Cambalache (Junkshop)

Twentieth century: feverish and problematic Junkshop
Those who don’t squeak get no grease,
Those who don’t steal are fools...
— Tango, Music and Lyrics by Enrique Santos Discépolo, Buenos Aires, 1934

On the road to Chapada dos Guimarães I stumbled upon a place that has left me perplexed. Even the memory of it makes my head spin. From the outside I couldn't tell what it was. There were not solid walls; instead the building was enclosed by thin stripes of wood placed in a grid. It was obviously some kind of store or repair shop because it accepted credit cards. There was a large hand painted sign that hung upside down, but I could not decipher it.

I went inside and found the owner seating on a stool drinking mate cimarrón(1) . He did not stand up but asked me to seat next to him. He was a bearded, introspective man approaching his mid sixties. He introduced himself as André and showed me a book on nuclear reactors he had on a table. I noticed inserts and scribbling on the margins of the book. Scanning the surroundings I could identify many objects: pliers, supermarket cart, chemicals, brooms, car parts, bird cage, water bottles, magazines, bed frame, stacks of burlap bags, pipes, chickens, metal sink, windows, gates, dishes, clothes, toys, but what I could not decipher was under which criteria had all those things ended up in there. Dust accumulated over time had given a uniform reddish patina to all those diverse objects. I imagined André stranded inside the belly of the whale.

André asked me what I was looking for. I said I was just passing by and would like to photograph his place. He agreed and asked me if I wanted to play chess afterwards. I kindly declined and went to look around.

The first law of thermodynamics declares that the energy of the universe is constant; the second, that this energy tends towards isolation and disorder, though its total quantity does not decrease. This gradual disintegration of the forces that make up the universe is entropy. Once maximum entropy is reached, once different temperatures have been equalized, once any action of one body on another has been neutralized (or compensated for), the world will be a random assemblage of atoms(2).

An area of the store resembled Jean Tinguely's welding studio. If Tinguely's art satirized the mindless overproduction of material goods in industrial society, this junkshop went a step further to state the impossibility of a postindustrial redemption. All of those things held together were their own new reality, a collective conglomerate of matter entrenched in processes of decay, a geological transmutation that could not be reversed, much less reorganize.

I found a large, roofless building where pipes, water tanks and an abandoned car laid scattered amongst overgrown tropical vegetation. On the side of this building I saw what it seemed like the arsenal of Dada and Surrealism: an array of readymades arranged with striking poetic precision. As I prepared to photograph this exquisite assemblage a rooster came into the scene. I tried to chase the bird away but he would not leave. Instead, the rooster looked at me in the eye and walked inside the frame, posing for the camera. This chance encounter made me think the animal wanted to deliver a message, something I could not refuse.

As I photographed the rooster I entertained the notion that this physical realm epitomizes the collapse of our materialist system of values, the black hole of consumerism. The unintended aesthetics of these ruins is all we have left. This place had the physical pull of a vortex; a site where the spatial and geological coordinates of the planet had become disjointed, where time warps and other worlds break through the surface of reality, unleashing the symbolic power of otherness and of the unconscious.

André was playing chess by himself and told me that the rooster had been the champion in a big cockfight tournament. Someone gave it to him after it could not fight anymore. He had decided not to cook it because it would be too hard to chew. All the rooster does now is sing in the morning and spend the day wandering around, chasing after the hens.