I’m not sure how much I want to walk back in time to start this text. Let’s try this. In my birthplace Porto Alegre there is a park that we call “Redenção”. Its official name is “Parque Farroupilha”, but only official maps and the occasional press from other regions of Brazil call it that way. Running through one of the streets bordering the park, there is a street fair open every Sunday, the “Brique da Redenção”. I remember going there almost every weekend since I was a kid. We would meet friends and relatives while strolling through the park and the Brique, drinking Chimarrão and deciding in which barbecue place we were to have lunch next. There was often music and public demonstrations. The adults would be discussing politics, while we children ran all over the park, jumping in the playgrounds, playing ball and hide-and-seek. While I enjoyed my time playing inside the park, I was even more interested in the Brique.
Entering the Brique from the side of the Bom Fim neighbourhood, José Bonifácio street would (and hopefully still does) first host products made by indigenous Brazilians. I remember learning to spell the name Kaingang, possibly only one of the ethnic groups represented there, from the straw-ornamented bows they sold every Sunday. Next to it, there was a big section - about half the Brique - of stalls selling all sorts of crafts and art objects. Dollhouses, home décor, paintings, jewellery, garment, and the list goes on. Walking further the street, past the Military School, was the other half of the fair - the one with antiques, collectibles, and second-hand products. My interest in that part may have been first triggered when trying to expand the collection of coins and money bills my grandpa gave me. Not that I could afford to buy any valuable pieces, but there were books there with information about their stories, market value, and random trivia. Later as a teen, I would be interested in second-hand records, as well as any sort of used audio equipment, and would also look for weird vintage objects or equipment. Again, things - even second-hand ones - were expensive for us in the late eighties, so I never really bought anything. But I loved going there just to see the diversity of objects that would appear and disappear every week.
My grandpa’s father was called an inventor within the family. It is to a great extent a romantic account, as he never filed a patent or worked as a proper inventor by current industry terms. As far as I remember, he always owned either a bakery or a small grocery, sometimes a restaurant with one of his sons. But what my relatives meant is another thing. Vô Beto created his own recipe of avocado soap. He tinkered with small, situated solutions like one I remember - a sort of pedal or foot-controlled lever one could step into to open a small door to the back yard. All wood, springs and shaped metal, possibly including car parts or other valuables taken from unused things. In the middle of the backyard, there was a mock plane for us kids to play in, assembled also from salvaged scraps.
I am assuming scraps is the English language equivalent to what we call sucata in Brazil. I had an arts teacher in primary school who taught us how to use sucata to make things. I must confess I am not sure which teacher was that. I hope it is not the same who insisted on us copying geometrical forms over and again, but even if it was that one and she would once in a while leave the copying aside and allow us to the more playful meddling with making (I remember she calling it 'recycling', a term I grew fond of since), it was worth it. There was also a very popular soap opera on Brazilian TV in the eighties called 'Rainha da Sucata', something like ' The Queen of Scraps'. It told the story of a woman who owned a junkyard, made a lot of money and started to live among the local elites. I was too young and won' t remember if it was any good or else has the usual problems of Brazilian soap operas. I am sad to recall it was starred by an actress who would be associated with reactionary political elites in Brazil more recently and take part in polarising and fear-inducing campaigning. But that's the actress, not the author and I would be curious to refresh my memories around that story.
Porto Alegre municipality started offering the selective collection of recyclable materials somewhere in the turn to the nineties. It was an unfamiliar idea in the beginning. Without being asked, people were then supposed to keep “trash” inside their houses waiting for the right day to be collected once a week? That was felt as disgusting by some. And citizens were supposed to pay attention to when the white lorry would pass by, ringing a bell that announced its presence, and only then take out the recyclables. Looking from my present self, I realise how much that assumes someone will actually be in their residence when the lorry comes, and how that in Brazil was supposed to be either the mum or the maid. Households were supposed to buy an extra container, preferably with a lid, to keep the recyclables. And to wash packages, fold papers, smash cans, keep glasses safe. Not to mention learning of what exactly should be sent to recycling (the language used then by the municipality, “dry waste”, would sometimes lead to confusion). I have no idea how widespread the collecting was - if mainly centred in middle-class areas, or otherwise really going through all the city territory. In any case, since then I often felt proud of being a Portoalegrense as other main cities in Brazil mostly took decades to start similar experiences, when they even did. Another topic of Portoalegrense pride, by the way, was the documentary Ilha das Flores directed and produced by local movie makers and released in 1989, a stark critique on what would later be called a “linear economy”.
In the first half of the nineties, I spent one year in Rio de Janeiro with my father who had moved there to work. One of my first impressions was arriving to a very hot city in the middle of the summer and feel the smell of waste rotting under the sun. There was a strike of garbage collectors, whose reasons I won't recall. Another memory I have of that year in Rio is of strolling through second-hand shops trying to emulate the same impression I used to find every Sunday in the antique part of Brique in Porto Alegre. I was a beginner guitar player then and would stare at storefronts, wishing I had money to buy recording equipment or decent instruments. The shop owners would take pity on the teenager with greasy hair and punk band t-shirts, and didn't complain of me standing showing up every couple of days without buying anything.
I assume none of these stories is particularly unique. Mostly everyone had ancestors who at some point had to make and repair their own stuff, create from scraps, reinvent solutions with whatever materials they had at hand. Watching windows of second-hand shops and not affording to buy things is a bigger part of urban life than neo-liberal economists care to admit. Even so, those elements are a part of my background and would resurface later on in different projects. Information about the value of second-hand materials, craftsmen and antiquaries making/repairing/repurposing/selling things, the agency of working with scraps, solid waste management in the city. In hindsight, those first memories around waste and scrap did help build my current self and by extension my research interests nowadays. I’d like to acknowledge them before moving on.