Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Renoir and Velázquez have been part of São Luís Avenue since the first blueprints of Artacho Jurado’s Louvre building, in the 1950s. Their names appear on blueprints and advertisements for the first sales of the building. When the building was constructed, the painters’ names were printed atop the glass doors of each apartment block and two engravings by each artist displayed in their respective entrance halls.
Pedro Américo also appears in the Louvre’s blueprints, his name featured on the same advertisements as the European painters. But he is absent from the physical space. The five rear apartment blocks, which should feature the Brazilian painter’s name, are identified only by numbers.
In January 2016 the mixed-use building was transformed into the museu do louvre pau-brazyl, an artistic-curatorial project inspired by the relationship between the Louvre building and the Louvre in Paris. In its second edition, the museu do louvre pau-brazyl presents a solo piece by the artist Lais Myrrha with the performance Desdito [Disavowed], in collaboration with vão, pio figueiroa, and invited street brass bands.
The focus now is on the Louvre’s absent painter. We are interested, from the outset, in reflecting on the building’s structural divisions, in this case the differences between the refined, Frenchified façade on a leafy boulevard, distinguished by iconic names from Art History, and the more generalized rear block named after Pedro Américo but who nevertheless disappeared from the Louvre building upon its inauguration.
The performance Desdito (2017) stems from Pedro Américo’s 1888 painting Independência ou Morte! [Independence or Death!] – an image fashioned as the visual birth certificate of Brazil’s Independence – and is composed by the musicians from the street brass bands dressed in the painting’s color palette and divided between the figures of Dom Pedro I, his entourage, and the cavalry.
From the sidewalk in front of the Louvre building, the audience listens, from outside, to the sound of brass and percussion band emanating from within the building. The Independence Anthem is recognized. At 3 PM one of the gates opens, and the audience can see the band on the right side of the stairs at the back of the ground floor gallery. Suddenly, the band stops playing and lifts their instruments, like swords, which, alongside their color palette and spatial arrangement, references the painting.
The mise-en-scène is explicitly demarcated. The photographer Pio Figueiroa, who also participates in the performance, is positioned atop a ladder; reflectors mark the landscape. In silence, bulbs flash and camera clicks resound as in a photo studio: an image is being created, disavowing the statute of Brazilian independence, revealing the artificiality and partiality of choices in any aesthetic composition, which is always also ethical.
After the photo, the formation is dismantled and the marching band moves to the sidewalk. For the first time, the brazylian painter is placed before São Luís Avenue and the gardens of the Library, at the edge of Ipiranga Avenue; this marks the beginning of the procession. During the period of the Brazilian empire, court processions made maximal use of theatrical resources, exposing and affirming the hierarchies of court society. In Desdito, the procession critiques these power relations by proposing the entrance of the brass band through one of the garage gates where everyone walk through the underground section of the Pedro Américo apartment block, exposing spaces that were designed to remain as hidden as possible, as the service areas. While the ground floor – the performance’s starting point – is adorned with marble and colored tiles, the underground features trash heaps and exposed pipes. In addition to the two floors on which the band passes exists a third, the mezzanine, accessed by the escalator, where only the figure of D. Pedro I and his entourage can enter, at the end of the procession.
Throughout the march, the Anthem of Independence is transmuted into the Anthem Ainda Pendência (“Still Pending” – a play on “A Independência”), which repeats continuously. The composition and arrangement, by musician Henrique Mendonça, subverts the original song composed by Emperor Pedro I. The composition is divided into five movements: Introduction – The Court – Solemn; Part 1 – Hope – Lofty; Part 2 – The Empire – Noisy; Part 3 – The Coup – Rough; and Part 4 – The Farce – With Awe. The anthem is increasingly beleaguered, spiraling out into other sounds from where the brass band is located.
At the end of the procession, we once again see the notary public, which stands in as a hereditary captaincy and the historical Ipiranga hill, atop which the band has posed. On the opposite staircase, mirroring the initial formation, the musicians return to position themselves as in Américo’s painting, now symmetrically. The image replicated from the painting becomes, finally, a third, evincing a sense of undernourishment from the rote repetition of supposedly great historical facts and characters, which, as Marx wrote, drawing on Hegel, appear, so to speak, twice: first as tragedy, second as farce.
After the performance, the two photos produced during it are exhibited in the building, but function as more than a mere record of the event. Through them, the history of the building, which until then only showcased European art history, is distorted. Moreover, these new images condense a series of elements and temporalities: the history of the prince regent’s return voyage from the coast atop a mule when he broke free from Portugal, Américo’s mythologizing of the moment, Artacho Jurado’s designs – the curved staircase, the faded gold ornaments, the green plastic carpet – the notary beneath the stairs, the performers and the audience in Brazil in November, 2017. The photos are a summary of the entire conjuncture, whose only possible future is its mirroring.
The costumes, the spatial arrangement of the musicians and the tonalities of the space form color groupings that allow for comparison between the photographs and the historical painting. The building’s topography is linked to the country’s social geography; the procession reveals other places and their characters, invisible in the original painting. In addition to placing the history of Brazil as one of performance’s protagonists, Lais Myrrha also sheds light on the relationship of the body with opulent architecture as well as the spatial organization within these constructions. Thus, the work deals with the physicality of the building-cum-museum: the division of the apartment blocks between painters, the lateral symmetry, the asymmetry between the front and back and between floors, the inside-outs of the Louvre.
Throughout her career, Myrrha has investigated other origin myths, maps, geographies, flags, pedagogical foundations of Brazilian history, systems of power, and nationality and its failed icons, in ruins since their conception. She discusses conventions as forms of thought imprisonment. She proceeds as well from the forces of forgetting; in this performance, she focuses on what has been said too much. From so much being said, it is necessary to retreat – to undo, to disavow.
Desdito is a performance of subtraction that rewinds history, visualized like VHS tapes projected onto the building’s bottom floors. It disavows the cynicism surrounding independence under the rule of a Portuguese king. It disavows the asymmetries between narratives, the hierarchies between social strata. It disavows the advertising mise-en-scène that crystallizes projects of power. It disavows the “virile shout” of “dying for Brazil.” It disavows what the state has to say to and about the “valiant Brazilian people.” It disavows the fact, the tragedy, the farce, and its images.