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Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage

Biography

Charles Watson is an artist, who graduated from Bath University (England), in Fine Arts and Literature. He participated in several solo and collective exhibitions. He was the director of the Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica (2000-2003) and  currently directs the Projeto Dynamic Encounters International Art Workshops and teaches problem solving and creative thinking at the Park Lague.

(Biography from http://www.eavparquelage.org.br/professoresJunho.html)

Institution

The School of Visual Arts (Escola de Artes Visuais – EAV) of Parque Lage offers courses aimed at the development of artists, curators, researchers and other people interested in establishing or deepening their contact with art.

Created by Rubens Gerchman in 1975 to substitute the Institute of Fine Arts, the School is set in a mansion built in an eclectic style, protected as a historic and environmental patrimony by IPHAN, an official federal agency. Projected by the architect Mário Vodrei, in the 1920’s, the residence of the Brazilian shipbuilder Henrique Lage and his wife, Gabriela Bezanzoni, an Italian lyrical singer, has been influenced by the cultural effervescence derived from its open school model – a place where new aesthetic conceptions were carried on by Gerchman.

In this multidisciplinary atmosphere, artists and important intellectuals have met for more than 30 years. Remarkable events have taken place here, such as the art exhibition “Como vai você, Geração 80?”, opened in 1984, the “Rock Brasil” series of shows, the staging of well-known plays such as Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, which transformed the School into an important pole of cultural resistance during the years of the military dictatorship in Brazil, as well as during the country’s process of redemocratization.

The School of Visual Arts of Parque Lage represents an outstanding reference to the arts, a patrimony that belongs not only to Rio de Janeiro, but also to Brazil.

(Information from: http://wikipedia.org)

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Report

We met Professor Charles Watson at the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, situated in an incredible green area with a  rich vegetation right under the Christ.  He showed us around the school and we then sat down in one of the classes in which we had a long conversation with him.

He first spoke about his professional career and the current projects that he is following. We then spoke about several themes such as creativity and talent. Next, we questioned him about the issue of tradition and identity in Brazil. Finally he pointed out several issues such as the internet and the difference between Brazil and Europe and how the art school works in Rio.

Charles Watson arrived in Brazil in the 70’s as an artist. He had been invited by the Museum of Modern Art to work for a year. Today he is no longer an artist. Instead, he teaches Art History and Art Theory, but his main area of activity is lecturing on a subject called creative thinking and problem solving at the Parque Lage in Rio. The course is about how we humans can go beyond the norm in our thinking. He is the main lecturer of this course, but he invites many choreographers, cosmologists, physicists and people from many different disciplines to talk about this in their field. The course also brings a variety of students such as lawyers, artists and now they even have a pilot. In this course, for example, they do exercises in order to understand how we create limits that don’t exist.

His teaching activities are also combined with another project he follows called “Dynamic encounters”, which is a project of his own that started 17 years ago. It consists of taking young and older Brazilian curators to Europe and the United states in order to have contacts with galleries, museums and various institutions and to understand how the commercialization happens in the arts. During these trips they visit museums and galleries and interview the artists. Watson films them and questions them about their creative process. He organizes groups of maximum twenty people that are interested in the arts and in travelling, and who can pay for their trips. The trips are very intense because they meet a variety of artists such as Jeff Koons, and many others.

Charles Watson was also the teacher of some of today’s most famous Brazilian artists such as Beatriz Milhazes and Helio Oiticica. He believes that talent is nothing if it is not combined with ambition and other characteristics, and that artists will be recognized as such not because they want to become artists, but because they are following a process. Creativity, he thinks, is also ambition and intrinsic motivation. He then explains to us what he believes is creative. He explains that there is creativity when there is a concrete contribution to the world, when something makes us question the language. “Big creativity is when you make a difference somewhere. Creativity has to do with the understanding of the significance and how we change this significance.”

