Rooted in an ‘artistocratic’ cultural tradition, the Pessoa de Queiroz family has been reviving an old sugarcane factory near Recife since 2015, by transforming it into a botanical and artistic garden-park. One of the most exciting Brazilian cultural initiatives of the moment !
In a country that has relegated Culture to a modest administration office dependent on the Ministry of Tourism, with a policy that seems to be more afraid of Culture than believing in its roborative capacities, salvation comes from private initiatives, which for years have been guaranteeing a dynamic cultural life in Brazil. That is why we applaud without restraint initiatives such as the one of the brilliant Bernardo Paz who created Inhotim, one of the biggest art park projects in the world, which will be the subject of a future article, as well as FAMA in Itu (SP) by the young and dynamic Marcos Amaro that the B & C Club presented to you in March. Today we would like to make you discover and admire ‘A Usina de Arte’ (opened in 2015), a wonderful initiative of the Pessoa de Queiroz family in the Brazilian North-East region of Pernambuco. Its president, Bruna Pessoa de Queiroz, will be pleased and honoured to present it to us during the webinar on May 4th.
A youthful personality with a radiant smile, Bruna Pessoa de Queiroz gives you the impression that she has become ‘your new best friend’. This ‘artistocrat’, married to her first cousin Ricardo (who is also an artist in his spare time), belongs more than anyone else to this dynastic family from the North East for whom art and culture are like a second skin. Her great-grandfather, an ambassador, had, among other works, one of the most important collections of the Dutch painter Frans Post (1612-1680), whose paintings are unique testimonies of the life of the Portuguese colonists and of the Brazilian landscape. Her family is also a cousin of the famous Brennand brothers, Francisco whose incredible museum-workshop near Recife can be visited and Ricardo whose nearby institute-castle contains one of the most valuable Brazilian collections of antiques and ancient art. We will stop listing the family tree of this family after indicating that they are also related to Nara Roesler, whose gallery is one of the most important in Brazil with a New York branch.
This project ‘A Usina da Arte’ is a symbol of renewal, an incredible act of resistance to the resignation of the past that gives new perspectives to this former sugar factory whose activities stopped in 1998. It now houses an artistic and botanical park that promotes a new form of environmental, economic and cultural activity in the area. Owned by the Pessoa de Queiroz family, the factory began operating in 1929. Bruna reminds us that the factory was the largest producer of alcohol and sugar in the country in the 1950s. Located in the municipality of Água Preta, Zona da Mata Sul de Pernambuco, the factory had its own railway, which had about 100 kilometers of line, 21 locomotives and more than a hundred wagons, used to transport sugar cane, sugar and alcohol. Struck by a serious crisis, the factory had to close down. Almost two decades later, this sad scenario of bankruptcy is giving way to an artistic landscape that is as buzzing as it is exciting.
The old factory has been transformed into a project where workshops and classrooms follow one another, in dialogue with the local flora and fauna. An international art residency project (visual arts and literature) has been created, with the production of works that interact directly with the environment of the old factory. At the same time, work has begun on reforestation and recovery of wildlife habitat in the area, with the aim of reversing the wear and tear of decades of land use by sugar cane plantations. The art-botanical park, which has about 5,000 distinct species, is not only a sculpture garden, but a space for experiences and interactions with an annual music festival and an educational program for local schoolchildren. In this article we just focus on the artistic part.
What is important to understand is that this project is the fruit of a family passion that made them dive back into contemporary art. With them, nothing is written in advance. Everything remains open and the – good – encounters have dictated the first steps of this project which in less than five years has already managed to gather about thirty works, mainly made on the spot. As we will see later, there are no prejudices and thus the most ‘crazy’ projects can find a place. At the Usina da Arte you can try anything without time limit, and it’s no problem if you can’t put together a proposal right away because of its difficulties or if it’s ephemeral like a performance. What counts is the dialogue. If the invited artists have total creative freedom, the sugar-alcohol culture permeates most of the reflections and questions proposed by their works. Many of them focus on the cycles, work methods, machines, vocabulary and architecture of the sugarcane industry. But in this land of freedom, this is never a sine qua non.
There are no pavilions, only works that interact with the environment and are scattered throughout the 33 hectares of the site. Although there are little golf carts to take you around, it’s good to plan for two days to visit. Bruna likes the idea that you experience at least one sunset on site. It’s part of the experience and the thoughtfulness of her presentation. Everything is planned to stay on site. There is no committee. The artist José Rufino (1965-) was until 2019 the artistic director and the factory has a partnership agreement with the MAMAM of Recife. Otherwise, the project remains a family one and knows how to seize the opportunities that arise with great intelligence. For example a meeting at the Venice Biennale with Lorenzo Fiaschi of the Continua gallery has resulted in the work ‘Jardim Fragil’ by the Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa (1967-) being shown shortly.
