VIDEOBRASIL 40 | 14th Videobrasil
In the 20th anniversary of Videobrasil, the festival turns to the Middle East, shedding light on the Lebanese production
Political contestation and combative debate on various topics — such as the defense of democracy, social and racial inequalities, gender issues, indigenous issues, urban violence and the relevance of the geopolitical south of the globe — have permeated the entire history of Videobrasil since it was created in 1983. Technological development, the dissemination of new media and languages, and formal issues linked to the universe of electronic art never appeared dissociated from the crucial debates of the contemporary socio-political life. Even so, the engaged tone adopted by the 14th Videobrasil Festival is particularly notable, in an edition marked by the presence of Lebanese artists, by the focus exclusively on the production from the Global South, and by a major tribute to the poet and multi-artist Waly Salomão (1943–2003), a central figure of the counterculture in Brazil who had passed away only a few months before the festival took place.
Held from September 22 to October 19, 2003 at Sesc Pompeia, the 14th Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival took place in a troubled global context. If in Brazil the beginning of Lula’s government, the first left-wing president in the country, ushered in optimism to substantial portions of the population, at the international level the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a consequence of 9/11 (2001), intensified the destruction of vast regions of the Middle East, stirred up prejudice and the idea of an apparent irresolvable incompatibility between West and East. The American George Bush, the Saudi Osama bin Laden and the Iraqi Saddam Hussein were the names featured daily in the headlines of the world press. It is at this moment that Videobrasil opposes the hegemonic gaze and chooses the theme “Displacements” as the curatorial axis of the edition, featuring the innovative and powerful Lebanese production as the central focus of the festival.
“The Middle East is a taboo for all of us, much more than anything else. We are a Western culture and we have a totally distorted view of the Eastern culture. So, getting there and realizing how things are was a bewildering experience,” Solange Farkas told Revista E about the trip she took alongside Waly Salomão and Carlos Nader. To the newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo, she stated: “The Lebanese electronic art production has been growing in quantity and quality. Maybe so, for being in the eye of the hurricane.” Issues such as preservation of identity, survival, conflicts and possible and necessary displacements arose, in this way, in several works exhibited at the festival. Curated by Akram Zaatari — an artist present at the three previous editions of Videobrasil — and Christine Tohme — director of the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts (Ashkal Alwan) — the axis entitled Narrativas possíveis: Práticas artísticas do Líbano [Possible Narratives: Artistic Practices from Lebanon] brought together installations, photographs, performances, publication, lectures and video exhibits by artists who, starting in the 1990s, proposed dissonant views in a country beset by a long civil war (1975–1990).
Inspired by the ideas of Edward Said, author of the classic Orientalism (1978), and with strong encouragement from Waly — who served on the edition’s curatorial board until his death — the exhibition had among its highlights the installation Beirut Caoutchouc, by Marwan Rechmaoui, a detailed map of Beirut installed on the floor of Sesc Pompeia, created especially for the festival; Mapping Sitting, installation by Zaatari and Walid Raad that explores the photographic memory of Arab countries; The Loudest Muttering is Over: Documents From the Atlas Group Archive, a lecture-performance in which Raad creates an imaginary research foundation dedicated to reconstituting the recent history of Lebanon and the Palestinian conflict from databases and images; and Jane-Loyse Tissier, by Walid Sadek, a publication-installation commissioned by Videobrasil addressing “the conditions that govern human faces in times of war and peace.”
In addition to these, other works were also presented by Ghassan Salhab, Gilbert Hage, Jane Loyse-Tissierx, Lamia Joreige and the duo made up of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. In different ways, all drew on the image to transcend the “collective post-traumatic amnesia” — in the words of the artist and essayist Jalal Toufic, a speaker at the festival — in a country torn apart by bloody religious and political conflicts. About the singularity of this production, Solange Farkas emphasized to the newspaper Estado de Minas that these were not pieces by so-called videomakers, but of philosophers, writers, poets and other artists, following up on their research. “And it's the most impressive movement of appropriation of video I've ever witnessed.” Furthermore, according to Zaatari, “the absence of any prior cinematographic tradition in the country afforded artists a certain freedom to work with form, exploring video not as a substitute for film, but as a specific medium.” Zaatari was one of the two artists to be given a video retrospective at the festival, alongside the Brazilian Marina Abs (1962–2002), a preeminent representative of the first generation of Brazilian independent video.
