VIDEOBRASIL 40 | 8th Videobrasil
In a changing world, Videobrasil assumes a definitive stance as an international exhibition
A few months after winning a close election against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the political outsider Fernando Collor de Mello took office as President of the Republic in March 1990 — the result of the first democratic elections held in Brazil after the civil-military dictatorship. In the global context, the fall of the Berlin Wall in the previous year heralded the end of the Cold War, which would be crystalized with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The so-called “victory of capitalism” would not bring with it either peace — see the wars that broke out in Iraq and Rwanda, or the escalation of conflicts in Colombia — nor the reduction of poverty and inequalities, but it would mark the beginning of a new period in the world’s history. It is in this context that, from November 9 through 15, 1990, at the Museu da Imagem e do Som (MIS), the 8th Fotoptica International Video Festival* was held, including foreign films in its competitive show for the first time.
“There is no other way out for Videobrasil but to go international,” Solange Farkas told the press. And not just because of the desire to present international production to Brazilians, but because of the growing possibilities that the exchange between countries generated for national artists, who started to gain space in festivals, exhibitions and residencies in other corners of the world. “With internationalization, the Brazilian videomakers start to prepare their works with an eye on other festivals, not just Videobrasil (VB), also considering the commercial placement of their products,” the event’s artistic director added.
In a world less split between the two poles of the Cold War — socialism and capitalism — another perspective began to take hold, now attentive to a geopolitical division between the North and the South of the globe. On the one hand, rich countries, especially in Europe and North America; on the other hand, poor or developing countries, in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. A more precise concept of Global South, adopted by Videobrasil a few editions later, would still be developed gradually in different fields of knowledge, but it can be said that the festival was a first in debating the subject: “It is an attempt, through video, to try and reflect on the similarities and differences on this planet,” stated Solange.
Thus, in addition to the strong presence of Europeans and North Americans — who had already won parallel exhibitions in previous editions — the festival opened up to countries outside this axis in 1990. Through exhibitions, debates, workshops and exhibitions, the event intended to facilitate the “exchange between the Northern and the Southern Hemisphere,” to question the possibilities and limits of this relationship and, finally, “to give way to filmmakers who normally do not have access to the international circuit.”
More than the increase in the number of parallel exhibitions dedicated to specific countries, the newest addition was the inclusion of foreign artists in the Competitive Exhibition, which for years had put filmmakers from different corners of Brazil face to face. The decision was to only allow submissions of works from the Global South, given that the development of video in countries such as the US, England, France, Germany and Japan had already been established for much longer, with structure and funding. This demarcation avoided unfair competition and put only countries that were on an equal footing with Brazil in dispute. For Solange, “it would be suicidal to simply open the festival to the whole wide world.”
Thus, 32 videos were selected: 17 Brazilians, five Argentineans, four Australians, two Uruguayans, two Chileans and two Mozambicans. The jury, also made up of foreign members, awarded nine works, among which were Poesia é uma imensa paisagem, by João Moreira Salles, a delicate essay in homage to the Carioca poet Ana Cristina Cesar, who committed suicide at the age of 31; Night's High Noon; an Anti-Terrain, by Peter Callas, a collage of animations and computer images on the history of Australia, drawing on themes such as British domination and racial conflicts; and Não vou à África porque tenho plantão, a video art piece by Eder Santos, an artist who became increasingly prominent on Videobrasil.
The tenth prize was awarded by the popular jury, who chose the underground and cheeky aesthetics of 3 Antena, a clandestine broadcaster that submitted the video 3 Antena: Desobstruindo os Canal Tudo!. The piece was a compilation of shows aired by Rio's pirate TV, which used images from regular, broadcast television programming with new sound and subtitles, aimed at criticizing the TV monopoly in Brazil.
In addition to the main program, the parallel shows were the highlight of the eighth edition. Entitled “informative exhibitions,” they were mainly dedicated to Northern Hemisphere countries, but not restricted to that, and whose selection of videos was made by guest curators. From the US, Kathy Rae Huffman chose works from the Contemporary Art Television Fund, created in Boston in 1983 to commission video art in the country. The works shown were by Chip Lord, Doug Hall, Joan Jonas and Laurie Anderson, among other leading names of the global scene.
From Germany came two projects — Time Code and Van Gogh TV. The first was, in fact, an international project, created in 1985 by broadcaster programmers and museum directors in Europe to bring video art and TV closer together. Curated by Carl Ludwing Rettinger, the exhibition on VB showcased the results of the first experience of Time Code, which commissioned works by such names as Robert Cahen, Gustav Hámos and Brenda Miller. Van Gogh TV, on the other hand, was a kind of collective of artists and technicians founded at the Media Art Lab, in Hamburg, and which proposed a “research on the live transmission model, seeking electronic and human interaction.”
