Cao Guimarães, 2019

*By Sabrina Sedlmayer (UFMG)

In a recently published essay [1], the psychoanalyst Christian Dunker carries out a kind of genealogy of the “Brazilian roughness” in Philosophy and the Arts, with an acute perception and analysis of the present. Among other propositions, he locates the roots of the term in a certain elite that disdains art and education, abhors ambivalence, dialogism, irony, anything that hinders the rapid apprehension of the “purpose” of the aesthetic object. Art, for the clumsy, must have utility, as well as a pedagogical function. Linked to dichotomies (right x left; good x bad; communist x capitalist...), the crude sensibility exaggerates the use of clichés, caricatures, inaccuracies and false statistics, packed by a resentful speech, pregnant with aggression and envy. They would be descendants of the ancient aristocracy, Dunker suspects, and they spectrally return to the contemporary scene in a kind of atavism or return of the repressed. These contemporary slave colonels would support themselves in socialist realist discourse, in national symbols such as the flag and yellow green and, schizophrenic, would add a hint of porn to the paranoid gusts, all mixed with a Christianity devoid of hermeneutics. Podemos, aqui, relembrar as falas de Damares sobre os filmes e desenhos infantis, as postagens no twitter de Bolsonaro sobre o golden shower, the erratic homophobic speech of Olavo Carvalho… in short, a flurry of examples that probably, now, as I write this text, many more must be published by the authors who contingency rule Brazil.

If all the arguments built and cited above have a reflective basis and are pertinent to the present time, why respond to Dunker's text in a position of disagreement? Perhaps because the psychoanalyst grossly errs in betting that “the fundamental method of Tosco Brasileiro” is the gambiarra, a term that originally refers to the irregular extension of a lighting line or a “fraudulent connection”, which is in any way precarious and ugly, improvised or made according to the circumstances, while archetypal style “Brazilian way". (Dunker, 2019, p.2)

If the etymology is partly correct, the thesis is false. I will try to point out, then, as in the experimentation of art, music and literature, the gambiarra is, also, a powerful creative device, with an impact on the history of contemporary Brazilian art, extrapolating the period (ironically) listed by the author.[2]

The characteristics of the gambiarra transcend the Brazilian national territory and, well before the impeachment from the Government of Dilma (2016), are examples of improvisations in the field of artistic thinking and doing. The gambiarra is present in many gestures of language creation, verbal or imagery, and touches a certain experiential heritage, certain arrangements in which the scarcity of resources is operationalized and survival is achieved through the invention of everyday life. The hypothesis that is launched is that there are powerful gestures – practices, tactics, policies – which are based precisely on the scarcity of products, resources and/or services. In this paradox, in the transformation of the negative into positive, a singular power is perceived in which the lack is transformed.

I will therefore divide my reading on the subject into four topics: archaeology, art, music and literature, as a way of explaining how expression can be thought of both in conceptual terms, by being able to operationalize a curious interdisciplinary encounter that goes far beyond notions of use, technological obedience and improvised solutions of everyday life and, distinctly what Dunker reinforces, the gambiarra would not resemble the repressed corruption that returns, with force, in the discourse of the Brazilian rough.

Cao Guimarães, 2019. PHOTO: Disclosure

1. gibberish

According to Houaiss Dictionary of the Portuguese Language (2009), the etymology of “gambiarra” has an “obscure and dubious” origin, and may be related to “gambias”, smart legs, ready to run, such as those of a street vendor, who offers products illegally and must close the display table for the products on offer, usually on the street, and running away when the inspection or the police appear. According to other authors, the Tupi-Guarani word gambiarã designates temporary encampment in unknown territory and would have to do with “gambiarra”.

