Summer 2010

– Summer 2010

Contextual Essays


Events, Works, Exhibitions

Flávio de Carvalho

Inti Guerrero

Flávio de Carvalho, Experiência no.3, 1956, downtown São Paulo. Courtesy the estate of Flávio de Carvalho

Flávio de Carvalho, Experiência no.3, 1956, downtown São Paulo. Courtesy the estate of Flávio de Carvalho

In 1930, Brazil's Antropofagia avant-garde group sent the architect Flávio de Carvalho as its representative to the IV Pan-American Congress of Architecture, which took place that year in Rio de Janeiro.1 De Carvalho (1899-1973), who had returned to Brazil in 1923 after having studied engineering and painting in Durham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, delivered a lecture to the Congress introducing a master plan for a new city to be built in the tropics. His proposal, 'A cidade do homem nu' ('The City of the Naked Man'), imagined a metropolis for the man of the future, which he saw as a man without god, without property and without marriage. A 'naked mankind' that had stripped itself from its cultural constructs - or in de Carvalho's words, from 'scholastic taboos' - would be 'free for reasoning and thinking', and could begin a painstaking process of wonderment, change and becoming in this new city.2 In his proposal, de Carvalho also urged the architects participating in the Congress to understand the anthropophagic nature of their subcontinent on which the city would be built: 'the City of the Naked Man seeks the resurrection of the primitive, free from Western taboos […] the savage with all of its desires, all of its curiosity intact and not repressed […] as it was by colonial conquest. In search for a Naked civilisation!'3

De Carvalho envisioned this anthropophagic urban utopia as a number of centres and laboratories placed in concentric circles: a teaching centre, a breeding centre, a laboratory of erotica (where inhabitants could exercise their libido without repression), a laboratory of religion (located within the latter) and a huge research centre where inhabitants could discover the wonders of the universe, the pleasure of life, the 'enthusiasm to produce things, the desire to change'.4 These areas of individual creativity, de Carvalho told the participants in the Congress, were absent from their cities and denied to the population in their current bourgeois organisation of labour. Being part of a generation of functionalist and systematic architects who evaluated the productivity of their creations through the symbiosis of their form and function, de Carvalho also defended his rhizomatic urban composition, one that was meant for the tropics, based on the grounds of its efficiency. In his case, however, efficiency was defended by the productivity of people's energy: de Carvalho's urbanism presupposed an existing energy within the subjectivity of the individual, a type of energy coming from a person's psyche and the impulse of his or her desires, which would be stimulated within the different urban scenarios.

Individual and crowd psychology therefore were major interests within de Carvalho's diverse and multidisciplinary work, which included expressionistic portrait painting, engineering, theatre directing and playwriting, amateur anthropology, dance, scenography, art criticism, journalism, film-making, fashion design and, of course, architecture. His creations were analytical, highly influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud and of the social anthropologist James Frazer. Freud's Totem and Taboo (1913) and Frazer's The Golden Bough (1922) were extensively quoted in de Carvalho's own writings as a journalist and author, and formed a core part of his atheist, iconoclastic secular attitude, which saw traditional religious institutions as a cultural rather than theological phenomenon. Freud would become the basis for Carvalho's research on crowd psychology in relation to the city, modern architecture and urbanism - an investigation that led to his most intriguing propositions.

City of Anguish

As a journalist for the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Diario da noite, and along with literature critic Geraldo Ferraz (who was the editor of Revista de Antropofagia), de Carvalho interviewed Le Corbusier upon his first visit to Rio de Janeiro in 1929.5 During the interview de Carvalho directed the conversation towards the topic of architecture's ability to awaken diverse feelings in its users, and focused especially on the feeling of anguish.6 Confused by de Carvalho's psychological take on architecture's consequences, it is said Le Corbusier smiled,7 perhaps because for him modern architecture was meant to create a place from where the individual looked out; his houses were mechanisms for seeing the world outside, not places for looking in, especially not into one's subjectivity.8

