Poster Especies Emergentes
Ala Plástica. Poster: Emergent Species, 1995

Poetic Spaces = Ethical Languages:
Diverse Practices in Latin America

Jessica Gogan and Luiz Guilherme Vergara

Poetic space – any language in the service of ethics.”

Lygia Pape1

Brazilian artist Lygia Pape made this “statement” in relation to her work EAT Me: a gula ou a luxúria? (Eat me: gluttony or lust?). We have chosen it as the inspirational touchstone for the “web” of derive (driftings) between ethics and aesthetics at stake in this issue of Revista MESA bringing together diverse examples of contemporary practices in Brazil and Latin America (in particular Argentina, Columbia and Cuba).2 Part of a generation of artistic innovators that emerged in the 1960s and 70s, there is a kind of ambivalence in Pape’s poetic quests and driftings amidst the aesthetic and ethical, which she takes on as a plastic concept as a means of refusing “to work with any notion of hierarchy in art”3. Speaking of her interest in “Form”, Pape said, “I think that the aesthetic founds ethics. I grew up with this vision”4. At the same time, in her joint trajectory and complicity with Hélio Oiticica, both artists cast aside museums and galleries and launched themselves into the city in “Delírios ambulatórios” (Walking deliriums)5. From here onwards Pape declares her vocation to the ambivalence of form, to the “other side” and “to see via the cracks and make discoveries.”6

What parallels and contrasts might be made between Pape and Oiticica’s artistic deliriums and forms of exile and the cases gathered together in this issue? In what ways do contemporary developments expand on Pape-Oiticica’s daily nomadic movements of delirious driftings to discover other “magnetic spaces”, ones for encounters free of hierarchies, unsung heroes, parangolés and broken alleyways, outside of the “so-called artistic context”?7

These inspirational starting points, questions, and risks richly inform this issue. One can trace a web of ethical synergies and advances in various contemporary practices such as the environmental and bioregional activism of Argentine collective Ala Plástica and its metaphors of new emerging species. What counted as an ethical impulse to Pape finds a present-day voice in their work striving to affect “communicative strategies and actions connected to social contexts that sharply contrast with modernist ideologies of art’s neutrality.”8

Perhaps Brazilian geographer Milton Santos’ “acontecer solidário” (happening of/in solidarity)9 can be read as the differential of an ethics of contemporary artistic creation that shifts from a notion of creativity centralized in one individual to that of the poetic encounter with others; particularly with those on the other side of the cracks, marginalized realities still in a “state of obscurity.”10

We also see at play in this issue a searching for different ways and means to be together. Fred Coelho’s provocative think piece points to this quest for “how to live together” experienced by artists and non-artists in Brazil and Latin America as exercises in/of language, building and dwelling that have in common an ethical starting point that grounds the poetic space. Certainly, the examples presented here are but small “fractions of the infinite” of emerging processes that cut across different territories and solidarities of art, activism and pedagogy. What briefly follows are some of their conceptual resonances that are, in turn, part of an unfinished and open critical discussion that engages in the expansive possibilities of the aesthetic at the service of the ethical.

Inhabit, Contact and Andarilhagem

To inhabit demands an opening up to time and place.11 And to life as Brazilian author Clarice Lispector notes “as a state of contact”12. This contact means moving out of the studio, museum or classroom, meeting people where they are at, breaking hierarchies of knowledge and ways of knowing, challenging injustices, living on and within the borders and fissures of the world.

This kind of practice is akin to what Brazilian educator Paulo Freire called “andarilhagem” (“andar” in Portuguese = to walk) – a kind of walking around, a nomadic dwelling with otherness and oneself, an active listening that engages and responds to people, contexts and situations.13 Pedagogy, for Freire, is movement – a constant lived peregrination. It is also a movement in the world of ideas challenging assumptions and schools of thought, a political and deliberate act of dislocation and opening up to time and the other.

