From 'Constructive Vandalism' to 'Destructive Preservation'
A suggestion for an art documentary on Brazil's own 'pichação'
Some months ago in this newsletter I suggested two great (art) documentaries on the idea of ‘Constructive Vandalism’. And if one of them, ‘Cola na Veia’, was one of the best documenaties that I’ve ever watched, this week I found another amazing Brazilian film that documents the practice of pixação in São Paulo: ‘Pixo’ by João Wainer and Roberto T. Oliveira.
‘Pixo’ casts a light on another cultural movement that aims to use Brazilian streets (more specifially São Paulo’s) as both the medium and the message. The film presents us with a cultural movement that is firmly rooted on ‘destructive preservation’ of the value of expression:
“What society is this that raises a whole generation of youth that need to express themselves through destruction?” 1
Pichação, normally described as Brazilian graffiti, is a cultural movement that started in the 60s with mainly a political intent, later evolved into a practice that instead of political messages brought poetry to the streets and finally, in the 80s, made a comeback as unique form of ego-tripping by marking one’s (or the group’s) own name on murals and buildings facades.
However, this historical transformation of pixação is reflected not only on the intentions of the pixadores but also on the visual language used throughout the years. If in the first two iterations the pixadores used roman characters — making the messages legible to almost everyone — today’s pixadores use typographic characters heavily influenced from Heavy Metal, Rock and Punk album covers (which, in turn, are also based on ancient germanic runic alphabets).
What I found particularly good about ‘Pixo’ is that the directors are not trying to convince the audience that pichação is art or that is not vandalism — like most documentaries on graffiti and street art tend to do. Instead, it gives you an account of its nuances: its historical evolution in both aesthetics and ideals; the appeal of risk-taking and the vanity of seeing one’s name written in everywhere; the social, material, and political conditions in Brazil that made pixação not only possible but necessary; and, more importantly, the film assures you that until those same conditions don’t change, there will always be pixação covering the buildings of São Paulo. As the first comment on the video on youtube says:
“Before I used to discrimminate on pichação until I understood the true meaning of it. For some it’s vandalism, while in truth, that is what really is! ahahaha I told a friend of mine while he was doing pichação: ‘Man, what you made is nothing more than a piece of art’, to which he replied: ‘No, my brother, this right here is pure hate!’” 2
“Que sociedade é essa que forma uma geração inteira de jovens que precisa de se expressar através da destruição?”
“Antes eu discriminava o pixo, até compreender o sentido. Para uns isso é vandalismo, e realmente, é isso mesmo! KKKKKKKKKKKK Disse para um amigo quando estava pixando: ‘Cara, isso que tu fez aí nada mais é do que uma obra de arte’ Ele disse: ‘Não, irmão, isso daqui é puro ódio! ‘”