24th JULY 2010 – London
Social anthropologist Luiz Eduardo Soares’ lecture at the Southbank Centre on ‘Social Invisibility; the Drama of Violence in Brazil’ gave a London audience an insight into decades of research into the causes and impacts of Brazil’s public security crisis. Soares described the daily experience of a young Brazilian boy on the social periphery, invisible to the rest of society, and the way that holding a gun suddenly transforms him into a protagonist. Unignorable, the gun confers visibility. The lecture proposed that the arts have a unique role to play in combating the dangerous and pervasive invisibility of peripheral young people, by providing opportunities for these individuals to express their voices and move into dialogue with society.
The Encounters:Transforming Lives event resubjectified the typical young man described by putting the academic lecture in visual counterpoint with images live VJ-ed by Plinio Pietro – a student from Spectaculu and an inhabitant of one of Rio’s peripheral communities. Pietro was briefed and directed by Paul Heritage, and mentored through the creative process by Gary Stewart.
27th NOVEMBER 2010 – Rio de Janeiro
An important milestone for the Encounters:Transforming Lives project came on the 27th November 2010 when 15 young people, who were students at Spectaculu (an arts education and training facility in Rio de Janeiro), mounted projection screens around a yellow house above the hillside community of Providência in the centre of Rio de Janeiro. The 15 students carried their digital vision of the city up the stairs to the yellow house along with the heavy wooden beams that they planned to nail around and above its frontage. Slowly they constructed the screens that would share their dreams with whoever gathered on Saturday night in the square beside the bar in front of the church at the top of the stairway in Providência.
800 military personnel prepared for the following day’s invasion of the improvised communities known as the Complexo do Alemão on the periphery of Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro was in a state of alert for the anticipated wave of violence to be unleashed by the gangs tomorrow.
28th NOVEMBER 2010 – Rio de Janeiro
50 invited guests gathered in Rio’s abandoned port neighbourhood. The Encounters project began, not with an installation in Providência as had been planned but with a retreat back to the school where the workshops with the young people had taken place over the previous three weeks. But what seemed at first to be an inevitable but reluctant reaction to the dangers of proceeding with a cultural event in the middle of a war zone, gradually revealed itself as an affirmative means to act where all action apart from violence has seemingly been negated. The young people mixed and played the shifting images and sounds they made from their various ‘encounters’ over the past three weeks: encounters with the community of Providência, with new technologies, with new ideas and writings, with a research team from the UK and with each other. As the young students constructed, conflicted and converged pictures, colours, words and sounds, they gained a certain power over the present.
2,600 heavily armed police and soldiers invaded the Complexo do Alemão. This invasion was part of the government’s new policing programme ‘pacifying police units’ (UPPs) which began in 2008 with the declared aim of reducing shootouts in the slums while also releasing these communities from the control of the gangs. The police and soldiers successfully seized weapons and large quantities of drugs; they arrested more than 40 suspects, including several alleged leaders of the drugs gangs. The authorities said they were trying to make the city safer ahead of the World Cup in 2014 and Olympic Games in 2016. However, human rights activists accused Brazil of being too heavy-handed in its approach. ‘The police so far this week in operations in other communities have killed over 50 people, including in a tragic accident a 14-year-old girl,’ said Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s Brazil researcher. ‘And one has to remember that this community has a long history of these very militarised campaigns by the police, and in 2007 the police did a huge operation, stormed the community and shot dead 19 people, and then left.’
12th DECEMBER 2010 – Rio de Janeiro
The installation was mounted at a venue in the centre of Rio de Janeiro as part of an end-of-year event. These installations were created and mounted by the Spectaculu students at the cultural centre and arts school Fundição Progresso.
27th MARCH 2011 – Rio de Janeiro
The installation was finally successfully staged in the original site, this being the little yellow house on Morro da Providência; a hill in Rio de Janeiro. This yellow house is no longer standing in the square on Morro da Providência, as it has since been destroyed to make way for Rio’s new cable car. This is only one instance of many where the infrastructure of the city is drastically changing in order to accommodate the Olympics.
APRIL 2011 – London
Encounters:Transforming Lives moves to London where it brings together young Londoners who are descendants from immigrants from many different countries to get different cultural perspectives. Shaira, a young parent from London took part. She was initially embarrassed by the domestic and mundane nature of her project but she came to articulate it as intrinsically political; ‘[my project] is based around freedom of ideas and it is based around food […] my theme is personally political to me- food is a human, everyday right, it’s a window into other people’s cultures.’
13th APRIL 2011 – London
A new installation was created at Queen Mary University of London during a six-week series of workshops with young people from East London who were looking at international issues of art and censorships. This involved seven participants and thirteen workshops with approximately 90 audience members. This performance was staged in the round, so the audience moved between the various installations as they were performed. Three students from Spectaculu joined for the final week and the installation was created from work produced in London and Rio de Janeiro. Encounters aims to change young people’s perception of the world around them, making them feel present, powerful and important. Zia, a participant from London puts the importance of the project down to ‘just doing. Being allowed to do stuff. The freedom to do what we want.’
