The idea of progress is relentless. It takes everything on its way to the future, allegedly bringing development and a better life but sweeping away with memory, history and sense of belonging. Ordem e progresso (Order and progress), the famous positivist motto inscribed on Brazil’s flag, comes immediately to mind as a well-intentioned yet intimidating principle. Having left out love of August Comte’s germinal phrase, order and progress become tracks that fail to allow for anything else that their own self-realising missions: the accomplishment of an utopian modernity and a drive forward that compromises not only its people and their culture but the very concept of nation. Jonathas de Andrade’s The Uprising asses, through poetry and make-believe, another move in the incessant shift ahead
Emiliano Valdés: Could you explain the political and historical circumstances in which this project develops – meaning, can you describe how horses and carriages were banned from the city and its implications?
Jonathas de Andrade: The city of Recife is located in the Northeast of Brazil, where the use of horses and carts is part its landscape and rural historical past. The prohibition of their circulation in the city goes along with an official mentality that ignores this as a root, a culture, and also the way of living of thousands of families. With the excuse of animal rights, the government created a law that authorized animals to be removed and taken to the countryside. Actually, it was neither about the animals nor the conditions of those workers, it was about cleaning any sign of backwardness from the town.
EV: Do you think (and if so, how) these means of transportation conflict with Brazil’s current idea of progress?
JA: The idea of progress is very controversial. This specific issue with the carters is just one of the many crises Brazil faces at the moment to sustain an impression of economic growth. Cities are still organized towards an ideology of cars as the main transportation means, and horses and carts barely fit in that logic. But of course, it would be much more progressive to recognize carters and their families as key characters of a tradition in extinction, a culture of the countryside capable of humanizing the city, tougher and dryer with its forced and poor modernization. Instead of excluding them, incorporate them as important actors in this process. Establish main routes and times for carters to circulate; create rules for the animals not to be overexploited; encourage a system of activities where the carters’ families are included in a rural economy within the city. It’s more about to take specificities as potential to experiment, instead of just neutralizing its forces and throwing it away in a distorted progress.
EV: How did you figure out that faking a film shoot was the only way to bring them back into the city?
JA: The initial delirious idea of creating the 1st Horse Race of Downtown Recife would be legally impossible since carters and horses are officially forbidden in the city. Only by treating this event as a scene of a film – and therefore as “fiction” – I could get the necessary permits to make it happen. But it’s important to say that despite the prohibition, the carters can be seen here and there, individually transporting goods, or just moving around the city. The idea of the project was to create a situation of undeniable celebratory existence, but there was no guarantee it would happen. The open call happened through a pamphlet distributed in the peripheral horse exchange market, and the carters who showed up were actually interested in the horse race and the prizes, the film for them actually didn’t matter at all.
EV: Could you elaborate on the double nature of the project as a film and as a performance/archive?
JA: The film made the event happen. In the event, there was a dimension of happening and also of performance. It was interesting to notice how my initial leading role gradually disappeared, as the event grew stronger and started to have its own life. On and on, the carters would adapt the rhythm, the rules, the voice, the taking of the streets, the crowd out of the bridges. For me it was much about the fiction and non-fiction of reacting. Later, experimenting to edit that footage as an uprising, and thinking in which terms could make sense to think that group reacting to a certain oppression… This would take me to the documentation. The event took place in 2012 and in 2013 protests happened in Brazil, including a protest of the carters in Recife in early 2014, who were protesting against the law that would remove them. At this moment, I decided to conclude an installation of documents related to the issue of the carters, but also putting it in perspective to other parallel crises, with the horse race photographs offering visual strength for a certain class reaction.
EV: Can you explain the role of music in the film?
JA: The aboiador is the type of singer from the countryside that is challenged to create verses and rhymes for a given theme. The aboio is the guide singing for the rider to lead a group of horses and bulls. João Aboiador showed up by himself and started improvising verses of what he witnessed, combining urban and rural aspects. The speaker was given to him and his singing naturally guided the crowd. I invited him over to the studio and challenged him to think of that day as an uprising of the carters over the city, as if he was creating a sort of rural revolutionary song collection. Nowadays, it’s rare to find an aboiador in the city, and it’s also special to listen to his improvisations of the countryside repertoire combined with the toughness of the city. The essayistic tone of his singing oriented the editing of the first part of the film to create an atmosphere of violent approach of a utopic rural revolution.