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Akademia Cartonera: A Primer of Latin American Cartonera Publishers (2009)

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Dulcinéia Catadora (Brasil)

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Dulcinéia Catadora is more than a group consisting of artists, photographers, journalists, young children of recyclers, formerly homeless adults who write, as well as writers.[1] It is a collective of people who are united by their differences; people with a diverse ethnic heritage, creeds, backgrounds and ways of life.

The diversity among its members encourages discussion and respect for creating difference, which are not considered inequalities, room for an intense sharing of experience and establishing a string of effects. It is this group's configuration that guides the activities developed in-studio, which are marked not only by the complexity of the work, but also by the heterogeneity of the “product” book.

ART AND LIFE

Although it is a fundamental aspect of the group, the social function is not the primary purpose of our collective. Our purpose has nothing to do with charity, or with communitarian work; we do not depend on the patronage of public bodies or private entities. Our goal is to act in a sustainable way. We work with income obtained through selling the books and with payments received for our presentations or exhibitions. The children of cardboard collectors do not receive charity: they share income earned from tasks such as painting covers and bookmaking which gives them a personal element that has a very particular value in the public's eyes. This manifest value makes it possible to struggle for a more dignified life, to pursue a more promising future, to attain a profession that fulfills them as human beings.

We do not believe in the autonomy of art. Art is not disconnected from life and human relationships, from social, political and economic contexts. We have strong ties with cardboard collectors and there are many reasons for this collaboration. The material used for our book covers is cardboard that comes from boxes used for industrial purposes or to ship products. This cardboard is collected from the streets, store fronts, supermarket warehouses and factory sheds by cardboard collectors. They carry up to five hundred kilos in their carts, braving steep streets, climbing with heavy and slow steps, using their brakes that are pieces of tire tied to a wooden “piece” affixed to the cart, scraping the asphalt as they go.

We buy one kilo of cardboard from collectors or in cooperatives for R$1,00. In Brazil, the economic world crisis of 2008 caused the price of this material to fall. Formally established cardboard-collector cooperatives are sending this material to “socially responsible” recyclers for only R$ 0,20/kilo, which is leading to their collapse.

We have a strong relationship with Movimento Nacional dos Catadores de Materiais Recicláveis which manages cooperatives in Brazil. The movement aims to dignify the collector, emphasizing his/her role within the recycling process that is invaluable to our country.

Our collective strives to help the younger generation have higher self-esteem. We include youth such as the children of street collectors in the painting of the book covers, reading the books produced, and in contacts with authors who cooperate with us and visit the studio. All of this creates future opportunities.

The spontaneous sensibility experienced in-studio leads young girls and boys to develop an awareness of photography, music and literature. This guides some to pursue career within these fields.

THE ARTISTIC CRAFT

Working with discarded materials is essential. Aside from cardboard, the paper we use in our book has been industrially recycled. Discarded material has a history. It is the refuse of our industrial society.  That is why our paintings do not hide what is printed on the cardboard. There is a dialogue between these footprints and the paintings made in tempera.

Stencils with the books' titles are made by all members of the group. Some of the titles have up to four or five stencils. This contributes to the singularity of the covers, beyond the painting on the back cover. This reveals how we are detached from the conventional practices, of a graphic designer. After being folded, covers are paintings that protect the pages of the book.

Cardboard covers are painted spontaneously. No one is instructed on the techniques of painting. The act of painting freely liberated from all rules and methodologies promotes an easygoing atmosphere. This absence of pressure promotes the shared experience and interaction between  people. To accept free expression is not to impose rules from above.

There is, then, an absence of a pyramidal structure that might characterize other collectives. To reject hierarchies is to give a sense of value to each activity, to every contribution and to the role of each member. All contributions are valued equally. We reject labels: we are all participants and everyone respects the input of the other.

The artists that work with the group do not intend to impart knowledge. Knowledge is built up collectively. The artist acts as a catalyst, activating social relationships and encouraging a dynamic articulation among members. Meanings are also built collectively, and it is this collective construction that enriches meaning. The artist acts as a producer and reproducer of cultural meanings, encourages interactions and is someone who transcends the limits between art and life as well as those who are still caught in the dichotomy between art and popular culture.

We believe that aesthetic experience is a collective act, with pleasure embedded in encounter and participation. The collective and the individual walk hand-in-hand. One does not eliminate individual expressions of the other. On the contrary, the collective gathers the richness and diversity of expressions and individual creations.

Our books are different from those conventionally published. They have nothing to do with presses or market distribution. Making a profit is not our goal. We don't follow the regulations applied to the operation of a publishing house. We are not a legally constituted entity. We do not exist as a trading entity according to the laws of our country.

The traditional aesthetic qualities of beauty, harmony and balance are part of our perspective, but they relate to the book-making process. Dulcinéia's process does not contemplate the work alone, but also considers methods of artistic expression in its production.

Books are not the “artistic product” the group aims to achieve. They are a result, but not the most important element. Thus, when we submit a project, the proposal includes a workshop that clearly emphasizes how co-production is fundamental to our work. Our contributions to art exhibits are always installation-workshops. They are hybrid proposals that avoid traditional categories; that's why they are often not easily understood and arouse perplexity at the installations workshops, where people paint and produce in the exhibit space itself, evoking a sense of challenge traditionally seen in an artistic space.

