• Feira Da Glória
  • Museu Do Açude
  • Tijuca Forest
  • Vista Chinesa
  • Cachoeira Do Horto
    & Mata Do Pai Ricardo
  • Jardim Botânico
  • Jarbô Café
  • Sunset At Arpoador

Daniel moved to Brazil from Catalonia fifteen years ago. I think he was tempted by the rainforest and wanted to follow in the steps of artists Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, whose works he had encountered as a student in Barcelona. I suppose he was looking for an idea of Brazil that had been formed through expectations and received ideas and that then mutated into a palpable experience. After a few years living between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Daniel settled in the former. He adopted the city and it adopted him back, and his work is the most eloquent testimony of this mutualism.

It is early December and I have come to Brazil in preparation for a show at Pivô in São Paulo, a city which, despite its massive size, always seems easier to navigate compared to Rio. I am visiting Rio for a couple of days. The city offers me the familiarity of almost every Latin American city I have visited, but with an added sense of alienation: it is generous, but elusive. It is impossible not feel belittled by the hopelessly luscious landscape: a tortuous up-and-down, in-and-out of mountains. Unlike other cities founded by European colonizers in Latin America, a grid system was out of the question here. Rio’s intricate urban morphology is paralleled by social disparities that bring about similarly stark contrasts, both in urban planning and unplanning, and in how pleasant or stressful a place it can turn out to be.

I walk down from Santa Teresa, the neighborhood where Daniel’s studio is, to meet him at the Feira da Glória. We have tapioca pancakes and orange juice for breakfast. As we walk along the street market, I can smell something that reminds me of tierra caliente in Colombia, and the promise of tropical fruits concentrated in the nostrils that so vividly represented holidays in warmer weathers as I was growing up in cold, damp Bogotá. This strongly influenced the idea of the tropical climate that formed in my head. More than the sight of palm trees, bananas or pineapples, it was the smell of fresh produce and the thicker grass in contact with my bare feet that made an impression on me—things I could not see, but could smell or touch.

Rio almost seems like an impossible place, a city founded in an exact orography where so many life forms coexist. This makes complete sense with Daniel’s work and how it creates milieus, how it seeks to be part of many forms of life, and how it produces images and realities to be planted in the oddest of all places, the white cube of the exhibition space.

Rio’s natural history cannot be extirpated from its colonial past, and vice versa. The European ruling class profited from the exploitation of enslaved laborers and destroyed most of the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest). In Rio, the forest was replanted by the last Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, and it constantly penetrates the urban sprawl. On the way up to the Museu do Açude, we pass by Oscar Niemeyer’s 1951 Casa das Canoas, standing alone in what seems to be the middle of nowhere. Daniel reminds me that we are actually in the middle of the city.

Around the Museu do Açude there are different sculptural interventions in the forest. Hélio Oiticica’s Magic Square No 5—De Luxe (Penetrável) (1978/2000) stands in a clearing. It is not in mint condition, which I appreciate. Its walls are covered with dirt and I fantasize about the forest devouring the sculpture’s geometry. A spider weaves a massive web and Daniel photographs it despite his fear of these species. He confesses that he manages to cope with images of arachnids after daring to touch them in a book as a kid. I guess image-making as well as image-touching are forms of dealing with fear, and the engulfing otherness around you. A colony of ants is at work, transporting bits of a tree that is shedding pink flowers and encountering Oiticica’s pink wall as if in complete chromatic agreement.

We see a family of Tamanduá Palito, including a little baby of this species of ant-eating raccoon, passing by a sculpture by Piotr Uklański. I mention a passage in Eduardo Kohn’s 2013 book How Forests Think about how anteaters have evolved to shape their snout in the form of ant colonies in a semiosis of forms. Daniel remembers Kohn’s foray on phasmids—stick insects—and tells me of his first encounter with one of them in the empty swimming pool of the former fazenda (colonial-era plantation) where we are. In an experience that led to Daniel’s beautiful film Phasmides (2013), a wooden stick appeared to walk away, as if animated by some uncanny force against the geometry of the pool.

We then saunter up along a road for about fifteen minutes until we reach an entrance to the Tijuca National Park. Daniel knows his way around this thick forest, and he leads me to the ruins of a house of the fazenda Casa do Almeida, around which two big trees have witnessed an intense history of transformation for over six hundred years. We recognize what would once have been a building, now entropically ingested by this apparently vigorous yet fragile ecosystem. Here a sense of collapse of our preconceived ideas about nature and culture seemed unmistakable. It was at this location that Daniel shot Spiral Forest (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) (2013–2015) and made the 3D scanning for his virtual reality work Phantom (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) (2015).