Waly, performative poet
Directly linked to the choice of the theme “Displacements” and one of the main articulators in Videobrasil's approach to Lebanese artists, Waly Salomão was the festival's main honoree. The son of a Bahian mother and a Syrian father, he maintained a close interest in Arab culture throughout his life — and used these ties to help conceive the edition. Best known for his colossal contribution to poetry (author of classic verses such as “Memory is an editing station,” the title of the 22nd Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil) and to Brazilian popular music, Waly also intuited very early on the possibilities of integrating arts and new technologies. “The abode of the poet-being is the electronic space today,” he declared in 1983. Alongside Carlos Nader, he created for the 12th edition of the festival, held in 1998, the remarkable work Bestiário Masculino-Feminino, a kind of “orgiastic happening” that blended performance, poetry, music and video. “I’m not sure if Waly's presence made things more real or more unreal. But I know it certainly made things more,” Nader wrote after Waly’s death.
In the 14th festival, the homage occurred in two moments. First, the release of the DVD Nomadismos: Homenagem a Waly Salomão, which gathered records of Waly's presence throughout the editions of Videobrasil, his participation in TV programs in the 1980s and 1990s (directed by Alex Gabassi, Marcelo Machado, among others), videos made by Nader with the Bahian poet, as well as posthumous tributes by Eder Santos, Marcelo Tas and Lucas Bambozzi. The program was rounded out with Onde estão os heróis?, a performance in which Tadeu Jungle handed out masks of Waly's face and led the audience on a kind of tour around Sesc Pompeia, in spaces where projections mixed with the sound of Salomão's music and poetry.
In addition to works by Jungle and Raad, many other performances marked the 14th edition. In Luz morena, by Duncan Lindsay and Quito Ribeiro, images exposed a wide spectrum of dark skin tones — “revealing a Brazil generated by infinite human displacements” — in line with the songs performed by Arto Lindsay, Naná Vasconcelos, Pedro Sá and Hugo Carranca. Also blending music and visuals, Deus nos guiando no escuro, created by Domenico Lancellotti and Zoy Anastassakis, brought together instrumentalists such as Kassin, Moreno Veloso and Pedro Sá, who composed an impromptu live track inspired by projections and other visual stimuli. Dobra 9.24.2003, in turn, brought together musicians and graphic artists — such as Angela Detanico and Rafael Laim, who designed the festival's graphic identity — to weave an overlapping of languages in Sesc Pompeia’s Beer Hall.
The performances program was completed by Deconstruindo Letícia Parente, a work in which Luiz Duva manipulated images from the historic piece Marca Registrada (1975), created by the pioneer of Brazilian video art; Colectivo Nortec, by the group of the same name, a kind of rave featuring electronic music and images of the city of Tijuana chosen by the curator Priamo Lozada to represent the new Mexican electronic production; Tabla Dubb, a performance in which the Egyptian Hassan Khan acted as DJ and VJ to relate “body politics” and the urban chaos of Cairo; and Quem é Ernesto Varela?, a performance in which Marcelo Tas revisited the ironic and petulant reporter he created in the early 1980s. The Festival also honored Varela with a video exhibit and a DVD with historical scenes of the character.
Competitive and parallel shows
No longer divided between “video” and “new media,” as it had been done in 2001, the main exhibition was unified under the title Mostra Competitiva do Sul [South Competitive Show], bringing together a vast and powerful production from several countries — some of them debuting at Videobrasil. Of the 765 works submitted from 40 nations, 97 pieces were chosen, spanning video, CD-ROM and webart. Unlike editions in which the focus was on issues regarding form and language, the 14th festival, in line with its main theme, prioritized works that “dialogue with broad socio-political and cultural processes and cast a critical look at artistic creation itself.” Even without losing sight of experimentation and the poetic atmosphere, a more documentary tone was perceived in most of the works.
