VIDEOBRASIL 40 | 20th Videobrasil

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posted on 01/31/2024

In a period of crises and setbacks, Southern Panoramas reflects on past traumas and points out possible pathways for the future


When Jaime Lauriano produced, in 2014, the video O Brasil—put together with newspaper articles and propaganda videos produced by the military government in the early years after the 1964 coup—the artist had not witnessed yet another traumatic political fracture in Brazil’s history: the parliamentary coup that ousted left-wing president Dilma Rousseff in 2016. But when the work was presented and awarded at the 20th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil* in October 2017, this process furthered by the rise of the far right and of nationalist discourse had already come to fruition. The country, in some way, was revisiting one of the worst moments in its past, and Lauriano's work reminded us that a reactionary part of Brazilian society was still alive and kicking.



It was in this troubled internal context—also marked by the excesses of “Operation Car Wash,” the unlawful conviction of former president Lula and the electoral growth of Jair Bolsonaro (an enthusiast of the dictatorship and the torturers who acted in it)—that the festival was held, occupying different spaces at Sesc Pompeia over almost four months. The directly political tone was not the only feature of a diverse, pluralistic exhibition, organized under the theme Theory of Constellations. But political discussions regarding history, memory, social inequality, wars and xenophobia were provoked by a series of works of the 50 artists hailing from 25 countries taking part in the Southern Panoramas exhibition. Perspectives on these topics conceived in the geopolitical south of the globe were increasingly relevant and necessary in a world that was also witnessing the strengthening of authoritarian rulers such as Donald Trump (USA) and Viktor Orbán (Hungary), and undergoing the worsening of the climate crisis.

“It is not surprising that a production always conducted by the idea of resistance and political vocation flourishes and refines in a time of mounting crisis, retrocession, loss of achievements, and absolute uncertainty,” wrote Solange Oliveira Farkas, artistic director of the festival whose guest curators were Ana Pato, Beatriz Lemos, Diego Matos and João Laia. “As we delve deeper into a cycle of extremist positions that could take us anywhere, the desire to craft a symbolic narrative to match the issues that are the heritage from our past becomes more and more pressing—as does that of reviewing notions of future that have failed, in order to—why not?—draw out a perspective that is less gloomy than the one we have ahead of us,” she concluded. 

Like Lauriano, the artist Rafael Pagatini addressed the times of Brazilian military dictatorship in DOPS, an installation that drew from documents from the Department of Political and Social Order, the repressive body of the period. Also presented in the Southern Panoramas, the video Escolas, by Graziela Kunsch, is based on the country's most recent history by focusing on the uprising of high school students, who held a sit-in on more than two hundred schools in the state of São Paulo in 2015 to protest against the government’s decision to shut down educational institutions. Ícaro Lima’s installation Museu do estrangeiro, in turn, conceived a changing, moveable collection—created in collaboration with immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean—that addressed immigration and exile in the city of São Paulo. 

Hailing from different corners of the globe, other works also had close ties with latent contemporary themes, such as Transmission from the liberated zones, by the Portuguese Filipa César, a video that pours over the history of Guinea-Bissau from the involvement of four Swedes in the struggle that led to the country's liberation from Portuguese colonialism in 1974; ¿Por qué disparan?, by the Argentinian Mariana Rodríguez, a video based on images found on cell phones of missing students in the city of Iguala (Mexico), from where they left to join protests in Mexico City in 2014; and Vuon Bau Xanh Tuoi, a video by the Vietnamese Quy Minh Truong that records an old farmer recalling the carnage he witnessed when as young man fighting in the Cambodian-Vietnamese War of the late 1970s. In an article published on Agência Brasil, Solange underscored that the political nature of the works did not make them militant or merely descriptive pieces: “Artists feed on these questions in their works and make a commentary not only through reporting, but also with their poetics, suggestions and new narratives that, sometimes, point to a less gloomy future pathway.”



The diversity of themes 

The thematic groups set by the curators in their Theory of Constellations went in other directions, as can be seen through the six “constellations” proposed: Cosmovisions; Ecologies; Reinvention of Culture; Politics of Resistance; Invisible Histories; and Other Modernisms. Notwithstanding this conceptual division, mixtures and hybridities were visible in the pieces, which do not necessarily fit into one single axis. “In these unstable times, artistic practices blur boundaries between the sciences and take us on a journey to the origins of history, societies and the Earth. Thus the study of life, the evolution of the universe, the dynamics of social groups throughout history reverberate, as well as the invention of new ways of doing politics,” the curators wrote in the festival’s presentation text. “The works brought together in the context of the exhibition allow for an integrated reading of art, culture, astronomy, biology, history, geography, etc.” It was, they argued, a group that encompassed less the precision of the scientific field and more the imprecision, experimentation and possible relationships between art and science.