As Felipe Moreno shows us, this movement can invent a new “hybrid of art and pedagogy”, such as René Francisco’s “pedagogical pragmatics”, where the artist moves outside of the studio or the classroom with his students into the “real world”, creating collective actions “dictated by the circumstances and demands of the other”14. The necessity and solidarity of the encounter with the other inaugurates the aesthetic at the service of the ethical. It is in this sense that Roberta Condeixa offers us the micro-utopias made possible by Juan Manuel Echavarría in his therapeutic painting laboratory of existential recovery and release together with former guerrillas of drug trafficking in Colombia.15

What aligns these artistic practices in their different forms of interconnectivity and expansiveness is the condition of co-inhabiting as a means to construct territories of affection without hierarchies. Carlos Vergara in his constant practice of dislocation and travel – from local corners to far off worlds – enacts a unique creative gesture of reverence and (in)vocation to the singularities that inhabit each place where the artist is a kind of “supporting actor”16.

To make this state of co-creation and contact possible, it is vital to inaugurate a time and space without “centrifugal” hierarchies, as the moving words of the “quebradeiros” manifesto cry out for17 (Quebradeiros are artists, producers and educators from the peripheries of Rio de Janeiro attending the University of Quebradas – an outreach program of Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The term comes from the Portuguese “quebrar” = meaning to break and “quebrada”, referring to the broken alleyways of favelas). Equally key, as Angela Carneiro notes, is the vital flow of affection that simultaneously mobilizes and enables the creation of a lived cartography of encounters, driftings and multiple crossings and circulations of the city.18

Solidarity and the Decolonial

Peripheries are not only urban, but also of the natural world. Guilherme Vaz brings us to a Niterói Atlantic forest in the state of Rio de Janeiro, once traveled by Charles Darwin, evoking other margins, indigenous peoples and cultures, and an environmental consciousness. His sound performance with rattles inaugurates a ceremonial symbology of an “acontecer solidário” between indigenous sounds and contemporary rituals produced simultaneously with the experience.

This potent act of verbal silence resonates, as do all of the projects presented here, with emerging critical thought that seeks to delink and decolonize practices, both in their content and ways of doing, from traditional Western macro-narratives and points of reference, engaging with what critic Walter Mignolo called “epistemic disobedience”19. With the collaboration of 30 artists and researchers from various regions in Brazil, Cristina Ribas offers a network of disobedience of this emerging epistemic – new transversal vocabularies, ones that are rigorous and deeply embodied, informed by locality, affectivity and subjectivity, to navigate and reinvent our place in the world.

It is possible then throughout the examples gathered here to identify a kind of co-mutuality of language and practices, ways of thinking and doing, that not only change the content of art making and activism but also the terms of the conversation.

Revisiting Lygia Pape once more, we might ask: is it not the ethical ties and bonds of solidarity that ground the potency of the aesthetic from the other side of the cracks?

“Espacio Poético”
– yo y
– los otros
– Todos
– Planeta Poluttio
– Mi tierra. […]20

“Poetic Space”
– I me
– others
– Everyone
– Polluted Planet
– My land. […]



1 Lygia Pape. Depoimento. Eat Me: a gula ou a luxúria? 21 de abril de 1976. In. Manuel J. Borjas-Villel and Teresa Velázquez eds. Lygia Pape: Espaço Imantado. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2012, p. 372

2 “The project “teia” (web) proposes to occupy the city of Rio de Janeiro (south zone) and principally the north zone […] with a collective movement where the structural installation will be completed by the public.” Lygia Pape, Ttéis, Área abierta, 1979. Ibid., p. 369

3 Statement by Lygia Pape. In. Marcio Doctors. “A arte de ver pelas frestas”. Op cit., Borjas-Villel, p. 374

4 Ibid., p.373

5 Delirium Ambulatorium is a text by Oiticica and a performance with the soundtrack by the Rolling Stones created for the event “Mitos Vadios” (Wandering Myths) organized por Ivald Granto, in São Paulo in 1978. In: Hélio Oiticica. Eds. Guy Brett, Catherine David, Chris Dercon, Luciano Figueiredo, Lygia Pape. Rio de Janeiro: Projeto Hélio Oiticica, 1992, p. 215; Reminiscent of Debord’s “dérive” or driftings, the delírios ambulatórios were early morning wanderings throughout the city. Pape describes them: “Hélio and I would often go out to walk in the early morning around the city. He would say: let’s enjoy it. The delirium ambulatorium was this: you went out wandering about the entire city, it wasn’t dangerous at all, and there discovered things, seeing and living”. Lygia Pape in Denise Mattar. Lygia Pape. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará, 2003, p.75 [Free translation]