In this way, the first prize went to Face A Face B, by the Lebanese Rabin Mroué, a work addressing the reunion of siblings who grew up separated by the Lebanese civil war. Second place went to The Apocalyptic Man, by the Argentinean Sebastian Diaz Morales, a video that records a popular festival in Mexico and delves into the tenuous border between religion and politics in Latin America. Finally, the third winner was Vacas, by Gabriela Golder, a work based on news of a peculiar occurrence in the Argentine city of Rosario: after a truck transporting cattle overturned, hundreds of people gathered to slaughter the animals and take the meat home.
Other pieces were also awarded special mentions by the jury, such as the works Personal? ID? Card, by the Serbian Miodrag Krkobabić, on identity and state control; Underneath, by the Chinese Liu Wei, a work about Beijing, its world of fantasies and chaos; and Unknown Zone, by the Polish creator Katarzyna Pacześniowska-Renner, a story about migration and a woman's search for a country that can offer her stability. Lastly, Ficção científica, an experimental video by Wagner Morales inspired by Andrei Tarkovski, awarded the São Paulo native an artistic residency prize at Le Fresnoy, a research and postgraduate center in Tourcoing (France), where he conceived the film Solitária, pobre, sórdida, embrutecida e curta.
In the competitive show, other works with a strong political tone also stood out: A revolução não será televisionada, a production for community TV featuring a fictional urban guerrilla soldier who uses art as a weapon; and 11 de Septiembre, by the Chilean Claudia Aravena, a work that brings into dialogue two traumatic historical events that occurred on the same day of the year, but in different decades: the coup d'état that overthrew President Salvador Allende in Chile, in 1973; and the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, in 2001. Following the proposal for commissioning contemporary art, Videobrasil invited the São Paulo-based artist Raquel Garbelotti to design the trophy for the 14th edition. She conceived the piece based on the idea of “different landscapes that move towards one another, meet and intertwine.”
But it wasn't just the main exhibition and the axis dedicated to Lebanon that expanded the geopolitical map envisioned by Videobrasil. A series of parallel exhibits showcased contemporary or historical work from countries in the farthest corners of the globe. Once again, emphasis was given to the idea of the Global South as a geopolitical concept in constant transformation, a kind of substitute for the reductive definition of the world as “developed, developing or underdeveloped countries.” Thus, in China's first participation in Videobrasil, the curator Shulin Zhao gathered works made by students, poets, workers, police officers, journalists and designers in shows dedicated to documentaries, fiction and video art. In the context of major transformations in Chinese society, access to cheap DV technology enabled the swift proliferation of a unique production. “It's a generation of dream-makers,” Zhao said.
Also from Asia, the exhibition “Signs,” with a selection by Yuni Hadi, presented ten works by Singapore’s young video producers. According to the curator, it was a generation seduced “by a material consciousness that ends up in an explosion of unfiltered thoughts”.. From Africa, the Angolan curator Miguel Petchkovsky selected works that discuss memory, cultural hybridity and historical representation of time. The program with eleven videos was organized into axes linked to localities, referring to South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and the diaspora. Selected by Charlotte Elias and Christopher Cozier, both from Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean show featured videos from this country as well as Aruba, Jamaica and Suriname — nations in which audiovisual creation was mostly linked to the power of the State or advertising companies. “There is no room for dreams,” wrote Cozier, who had selected precisely some dissonant voices in his curation.
From Eastern Europe, with increasing presence in Videobrasil, the show "Videoart in Hungary - Past and Present", curated by Miklós Peternák, gathered mostly recent works that dialogued with the universes of the internet, animation and hybrid experimentation. Finally, the only show dedicated to a country from the North was “French Presence at Videobrasil,” a kind of tribute to the participation of important names such as Robert Cahen, Jean-Paul Fargier, Jerôme Lefdub, Jean-Louis Le Tacon, Alain Bourges, Christian Barane and Michael Gaumnitz, responsible for presenting works never before seen in Brazil and for strengthening relevant international networks, as proposed by the festival.
