VIDEOBRASIL 40 | 11º Videobrasil

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posted on 05/02/2023

Tribute to Nam June Paik, geopolitical expansion and new technologies are highlights of this edition


The father of video art, the Korean-born and U.S.-based Nam June Paik had already appeared, in different ways, in some of the first ten editions of Videobrasil — either with his videos shown at the 1987 and 1992 festivals, as a character in works by other directors, or as a topic on debates and round tables. But it was at the 11th Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival, held from November 12 through 17, 1996 at Sesc Pompeia, that the artist gained the prominence that matched his importance in the field of video, television, communication, and the visual and electronic arts in general. His work, including large-scale installations, set the tone for an edition focused on experimental and technological production, and in dialogue with performance, sound and visual arts.



After years of training and working in the music industry, Paik presented in 1963, in Wuppertal (Germany), his first work directly linked to the field of television, with monitors, sounds, sculptural work and an immersive environment. By the time when the 11th Videobrasil was held, therefore, the artist already carried 33 years of research and production under his belt, without ever ceasing to be an avant-garde reference point. “Paik is not only the founder of video art, he is one of the leading artists in the contemporary scene,” stated Lori Zippay, director of the Electronic Arts Intermix center in New York and curator of two exhibits on the artist at the festival, gathered under the title À Espera do Século 22: Uma Presença Virtual no Videobrasil 96 [Waiting for the 22nd Century: A Virtual Presence at Videobrasil 96].

The first exhibition, entitled The Beatles, McLuhan & The TV Cello, brought together some of Paik's first videos, including the classic Global Groove (1973), a seminal work of video art and a somewhat radical manifesto on global communication in a media- and pop iconography-saturated world. The second, broader program ranged from videos characterized by electronic manipulation and the subversion of television language to recordings of works made by Paik as a tribute to well-known artists and partners who influenced him, such as John Cage, Joseph Beuys and Charlotte Moorman. Alongside Paik, many of them had been part of Fluxus, a multidisciplinary artistic movement with a libertarian and countercultural nature that, among others, stood out for its happenings and performances.

Due to the striking way in which they occupied the exhibition space at Sesc Pompeia, the artist's installations were the highlight of his participation in the festival. Three of them were adapted for Brazil: in TV Buddha (1974), Paik replaced the statue of a Buddha with that of a preto velho (spiritual entity from Umbanda), seated in front of a TV set broadcasting its own image; TV Garden (1974–1978) scattered 30 monitors among bromeliads and other plants from the Brazilian fauna; TV Fish (1979) assembled aquariums with small tropical fish and displayed them alongside TV sets showing fish and airplanes. The fourth installation, TV Moon (1976–1996), was set by Paik in a markedly changed version for Videobrasil. In it, through seven monitors and a video projector, the artist evoked the phases of the moon, with luminous and circular images that moved simultaneously.

The performance entitled Video Opera for Paik, performed by two important collaborators of the artist — the Icelandic Steina Vasulka, co-founder of the electronic theater The Kitchen, and the American Stephan Vitiello — closed the program dedicated to Paik at the festival. At Sesc Pompeia’s theater, in the famous space designed by the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, Vasulka played a violin and, from its sounds, controlled a large screen with images of performances by the Korean artist.

Installations by four other artists were also spread across the exhibition space, amidst the venue's reflecting pools. By the French Michel Jaffrennou, the “electronic opera” Pierre et le loup (based on the classic work by Sergei Prokofiev) mixed 3D virtual sets and real actors, in a video screened alongside the work's storyboards, while the video sculpture Le Plein des Plumes showed part of Jaffrennou's ingenious plastic construction. The Japanese Keiichi Tanaka, owner of a “futuristic” oeuvre, used Geiger counters — radiation level sensors — in his Luminous Cosmic Rays, a sound and light installation that “translated a message from the universe.” Among Brazilians, Inês Cardoso created Daragóy, a blend of installation and performance which, in her own words, was “a whimsical collage of languages in search of the manifestation of love.”

But the big buzz was around the work of Cao Hamburger, who attracted a vast audience of children and teenagers to the 11th Videobrasil and, with that, boosted the record number of visitors — 30,000 people — in the edition. The installation Vídeo Zoo, created in partnership with Carlos Barmak, Vera Barros and Pedro Mendes da Rocha, created a kind of modern Noah's Ark, in which large animal figures with cameras attached to them could be manipulated, generating images transmitted live on video monitors. The work was given center stage by the press at the time: according to the newspaper Jornal da Tarde, in an article entitled “Videobrasil turned Programa Legal [variety TV show broadcast by Globo at the time]”, not even “the adults who took their children could resist the vivid colors and the environment conducive to unleashing one’s imagination.” At the festival, Cao Hamburger would still receive an honorable mention for his video O Menino, a favela e as tampas de panela, filmed in the Paraisópolis neighborhood, in São Paulo.


