‘The Gap’, a poetic path to formulate historical traumas

Pro Helvetia South America, Music
Room of colonial house with musical instruments
São João Residency’s’s studio

Collaboration between musicians and activists Felinto and Simon Grab investigates the unspoken sounds of the black diaspora and the wounds that make up Brazilian identity

A colonial house built in the mid-19th century, during Brazil’s coffee cycle, is now home to São João Residency, an independent programme north of Rio de Janeiro. The estate currently operates as an ecological farmer and artist community, yet the property harbours historical traumas and traces of the country’s slavery period.

This place was also the setting for a collaborative audio project by musicians and activists Felinto [Brazil] and Simon Grab [Switzerland]. In 2022, they paired up for a residency in the context of Somoscosmos sound art programme at São João. “The Gap”, as the project was titled, explored the unspoken stories and sounds of the black diaspora.

The duo based their collective work on the pedagogia das encruzilhadas (crossroads pedagogy). This concept, theorized by Brazilian researcher Luiz Rufino, references African Brazilian culture and the deity Exu, considered an explanatory principle of the world on matters such as communications, invention, corporeity, and ethics. Through Exu, Rufino says, we come across cruzos (intersections), where a diversity of knowledge resides, and learn to work with unforeseeability, transgression and resilience.

Two people on a living room of a colonial house
Simon Grab and Felinto during their residency at São João

By transgressing the cultural norm, “The Gap” aimed to bring out knowledge at the fringe of “official” art production, inspired by the manifestations of the black diaspora and the historical memory and wisdom of colonized people. More technically, it drew on the musical concept of feedback, or circuit interference.

“The notion of feedback has various layers,” explains Grab. “In my musical practice, I use electronic feedbacks to create sounds, as in no-input mixing techniques. During the residency, I was able to reflect on it and had the time to try out some additional methods – there are some magic sound spaces in and around the house, some sweet spots outside for listening and playing. Then there is another layer, the collaboration with Felinto, where feedback and interference are being created between us while playing and discussing. And finally, there’s the social interference, the personal exchange. For us, it was important to reflect on the house with its heavy colonial and racist history and how to cope with the fact that we spend our time within these walls that had blood on them.”

While in residency, Felinto and Grab developed their individual research, made recordings, and collaborated with São João’s educational program, presenting their creations and offering a workshop to children at a public school. Alongside the local community – composed mostly of afro-descendants and people living in peripheral contexts –, the duo explored the limits of translation, invisibility, and the unspoken. For one performative sound action, they asked other artists to take down all paintings and illustrations in the farm’s house and move the furniture aside, showing the building in its past. “Over time, ‘The Gap’ was perceived as a set of actions that do not need words, a laboratory of decolonial practice linked to the context of sound art,” says Felinto.

Later on, the duo continued their collaboration in a co-creation project under the same title. Returning to the house in March 2024, during Somoscosmos 5th edition, they set out to confront the colonial imagery at São João Residency: decorative arts, domestic utensils, photographs, furniture, architecture. The idea was to search for the farm’s history, it’s oppressive past and what was forbidden and unspoken within this context.

During this time, Felinto and Grab articulated a network of ritual, symbolic, and material actions to debate colonial trauma. The process pointed towards the practice of mediating power relations and resistance articulations rather than exhuming any previous historical archives or documents.

On that note, they created a Yangí Device work, a memorial to the enslaved black population that lived and worked under inhuman
conditions on the farm. A cubic concrete structure, the device is intended to remain in the garden of the main house as a signal of awareness of racial, political, and social subtexts that constitute this territory.

Concrete cube with candle above it in front of house in a farm at night
Yangí Device, a memorial to the enslaved black population who lived and worked at São João Residency

Another action proposed was a ritual movement. Visitors were invited to light 200 candles in the same place where a slave quarter used to operate.

Candles layad out around a tree in the forest and man looking at it
Felinto at memorial installation where a slave quarter used to operate

They also developed a set of trigger cards to organise dialogues around the issues raised by the memorial. Finally, they started creating a series of expanded, sonic-literary entries, a poetic path to formulate the trauma that constitutes Brazilian identity.

Concerts by Felinto and Grab (with DJ Antigo) at Instituto Raiz da Serra in São Paulo, following their participation in Somoscosmos fifth edition

Biographies

Felinto is a Brazilian music producer, multi-instrumentalist and mediator in the yoga study group Corporeidade e Masculinidades (corporeity and masculinities). He is also a co-founder of Sistema Negro (Black System), a collective of black artists and intellectuals. As a musician, he studies manifestations of the fractal in the electronic language.

Simon Grab is a Swiss sound artist and musician who explores new grounds by negating assumed borders. In his recent work, he focuses on reduction, and the peculiarity of self-referential systems. Co-founder of ganzerplatz soundstudios, he produces music & sounddesign for feature films, documentaries, theatre, and radio.

More on Co-Creation

The pilot measure was launched in 2023. Applications can still be submitted until 1 June 2024.  

Co-creation projects for cultural practitioners from South America

Co-creation projects for cultural practitioners from Switzerland