Vila Itororó. Photo: Nelson Kon

By Benjamin Seroussi

How to label Vila Itororó? Like House of Culture? Theater? Museum? We are aware of the limitations of public policies that need to fit into bureaucratic rubrics a singular reality that escapes the general rule. However, between one administration and another, there was a continuous effort by the Municipal Secretary of Culture (SMC) to adjust both sides of the equation.

It is impossible to look at the complex history of Vila Itotoró without taking into account that the place has always been a place for housing (popular and bourgeois) and leisure (having one of the first swimming pools in the city). It is regrettable that the recognition of the Vila's importance as a heritage involved the removal of what makes it precisely a heritage – its residents. It is as if the desire (to preserve) killed its object (the Village). It is not by chance that the village has passed through the ages precisely because it has been somewhat on the sidelines of real estate speculation – the relative abandonment was its greatest factor of preservation. Today, being under the spotlight, care must be taken not to destroy it once and for all.

the future does not exist

When will it be ready? What is going to be? These are the first questions that visitors asked when entering the restoration site of the century-old Vila Itororó when it opened its gates to the public in 2015, already emptied of its residents. It is curious how belief in the future persists despite living in a city full of abandoned construction sites, discontinued public policies and unfulfilled promises… And when will São Paulo be ready? The public power feels obliged to propose answers as if an unrealizable plan would comfort more than a realistic look at our abilities to act in the present.

It is curious how belief in the future persists despite living in a city full of abandoned construction sites, discontinued public policies and unfulfilled promises… And when will São Paulo be ready?

the thickness of the gift

Trying to answer the wrong question is a guarantee that we will never find the right answer. Therefore, the project Vila Itororó Open Site avoided superficial answers such as “artistic residency”, “public cultural center”, “city history museum”, to elaborate new questions: what can it be now? How does its history and the city's current needs inform its potential? How to activate it? What is public? What is culture? – and thus invent what the architect Yona Friedman calls “realizable utopias”, a radical exercise of imagination, however, within a possibility of action that aims to give thickness to the present.

The temporary cultural center

The shed attached to the Vila became an experiment, on a real scale, of what the Vila could be once renovated… or rather, inhabited. Many partnerships were made to strengthen the project beyond political management. The temporary architecture of the Franco-German collective Constructlab created the basis for an active listening to the demands of the neighborhood. These did not emerge through public consultations, but through the uses of the kitchen, the mobile bleachers, mirrors, public bathrooms, closets for homeless people, open woodworking and other devices that came to replace cafes, design and other services that today seem more important than the public utility of cultural spaces.

File photo of Vila Itororó at the beginning of the last century. Photo: Milu Leite Archive

inhabit the culture

At the same time, there was an opening of the notion of culture – since, legally, the space has to be used for cultural purposes. But if culture goes beyond artistic practices, why not use space in other ways? Is not inhabiting culture? Cultivating is not culture? Is food not culture? Wouldn't practices not foreseen by the social and cognitive limitations of the project's curators have space in cultural centers? Defining basic agreements with the public under construction, what we call “spontaneous uses” emerged: fencing, circus rehearsal, meetings of former residents and other practices carried out by regulars, without other curatorial mediations.

Rehearsing other public policies

The project Vila Itororó Open Site ended in 2020 with the delivery, by Instituto Pedra, of some renovated houses to SMC, which had already taken over the management of the activities of the construction site in 2018. Since then, it is important to observe the ongoing normalization (or domestication) process – the “ spontaneous uses” becoming less visible than workshops and shows; visual communication gaining official character; and the vocabulary becoming uncritical – talking about “creative economy”, “artistic occupation” or “museum”. But the village is still alive within the fan opened by the construction site! Recognizing these limitations helps to point to the current challenges: how can the public power maintain the community life that exists there without curtailing it? What role can visitors play in space management? How to include housing in the use program? How to proceed with the renovation without stopping the operation of the Village?

“Panapana”, by Carla Zaccagnin, 2016. Photo: Camila Picolo.

To conclude, I would like, on the one hand, to think, together with curators and managers, about the importance of continuing to aim for the best of top for your projects but also to have the ability to anticipate the best of worst possible scenarios, because our ability to control reality is limited. That is why, despite the problems mentioned, I celebrate that the Vila maintains a diverse public, that the psychoanalysis clinic continues to function and that the works of art, commissioned to structure the project, are still there: the Constructlab furniture (unfortunately repainted without talking to their creators); Monica Nador's murals; the butterfly attraction garden by Carla Zaccagnini (whose sound part is not well signposted); the house renovated by Raumlabor (but no longer counting on the support of the Goethe Institut); and video clips of Graziela Kunsch online.

On the other hand, to SMC, I draw attention to the fact that, in the current scenario, the Vila remains a unique opportunity to create intersectoral policies. If, through Fablab, there is a partnership between SMC and the Secretary of Innovation and Technology, why not one with the Secretary of Housing? In a situation of scarcity of resources, the Vila points to an economic model where the public power can support the collective initiatives that emerged there, guaranteeing their free cohabitation only, without erasing their singularities and providing a common space to develop their activities. In a city that tries to erase its wounds and silence its minority voices, Vila, medallion of a necklace that has passed away (to paraphrase Flavio Império, who lived on the block), can function as a living memory of the many ways of living in the capital of vertigo. .

Goethe in the Village
Image of the space during the Goethe na Vila program, with pieces by the Berlin-based collective RAUMLABOR, in 2017. Photo: Fernando Stankuns.

Benjamin Seroussi

I worked as curator of the Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto project. I share the authorship with the team I worked with directly – Fabio Zuker (associate curator), Graziela Kunsch (audience trainer), Helena Ramos (project manager), Francesca Tedeschi (Goethe’s coordinator in Vila) – and with the entire team from Instituto Pedra, led by Luiz Fernando de Almeida, who invited me in 2014 to think about how to open this site.

To learn more about the Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto project and the history of Vila Itororó, I invite you to browse the site where you can find photographic files, books, videos, works and records of all activities carried out between 2015 and 2018.

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