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Hacking the city with art

How a new Brazilian artist transposes everyday violence and segregation into technological and reflective works of art.

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There’s a game you can play in most big cities, a game you can play just as easily while you lie in bed at night as you can walking the streets of the most raucous party district. Hold your breath until you hear a siren. It’s likely that no one in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife or any other Brazilian urban centre has ever died playing this game. If art exists in these places it has to fight its way through the noise to register, hopefully, as something sublime against the backdrop of chaos heralded by the wailing of these constant alarms, the exhaust fumes spat out by cross-town traffic and millions of people looking for whatever it is they seek in life. In the metropolis, surrounded by a panoply of metals, gases and plastics, there is no shortage of material and inspiration for young artists to discover, offering new ways of connecting with the city, and of course, transforming it.

This is hacking the city with art.

Through the heart of São Paulo runs Rebouças, an avenue that has become home to the "Criatura Luz”, or Light Creature. Created by the architect Guto Requena, it works as a mirror held up to the sins of the Paulistanos, the everyday citizens who make up the population of the city. With the help of microphones, 200 LED lamps and a meteorological station, the facade of the WZ Hotel Jardins is constantly transforming; reacting and vibrating to external stimulation. The building shines for the good and bad of the city, adapting according to the sounds of the avenue while also indicating the quality of the air with coloured rainbow tones, warning of the city's rampant pollution. The more polluted and noisy the space, the worse the Light Creature's projection.

The front of "Criatura Luz" [Light Creature], in Rebouças, São Paulo. Credit: André Kiotz and Ayla Hibri

The luminous effect can be seen only at night, when the sensors start to draw the light patterns, in real time, along the hotel's 30 storeys. As part of the "Cidade Hackeada”, or Hacked City, project from Requena's studio, the piece aims to positively transform its surroundings; the idea is to alert people to the bad habits they can pick up in a city as busy and aggressive as São Paulo. For instance, the drivers that cannot resist a little horn-blaring road rage are shown the direct impact of their actions – a reminder that maybe they should chill, that their journey isn’t the most important thing in the world.

The idea is to bring necessary relief to those who need it with the use of the communicative virtual technologies that have been adopted by this generation of Brazilian artists. The creators are able to place the audience inside the art, so the viewer not only observes, but becomes part of the work itself.

On the piece "Eu sou" [I am], by Requena, the viewer has the portrait of themselves projected onto a building at Paulista Avenue. Credit: Fernanda Ligabue and Rafael Frasão

Though digitally created, thew works are no less “human” than those created through more classical means. They open a dialogue about us as a species – of the past, our flaws, the future and all its possibilities. And they are also a way of connecting Brazil as a whole, with all its diverse backgrounds, accents, gestures and traditions. The duo Motta and Lima are an example of the union that can be forged between art and language; format-wise, their work runs the gamut from light sculptures to holographic projections of hummingbirds. In one of their recent pieces, they built a lightning structure with tubular lamps – made up of different shapes, the creation inspires a sense of wellbeing while also making the viewer reflect on how we waste electric power.

One of Motta and Lima's lightning structures. Lamps emulate the natural phenomena in many ways. Credit: Motta and LIma.

In "Controle Remoto" [Remote Control], the duo built 30 birds houses following a popular Brazilian neighbourhood design. Each house has a device that emulates the visual and audio stimuli of a TV. Credit: Motta and Lima

Abroad, recognition of Requena and Motta & Lima’s work is steadily growing. Their ability to absorb a potentially endless number of lives, styles and stories into their art brings something fascinating and significant to the art world. As curator Juliana Braga points out – it is the "Brazilian way" of doing things, without any pejorative tone; the "Brazilian way" is in fact our treasure.