In this sense, works such as Centro espacial satelital de Colombia, by the Colombian duo La Decanatura (Elkin Calderón and Diego Piñeros), caught the spotlight, a video that records a youth symphony orchestra playing—in a kind of tribute—around the antennas and laboratories of the country’s space communications center, a place that fell into oblivion and was almost swallowed by the surrounding landscape. Ciudad Maya, in turn, a video by Mexican Andrés Padilla Domene, builds on a mix of science fiction and documentary by showing young explorers who manipulate technological devices to investigate the ruins of an archaeological site in the Mexican city of Mérida, questioning prejudices and clichés associated with the missing Indigenous people.

More directly linked to the “reinvention of culture,” that is, to the resistances or transformations of cultural practices in different regions of the globe, a series of works shed light on traditional or innovative symbolic universes in a world besieged with tensions. The video Faz que vai, by the duo Barbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, shown at Sesc Pompeia on a large, suspended screen, called into question the purity attributed to frevo [a folk dance] by government officials who promote it as a folkloric expression from the state of Pernambuco. The tension between popular culture and mass culture, in addition to issues of race, class and gender, emerge in the four acts in which dancers blend frevo steps with contemporary rhythms such as funk, swingueira, electro and vogue. 

From another corner of the globe, Ajeeb Aashiq, by the Indian director Natasha Mendonca, narrates the daily lives of a cis woman and a trans man seeking freedom inside a culture of violence and misogyny. Alternating drama and poetry, the film proposes an exercise in imagination on new ways of living, in addition to bringing to light aspects of Mumbai's geopolitics and culture. Also from the Asian continent, the South Korean Jiwon Choi presented Parallel, a frantic audiovisual montage of elements from her country's life, mixing everything from variety TV shows and performances by K-Pop bands to the national army marching and scenes of prominent politicians. A portrait of the conflict between different realities and ideologies also appears on video in the artist's grandfather's account of his escape from North to South Korea.

When approaching these and other works in Southern Panoramas, the curators wrote in the catalogue: “The voices symbolically coming from other places of departure that were previously on the margins now attempt to qualify a new order, different from the modern empire, the great historical narratives that left a traumatic legacy and the scientism of another age that led us to believe in the omnipotence of man and his technology.” It was also the traumatic legacies, in this case those relating to people enslaved in Benin and brought to Brazil, which guided the creation of Kaleta/Kaleta, by Emo de Medeiros. A sort of immersive performance installation, the work featured festive elements such as music and the use of colorful masks to compose an environment inspired by Kaleta, a festival in Benin that seems to blend elements of Brazilian Carnival and North American Halloween.





The activation of Kaleta/Kaleta in the opening week of the 20th Festival was one of several performances that marked an edition with a strong focus on this medium. Among them, three works by Portuguese artists also stood out: LUTA CA CABA INDA, another work by Filipa César related to the liberation movement in Guinea-Bissau, was based on the artist's research in the collection of the National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual of the African country to conceive a work that revolved around the exhibition of a film, a debate and a dinner organized with the immigrant collective Iada África. The artist Pedro Barateiro, in turn, presented Tristes selvagens, an action based on the reading of a text whose writing was based on fictional news about a plague that affects palm trees in Portugal and spreads across southern Europe. While projecting images, the artist asked questions: “Why are palm trees a symbol of desire? Could this be why its leaves are being burned? Are we left to being even more savage or less savage, more or less animal? Who are today's barbarians? Maybe the Wall Street stockbrokers (...)?” Still from the Iberian country, the duo Von Calhau!, formed by Marta Ângela and João Alves, presented Tau Tau, a “scenic-sonic” concert held at the Sesc Pompeia’s theater with musical instruments and large inflatable objects.

The Brazilian Mabe Bethônico, in turn, presented Histórias minerais extraordinárias, a work that drew from the installation of the same name exhibited in the Panoramas and unfolded into a performed conference, debates and an editorial project. Based on three characters from Swiss history, the work overlaps boundaries between geography, ufology and fiction. Rounding out the list of performance works in the edition were The Black Mamba, by Natasha Mendonca in partnership with fellow Indian Suman Sridhar; Here and There, by the Lebanese Roy Dib; and two works linked to Ícaro Lima’s Museu do estrangeiro: Satellite Musique, a musical performance by a group of Haitian immigrants; and Caminho do Refúgio, by Congolese Shambuyi Wetu, another action that brough to light the debates on global displacement and inequalities raised at the festival. In an interview with the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, Wetu—who came to Brazil fleeing the war in his country—stated: “The refugee's path has no end. It is a path that any of us can go through, be subjected to, depending on the political, religious, racial circumstances and the historical moment.”

Lima's work was also discussed at one of the Public Programs roundtables, a series of conversations and open classes dedicated to delving deeper into issues raised in the Southern Panoramas. Names from different fields took part in the activities, such as literary critic and researcher Márcio Seligmann-Silva, architecture critic and curator Guilherme Wisnik, artist Vitor Cesar and designer Felipe Kaizer (who designed the edition's visual identity), in addition to the festival's curators and artists participating in the exhibition.