We walk back down until we get enough cell-phone signal to call a ride to take us to some cascades, the Cachoeiras do Horto, where we plan to take a swim. In the distance the range of mountains that disappears with progressively lighter hues makes me think that these are probably very young massifs, full of knots and bends, contorting and jumping into the sea. We continue our descent until we come across a temporary wall blocking our way, preventing us continuing even by foot. The road has been closed due to landslides, so no cascades. We are now very hungry and decide to go for a quick late lunch. On the way to the restaurant, Daniel talks about his initial plan of going in the back entrance of the Botanical Garden after walking down the hill. I suddenly feel nostalgia for something I have never seen, but embrace contingency.

We go to Arpoador beach, between Ipanema and Copacabana. I look at the texture of the beach modeled by thousands of steps imprinted one on top of the other on the sand, and think how this is where the meandering physical, social and cultural ways of Rio plainly converge.


My idea is to take a stroll around the natural wonders of the city, its colonial past, imperial Brazil … and end on the beach.

FEIRA DA GLÓRIA In the Feira da Glória (Glória farmers market) there is a great concentration of small local producers where you can find countless seasonal fruits that you cannot get in a supermarket such as saputí, tucumã, camu-camu or muricí. Of course, you also get the most celebrated tapioca in the city. With its roots in indigenous cooking, tapioca is the umpteenth transformation of manioc flour and becomes a pancake on the heat of fire. The Feira da Glória takes place in front of Praça Paris (a French-style garden), an area urbanized by Mestre Valentim. The son of a diamond smuggler and a formerly-enslaved woman, Valentim is also responsible for the urban design of Passeio Público, created in 1779, considered to be the first public park in the world. He was the first person of African descent to receive an architecture degree in Brazil.

MUSEU DO AÇUDE Inaugurated 1964, the Museu do Açude is located in the main house of a former coffee hacienda. Amassed by Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya and later donated to the Brazilian government, the collection gathers important baroque ceramics and tiles as well as Asian pieces. Here you can follow the trade between China and Japan, between Japan and Portugal and from Portugal to Brazil. Furthermore, the gardens have permanent interventions by artists, commissioned by Marcio Doctors. Among them is the first of Hélio Oiticica’s “Magic Square” works to be built (Magic Square No 5—De Luxe (Penetrável) (1978/2000) and Lygia Pape’s house in ruins (New House, 2000). In the 1940s, Castro Maya also managed the Tijuca National Park with a conservationist approach.

TIJUCA FOREST The Tijuca Forest owes its existence to the vision of Pedro II, the second and last monarch of Brazil, in what was perhaps the first ecological-preservation action in history. (Tijuca National Park is fifteen years older than Yellowstone.) In view of the drought threatening to leave Rio de Janeiro waterless, in 1861 he expropriated the coffee plantations covering the neighboring mountains and replanted the forest. It was at Casa do Almeida, an old coffee hacienda, where the reforestation of Tijuca was concentrated. There are two trees that are over six hundred years old who survived most likely because they were part of the garden of the house. This is where I filmed Spiral Forest (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) (2013–15) and did the scanning for Phantom (Kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name) (2015).

VISTA CHINESA Not long after the reforestation of Tijuca National Park, the new forest became a place for leisure and promenade for the Carioca population. The park’s second administrator, Barão d'Escragnolle, hired French landscape gardener Auguste Laziou who introduced Romanticist amenities like nooks, leisure areas, fountains and lakes. The Vista Chinesa (Chinese view) is supposed to be an homage to Chinese immigrants who brought tea farming and consumption to the city.

CACHOEIRA DO HORTO & MATA DO PAI RICARDO Despite being almost completely deforested, a few places of primary rainforest still survive in the Tijuca massif. A small treasure of biodiversity is the Mata do Pai Ricardo, at the feet of Rio’s famous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue. In this small portion of the original jungle, the most striking trees of Rio can be found, as well as countless cascades where you can cool yourself off in the creeks that meander the hillside. My favorite is the Cachoeira do Horto, also known as chuveirinho (little downpour).

JARDIM BOTÂNICO Also founded by Pedro II, the Botanical Garden of Rio gathers some of the natural wonders of the six biomes that form Brazil (Amazônia, Cerrado, Caatinga, Mata Atlântica, Pantanal and Pampa). Among them are the pau mulato trees that change from shimmering silver to dark copper before shedding their bark and turning silver again.

JARBÔ CAFÉ Hidden along a service road of the park, the near the Espaço Tom Jobim, Jarbô Café serves cakes, sandwiches, salads and a bistro-type menu with a tropical touch. I like it because it is an oasis of peace, although it could be cheaper!

SUNSET AT ARPOADOR A proper day in Rio is not complete without gazing at the sunset on the beach. My choice is always Arpoador, where I often bump into other artists and friends.