Performances and new technologies

Following Videobrasil's tradition of presenting and commissioning performances, the 11th edition featured four other works of this type, in addition to the opera for Paik. A revelation at the festival, the 22-year-old Bahian artist Marcondes Dourado surprised with Bardo, a work that mixes theatre, dance, video and sound elements. Based on Antonin Artaud's writings, the performance approaches the French playwright's years of confinement in a psychiatric clinic. In Communion – Le Partage des Peaux II, the Canadian dancer and choreographer Isabelle Choinière led a show in which her movements were amplified, through sensors connected to her body, into digital videos projected in the Sesc theater.

A constant name at the festival, prize winner in previous editions, the Mineiro Eder presented, alongside Paulo dos Santos and the Uakti group, the performance Passagem de Mariana, which mixed music, dance and projections to represent the seven deadly sins. Finally, Augusto de Campos, one of the fathers of concrete poetry, teamed up with video artist Walter Silveira and musician Cid Campos to create the remarkable Poesia é Risco, a performance linked to his “verbivocovisual” production — a term that refers to the word’s semantical, sound and visual dimensions.

Whether in the performances, installations or the selection of Paik's work, what could be noted was the constant technological evolution that advanced by leaps and bounds over the years. But there were some other innovations in the 11th edition that made this evolution even more explicit. In addition to the consolidation of the use of the CD-Rom in the festival's activities — an audiovisual exhibition medium that offered incipient interactive resources — the Internet appears for the first time as an ally of Videobrasil in its informative and participatory mission. On the one hand, it was the first edition with a website, where visitors had access to the schedule and to texts from the catalogue. Furthermore, inside Sesc Pompeia, the Cyberspace (or “electronic café”) was one of the main attractions: on six free-use computers, the public had access to the Internet, with search engines from the time, such as Netscape and Altavista, and could watch a series of videos played on CD-Rom.

Another project linked to new technological possibilities was Photo-in-Progress, led by inventor and photo printer Renato Cury. On a vast panel in the exhibition area, Cury displayed photographs taken at the event, printed digitally almost in real time at a base integrated into the space. The collection was later made available online. Finally, in tune with the new television languages — in times of MTV's success — the sixth edition of Videojornal had a different dynamic compared to previous editions. Coordinated by André Amparo, the casual daily journalistic coverage produced by the festival featured one director each day: Sandra Kogut, Carlos Nader, Marcelo Tas, Inês Cardoso and the Australian John Gilles.  


Geopolitical Expansion

After its internationalization in 1990, with a selection of works mostly from South America and Australia in the following editions, the Southern Hemisphere Competitive Exhibition broadened its scope to the Middle East, selecting videos from 14 countries from different continents. This new approach stemmed from a perception of the fluidity of the concept of Global South, referring more to marginalized territories than to nations necessarily located in the geographic South of the globe. Thus, for the first time, videos from Algeria, Canada, Slovenia, Lebanon, Mexico and New Zealand were included in the main show.

A celebrated presence in the history of Videobrasil as of then — even getting solo video screenings and shows — the Lebanese Akram Zaatari debuted at the festival with Teach me, a video that discusses the iconic value of the image based on scenes of conflicts shown in TV news shows. Another newcomer was the Algerian Malek Bensmaïl, who won honorable mention for his Territoire(s), a confrontation of archival, contemporary and fictional images addressing Algeria's troubled political background. The Argentine duo Carlos Trilnick and Sabrina Farji caught viewers eyes with De Niño, an electronic video poem on childhood, with references to the horror in conflict zones such as Chiapas (Mexico) and Bosnia. From Brazil, one of the most acclaimed pieces was 15 Filhos, by Maria Oliveira and Marta Nehring, a documentary about the violence of the Brazilian civil-military dictatorship (1964–1985), featuring testimonials from sons and daughters of dead or missing political opponents to the regime — including the directors themselves.

The themes of war, violence, poverty and trauma that ran through several of the works seemed to contrast with the predominant discourse in the post-Cold War capitalist world, which promised a more harmonious reality and a globalization with benefits for everyone. In 1996, five years after the end of the USSR, that was not exactly what was seen, especially in poor and developing countries.

Even with the geographic expansion of the exhibition, among the ten awarded by the jury, the first four were Brazilian works — a clear reflection of the consolidation of video production in Brazil. First place went to Ogodô, by Marcondes Dourado (the author of Bardo), a short documentary filmed with transvestites on an Ash Wednesday in Salvador. Second place was awarded to the documentary O fim da viagem, by Carlos Nader, a visual essay on the routine of a truck driver transporting pigs. Nader also presented Trovoada, featuring Waly Salomão (who will be honored at the 22nd Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil). Third place went to Patricia Moran, who, with Adeus, América, mocked the discovery of the New World and the motivations of the colonizers. Finally, the Alliance Française – INA (Institut National de l'Audiovisuel) award, focused on digital production, went to Milenne Tanganelli for her poetic animation Virtual World.

