Dusty Cycles


Grupo EmpreZa's second Serão Performático

Text by Gustavo Bonfiglioli
Photographs by Victor Takayama
Thursday, March 26 - 2015

On Wednesday, March 25, from 1pm to 9pm BRT, anyone who entered the “In Between” space at Terra Comunal - MAI emerged with their shoes covered in brick and bone dust. It was from Grupo EmpreZa's Serão Performático, the second in a series of six performances that are part of the project Vesuvius.

Two performers occupy the “In Between” space, wearing formal attire. One stands with a pile of bricks next to him. He pounds one brick after another without pause using a mortar and pestle made from a tree trunk. The other crawls on the ground, completely covered in dust from the bricks. He exhales deeply, blowing the dust into a red fog that fills the room and covers the floor. Viewers wear surgical masks during the performance.

Some members of Grupo EmpreZa have already been doing this for four hours. At 6pm, they start to incorporate other actions. It begins with cleansing the energy of their surrounding environment using rituals inspired by African religions such as Umbanda.

The collective travels from SESC Pompeia’s outdoor warehouse to the front gate in order to perform this ritual. A man arrives wearing a straw mask and playing a tambourine, followed by another performer holding an incense burner, and then another one with handfuls of coarse salt. The incense holder swings through the air while the masked man plays his tambourine. The salt keeper scatters salt at people's feet. More lines of salt are poured around the doorways to further energize the area. The anticipation is palpable, a mounting intensity permeates the space.

One man opens sacks of powder on the floor made from ground animal bones. Someone covered in red brick dust approaches him. He removes his shoes, which have horseshoes nailed to the bottom, and stands with his feet buried in a mound of the powder as the first man puts on the shoes. He covers the other performer’s body with a cowhide and puts the pelvic bones from a bull on his head as an oversized mask. He then carries handfuls of bone powder from the group’s makeshift studio, which they refer to as the atelier, to the “In Between” space, slowly transferring the entire mound. When all of the powder has been moved inside, the performers switch roles and repeat the process in reverse.

Meanwhile, two men take their shirts off. One of them puts his shirt on the floor as the other inserts a catheter into his arm. Blood drips onto the shirt. The other takes his bloody shirt and starts washing it in a stainless steel bowl with cachaça, a sugarcane-based liquor. Blood continues to drip from the man’s arm onto the shirt, which has gone from crisp white to mottled pink. He then wrings it out and puts it back on.

A woman sits on a cowhide inside Grupo EmpreZa’s atelier with a toolkit. She is brushing a bull’s skull with vigor, first with a big wire brush and then a smaller one to reach the teeth, the back of the head, and the eye sockets. She struggles to extract the teeth with pliers. Suddenly, a beat is heard from the “In Between” space.   

The man with the catheter in his arm is now holding another bull’s skull against a white wall and head-butting it violently. He manages to bash his head at the skull about 123 times, with blood stains beginning to cover the skull about halfway through the process.

Back at the atelier, the woman is now destroying her bull’s skull with a hammer and chisel, putting the bone fragments in a bucket. The man transporting the bone powder completes his task.

A crowd forms at the “In Between” space, which is now just a field of red powder. Two naked men enter and start to wrestle, creating a dusty battle arena. They hurl their bodies at each other, scream, roll on the ground, bump into fire extinguishers, and step on the pages from artist Fernando Ribeiro’s typewriter. Ribeiro is in a corner of the room writing down everything he sees as part of his performance The Typewriter. When the wrestlers leave, the brick pounder and the dust blower return.

At the atelier, the skull woman is now organizing all the bone fragments, lining them up from largest to smallest. The bone powder carriers are still there too, performing their ritual cycle. The Serão is almost over, but there's still a lot of powder to transport. The audience begins to help the performers carry it by the handful until another day at Terra Comunal - MAI comes to an end.

Terra Comunal - MAI is free and open to the public until May 10, 2015 @SESC Pompeia, São Paulo - Brazil.