Still from "Imaging São Paulo" interface. Original 800 X 600 px.


Download the Imaging São Paulo PDF.

In December of 2005, I was invited by Museu de Art Contemporênea (Museum of Contemporary Art) da Universidade de São Paulo (University of São Paulo) to participate in "Acta Media In Signo São Paulo (International Symposium of Media Art and Digital Culture)" and to produce an "Imaging Place" project in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. On December 10, I delivered a public lecture titled "Realidade Virtual para Representar Lugares (Virtual Reality Represent Places)". This lecture was translated into Portuguese. On December 12 and 13, I conducted a two-day workshop titled "Oficina De Tecnologia Digital E Geografia Imersiva (Workshop of Digital Technology and Immersive Geography)" at the Museum and assembled a team of local collaborators.

Castelinho da rua Apa
The work focuses on a small historic building in the city's center known as the "Castelinho da rua Apa (the Little Castle of Apa Street.)" In 1937, the castelinho was the site of a gruesome multiple murder and suicide. The details of what happened the night of May 12th that year remain unclear, as everyone involved died. The story survives as a kind of mysterious urban legend.


Artur, Mario and Egle on Avenida São João with the Castelinho da rua Apa in the background.

It goes something like this; Elza Lengfelder, the cook of the wealthy European family who owned the place, heard shots in the interior of the castelinho. She ran to the streets to call the police. When they arrived, the policeman found three bodies. They were the brothers Alvaro and Armando Reis, and their mother, Maria Candida Guimaraes Dos Reis. Dubbed "o crime do castelinho da rua Apa", the incident gained instant notoriety in the São Paulo press.

It was assumed that Alvaro, a 43-year-old lawyer, threatened his brother with his 9mm German Mauser pistol during a dispute over a risky business deal involving a plan to start a casino. When the mother tried to intervene both the mother and brother were shot and Alvaro then turned the gun on himself. This explanation never quite fit the facts in the case and rumors circulated for over 70 years.

After the crime, the castelinho fell into disrepair and became something of a squatter's shelter and crack house.


The interior of the Castelinho da rua Apa.

Today the castelinho is being resurrected by the "Clube de Mães do Brasil (Club of Mothers of Brazil)." Founded by Maria Eulina.


Maria Eulina, founder of the Clube de Mães do Brasil.

Without any support from the government, the organization helps the area's large homeless population acquire work skills, and feeds and educates the neighborhood children.


Anna Paulo, Daniela, Camilla, and Dalilie.

In "Imaging São Paulo: Castelinho da rua Apa", the audience is led thru the virtual space by São Paulo denizens and project collaborators Artur Matuck and Egle Spinelli, from the social drama unfolding in the streets thru the wreckage of the castelinho.


Luis Augustinians explains how his push cart and all of his belongings were confiscated by the police.

Blindfolded, Matuck conducts a performative tribute to the city's homeless children in both English and Portuguese. The performance is based on newspaper articles where homeless children were photographed blindfolded to protect their identities. The blindfold becomes a metaphor for how the society has closed its eyes to the plight of these children.

Spinelli helps Matuck - who has no eyes - thru the danger of the streets and helps the virtual 'other' - who has no body - to navigate the scene.

As the audience makes their way from the noise and chaos of the city streets into the relative quite, yet disturbing interior of the castelinho, the project takes a rather dark and deeply psychological turn as Matuck begins recalling an incident after the recent death of a close friend. He wanted to create a memorial performance where he would wear his late friend's pants. That night he had horrible dreams of the pants growing eyes in the tears around the knees. The next day he returned the pants to the family and said, "I cannot wear these pants." To which they replied, "Of course, we didn't think you should."

The journey takes the audience from the very real social/political situation created by the mass migration of Brazil's rural peoples to the large cities in search of work, to the psychological subconscious represented by Matuck's account of his dreams and the graffiti on the walls of the "Castelinho da rua Apa."

