ACMSTC (“Contemporary Art of the City Centre Homeless Movement”)


ACMSTC (“Contemporary Art of the City Centre Homeless Movement”)

The movimento dos Sem Teto do Centro (“City Centre Homeless Movement, “MSTC”) is a housing-rights movement which currenltly numbers some fifty thousand individuals from favelas and tenements. This self-described radical movement occupies abandoned buildings in central São Paulo under the allegation that the city´s more distant zones lack adequate infrastructure (health, education, employment).

The encounter called Arte Contemporânea do Movimento dos Sem Teto do Centro (“Contemporary Art of the City Centre Homeless Movement”, ACMSTC) took place in one of these abandoned buildings (the Prestes Maia Occupation). Formely the site of a huge textile factory, it has been abandoned for over twenty-five years, and its thirdy-five loors currently provide tiny dwellings for two thousand homeless people, their leadership composed solely of women. These living spaces are veritable istallations in themselves, put together from whatever the homeless have found in the street or on rubbish dumps or purchased in stores that sell on credit.

Some 120 artists planned installations, conceptual pieces and interventions of every sort, in eminent confrontation whith the reality of the Homeless Movement´s occupation – 470 families tensely subsisting in the struggle for housing, their everyday lives a state of siege made up of non-stop vigils, meetings, assemblies, voting sessions, marches and negotiations whit the country´s various political and administrative authorities. How could such disparate movements come together?

To social movements, art is generally regarded as a Kind of creative charity, a lure of sorts for “more serious” things like educational workshops. Such was not the case. The obnly plan was to meet and create – to become paret of the occupation, to get to know the tenants and their movement and, from that point on, if possible, to put themselves “to work”.

Some of the artists gave up; others felt the art was meaningless. Whithout curatorial assistance, some were at a loss as to what to do. Still others blended into the movement to such na extent that they began to attend meetings and demand the right to vote.

The experiment was risky, subjective, asymmetrical and political. It was life-changing and reality-altering, it expanded ordinary states of time and space, it established connections whith other ways of life. A social abyss was explicit in this experiment. Most of the artists were white, intellectualized, technologized and, in a way, include in the cultural and artistic systems of material production and consumption, corresponding perfeclty to the standards of the eleite, were it not for their hopes for another kind of society. The occupation itself was made upa of a impovershed mestiço majority, whthout any formal education, and lacking any technology, people for whom the dream of owning their own home gave meaning to life itself.

“Wouldn´t it be better to give out a month´s worth of basic food supplies than to make art?” Inquired a critic from Folha de São Paulo[1]. “How sustainable is this project?” asked a few members of ngos from a distance. Thrown into the force fields, these questions demanded answers. But there were no answers and nothing was under control. The doors to the occupation were open, but whether or not to remain there was each individual´s project. It was up to each participant to braden the scope of the experience according to his or her own connections: friendships, workshops, cooperatives or projects.

Everything still seems to be vibrating – the walls of the old textile factory continue to echo whith the sounds of women labourers of the 1950s conspiring to strike. Those echoes mingle whit the war cries of the female pack that leads the homeless movement. Paintings and installations are still affixed to those same walls. Many of the artists meet regularly to plan other collective interventions, in na affimation of their urgency. this testimony is just a echo of all that.


(dezembro de 2003)


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