Prior to Le Corbusier's 1929 interview, psychological factors in relation to the efficiency of a modern design had already started to become of great importance in de Carvalho's own architectural proposals. An example of this is a 1927 design he made in response to an open call to build the new Government Palace in São Paulo, which he titled and signed with the pseudonym Eficácia (Efficiency). His proposal was a fortress constructed from monumental and austere volumes that hosted gun machines, catapults and a heliport - all of which at first instance had the manifest goal of improving the stability of the government. His futuristic (and militaristic) plan may have been a direct reaction to the Government Palace's destruction three years before: in 1924 an uprising led by a military faction sought to overthrow the oligarchic political-electoral system of the Republica Velha, or Old Republic, which had been established in Brazil after the abdication of Emperor Pedro II in 1889. Under the Republica Velha, a political coalition of elites from the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais alternated in the position of the presidency. The rebels of what it is now known as the 'forgotten revolution' burnt down the Louis XIV-pastiche Governmental Palace, popularly known as the 'Champs-Élysées palace' and were later attacked by air by the Federal Government, which resulted in the destruction of two São Paulo neighbourhoods.

Three years after these events de Carvalho's Eficácia paradoxically seems to attempt to both strengthen the political status quo and to expose its vulnerability. Though Eficácia was not chosen by the selection committee, it received an enormous amount of media attention. Its 'oddity' sparked controversy and triggered public debate, as it was a clear break with the tradition of architecture in Brazil and, more importantly, because it was a hostile building.9 One could say that Eficácia entered the public realm through the debates in the media, despite its not being actually built. It caused anguish in the public because of its violent vision of a government that is in a position of self-defense towards an unstable polity, and also for being perhaps a premonition of the repressive regimes that were to come.

Perhaps because his career as an architect was not going that well - he did not win any of the public architecture competitions he participated in10 - in the 1930s de Carvalho began to analyse crowd psychology more directly and with greater economy of means than in his architectural proposals. He initiated a series of actions he called Experiências, which could be considered art performances avant la lettre. The first known one, dating from 1931 and titled Experiência no.2, 11 took place early in the morning during a Corpus Christi procession in São Paulo's city centre. De Carvalho 'infiltrated' the procession without removing his cap, thereby demonstrating disrespect to the religious ceremony. Stared at with anger by the Catholic devotees, he began to walk against the direction of the crowd, leering libidinously at the women taking part in the procession. Ultimately a group of men began chasing him while the crowd chanted 'Lyncha! Lyncha! ' ('Lynch him! Lynch him!'); he took refuge on the rooftop of a café until the police arrived and took him to the station, where he was released after explaining to the officers that he was simply analysing crowd psychology. Months later, in order to leave a record of Experiência no.2, de Carvalho published an artist's book that included a text in which he discussed the emotional crescendo of the religious crowd (again leaning heavily on the writings of Freud and Frazer), and the way in which his irreverent act led them to abandon their secular, civilian ethics for unbridled vigilantism. As he writes, Experiência no.2 intended 'to reveal the soul of believers through a mechanism that made it possible to study their physiognomic reactions, their gestures, walk, gaze; in summary, to feel the environment's pulse, to psychically touch the tempestuous emotion of the collective soul, to register the expression of that emotion, to provoke revolt in order to see something of the unconscious.'12 De Carvalho's text was accompanied by a series of illustrations recounting the different moments of the street action, interspersed with surreal and expressionistic drawings that interpreted the feelings of anguish, fear and repulsion experienced by those devout worshippers who eagerly called for de Carvalho to be killed. The street - 'the only region of valid experience' as André Breton would say13 - was again the place where 25 years later, in 1956, de Carvalho staged his next Experiência, this time bringing together performance, his architectural utopian desires and fashion.

Tropical Modernity

Splitting his time between his modernist farmhouse on the outskirts of São Paulo and his accelerating cultural and social life in the city, by the 1950s de Carvalho was an active and leading figure of the modern art movement in Brazil. He co-founded the Club of Modern Artists (where concerts, artist's talks and exhibitions were held), founded and directed the short-living Theatre of Experience and even represented Brazil in the 25th Venice Biennale (1950) with a series of paintings. However, it was not until 1956 that he created his Experiência no.3. In this case, de Carvalho deemed the dress code for male office workers in São Paulo - a pair of trousers, a matching blazer, a long-sleeved collared shirt and a tie - inappropriate for the high temperatures and humid conditions of the tropical metropolis, especially during summer. His main concern was the unhygienic conditions caused by a regular suit's enclosed design, which trapped the body's sweat within the heavy clothing's texture. De Carvalho's solution was culturally, economically and climatically specific: a two-piece suit consisting of a white pleated miniskirt and a black, red or yellow striped short-sleeved blouse, with holes in its armpits and an inner-wire corseting structure that separated the thin cloth from the torso of the person wearing it. The design of the suit also included a removable neck cloth to garnish the blouse, fishnet tockings (to cover varicose veins) and raw leather sandals. Titled after a Christian Dior haute couture advertisement, de Carvalho's New Look: Moda de verão para o novo homem dos trópicos (New Look: Summer Fashion for a New Man of the Tropics) enabled the free circulation of air around the body. As the schematic figure from his sketches suggests, body temperature would vary according to the velocity with which air came in and out of the suit; it was designed 'to function as a pump or a valve to pump air […] with only three arm movements air would be refreshed'.14 The outfit was a mechanical symbiosis of body and clothing, form and function, as if it were one of Le Corbusier's machines à habiter: cheap to fabricate, easy to wash and dry, fitting both the fat and the skinny and, last but not least, with 'vivid colours that would restrain desires of aggression, avoiding wars'.15

On 18 October 1956 de Carvalho launched this tropical futuristic outerwear in the same streets of São Paulo where years before there had been calls to lynch him whilst performing Experiência no.2. This time he strolled through the city centre wearing, or rather crossdressing into, his New Look, followed peacefully by an amused crowed composed largely of businessmen. The walk in the financial district of São Paulo included a stop for coffee and a fifteen-minute visit to a cinema that had a strict jacket-and-tie dress code, and concluded at the headquarters of the media enterprise Diarios Associados, where, standing on a table, de Carvalho gave a press conference explaining the qualities and advantages of his creation.

The launch of the New Look had been announced months before through the media, including a Time magazine article titled 'Brave New Look', in which de Carvalho was quoted as saying: 'When people realise that my new style is not only more cheerful, edifying and comfortable but economical too, everybody will try it. I will have liberated mankind from a depressing slavery.'16 Since March of the same year, de Carvalho had also published 39 articles under his weekly column 'House, Man and Landscape' in Diario de São Paulo newspaper, where he wrote a 'universal history of fashion'. Going from the Neanderthals to his New Look, and mostly dealing with Western references, every article was illustrated with miniature silhouette drawings of human figures copied from historical paintings and archaeological artefacts which de Carvalho had seen in European museums.17 The recurrent narrative throughout the articles was the cultural and biological implications of the use of curves or straight lines in fashion. De Carvalho speculated, for example, on the number of layers in women's skirts as a sign of fecundity, in relation to the need to increase or decrease procreation; or he associated the adoption of the same waistline height and the use of the same fabrics in male and female fashion in certain historical periods to the abolishment of a gender division of labour. His intent was that by the time the New Look was presented to the public, it would be legitimised by his published argumentation. Rather than portraying it as the development or logical conclusion of Western fashion, de Carvalho claimed it was the result of a deconstruction of this tradition and its normativity. The New Look was derived through a sophisticated process of quotation, appropriation and cultural cannibalism (i.e. Antropofagia) that synthesised various historical fashion archetypes, leading to this transgendered, transgressive, primitively modern and functional tropical suit.

The New Look, with its attempt at psychological and socio-cultural transformation through the suit's bright colours and 'simple' forms, suggests de Carvalho as a precursor of Neo-Concretists such as Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape.18 Indeed the use of cloth in his design and the performative aspect of his Experiência no.3 directly connect it to Neo-Concretist corporal experiences, and perhaps even more to Hélio Oiticica and his parangolés, which date from 1964 onwards. However, it is important to underline that the cultural transgression of de Carvalho's outfit was different from the sensual and poetical one of Oiticica's capes. The New Look sexualised the male body not by an abstract 'stimulation' of its sensuality,19 but by subverting the cultural signs of gender division: by dressing a man in the cultural codes of women he is simultaneously transformed into a desired, feminised body that exteriorises its sexuality by virtue of its exposure.20 But perhaps the greatest difference between the New Look and the parangolé is that Oiticica's corporal experience, although highly influenced by the social components of his surroundings and even performed within his vernacular context, did not seek to modify it directly. In contrast, de Carvalho, with his tropical modern design clothing, sought to modify behaviour by acting upon the everyday, by introducing what, according to him, was an adequate design for the modern tropical man. De Carvalho's functional and efficient suit subverted social conventions but, at the same time, was based on one of modernity's main subtexts, hygiene. The improvement of hygienic conditions justified the fundaments of modern design, architecture and urbanism, which sought to regulate and standardize urban and domestic space; homogenising and medicalising life.21 Perhaps de Carvalho used hygiene in an ironic manner in order to defend the functional efficiency of his dress, which was both liberating and emancipatory but at the same time normative, as the New Look also seems to have been designed as a kind of uniform for the future in the tropics.

