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posted on 06/23/2023

In the aftermath of 9/11, the festival focuses on works that merge different artistic fields


In its first edition held in the new millennium, the thirteenth festival presented significant innovations in its structure and program, in tune with the virtual and digital universe that was being established in an increasingly accelerated way. The traditional competitive exhibition, for instance, was divided into two, one for video and the other for new media (CD-ROMs and the so-called web art). But other factors also made the 13th Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival, held between September 19 and October 21, 2001 at Sesc Pompeia, a singular event in the history of VB: for the first time there was a three-year hiatus between editions, during which time the Contemporary African Art Exhibition (2000) was organized; furthermore, the festival opened one week after the September 11 attacks, which impacted the entire political and cultural debate around the globe and had direct consequences for the event itself.



The chaos and tension caused by 9/11 were responsible for the absence of some of the international guests, especially from the US and Canada, due to the cancellation of flights in these countries. Among them was the honored guest Gary Hill, an American artist active since the late 1960s who, in a letter to Videobrasil, spoke of the “deep sadness” that befell him: “We are exhausted and dumbfounded, unable to actually do anything.” Even so, his three installations and the exhibition featuring 26 of his videos produced between the 1970s and 1990s were high points of the edition. The presentation of Hill's work was directly related to the theme chosen for the festival — Flows, fusions and assimilations — given the hybridity and multidisciplinarity of the Californian's production, quite critical of a “praise” of technology in itself.

In an interview with Helio Hara, the author pointed out: “Being human is about being technological, but it is necessary to appropriate technology and not be appropriated by it (...). I've surrounded myself with art-making machines, and sometimes I think it's just so that I can refute them.” To the newspaper Valor Econômico, Hill also emphasized that, even at a time when technology had become so fascinating, he preferred to use “the body, speech and language” as main instruments. This dialogue and integration between physicality, the use of words and the exploration of time emerged clearly in the sound and video installations presented: Wall Piece (2000), in which a man repeatedly throws himself against a wall uttering words and causing impacts that alter projections and light effects; Remembering Paralinguay (2000), a video in which a woman emanates from a distant spot, emitting falsetto sounds until she reaches an extreme close-up; and Anotações sobre as cores (1998), a Portuguese version of the installation Remarks on color (1994), now shot with a Brazilian child.

Another honored artist at the 13th festival was the Rio Grande do Sul-born Rafael França (1957–1991), who had a short but intense and diversified career, and died prematurely at the age of 33. With a production at one “rebellious and courageous” — as highlighted by the curators — in video, installation and performance, França was given a retrospective with seven of his videos, in addition to a documentary directed by Alex Gabassi and Marco Del Fiol for the series Videobrasil Authors Collection (launched a year earlier with a film on William Kentridge). The homage helped to shed light on an artist that wasn’t sufficiently known by the audience, who had started his career with the urban intervention group 3NÓS3 (alongside Hudinilson Jr. and Mario Ramiro), and had followed with a pioneering work, which at the same time addressed issues of genre considered taboo at the time and innovated in the narrative possibilities of video art.

For the parallel exhibitions, ten curators from nine countries were invited, tasked with selecting videos — and some CD-ROMs and websites — that would dialogue with the theme of fusions and transformations in the world of electronic art. In this line, the Peruvian curator José-Carlos Mariátegui gathered four videos made by the Italian Gianni Toti (1924–2007) in the late 1990s, all related to Amerindian cultures – “a land of hope for humanity,” he stated. For Mariátegui, although Toti was considered the “father of video poetry,” it would be difficult to define him as “a media artist” since his experience as a poet, filmmaker, playwright, journalist and political activist “took him beyond the aesthetics of image to find in it a way of representing the world as it is, confronting the creation process with society.” Both the Italian and the Peruvian artists — who was a member of the Competitive Exhibition jury — were at the festival.

