Pixo: the action and the work of Bruno Rodrigues “Locuras”
In the city of São Paulo in the 1980s a collective practice was born, led by young residents of the peripheries or vulnerable areas of the city, characterized by risky performances in public space with the ultimate goal of installing signatures on the walls and facades that make up the urban landscape. Each signature displays a codename written in a unique and original handwriting, created by its author, but all signatures follow a similar style: juxtaposed letters, vertically elongated, with angular shapes, and drawn in a single color (usually black). A few years after its appearance, the practice became known as pixação (walls writing), and its aesthetic marks – the signatures of the risky performances – called pixos. Pixação is spelled with an “x”, instead of pichação, with a “ch”, as it appears in Portuguese language dictionaries, a change in spelling to distinguish the meaning of the two words and to affirm the transgressive identity of the collective practice that follows specific behaviors.
Pixo is about a population that seeks to construct new meanings for its own existence in a metropolis that continuously crushes it. São Paulo, the richest city in Brazil and, at the same time, one of the most unequal in the world, configures in its layouts socio-spatial segregation that has subjected residents of the peripheries to a life permeated by risk. As social scientist Thiago Trindade (2017) puts it, for a large part of the population, living in São Paulo means dedicating many hours a day to commuting, living with insufficient and/or precarious urban infrastructure, and working as much as possible to afford housing costs in a context of high urban land values. High rates of urban violence, precarious mobility, racist structures, lack of access to leisure options and safe spaces for sociability, and high barriers to insertion in the job market and to the completion of their education are some of the conditions faced by those who grew up in the peripheries of São Paulo, leading these people to live daily situations of risk of losing their lives or of disconnection with their own subjectivity. In addition, walking through São Paulo is to walk through a city of walls, as anthropologist Teresa Caldeira (2000) has called it, in which the us and the others are kept apart by physical barriers and systems of identification and control, making fortified enclaves the main figure of segregation:
Living behind walls and fences is an everyday experience of Paulistanos, and the elements associated with security constitute a type of language through which people of all classes express not only fear and the need for protection, but also social mobility, distinction, and taste.(Caldeira, 2000, p. 293)
How, then, to exist and not only survive? How to affirm life above the oppression of fortified enclaves? How to guarantee the right to memory, creative action, to active participation in the construction of the senses of urban life?
Bruno Rodrigues experienced the São Paulo of the risks. Like many other children who lived in the peripheral contexts Bruno is the son of migrant parents who came to São Paulo in search of better living conditions. They lived and wrote this part of their history in the neighborhood of Parque Imperial, in the metropolitan region, where they closely monitored their son’s steps, since the risks of urban life haunted them on a daily basis. It was at the age of 10 that pixação appeared in Bruno’s life as a new perspective: to break away from an existence confined in an arena of violence and survival and to conquer the freedom to live in the city as a creative space. This is how pixação pushed him to explore and appropriate the urban space, to access places he was never allowed to be, to dominate the risk he had always been submitted to, and to find in himself the boldness that would lead him to inscribe his mark in the most notorious place of the concrete jungle. It was with pixo that he experienced the sensation of glimpsing the city from the top, from above the buildings that scratch the sky and that became the foundation under his feet.
The educator Paulo Freire (1979) taught us that the fundamental role of those who are engaged in a cultural action for conscientization is not exactly to talk about how to build the liberating idea, but to invite people to capture with their spirit the truth of their own reality. For Bruno and other peripheral subjects, pixo appears as a way to creatively translate the experience of living São Paulo from the margins to the center. Density, risk, and partnership are some of the aspects present in their experiences, which appear translated in the signatures of thick lines that occupy horizontally and vertically the spaces of public visibility in the metropolis, announcing not only the existence, but all the creative power and life power of common people – office-boys, elementary school teachers, truck drivers, building painters, bricklayers, sales clerks, etc. The unique calligraphy of each pixo testifies that heterogeneity of identities is inherent among the subjects that integrate the pixação movement, but the unity of the calligraphic style recalls the connection and the identity bonds among them. Characters that we can identify with the category that the semiotician Eric Landowski (1997) will call genius, for their effort to explore, through creative practice, some defined space of meaning
[…] in an autonomous search for meaning that, going beyond his unique person, leads him to discover, in the world, new sensible configurations, which, being for the moment, by definition, still unknown, in that very measure seem unacceptable, incomprehensible, shocking – in bad taste – to most. (p. 159)
For Bruno, life in pixação brought out the desire – or, why not say, the urgency – to confront the widespread view that his creative practice is “unacceptable” or “incomprehensible”. When he experienced the beauty and freedom that pixo brought to his life, and, at the same time, faced the rejection of society and even of the people he lived with, he decided to appropriate other languages to present the poetic dimension of this manifestation to the world. Thus, he assumed the role of articulator within the movement and created in 2007 the label PixoAção, dedicated to the production of documentaries that had as one of their goals the destigmatization of the pixo universe and its practitioners. It gathered characters, stories, documents, records, and the most varied elements that make up the history of four decades of pixação and started to guide discussions and create reference works for its members and for the external public. It showed how pixação contests the idea that the place of the poor is in the periphery and, in turn, creates free enclaves as opposed to fortified enclaves, or, to sum up the concept postulated by Hakim Bey (2001), temporary autonomous zones: a kind of rebellion that does not confront the state directly but is like “a guerrilla operation that liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and dissolves to remake itself in another place and another time, before the state can crush it” (p. 17). An “everyday revolution” that undertakes forms of battle to forge a different reality and chant in different voices Lefebvre’s (2001) cry of the “right to the city”.
