Porto Alegre, Brazil – Brazilians got a chance to voice their opinions directly to U.S. president Barack Obama and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez this past fall in Porto Alegre, Brazil, when the world leaders gave visitors free paddleboat rides across the lake in the city’s central park.
Actually, the presidents were played by actors (who look incredibly similar to the presidents), but the rest was real: Every Sunday between September 11 and October 8 last year, the “presidents” gave visitors rides in a paddle-style boat shaped like a giant swan. Visitors were able to voice their opinions to and about the world leaders during the ride, and then in the afternoon the presidents gave speeches based directly on the opinions they’d gathered.
The Speech of Swans, part of the Mercosul Biennial, was the work of U.S.-based artists Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski, who also collaborated on The Waffle Shop and Conflict Kitchen in Pitts-burgh. In writing about the piece, Rubin noted that “both inside and outside their countries, Chavez and Obama…function as uncanny screens onto which all sides of the political spectrum project their fears and ideals.” So by having them speak the third-person public percep-tions about themselves in the first person, Rubin highlighted the diverse perceptions people have of these powerful men and how they embody so many different things for different people.