The Phantom Matrix (Old Structures, New Glories)

2016
Sugarcane wood mill* (150 years old), electrical motor and components.
Variable dimensions.

02.04.2026 – 23.04.2016 – Mill exhibited in its initial state.
28.04.2016 – 10.06.2016 – Dismantled mill with its pieces cataloged and rearranged.
11.06.2016 – 25.06.2016 – Pieces removed from the space. Audio installation with the sounds of processes connected to that engine.

This project is based on a historical and geographical research about the region where Leme gallery is located, the district of Butantã in São Paulo. While delving into the colonial past of the site the artist notes that, in the seventeenth century, São Paulo’s first sugar cane mill was created there (in what was then called Ubatatá farm), a device used to grind sugarcane, which was moved by human or animal traction.

For his installation, Beto Shwafaty takes hold of an original wooden sugar mill, using it to structure the entire project, both materially and conceptually. With this piece the artist occupies the gallery’s courtyard and engenders an installation that is transformed in successive moments.

This specific type of relationship between power and land ownership precedes what would be the structuring model of the Brazilian territory over the past 200 years. Which, still today, is expressed by a late urbanization loaded with many disorders arising from a patriarchal and patrimonial society whose political, economic and social powers are concentrated in the hands of a minor elite.

By bringing this type of colonial engine back to the neighbourhood where it first appeared, the artist voluntarily creates a collision between two different historical epochs. And what could be just regarded as an operation of rescuing an historical fact of the city, becomes a process of displacement, dematerialization and disappearance. This colonial piece, a proto-industrial device, becomes an artefact, so as to vanish during the exhibition, evoking the same erasure and disappearance processes that permeate the spatial development of cities as well as the very history of urbanism, as also the economies and cultures that inform it. With these successive actions, Beto Shwafaty ponders upon the notion of “heritage” that occurs in parallel to the imminent obliteration of certain historical buildings, cultures, information and societies. The work provides, in the end, a space for reflection that makes possible to question whether the modernization project in Brazil effectively meant a rupture with its colonial past, or if, in fact, it is just the continuity of a colonizing process, with a repressed logic that still persists in many contexts.

*Engine moved by animal or human traction and designed to grind sugarcane

Exhibited at:
Situ Project, Leme Gallery, São Paulo 2016 (curated by Bruno de Almeida).