In addition to the main section, the traditional parallel informative exhibitions maintained their role of presenting works from different corners of the world to Brazilian viewers, strengthening conversations between filmmakers and boosting the global market for artists. Two of them focused on South American countries: Olhares do Sul [Visions from the South], a project conceived by Carlos Augusto Calil, presented works by Argentines, Chileans and Brazilians such as Vincent Carelli, Eder Santos, Sandra Kogut and Jorge Macchi; the exhibition of works from the Franco-Latin-American Festival, in turn, brought together around 50 videos from the same three countries, in addition to Colombia.


With eyes open also to the Northern hemisphere, the festival held three other important exhibitions: See You Later: UK and Artists TV, curated by Michael Maziere (director of London Electronic Arts), selected works by young artists — mostly British — who used video in an unconventional, low-tech fashion. Among them, names that would become widely known from then on, such as Damien Hirst, Atom Egoyan and the sisters Jane and Louise Wilson; the Historic Video exhibit, curated by Kate Horsfield (from Chicago’s Video Data Bank), presented works by exponents of North American video art made between 1968 and 1977, such as Bruce Nauman, Bill Viola, Gary Hill, Joan Jones and Richard Serra; finally, a program created by the Austrian Peter Payer brought together short clips of artists talking about their works, which included testimonies by the Americans Yoko Ono and Dave Stewart Lawrence Weiner, the Italian Michelangelo Pistoletto and the Austrian Robert Jelinek.

From this vast and vigorous program, one could say that the times of doubts and prejudice against video had finally subsided, after long battles. In the words of Danilo Santos de Miranda, regional director of Sesc-SP, in a text for the catalogue: “Originating from a double root, made up of technological invention and the language of screens, video, departing from an undifferentiated territory, rapidly ascended towards autonomy. (...) It carved out its territory and created a personalized language, with a peculiar syntax and specific articulations. Finally, it crystalized as a new way of focusing, revealing and interpreting the world. More than anything, it expanded the universe of artistic representation, adding to it a resource ruled by concision.”

About the festival, in an edition with the presence of artists from dozens of countries and a record audience, artistic director Solange Farkas staunchly claimed: “Videobrasil has taken root and solidified as a national institution. It broadened its scope, established itself as a cultural reference, surpassed limits and symbolized the consecration of a new trend of artistic expression, a means of communication and exploration of new technological resources. It established the flow of technical and formal information, sorely needed to give substance to videographic production, at a time marked by a lack of resources and access to knowledge.” 

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.



Videobrasil Historical Collection
Renato Cury and Isabella Matheus/Videobrasil Historical Collection

1. Poster of the eleventh Videobrasil, by Kiko Farkas.

Gallery 1
1. Solange Farkas and Nam June Paik.
2. “TV Buddha”, by Nam June Paik.
3. “TV Fish”, by Nam June Paik.
4. “TV Garden”, by Nam June Paik.
5. “TV Moon”, by Nam June Paik.
6. “Daragóy”, by Inês Cardoso.
7. Production team.
8. Production team.
9. “Bardo”, by Marcondes Dourado.
10. “De Niño”, by Carlos Trilnick and Sabrina Farji.

Gallery 2
1. “Trovoada”, by Carlos Nader.
2. The Cyberspace (electronic cafe).
3. “Vídeo Zoo”, by Cao Hamburger.
4. Eduardo de Jesus and André Amparo.
5. “Vídeo Ópera for Paik”, by Steina Vasulka and Stephan Vitiello.
6. “Passagem de Mariana”, by Eder Santos, Paulo dos Santos and grupo Uakti.
7. Directors and artists at Sesc Pompeia.
8. “O Menino, a favela e as tampas de panela”, by Cao Hamburger.
9. Eder Santos and Keiichi Tanaka.
10. “Ausencia”, by Ar Detroy.
Gallery 3
1. Thomaz Farkas, Danilo Miranda, Solange Farkas and Paulo Ribeiro.
2. Akram Zaatari at Videojornal.
3. “O fim da viagem”, by Carlos Nader.
4. Inês Cardoso.
5. “Poesia é risco”, by Augusto de Campos, Walter Silveira and Cid Campos.
6. “Naturaleza Muerta”, by Guillermo Cifuentes.
7. “O beijoqueiro”, by Carlos Nader.
8. “Nuevas aventuras del Capitán Cardozo”, by Gabriel Yuvone and Pablo Rodríguez Jáurequi.
9. Lori Zippay. 
10. Stephan Vitiello.