For many years in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba people would see strange, curious signs spread throughout the city; in lampposts, walls, fences. The signs are simple inscriptions written on a white board with capitalized letters usually in blue or black. The messages are describing positive attributes of Brazilian or international celebrities in very superlative terms. They would just show up one day, one at a time and were soon everywhere. Some blogs named the signs hyperbolically as “one of humanities’ biggest mysteries”.
When social media became popular, the signs were spread in the form of pictures mainly locally, but soon reaching the rest of Brazil. People thought they were very random, funny and intriguing. Nobody could understand the point of the signs; its randomness being probably the most alluring thing about them as well as the mystery behind who had been producing them all those years.
In November 2012 a tumblr called “Poderosíssima e Trilionária” (roughly translating “extremely powerful and trillionaire” in reference to the hyperbolic language of the signs) was launched posting pictures of the mysterious signs. Some of these pictures have people posing with them as the one below.
The author of the signs was finally discovered in August 2013 by a blogger who interviewed him. He turned out to be an unemployed 60 year old man named Sergio Ruiz. Sergio avoided revealing himself because his mother thought the signs he produced were embarrassing. He has been doing his art anonymously and distributed it around the city for almost 20 years, according to him.
Sergio told the interviewer he loved mass media; an avid magazine and newspaper reader and television watcher, he is also fan of comic books. However, Sergio does not use the internet. When asked why he did the signs, he said shyly: “Well… simply for fun. I am a little exaggerated”. He claimed he did not mind people stealing his signs, as often would happen. The city’s administration removal of his signs and the copycats were the ones who upset him. His signs, he would claim, were only in a white background with blue or black letters; any other color was a copycat.
I find the case of the Curitiba signs a very interesting case of media and the shaping of reality. Sergio decorated the city with his humorous signs transforming the world around him with his messages. He modified the urban scenario, even if unwillingly, by spreading his mysterious art, making it part of the city and its everyday life. Sergio, a man who does not use the internet, was spreading palpable tweets about celebrities throughout the streets of Curitiba before Twitter even existed.
Discussing this case with Tiiu Särkijärvi, we noticed that Sergio and his signs had social media-like features; they were spread, copied and reproduced. These were done first on the city environment and later also inside the internet by his fans. Media lover Sergio became a full part of the contemporary social media outlets.
One of Sergio’s signs in a lamppost:
Information was taken from the blogs below. They are, sadly, all in Portuguese only.