The term is commonly used in Brazil with the meaning of “to fix it”, that is, to fix, repair, adapt, mend, adapt, fit in and, above all, improvise. Various practices that serve to solve a problem in a given emergency. RTU, an acronym often used jokingly, means “urgent technical resource” and is one of the synonyms for gambiarra. The term is so popular and used every day that it has various nicknames: gambis, gambota, gambi… And, with the same breath of humor, it is said that the inventor of the gambiarra is Jean Baptiste Gambierre, the English equivalent of MacGyver and The macgyverism, realizing, in this mockery, how the procedure appears paired with the trick, the way, the curiosity and the cleverness.

For Rodrigo Boufleur (2013), in addition to being the act of improvising material solutions with utilitarian purposes, a gambiarra occurs when a commodity is used by the one who consumes it, subverting the original industrial design of the product. The architect argues that the gambiarra is always derived from industrialized artifacts, precisely when there is a transfer from the “design domain” to the “use domain” and changes in form, function, materials and meanings are operationalized. In its interpretative key, it would be a spontaneous intervention in design or industrial design. The gambiarra, for him, would not create anything, it would start from existing objects and improvise solutions in the manner of a utilitarian readjustment, managing, many times, to break the design of the object, dismantling its designating aspect, exposing the fallibility of design.

As a practice that goes in the opposite direction of the productive intention, the term has expanded, detached from everyday actions and advanced into other domains: artists, critics and intellectuals often take it in a different and even contradictory sense from Boufleur's definition. Artistic actions resistant to the logic of productivity and with enlightened creativity shape formats and question the usefulness of the work of art.

The bet contained in this text is that there is a gesture of invention in any confines: in the arts, in music, in literature and in the anonymous inventors of everyday life. If Baudelaire's modern poetry is inseparable from electricity, according to Walter Benjamin's view, it is not gratuitous that the word gambiarra appeared concomitantly with electric lighting, nor is it fortuitous that the favela appears concomitantly with the urbanization of cities. The “cat” appears exactly at the moment when electricity becomes a mechanism of economic and social exception. From that Carolina Maria de Jesus, in dump room, the diary of a favelada, has already said more forcefully:

May 23, 1955: I woke up in the morning sad because it was raining. (…) the shack is in horrible disarray. It's just that I don't have dishwashing soap. I say dishes out of habit. But it's the cans. (JESUS, 2014, P.42)
August 9, 1955:  I left the bed furious. With the will to break and destroy everything. Because I only had beans and salt. And tomorrow is Sunday
… I went to the shoe store to get papers. A shoemaker asked me if my book is communist. I replied that it is realistic. He told me that it is not advisable to write reality (JESUS, 2014, p. 108).

“Filters”, 1999, Marepe. PHOTO: Disclosure

2. Nomads

If “gambiarra” alludes to improvisation practices in the face of the lack of technique and/or economic capital, at the beginning of the XNUMXst century, especially in its first decades, the expression became frequent in the field of literature and the arts. Some of the critics, like Lisette Lagnado ([Sd]), argues that “gambiarra” should not be based on the notion of precariousness or chance, but associated with the exercise of thought, with the questioning about forms of survival. In the wake of Cildo Meireles, the critic categorizes what should be understood by gambiarra as something connected to the territory; a type of speech with a political accent, in addition to the aesthetic one; something that does not pursue the “littleness”, but the “opposition”. In other words, the context would be decisive, but “gambiarra”, as a conceptual operator, would involve transgression, fraud, tunga, what I tried to recover with the etymology of the word: knowing how to use the gambias, the legs to run, a certain cunning to undertake a kind of ambiguous game, which did not so easily lead to exoticism, nor to localism. In Lagnado's speech, the concern with the (easy) aestheticization of the precarious can be seen.

Another important reading, linked to Cultural Studies, is that of Moacir dos Anjos (2007). Two crucial points are underlined by this author: first, that “gambiarra” would designate both the act of construction and the apparatus created, both the operation and the result, both the product and its means; second, Anthropophagy and the experimental tradition of national art would be important vectors to recover and understand, within this discussion, the contemporary, the generations of artists that are constituted from the 1990s and 2000s.

