“It is so, as if the dilated rock were a concentration of times” - Two brothers, Chico Buarque de Holanda
Where there was once a valley of steep slopes, as anyone living there over forty years ago will remember, today there is the Avenida Rubem Berta, a highway with three lanes in each direction that connects the Airport of Congonhas to the heart of the city of São Paulo. It is curious that passengers who have only just stepped off planes move along it is high speed, having come from on high via transparent routes that differ from the hard sharpness of the dark gray asphalt floor, inlaid with regular white lines, divided in two by a narrow central reservation and lined from end to end by landscaped barriers or by walls of stone, and buildings, buildings and more buildings. These individuals proceed rapidly, as indifferent to the landscape as the drivers and passengers in the other cars who travel with their eyes fixed on the vehicles immediately ahead of them, only paying attention to the pulsation of what the traffic reporters on the radio call an “artery.” They hardly notice that the city is a landscape spread across a landscape, a complex of buildings and streets that accommodate each other and cover the brows of hills, perching on their summits, sprawling over plateaus and the flats that the border on the rivers, built on more or less robust land reclamation projects that insist on flooding during the rainy season in January and February.
Inaugurated at the start of 2003, the João Saad Road Complex is adjacent to the Ibirapuera park, the main park in the South zone of São Paulo, located almost at the end of Avenida Rubem Berta, close to the point where it traces out a curve to the right, changing name and heading towards the trunk road, Avenida Paulista, before finally falling away in the direction of Center. Its proximity to Ibirapuera, with its woods, squares and lakes that draw the city’s inhabitants eager for calm in a turbulent city, seems to accelerate even more the vehicles that flow through the tentacular roads forming the interchange and the ramps that peel off the Rubem Berta at various points, joining it to the avenues in its immediate neighborhood, and these latter to each other, helping, in principle, to guarantee the flow.
As may be guessed from a summary description, the area covered by the road complex has the aridity and anodyne appearance characteristic of constructions of this kind, which are designed as if there were no surrounding buildings, and even worse, as if there were no people, as if pedestrians were an excrescence that hindered the traffic and as if the same area were territory under permanent occupation by cars. It is also true that Avenida Rubem Berta and the João Jorge Saad Complex and similar projects open up immense canyons in the midst of densely populated neighborhoods. Once again, despite the assumptions of this implacable logic of designing major road projects that, as is known, denatures the fabric of cities, there are always lots of people. There are habits, neighborhood relations, the resistant presence of ordinary rituals such as going to the bakery, the pharmacy, the street market, or simply leaning against a window ledge or sitting on the balconies of the large number of two-storied houses in existence, in order to appreciate the movement. And it is precisely in this area, whether because of the presence of Ibirapuera park, mentioned above, or the city’s majestic Department of Traffic building, or the various nearby hospitals, or the boundaries of the neighborhoods of Vila Mariana and Jardim Lusitânia, or the route that leads to Largo de Moema, a short distance down the road, that there are people of all ages who tempt fate by crossing this tangle of lethal rapids, keeping their balance on the narrow pavements and quickening their pace to overcome the surrounding din, or to avoid the disagreeable flow of air caused by the onrush of the cars. And it is this or walking for hundreds of meters to the sole pedestrian walkway that links the two sides of the avenue.
Invited by of the Municipal Urbanization Company, EMURB, Amelia Toledo and her partner of the last few years in projects on this scale, her artist son Mo Toledo, were initially given the task of devising a chromatic treatment for the three extensive viaducts that imposingly cross the great avenue; of designing the finishing for a heavy structure, and to do justice of them, an elegant architectural solution that imposes itself on the huge empty spaces, supported on a small number of salient pillars. Although the bridges had been designed with a slender body, the colors undoubtedly contributed, as they still do, to “softening” the weight of the viaducts. As may be seen today, particularly at the end of the day, when the fading light of the sun appears to enhance the colors of things themselves, the three respective colors on the Airport-Center section, magenta, gold and green, applied to the metal boxes that support the three viaducts, cause the extended horizontal strips to shine. The long and solid structural nerves, situated below the planes of the viaducts themselves, do not remain in the shade; on the contrary, they glow, drawing the attention of passers by, and causing their gaze to slip from one side to the other. In order to intensify this effect, the artist chose a type of pigment that would vary according to the position of the observer, as well as the incidence of sunlight, applying it over the whole of the structural bundle, mixed with black in varying amounts. In this way, apart from the gradation of each color towards a brighter tone at the center and a darker tone at the ends, an artifice that “reduces” the weight of the bridge, the colors are transformed: for example, the magenta oscillates between green and brown according to the hour of the day and the angle of vision of the observer.