We then questioned the professor on the issue of tradition in Brazil. Initially, he explained that in the 50’s and 60’s the major production was concretismo and neoconcretismo and probably we wouldn’t believe that today since we think of Brazil as a disorganized place with carnival. For some people this would be strange, but he believes it to be compensatory. He believes that people from United States and Europe have a fantasy about what South American art should be, at least until fifteen years ago, maybe not anymore. He believes that most people do not even know that Portuguese and not Spanish is spoken in Brazil, like in the rest of South America. He explains further that in the 60’s and 70’s there was a lot of politically oriented art in Brazil with references to torture and barbed wire, but that this has nothing to do with Brazil in his opinion and never has. He believes that Brazilians had to redefine their artistic context. ”Brazilian art is very eclectic contrary to what people believe”.

He thinks we tend to fit things into concepts when they don’t actually fit. He gives us the example of Beatriz Milhazes. She represents for him the fantasy that people from Europe and States have of Brazil. “They produce art which is comfortable with European fantasies”. She explained to him that people have a hard time understanding her when she speaks about geometry in her work because they think it’s all carnival.

Professor Watson goes further on with the issue of Tradition and believes that Brazil has no tradition and that it has constantly destroyed its history. He remembers arriving in the 70’s and seeing, with great horror, everything in the city centre being demolished such as the historical buildings. He gives us the example of technology in Brazil and how Atm’s arrived in Brazil long before they did in the United Kingdom. He thinks this is because Brazilians are much more open to technology because they don’t make a sacrifice to accept it. “ There is no long tradition to sacrifice , so I’m not sacrificing anything”. He thinks this has to do with flexibility. When he first arrived he expected to find a great maritime tradition that he didn’t find. He found, when he arrived, that the only tradition in Brazil was the cosmetic tradition. He thinks that maybe we have an anxiety in seeing tradition. He believes that Brazil is more global than the other South American countries.  He insists though, that Brazilians do have very defined cultural traits, but that its much more difficult to see this in the artistic production.

When asked what it means to be “really brazilian,” he said that it’s taking something in many ways, a concept that exists and is transformed in a very peculiar way, as has been done with football that was originally British.

As for the issue of why Brazilian artists are mainly concentrated in Rio and not in San Paolo, he doesn’t  have an answer.

As he talks about his students he insists on the fact that his objective isn’t to produce artists; that they become artists, is a consequence. He is an educator and wants to expand and transform their way of thinking by making them solve problems such as circularity or self portraits.

We then asked him about how the school functions and he explained that it is very disorganized and that it has nothing to do with a European system. It’s actually a free art school with no diploma, there is no system in the way artists get in. He questions himself whether the Parque Lage is an art school or rather a place to meet. He says it has changed very much from the 80’s. It doesn’t have the same importance, but it still produces artists. He thinks that art schools don’t have the same role anymore because of the internet and all the information we get from it. People coming to the school come from different backgrounds. However most of them are from middle or upper middle classes. Probably people from the poor regions of Brazil do not come because they don’t have the educational basis. He believes that Brazil is still very behind education wise and that it has to invest a lot in it.

He then discusses about the internet and how its an extraordinary tool. When you try to solve a problem, the internet has infinite responses. However the internet is mainly lateral and it is missing verticality. He believes that the same thing is occurring in our society that everything is lateral, missing strong vertical points. He points out the example of Jeff Koons who has 50 people working for him in his different departments such as the one for sculpture another one for porcelain and so on. If he wants to use porcelain in his work he will call a specialist rather than learning how to do it himself.

This has great advantages because you can be very specific about a problem, but at the same time, you are missing out with the verticality.

In comparing Brazil with other countries he thinks that the difference in growing up in a third world country is that the people have a low self esteem, and feel that everything that comes from outside is better. He has the feeling that this also occurs when he brings the Brazilian curators abroad. Often he thinks they are even better than the European ones,  but they feel slightly intimidated because they are from Brazil, even though they have a strong national pride.

In the end he showed us around the school and answered a few more questions.

by Giulia Casartelli and Fiammetta Griccioli

EAV website

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