“There is an invisible piece in the chess game. It is a piece that has vital influence on the game, and its ability lies exactly in the fact that the players cannot manipulate it. The problem is that it is impossible to follow its track. This piece is called marginalia.”
—Mariana Castillo Deball and Manuel Raeder, Dear Rogério
In 2013, designer Manuel Raeder and artist Mariana Castillo Deball released the catalogue Marginália 1, which acted as a monograph for Rogério Duarte (1939–2016), a multidisciplinary artist/designer best described as being “everywhere and nowhere” in Brazil in the 1960s. Duarte was a seminal figure who played a key role in ushering in the Tropicália movement through his work in graphic design, writing, poetry, visual art, music, performance, geometry, politics, and industrial design (just to name a few areas). His influence was everywhere, working closely with the biggest Brazilian artists of the time, yet he remained almost unknown outside small circles of Tropicália experts. In 2008, during a trip to Brazil, Manuel and Mariana were overtaken by the mystery of Duarte and decided to seek him out, leading to years of conversation, collaboration, exhibitions, and the Marginália 1 catalogue. Recently the exhibition Rogério Duarte, Marginália 1 has been restaged at the Museo Jumex allowing for an even broader public to become familiar with the designer’s fascinating life and work.
In looking at the work of Duarte and Raeder, distinct similarities emerge. Both utilize design as a means of connecting a diverse set of artistic practices; creating a body of work defined more by a sense of community than stylistic maneuvers. Both designers pride themselves as operating in a background role, using their work as a means of pushing forward a dialogue rather than an aesthetic agenda. Finally, in both practices, a unique sense of vibrancy leads to work that feels full of excitement, chaos, and joy. Below I chat with Manuel Raeder about working with Rogério Duarte, what the process taught him, and how it has affected his practice.
I would also like to add that Emmet Byrne started this interview three years ago, and has kindly allowed me to finish it off. Also thank you Manuel for your willingness to stick with the interview after several years :).
Ben Schwartz (BS):
How did you first come in to contact with Rogério’s work? Did his work have an impact on you prior to this project?
Manuel Raeder (MR):
From 2008 onwards I had the chance, together with the artist Mariana Castillo Deball, to spend longer periods of time in Brazil. Mariana was particularly interested in the work of the Italian Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, so from 2008 to 2009 we started visiting her works in the state of Bahia. We became friends with the former assistant of Lina Bo Bardi, Marcelo Suzuki, who particularly worked with Lina on all the projects in Bahia.
While looking at and visiting the work of Lina we got to spend some time in Salvador de Bahia where Lina did, in my opinion, much of her most interesting projects. The name Rogério Duarte turned out to be a kind mystery and appeared all over the place—on posters, in title sequences of Glauber Rocha movies, in poems, lyrics by Gal Costa and Caetano are credited to him, and his name was constantly present in relation to the works of Hélio Oiticica.
Lina’s and Hélios’s work has always been very influential to mine and Mariana’s work. We began to constantly wonder: who actually is this Rogério Duarte figure, where is he, and is he still active? It took quite awhile to find him, as he has lived almost in total isolation in Bahia for many years, meditating, translating Sanskrit, and playing chess.
What were initial meetings like with Rogério? Was he immediately open to talking about his work and life? How did you begin to organize and understand the work of an individual who was “everywhere and nowhere at the same time”?
Somehow we became very close to Rogério very quickly, I think it had to do with the way we could all communicate. Mariana connected with him through her knowledge of literature, anthropology, and archaeology. I was able to connect with him by talking about design, music, and many other things that did not necessarily have to do with Tropicália. We related more with a general curiosity about life and discovering new things. Actually a lot had to do with energy. In terms of the languages, we were constantly jumping from Portuguese to Español, from French to English.
In many ways, Duarte’s work ushered in Tropicália, yet he seemed to operate with a certain amount of distance from the movement. Why was that?
Rogério was really a part of forming the foundations of Tropicália. The magazine Movimento he designed was a central point for discourse, and a starting point where Tropicália was understood as a counter-cultural movement. The texts and manifestos published in Movimento became foundational to the movement (see also Narlan Matos’s essay about this in our book, Marginàlia 1). Rogério has mainly been associated with creating the aesthetic of Tropicália, but in many ways he was also responsible for many ideas that shaped it.
In 1964 the dictatorship came into power in Brazil which resulted in many of Rogério’s friends going into exile. Many of his friends were already very well known, so for them it was easier to go into exile. Rogério wasn’t in such a fortunate position at the time and stayed in Brazil. Eventually, Rogério and his brother were imprisoned and tortured for their beliefs. After his release, Rogério very quickly grew skeptical of the movement as he simply experienced a very different trajectory and reality then the rest of his peers. In our book Marginalia 1 you can read the text “A Grande Porta do Medo / The Great Door of Fear” (1968), which is an essay by Rogério written specifically about this time.
Rogério was a key collaborator for well known Tropicálists from Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil to Helio Oiticica and Lygia Pape. His work seamlessly moved across disciplines connecting diverse practices to a set of Tropicálist ideals. Can you talk about his relationship with these collaborators? How did his skill set as a graphic designer facilitate these relationships?
Rogério was very close with Hélio Oiticica; in fact, “Tropicália” became the title of one of Oiticica’s installations. There are many works and ideas that were developed by Rogério together with Hélio or Glauber, however as Rogério remained in the background, and due to the mass-produced nature of his work, he never had as much of the spotlight or attention as his collaborators.
Overall though, Rogério was very influential on his friends, especially Hélio and Glauber. He was an extremely intelligent person. I think he was always a good counterpart to his friends, but he also knew when to be very controversial in order to provoke.
The military dictatorship of 1964 seemed like a turning point for Rogério. How did it affect his work and outlook?