In total, ten artists were awarded in the edition—based on the choices of the international jury formed by curators Chus Martinez (Spain/Switzerland), Lisette Lagnado (Congo/Brazil), Marina Fokidis (Greece), Pablo León de la Barra (Mexico) and Salah M. Hassan (Sudan/USA). Following its policy of strengthening international networks established by Videobrasil since the early 2000s, five participants were awarded artistic residencies in institutions in different countries: the Dominican Engel Leonardo was awarded a residency at the Kyoto Art Center (Japan); Elkin Calderón and Diego Piñeros (La Decanatura) won the Pro Helvetia Residency Award (Switzerland); Emo de Medeiros was granted a residency period at Goethe-Institut’s Vila Sul (Brazil); Graziela Kunsch won a residency at the Ujazdowski Castle Center for Contemporary Art (Poland); and Natasha Mendonca was awarded a residency period at the Wexner Center for the Arts (USA).

Additionally, Jaime Lauriano won the O.F.F. – Ostrovsky Family fund award for the videos O Brasil and Morte Súbita; and the Portuguese Filipa César, the Vietnamese Quy Minh Truong and the duo Barbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca received the Sesc Art Collection Acquisition awards, and had their works incorporated into the institution’s collection. All recipients were given the original trophy produced by the artist Flavia Ribeiro—a gold-plated bronze bird covered with a small piece of red velvet. The piece of delicate features and small dimensions, the artist explained, opposed the stately character usually associated with awards, relating more to the ideas of generosity and hospitality than to competition and superiority.

Finally, associated with the festival's themes, the publication Uma comunidade múltipla was launched, the second book in the Leituras series, created in the previous edition of the event. Coordinated by Solange and Teté Martinho and editorially curated by João Laia, the work includes texts by such names as the Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the American researcher and professor Donna Haraway, the writer and artist Sophia Al-Maria and the scholar of literary and Indian cultural Leela Gandhi. “The Leituras series was created to channel the reverberations of this valuable contribution [which emerges from the global South], and is still insufficiently appreciated, at the level of thought,” wrote Solange. “Visual or textual, ironic or poetic, dense or deceptively lighthearted, the contributions have in common the fact of not condescending to ingrained conventions, whether those that irrevocably separate the fields of knowledge, or those that determine who the winners and losers of history are.”

In a contradictory world, which on the one hand saw the strengthening of important social and political struggles while on the other witnessed brutal setbacks linked to the strengthening of nationalism and authoritarianism, the 20th Festival presented works that brought to light “art’s desire to expand and subvert our worldviews,” as the curators wrote. Sadly, the crisis environment that prevailed in that context would not be alleviated in the following years—something represented, among many other examples, by the election of a far-right president in Brazil in late 2018. Not surprisingly, discussions about the violence of nationalism and the possibilities of thinking about other forms of organization (which do not require the State to exist) would prove even stronger at the 21st Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil, held two years later under the title Comunidades imaginadas [Imagined communities]. “The emergence of new narratives, which demand space and places for listening, and the intense movement of sociopolitical reconfiguration are characteristics of these times, marked by the imminence of crisis in all areas,” Solange concluded.


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
Denise Andrade, Everton Ballardin e Pedro N. Prata / Videobrasil Historical Collection 

1. Poster of the twentieth Videobrasil, by Vitor César and Felipe Kaizer.

Gallery 1
1. "Faz que vai", by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, and "Contornos", by Ximena Garrido-Lecca.
2. Curators of the biennial.
3. "Bem-vindo, presidente!", by Rafael Pagatini.
4. General view of the exhibition.
5. Artists, curators and jury at the awards ceremony.
6. Audience watching the performance "Histórias minerais extraordinárias", by Mabe Bethônico.
7. Solange Oliveira Farkas and the jury.
8. Solange Oliveira Farkas.

Gallery 2
1." O Brasil", by Jaime Lauriano
2. "Pisos", by Engel Leonardo
3. "Centro espacial satelital de Colombia", by La Decanatura
4. "Kaleta_Kaleta", by Emo de Medeiros
5. "Escolas", by Graziela Kunsch
6. "Ajeeb Aashiq", by Natasha Mendonca
7. "Ciudad Maya", by Andrés Padilla Domene
8. "Faz que vai", by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Búrca
9. "Transmission from the liberated zones", by Filipa César
10. "Vuon Bau Xanh Tuoi", by Quy Minh Truong
11. "Parallel", by Jiwon Choi

Gallery 3
1. "Here and There", performance by Lebanese Roy Dib.
2. Performance "Caminho do Refúgio”, by Shambuyi Wetu.
3. Performance by Suman Sridhar and Natasha Mendonca.
4. Audience watching "LUTA CA CABA INDA", by Filipa César.
5. "Kaleta/Kaleta", video installation and performance by Emo de Medeiros.
6. Works by Alia Farid, Emo de Medeiros and Köken Ergun.
7. General view of the exhibition.
8. Trophies produced by Flavia Ribeiro.
9. Artists taking part in the exhibition.