Another exhibition to be highlighted was "Identity, Sexuality and Politics," for which the Dominican based in Mexico Priamo Lozada selected eight works by the artist Ximena Cuevas. Considered one of the leading names in contemporary Mexican art, with a production in video and performance, Cuevas “relentlessly seeks the layers of lies covering everyday representations of reality and systematically explores the fictions of national identity and gender,” in Lozada’s words. The curator, who was in São Paulo for the 13th festival, was the main organizer of the Mexican video scene in the 1990s and 2000s, until his premature death in 2007, the same year in which he took on the role of curator of that country's pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

The British curator Michael Mazière, in turn, selected for “The poetic necessity” works by artists who operated “between film and video art, cinema and gallery, white cube and black box,” such as Breda Beban and Daniel Reeves. The Australian Lynne Cooke, who would later become chief curator of the Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid), gathered works by North American directors who mixed genres in an “ironic, humorous and subtle” way. A series of works that experimented with the internet as a space for artistic creation appeared in two other exhibitions: “Net Art: a public space for experimentation,” curated by the French Pierre Bongiovanni, and “Link_Age,” with a selection by the Brazilian artist based in Spain Claudia Gianetti. The program of parallel shows presented "The Retaking of the Word by the Individual," with about 20 French videos chosen by Gabriel Soucheyre; "Labyrinth of Poetic Survival," with six Belgian videos chosen by Paul Willemsen; "Greek Digital Reality," curated by Dodo Santorineos; and "Recent Canadian Videos," with works selected by Hank Bull.


Competition in two categories

Given the record number of works submitted and the variety of media that were being disseminated — resulting in an unprecedented hybridity — the competitive exhibition was divided into the “videos” and “new media” categories. Videobrasil's growing importance also led it to attract artists from increasingly diverse regions of the globe and, in Solange Farkas's words, “this reflected in the increased quality of the works.” For the videos exhibition, exclusively focused on the production from the Global South, the selection committee comprised of Solange Farkas and Eduardo de Jesus analyzed 488 works, of which they chose 99 from 13 countries. Several of the participants were or have become popular figures at the festival, such as the Brazilians Carlos Nader, Cao Guimarães, Kiko Goifman and Patricia Moran, and the foreigners Akram Zaatari (Lebanon), Claudia Aravena (Chile), Gabriela Golder (Argentina), Guillermo Cinfuentes (Chile), and Jamsen Law (Hong Kong).

The first prize was awarded to Framed by Curtains, by Eder Santos, from Minas Gerais, a poetic incursion into the daily life of the city of Hong Kong, recently returned to China; the second place went to Shameless Transmission of Desired Transformations Per Day, by the Lebanese Mahmoud Hojeij, a film on the sexual surveillance of single women in Beirut; and the third place went to Vera Cruz, by Rosângela Rennó, made on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the “discovery” of Brazil and based on the idea that it would be “impossible” to make a documentary about that event. The Australian Linda Wallace, Luiz Eduardo Jorge from Goiás and Wagner Morales from São Paulo received Honorable Mention awards.

For the exhibition of new media (CD-ROMs and art in online environments), also open to rich countries, 156 works were analyzed and 35 were selected, from 15 countries. “More than a mere production resource, these media produced a change in the way that images are perceived, giving rise to absolutely restless and hybrid works,” wrote Solange. In this category, the main prize went to Mutter, by the Argentine Marcello Mercado, a web art piece inspired by the ideas of the mathematician Kurt Gödel, combining a cartoon narrative with images of the streets of Cologne (Germany), captured by traffic control cameras. Second place went to Uncle Bill, a piece in hypermedia with a somber atmosphere by the Australian Debra Petrovitch mixing fragments of the memory of a woman raised in a violent household; and the third prize went to The Central City by Stanza, by the British artist Stanza, a piece in which three-dimensional environments generated from images of London could be controlled by the user.

Despite having always given great importance to the physical trophies awarded since VB’s first edition, in 1983, with design objects akin to the characteristics of each event, it was beginning in the 13th festival that Videobrasil decided for a clearer strategy regarding contemporary art commissioning. In 2001, marking another step in the association's attempt to come closer to the production that was beyond the universe of electronic art, artist Carmela Gross was invited to design the trophy. She created a piece made of silver-plated metal that directly dialogued with the idea of meetings and fusions that informed the festival.

