as they wish. The guys are questioning the concept of private property with the act of pixação; they take the space symbolically, then. They are symbolically appropriating when they paint on the top of the building, making the building their own space.
But what is the degree of protest in the manifestation?
It’s an indirect protest, not as it occurred during the dictatorship years. The pixação works as a symptom of a much larger social problem in São Paulo. It isn’t meant to be read or understood directly. It’s an aggression, not a form of communication for the society.
Pixação is a closed community and form of communication for the members of the manifestation, but it pops in the city as if it were a disease. When the guys are doing the pixo, destroying the city, they are digging out the insides of the city, all of its pressure cooker problems: drug traffic, criminality—everything helps create pixação. Each year the letters become more and more aggressive. From the beginnings of Pixação to today the letters became more illegible. There are letters that even the pixadores can’t read.
What’s your relationship with the people held responsible for the attacks to the University of Fine Arts, the Choque Cultural Gallery, and the Biennial of São Paulo?
I learned about it only a few hours beforehand; I don’t participate in the debates or confabulations to elaborate such attacks. I want to stand as an observer without interfering with their decisions, registering what I find relevant.
The matter of the Biennial is delicate because when the rumors about the attack were passed, Ana Paula Cohen, the curator, made a very polemical declaration, which was, “Those people from the periphery don’t know what they’ll find here.” Therefore it was seen as a comment charged with prejudice; it provoked the pixadores. Actually, the Biennial wanted the event to be occupied under the theme “in live contact” since they were searching for a public intervention and participation. But when the pixação came about—seen as the number one public enemy of this city—the Biennial couldn’t not react. If they let pixação be part of the Biennial they would be legitimizing the manifestation as art. But society isn’t prepared to receive pixação as legitimate art.
Do you see the relevance of your work as construction of knowledge?
To speak of pixo as something unique is one of the key factors making pixação so interesting. It’s a marginalized form of urban language. Historically, it came out of people who didn’t possess a vast repertoire of knowledge.
The pressure cooker has exploded, and it’s the marginalized screaming, making themselves present in the entire city. You won’t see a single street of São Paulo that doesn’t have any pixação. It’s the entire city, and a city the size of a country; it’s 20 million people. It’s their city, but society hasn’t taken that into account yet. The pixadores already do the walls, roofs, and windows of the buildings; next thing you know they will be having breakfast with the property owners. Sometimes they will invade the apartments, do pixos everywhere and not steal a thing, only terrorize the psychology of the bourgeoisie.
THERE’S NO USE PUTTING A WALL UP;
THEY’LL DO AS THE RATS AND ENTER THROUGH THE CRACKS.
Knowing the procedures for subverting security systems in a society is valuable, isn’t it?
Certainly. The guys see each action as military tactic. They study, plan, and go for the action. It’s a matter of subverting the entire security system. In pixação, as in graffiti, it’s a matter of vandalism. They face it as a military mission because there’s a life at risk in the action. You have a goal and you may die on the way. Many guys have died. A kid falls and dies every month. I even stopped accompanying them.
Here in São Paulo, who reports this?
Last year I learned about five guys falling and dying. Many guys fall and no one even knows about it. Several have died, many permanently injured. I’m sure that each month one will fall. I’ve seen some data from the mayor’s office stating there are five thousand active pixadores in the city. Five thousand young people is a whole generation that’s abandoned on the streets. The guys are screaming out their existence every moment. They climb on top of buildings and no one gives them attention. It will come to a point where they will no longer be able to remain ignored.
What does this knowledge of the procedures for subverting security systems show? What’s its utility?
It shows that everything is fragile. It reveals how we live under a false sense of security inside luxury condos. People pay exorbitant sums of money so they will have security guards,
vigilance cameras, and sophisticated locks. Along comes a kid, a bum, madness, and that kid can subvert everything with a screwdriver. Even if you try to stay behind the wall, they know how to break it. You aren’t completely safe in a city like São Paulo. So long as there are absurd social contrasts there will be no way of remaining safe. There’s no use putting a wall up; they’ll do as the rats and enter through the cracks.
When we discuss the graphic composition of pixação, we find plenty of sophistication.
The runes are the fruit of the first European alphabet; it’s very old calligraphy, probably over 12,000 years old. What’s interesting is that something so ancient came to surface in São Paulo, within a marginalized culture of people who didn’t possess any access to quality education that would offer such a reference. Society sees it as scribble, but it’s actually something quite sophisticated. And each pixação is unique. When the guys create their letters they seek originality, and still go head to head with other outdoor advertisements and graffiti, thus having to create something dramatically different. They need to stand out on the walls.
What have you got to say about graffiti photography today?
It’s much more like an aesthetical jerk off, which doesn’t contextualize with the city; it’s just a reproduction of the work. But there are photographers who stand out in the middle of it. The work of Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant in the 1980s is also good, and they held the role of dispersing graffiti around the world. The history of any expression only reaches the world after it has official documentation.
Pixação in São Paulo grew independently and without any external reference because they didn’t have access to such material. There was no Internet, books didn’t arrive, and the films didn’t arrive, either. That’s why it grew apart from NYC. Only rock bands’ logos arrived. São Paulo has developed itself as if it were an island.
In Francois Chastenet’s book, Pixação: São Paulo Signature, I read that pixação is a translation from the word “tag” in Portuguese. But it isn’t. It’s a movement that’s grown apart from all this. The term is Brazilian. And it’s the latest trend in the art world.
My essay about the action of pixo took me two years. It was two years in the street, overnighting and being in several critical situations, risking my life, running from bullets, and all the mishaps faced by pixadores. There were nights I couldn’t imagine coming back home.
Street art is the division in art history, because for the first time an entire generation of adolescents who have been forgotten and treated as outsiders have appropriated the city illegally to realize their work. On a global scale this has never happened before. The importance of pixação to São Paulo is equal to the importance of graffiti in NYC, and in my opinion, a much larger and more important phenomenon than anyone has yet to witness.
For more information about Choque Photos, contact Flickr.com/choquephotos.
Resource: Choque Photos, juxtapoz mag. 2009 #07