Casa da Xiclet
Xiclet is a loud woman. Her presence is immediately known by her cackle. Cackle, yes, but Xiclet is no witch - maybe a fusion of a witch and a merrymaker because anyone who meets her is decidedly spellbound.
I came to know of Casa da Xiclet through the Lonely Planet Brazil book my parents insisted I take with me. I was reluctant at first to travel with the 3 inch book/brick. But, upon opening its first pages on São Paulo which it describes as “... a monster. Enormous, intimidating and at first glance at least, no great beauty” (okay harsh), I found the words rang so absolutely true (at the time anyway). So, I let the book do it's thing - guide me. Weeks later, looking for galleries and art spaces worth a Lonely Planet shout out, I fell upon Casa da Xiclet described as a “ramshackle house on the edge of the neighborhood.” My curiosity was perked.
After reading André Stutzman’s most-helpful introductory essay available on Casa da Xiclet’s website, I sent Xiclet a Google-translated email explaining my research and interests. In turn, I was rewarded with an invitation to an Arabian-themed luncheon featuring baba ganoush and Xiclet’s own lime mousse; in other words, a date with the grand dame herself.
Casa da Xiclet is a ramshackle - a jumble of artist residency, gallery, and also the private home of Xiclet. Although it seems her only “private” space is a tiny bedroom which, too, she leaves unlocked. Xiclet is mighty trusting.
Xiclet is Portuguese for the popular chewing gum squares some of us know as Chiclets. It's an association that makes me smile as I fondly recall my childhood summers spent at my Grandfather’s home in Vijayawada, India. Skipping all of two steps to the candy store next to our house, my cousins and I would make our daily pilgrimage to *sample* exorbitant amounts of soda, chocolate, chips and candy. Egged on by the trusty generosity of our candyman, we fueled our sugary hearts with all sorts of exciting new Indian treats, including Chiclets. I laugh now because a couple years later my Aunt burst our candyland bubble when she revealed to us that that very candyman billed my grandfather a tidy fortune at the end of our holiday visits...
For me, Xiclet is a memory that is both endearing and sweet. Equally endearing is this new association between person and gum. “Xiclet” at first seems like just another pretty name but it is more nuanced than that. Flexible, sweet, sticky- it's a name that connotes plasticity, ‘flexible to interpretation,’ just like Xiclet herself.
Entering Casa da Xiclet for the first time, I go down a small steep staircase that leads unexpectedly to a small little courtyard, the level at which the house mainly sits. A hip young lady, sitting casually on a peeling leather office chair perched in the middle of the courtyard greenery, hands us each a ticket with our names. Behind us in a garage-like area, grouped in a circle of dirty couches and wooden stools, Xiclet, her friend Marcela Thomé, Pajé, and another unnamed man, were getting high.
As she passed the joint around, intermittently quenching her parched throat with beer, she would break out in that distinct cackle. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated. They are all artists, but the older kind. Bohemian in every sense of the word; effortlessly cool, comfortable in their skin, and extremely social.
Seeing them like this in their element, I reflect on how the image of the artist has changed (or, one would argue, expanded, fractalized). Maybe I think this because of my interaction with LA art people- how they are more refined, overly stylized and clean (from their hair to their neon socks). LA art people curate their appearance. Not this group. Xiclet, an extremely skinny woman, wore an all jean outfit. So vintage.
There are a number of factors that make Casa da Xiclet a precious gem. Xiclet is the first to do things. Stubborn, fierce, independent, and with an unapologetically unfiltered mouth to add, her ideas are original and tongue-in-cheek. So much so, galleries can’t keep up with her.
In 1977 she dropped out of her Fine Arts degree path and moved to Sao Paulo to enter the gallery world. Saying that the gallery world ethos did not suit Xiclet is an understatement. Motivated by the need for exhibition spaces without tall fees and a pretentious environment, Xiclet created an exhibition "Eu Quero Ser Nelson Leirner ( I Want Leirner)” in 2002, referring to one of idols, artist Nelson Leirner. In an Interview with RACA Brasil, she states, “Leirner was always my master, because he is one of the artists [who] most asked questions [about] the circuit of the arts and society. He makes social art with humor.” His work, like Xiclet’s, critiques art institutionalization. Keeping with Leirner’s philosophies, Xiclet's motto, her mantra, for the space derives from Brazilian philosopher Marilena Chaui who once said, "Todo artista tem o direito de expor soa obra (Every artist has the right to expose his work).” Artist, without network, without education, without status, without quantifiable value, or institution, should show their work. So, Xiclet lets anyone exhibit their work with no curation or judgement. As long as the artist takes care of the installation and publicity, and contributes something or another to the House, any artist can be a part of Casa da Xiclet.
Xiclet refuses to call what she does “underground” - it’s too overused of a word, too mainstream. Instead she prefers “playground” where no autonomy exists, everything is equally accessible, and anyone can participate. Although the house’s foundation is anti-institutional in every essence, her motivations and inspirations are deeply rooted in an academic philosophy to build relationships through creative practice. The space reminds me of all the readings, for and against, “relational aesthetics” but I won’t go there. The house has functioned as it is for 15 years, just a little after the term was first created. Prioritizing relationships over production, Xiclet is a trailblazer well ahead of her time. An emblem of all organic and chaotic, devoid of themes, definitions and most definitely theory- Xiclet and her Casa are what they are.