The residency program created in 2013 was the starting point for the creation of the art factory. The very first works were by the great designer Hugo França (1954-) with his bench sculptures created from condemned tree trunks. The project was formally structured in 2015, after meeting the artist José Rufino with whom they share a passion for plants. It has kept the ‘flexible’ spirit wanted by the family. He confides to the B & C Club, « I was focused on pointing out a conceptual path, a kind of informal curating. A project of residencies, festivals and various educational and cultural actions started very freely and largely based on contacts, collaborations on artists’ appointments, especially with Hugo França and Fábio Delduque (artist and festival director), as well as that of MAMAM in Recife. »
José Rufino tells us about the first steps of Unisa da Arte: « My idea went from the concepts of social sculpture (Joseph Beuys), relational aesthetics (Nicolas Bourriaud), relational objects (Lygia Clark), Arte Útil, useful art as opposed to art for art’s sake, (Tania Bruguera and experiences of the Queens Museum, Van Abbemuseum and Grizedale Arts), Sim- poiesis (Donna Haraway) and other concepts-experiences of socially engaged art. Therefore, I was not thinking much about the works, but mostly about the experiences between the artists and the community. The first guest was Carlos Mélo, who got involved in the village of Santa Teresinha and, at the end, performed a show with the participation of local people. Then Daniel Acosta and Lais Myrrha, whose projects are still not finished, but whose local experiences were important for the direction of the residencies and the typologies of the works in the Usina da Arte park. It is worth mentioning the incredible dialogue that the Pessoa de Queiroz family developed with José Rufino, who was able to translate their expectations perfectly.
With the family’s permission and out of affinity with his own poetic path, especially with visual poetry and mail art, José Rufino dedicated himself to the creation of a space more focused on the linguistic experiences and heritages of the Pernambuco region and the Northeast Vanguard. A space, on the ground floor of the current library of the Factory, was designed for exhibitions and events for teachers of the region, in order to offer tools for linguistic and sensory exploration for their classes. Thus was a first exhibition by Paulo Bruscky,(1949-) followed by one by the Uruguayan artist Clemente Padín (1939-).
There is a lot to say and we cannot, unfortunately, go into detail about all the works in this remarkable sculpture park. What we would like to emphasize in particular today is the incredible audacity of having inaugurated, only a few weeks ago, the shocking and disturbing work (in the true sense of the words) of the artist Juliana Notari (1975-). This sets the tone for a dynamic, daring and generous project.
Diva is a concrete installation sculpture painted in a fiery red for resin of 33 meters long, 16 meters wide and six meters deep placed on the slope of a gentle hill which makes the work visible from far away. It appears to be a woman’s vulva. The work brings to the fore issues related to the poetry of the artist, who since 2003 has been examining the female anatomy and seeking to provoke debate around the sexual taboos imposed on women. But the field of interpretation of the work also opens up to other fields, such as the exploitation of the earth by capitalism.
It is in line with the works that have marked the major controversies of recent centuries. We are thinking of course of « The Origin of the World », Gustave Courbet’s famous painting of 1866. We also think of Anish Kapoor’s Dirty Corner (called by some journalists ‘vagina of the queen’) in the gardens of Versailles or « A origem do terceiro mundo » presented in 2010 at the 29th SP Biennial by Henrique Oliveira, a Brazilian artist who now lives in London, whom the B & C club will be meeting shortly. This type of work should be able to be a magnificent trigger for adult reactions and encouragement of thought, everything that the Usina da Arte wishes to provoke. Negative reviews came mostly from afar but the local reception was good.
In conclusion, it is good to see that in Brazil, thanks to the presence of civil society and projects such as A Usina da Arte, culture is far from being dead and continues to be alive. The Usina da Arte is already a very solid project. Launched in November 2015, it is still in its early stages. The future looks promising and we can already see the arrival of a sculpture by Saint-Clair Cemin (1951-) or ‘Anfiteatro Botânico’ by Thiago Rocha Pitta (1980-). The Usina da Arte is already a destination worth visiting. The smiles of Bruna and Ricardo Pessoa de Queiroz await you. So many good reasons to be happy and to go and discover the North-East of Brazil!
To find out more: the best way is to go there! Unfortunately the site has not yet been updated: http://usinadearte.org/
List of artists : Marcio Almeida, Frida Baranek, Joan Barrantes, Seu Barrau, Paulo Bruscky, Saint-Clair, Cemin, Flavio Cerqueira Liliane Dardot, Bruno Faria, Bené Fonteles, Hugo França, Carlos Garaicoa, Iole de Freitas, Vadim Karchenko, Georgia Kyriakakis, Arthur Lescher, Vanderley Lopes, Paulo Meira, Denise Milan, Juliana Notari, Ricardo Pessoa de Queiroz, Thiago Rocha Pitta, José Rufino, S. Shigley, Marcelo Silveira, José Spaniol, Ronaldo Tavares, Carlos Vergara, Julio Villani
To find out more about the first artist curator: http://www.joserufino.com/ and @institutojoserufino