Summer 2013 International Artist-in-Residence Program

Brasília, Cars, Pools and Other Modernities

  • Summer 2013 International Artist-in-Residence Program
  • In-Residence Dates: May 21,2013 - Jun 15,2013
  • Exhibition Dates: Jul 11,2013 - Sep 15,2013
  • About the artist
  • Clarissa Tossin at work, cropClarissa Tossin

    Originally from Brazil, a Museum of Fine Arts Houston Core Program fellowship brought Clarissa Tossin to Houston in 2010. She holds an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, and her work has been included in solo and groupRead more

About the exhibition

How have your plans for this exhibition evolved?

Initially I had the idea that the project involved only the car and the single-channel video. As I continued working, I realized there needed to be other elements, and the work became an installation. All of the components together open up the work for the viewer. The plan was to bring the Volkswagen Brasília car from Brasília, Brazil, to Los Angeles, California, to assist with Oscar Niemeyer’s Strick House swimming pool cleaning routine. Originally it was not clear how the video would be edited and what scenes were needed in Los Angeles. The footage that I had already shot in Brazil was the car in the context of the modernist city, showing the city from the perspective of this car. I was not interested in replicating heroic shots of Brasília’s monumental architecture. The footage is rough, the framing is tilted, the camera moved with the car’s vibration, which caused a lot of noise to the image. The beaten-up Volkswagen Brasília is the anti-hero in contrast to Niemeyer’s modern skyline, and it also is the installation’s main character.

Can you tell us about your connection with this car?

The car was named after the city Brasília, where I lived for 11 years, and it was the first Volkswagen car entirely produced and designed in Brazil. In the late ’80s, this car was extremely popular among workers. My parents’ pool cleaner had one in light blue. One historical connection between Brasília the car and Brasília the city is that in the late ’50s, the automobile industry really developed side by side with the city. The urban plan was thought having the car in mind. I wanted the car to represent the city since it was named after a city envisioned for the car. It is a very specific improvised utilitarian car in comparison to Oscar Niemeyer’s sleek architecture.

Who is Oscar Niemeyer?

Oscar Niemeyer is the architect who designed Brasília the city. He was very influenced by modernist social ideals and believed he could motivate social progress—or build an egalitarian society—through architecture. His work is mostly focused on public buildings and most of it was built either in Brazil or France. Among his lesser known small projects is a house in Santa Monica, California, built in 1964.

What is the importance of this house in Santa Monica?

I believe that the exposure Niemeyer received from the inauguration of Brasília in 1960 made the Stricks want him to design their home. Niemeyer always introduced himself as being a Communist, so at this time he was never allowed into the United States. The design of this house was done entirely through letters. The Strick House is the only building within all of North America to be designed by Niemeyer. For me, it’s like this little island of imported ideas and ideals that Niemeyer had here and, it was important for me to connect it back to Brasília.