The year de Carvalho introduced his New Look was also the year that the newly elected president of Brazil, Juscelino Kubitschek, began plans for the flagship of his radical modernisation programme: the new federal capital, Brasilia. A brand-new metropolis was to be built in the tropics, with an architectural language that was a far cry from the anthropophagic urban plans of de Carvalho's 'A cidade do homem nu'. Brasilia, conceived by the urbanist Lucio Costa and built in collaboration with Oscar Niemeyer and landscape architect Burle Marx, appeared as the end product of a history of official Brazilian modern architecture, which by 1956 had already been internationally celebrated.22 The state endorsement of a modernist vision through the construction of Brasilia seems paradoxical, intending to create a national identity through the implementation of the international architectural style. This style, even though it had been locally appropriated and adapted to a certain extent by the Costa-Niemeyer-Marx tradition, clearly belonged to a hegemonic language that had expanded worldwide precisely because its austere symbiosis of form and function was a-contextual. De Carvalho, by contrast, modified the architecture of the body through a modern design that was conceived specifically for the new man of the tropics. Despite not realising his master plan for a 'City of the Naked Man', with the New Look and Experiência no.3 he succeeded in undressing the city, freeing those who followed him from 'scholastic taboos' in their contemporary urbanity.

  1. The term 'antropofagia' was used by the Brazilian artist and poet Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954), for his 'Manifesto Antropófago' from 1928. The term, synonymous with cannibalism, was used by Andrade to mean cultural appropriation, a kind of 'cultural cannibalism'. The Antropofagia avantgarde movement represented the attitude of a group of modern painters, sculptors and writers based in São Paulo who self-consciously mixed and layered references, origins and genealogies within a territory and a population that shared a mixture of indigenous, African and European lineage. 'Tupi or not Tupi', the third line of the manifesto, announces this type of unfixed cultural identity: phonetically, the sentence refers to Shakespeare's Hamlet, but the Tupi were the main indigenous population of Brazil.

  2. Flávio de Carvalho, 'A cidade do homem nu', lecture presented at the Pan-American Congress of Architects in Rio de Janeiro (1930). The lecture was later published as an article in Diario da noite, 1 July 1930, republished by Luiz Carlos Daher, in Flávio de Carvalho: Arquitetura e Expressionismo, São Paulo: Ed. Projeto, 1982, and published in English in Valeska Freitas (ed.), 100 years: Flávio de Carvalho: Revolucionario romantico (exh. cat.), Rio de Janeiro: CCBB, 1999, p.58.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Le Corbusier was a key figure in the development of modern architecture in Brazil. His esprit nouveau resonated with powerful intellectuals in the country in the early 1930s. He was commissioned to design, with Lucio Costa, a new building for the Ministry of Education and Public Health-MESP in 1936, for which Oscar Niemeyer was an intern.

  6. The questionnaire that structured this interview included the following questions to Le Corbusier: '1. Do you think architecture is a philosophical problem?; 2. Should architecture be logical? What logic?; 3. Should architecture have colour? Which is the predominant factor: colour, form or the functional idea? What qualifies as pleasant in colour and form? […]; 6. Is that pleasantness subjective or objective?; 7. How to introduce the psychic factor in architecture?; 8. Should the idea of the structure be sacrificed because of the psychic factor or not?; 9. Should the desire to progress grasp humanity or should mankind grasp the desire to progress?' Geraldo Ferraz and Flávio de Carvalho, Diario da Noite, 24 October 1929. Questions translated by the author.

  7. Antonio Carlos Robert Moraes, Flávio de Carvalho, São Paulo: Editora Brasilense, 1986, p.17.

  8. In Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1998), Beatriz Colomina compares the experience of the gaze favoured by the architecture of Adolf Loos to that of Le Corbusier: the first keeps the inhabitant's eyes within the house, experiencing its interiors, so that when you walk through a space in a Loos house you always turn back to see it again. In contrast, Le Corbusier's houses, because of their 'horizontal window' principle, produce a cinematographic perspective from the inside towards the panoramic outdoors. De Carvalho, through his interest in psychology, brings yet another approach to the gaze in modern architecture: the psychological interiority of the individual.

