Update: Unrealised São Paulo

From July 1st - 15th, we were in São Paulo, Brazil walking the streets, getting lost and being inspired.

We're working with São Paulo based collective, Coletivo As Rutes, to investigate the city-wide advertising ban in São Paulo, which was enforced in January 2007. We're interested in the space that's been opened up by the removal of this ubiquitous visual persuasion, and in what fills the imagination once advertising isn't a daily street occurrence. What can be imagined in the absence of advertising?

We met loads of great artists, had lots of discussions and used performative tactics to speak to the public in order to develop a travellers journal of the changes, fissures, developments, and realities of life in the city without advertising.

We were based at LabMIS at the Museum of Image and Sound. We posted weather reports and daily snippets of research, found objects, images, meanderings, discussions, and video clips that we posted for one week from Brazil. Those can now be seen in this volume while we're developing the work further.

While in São Paulo, we also spoke at Verbo 2009, the 5th edition of the annual performance festival by Galeria Vermelho, Centro Cultural São Paulo and Funarte July 6th-July 11th. You can view the seminar (in Portuguese) hear. (228.2MB, opens in a new window)


Thanks to MIS for their support.

As Rutes are Beatriz Carvalho & Cristiana Ceschi. As Rutes uses research, performance and visual art to develop activities in urban and mythical spaces. In their practice, the city is the food and field for possible meetings, sudden and created images, everyday narratives, where big and small stories can be told. www.coletivoasrutes.blogspot.com


In September 2006, São Pulo's populist right-wing mayor, Gilberto Kassab, passed the so-called Clean City laws. Fed up with the 'visual pollution' caused by the city's 8,000 billboard sites, many of them erected illegally, Kassab proposed a law banning all outdoor advertising including ads on billboards, fly posters, taxis, phone booths, hoardings, buses-even shopfronts are restricted, their signs limited to 1.5 metres for every 10 metres of frontage. 'It is hard in a city of 11 million people to find enough equipment and personnel to determine what is and isn't legal,' reasoned Kassab, 'so we have decided to go all the way.'

By January 2007, all signage started coming down, starting with only images, frames left in tact. Then shortly after the frames came down, too. This opening up of the visual landscape, which was previously a loud and chaotic barrage of competing signage, revealed some interesting aspects of the city. For instance, because the site-ing of billboards was unregulated, many poorer people readily accepted cash to have a poster site in their gardens or even in front of their homes. With their removal, a new city is emerging that reveals these neglected homes, crumbling architecture, and in some cases, illegal workers. Navigating the city had to be renegotiated. Advertisers felt the move was a threat to free speech. Small shop owners worried that sales would drop due to a lack of visibility. Some felt tourism would decline as the recognizable face of São Paulo had mellowed. Many felt that the move was dictatorial and an aggressive act from the right-wing government. This moves looks like a win of cultural enlightenment over commercial dominance, but what has really happened and is happening?

This extraordinary historical moment brings with it social, financial and psychogeographical insights, issues and innovations that Unrealised São Paulo hopes to bring to the surface and explore in the context of art. In order to do this effectively we plan to develop a month long series of participatory actions engaging the public in discourse and activity, focusing on personal experiences and futures that are imagine for this space in flux, and subsequently creating ephemeral public art actions. Some of the questions that we would like explore through this process are:

How do individuals personally navigate a well-known city that becomes unknown overnight?

What futures do inhabitants imagine for the opened (intellectual and actual) spaces dotted around the city, and what debates does this raise about the public's right to direct public space?

Is this a matter of free speech and if so who's; the government, the neglected poor, businesses, tourism, the middle classes?

Is the move really a win of the public interest over private or is there more to know about the actual motivations of the clean up, and how attached to class and gentrification is the shift?

What tactics have the advertising industries innovated in order to usurp the law and remain aloofly visible?

What strategies are in place to uphold and continue the Clean City laws and is this a move that can be made by other cities around the world?

What are the possible effects of the current global economic climate in relation to the visual landscape of the city?

Working towards publication and exhibition 'Unrealised São Paulo'.