People at the entrance of Atelie397, in Pompeii, at the opening of the exhibition Que Barra!, in 2018.
People at the entrance of Atelie397, in Pompeia, at the opening of the exhibition Que Barra!, in 2018. Photo: Disclosure/Ateliê397

In a book released in 2015 on the Workshop 397, one of the longest-running independent art spaces in São Paulo, calls attention to the fact that the cover photo is of a party – with bodies dancing and hands holding beers – and not of an exhibition, a work of art or a performance. And that doesn't mean that Ateliê397 is a party space, even though it hosted many of them, especially before moving from the bohemian Vila Madalena to a residential street in Pompeia. What the choice of the photo seems to demonstrate, in fact, is that in the most varied activities that it houses and carries out – ateliers, courses, debates, artistic residencies and exhibitions – the space especially values ​​conviviality, exchanges, dialogues and meetings, as well as happens at a good party.

“A space dedicated to the circulation, production and exhibition of contemporary art”, as the sign at the entrance of the grand shed on the quiet Gonzaga Duque street explains, 397 completes 16 years of operation, having undergone not only the change of address in 2017, but also by reformulations in the team and in the management methods. He never lost sight, on this journey, that a certain degree of informality and irreverence are desirable for the type of experimentation and critical thinking he seeks to produce and for the place – neither marketing nor excessively institutional – he intends to occupy.

“Maybe it’s not really the party, but the beer”, comments the artist Raphael Escobar, contributor to 397. “Beer as this space of communion of conversation, of exchange, of discussing, of thinking good and bad ideas. In Ateliê, things flow a lot like that, in a meeting of people from different generations, at different stages of their careers. I think this conviviality gives strength to everyone, it has incredible potency, it allows the construction of thought.” Escobar, who has attended 397 for about ten years and now teaches courses there, is one of the many artists who arrived there in the final period of his graduation.

Ateliê397 during the exhibition Abraço Coletivo. Photo: Disclosure

As museologist and educator Tania Rivitti, who manages the space alongside Ana Elisa Carramaschi, Bia Mantovani and Carollina Lauriano, explains, “from the beginning, there has been this proposal to train young artists. This artist who leaves college and realizes that he still needs to discuss more, present his work more, understand how to present it”. This training character, which permeates a good part of the activities proposed by the Ateliê, is present both in courses such as the General Clinic, a biannual follow-up for projects by artists and researchers, and in the artistic residency Tem Vagas!, which is currently in its second edition, with nine young artists and a collective.

In the vast central area of ​​the shed, the artists of the residency have their workspaces separated only by a strip on the floor, without walls or partitions, which provides a permanent dialogue between the participants. The remaining rooms are rented to other more experienced artists who have their ateliers on site, usually shared by two or three people each. There is also a room for management, meetings or small exhibitions and an enclosure, right at the entrance, which houses the Escola da Floresta, a project led by the artist Fábio Tremonte. Despite a few walls, none of the rooms have closed doors.

for the curator Gabriel Bogossian, another of the Ateliê collaborators alongside Escobar and Thais Rivitti, this character of formation is one of the most relevant traits of the 397's identity to stand out in the current context of the city of São Paulo. “I think there is a lack here, historically, of a free school along the lines of Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro. And in recent years, independent spaces have occupied this place a little.” At the same time, he points out, with the closure of many of them, due to financial difficulties, 397 ended up becoming even more unique in the city scene.

Performance performed in the Ateliê397 shed during the exhibition “Abraço Coletivo”, in 2019. Photo: Amalia Coccia

“There are other places that host exhibitions, debates and performances, but few have this constant occupation, this regular meeting space that allows the pedagogy of coexistence”, says Bogossian, who also highlights the affordable (if not free) value of the courses and activities. do 397. “And I think that the artistic world still lacks awareness of the importance of this space, which is a place for oxygenation of the field, of practice”, completes the curator.

past and future

Over the 16 years of 397's history, the constant desire to question institutional and marketing practices in the contemporary art universe has resulted in various types of activities and experiences. At the surprise, for example, which has already had eight editions, an art auction is held “blindly”, without the participants being informed of the authorship of the works sold. Works by beginning and established artists mix and receive the same initial price, transforming the experience into a kind of bet that puts the idea of ​​authorship and financial speculation in the artistic world into question.