And after producing documentaries from unprecedented and unique perspectives, he decided to broaden the scope of his discourse and reconstruct in the language of visual arts his vision of the practice that transformed his life. He followed the genius’ mission (Landowski, 1997), the subject that understands that the new sensitive configurations he is discovering have an internal need, and started to have “if not the certainty, at any rate, the faith, the intimate conviction that, one day, they will be recognized and, perhaps, even end up being integrated into the network of conceptual, aesthetic or moral forms constitutive of ‘culture,’ of ‘good taste’ and ethos” (p. 159). He started his artistic production, began to translate the discovery of new sensitive configurations into the form of works, and publicly affirmed the certainty he always carried with him that, yes, pixo is art!
It is with this background that the artistic production of Bruno Rodrigues Locuras, since 2016, began to appear in institutional spaces of art and culture. In April 2023 his work entered the Salone del Mobile event in Milan, from an invitation by the Brazilian designer Pedro Franco. Bruno produced 9 canvases that integrated the scenography of the designer’s new collection, with the collaboration of more than 15 people from the pixação movement. The composition was thought in every detail that builds the poetics of pixação in the streets: the pixos that occupy the 9 screens bear the original marks of their authors and were chosen so as to display the meticulous care in the drawing of the letters that each pixador or pixadora has during the action – to a care that aims to achieve maximum balance in proportion and distribution on the support, be it the artistic canvas or the urban canvas; the concern to represent all the different modalities of pixo, which are different forms of occupation of the urban support, requiring challenging bodily performances, the planning of transgressive tactics, and/or the aid of specific artifacts, usually improvised with objects found during the journey in the streets; the diversity of strokes and visual effects present in the letters is also a remarkable aspect in the canvases, both in the letters drawn with can spray paint – with a simple stroke or a “foscado” (sprayed) stroke – and in those drawn with latex paint and the use of foam rolls of different thickness. The sequence of presentation of the canvases and the distribution of the pixels in the space was also thought in order to compose the sense effect of the pixação seen on the walls and facades of houses and buildings, respecting the dimension and the way of composing the visual organization of the spaces in the urban environment.
It is with this meticulous and accurate look at the construction of the meaning of pixação that Bruno conceives his art. His work reminds us that in order to understand the meaning of pixação as an urban culture and cultural heritage, it is necessary to have all five (or six) senses available to capture the meaning of living São Paulo from its margins. It is necessary to understand how fascinating and at the same time hostile this city can be. A cosmopolitan city, which welcomes people from all corners of Brazil and the world, but swallows up those who do not act to transform it. This is the only way to start diving into the universe of pixação and understand why it has become an identity mark of São Paulo and a creative action of a representative part of its population. This is how Bruno Locuras invites us to enter his work.
Text: Micaela Altamirano*
Published on 10-05-2023
*Art educator and cultural articulator, PhD candidate in Communication and Semiotics at PUC-SP in co-collaboration with Cultural Studies at Minho University. The pixação of São Paulo was the subject of her master’s dissertation, awarded best of the year 2019 by COMPÓS – Associação Nacional dos Programas de Pós-graduação em Comunicação, in Brazil. Since 2017 she collaborates with the collective ArdePixo, dedicated to projects that foster awareness about the São Paulo pixo scene.
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