Works from France gained great prominence with two exhibitions. The first one, entitled Vídeo de autor and curated by Jean-Marie Duhard, presented important names in video art and their possible dialogue with TV: “New technologies can enrich, transform and regenerate the language and communication of this strange little lens that has become a major window on the world: television,” wrote Duhard. Nearly 50 films were presented, divided into 11 programs, some thematic and others dedicated to names such as Dominik Barbier, Michel Jaffrennou, Marc Caro and Robert Cahen. The second French exhibition was a selection proposed by the curator Pierre Bongiovanni, with works produced at the Centre International de Création Vidéo Montbéliard (CICV).
The English Informative Show was one of the most anticipated, mainly for presenting works by Gorilla Tapes, an independent quartet that helped to coin the term scratch video — which referred to works with a critical and ironic tone, conceived under the influence of the music industry and based on the access to home video cameras. “One of the leading proponents of the British ‘new wave’ was Gorilla Tapes, which carved out a space in the hearts and minds of many, satirizing the authoritarian right with previously unreleased documentary footage,” pointed out the text by the curator Robert Turnock. Also participating in VB in the previous edition, the Dutch Tom van Vliet brought to Brazil a selection of videos participating in the 9th World Wide Video Festival (Amsterdam, 1989), an event that, in a movement similar to that of Videobrasil, had just opened to countries in the Southern Hemisphere.
Poland and Spain, more peripheral in European geopolitics (especially at that time), took part in VB for the first time. From the East, Piotr Krajewski and Sherill Howard Pociecha brought seven Polish works awarded at the WRO 89 Sound Basis Visual Art Festival, generally videos dedicated to music. From Spain, curator Rosa Méndez Zurutuza selected 20 works produced in the 1980s. There was also a small exhibition from Belgium, with three films chosen by Jean-Paul Tréfois and, from Japan, a dozen works were selected by Fujiko Nakaia, director of Video Gallery Scan — a space founded in 1980 as the first distribution center for artists in the Asian country.
From outside the Europe–USA axis, two exhibitions drew attention to works that had been inaccessible in Brazil until then. From Cuba, works created at the Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV de Havana (EICTV) were presented, an original educational space where resident students lived and learned in a broad and multipurpose way. Argentine Hugo Kovensky was responsible for selecting the eight works for EICTV, directed not only by Cubans, but also by Argentines, Colombians, Uruguayans and Peruvians. Curated by Eli Schvadron, Israel presented both politicized videos, which debated the traumas of the Holocaust or conflicts in the Middle East, as well as experimental works in video art.
The presence of so many international curators, directors and producers largely benefited the debates and workshops. Yoichiro Kawaguchi, a participant in the Japanese exhibition, spoke about his computer graphics techniques, which pioneered at the time, while Tim Morrison taught a course on British scratch video. There were also two major conferences that brought together several of the guests to discuss the creation of an alternative market for video and the use of technology in video art; and, finally, to debate the relationship between TV stations and independent producers, not only foreigners were present, but such names as Ricardo Nauenberg, representing Rede Globo, and Roger Karman, from the newly created MTV Brasil.
Looking out also resulted in the invitation for two large installations to be set up at MIS. By the German Marcel Odenbach, As If Memories Could Deceive Me (1986) featured three monitors on pedestals surrounded by black garbage bags. With images and audio reminiscent of German history and culture — from the music of Shumann and Wagner to the rallies of the 3rd Reich and the Nuremberg courts — the artist addressed both the memory and identity of the country and his personal perception of them. The video installation The No Way Buster Project, by Barbier and the Australian Cathy Vogan, was a kind of electronic show charged with apocalyptic symbols and with a strong melancholic content, occupying a large space in the museum with music, images, scenography and symbols.
With all this, the vast press coverage, which filled the pages of the main newspapers and magazines at the time, underscored the breadth of the program and the success of the festival in opening up to the world: “The Fotoptica Video Festival achieved the most difficult thing: to harmonize the exhibition of videos produced in the rich first world, through the Informative Exhibition, with more equitable competition between producers from the Third World.” But the text also said that the audience — "mostly actors, directors, publicists and musicians, many with their families" — had been smaller than in the previous year: “The event did not reach the initial goal of bringing to MIS a number of ten thousand people in the seven days of event.”
