Yoiô, nhô or nhonhô, according to the Houaiss dictionary, were terms used by enslaved people and their descendants to treat white men, especially employers and landowners, with reverence. Diminutive of sinhô, nhonhô most commonly referred to the younger men of the big house. But, despite being related to distant times, of slavery and colonialism, it cannot be said that the history and symbology of these words are kept only in the memory of a distant past of Brazil. One of the examples of this is the existence, in the center of the largest city in the country, of a mansion called, even today, Casarão de Nhonhô Magalhães, a mansion that now inspires the new work of artists Giselle Beiguelman and Ilê Sartuzi, Nhonho – “this name neutralized in the common, everyday vocabulary, as is colonialism in Brazil”, says Beiguelman.

“The word [nhonhô] and the power dynamics that run through it endure in time and in social relations, echoing in the history of a Europeanized elite enriched by coffee, which urbanized São Paulo”, says the beginning of the text that runs through the video about 9 minutes – a “possible biography of a mansion”, in the words of Solange Farkas, director of Videobrasil Online, a platform where the work is on display until April 18. The history of the mansion is mixed with the history of Nhonhô Magalhães – the coffee baron, banker and businessman Carlos Leôncio de Magalhães (1875-1931) -, but it also tells us a lot about the history of São Paulo, its elites, and the city itself. formation of modern Brazil.

Made from the techniques of photogrammetry – a process of building a virtual space through photographs, as explained by Sartuzi – and 3D modeling, added to the colorization by artificial intelligence and the sound system composed by algorithms, the video presents, with its “technological aesthetics”, a permanently tense, electric and somewhat ghostly atmosphere. Without human bodies or voices (the narration itself is done only through subtitles), the atmosphere created is directly related to the very history – somewhat hermetic and obscure – of the mansion.

Located in the neighborhood of Higienópolis – the “hygiene city” where the São Paulo elite took refuge and sought to recreate the way of life of European metropolises -, the mansion was built between the 1920s and 1930s by Nhonhô Magalhães to be his family residence. With 2.000 m2 and about 40 rooms, built in the so-called eclectic architectural style and inspired by French constructions, the house was ready after the coffee grower's death and was the home of his wife and five of their children. Over the following decades, the building – which for some gained the reputation of being a cursed mansion – became a public office, was listed as a historical heritage site and, in 2005, purchased by Shopping Higienópolis at an auction, with the condition that an area was maintained. for cultural use. In 2020, this area – with entry only through the back of the house – became the Paço das Artes.

According to the artists, this history, briefly summarized here, raises a series of discussions about the mentality of the patriarchal elites - colonial or bourgeois -, the urban and social transformations of the city, the promiscuous relationship between public and private interests in the country and a vision of the culture as an accessory. Thus, the idea of ​​the video “is to take architecture as a device, not just as a building in itself. Starting from an instrument and a particular architecture, transforming that into a discursive statement”, explains Beiguelman.

presence of absence 

But how to do it when artists are faced with a series of information gaps, not only documentary, and with the very impossibility of accessing the entire architectural space of the house – either due to the context of the pandemic, or due to the lack of authorization from the current owners of the building? The solution was to make these absences explicit, as Beiguelman says: “I think the entire video is a presence of absence, in every way. The voids seen in the 3D images are also a presence of interdictions. We didn't have access to the house.” And she adds: “There is still the presence of the absence of a lot of information. A vast archive of documents was used, but the narrative includes lapses, fantasies and fictions”.

Scene from "Nhonhô". Photo: reproduction

In this sense, according to Sartuzi, the use of photogrammetry makes even more sense: “For in this technique, when there are points where information is lacking, whether due to insufficient light or other absences, the computer does not compute that point, resulting in a fragmented landscape. And this enters our video together with this gap of lack of information, to all that we didn't have access to”.

The use of technologies – with Gabriel Francisco Lemos and Bernardo Fontes on the team – resulting from the artistic research of both Beiguelman and Sartuzi, is not, therefore, free of charge, but appears to give an account of this complex story that they decided to tell. “Technology is part of a working method of ours that has neither a technophobic nor a technophilic relationship, it has nothing of technique for technique's sake, it is not a fashion. This use even responded to the possibilities of making a video in this context: two people who never worked together, in the midst of a pandemic, and who physically met only once in the mansion ".

The colorization made from artificial intelligence (AI), in turn, resulted in a paradoxical “European hue” for a story set in Brazil, which was intentionally maintained by the duo. After researching dozens of AI colorization programs created for the reconstruction of images from the past, Beiguelman realized that the result was always colors and lights found in Northern countries – “since all the training of these tools is done with large digitized files Europeans”. “So the result is that a light that is not produced here migrated into the video, which gave this layer that we decided to keep because, paradoxically, it reproduces the look that these elites had on themselves”. And she concludes: “AI has entered as another reading voice in this tangle of colonialism, elitisms and foreignisms that continue among us”.

Videobrasil Online page, where a conversation with the artists is also available. Photo: reproduction

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