Of course I was only there for the weekend, flying in at 1030 in the morning, taxi to the hotel, leaving again the same way the Sunday evening. But of all the towns in all the world that I have visited it reminds me of none more than Newcastle-on-Tyne - Geordie-land.
Both are struggling to recover from a period of decline and scarred by areas of neglect. Several buildings had been gutted by fire and left like that apparently for some time. Many others were empty and covered in graffiti.
Both towns are trying to use culture in order to attract outside interest to the downtown areas. Newcastle has its brilliant Baltic art gallery, while Porto Alegre has its Biennale, a large art exhibition that takes place in several venues every two years, reminiscent of the one in Venice. In fact the best venue for the exhibition is line of disused dock warehouses on the waterfront, that is strikingly similar to the Armoury area in Venice.
The exhibition showcases Brazilian and South American artists, unlike the Biennales in Río and São Paulo, which also provide much space for European and North American artists.
It is very interesting to see how these artists are interpreting and mixing Western traditions with their own. I saw a portable beach holiday (complete with campervan full of sand with a palm tree growing out of the roof), a football match made entirely out of wood (football is of course a matter of life and death here), not to mention a campervan also made entirely a wood.
The latter reminded me of Heather and Ivan Morisson's post-apocalyptic garden shed on wheels that is a mobile library of dystopian literature - including a copy of Hybrids!
Campervans are ubiquitous here, and are used by people wanting to start businesses in another town but not yet able to rent their own space. They symbolise the magnetism the city, the promise of affluence, the energy of growth.
Another fascinating piece - I'm sorry I didn't have the chance to note the names of the artists - was an almost life-size reconstruction of the Parthenon made of scaffolding from which were hung thousands and thousands of books each wrapped in polythene bags. The public was then invited to help themselves, and videos and magazine and newspaper articles document people gladly ripping down the books and throwing them to the crowds below, who ran off hungrily with them.
Because of my interest in Dadaism it was astonishing to discover a Brazilian version, inaugurated 45 years after the original, but aesthetically and insensibility strikingly similar, called Nadaism -- or nothing-ism! I love it.
Another piece celebrates popular graffiti on concrete Modernist architecture, of which there is too much in abundance in the cities.
There is a spirit of enquiry and invention in the art here, a celebration of what it means to be Brazilian. 25 years after the end of the dictatorship, and 20 years after the CIA mostly lost interest in South America with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Brazil is becoming more and more confident, and debating positively its new identity.