Marie Schröer on "Once upon a time in Salvador" Brazilian Headhunting
‘Once upon a time in Salvador’ is written in curved black letters on a white background. The outlined font is the first element typical of the comic-book style with which observers – as is common in comic books – are invited to the story and informed about the setting. The center of the picture shows a blue sky and palms filmed from a frog’s-eye view. The off-text addition at the bottom right of the picture fits in with the palms: ‘Where the sun is always shining and the people are kind,’ are the heartening words in text block number two.
Once upon a time in Salvador... The street comic by Gunther Schumann starts like a fairy tale. A summer tale, given the backdrop. Let me reveal at the start that this piece of work has turned out to be fabulous, not least because of the fairy-tale-like characteristics. But what exactly are we dealing with here? ‘As is common in comic books’ is the second sentence in this review. In this case, as is common in comic books, does not in any way imply that this is a common comic book. The rather sober title – Street Comic – is one of Schumann’s word creations: the composition ‘street-comic’ combines street art and comic art, but should really be expanded to include another couple of components. Streetcomic Brasilien is namely a hybrid, a street plus comic art video installation, a cheerful cabinet of curiosities. Moving images involving photographs, graffiti, and other street-art techniques (stickers and cut-outs), redesigned bollards, two- and (almost) three-dimensional paper figures, texts for reading, texts for listening – all to be marvelled at. The whole thing is held together by a catchy sound that lies somewhere between reggae, hip-hop, and funk, or perhaps somewhere completely different. What is true of the medium, genre, or accent of the speaker is also true of the music. The accent of the speaker is commented on in a self-deprecating manner at the end of the video and can stand pars pro toto for the characteristically wild mixture of the street comic: ‘I want to thank you very much for watching. And also, what is this with this strange accent? Is it supposed to be Mexican, Indian or Italian? I don’t know.’
The content of the story is pleasantly absurd: after the palm-adorned overture, we see stickers covering large sections of Brazil’s walls. Typical street art, in other words, shown by a young man in black and white with caricatured features. He is squatting between empty bottles, a porno magazine, a standard lamp, and a cuckoo clock, and is racking his brains. The consequence of thinking too much: he loses his head. This is the start of a wild trip in both the literal as well as a figurative sense of the word. In search of the lost head, the headhunter wanders through the lanes and alleys of Salvador. On the way, a caterpillar administers D 2.5 pills (‘they make you almost 3D but not quite’) – the following scenes are appropriately psychedelic. Instead of the head, there is a technical device called ‘new hobo-mini’ with which the headless protagonist can at least see again. The search continues.
The street comic fascinates for two reasons. Firstly, it indulges a pronounced playful instinct that allows limitations of medium and genre to be overcome with ease. Why not tell an entire story using street art? Why not tie a firm knot between street art and comic art? Why not make the city into a comic book, use its spaces as panels, allow the chance to play some role in decision-making? Why not use paper and stone, streets, grilles, windows to support stories? Because Schumann’s approach is so free of all constraints, he challenges existing definitions. Comic art also works beyond paper – this becomes clear. En passant – in the truest sense of the word – the street comic shows us not only how productive the marriage between street art and comic art can be, but also – and very vividly – it shows us impressions of Salvador. The anarchic element of drifting along ensures that we don’t just see the famous post-colonial architecture and postcard settings in the background, but also daily life or tiny details that become art when seen through Schumann’s lens: Market goods, tourists who block the sea, sink traps, phone booths, hydrants, pipes, tiles.
In an interview, Schumann says that street art (also in combination with comic art) is the method he uses to explore places. He always has a sketchbook with him because drawing helps block out other attractions, but ultimately, he needs space. He does not like to sit in front of small sheets. He has set aside the 2- and 2.5-dimensional paper figures. Schumann can well imagine having the headhunter climb other flights of stairs and discover new trapdoors. In the end, the head is not yet found; headhunting to be continued. The figures find space in a single suitcase; the remaining accessories are supplied by the city. New places, new elements of a city that become the protagonists of a work-in-progress: If the street comic were to go into production, that would again be 'typical of a comic’, but with an untypical comic book. We look forward to it.