  9. Although de Carvalho's Eficácia is considered a founding moment of modern architecture in Brazil, two years earlier, in 1925, Russian émigré architect Gregori Warchavik wrote the foundational manifesto 'A cerca da arquitectura moderna' ('About Modern Architecture'), and in 1927 he constructed his Casa Modernista in São Paulo, considered the first modern house in Brazil. However, if we take into account the domestic aspirations of Warchavik's architecture, Eficácia may well be the first truly modern public building in Brazil.

  10. De Carvalho did build two architectural projects, but they both were private houses. One is known as Alameda Lorena (1936) and another, his own country home, Fazenda Capauva (1929).

  11. Flávio de Carvalho's biography O comedor da emoções (São Paulo: Unicampi 1994), written by his friend J. Toledo, and the book Flávio de Carvalho by Antonio Carlos Robert Moraes speculate over what would have been Experiência no.1. According to both, Experiência no.1 may have been a public action at a social event during which de Carvalho faked choking to death.

  12. '[D]esvendar a alma dos crentes por meio de um reagente qualquer que permitisse estudar a reação nas fisionomias, nos gestos, no passo, no olhar, sentir enfim o pulso do ambiente, palpar psiquicamente a emoção tempestuosa da alma coletiva, registrar o escoamento dessa emoção, provocar a revolta para ver alguma coisa do inconsciente'. Flávio de Carvalho, Experiência no.2, Rio de Janeiro: Nau, 2001. Translation the author's.

  13. André Breton, Nadja (trans. Richard Howard), New York: Grove Press, 1960, p.113.

  14. From the writing on Flávio de Carvalho's sketch drawing of the New Look. Translation the author's.

  15. Ibid.

  16. 'Brave New Look', Time, 25 June 1956, p.30.

  17. Between August 1934 and February 1935, after having delivered a lecture at the VIII International Congress of Psychotechnique in Prague, de Carvalho travelled throughout Europe. His notes and drawings made during that period became the foundation for 'House, Man and Landscape', and were also printed in his book Os ossos do mundo (Rio de Janeiro: Ariel, 1936; republished by Editora Antiqua in São Paulo in 2005). The book narrates his departure from São Paulo, conversations with intellectuals at bars in London, his quest to interview the King of Gypsies and the Nazi participation at the congress in Prague, amongst other subjects.

  18. The 'Manifesto neoconcreto' ('Neo-Concretist Manifesto') was published in the Jornal do Brasil in March 1959.

  19. 'Already Hélio's earliest parangolé capes, as clothing, are by nature transsexual. They have no attachment to conventional signs of either masculinity or femininity. […] Gay sexuality could be traced in his work, but all his proposals related to sexuality seem to be non-divisive, transexual.' Guy Brett, 'The Experimental Exercise of Liberty', in Hélio Oiticica (exh. cat.), Rotterdam: Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art, 1992, p.233.

  20. In 1956, a woman's skirt would reach roughly below the knee.

  21. By 'modern architecture' I do not only refer to the historical avant-gardes where de Carvalho's utopias can be located, but also, to the great civic reforms which purified urban and domestic pace (i.e. eighteenth-century sewage) where hygiene was used within the discourse of progress, creating social, racial and religious divisions. 'What emerges during the last decades of the 18th century is a "curing machine" [machine à guérir] […] a technology of power that allows a whole knowledge of the individual, but through this also a new form of individuation to take place. The forms of architecture have to reflect in the most precise way the new forms of techniques for assessing and determining health (to separate, but also to allow for ciculation, survelliance, classification, etc.).'Sven-Olov Wallenstein, Essays, Lectures, Stockholm: Axl Books, 2007, p.384.

  22. During the first mandate of Getulio Vargas (1930-45), architects Costa and Niemeyer built the Brazilian pavilion for the 1939 New York World's Fair in an austere modern language, showing to an international audience that Brazil was modern and progressive. In 1943, the Museum of Modern Art of New York endorsed Brazil's specific take on what the museum itself had coined as the 'international style' by programming the exhibition 'Brazil Builds: Architecture New and Old, 1652-1942'.