Based on a project proposed by Ateliê397 and awarded the 2012 Funarte Contemporary Art Award, the exhibition Espaços Independentes: A Alma é o Segredo do Negócios was created in partnership with Ateliê Aberto (Campinas), Atelier Subterrânea (Porto Alegre) and the São Paulo houses Casa Contemporânea, Casa Tomada and Casa da Xiclet. The idea of ​​uniting and putting into dialogue the practices of different independent spaces sought to oppose the individualistic premises of the market and favor the sharing of knowledge and collective practices. 

“There are other places that host exhibitions, debates and performances, but few have this constant occupation, this regular meeting space that allows
the pedagogy of coexistence”

Gabriel Bogossian

   

With the work of the study group “Women do not need to be naked to enter museums”, the exhibition high voices was organized in 2018 and lent its name to a new group of studies and interventions that continues to operate at 397. With a feminist emphasis and formed exclusively by women active in the São Paulo art circuit, Vozes Agudas has held meetings, readings and a series of podcast available on the Atelier website.

In July 2019, a large exhibition entitled Abraço Coletivo brought together works by almost 300 artists in the shed. From an open call (in which no artist would be refused), the show attracted exhibitors of different ages and with works on different platforms, called to think about the space together with the curator Paula Borghi.

If some of these projects from previous years – especially in the first half of the last decade – were financed through approval in public notices or funding through cultural incentive laws, the situation has become more critical for 397 in recent times. “There is clearly an intense desire to dismantle the culture”, comments Bogossian. Thus, the space has been debating new survival strategies and trying to put into practice projects that can maintain its sustainability.

Performance performed during the exhibition Abraço Coletivo, in 2019. Photo: Publicity

A crowdfunding (collective financing) carried out in 2017 raised BRL 65 and made it possible to maintain the activities of 397 in the first half of 2018. The sale of multiples, works by various artists linked to the house, is another path that has helped. Courses, residencies and the rent paid by the artists who work there represent another part of the collection, but not enough to close the bills. In this sense, 397 thinks of possibilities such as the resumption of Surpraise, the realization of a permanent crowdfunding and the creation of partnerships with other collectives and institutions in the city - whether museums, galleries or universities -, without this meaning a decrease in the autonomy of the Studio.

Another objective this year 2020 is to establish a stronger and more horizontal dialogue with the Pompeia neighborhood and its residents. For that, according to Rivitti, it is necessary to go to the streets and squares as well as to attract people inside the shed. “And one of the challenges is to find a language in which we recognize each other and that these residents also recognize each other. It's no use thinking that we're going to enlighten people with the idea of ​​contemporary art, with a specialist mentality that wants much more to teach than to listen to the other”, she says. “So we have to bring proposals, know how to place ourselves, and at the same time also listen, managing to get closer to the daily life of the neighborhood.”

For the managers of the Ateliê, a greater occupation of public space is also part of a political practice in times of attack on the arts and education. “In this difficult moment, when we have a government that is an enemy of culture, we are thinking about what kind of issues we want to work on, what discussions we want to have, boldly and without strings attached. Discussions about the city, gender and racial issues, feminism and the environment, always looking carefully at the people in the crosshairs in general,” says Rivitti.

In these 16 years on the road, trying to make a list of artists who have passed through Ateliê397 would be an almost impossible task. Among lesser known and consecrated names, hundreds of people had part of their training or trajectories marked by some practice or experience lived in this independent space in São Paulo. “Art demands training and good professionals”, concludes Rivitti. “And it needs time, it's not immediate. So this process that the studio has always provided, with students, artists, teachers and regulars, resulted in the maturation of many good people out there. It is a long work and it must continue.” 

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