6 Op cit., Borjas-Villel, p.373

7 Parangolé is a term used by Hélio Oticica to describe interventionist works combining colorful capes, standards and performance inspired by his engagement with samba and the Mangueria favela. Writing in 1964 Oiticica described Parangolé as an “idiomatic expression, slang from Rio de Janeiro that has several meanings: sudden agitation, animation, happiness, and unexpected situations among people”. Hélio Oiticica. “Bases fundamentais para uma definição do Parangolé” Opinão 65. Exhibition catalogue. Rio de Janeiro: Museum of Modern Art, 1965 cited in Hélio Oiticica. Exhibition catalogue, Rio de Janeiro: Projeto Hélio Oiticica, 1992 p. 88; Between 1968 and 2011 Pape created a series of photographs entitled Espaços imantados (Magnetic Spaces). They refers to public spaces that Pape describes as “a space that I identify with as soon as I encounter it. I get there and feel all of that force, do you know what I mean?” “Espaços imantados” op cit., Borjas-Villel, p.285 [Free translation]); Pape notes of her interest in working “outside of the so-called artistic context.” Ibid., p.373

8 Ala Plástica. “Bio-regional Initiative: A redefinition of spaces of creation and action.” In: “Poetic Space = Ethical Languages: Diverse Practices in Latin America”. Revista MESA nº2, April, 2015

9 Milton Santos. O Processo Espacial: O Acontecer Solidário. A Natureza do Espaço. São Paulo: Edusp, 2002, p. 165

10 Lygia Pape. Op cit., Borjas-Villel, p. 373

11 In his essay “Dwelling Building Thinking” Martin Heidegger explores the vital importance of “inhabiting” as a kind of “dwelling” suggesting the necessarily mutual origins of the poetic and ethical when he notes that, “only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build”. Martin Heidegger. Poetry, Language, Thought. “Building Dwelling Thinking”. Translated by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Perennial Classics/Harper Collins, 2001 (First published 1971), pp.141 – 159, p, 158; Maurice Merleau Ponty similarly emphasizes the notion of “inhabiting” in his criticism that “science manipulates things and refuses to inhabit them”. In Maurice Merleau-Ponty. O Olho e o Espírito. São Paulo: Cosac-Naify, 2004, p.13 [Free translation]; and more recently Irit Rogoff has suggested the importance of “inhabiting” and “proximity” as a means to reimagine contemporary practices and forms of critique. Irit Rogoff. “Smuggling – an embodied criticality” p.1

12 Clarice Lispector. The Passion According to G.H. Trans Ronald W. Sousa. University of Minnesota Press, 1988 (A paixão segundo G.H, 1964) p.166

13 Danilo R. Streck, Telmo Adams, Cheron Zanini Moretti. “Pensamento pedagógico em nossa América: uma introdução.” In Danilo R.Streck ed. Fontes da Pedagogia Latino-Americano: Uma antologia. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2010, pp. 19 – 35, p.28

14 Felipe Moreno. “René Francisco and Pragmatic Pedagogy.” Revista MESA op.cit [link]

15 Roberta Condeixa. “Juan Manuel Echavarría: Multiple Voice Biographies in The War We Have Not Seen”. Ibid

16 Carlos Vergara. “Intreview: Carlos Vergara. An Artist Traveler”. Ibid

17 Op cit., Santos p. 165. Santos notes that “centrifugal” forces are those that are imposed experiences from outside to inside and from top to bottom, such as normative or assistancialist projects in communities (term used in Brazil for social assistance projects that have a salvionist dimension that bring in resources that often only help momentarily rather than empowering). He rather argues for the “centripetal” forces generated by solidarity from the ground up as it were.

18 Angela Carneiro. “Encounters and Detours: Affective Cartographies of the University of Quebradas”. Revista MESA op cit

19 Walter Mignolo. “Geopolitics of Sensing and Knowing: On (De) Coloniality, Border Thinking, and Epistemic Disobedience”. European Institute for Progressive Cultural Practices. Journal, September, 2011

20 Lygia Pape. “Espaço poético” (Poetic Space). Poem written in Catalan. Op cit. Borjas-Villel, p.188