Pes(o)soa de Carne e Osso (english text)

Performance Installation by Santiago Cao 

During the MOLA Festival  (Mostra Osso LatinoAmericana de performances urbanas).

28 September 2010. Salvador de Bahía, Brazil.

Recorded by Juan Montelpare.

Text translated to English by Mikey Watts. 

Thanks to Tuti Minervino, Rose Boaretto, Cacá Faría, Larissa Ferreira and Roberto Carlos Ruiz.


Approximate duration: 7 hours



(nb. “PES(O)SOA DE CARNE E OSSO” is a play on the Portuguese words for weight and person, translating roughly as either “weight of meat and bones" or “person of meat and bones’)

 

How much does meat weigh?

And how much does the person behind the meat weigh in a society that negates and annuls people? 

In prostitution, men and women are simple objects of consumption.

In business there are no people; just Human Resources.

In colonial times, slaves were treated as merchandise, not as people.

 

The idea was to install in a public street a large balance, two and half metres high, and stay trapped for eight hours inside a fishing net, hung semi-nude a metre from the ground.  As a counterweight, 70 kilos of meat and bones hung from another net a few metres from me.  Hoping for… simply hoping to see how people would react, while my body started dehydrating and the meat rotting under the sun.

For this action I chose the pavement of a square in the middle of the economic centre of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil – a place characterised by a vast number of banks, businesses and universities, and full of a huge number of people, cars and buses.

All around could be seen, written in charcoal

 

PES(O)SOA DE CARNE E OSSO

 

and also the question

 

WHAT WEIGHS MORE, A PERSON OR MEAT?

 

The eight hours that I would stay trapped inside the net was a reference to the 8 hours of labour that people give 8 hours of their lives every day to a system (a net) that promises them enough money to enjoy the 16 hours that remain of their day. 8 hours lost, concessioned off from freedom.

We finished putting up the balance at 9 in the morning and I asked my friends who we helping me to go as far away as possible so passers by wouldn’t see them and so associate them with the action.  Without anyone else to ask, people would not have any choice but to come close and ask me.

“What’s this?  Is it a protest or is it art?”  “What do you want to say with this? Tell us”, were some of the things said to me the most.  And to every question I just looked them in the eyes in silence.  By doing this I wanted to let people know I was listening, that I wasn’t ignoring them, so establishing communication.  But at the same time, by not giving them a verbal answer, people had more and more questions, and so more answers.  “He’s paying back a promise,” said some.  “He can’t speak”, said someone else.  And another added, “He only speaks with his eyes”.  There was even a woman who asserted that I was from a religion that didn’t eat ox meat, and I was doing this to pay for the sins of everyone, after which many people came to thank me.  I even thought I heard a man who came close and asked me to bless him, but because he spoke softly and in Portuguese, I wasn’t sure if I understood well or not.

Another person used me as a tool to start trying to evangelise those present, re-appropriating the action.  He said, in a loud voice and large movements of his arms, that what was happening was pure truth!  That people were trapped in a vice for meat. Others asked me if I was thirsty and wanted water, to which I responded by slowly moving my head indicating yes.  I drank from the bottle that was brought to my lips, and some even cooled my sore body, burning under the midday heat, by pouring water over my head.

As the hours went by and the meat lost its juices, slowly my body gained in weight and the balance started tilting towards me.  An old man came over to me and said in a low voice, “At 10 in the morning, when I came by, the meat and bones weighed more.  Now at 2 in the afternoon, returning by here again, I see that you weigh more.  Does that mean that society is finally changing?

Many people were around me by then, and those who had been there the longest answered the questions of those who had just arrived, in such a way that a debate had started.  A woman who was making her way through the bodies came over with a bottle to give me some water.  After she tried to find out from me why I was doing this, and hearing someone tell her, “He’s been doing it for several hours without talking to anyone”, she asked me if I wanted her to buy me something to eat.  I indicated no with a slow move of the head, and she asked that if I wanted to drink more water she could go and buy another bottle before continuing on her way.  I agreed and she disappearing amongst the people.  The came back a few minutes later, and while giving me water, asked me if I wanted her to free me.  I said no with my head, to which she replied, “You can’t continue like this under the sun.  Something bad could happen to you.  I’m going to free you.”  And she started trying to convince everyone present to let me out.  A debate started.  Some weren’t in agreement, saying, “You can’t take him down, he’s got to pay back his promise.” It happens to be that for the majority of people from Salvador de Bahia, with their great African heritage and common practise of Candomblé, the nearest thing to a performance is the paying of a promise to Orixá.  This is what they had seen and understood.  And usually, if something or someone breaks the routine of the day with an action, they take on the situation, in many case helping the person who is doing the payment.

But the woman managed to convince those present, and a few men pushed the balance towards my side (now “our side”) bringing me closer to the ground.  But as time went by and she couldn’t get me out quickly, she asked for a knife.  ““Cadé a Faca!” she shouted, and a few people went off to look for one in the nearby food stands.  Someone came back with a pocketknife and the woman started quickly cutting the net, until the hole was big enough.  “Now if you want to, you can leave”, she said.  But when I tried to stand up my body wouldn’t respond.  My legs hurt a lot and every time I tried I would fall back to the ground.  So a man carried me like a child.  And I let myself be carried without offering resistance.  I wanted to let myself be pulled away by the mass of people who let me free, letting myself be taken to where they wanted.  I didn’t move my arms, letting them fall by my torso.  Then the man who was carrying me, took my hands and brought them to his neck to hang on to, and thus, as if carrying a sleeping child, he took me from inside the net which the others were still pulling down on, and the meat and bones on the other side rose up to the highest they could go, as if they were flying without weight.  The man took me to a bench nearby but people started to shout, no, not there, that the bench under the sun was hot and I could burn.  So he took me to another bench in the shade of some trees and softly let me down.  My body hurt a lot.  Inside the net I had tried to cut myself off from the feeling, so escaping the pain.  But now … every movement was painful.  I was there for more than 10 minutes, until Juan, a friend who was there taking photos, came running over.  He was the only person from the production team present, and after being discovered taking photos from a distance had opted to hide so as to stop the action becoming a spectacle.  We had talked a lot about this, and how at times a stills or video camera could be associated with the action, thus changing it.  But where he had been, not only could no one see him, he couldn’t see anything either, giving him the great surprise upon coming out that one of the nets was empty before the 8 hours was up, and a large number of people were gathered round me on the bench.  Believing that I had feinted, he came running with water.  But his worry disappeared when we caught each other’s eyes, and with an almost imperceptible move of the head I indicated to him that he should carry on taking photos, a code that luckily he understood straight away.  He left the clothes in a bag and disappeared again.  I continued there for a while longer, trying to get my body to move again.  A hand came to rest on my right arm.  I turned my head and saw the woman who had started the process of my liberation.  She came close to my ear and said, “I don’t know what your idea was, but if your intent was to move people, you were successful.  People can’t go on their way letting someone die under the sun.”  We looked each other in the eye and I thanked her, this time with words.  “Thank you” I said, and we took each other’s hands before she disappeared amongst the crowd.

A few metres away, the balance had hardly any spectators.  Now, without my body acting as a counter weight, the meat and bones were on the floor, still trapped, while the net that had held me had risen up high, slowly swaying in the wind.  Happy and excited by this metaphor I got dressed and slowly walked away, leaving people talking amongst themselves.  An image, just before leaving the square, saddened me.  A black man was sleeping on the ground.  Alone.  With old and torn up clothes.  With no-one around him.  Invisible to society.