With a more specific look at the independent documentary production, VB also organized a parallel exhibition with 16 works that pointed to the strengthening of this genre in Brazil. With different styles and languages, they revealed “the competence, humor and creativity with which the social, political and cultural issues of Brazilian daily life are met with,” according to the catalogue. Directed by Eduardo Coutinho, it was screened in the exhibition O jogo da dívida, about the Latin American external debt; by Goffredo Telles Neto, Narrante enters the life of writer Lygia Fagundes Telles; by Rita Moreira, Dias de euforia showed the days leading up to the dispute between Collor and Lula; and by Sergio Roizenblit and Paulo von Poser, Outras panorâmicas featured an exercise with architecture students to discuss forms of urban intervention.
Two other Brazilian artists who were already regulars at Videobrasil gained prominence at the festival, with video installations set up in the MIS exhibition spaces. Sandra Kogut, who received an award at the Competitive Exhibition for her video What do you think people think Brazil is?, created Videocabines são caixas pretas, a work that presented the result of footage captured in public spaces in Rio.
In booths spread across the city, anyone could enter and record a 30-second statement or action. “In that pre-internet time, the idea that individuals who don't know each other would make intimate contact through electronic paraphernalia was strange, rare, controversial,” explained Kogut. Tadeu Jungle presented spSPsp2, a video sculpture inspired by the work of Oswald de Andrade and by Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto. In it, televisions reproduced images of the city of São Paulo, representing culture, technology and speed, while dozens of cacti were scattered across the room representing nature, resulting “in an industrial totem that targets and is targeted by the photosynthetic power of plants,” according to Jungle.
For the third year in a row, the Videojornal offered a daily register of the behind-the-scenes of the festival. With a casual journalistic language, these were videos ranging from five to eight minutes each, a kind of making of Videobrasil filmed, edited and presented at the MIS during the event. Directed in 1988 by Hugo Prata and the following year by Pedro Vieira, the eighth edition of Videojornal was led by Roberto Berliner and Marina Abs.
The conclusion of Solange Farkas's text for the catalog seems enlightening, not only in terms of the political-economic context that Brazil was going through, but also because it offered clues of what would come ahead in VB’s trajectory: “Economic difficulties imposed limitations to the execution of the festival, keeping us from putting into practice everything we intended,” pondered the director, especially about the impossibility of covering all travel expenses so that all the filmmakers could come to São Paulo. “But it is still gratifying to be able to carry out this Festival at such a critical moment, even more so in its first international version. (...) May this be the first stage of a prosperous exchange between North and South. After all, now the door has already been opened.”
By Marcos Grinspum Ferraz
*the title used to name the main exhibition organized by Videobrasil, now called Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil, has undergone adjustments over the years. The changes were based on the organizers' perception of the features of each edition, especially in regards to its format; duration; frequency; partnerships with other companies and institutions; and the expansion of the artistic languages showcased. The main adjustments to the titles of the exhibitions were: inserting the name of the partner company Fotoptica between the 2nd (1984) and 8th (1990) editions; including the word “international” between the 8th and 17th (2011) editions, from the moment the event starts to receive foreign artists and works intensively; using the term “electronic art” between the 10th (1994) and 16th (2007) editions, when the organizers realize that referring only to video did not account for all the works presented; including the name of Sesc, the show's main partner in the last three decades, from the 16th edition onwards; and replacing “electronic art” with “contemporary art” between the 17th and 21st (2019) editions, as the focus expands to varied artistic languages. The most recent change took place in 2019, in the 21st edition, when the name “festival” was replaced with “biennial,” a term more appropriate to an event that was already being held biannually and with an exhibition duration of months, not weeks.
Images: Videobrasil Historical Collection
1. Poster of the eighth Videobrasil, by Kiko Farkas.
1. "Poesia é uma imensa paisagem", by João Moreira Salles.
2. Solange Farkas and Kathy Rae Huffman.
3. "As If Memories Could Deceive Me", de Marcel Odenbach.
4. Night's High Noon; an Anti-Terrain, de Peter Callas.
5. Tom van Vliet.
6. Cathy Vogan and Dominik Barbier.
7. 3D digital animation by Yoichiro Kawaguchi.
8. Tim Morrison.
9. Rod Stoneman.
1. "The No Way Buster Project", " by Dominik Barbier and Cathy Vogan.
2. Videobrasil staff.
3. "3 Antena: Desobstruindo os Canal Tudo!", by 3 Antena.
4. "La tirolesa", by Gonzalo Pampin and Marcelo Iaccarino.
5. Sandra Kogut.
6. "spSPsp2", by Tadeu Jungle.
7. Videojornal poster.
8. "Não vou à África porque tenho plantão", a video art by Eder Santos.
9. "What do you think people think Brazil is?", by Sandra Kogut.