The project also addresses the Minhocão, a local nickname for the elevated roadway across from the Castelinho. In the nineteenth century, many sightings surfaced from South America of a creature called the minhocão. An article by the French naturalist Auguste de Saint-Hilaire (1779-1853) in the American Journal of Science was the first published reference to this illusive creature of southern Brazil. Its name, he said was derived from the Portuguese word minhoca, meaning earthworm. Sainte-Hilaire recorded several instances, usually at fords of rivers, where livestock were captured by one of these creatures and dragged under the water. The Minhocão is described as a giant burrowing worm-like animal up to 75 feet long, with black scaly skin and two horn-like tentacle structures protruding from it's head, capable of digging enormous subterranean trenches. Although no credible accounts of sightings have been recorded since the late ninetieth century, the Minhocão is commonly blamed for houses and roads collapsing into the earth (sinkhole).

Completed in 1972, the Minhocão roadway runs alternately as tunnels and viaducts as it winds through São Paulo, splitting the city and creating an abject space that attracts one of the largest homeless populations in the world.


On January 11, 2006 12:01:52 PM Craig wrote:
One thing I have been working on may be relevant to these discussions. I have been using online translators to decipher Portuguese language documents about the Minhocão , the elevated roadway which cuts through the center of São Paulo and the Castelinho da rua Apa, both of which became the focus of the field work for "Imaging São Paulo." I am torn in some cases as to whether I should just copy and paste the raw web translation or clean it up and get the story straight.

Here is an example:

Crime of castelinho of the street Apa. Nobody knows what really it happened, in the night of 12 May of 1937, inside of castelinho until today existing, to the street Apa, esquina with avenue Is João , quarter of Cecília Saint, São Paulo. Elza Lengfelder, cook of the rich living family of the place, occupied an annex of the residence, and to hear shots in the interior of castelinho, left to the streets to call a policeman. When entering in the house, the policeman saw three bodies extended between the office and the room. They were the brothers Alvaro and Armando Kings, and its mother, Maria Candida Guimaraes Dos Reis. One was about very important people in the city; in the following day the case gained manchetes of periodicals, already under the heading of "the crime of the street Apa". Alvaro, lawyer, esportista, of 45 years, always lived surrounded of beautiful women.

As you can see the text is almost incomprehensible, but it is in some ways poetic. Incidentally, this reminds me of the Broken Typewriter work that Artur was doing when he was at UF. At any rate, in the spirit of the theoria, I collected the stories from the locals on videotape and I consulted the web to try and get some of the basic facts straight, dates, names etc. To some extent these facts are irrelevant to local memory and legend.


On Jan 28, 2006, at 10:48 AM, Greg Ulmer wrote:
I wanted to comment on Craig Freeman's posting of the auto-translation of a Portuguese text into English.

I like the machine translation: as you noted, it is poetic. The stramgemess pf syntax, lexicon phrasing, lend expressive power. Some mix of these translations, with other versions--paraphrases, human translations (cleaned up), background research (if available)--would work well. It reminds me of the discussion we had about what to do with the transcriptions from Barbara Jo's tapes, such as the interview with Simon Lubin. Lubin is fluent but in a semi-pidgin way. His speeches would lose their "authenticity" if they were rendered in standard English. The ethical issue in his case was whether some stereotypes might be triggered... In retrospect that seems to have been a false issue.


On January 11, 2006 12:01:52 PM Craig wrote:
On a similar note the Minhocão is a local nick name. The actual name of the road is the Elevado Presidente Costa e Silva. The direct web translation is:

Elevated President Costa and It Hisses.


On Jan 28, 2006, at 10:48 AM, Greg wrote:
As for the Minhocão Roadway--its effect (dividing the city and creating an abject space)--suggests a possible attractor or "eidos" for an image category, in that this effect of highways on urban space has occured in many places (including Miami). We may have a "universal" feature, providing a link connecting a certain network. The allegorical property emerges in the context of "method" or "meta-hodos"--the road metaphor in method (the Way). "Method" is an operator of literacy, and we are seeking a mode of inquiry "beyond" or "supplemental to" method, for electracy (an image category). Deconstruction suggests that such "steps/not" (pas) are found at the level of (dead) metaphors.


