Engaging the City with Nelson Brissac


Last Wednesday, Interboro and friends hosted the inaugural event of “Engaging the City: the Accompanied Library Lectures on Urbanism.” We’re pleased to report that it was an enormous success. Interboro’s introduction to the series drew laughter. Our inaugural speaker, Nelson Brissac, was an ace. The crowd was large, and appeared earnest. The Accompanied Library ladies were charming as always. The wine was cheap but abundant. The post-lecture dinner at L’Express was very enjoyable.

Let’s hope future events turn out as nice as this one did.

In the meantime, Interboro would like to say some more things about this one.

Nelson, for those of you who don’t know, is a São Paulo-based philosopher who curates Arte/Cidade, a series of “urban interventions” in São Paulo. Nelson has published Paisagens Urbanas, and Arte/Cidade – Intervenções Urbanas, neither of which Interboro has read (Interboro doesn’t read Portuguese). Currently, Nelson is organizing MG/ES, a territorial project in the southeast region of Brazil.

Interboro first heard of Nelson when Daniela Fabricius – a friend and fellow curator of the ETC series – introduced it to Arte/Cidade. Interboro remembers being intrigued by Arte/Cidade’s method, which entails 1) surveying a territory a la Robert Smithson 2) researching the territory for several years, which entails “identifying uses, important fluxes and dynamics in the area, [and] showing them through the selection of specific urban situations,” and 3) inviting artists and architects to intervene in the territory in a way that sufficiently engages the territory’s fluxes and dynamics. This sounds pretty simple, but Interboro can’t think of anything quite like it. As Nelson puts it on the website, “Arte/Cidade proposes a new modality of urban intervention: to start from an entire region, including the urban restructuring processes, architectural elements, existing occupation forms and the foreseen or in-progress operations.”

Instead of a site, what you end up with is “an intensive urban cartography that evidences the area complexity and dynamics, disclosing zones of action and articulation intervals: an indeterminate and fluid territory.”

Ideally, these “zones of action” would dissuade “conventional aesthetic approaches of sculptural character,” inspiring instead “relations with the built, the immediate urban environment and the region.” Or, to put it another way, “the interventions should not be determined by the consideration of an isolated object,” but should “introduce new possibilities of perception of the situations, through the relations with the different involved scales and the diverse implied urbanistic and social processes, the successive space restructuration and the distinct forms of occupation.”

This sounds pretty good to Interboro, representing as it does a somewhat unspectacular approach to public art. The idea that public art can introduce new possibilities of perception of various urban dynamics is almost inspiring enough to want to make Interboro switch careers. Anyway, it’s a heck of a good way of engaging the city.

What’s interesting about the interventions themselves is that, while the territories Arte/Cidade selects for interventions range in scale from large to enormous (1,000 km in the case of MG/ES) the interventions themselves tend to be quite small in scale. Unlike, say, the megastructuralists of the 70s, who thought thinking big meant imagining Star Wars-styled “megastructures” of unprecedented scales, the artists and architects solicited by Arte/Cidade think big to think small. The good interventions show that an understanding of broad, regional dynamics can manifest itself in a few square feet. Call it a variation on the “think globally, act locally” theme.

This is an important lesson, not only for aspiring megastructuralists, but for legions of urban planning students who are routinely dissuaded from thinking / acting on smaller scales. Regional dynamics don’t effect only regions; regional dynamics effect cities, neighborhoods, blocks, buildings, apartments, desks, and so on. No matter how large, spatial dynamics operate across scales, acting differently in each.

But we’re getting off topic. The point was to say: thanks, Nelson! Good work ETC team! Please come to the next event everyone!