In her recent work, Clarissa Tossin explores the social and political complexities of her childhood home of Brasília. Designed by city planner Lúcio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer and inaugurated as Brazil’s capital city in 1960, Brasília was a gleaming modernist utopian vision—one that sought to redefine urbanism, architecture, transportation, and social equality. President Juscelino Kubitschek, who captained the transfer of the nation’s capital from the coastal city of Rio de Janeiro to the then-remote interior of the country, built his political agenda around the motto of “fifty years in five”: he wished to dramatically accelerate progress within his lifetime. But despite these lofty aspirations, Brasília succumbed to the exclusionary legacies of colonialism that it sought to leave behind. Today, less than 10 percent of Brasília’s population lives in the original planned city—insufficient mass transportation systems, segregation, and neglected public spaces have forced the majority of the population into twenty-seven satellite towns that surround the chiefly upper-middle-class urban nucleus.
In this work, Tossin explores how some of the promises and failures of Brasília have played out in Brasília Teimosa (literally “stubborn Brazil”), a neighborhood in the northeastern coastal city of Recife. The name refers to this low-income community’s historical resistance to often-violent federal attempts to remove it from the beach it has occupied since the late 1940s (the government wants access to fuel deposits there). In the video, Brasília Teimosa residents read excerpts from President Kubitschek’s 1960 Brasília inauguration speech. They are positioned in front of a fabric backdrop featuring an image of the golden wall in Brasília’s Alvorada Palace, where official pronouncements are frequently made. On the wall is a quote by President Kubitschek expressing “limitless confidence” in Brazil’s destiny. When recited by the multigenerational Brasília Teimosa residents, the decades-old speech speaks to both the failure of a utopian vision and the tenacity of a land right that, despite legal guarantees, is still under threat.
Clarissa Tossin (b. 1973, Porto Alegre, Brazil) lives and works in Los Angeles.
When the Land Speaks
This program presents the work of artists who explore the land as a space of conflict, which speaks through a changing, often fractured landscape. Addressing current issues such as resource extraction, sustainability, land rights, and displacement and dispossession, the works in this video series approach language as a form that does not limit itself to verbal communication. Instead, enunciation takes place in and through the territory: in the sounds and forms that water takes, in the rumbles and cracks of the earth, and in the ancestral rituals and practices derived from the landscape. In many ways, land and language have always been interconnected, each helping to define the other. But in our present day, there is a growing disconnect between much of human society and any sense of rootedness or care for the land that supports us. Confronting these realities, the artists in this series draw attention to the power of the landscape to express itself and communicate with us, and reflect on how our eroding connection to the land may also represent a fading understanding of ourselves.
When the Land Speaks is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and curated by Carla Acevedo-Yates and Steven L. Bridges, Associate Curators. Support for this exhibition is provided by the Alan and Rebecca Ross endowed exhibitions fund.