But even when submitted to this treatment, the viaducts are not the main protagonists of the intervention by the artists: seized by the colored lines that describe gentle arcs just above the avenue, the gaze of those passing along it, even at high speed, perceives the enormous stones arranged in the beds in the middle of the access ramps to the viaducts. What is generally considered as superfluous space, lost space between roads, an imitation of a square produced by the semicircular design of the access ramp to an interchange, has become the central point of intervention by the artists, an ideal place for locating a large collection of stones: a eulogy to inertia and time, realized in the middle of the urban maelstrom.
The “Park of Colors from the Dark” (2000-2002), the title of this monumental work by Amelia and Mo Toledo, is composed of many families of stones. In it we find rose, white, brown and green quartz, green dolomite, green and black serpentine, blue quartzite, blue granite, purple nephrite, basalt and blocks of marble weathered by water. The large blocks of stone arrived from the widest range of locations, dispatched from distant mines by geology professionals such as “Mr. Demosthenes” with whom the artist maintains permanent contact.
The rocks were not subject to any treatment that would change their original form, but were merely polished to reveal their internal designs, the delicate veins that reveal their long lives, in addition to being stripped of their occasional layers of oxidation that also prevent the light from insinuating itself into its entrails. This brings them close to the eye of the observer who contemplates them. A resin was also applied with the intention of thwarting the predictable vandalism of graffiti. Nothing more. The assemblies, formed on the basis of their colors, from which one or other stone was separated on account of the peculiarity of its format or even the monumentality of its size, were arranged in designs that naturally take advantage of the conformation of the “squares” created by the spaces left by the road networks. Once the positioning of these assemblies had been defined, a start was made on the work of landscaping, the definition and planting of flowerbeds and trees, as well as the execution of the plan for access routes and sidewalks for pedestrians.
Today, anyone living nearby, or who stops their car due to curiosity, encounters a park that entirely breaks the mold, if only because it is located in a unexpected place. There, one witnesses a spectacle that contradicts the dynamism of the city: the abrupt flowering of colored stones; the freeing of lights that had until then been hidden by the skin of the landscape. It is impossible to resist to appeal of the material, the silent murmuring of the minerals. Visiting this little park is the same as distancing oneself from the outside world. The surrounding noise is eclipsed, and before one knows it, one is touching the body of the stone, testing its hardness, observing the contrast between itself and its appearance of frozen water, listening to its interior, as if, enraptured, the gaze was invited to lose itself in its depths. The stones breathe. We may capture their pulsation through the semitransparent layers that constitute them, and that succeed each other within them, like waves breaking on the seashore. The slow, most discreet time of the stones in turn evokes our own breathing, contrasting with the rapid and ephemeral time in which we pass over things without leaving a trace.
The projects on an urban scale, conceived and executed by Amelia Toledo and her partner, Mo Toledo, attempt to create this interweaving of time and spaces, as indications of synergy in search of territories where they can bloom. Thus, at the initiative of Sergio Marin architect and coordinator of the Neighborhood Downtowns Program [Programa Centros de Bairro], they were invited to work in association with the city planners/landscapers responsible for the Vila Maria Neighborhood Center, where they executed the second module of the “Park of Colors from the Dark” that was opened to the public in 2003. Here too, the stones, treated as protagonists rather than the accessories that they would conventionally be perceived as, regain the dimension of talismans, beings that are respected for the grandeur with which they represent the telluric forces and diversity of the maternal matter.
An enormous block of blue quartzite, approximately 2.2 m high, is split in two, like an irregular portico with its smooth sides turned towards each other, flanking the entry path into the park. Further along, a long ditch occupied by shards of blue quartzite becomes the canal through which the water of the lake passes. A set of forty low tables, for use by the community, has been cut into organic shapes. The pale, bluish hues of the smooth and polished stone tables are like paralyzed clouds. Organized over a space of some 30 m, a group of large blocks of streaked marble extends like a herd of animals over a surface of crushed rock. From here, the animals ponderously enter the lake, where they remain half-submerged. Further away on the other bank, a large stone indicates that the herd has crossed it. Beasts, architecture and clouds: the stones pulled from their subterranean sleep reveal themselves as ductile material and allow the materialization of the artist’s imagination and the daydreaming of those who go on their days off to the square to rest and forget they heavy daily routine.
This article was excerpted from the book Amelia Toledo: The Natures of Artifice
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