A Brazilian accent was recovered in these gestures and a kind of politics (in the sense of procedure) was located in the works of certain contemporary artists – Rivane Neuenschwander, Cabelo, Jarbas Lopes, Efrain de Almeida, Alexandre da Cunha, Marepe, Cao Guimarães, O Grivo – who experiment and air the expression aiming at a new conceptual arrangement, which does not come from spontaneous knowledge, but which requires thought, creation and reflection.

Lagnado warns how there is a trace of Hélio Oiticica's parangolé in the cast of works by these artists, together with the questioning about the subsistence network of Brazilians. It can be seen, in the quote, how the gambiarra has to “manage three objects in a territory for just two”, a phrase by Cildo Meireles and quoted by Lagnado. Cao Guimarães invites us to broaden the concept of the term “gambiarra” by bringing it ontologically closer to the notions of survival and forms of life. In an interview on the subject, he explains:

My concept of gambiarra is something that is constantly expanding and changing. It is no longer just a perceptible object or contraption in reality and expands into other forms and manifestations such as gestures, actions, customs, thoughts, culminating in the very idea of ​​existence. Existence as a great gambiarra, where the leaflet, the instruction manual, the map or the guide do not fit. The gambiarra as “phania” or expression, a manifestation of being in the world. The gambiarra is almost always an “original” and not a copy, a reproduction. And so it is a living entity, constantly changing. To register it is to make it reproducible, to multiply it by modifying its fundamental function (GUIMARÃES, 2009).[3]

The artist points out how the gambiarra should not necessarily be related only to the improvised solutions of everyday life, and can be understood as an infinite reserve of manifestations that are loose, unbound, nomadic, in existence. Your book entitled Work around, with dozens of photos that he found and that he recognized as gambiarras, takes us back to the object found and other interventions by the Vanguards. Ready-made, collage, DIY dialogue, thus, with this scene that does not establish borders between art and life, interspersed with a political-aesthetic perspective.

On this point, it is worth remembering that for Lévi-Strauss (1989) the bricolage it is a “primitive” form, an incidental movement, an execution without norms and techniques, without traditional scientific means, always activated as what one has: “This can serve”, “this can work”, “this will break the branch”, that is, it is the instrumentality that moves the gesture of the bricoleur.

Taking into account what has been developed so far, perhaps we can add that the gambiarra responds to these flaws in a different way to those employed by the collector and the fetishist. With artisanal means, repairs, mends, creates. Its practical, playing, arranging side does not turn goods into garbage. To the question asked by Agamben (2007) “What does the commodity propose to the work of art?”, the argumentative thread followed by him (like Baudelaire’s revolutionary gesture, of taking the fetishization of the commodity and the absolute commodification of the work to its ultimate consequences) of art and provoke the experience of the shock, of estrangement) would receive here, in the terrain of this discussion, the formulation of a possibility of life permeated by lack (or by the name of hunger, in the life of Carolina de Jesus).

Work from the series “Notícias da América”, 2012, by Paulo Nazareth. PHOTO: Publicity.

3. Echo chamber

By “gambioluteria”, the researcher Giuliano Lamberti Obici (2014) understands the union between certain experimental music with the modus operandi from the gambiarra. To demonstrate this thesis, it carries out a powerful archeology of the term and recovers a vast number of movements that also dealt/deal differently with instruments/objects, namely: circuit bending, hardware hacking, cracked media, sound art/media art, arte povera, ready made, object found, Merz, Dadaist, recycling, cyberpunk, post punk, and even more theoretical perspectives, such as software studies e media archeology, to name a few. For him, the gambiarra is not an exclusively Brazilian phenomenon, and the reading that imprisons it only as a trace of local identity should be relativized. His analysis sheds light on a repertoire of existing composers, musicians, groups and artists who share sound practices in tune with the gambiarra procedure, that is, they share a peculiar way of dealing with materials, whether through luteria practices, the creation of new instruments or new musical designs: Walter Smetak, Marco Antônio Guimarães (UAKTI), Wilson Sukorski, Marco Scarassatti, Tato Taborda, Chelpa Ferro, Paulo Nenflidio, n-1, Panettone, Tony da Gatorra, and O Grivo.