Also linked to the central theme, Videobrasil presented a series of performances in this edition, as was tradition. Among them were Concerto para pirâmide, orquestra e sacrifício, by Eder Santos, a work with references to pre-Columbian cultures that blended music, dance and image projection; Live Images / PVC / A mulher e seu marido bife, three immersive experiences in which Luiz Duva mixed electronic music, deconstructed visual narratives and performers' actions; and Entre, by Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain, from Rio Grande do Sul, a live performance that combined visual and typographic elements with sounds by the band Objeto Amarelo. Detanico and Lain also participated in the selection committee for the main exhibition and were responsible for the festival's visual identity, which evoked the image of living cells in division, marking the beginning of a long partnership with Videobrasil.
The two performances that wrapped up the program were also object of great interest from the public: Coverman, by the Brazilian Alexandre da Cunha, a work with references to the relational art of Lygia Clark addressing the preservation of life and physical fragility, simulating medical procedures and first-aid measures; and Politik, by Marcello Mercado — an author known for performances in which he uses disturbing elements and references —, a piece that proposes a discussion on surveillance, violence, desire and manipulation. In it, while interacting with a tube that penetrates his body, the Argentine shows on monitors scenes of people tortured during the military dictatorship that held the country in its grip until 1983.


Art Collection and Video Library

Created in 1991 with a focus on maintaining the archive collected throughout the festivals, the Associação Cultural Videobrasil held more than 2,000 titles in 2001. Given the growing cultural and historical value of the material, the institution intensified its focus on conservation, organization and dissemination to the public. An article published at the time in the Mexican magazine Reflex afforded a broad overview on the topic: “The Association conserves the largest collection of electronic art in the country, with works created by both Brazilian and foreign artists from different generations. This impressive and growing database, which also helps to transform electronic art, includes videos, CD-ROMs and web art on themes such as politics, sexuality, individual and collective memories, thus showing the wealth, diversity and potential of these means of expression.”

In order to make this material circulate, initiatives such as touring exhibitions in other cities were intensified. In addition, at the 13th festival, a Video Library created within Sesc Pompeia gave visitors who were unable to follow the program access to the works presented and also to videos from the collection, organized into anthologies and retrospectives of national and foreign artists. VHS copies held works awarded in previous editions, by names the like of Carlos Nader, Eder Santos, Jacira Mello and Sandra Kogut, among others.

Videoartist, curator and researcher, Eduardo de Jesus began a long and fruitful partnership with Videobrasil in the 2001 edition, being tasked that year not only for selecting the works, but for coordinating the Videojornal (the festival’s daily audiovisual newsletter) and the Wallpaper, which projected, on the walls of Sesc Pompeia, live-generated images, program information, behind the scenes, and the times of events.

Looking at the new millennium, its art, its flows, fusions and assimilations, Solange spoke on the press about the vitality of the 13th festival, considering it the most vigorous in the entire history of Videobrasil up to that point — not only for its size and structure, but also for its sharp curatorial and artistic choices. “Video art has the characteristic of flirting intensely with other languages. It is this kind of promiscuity, criticized by conservatives, that gives it this strength,” she told the newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo. “This is the art of a new century. People are appropriating all languages. The borders are what’s collapsing.”

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 
Isabella Matheus/Videobrasil Historical Collection

1. Poster of the thirteenth Videobrasil, by DetanicoLain.

Gallery 1
1. Gary Hill.
2. Angela Detanico, Rafael Laim, Eduardo de Jesus, Gilbertto Prado and Solange Farkas. Photo: Renato Cury
3. “Coverman”, by Alexandre da Cunha.
4. “Framed by Curtains”, by Eder Santos.
5. Priamo Lozada.
6. Politik, by Marcello Mercado. 
7. “Remarks on color”, by Gary Hill.
8. “Remembering Paralinguay”, by Gary Hill. 
9. “Uncle Bill”, by Debra Petrovitch.
10. “The Central City by Stanza”, by Stanza.

Gallery 2
1. Gianni Toti and Solange Farkas.
2. Trophy prototype, by Carmela Gross.
3. Priamo Lozada and Eder Santos.
4. Carlos Nader.
5. Rafael Franca's work.
6. Festival's video library.
7. Danilo Santos de Miranda and Solange Farkas.
8. “Mutter”, by Marcello Mercado.
9. “Staying alive”, by Ximena Cuevas.
10. Public at the opening of the festival.