José Rufino. Lexicon Silentii, 2014. Photo Ding Musa


José Rufino

In special situations, but not that rarely, my spirit detaches itself from all forms of expectation and my body does not fully understand the functions of the senses. My eyes see but do not know what to do with the visions; my nose recognizes the smells, but does not know where they come from; my ears mix up the sounds in a frantic cacophony; my skin confuses heat and cold, rough and soft; my size becomes unknown to me, at once tiny and immense, allowing my body to assume any size, occupy and vacate any small cavity or interstitial space, everything; time wraps around itself and the instant endures, almost palpably in photographic sequences, while the long lasting shrinks in minute fractions, escaping perception; my tongue tentatively tastes the droplets in the air, but the flavors are mixed between salty and sweet and, finally, my sense of balance is lost, as if there is no more ground, or rather a gravity is pulling me to earth. I still feel, understand myself as something that exists, but a something that is residual, totally porous.

Yet, this deliverance does not result in a useless torpor, on the contrary, it provokes a widespread disruption, as if each cartilage of memory has reached a fever pitch and the thrill generated by this phenomenon is lit up like a fire – my fantasy state, my crater creation. The result is pure enjoyment and the desire to share. It is a private experience, of course, but the spirit orientation, the ideology emanating from this spirit in a volcanic state, indicates that from there something should emerge that might be shared, experienced by the other, and this, nothing more than this, makes me collect the hot things of this crater and reintroduce them to the world as things of art.

This was how I felt when that yellow school bus, heavy and hardened, left the end of one of Juazeiro do Norte’s city highways and advanced into the darkness of a dirt road. I did not know where I was going or exactly what I would find. I was there, delivered onto, dependent upon those who knew what they were doing. I shared the space with seminar participants and local residents, including students.

Despite having made other trips to Cariri, I had never experienced a journey at night outside of the perimeters of the cities. It was like I was a foreigner, as foreign as some of participants who were part of our group. Everything was new or was sabotaged by my perceptual memories so that it would become a full regiment of the new. And I had not expected anything that interesting after my tour around the streets of Juazeiro, strolling along sidewalks crowded with people and passing by stores with every category of thing, some so surprising, so unclassifiable, that they seemed more likely to shine within the category of art. In one large abandoned store, fiberglass mannequins – women and naked men, some without heads – lay resting next to a statue of Padre Cícero, a symbol of the great complexity and intense religiosity of the region. In fact, religion and paganism live together so naturally in Cariri that one can no longer split the scourge, misery, or pain from the feast and its highest degrees of pleasure. Perhaps, this is even the common thread of all religions, the continuous tension of pain and pleasure.

The school bus drove off into the dark, flanked by vegetation that appeared and disappeared lit up by the vehicle’s headlights and others passing in the opposite direction. Everything rocked from side to side inside that antiquated hard metal box, although it was right for that type of dirt road, full of dips and rocks. We reached the village, called Vila Padre Cícero, and the bus stopped at Master Aldenir’s Reisado School.1 Children wearing colorful costumes, full of ribbons, ran from side to side in a cement patio. Constellations of small diamond-shaped mirrors also ran from side to side, sewn into the children’s clothes. Light from street lampposts, houses and some rigged up spots created a golden, dramatic environment. Amidst the fields of light and dark horizons, everything seemed more mysterious. Inside the Reisado School, high up, was a small masked ox covered with ribbons, hung in the middle of a stage; positioned well behind it, there was an empty school chair. Flickering past – stretched shadows, heads, arms, almost complete fully extended bodies, scraping the ground like earthly monsters. It seemed like the place of some kind of very specific ritual. I stayed watching that chair, simple, solemn, solitary. It took me a while to understand that it was Master Aldenir’s throne, his teaching post and rhythm stick – of repeated rhymes from generation to generation.

