– Spring 2014

Performing the ‘Thing’: Teatro da Vertigem’s Bom Retiro 958 metros

Diana Taylor

Teatro da Vertigem, Bom Retiro 958 metros, 2012, theatre production performed in Bom Retiro, São Paulo. Photograph: Flavio Morbach Portella

It seems that culture consists in

the thorough tormenting of matter

and pushing it through an implacable


Almost a comfort to reflect that not even

this excrement

obliged to abandon the planet.

— Joaquín O. Giannuzzi, ‘Garbage at Daybreak’1

Bom Retiro 958 metros (2012) leads 
us on a walk through São Paulo’s phantasmagorical world of things.2 Things, in this theatre performance, revolve around fabric. Things such as dresses and fine cloth sold in shopping malls; things such as homeless people’s blankets; things such as remnants of cloth and used clothing tossed in garbage cans and containers; things in their dissolving states of glory, comfort, disuse and decomposition. 
With Bom Retiro 958 metros, Teatro da Vertigem (literally, ‘Theatre of Vertigo') a collaborative theatre and performance group founded in 1991 in São Paulo under the direction of Antônio Araújo, gradually introduces us to a deeply disorienting experience. We hold on to the proverbial thread that leads through this maze of materiality exemplified by cloth: its history, politics, the people who make it and the people that it makes.

After gathering at the Oficina Cultural Oswald de Andrade in the immigrant, working-class neighbourhood of Bom Retiro, we are handed a map
 with instructions to the meeting place: turn left after leaving the building,

  1. Joaquín O. Giannuzzi, A Complicated Mammal (trans. Richard Gwyn), London: CB Editions, 2012, p.3. Epigraph quoted in Joca Reiners Terron and Teatro da Vertigem, ‘Bom Retiro 958 metros’, unpublished script, São Paulo, February 2011—May 2012.

  2. Bom Retiro 958 metros was performed in São Paulo during 2012 and again on 12—19 January 2013 as part of the 8th Encuentro of the Hemispheric Institute, ‘Cities | Bodies | Action: The Politics of Passion in the Americas’, an itinerant biennial, academic conference and performance festival.

  3. Oswald de Andrade, ‘Manifesto Antropófago’, Revista de Antropofagia, vol.1, no.1, May 1928; reprinted as ‘Cannibalist Manifesto’ (trans. Stephen Berg), Third Text, vol.13, issue 46, pp.92—95.

  4. J.R. Terron and Teatro da Vertigem, ‘Bom Retiro 958 metros’, op. cit.

  5. Arjun Appadurai, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988; quoted in Bill Brown, ‘Thing Theory’, in B. Brown (ed.), Things, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, p.6.

  6. The terms ‘quasi-objects' and ‘quasi-subjects' are Michel Serres's. See Bruno Latour, ‘Why has Critique Run Out of Steam: From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern’, in B. Brown (ed.), Things, op. cit., p.12; and M. Serres, Statues: Le second livre des fondations, Paris: Éditions François Bourin, 1987.

  7. See, for example, Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies (1923— 24, trans. W.D. Halls), London and New York: Routledge, 2000; B. Latour, On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods (trans. Catherine Porter and Heather MacLean), Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010; Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses, London and New York: Routledge, 1993; and Elizabeth A. Povinelli, ‘Do Rocks Listen?’, American Anthropologist, vol.97, no.3, September 1995, pp.505—18.

  8. My interviewee also cautions me about the traps of translations. Some people refer to ch’ulel as a soul, but he points out that soul drags a religious and mystic connotation along with it. Maybe anima works better, though that too has a decidedly non-indigenous etymology. But what terms in our scholarly vocabulary have indigenous origins? The difficulties of translation tell us about the inadequacy of our language to discuss experiences beyond a Western worldview. See ‘“Nosotros”: Interview with a Zapatista’, in Diana Taylor (ed.), Dancing with the Zapatistas [online publication], available at http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/publications (last accessed on 15 November 2013).

  9. See, for example, José P. Baraybar and Jesús Peña, ‘Forensics, Memory and Development: A Peruvian Perspective’, e-misférica [online journal], vol.7, issue 2, Winter 2010, available at http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/e72-putis-essay (last accessed on 15 November 2013).

  10. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (1967, trans. Ken Knabb), London: Rebel, 1987, p.7.

  11. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (1980, trans. Richard Howard), New York: Hill & Wang, 1981, p.59.

  12. He is making reference to a law that had just passed in Brazil in January 2013, requiring internment and rehabilitation for addicts. See Lucy Jordan, ‘Forced Treatment for Brazil Crack Addicts’, The Rio Times, 26 February 2013, available at http://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/front-page/ involuntary-treatment-for-brazil-crack-addicts/# (last accessed on 15 November 2013).

  13. This theatre, which operated from 1960 until 2004 as the Theatre of Israeli Brazilian Art (TAIB), was part of a Jewish cultural centre known as Casa do Povo, a stronghold of resistance to the dictatorship. The Casa do Povo is still functioning today, but it has fallen into disrepair, and Bom Retiro 958 metros was part of an attempt to reactivate the space.

  14. See Antônio Araújo, ‘Dramaturgia en el colectivo: Intervenciones en espacios urbanos y “proceso colaborativo” en el Teatro da Vertigem’, in Manuel Bellisco and María José Cifuentes (ed.), Repensar la dramaturgia: Errancia y transformación, Murcia: Centro Párraga and CENDEAC, 2011, p.220.