Obici gives an example of Cuba, to demonstrate the Brazilian non-exclusivity of the unforeseen in the face of poverty and misery, and how the word rickshaw has several meanings there. Among them, he refers to a bicycle made with a handmade water pump engine, created by the island's residents during the long embargo imposed on the country, which Ernesto Oroza calls “architecture of necessity” and “disobedient technology”.

In Mexico also the word rasquache, derived from Nahuatl, was transformed into an aesthetic movement. The pejorative, poor, vulgar and inferior use came to be related to spontaneity and irreverence.

“Rain, rain”, Rivane Neunschwander

4. In point or a line, it will have life

“In London it's like this: the heaters return heat in exchange for the coins they receive. In the middle of winter some Latin American exiles were freezing cold, without any coin to heat their room.
Their eyes were glued to the heater, unblinking. They seemed devotees before the totem, in an attitude of adoration; but they were poor castaways pondering how to end the British Empire. If they put in tin or cardboard coins, the heater would work, but the collector would find evidence of infamy.
What to do? the exiles asked. The cold made them shiver as if they had malaria. And at that, one of them released a wild cry, which shook the foundations of Western civilization. And so the ice coin was born, invented by a poor icy man.
They immediately set to work. They made wax molds, which perfectly reproduced British coins; then they filled the molds with water and put them in the freezer.
The ice coins left no traces because the heat evaporated them.
And so that London apartment became a beach on the Caribbean Sea.” (Galeano, 2011, p.181)

The title of this short story, by the Uruguayan journalist and writer Eduardo Galeano, is entitled “The perfect crime”. As can be seen from the reading, there is fraud and misdemeanor in the acts of Latin American exiles; but how can we not also consider the gesture of invention? Such improvisation, a gambiarra, both in method as in the result, they seem to resize the contingency. As in Odradek, Kafka's enigmatic parable, Galeano shows the exclusion of the poor frozen exiles. In Kafka, we don't know if the character is human or a spool of tangled threads. The Kafkaesque narrator also begins (as I do, as Dunker) the story by the etymology of the name Odradek and as he begins to describe it, however, the mask falls and we realize that this rest, rag, thing, thing, stuff, traquitana is capable of arousing fear because it may survive much longer than the human “father of the family” who narrates and is primarily concerned with the well-being of the existence of his descendants.

Elvira Vigna, in the incredible book published in 2018, Kafkaesque, rereads several of Kafka's short stories, reinvents them, interprets them and, as a kind of translator, flows from one place to another (or rather, to others), sliding meanings, amputating entire passages of the well-known narratives. specifically in Die Sorge des Hausvaters, she reads Odradek as being the son of this father who treats him as “thing, stuff, trash”. In the cartoon that precedes his version of the Kafka tale, we see that Odradek is locked in his room, hidden, suffering. Only at the end did we discover that he could also be called Vicente: “Some Odradeks become famous. Van Gogh. Treated like garbage, it never died.” (Vigna, 2018, p.56)

We could recover other Odradeks who had a life-gambiarra, work-gambiarra, studio-gambiarra, materials-gambiarra, in addition to Kafka himself and Vincent. Bispo do Rosário is one of them. Also Reverón and his entire house in Macuto personify the gambiarra. He did all his work with the little he had at hand: cardboard, leftover screws, wire, wire, spring, tin pan, cotton, glasses, bottle caps, shiny cigarette paper, rags, pieces of wigs, fabrics, peels. , dry leaves, a piece of wood, blank pages, ink, oil, chalk, coconut husks, seeds, earth again and sand; wires, matches, springs…, as mentioned by Balza (1983, p.41)

This artist, who today embodies the national imagination of Venezuela, comes out of nowhere against Dunker's thesis that the rough method is operated by the gambiarra. Perhaps the psychoanalyst was “destined to see the enlightened, not the light”, as Goethe's famous line says. Because light, that of the cat or other improvised creations, has a powerful luminosity. And it's an instigator modus operandi that makes this gift not stay so dark.