Rogério was tortured during the military regime in 1968, and he was one of the first people to publicly denounced these tortures. He went into inner immigration and later joined Hare Krishna, which is when he started translating Sanskrit. This became one of his main passions and means of income until the end of his life.
Rogério was as well involved in politics prior to the dictatorship. The magazine Movimento was very important for writers in Brazil and became a source for political discourse especially as related to Cuba and the rest of Latin America.
As I understand it Rogério had a falling out with the movement. What changed with Tropicália that caused him to pull away?
Much of it had to do with the things he lived through at the end of ’60s and beginning of the ’70s. Many of his friends passed away, and at a certain point he didn’t like the idea of folklorization and the idea of a counter culture movement that failed. Really, he felt it was time to move on and not be stuck in the past.
How did working directly with Rogério change your understanding of Tropicália?
It’s very important to continue to understand what Rogério and his peers were trying to do in the ’60s, especially as the political situation today in Brazil is again very complicated. Many problems that they faced during his lifetime have parallels with what people face nowadays—not only in Brazil but in many countries.
How did the book project come about? Did you initiate this with Rogério?
When Mariana Castillo Deball and I first met Rogério in Bahia, he wasn’t doing very well health-wise, and he didn’t want to see many people apart from his own family. Somehow his son convinced him to receive us, and when we finally met for the first time, we had an immediate connection with him. We never went to him with the intention of making a book. At one point, though, Rogério said he wanted us to make a book about him, and we agreed to try.
Could you talk about the process of creating the book? In what ways did Rogério influence the design decisions ?
Rogério had very little record of what he had done, and he never kept an archive or a collection of his own work. There was one book before that focused on his poems edited by Narlan Matos, but had no relation to all his other works. There wasn’t much available…
He gave us an almost complete list of everything he remembered he had done, which then took us several years to go out and find. We looked for these works in all sorts of secondhand shops and flea markets. We developed our own collection of Rogério’s works. Apart form that, Rogerio had some boxes mainly with texts, poems, and drawings, which we scanned, photographed, transcribed, and translated together with him.
What was Rogério’s reaction to seeing the completed book and exhibition?
He was very happy with the book and the exhibition. We spent some really crazy days with him: there are so many great stories. As soon as he arrived he wanted to have a German-Portuguese dictionary and a copy of Friedrich Hölderlin’s poems. So, Mariana found this amazing old copy of Hölderlin poetry in an antiquarian book shop and within three days Rogério started translating the original poems from German into Portuguese.
Also during his time in Frankfurt Rogério never had to pay for any taxis. He could communicate so quickly, make jokes, and relate to people so well. Every time he got out of a cab the taxi drivers told him, “You don’t pay”!
The exhibition Rogério Duarte: Marginália 1 is currently being held at the Museo Jumex. The exhibition was initially staged in 2013. What was the reason for restaging it?
Julieta González invited us to bring the Rogério Duarte exhibition to the Jumex in the specific context of her bigger exhibition called Memories Of Underdevelopment: Art and the Decolonial Turn in Latin America, 1960-1985. Julieta’s exhibition is specifically looking at the period of 1960 to 1985 in Latin America, as she writes herself:
During this period intellectuals and artists throughout the region echoed the critiques coming from the field of political economy, questioning imposed cultural and aesthetic models, marking a critical distance from the canon and formal vocabulary of the modern, reclaiming local forms of knowledge as well as popular and vernacular expressions, and recognizing the value of cultural manifestations born out of conditions of material poverty.
Rogério was an active part in creating this counterculture in Brazil, particularly the event he created in the Atero [Rio’s Atero do Flamengo park], Apocalipopótese (1968). His work had a great impact in Brazil, but it was marginalized for many years. So, we are very happy that Márginalia 1 could be shown again in such a perfect context.
In better understanding Duarte I begin to see connections to your own practice. Can you speak to how your work relates to Duarte’s in relation to the ideas of chaos, synthesis, and collective creation?
When I was a student I was very concerned with how I could continue working as a designer without quickly getting bored. The only way was to create my own design practice that didn’t fit into any categories and that is not based on one aesthetic. I wanted the design to be defined through the dialogue and through the content itself. In an organic way, the aesthetic could grow out through a conversation with the various elements (collaborators, tools, mediums) involved.
I have been busy with this over all these years, often removing myself or even stepping totally in the background so that other aesthetics can evolve—ones that might be much closer to the work of the artist or collaborator.
It’s more about trying to open a space for interpretation where different readers can step in without me as a designer trying to have too much control. My goal is to open a space where each reader can occupy that space of understanding and inhabit it by themselves.
Collaboration is a fundamental part of that praxis, and yes, I can even apply this in many different practices. Rogério was doing that through out all his life, just naturally but, of course, in another way.
One of the first things that I read by Rogério is the essay “Notes on Industrial Design.” When I first read this essay I was shocked how strongly I could connect to his words even though the text was written in 1965. He writes: “Our industrial art must be one of good solutions—one that provides precise answers to our demands, either coming from our own bodies or from our souls.” I would like to pay particular attention here to “the body” and the “our souls.” I am seeking how to make design that can be inhabited or occupied by these bodies and our souls.
I would argue that all the work I have done in the past 18 years has been done in a collective process. I have always been obsessed with how you could possibly create a design praxis that is not bound to just one recognized aesthetic, but how an aesthetic can be created through the content and discourse around the very content. Rogério Duarte did that in a very similar way, if you look at the movie poster A Idade da Terra (The Age of the Earth), 1980, which is one of the master pieces by Glauber. Rogério created not only the poster together with Paula Gaetan for Rocha but at the same time he was the musical director for the movie and also appears as an actor in it.
Enjoy a Tropicália mix from Manuel Raeder and Mariana Castillo Deball: