VIDEOBRASIL 40 | 15th Videobrasil
Political momentum, focus on performance, and language hybridity mark this edition
On a normal Friday in September, while hundreds of tourists line up to get visas at the American consulate in São Paulo, 40 people in orange overalls get off a bus, and led by a woman in military uniform, march down the street and kneel down to clean the asphalt with toothbrushes. The soldier—in fact, the Cuban-American artist, activist and researcher Coco Fusco—wields a megaphone to shout aggressive orders at the prisoners—actually, performers and volunteers dressed as prisoners of war—shocking the public, the police and the journalists gathered at the scene. The action, entitled Bare Life Study #1, was one of the most striking moments of the 15th Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival, held from September 6 to 25, 2005 under the “Performance” thematic axis.
“A silent street action, with many people, is a kind of very strong visual statement, which involves a dense dramatic element in itself,” said Fusco some time later. Her performance (the sole in the edition held outside Sesc Pompeia) staged a type of torture common in US military prisons. It also simulated the rare moments of encounters between antagonists—in times of wars made with “smart bombs”, without face-to-face combats—to weave a scathing critique of the North American policy of incarceration and, more broadly, of the “War on Terror” instituted by George W. Bush after 9/11. Justified as a "crusade for democracy and world peace," the doctrine resulted in serious human rights violations and hundreds of thousands of deaths around the globe. In 2005, when the 15th festival was held, violence perpetrated by the US was at its peak, with wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The sociopolitical context, in this case linked to the South American—especially Brazilian—reality, also appeared in Futebol, a performance by the collective Frente 3 de Fevereiro created by Daniel Lima and presented on the festival’s opening day. Influenced by the episode of racism in which the player Grafite, from the São Paulo soccer team, was called “monkey” by the Argentine opponent Leandro Desábato (who was arrested upon leaving the stadium), the work featured projections of images from TV news and other actions carried out by the collective in stadiums (in which they raised flags with writings such as “Where are the blacks?”). At the same time, DJs and a band performed on stage, mixing songs and declamations—made by Roberta Estrela D’alva—on systemic racism and the mechanisms of discrimination that persist in Brazil in the 21st century.
“Centered on the body, ephemeral, unpredictable, performance is an art genre that involves confrontation and risk,” as pointed out by the text in the catalogue when presenting the thematic axis of the edition. “Political, it subverts the relationship between work and audience, who’s invited not exactly to suspend its disbelief to believe in a fiction, but to witness an event.” The hybridity present in these works, “where the boundaries between genres no longer make sense,” was also pointed out in the text: “It was the observation of this phenomenon, especially in the evident way it reverberates in electronic art, (...) that motivated the gathering of this expressive group of performers within the festival.” Coming from different corners of the Global South, they represented a “quintessential contemporary artistic expression.”
Stemming from the individuality of the body and psychological dimensions linked to concentration, risk and self-improvement, another outstanding work at the 15th Videobrasil was Exergie - Butter Dance, by the Indonesian Melati Suryodarmo. In the performance, Marina Abramović's disciple attempted to move on sticks of butter spread across the floor of Sesc Pompeia’s theater, on the brink of slipping and falling. The solo work the artist developed throughout her career has never been far removed, however, from a social concern, linked to identity, Eastern culture and collective bodies: “The most important part of an individual’s attitude towards a political situation is to have confidence in mind and respect others the same way you respect yourself,” she declared. On a similar path, the Germany-based Kenyan Ingrid Mwangi addressed identity, displacement, exoticism and intolerance in her performance entitled Possession. Despite the thorny subject matters, the artist proposed to create, based on the expression of her body, something positive and deliberate.
Old acquaintances of Videobrasil’s audience also made their appearence in this edition's program. Chelpa Ferro, a Brazilian group formed by Barrão, Luiz Zerbini and Sergio Mekler—already renowned after participating in the São Paulo (2004) and Venice (2005) biennials—put on a show with conventional and made up instruments, ranging from electronic percussion to marbles, sewing machine and a battery built with incense sticks. Research on the relationship between sound, image and physical space also appeared in two other performances: Sound Waves for Selected Landscapes, by the Rio Grande do Sul duo of artists and designers Detanico Lain (who for the third time in a row created the visual identity of the festival), which featured large screens with pixelated images of landscapes, while noise and sounds completed a “digitalized representation of the world;” and Engrenagem, by Eder Santos, Stephen Vitiello and Paulo Santos, a performance-concert-installation that revisited previous works by Eder and culminated in the performance of Ana Gastelois, mixing drawings, gestures and dance.
The program was rounded out with the performances Carro-Bomba, by the Minas Gerais-based collective feitoamãos/F.A.Q., and Urgência Social, by Marco Paulo Rolla, also from Minas Gerais. The first, which had the subtitle “Anti-panic guide and rotating inventions,” was yet another work on the festival that was related to the post-9/11 context, by plunging the audience into an atmosphere of “imminent tragedy” amid smoke, projections and noise. Criticizing the atmosphere of terror fueled by the media, the action (led by Lucas Bambozzi and Rodrigo Minelli) also tackled the fear experienced in Brazil, with urban violence and social inequality. Finally, Urgência Social created an environment of uncertainty and confounded expectations by criticizing the consumer society and the misguided search for a “safe and comfortable daily life.” During the festival, Rolla taught alongside Marcos Hill, professor of arts at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), a workshop on performance for undergraduate students in arts, dance and digital media. The students, who were also involved in the artist's action, created their own performances, presented throughout the edition.
Content generation and online universe
Each week during the festival, artists participating in the competitive exhibition—now titled Panoramas do Sul [Southern Panoramas]—were invited to perform, at the Sesc Pompeia beer hall, putting out presentations that blended image projections and DJing. The VJ Nights brought together national and international names, and strengthened the event's role as a space for meeting, conviviality and exchange between filmmakers, producers, curators and the public. Created live and with a strong emphasis on performance, the VJ Nights were also directly related to the thematic axis of the edition. A series of exhibits and public programs of the festival were also dedicated to the central theme. Several of the artists who presented performances—such as Fusco, Mwangi, Rolla and Suryodarmo—were given retrospectives of their work, mixing authorial videos or records of their past actions (material that allowed the permanence in time of a basically ephemeral type of artistic language).
Among the parallel exhibitions, Marina Abramović also caught the audience’s attention: Performance Anthology [1975–1980], a program with around 20 records of works by the Serbian artist, one of the names that most contributed to the constitution of performance as a genre associated with risk and overcoming limits. In addition to it, other retrospectives reinforced the historical and informative character of the edition: Antologia Videobrasil de Performance [Videobrasil Performance Anthology], curated by Solange Farkas, with works shown at the festival between 1992 and 2003 by artists such as Fausto Fawcett, Eder Santos, Carlos Nader, Waly Salomão, Marcello Mercado and Luiz Duva; The Kitchen Performance Anthology, curated by Stephen Vitiello, a kind of introduction to performance practices in the US in the effervescent period from the 1960s to the 1980s, with records of actions by Trisha Brown, Robert Wilson, Fluxus Group and Richard Serra; and WWVF Perfomance Anthology, an exhibit of works shown at the famous Dutch electronic art event World Wide Video Festival, selected by its director Tom van Vliet. Finally, Extremidades do Vídeo [Video Extremities], curated by Christine Mello, brought together works that made explicit the influence of videographic production in other areas such as theater, dance or music, also addressing the hybrid nature of Brazilian electronic art.
Wrapping up the program, the online publication FF>>Dossier, created in 2004 by Videobrasil, served as the basis for a homonymous exhibition at the festival, in which “the performative and political gesture” guided the choice of works made by the curator and researcher Eduardo de Jesus. On the web, the project was being forged as a monthly publication dedicated to profiling young artists from the Southern circuit and reflecting on contemporary art. The Dossier also marked the launch of Videobrasil On-Line (as it was spelled at the time), the association's website that brought together the vast database collected over the 23 years of the festival. Offline, physically printed, Caderno Sesc_Videobrasil was also launched in the 15th edition. With articles, critical essays and interviews, the annual publication kicked off by proposing an “alternative to the official history of performance.”
In addition to exhibitions and publications, a series of roundtable debates put filmmakers and the public in dialogue over the three weeks of Videobrasil. Mainly artists and curators participating in the other sections of the festival were present, but not only that: Teresinha Soares, an artist from Minas Gerais who had an impact on the Brazilian scene in the 1960s and 1970s, was the protagonist of one of the most remarkable meetings, in which she spoke about her diverse and lasting production. One of the pioneers in holding happenings and performances in the country, Teresinha was also a pioneer in using her body to address female sexuality and question the social role of women in an era full of taboos and prejudices.
The plurality of the competitive exhibition
If the curatorial approach and a large part of the program of the 15th Videobrasil revolved around the topic of performance, the competitive exhibition dedicated to different electronic languages did not lose focus in the edition. Under the title Panoramas do Sul [Southern Panoramas], focused once again on productions outside the central capitalist axis, the main exhibition received 652 entries from 41 countries, with a plurality of approaches so vast that it resulted in the program being divided into three sections: Estado da Arte [State of the Art], dedicated to artists with a consolidated trajectory; Investigações Contemporâneas [Contemporary Investigations], with works that sought to expand the limits of languages; and Novos Vetores [New Vectors], aimed at the production of young filmmakers. In addition to the growing presence of the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe, a distinguishing feature in the three axes was the hybridity between languages inherent to the works, as the jury pointed out: “Currently, there seems to be a principle of freedom that does not oblige the affirmation of the specificity of video, but even less its denial. What can be perceived is a more spontaneous transit between video, television, cinema, photography, performance and painting, but also between digital and analogue, plastic and conceptual, documental and fictional.”
In State of the Art, with pieces that “reach a high degree of sophistication in discursive and conceptual elaborations, in technical appropriations and experimentation processes,” the following works were awarded: Lo Sublime / Banal, by the Argentinian Graciela Taquini, a video that deals with biographical and cultural issues by recalling the day the artist met the writer Julio Cortázar in a pizzeria; and Concerto para clorofila, in which Cao Guimarães investigates questions related to the evocative power of image, sound and movement. Honorable mentions went to Rodrigo Minelli, also from Minas Gerais, for the fictional video Plano (Con) Sequência; and for the Mexican Diego Bonilla, for the hypermedia A space of time.
The New Vectors exhibit, in turn, with works by filmmakers up to 30 years old, awarded works with a sharp political tone: O Fim do homem cordial, from the Bahian Daniel Lisboa, an ironic and impactful narrative in which a rebel group kidnaps a senator (with an obvious allusion to “colonel” Antônio Carlos Magalhães) and demands that the images of the action be shown on TV; and Un Cercle autour du soleil, by the Lebanese Ali Cherri (who took part in nearly all of Sesc_Videobrasil biennials since then, and will be featured in this year's edition – linkar hot site), a video in which images of ruins in Beirut mix in with stories about the artist’s childhood during the civil war in the country. Completing the awards, honorable mentions were given to Adams de Carvalho and Olívia Brenga Marques, from Sorocaba, for 02. Conjunto residencial, and the Peruvian Gabriel Acevedo, for Parálisis—two works that mix real images, whether photographic or video, with animations and visual manipulations.
Finally, in the Contemporary Investigations axis, with works that “raise new concerns about audiovisual production processes (...) and point to the future of electronic art,” awards were given to Roger, by the Argentinian Federico Lamas, an unbroken tracking shot that follows a couple splitting up; and Tríptico: estudo para autorretrato 1, a piece with a personal touch by Luiz Duva, an artist present in almost every edition of the festival between 1988 and 2005. Pointing to the strengthening of Videobrasil's mission to promote artistic production and tighten the bonds with international institutions, three of the winners (one from each axis) were awarded residency grants: Duva at Le Fresnoy, a research and graduate center in Tourcoing (France); Ali Cherri at FAAP (Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado), in São Paulo; and Cao Guimarães at London’s center for contemporary art Gaswork.
In the press, the extensive coverage of the 15th edition highlighted the quality of the works shown in Southern Panoramas. As was customary, some voices also brought more “considered” views, such as the review published in the British magazine Frieze: “While Videobrasil’s [exhibition] structure was inspired, the quality of the works on show was wildly variable, with nearly equal quantities of diamonds and dross.” Even if the text did not mention from which regions of the globe these “better” or “worse” works were, it is worth quoting, in this regard, an excerpt from Solange’s interview with the newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo: “Latin America already has a production that is over 20 years old, Eastern Europe too, but in other places video is appearing now, it is still fragile,” referring especially to countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East. But it was exactly because they were a kind of “silence zones,” as the article defined it, that the festival sought to highlight productions from these places, reinforcing Videobrasil's status as one of the rare showcases for artists from marginalized regions.
Still in the press, an article in Folha de S.Paulo outlined a good panorama of what was instigated by the 15th festival. “Politics is not a cabinet thing. At least not in Videobrasil, where politics is done with the body, with performances and, mainly, with video. (...) The engaged regard of most of the works draws attention in the program,” said reporter Adriana Ferreira. In the same article, Solange's statement concluded, on the agility of video as a committed artistic support: “It's like a journal of what is going on in the world by the artists. (...) Prevously, realizing this was a very slow process. If Picasso had a video, we would have known about Guernica in a week.”
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
1. Poster of the fifteenth Videobrasil, by Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain.
1. “Exergie - Butter Dance”, by Melati Suryodarmo.
2. “Bare Life Study #1”, by Coco Fusco.
3. “Futebol”, by Frente 3 de Fevereiro collective.
4. Artists participate in VJ Nights at Sesc Pompeia.
5. “Carro-Bomba”, by Feitoamãos/F.A.Q. collective, from Minas Gerais
6. The Kenyan based in Germany Ingrid Mwangi.
7. Musical performance by Chelpa Ferro collective.
8. “Possession”, dby Ingrid Mwangi.
9. The duo from Rio Grande do Sul, Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain.
1. Ana Gastelois, Paulo Santos, Stephen Vitiello, Solange Farkas and Eder Santos.
2. Danilo Miranda and Solange Farkas.
3. The Play Gallery exhibition and living space.
4. Marco Paulo Rolla and Teresinha Soares.
5. Akram Zaatari and Barak Reiser.
6. André Brasil, Cris Melo, Marcos Moraes, Sergio Edelsztein; Eduardo de Jesus, Solange Farkas and Ximena Cuevas.
7. Participating artists in the New Vectors Program.
8. Video from Marina Abramović's Anthology.
9. Daniel Lima, Fernando Sato and Ricardo Rosas.
10. Dutch curator Tom van Vliet.
1. “O Fim do homem cordial”, by Daniel Lisboa.
2. “Roger”, by Federico Lamas
3. Ali Cherri at the awards.
4. “02. Conjunto residencial”, by Adams de Carvalho and Olívia Brenga Marques.
5. “Lo Sublime / Banal”, by Graciela Taquini.
6. “Tríptico: estudo para autorretrato 1”, by Luiz Duva.
7. “Concerto para clorofila”, by Cao Guimarães.
8. “Un Cercle autour du soleil”, by Ali Cherri.
9. “Urgência Social”, by Marco Paulo Rolla.