1st JUNE 2011 – Salisbury
Two young artists created a new installation at Salisbury International Arts Festival. They used images from the local environment and staged it with previous material created in Rio de Janeiro and London. The performance used real audience interaction and was set up in a way that invited the audience to ‘play’ the installation by shifting images and changing sound alongside the performers. Ryan, a young artist from Salisbury was excited at the prospect of creating his own project, as this sort of freedom and responsibility is something that is rarely encouraged in the formal education system. He said, “I was surprised when we first arrived and it was like ‘this is your guys’ project, you do what you want’- WOW.”
30th SEPTEMBER 2011 – London
Young people from South London created an installation with 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning (an organisation that provides a platform for contemporary artists from diverse cultural backgrounds) and a group of young photographers from Syria, Iraq and Palestine. There were two performances; one included all participants (Londoners, Syrians, Palestinians and Iraqis) in a pizza restaurant in Brixton Market, while the second performance was at the 198 Gallery and had approximately 60 audience members. This installation was played live on the evening but also installed for a week in the gallery for people to visit. Alongside the performance was an exhibition of photos from Syria and London by the participants. These installations explored how London functions as a culturally diverse city while looking at its history of migration especially in relation to their lives.
14th OCTOBER 2011 – Gateshead
People’s Palace Projects worked for one week with 10 participants from The Lawnmowers Theatre Company in Gateshead, a theatre company run by and for people with learning disabilities. This installation finished with a small presentation for family and friends. This was the first time that a group had worked together as a unified research team, rather than splitting into smaller groups. Each person took responsibility for different elements whilst also contributing to group decisionmaking and sharing responsibility for the piece as a whole. Lawnmowers used the technology to complement and extend their existing manifesto, using the software as a tool to communicate the nature and importance of their work.
24th MARCH 2012 – São Paulo
March 2012 brought 16 young people together at Ninho Sansacroma, an arts venue based in a favela in the south of São Paulo city. From peripheries across the state of São Paulo, and already engaged with a range of cultural practices, this group of emerging artists wanted to bring their digital installations into conversation with a number of other mediums – performance, spoken word, dance and Hip-Hop. Paul Heritage and Gary Stewart asked the young people from Bolha de Sabão, Cooperifa, Ninho Sansacroma ‘what does democracy mean to you?’ Declaração (Declaration-Action) became the focus of the groups’ research and digital investigations. This initial 2-week workshop programme culminated in an installation teamed with DJs, Hip-Hop and a Brazilian barbecue. Performed to an audience of over 50 people at Ninho Sansacroma, the group were keen to take the programme to the next level …
17th, 22nd and 23rd NOVEMBER 2012 – São Paulo
People’s Palace Projects also started work with 12 young people at the radical theatre company Teatro Oficina. Declaração, an Encounters project, was one of Oficina’s first projects with young people from the local area (Bixiga), and the institution hopes it will be the launch of a much larger learning and training programme for young people between the ages of 14 & 25.
In addition to the workshop programme, we staged three public performances across the city. These events were designed, organized and marketed by the young people themselves. Sharing their research with over 350 audience members, November 2012 saw the participants performing their installations across São Paulo: in Bixiga (Central São Paulo), Indaiatuba (a small city in the interior of São Paulo state) and Capão Redondo (a favela south of the city).
A wave of violence hit São Paulo as a result of the confrontation between the police and organised crime groups such as the PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital – “Prime Capital Command”), whose leaders were based in communities like Capão Redondo where we were performing. The war between police and crime groups started in May 2012 when the police killed 6 PCC members; it intensified in November 2012 when a bus was set on fire and 11 people were murdered. Other murders followed, and widespread violence was affecting the capital and neighbouring cities. By the end of November 90 policemen had been killed and the total number of murders across the state had reached 571. Policing was intensified in affected communities, including Capão Redondo, where murders and attempts to burn buses were registered. But people were still scared to leave their homes, and Capão Redondo felt like a ghost town.
Through ‘Declaração’, the young people brought the community together. The installation asked its audience to think about democracy, freedom, violence, action and community. The projections onto the streets proved a peaceful, but significant, protest as the community came together to make art.
5th June 2013 – London
People’s Palace Projects has had a three year relationship with its Tower Hamlets neighbour, St. Paul’s Way Trust School. As part of Queen Mary University of London’s Widening Participation activity, projects in drumming, drama and digital arts have sought to build relationships between University and school students and welcome the local school population to Queen Mary’s campus. The St. Paul’s Way pupils, asked to take up the São Paulo group’s theme of citizenship and democracy, grasped the potential of the software with enthusiasm; and the enduring resonance of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech was pointed up when it was selected for mixing and added to the databank in an unconscious echo of the first research group’s installation.
9th December 2013 – London
Encounters returns to the East End of London. In partnership with The Arbour, People’s Palace Projects have been working with a group of 16 young people from Tower Hamlets. Using the installation software to interrogate issues of gender, human rights, disability and criminal behaviour in their community, the participants will be showcasing their initial installations with other emerging artists at Allsortz, RichMix London. Allsortz is an evening packed with energy and talent, that showcases the very best the capital has to offer in up-and-coming performers. Watch this space …
With thanks to Hollie Brader, QMUL MA student, for content contributions