I left the Reisado School and went wandering, following the dim light of the lampposts filled with dazzling insects. I followed the lampposts stopping under each halo of golden light, as if each were a station of the cross, an art event. In the first, two tree trunks kept a rock company. It was a place of conversation, a village square of night meetings. I imagined three old men sitting there, straw cigarettes in their mouths: slow stories, legends, nostalgia, oddities. In the second, under the same Goyaesque light, a cairn, almost my height, neat like a great tomb, was separated from a lot of sticks by a picket fence and wires. It was a far less bucolic setting than the former. Something spoke of death, something that reminded me of a scary night visit to the vicinity of the Buchenwald concentration camp on the outskirts of Weimar. I went to the third station. The ground was cleaner, swept, with small rocks and a campfire ghost. Nothing too significant, just loneliness. The fourth station was filled with pottery shards. Again, concentration camp memories. The lamppost, right in the middle of that circle of fragments, looked like a war monument. I headed to the fifth station wondering why I was associating the quiet and happy village of Vila Padre Cicero with the outskirts of Weimar. In fact, I have this kind of mania, or strategy of recognition: to always find similarities between one place and another and to keep it all on a map, as if they are sister points, united by imaginary lines. At the fifth station the little village of Cariri in the state of Ceará was already definitively connected to Weimer. It was my last stop, nothing but matted forest ahead and the shade of larger leaves jumping from the dark background in sepia-red cutouts. It was already a lot; I had already intimately classified five stations of light as possible art events and, more than that, made the unlikely connection with Weimar. I would take away a personal experience, not shared as an act of art, but archived as a possibility, as a repertoire for future work. Today, trying to decipher the relationship made with the camp at Weimar, I think I may have been influenced by the amount of ex-votos I had seen in Juazeiro (grotesque sculptures of body parts, sad images of the sick and injured and every type of iconography of suffering). But this is merely a suggestion, as indeed, it is on an entirely subjective plane that I assembled this map of sister places.

I went hurriedly back to rejoin the group. On the way, a man greeted me on a bicycle, carrying a large inflatable toy, an indecipherable thing, more or less like the shape of a bulging bomb, only light, translucent. It was really a toy, not a bomb.

Back on the street of the school, sitting on a low wall, I opened my iPad to locate where I was via Google Earth. Soon I was surrounded by several children, not at all intimidated, who converged on the screen like kid insects. The village appeared perfectly. We played with the zoom and it soon became clear to me and to them that there we were, really in that village, near the towns of Crato and Juazeiro, in Cariri, Ceará, Brazil. It was even more clear that we were at the center of the world and that it was possible to turn the world with our fingertips, the whole world around that one village.

From the village of Vila Padre Cícero we followed the same bus to the township of Serraria. It was there that Master Aldenir’s group would meet the revelers of Master Antonio Carreiro. There a lively Reisado festival happened. The feast amended the prayers made kneeling at the altar with choreographies on the patio at the front of the church, with the conversations of young people on their motorcycles, with the glances of the old leaning out from the walls of the temple, with the gossip of food stall owners and the conversation I started with Nuno Sacramento, sipping a really cold beer. He explained to me the concept of “baldio” (for him shared/common land) and there we were in a yard, briefly set up in the open as a bar, a land transformed into a “baldio” field.2 No more than a dozen tables cast in the same light of the stations of Vila Padre Cícero.

At that moment there no longer seemed to be any kind of strangeness, not from the local residents, nor from us. We were no longer “foreigners”, not even strangers. No one bothered with our cameras, our almost accustomed stares. Everything seemed natural in that hybrid feast. Each one of us, outsider or local, could be king or queen, praying or drinking.

João Pessoa, February 2015

1 Reisado (literally Epiphany) is a popular folk festival introduced to Brazil by the Portuguese during the colonial period. It still has a vital presence in many Brazilian cities. The name comes from festivals related to the Feast of the Epiphany (in Portuguese Dia dos Reis – literally Day of the Kings) celebrated on January 6th each year. For the most part festivals happen on the streets as processions or community gatherings such as near/on church grounds. One of the characteristics of reisado is the costume worn by participants including colorful clothes, ribbons, hats, and tiny mirrors. Special dances feature particular rituals and “masters” artfully train future generations in these traditions. Traditional musical instruments include special guitars, drums, tamborines, and fiddles. See reisado. In Britannica Escola Online. Enciclopédia Escolar Britannica, 2015. Web, 2015. Disponível em: http://escola.britannica.com.br/article/483505/reisado. Acesso em: 20 de fevereiro de 2015

2 Nuno Sacramento is a Portuguese curator living in Scotland and director of the Scottish Sculpture Workshop and was part of our research group in Cariri. His notion of “baldio” differs from the term’s current usage in Brazil, meaning abandoned or unused land and rather draws on an old usage of the term in Portugal, meaning a shared territory and common usage more akin to the English notion of “commons”. For more information see his essay: Nuno Sacramento. “Maker’s Meal and the Production of the New Common.” Revista MESA, no.1 February 2014.