Don's diary: Museum and mutoscopes but no muggings

April 16, 2004


I'm off to São Paolo, where I'm going to set up my part of Cyclic Eye, a four-artist show mixing electronics with early 20th-century technologies such as stereoscopy, zoetropes and, in my case, a thing called a mutoscope.

It's my first visit to South America, and reading the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide tourist handbooks totally puts me off - they seem obsessed with being robbed. Apparently, smiling but evil-intentioned Brazilians will spike my drink and steal my trousers, or nimble urchins will climb into my rucksack to sell its contents on street corners. I assume this is just the standard hysteria. But I'm not crazy about Brazilian music and I hate football.


In São Paolo, the curators are curiously unwilling to take us to see the museum. It seems that the fitting-out of the exhibition is behind schedule and, anyway, the box containing my work is stuck in some customs limbo.

So Gavin (the co-curator and one of the two Brazilian artists in the show) takes us for lunch and a guided tour of the district. A particular fan of cemeteries, he takes us to visit two big ones nearby - and to the coffin shop across the road. As well as the big wooden ones, they offer a range of cardboard coffins - not for the ecologically minded, just the desperately poor. The child-sized ones are particularly tragic.


Opening night: everything is set up and looks great. My nine little machines - each in effect a motorised flick-book with video sequences that tell a number of stories depending on the order in which you look at them - are working.

I have always used a wide range of media in my work - from drawing to video, sculpture and sound - including a walking machine that generated random poetry and a drawing machine that shredded the results after "exhibiting" each one for ten minutes.

Every time I set up a show with kinetics or electronics, I swear that it will be the last - that the stress of wondering whether it will work is just too great. Then I go and have a bright idea for something even more complicated and blurt it out to a curator - and there I am a year later in a state of nervous collapse.

It's raining torrentially, but we still get a pretty good crowd. The journalists are fascinated by the idea of having contemporary artists in a historical museum; the visitors just love stuff that moves.


I've spent a lot of time travelling between the flat in Pinheiros and the museum, about an hour's ride each way. These trips are great, meandering through different places every time. The architecture of São Paolo is wonderful - with no two buildings the same, lots of new, very moderne-looking stuff. From the city's tallest building, the Italia Tower, the panoramic view is a dense urban sprawl as far as the eye can see. It's magnificent. I saw photographs before I left the UK that made it look scary and dystopian; in reality it's beautiful.

During my stay, I haven't been robbed or threatened in any way and have been offered nothing but hospitality and kindness. We're going to try to tour the exhibition in Europe, but I definitely fancy a return visit - perhaps someone at Rio University fancies a job swap?

Simon Lewandowski is an artist and part-time lecturer in the School of Fine Art at Leeds University. More details about the show can be found on


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