Octavio Camargo Brings Advocacy Art to Occidental


Author: Claire Diggins, Senior Writer

Occidental has recently welcomed the second of three artists-in-residence, Octávio Camargo. Camargo is a well-known composer, theater director and artist based out of Curitiba, Brazil with innovative ideas about art, society, space and the rapidly evolving role of the arts in the world. His residency is part of a program initiated last fall between Occidental and the Outpost for Contemporary Art in Highland Park to bring artists to campus and into our local community.

The Occidental-Outpost alliance was inspired by a senior comprehensive seminar taught by visual arts professor Mary Beth Heffernan. The goal of the seminar was to introduce students to the arts community in Los Angeles and art practices outside the studio. Through the Outpost, a nonprofit arts organization devoted to connecting local communities with the larger global landscape through cross-cultural exchange and interdisciplinary projects, Occidental is able to connect students with international artists.

Camargo is the second of three Brazilian artists to participate in a residency with the Outpost and Occidental. His residency began Jan. 21 with a nine-day course taught at the Outpost and will include a two-month stay on campus and a lecture series hosted in the library.

Camargo’s on-campus lecture series, which is free and open to the public, will begin Wednesday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Jeffers room of Occidental’s Clapp Library. During this lecture, titled “Oral Tradition: The Legacy of Hellenism in the Development of Neo-Latin Languages,” Camargo will present his exploration of “The Iliad” and his experience staging Homer in Brazil.

This first lecture will explore Brazil’s social development since the end of its military dictatorship in 1985. During the dictatorship, Latin, Greek, philosophy and other disciplines were abandoned because they were deemed too difficult. Camargo will address this in relation to his theater troupe’s understanding of “The Iliad.”

The second lecture, “Composition and Oral Poetry,” will be on Feb. 7 in the Jeffers Room and will provide an overview of contemporary production of songs in Camargo’s hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, as well as the creation of circuits for oral poetry outside of mainstream culture. In this lecture Camargo will discuss his own interest in writing lyrics and creating songs.

“Site-Specificity and Urban Interventionism in Brazil,” the third lecture scheduled for Feb. 16 and also in the Jeffers Room, will reflect the history and major influences behind Camargo’s organization Surface Tension. Surface Tension is a multi-city project, which operates in Copenhagen, Los Angeles and Curitiba. Camargo will describe his research of low-income Curitiba residents who scour the city for recyclable material. For this lecture, Surface Tension’s Los Angeles-based collaborator Ken Elrich will join Camargo.

The final lecture, “Living Memory of At-Risk Groups and Communities,” will be held on Feb. 23 and delve into contemporary museology and site specificity in artistic practice (Outpost for Contemporary Art).

Camarge recently finished co-teaching a nine-day course at the Outpost with Brazilian composer Chico Mello, who attended via Skype.

This course, “Experimental Composition in Popular Music,” was free and open to all Los Angeles-based composers, conductors, instrumentalists, new media artists, actors, singers, poets, performers and visual artists.

As part of the workshop, artists and musicians from all over Los Angeles collaborated to collect, record and translate the works of various poets, artists, singers and storytellers. One day of the workshop resulted in an impromptu jam session with Mello’s students in Brazil when all of the musicians in the course brought in their various instruments and played together.  

I sat in on the last day of the workshop, and the group’s topics of discussion included space and society, animism, Los Angeles and Michael Taussig, identity, and shamanism. One participant, Matthew Bate, a video artist and guitarist, enjoyed the course because he was able to meet other artists and share ideas about art and music. “We looked at new ways to interpret experimental music and explored notions of paradoxical space. Everyone is very enthusiastic and supportive,” he said of the course.

The course culminated in an hour-long multimedia performance at the plaza on Figueroa and San Fernando on Saturday, Jan. 29. The presentation integrated video projections, text in three languages, a choreographed dance sequence and an instrumental performance of two songs which the class worked to recompose and morph together.

Currently, Camargo is the director of the Brazilian theater company “Cia iliadahomero de Teatro,” which is focused on the staging of Homer’s “The Iliad” in the Brazilian translation of Manuel Odorico Mendes. Camargo also has been teaching Aesthetics and Harmony at the University of Music and Fine Arts in Paraná since 1992.

The artist is a writer and co-editor of a series of books entitled “Surface Tension” that uses the urban environment to foster exchange between local understanding and foreign perspectives. Camargo edits “Surface Tension’s” series “Errant Bodies,” dedicated to developing and supporting the fields of sonic and spatial practices, auditory culture, performance and experimental writing.

Camargo has released several CDs, composed music for multiple Brazilian films and had his audio works broadcast by BBC (Errant Bodies). His work merges art and activism and engages a multitude of disciplines from music composition, poetry, theatrical presentations and impromptu performances. His works incorporate urban interventionism and social art and include “Ao redor da mesa” (theater play 1999), “Pé com Cabeca” (performance 1995) and “Oraculo do momento” (installation 2000).

Through his socially conscious work and research of economically challenged neighborhoods Camargo aims to change people’s understanding of low-income neighborhoods in Brazil and introduce new conversations about the role of the arts in society.

The last two artists in residence were from the Sao Paulo-based arts collective Grupo Bijari. These artists were in residence on campus from Oct. 23 to Nov. 21 and gave public talks, participated in Occidental classes and created an art installation, “America Love Me.” The installation was about 20 Los Angeles teenagers’ immigration and education experiences.

The third and last group of artists for the year, Ala Plástica, will be in residence from the end of March through April. Ala Plástica, an environmental organization, will work with the urban and environmental policy, art and theater departments on their research on the environmental effects of urban oil exploration.


To learn more about Camargo’s residency activities, and other residencies, visit outpost-art.org, or The Outpost itself, located at 1268 North Avenue 50, Los Angeles, CA 90042.

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