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Interventions on the street

Eduardo Srur transforms public space into a versatile platform for experimentation

Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABRIntervention assisted by university students, in front of Brazil’s National Congress: art as a form of redemptionFabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABR

“Art saves.” The slogan, written on each of the 360 floats released by Eduardo Srur on the water mirrors of Brazil’s National Congress with the help of students from the University of Brasília, synthesizes a strong wish to transform artistic initiatives into a sort of warning against society’s ills, an ambition that marks the artist’s career. Srur began his career less than a decade ago, with his poetic and grandiose Campground of angels, an installation in which a series of colorful, internally lit tents were arranged on the façade of what is now the Octávio Frias de Oliveira Cancer Institute, then unfinished, on the famous Dr. Arnaldo Avenue in the western region of São Paulo. He is part of a long and fruitful lineage of avant-garde art: that which seeks to use the tools of artistic creation in a way that connects with the everyday lives of individuals, transforming the public space into an experimentation platform and provoking a reaction in viewers by employing a mixed strategy of visual seduction, semantic shock, and subversion of scales and senses.

Throughout the 20th century, this was the path chosen by countless groups and artists – starting with the Dadaists, whose 1918 manifesto proclaimed that “the new artist protests: he no longer paints” –, and it has assumed different shapes over time. In Brazil, the trailblazer for initiatives of this type was Flávio de Carvalho, who, back in the bygone year of 1931, proceeded to shock the then-provincial people of São Paulo by walking in a procession – in the opposite direction and without removing his hat. He was very nearly lynched.

In principle, genuine urban intervention is an open, multidisciplinary field, nourished by a wide variety of sources, absorbing elements from theater, urban planning, and conceptual and pop arts. It speaks a predominantly collective language. In Srur’s case, however, the author-specific aspect of the work is strongly preserved, as counterpoint to the rising force of collectivity in the production of urban artwork in Brazil in recent years. Another prominent aspect of his work is a greater emphasis on giving his pieces an elaborate finish.  He dedicates great attention to versatility in his public interventions, revealing a clear strategy of using the beautiful and the well-finished as a weapon of seduction and persuasion, thus likening his works to those of Christo, known for wrapping monuments and entire islands. The Bulgarian-born artist, later naturalized American, was named by Srur as one of his main influences.

Eduardo Nicolau/AEDefending the environment: kayaks manned by plastic dummies become mired in the trash of Tietê RiverEduardo Nicolau/AE

With degrees in fine arts and advertising, Srur uses tools from both fields and establishes a dangerous game of inversion, in which he uses consumer society’s own weapons of seduction, and he explores quotidian elements and icons of mass culture in order to denounce its contradictions. The artist, a São Paulo native, appears to make a point of staying away almost entirely from the artistic circuit. His space is not the space of galleries and museums, but rather the public stage of major cities. He usually says that he sees the city of São Paulo as a big, open-air laboratory, where the questions that he intends to explore are in a state of permanent pulsation. His role is merely to make them visible, employing different strategies. He continues to paint, as a form of individual expression and source of income, but he evidently prefers the high-impact actions that he develops through his production company, Attack. As the company’s name itself would indicate, its central strategy is to attack a question in a surgical and resounding manner, so as to generate a sort of short-circuit that will create new possibilities for perception and desire for change.

Its target might be politics, or environmental disasters – increasingly a favorite topic for attack, perhaps because it receives greater support from the many public and private agents that must be engaged when implementing high-impact actions like those usually produced by Srur. Or it could even be an artistic marketing gimmick, like the Cowparade. In order to reveal the artificial and sterile character of this international initiative that has nothing to do with the inherent transformative inclination of an accurately conceived public intervention, Srur employed quasi-guerrilla tactics, subjecting two of the fiberglass sculptures to the fertility of bulls molded in the same material and mounted on their backs in the middle of the night, in the event’s 2010 edition in São Paulo. The intervention denounced the artificiality of those cookie-cutter cows, spread across the world’s cities like an empty speech on urban art, merely decorative and market-oriented. But it also got its author sued for obscene acts, defamation, and property damage.

Although concentrating the idealization and execution of his projects in a single nucleus (either artistic authorship or production by Attack) is often more limiting than the fluidity and the liberty of action enjoyed by collective groups, this also allows him to bring forth initiatives of major impact and reverberation, such as the vinyl replicas of gigantic plastic soda bottles installed along Marginal Tietê Highway (2008) and later in other locations including Guarapiranga Dam; or the recent race between a horse-drawn carriage, moving along the bicycle lane, and a car in the Marginal Pinheiros Highway traffic jam, as a way of denouncing the city’s chaotic traffic. The result was a technical draw, both vehicles achieving a speed of about 18 kilometers per hour (roughly 11 miles per hour).