Two decades and a vast collection
In Videobrasil's 20 years, another highlight was "Made in Brasil - Three decades of Brazilian video," curated by the researcher and critic Arlindo Machado. The program featured 50 videos, divided into axes that had as a starting point the pioneering authors of the 1960s/1970s (such as Antonio Dias, Aguillar and Anna Bella Geiger), then looked to the independent generation of the 1980s (such as TVDO and Olhar Eletrônico), and ended with authorial works of the 1990s (Eder Santos, Sandra Kogut and many others). In Machado's words, “without Videobrasil we would hardly have this story to tell,” given the importance of the festival in mapping, exhibiting and encouraging video. In the 14th edition, this relevance was made even clearer through the presentation of Videobrasil’s Data Bank, a project spearheaded by Ana Pato and Tatiana Ferraz, started in 2001, and dedicated to the process of storage, organization and preservation of works presented and content generated throughout the history of the festival. The Database took one more step in the association’s stand as a unifying reference research center, far beyond the role of organizer of shows and exhibitions.
In the public debates and programs, two axes rounded out the program, which made the 2003 edition one of the most fruitful in terms of reflective activities. Eduardo de Jesus — a key figure in Videobrasil from the 2000s onwards — was tasked with organizing the panels in the Panoramas series, which approached the diversity of strategies in the production of images in peripheral settings. These were "Technocultural Imaginary," "Multiculturality, Identity and Gender" and "The Image as a revival of recent cultural heritage in the context of traditional cultures." As can be noticed from the titles, the debates were directly related to the curatorial axis, as well as the other four panels in the series Contemporary Investigations — an offshoot of the exhibition of the same name that underscored the investigation of contemporary artists such as the Brazilians Alexandre da Cunha, Marcellvs L., and Sergio Roizenblit and Tata Amaral, the South African Gregg Smith and the Chinese Ip Yuk-Yiu. Curated by Christine Mello, the show and the panels were based on the notion of “displacements” to raise questions about the body, the art circuit, languages and culture.
A small excerpt from the text by Mello, Solange and André Brasil for the catalogue seemed to summarize the discussions raised at the 14th Videobrasil: “For what or for whom do our images serve? Despite the difficulties and contradictions involved in this question, contemporary artists cannot refrain from continuously and insistently seeking to answer it. (...) On the one hand, they can legitimize hegemonies, consolidate injustices, stimulate inexhaustible consumer desires. On the other hand, image is (...) what allows us possible translations and displacements: it has the ability to change the senses of place, to (dis)articulate perspectives on the world and, sometimes, help us to intervene in it.”
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 fourteenth Videobrasil, by Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain.
1. Lebanese artists in the installation “Beirut Caoutchouc”, by Marwan Rechmaoui.
2. “11 de Septiembre”, by Chilean Claudia Aravena.
3. Lebanese artists and participants.
4. Waly Salomão.
5. “Face A Face B”, by Rabin Mroué.
6. “Crazy of You”, by Akram Zaatari.
7. Lebanese artists and participants.
8. Mapping Sitting, by Akram Zaatari and Walid Raad
9. “Beirut Caoutchouc”, by Marwan Rechmaoui.
1. Waly Salomão, Akram Zaatari, Carlos Nader, Solange Farkas and Eder Santos in Lebanon.
2. Solange Farkas with Omar (left) e Khalid (right), Waly Salomão's sons.
3. “Jane-Loyse Tissier”, by Walid Sadek.
4. Trophy made by Raquel Garbelotti.
5. “Anonymous”, by Gilbert Hage.
6. “A revolução não será televisionada”.
7. Carlos Nader.
8. “Replay”, by Lamia Joreige.
9. “Deus nos guiando no escuro”, by Domenico Lancellotti and Zoy Anastassakis.
10. Stephen Wright, Khalil Joreige and Akram Zaatari.
1. “Vacas”, by Gabriela Golder.
2. “The Apocalyptic Man”, by Sebastian Diaz Morales.
3. “Desconstruindo Letícia Parente”, by Luiz Duva.
4. Juca Ferreira, Vivian Paulissen, Danilo Santos de Miranda and Solange Farkas.
5. Performance by Colectivo Nortec.
6. Performance “Dobra 24.9.2003”.
7. “Personal? ID? Card”, by Miodrag Krkobabic.
8. “Underneath”, by Liu Wei.