Gustavo McNair and Ana Elisa Arietti are young explorers of their own city. Living on the 25th floor of a 1950’s building in downtown São Paulo, they try to find the hidden gems of a metropolis that is home to over eleven million people. They talk with excitement about their latest finds: a tiny store that sells Japanese items for reasonable prices and a museum that holds São Paulo’s iconographic archive. Certainly, neither of these places are featured in mainstream guides about the city. They remain to be discovered.
It’s the visual richness of these urban adventures that attracts the pair. Living in downtown São Paulo means they are surrounded by historical buildings and by history itself. Gustavo is the creative director and owner of Kana Films, a film production company that produces mainly digital video content for enterprises and advertising agencies. Ana works as a designer for Vogue Brazil magazine. Their place reflects their personalities as well as the city. Casual, urban and with a breathtaking view of São Paulo, it contains many objects found during their adventures in the city and abroad. Although they have a busy work routine that ends around 9pm each night, we were welcomed on an evening mid week with beer and pistachios to talk about São Paulo, culture and hear some great stories about their lives.
This portrait is part of a series with Vitra. Visit Vitra Magazine to delve deeper into specific design pieces and individual interior concepts.
The first thing that caught my attention is that you live in downtown São Paulo. Many people try to avoid this area due to its lack of security and problems with drug abuse. What attracted you to live here?
Ana: I lived in a worse neighborhood, Santa Cecilia, which I consider to be much more dangerous. People think that it is dangerous to live downtown, but here in São Luís Avenue it is incredible. It has a European charm and on weekends it’s amazing. It’s funny, our parents and grandparents had this memory of this region being very chic and very trendy. It really was like that 60 years ago.
Gustavo: We started looking at more cliché neighborhoods, but I always wanted to live here. We enjoyed the antique style of the city center. The buildings here are much bigger and not overpriced. I have always loved to come here and go to vinyl stores and restaurants. There is a lot going on here and it’s not a taboo to live downtown anymore. People used to tell me to be careful when we moved here one and a half year ago. But nothing has ever happened to me.
What kind of state was the apartment in when you bought it?
Ana: The apartment had already been renovated by the previous owner, who had made a few changes – this is why the living room is so big. It used to be a bedroom, but he tore down the walls and now we have an open concept.
Gustavo, you own a film production company, Kana Filmes. Tell me how it started.
Gustavo: Well, it was an investment, really. I started when I was 22. I struggled for a long time but over the past three years things have been working out just fine. I started to get involved with it when I was in college. I studied advertising at FAAP, but dropped it to study cinema in the same college. During college I met my partners in the company. Our classes were very theoretical. There wasn’t much production or practical work, so we started to do it on our own. We started to make documentaries for Brazilian artists for free. We thought it’d be a good way to start. The artists needed video content, they didn’t have money to pay for it, so we started shooting for them. And this happened at the same time as the social media boom in Brazil, when Facebook, YouTube and other platforms started to become huge. So we started to produce a lot of videos for the internet. Time went by and we started doing advertising video-cases and nowadays we work closely with companies and advertising agencies to produce video content. We don’t do many huge things for TV, however. It’s not our focus.
As a creative director, how do you print your artistic vision in works that are essentially commercial?
Gustavo: Well, that’s the hard part. But we manage to do it, this is our focus. When you work closely with companies, they don’t have an artistic look nor the will to be artistic. They want to be practical. So this is when we try to do things differently and the Internet allows that, since it is a much more open medium than TV, for example. When I’m creating something I always try to suggest something more artistic, with our ideal vision. And then the client will take out a few things, we will add others and so it goes. At the end we manage to be more original when we work directly with the client. With advertising agencies it is a bit harder.
In Kana’s website you say that you have a different relationship with the image. Can you explain it?
Gustavo: It’s because when we started we were more connected to art, to experimental work. Usually film production companies start with someone who has already worked with that before. So it’s just a reproduction of things that have already been done, it’s the same formula. When we started, we had no experience at all, so we came up with our own way to create and produce things. In general, the relationship with the image is not original. Everything is based on clichés. But as in college we had a very theoretical approach to films, it attracted us to do something different. We gathered new references to think in a conceptual way what we were doing.
