LIFE'S A BEACH
Tropicalia At The Barbican
16th February - 21st May 2006
Reviewed by Cardinal Cox
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The Tropicalia art movement of Brazil started in the late 'sixties - as a protest movement against the oppression by the generals, that was (as the curator said at his introduction) "as much Beatles as Black Panthers". The movement took its name from an installation that recreated a shack from the favelas. The name was then appropriated for a compilation album of songs by funky/psychedelic/folk acts of the time.
From the earliest, this movement had many apparently contradictory strains, one of which was a celebration of the culture of the favela. Another was distinctly playful, shown in the exhibition by the curious sensory altering masks, some of which contain fragrances (made by Lygia Clark). This continues with bowls of coloured liquid that we are invited to taste to try and identify the flavours (Lygia Pape). A third strain was high-concept avant-garde. This could be exemplified by Walter Smetak, a classically trained cellist who taught music at an out-of-the-way college, and who started making his own hybrid instrument sculptures.
These forces are typified in the exhibition by, on one side, a display of ultra-modernist concrete sculptures, and opposite this are coloured comic book squares with black speech bubbles. Chalk is provided, and my contribution, (one of the first) was the exclamation of "Sexy Revolution!!!"
While the movement proper may have lasted only five years (until 1972) its legacy can be found in Brazil with certain punk sensibilities. A film was shown of a ballet choreographed to music by British band The Fall (who, the weekend before I went to the exhibition, had been in session on Radio 3!).
A second legacy is that one of the movement's musicians, Gilberto Gil, is now Minister of Culture in the Government of the country, a position he only took when it was promised that it wouldn't interfere with his gigging schedule.
The mottos from the Tropicalia movement struck me, the first adopted from a Brazilian TV comedy show, "Those who don't communicate get stuck and are left behind." The second accompanied the picture of dead criminal 'Horseface', that translates as: "Be an outlaw, be a hero."
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