On May 21, 2006 8:34:52 AM, Craig wrote:
One of the things that struck me about working in Sao Paulo was the parallel social-political-economic structures which formed seemingly spontaneously in the favelas. You may have seen the film "City of God". The Sao Paulo favelas differ from those in Rio in that they form in the no-mans land in the intercity created by highway cloverleaf interchanges, for instance, rather than the steeper hillsides at the edges of the city. Very J. G. Ballard. I didn't make work directly in the favelas. In some cases it is appropriate to storm the choragraphic zone with cameras rolling. The Weyerhaeuser pulp plant in Kamloops for instance - shoot till a voice comes in from a distance off camera "Hey! Hey! You can't be out here...." or Celebration if I get the chance. Not the case in Brazil's favelas. Although Artur and I were invited into one on the Rio Tieté, serious work would take much more careful negotiations. What was clear is that when you entered the favela, you were subjected to an alternative social-political-economic system which operated separate from the government (the true New Urbanist). This was speculation on my part, but the violent uprisings last week seems to support it.

Death Toll in São Paulo Violence Hits 156
By ALAN CLENDENNING
The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 17, 2006; 10:22 PM

São Paulo, Brazil -- The body count grew in South America's largest city Wednesday as police - who lost 41 comrades in gang attacks - killed 22 more suspected criminals. Authorities said little about the latest deaths, generating criticism from rights groups.


On May 21, 2006 9:00:37 AM, Craig Sapaer wrote:
Favelas -- really interesting -- and the difference between the types ... did you begin to explicate/articulate the poetics of the favelas spaces -- the true new urbanist poetics? its choragraphic possibilities?


May 21, 2006 3:11:49 PM, Matt Hawthorn wrote:
I have a long standing interest in the notion of "shanty architectures", in particular in the British context which is a specific post war housing shortage context where the beginnings of a new suburbia beckoned, founded on principles of reasourcefulness and invention (I know this is hugely romanticised on my part), which was eventually suppressed by the liberal / socialist postwar planning process. With the rapid rise in land value in the Uk these have mostly been bought up and redeveloped, there is one still on the Lincolnshire coast called the Humberstone Fitties, which is the residence of Robert Wyatt for those of a Soft machine persuasion, which has recently been listed to prevent developers bulldozing it to put holiday caravans on like the rest of the lincolnshire coast. So I would be interesting in seeing whether we could get to something like a building code for invention which might apply knowledge from the favela experience to the highly planned urban and suburban contexts. Shanty I have been seeing in the context of songs (sea shanties) and the tradition of passing knowledge through intergenerational cultural exchange, and the experience of inventing spaces and places through the accumulation of tacit knowledges in the body, and the cultural body, and that these stand in opposition to planning systems. As I write this, this begins to sound more like a proposal, and in many ways I think Shanty would be a good starting point for consolidating the things that I'm interested in. Be good to get some responses since I'm coming from a slightly different set of cultural pre-suppositions, and I'll frame it into an abstract.


May 21, 2006 3:49:41 PM, Ron Kenley wrote:
May I warmly recommend the experience and work of Sérgio Mgalhães in the Favela Bairro in Rio. There is a book called "Favela-Bairro: Rewriting the History of Rio", by Luiz Paulo Conde and Sérgio Mgalhães, published by Viver Cidades, Rio de Janeiro, 2004.


May 21, 2006 4:24:23 PM, Bill Tilson wrote:
Don't know these, but these two sources give different angles on the context of barrios and favelas. Barrios and Plazas: Heritage Tourism and Globalization in the Spanish American Centro Historico, J. Scarpacci.

Roberto Segre has done some interesting work in barrios in Rio. The approach there is two fold: create public facilities and spaces with some high quality architecture and develop spatial links to other parts of the city. Interestingly, the issue of housing is sidestepped by government in favor of these intitiatives and of allowing the improvisational housing methods of residents to continue (implicit support of tacit rules).