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Reflecting On Rio: Carlotta Novella

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Written by
Colin Buttimer
Published date
01 May 2016

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Following their recent trip to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil as part of the Despina residency programme at Largo das Artes, we spoke to CSM graduates Beatrice Vermeir, Sarah Crewe, Helena De Pulford, and Carlotta Novella about their residency and the work they’ve been doing there.  

Today we talk to Carlotta, who graduated from MA Architecture: Cities and Innovation, and is currently working with the art and architectural practice public works. Her fifth year project, ‘Industrious Neighbourhoods’, proposed alternative urban strategies and design interventions to facilitate home-based work for social housing tenants, and in Rio she extended this project by working directly with homeworkers in the city.

In Rio you were running manufacturing and collective making workshops, run both at the studios and outside the gallery over the residency period. How has working with the local community benefited your practice?

During the residency we had the chance to meet many people working or collaborating with Largos das Artes, the gallery who hosted the residency. The gallery is in Centro, a very busy and lively side of the city. From the first day we were able to visit the area, meet people, get introduced to local businesses and other artists and curators working locally.

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I was particularly lucky. My personal practice interest focused on home-based businesses and I was introduced to Tia Maria, a veteran resident of the Cantagalo favela, well-known by the favela community for her home-business, a small restaurant/canteen that she runs inside what would have been the foundation of a luxury hotel overhanging from one of the hills above Ipanema.

This hotel, the Panorama Palace Hotel, was built in the 60s on top of the junction of the Cantagalo and Pavão Morro, with an incredible view of the Lagoa and of the Ipanema and Leblon beaches, but was never completed and opened. The enormous terrace, elegant and overlooking at the lagoon, was used during the 60s and the 70s as open terrace for music an installations. The access to the terrace, back then and now, happened from a very tall elevator tower at the end of Rua Alberto de Campos in Ipanema.

Years later the hotel was adapted for the operation of one of CIEPs school from the Government Brizola. Before the school was built, Tia Maria – who was very well-known in the community for having adopted and raised twenty-four children, plus her own four – was given the space inside what would have been the laundry rooms of the hotel, to use as her own house. At that time Tia Maria was cooking lunch for many construction sites in the constantly growing Ipanema and she created a reputation in the favela for being a very good cook.

When the Brizola government started the construction of the school she was asked to managed the canteen while carrying on living downstairs to run her small restaurant. She worked as canteen manager for more than forty years.

Now Tia Maria is retired and doesn’t work in the school anymore but her small restaurant downstairs is still open and she serves lunch every day, Monday to Friday, to the community of the favela and visitors. I had the possibility to learn her story when helping her cooking the lunch one Thursday, together with Claudia, her assistant in the kitchen who also lives there, and one of her nephews.

We made traditional Feijoada, and Escondidinho com carne seca, which translates in “Hide & Seek with meat”, a Carioca version of a Shepherd Pie – I promised her I will try to make it again back in London but I’m not sure I’ll be able to find the carne seca!

What did you collaborate on with the other residents? 

During the residency the other residents and I established a collaborative methodology of work, trying to re-imagine how the residency studio is inhabited and what was our role in the space.

When we first saw our space at the studio we found 4 tables, one for each of us with a chair, a bin and a fan. The separate tables and the vast space of the gallery was a little bit intimidating at first, and we immediately felt the need to group the tables in the centre of the room, imagining one single structure that could become our co-working space.

We decided then to develop and build a ‘core structure’ that would adapt and change to house different functions, contexts and ideas. We called this structure and the project trânsito-rio’.

In addition to this we all worked on our individual projects exploring topics of collaborative work and communal making within the dwelling space of the home, alternative modes of social organisation, gendered political activity and emerging feminist art practices in Brazil. Our collaboration during the residency was very positive and each one of us used their personal skills and knowledge to help the other running workshops, events or simply while producing work.

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How have you found working in a cross-disciplinary way?

I particularly enjoyed working between different disciplines. Reflecting on this experience in Rio I realised that artists and architects should find a common ground to confront, voice our thoughts and more simply put into discussion why we do things and why sometimes collaboration between the two fields is not only something that should be nurtured but something effectively necessary!

We were talking about this together at the end of the residency. I experimented with Helena’s expanding foam and gypsum in a sculptural manner, she sketched out the layout of the roof for the tower and then I put it into a drawing and we built together. The gallery, the generous Rio, gave us the space and the time to experiment way more than what we could have done back home and I hope the future residents will have a similar positive experience.

What’s your experience of Rio been like? Was it what you expected?

Rio is an amazing city, full of contrasts but with an incredibly complex and interesting social and cultural fabric. I believe Rio can offer the perfect scenario for a residency thanks to its generosity in terms of space and resources but also for the very friendly and accommodating attitude of the Cariocas.

Our stay became more peculiar and specific in time due to the context in which we spent our month there. At the beginning of our stay we didn’t really expected to encounter such a difficult time for the country. The political situation and the constant uncertainty makes it difficult for local institutions, galleries and schools to fully support students, practitioners and artists. We weren’t effected by this due to our role as “visiting artists” I guess, but we noticed that was in that context of difficulty that we met many artists and schools, like Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, which are doing their best to use the shared circumstance of crisis to find a point of dialogue and a motivation to produce critical and significant work.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned while in Rio?

I guess the most important thing I’ve learnt from Rio was that establishing a balanced and healthy collaboration between the residents can be a key aspect of a successful residency experience.

We shared our interests and expertise on daily basis and this helped both our production during the month of residency and after, when the residency ended, with our work back home. The possibility to meet many interesting and stimulating practices enriched us on many levels and I believe we will all bring back new skills, new contacts and new collaborative projects.

Stay tuned to the CSM blog for our last interview with the final resident Helena De Pulford.

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