Brazil, 1970s. Oh, those were the times! And oh, that was the place! But first things first. We should begin with the 1960s, when everything seems to have begun. The 1960s in Brazil were revolutionary times. And we had a new, revolutionary capital: Brasilia! By opening this paper with a reference to Brasilia I pay homage to geometry, and to the illusion (and in the early years of the 60s we had reasons enough to believe) that everything was in its proper place: the intelligence and delicacy of neoconcrete art, the brilliance of rationalist architecture, the beat and refinement of Bossa Nova, the black and white colours of Cinema Novo, and a democratic government with a view to the future. Everything seemed to confirm Mario Pedrosa’s diagnosis that Brazil is commended to modernity, that the condemnation had come to an end, and the penalty of being off the map duly prescribed. With Brasilia at the centre of the country, Brazil was at the centre of the world. However, Brazil’s peculiar geometry hardly pays homage to Euclid, and to the everlasting harmony and equilibrium of the Greeks.
Brasilia was built in five years, to be inaugurated in 1960. It is an extravagance for a people to have the capital of their country inaugurated, launched, opened to the public. Brasilia was conceived, by the architect Lucio Costa, as an object. The fact that the city is located precisely at the geographic centre of Brazil makes of the country itself a kind of geometric object. The general plan of the city resembles an aeroplane, with fuselage, wings, tails. On a symbolic level, the figure might suggest that the future had landed, and on the right spot; but the functional logic behind this rationalist planning was the distribution of branches stemming from a central axis. Perhaps never before has a city so nearly resembled a model. A model of what?
Candangos was how the many thousands of builders that migrated from all regions of the country to work on the construction of the city became known. They came, but they could not stay. Because the city had been designed for an ideal number of one million inhabitants, the candangos and their families were forced to move out to the so-called Satellite Cities, precariously built on the outskirts of the Pilot Plan. So, when Brasilia the revolutionary capital of the future was opened to the public in 1960, it already came equipped with its shantytowns. The Satellite Cities helped Brasilia resemble the model of a real city, and a model of exclusion. A model which, to be of the future, necessarily had to exclude what is already its already, as what is already its past. The future does cost us dear.
Those were revolutionary times, indeed. The right-wing military coup intended to free us Brazilians from the threat of communism named itself ‘The Revolution of 1964’, sometimes also referred to as ‘The Redemptive’. As with any other case of redemption, this one also involved some sort of sacrifice and of religious deliverance. Shortly before the coup, good-hearted ladies organised the campaign ‘Gold for Brazil’, in which every decent and reasonably well-off Christian was expected to donate a piece of their jewellery to the country, and this was soon followed by a street demonstration called ‘March With God for Freedom’. The aim of both enterprises was to raise funds, capital, physical and spiritual, to support the fight against subversion and communism. Freedom does cost us dear.