As PLAYA’s Residency Manager Chelsea Peil puts it so well, “The Brazilians stole our hearts.” From the moment they arrived with brilliant smiles, through the turning of compost in the garden and planting of potatoes, to the way they shared so much of themselves, Manuela Santos and Otávio Zani helped keep the soul of PLAYA alive during their two weeks here.

Manuela and Otávio live in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Manuela is working on an MSc in Applied Ecology, studying food activism and local food systems, and researching the impact of how and what we eat on the environment and the society. Manu also manages a project called Bota na Mesa (which loosely translates to “put food on the table”), with the goal of helping smallholder farmers access markets. You can watch videos about her work (with English subtitles) on YouTube. Manu routinely visits farmers around Sao Paulo, helps them plan production, teaches them management practices, and promotes farmers’ markets, among other tasks. Besides that, her father is the fourth generation of coffee producers in her family, so agriculture has long been part of her life. She also has a great interest in literature and has written poems and short novels, some of them selected by Brazilian magazines and contests.

Otávio is a self-taught artist, intimate with graphic language through his visual work. “The relationship between engraving, monotype, and drawing is the place from which I develop an effective investigation of memory,” Otávio says.

He was part of the collective Ateliê Espaço Coringa from 2003 to 2008 and Casa de Tijolo between 2011 and 2012. He’s participated in exhibitions in Brazil and abroad, such as the exhibition Superposer, at the Atelier Press Papier (Canada), during an artistic residency, and Travesía, in Havana, at Casa Simon Bolivar, in 2010. With a degree in Social Sciences from the Universidade de Sao Paulo, and with experience in artistic-pedagogical projects, Otávio has taken part in the educational coordination team of the 30th São Paulo Biennial and taught at the Tomie Ohtake Institute and SESC. Currently, he produces work in Ateliê Fidalga and teaches Visual Arts at the Fabricas de Cultura Project.

At PLAYA we encourage dialogue between science and art. In Cabin 5 the week Manuela and Otávio were here, that conversation had to be going on every day. From Manuela’s deep thinking about agriculture and environment, to Otávio’s carving “the nature” into his bold woodcut, these two international residents embraced the landscape and the people here with equal enthusiasm. We look forward to seeing their work evolve!

1. What led you to PLAYA?

Both: We wanted to have a foreign experience together, so we started looking on the Internet for organizations that fit both our works, visual arts and natural sciences. It’s not very common to see those two things together. We were lucky to find PLAYA when we did a Google search with the words “ecology+art+residency.” 

Otávio: I was looking to develop my research in visual arts (with a central subject being the memory), through graphic process, especially woodcut. The type of material I use includes wood, sumie-ink, and grafite (all of them natural). These materials are important for capturing unique information, whose characteristics combine to give the same value to process as to final results. Because of this value, I was very interested in researching the relationship between landscape and how it transforms relationships with memory. PLAYA looked perfect for deepening this specific research. 

Manuela: I’ve just started a masters’ program in ecology and was not finding the time and solitude to do the required reading and writing. PLAYA looked like a great opportunity for me to dive into my work.   

2. Did you come to work on a specific project?

Otávio: No, I didn’t. For me it’s fundamental, first, to know the place, the landscape, and the people who live there and later think what I will do there.

Manuela: Yes, I did. I had a paper to write on how modern science draws a line between nature and culture (humankind), making it seem that we control nature. How that paradigm affects modern agriculture and its impact on the environment (climate change, loss of biodiversity) is a big part of my work.

Otavio captured an engaging part of the view. Photograph 2018 Rebecca Lawton.

Habitat boxes outside Manu and Otavio’s cabin. Photograph 2018 Rebecca Lawton.

3. How do you think the land and waterscapes here affected your work?

Otavio: It made me think a lot about the people that have already lived there. For example, why they decided to live in this place, where the natural conditions aren’t favorable. And watching the movement of the landscape, which changed every day, watching the daily fight between life and death, I decided that these things offered me the most amazing learning I could find for my work.

Manuela: The silence, the landscape, the people . . . everything was so inspiring. And being away from daily routine integrated me with what I was reading and writing in a way that I had never experienced. 

4. Describe a typical day at PLAYA


(a) wake up 

(b) break fast

(c) walk on the playa/in the mountains

(d) take pictures of the landscape

(e) watch the nature (A LOT!!!!!)

(f) watch and be amazed by the sunset moment

(g) have dinner, watching the stars in the sky

(h) read books

(i) sleep

Otávio: from the second week, work a lot at the studio; Manuela: write a lot

5. What were some highlights for you?


   (a) knowing the amazing people who were there!

   (b) exchanging knowledge with them

   (c) watching the landscape and the animals every day

   (d) going to the the open studio nights

Manuela: When I got to PLAYA, I looked at the view from our cabin, that magic lake, and I felt helpless. It was as if I couldn’t afford that dimension. After a few days, I was captured in a way by the view, I just couldn’t stop looking at it. I felt like I had been integrated into the landscape, and that first feeling gave way to a very comforting sense of belonging. 

Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.