URBAN INTERVENTIONS

We do not limit our activities to those developed in the studio. As a collective our role goes beyond book-crafting in private spaces. We hold urban interventions. We believe we should go to the streets to where the collectors are. It is in the public sphere that we see our role in a social and political context.

And we can state that our work as a collective happens mostly outside at the context of the institutionalized artistic world. Although there are many collectives in Brazil, they are still considered marginal. For us art is not a production destined for the marketplace. We act away from the curators' eyes and the controlling hands of institutions, beyond vigilant cameras present in the traditional spaces that constitute the art circuit.

Our interventions call attention to the cardboard (a symbolic material that invokes the street collectors). We walk through the streets with a “coat” of painted cardboard. It's a simple sheet of cardboard, folded in the middle, with books stuck throughout. With a megaphone we recite the poetry of our collaborating authors. This simple act disrupts the routine of the city, causing a disturbance in the events of daily life. We spread literature out-loud. Literature for all, poetry in public squares, in the streets, for whoever wants to listen.

We also strive to provoke disruptions in reality, making space for individuals keen to rebuild their subjectivity. In some interventions we approach people and merely ask a question, leaving the citizens free to interpret it. We only listen and take note of their answer. This moment does more than draw the public and the group in closer contact: it encourages an intensive interaction between them.

Art is praxis. Artists are creators of reality, developing an attentive consciousness of their place in the world. We believe that books with cardboard covers can create room for critical reflection.

REFERENCES TO POPULAR CULTURE

Some of the Dulcinéia Catadora books have woodcut engravings printed on the front page. They are not reproductions, they are xylographs, made one at a time. These reproductions are included because xylography is a popular language, frequently used in Brazil, especially in the Northeast, where cordel (pamphlet) literature is alive and well.

The cordel generally consists of stanzas with six rhyming lines. It records spontaneous oral creation, highly valued by everyday people. The genre includes a variety of themes: daily occurrences, newspaper articles, political measures and even Brazilian history. It is common to find lines with both good humored and sarcastic tones. These books are sold in popular fairs or in the streets by their authors, who engage in a dialogue with the public. Therefore it seemed natural for us to incorporate this xylographic practice and to include cordel books in our catalogue.

Some books have illustrations made by the members of the group or photos taken with a pinhole camera. In sum, we always use resources from popular culture, dealing with cheap and easily available materials.

Since the process is what matters to us, the choice of “ignoble” materials is justified. Dulcinéia proposes ephemeral manifestations, and the evidence is photographic documentation, or video. That's fine for us. To act in the present is what matters. In the here and now. To act within the society in which we live.

WRITINGS AND AUTHORS

That same inclusive attitude has been maintained in regard to the authors collaborating with the collective. Such contributors tend to discover and emphasize areas of “marginal” thought, to which they can offer a unique approach and keenness of analysis.

In choosing the practices of phrasing there will always be a tendency to go toward what is perceived and thought of as community inscription. However, we should clarify that artistic forms are a reflection of social structures or movements, as our catalogue goes from Sebastião Nicomedes, a homeless writer, to Manoel de Barros, a former diplomat. The choice is in praxis, in the invention of sensitive forms, in the intuitive novelty of language, in the “limited” exercises, in the way the works “make politics”, whatever may be the intentions or to whomever they are directed.

We believe that the collective has different roles for its three distinct groups of writers: first, the well-known writers who enthusiastically cooperate and donate their texts, thus allowing us to sell a book at a lower price. Literature in Brazil is still the privilege of a minority, given the educational and economic barriers imposed by neoliberal political governance.

The authors have an original and alternative way of publicizing their work; as such, they can be read, even if it is by a small group of readers. All the same they enact their role as writers.

We also works with a second group, the authors who are homeless, or live in shelters. We try first to rescue their self-esteem. They see their voices printed on sheets of paper. They are read. Something that is valued, a book, compensates, at least in part, for feelings of contempt and rejection that society does not hide. They have something to say, and they have readers. This changes their relationship to the world.

The third group is constituted by the collective that publishes short stories and poetry. We use photocopies. Forty, fifty books by each author are made every time, according to demand. With this, the character of resistance can be emphasized to follow the opposite direction of the publishing market, or even to follow an alternative pathway that allows, even on the smallest scale, for the dissemination of new authors, opening new routes in the history of Latin American literature. At last, the collective competes with the Latin American writer, having a role that is as essential and at the same time undervalued as that of the cardboard collector. The collective's task is to create a history that is still developing and has little interest in the greater order of this unbalanced world.

Working with diversity, disseminating literature, giving access to new authors and helping the intertwining of living experiences are the essence of our daily activities. We don't have utopian objectives. The days of utopia are past. The idea that it's possible to change the world is no longer sound. But we want to live with eyes open to the reality in which we live. We are aware that the scope of our actions is within a micro-sphere, consistent with the proposed ways of perception: to identify possibilities, to recognize the potential of diverse realities and the relations that appear as a result of their contact via the collective practices.

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Notes

[1] Peterson M. Emboava, Lucas O. dos Santos, Marlon M. Emboava, Israel de Abreu, Mauricio de Araújo, Joanna de Barros and Lúcia Rosa are members of the colective. Other collaborators, such as Lívia Lima, Sebastião Nicomedes, Thiago Coelho, Ana D'Angelo, Tânia Rego e Carlos Rosa join the group in some activities.

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