Arthur Bishop do Rosario. PHOTO: Disclosure


AGAMBEN, Giorgio. Resorts: the word and the ghost in western culture. Translation by Selvino José Assmann. Belo Horizonte: Ed. from UFMG, 2007.

ANJOS, Moacir dos. Contradictory. In: Panorama of Brazilian Art 2007. Curated by Moacir dos Anjos. São Paulo: Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo, 2007.

BALZA, Jose. “Simultaneous Analogue (about Armando Reverón's objects)”.Simultaneous Analog. Caracas: National Art Gallery, 1983.

BOUFLEUR, Rodrigo Naumann. Gambiara fundamentals: contemporary utilitarian improvisation and its socioeconomic context. 2013. Thesis (Doctorate in Architecture and Urbanism) – Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, 2013. Unpublished.

DUNKER, Christian. Essay on the Brazilian rough in Philosophy and the Arts. Brazilian Art, May of 2019.

GALEANO, Edward. The book of hugs. trans. Eric Nepomuceno. Porto Alegre: L&PM, 2011.

GUIMARÃES, Cao. Gambiarras 2009. Photographic series (work in progress). 127 photographs. Varied dimensions.

HOUAISS, Antonio; VILLAR, Mauro; MELLO FRANCO, Francisco Manoel de. Houaiss Dictionary of the Portuguese Language. Rio de Janeiro: Objective, 2009.

JESUS, Carolina Maria de. Eviction room, diary of a favelada. 10. ed. Sao Paulo: Attica. 2014.

KAFKA, Franz. “The concern of the Father of the Family”. A country doctor. Translation by Modesto Carone. Sao Paulo: 1990.

LAGNADO, Lisette. The juggler and the gambiarra. [Sd]. Available in: . Accessed on: 1693,1 Feb. 14

LÉVI-STRAUSS, Claude. The wild thought. Translation by Tania Pellegrini. Campinas: Papirus, 1989.

OBICI, Giuliano Lamberti. Gambiarra and sound experimentalism. 2014. Thesis (Doctorate in Music) – School of Communications and Arts, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, 2014.

OROZA, Ernesto. Technological disobedience from the revolution to the revolution. [Sd]. Available in: . Accessed on: 14 Feb. 2018

OROZA, Ernesto. Rikimbili une étude sur la désobéissance technologique et quelques forms de réinvention. Saint-Étienne: Publications de l'Université de Saint-Étienne Cité du Design, 2009.

VIGNA, Elvira. Kafkaesque. São Paulo: however, 2018.



[2] “It is possible that ten or fifteen years from now, art historians will characterize this period, between 2016 and 2022, as the heyday of the Brazilian rough🇧🇷 (Dunker, 2019, p.1).

[3] In the Doctoral course that I teach this semester at UFMG, “Examples of the precarious, forms of the provisional: literature and culture in Brazil”, this excerpt from the interview with Cao Guimarães was present in almost all the works presented, in a class with more of twenty students. Such refrain perhaps it has much more to do with the identification of the gambiarra as a strategy for the survival of any subject than the convenience of those involved with the matter in question.

1 comment

  1. Wonderful text with relevant arguments! And I always come to the conclusion that luckily the gambiarra is inevitable. There has to be a gambiarra in abundance and in precariousness, in procedure and in the product, in the tangible and in the abstract, because if the gambiarra does not happen, it would be the empire of the automaton.

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