Did I really publish the last post only six days ago?? It feels like weeks have gone by with the amount that has happened since then. I’ve had various people reach out to me asking how the bici-radio installation went and I apologize for the delay in posting photos. With hectic preparations for the festival and then final reflections on the first phase of my artistic residence, I’ve barely had a moment to take a deep breath. Rios de Encontro’s third Beleza Amazônica Festival involved four days of artistic presentations, discussion circles, the launch of the solar powered bici-radio and a slightly improvised bicicletada that followed a morning of rain. I’ll try my best to relay all that happened!
When Renato arrived from Belém last Friday morning, we immediately went over to Fabiano the mechanic’s house to pick up the metal structure for the bike radio. We brought it to a bike shop, where Dan’s bike was receiving some much needed refurbishing, and had everything mounted. It was quite a lot of work to get the metal structure secured tightly on the bike and it will likely have to remain there even though we originally wanted it to be removable and adaptable to other bikes. Then Renato and I embarked on what would be a long drawn out process of purchasing the rest of the materials for the workshop. These last few important steps in the bike radio installation were frustrating and threw various cultural challenges at me as a coordinator. It seemed like innumerable obstacles arose with every small step taken forward. Under pressure to prepare all the different presentations and events for the festival, our time was limited. Dan, Mano and I were constantly running in different directions around the city. And given the fact that our main form of transportation is by bicycle and one bike was under construction, I was quite literally running everywhere. Some of the challenges I ran into, cultural and logistical, were as follows:
The inverter that arrived at our house was different than the one included in Luis’s outline and the one ordered, something that Pablo recognized when we first opened the boxes and thankfully Renato was able to adapt.
The process of purchasing other needed materials such as a multitester and bolts was extremely slow because at every store we had to wait for a fiscal receipt (for final budgeting purposes with the grant), which meant that Renato and I had little time on Friday to prepare the methodology for the workshop.
Later that night two of the four young people in the solar energy workshop told me they wouldn’t be able to make it because of work and school obligations. In the end, one of them was able to adjust his schedule, but I was extremely disappointed that they didn’t advise me sooner so I could change the timing of the workshop. Attendance/participation was a challenge I dealt with throughout this process and am planning to detail further in my final report.
Upon arriving home with the newly repaired bike, I realized the tire was flat for some reason and used all my remaining energy to pedal the heavy thing all the way back to the bike store.
These unexpected delays left us with little time to spray paint the metal structure and I ended up doing a rushed and terrible job the next morning before the workshop. To my frustration, we had to install the final system when it was still a little wet.
I felt like there was insufficient publicity done about the solar energy workshop as a whole. This was largely due to the many other activities and events that were being organized throughout the weekend as part of the festival.
I don’t intend to throw a blanket of negativity over the experience or provide excuses for the aspects of the project that didn’t turn out as expected. I’m hoping to represent this experience as truthfully and transparently as it happened and illuminate the challenges and mistakes we made along the way. I’m not going to lie; it was a lot of work on my part as a coordinator. I struggled to mediate between a specialist well versed in the language of formal institutions and technical engineering language, and three young people with whom that language does not serve. I had to ensure that the workshop did not become dreadfully boring and energy-consuming for those who struggle in normal classroom settings. It was important that every minute the young people were using their hands to construct things and that the methodology used throughout the past six weeks of workshops was continued. I also had to make sure that sufficient attention was dedicated to all the young people participating, not just those with a technical background like Pablo. Having to navigate the situation in another language and keep all of these considerations in mind was not easy. Nevertheless, the final product was a great success and the process left me with some interesting reflections. The workshop was a very valuable experience for the young people. They absolutely loved the opportunity for hands-on involvement in constructing a system themselves. While the hours ticked by and I expected them to lose interest and energy, they surprised me by staying in the classroom we were using until the bike was completely finished. Later that day, everyone had the chance to pedal around and use the power of the sun to inform the community about the events that would be taking place in the plaza at night (aka blast our little solar powered amplifier at peak volume). The bike is pretty heavy with the module, battery and amplifier, but the most challenging part is gaining a solid balance. By the time Pablo was finally able to propel the bike forward and start moving I was grinning uncontrollably. I swear, I’ll never forget the image of him pedaling away from us down the streets of Cabelo Seco, the sun glinting brightly off the solar panel roof.
The third Beleza Amazônica Festival centered on the young people as art educators, researchers and coordinators of their own projects, presenting the culmination of a year of workshops and courses. On Friday night we had an open dialogue focused on “segurança ecosocial” “eco-social security” with two members of the Military Police force. This conversation opened a space where the community and the police could dialogue about how to solve the issue of violence in the region. We made the solar energy project relevant in this discussion by tying in the idea of environmental security threatened by a violent development model.
On Saturday night a variety of dance presentations were held in the small plaza in the heart of Cabelo Seco. Little girls in bright skirts and glittery make-up pranced around the stage we constructed under strings of lights. The bici-radio leaned against a wall behind the stage, welcoming curious glances and questions. The night closed with a very impressive performance by the dance company AfroMundi, which expressed the tragic consequences of a hydroelectric dam and further destruction of the Amazon. As soon as there are videos available I will share them! On Sunday morning rainy conditions almost cancelled our bicicletada. It was a bit of a blessing to wake up at 7am to the patter of rain on the ceramic roof tiles and realize I could get another two hours of desperately needed sleep, but after experiencing the last bicicletada I was also disappointed. The younger generation of Cabelo Seco was also disappointed and not as easily defeated. The whole morning they clamored at our window, hanging on the metal bars and groaning, pointing at the sky and the street to show that the rain was drying up. We finally allowed them to mobilize community and by midday we had a solid group of screaming, whistling bike riders covered in solar energy ribbons.