You always wanted to own a film production company? Or did you think at first to be a film director?
Gustavo: I entered Cinema college without being a cinefile. They say that in college there are cinefiles and cineasts. So, there are the people who really love movies but not necessarily want to become a cineast and there are the people who want to work in the industry but are not necessarily cinefiles. I was the latter. I was not a movie freak, but wanted to work with that. I started to get interested about it when I was studying advertising and the teachers told me that I had the right language to work with images. So that’s what I did. After I graduated I wanted to do movies. So we came up with Kana to do the usual stuff and get money to do movies with it. We still want to do that, it’s our goal.
What are the references that help you in your creative and artistic process?
Gustavo: It really is the old-school of image analysis. From the Frankfurt School to Barthes and film theory. I studied a lot about it and about image construction. Usually univerisites don’t invest on that, but I had this a lot when I was in college and had good teachers who encouraged me. I really like Barthes and his approach to the image. So I try to apply all this knowledge to whatever I do.
Ana, what was the beginning of your professional career like?
Ana: When I was in college I met a girl who was working with an art director who was married to the Brazilian movie director Heitor Dhalia. I became her art assistant and I did a lot of image research, mostly looking for references that could be useful for movies. I loved that. This is how I started working with images. Later on I started working at O2, one of Brazil’s biggest film production companies. I did “À deriva” with Heitor Dhalia and I loved that too. But after a movie ends there is this big gap until the work for the next movie begins and one is never sure if it’s going to actually happen. So I shifted my career and started working for a decoration and interior design magazine, which is a field I really like as well. I became, in short, a magazine designer.
And today you work at Vogue Brazil.
Ana: Yes. I knew nothing about magazine layouts, I learned everything here. It’s amazing.
You seem to be a very visual person.
Ana: Totally. I have a very visual memory. Sometimes I even forget names. I work a lot with aesthetics. I did this a lot when I worked with cinema. I needed image references for film characters so I could think about the character, who the person was, what was his or her personality and then translate all these answers visually.
Gustavo, you have two bands. Tell me a bit about them.
Gustavo: They are both rock bands. In Sheila Cretina I play the guitar and sing and for Cãimbra I only sing. Sheila Cretina is a rock band with lyrics in Portuguese, which is something quite rare in Brazil. It’s fast, frenetic and a bit punk. The lyrics are fun. Cãimbra is more like a metal band. Having a band is like having a company. You have partners, you have to invest time, money and creativity. You work during the day and rehearse at night. There must be a shared dedication.
And how did you two meet?
Ana: I was studying advertising and he was already working with cinema. At the time I was an art intern in an advertising agency that only had beer clients. I hated it! (laughs). Ironically though we met at the college bar one day and started to get to know each other.
Who was more responsible for the apartment’s decoration?
Ana: I used to live in a very girly apartment before. It was very ladylike. When I came here – with all it’s concrete, the city and the amazing view – I tried to interfere less.
Gustavo: Ana managed to use her ability to build scenarios while maintaining a masculine vibe in the apartment.
And what design references do you feel you’ve made?
Ana: Well, everything happened really fast, we didn’t think of anything specifically. We already owned furniture, Gustavo had lots of vinyl records and books. We essentially just brought everything in. We also thought about acquiring iconic pieces that would make the place stand out.
It seems like you really enjoy the city.
Gustavo: Yes. We enjoy living here because everything is so vivid and so alive. There are so many things and places that have survived over the years and we love to find out new things. The other day we discovered this little café that’s been there for 70 years, a tiny little thing.
Ana: We also discovered a museum that’s super close to our home that no one talks about. It’s right next to the Marchioness of Santos house which is a tourist area of São Paulo. It’s an antique, renovated house that became a museum. It’s a place people don’t know about and we were just completely inspired by it. It was practically empty.
Gustavo: It’s sort of an exercise for us to look at things differently and discover new things.
Thank you Gustavo and Ana! It has been a pleasure visiting your place in downtown São Paulo and hearing your story.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who present a special curation of our pictures on their site.
Interview: Isabella Ayub
Photos: Fran Parente