SAO PAULO: For Solange Farkas, it’s all about taking risks. Thirty years ago the Bahia-born curator and arts activist founded Videobrasil, a biennial devoted to new media art.
In 1983 “new media art” meant video so, from its origins, Videobrasil was tied to legitimizing video art as a practice. It wasn’t unnatural that the mandate of Associaç?o Cultural Videobrasil, name aside, should broaden to embrace technological innovation in the arts generally.
“We thought, ‘By combining video and CD-ROM, we are doing something new,’” Farkas recalls. “Of course … the point isn’t simply to do something for the first time. The point is to take risks.”
Today Farkas is director of an institutional hydra, devoted both to cultivating, disseminating and mapping contemporary artistic practices and to promoting cultural exchange among artists, curators, researchers and the public at large. These multiple agendas are evident in the festival’s 18th edition, whose schedule of events continues until February 2014.
One of the event’s two legs is “30 Years.” Located in Sao Paulo’s Sesc Pompeia, it is at once a retrospective installation comprised of excerpts from video work exhibited at Videobrasil since 1983 and a public database providing researchers with access to a three-decade-long archive of work.
Nearby sprawls Southern Panoramas, the biennial’s second leg, a competitive show comprised of work by 94 artists from 32 countries from the Global South – Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and Oceania.
Video installation and projection remains the core of Southern Panoramas, though it has also embraced other forms – ranging from photographs, artist books, drawings, sculptures and paintings to performances.
The competition’s winners have just been announced, and it is significant that the sole cash prize of 70,000 Brazilian reals (about $30,000) went not to a video artist, but a performer. Brazil’s Luiz de Abreu captured the five-curator jury’s imagination with his “Samba do Crioulo Doido” (Samba Mad Creole), which addresses racial discrimination by focusing on the eroticism in media depictions and reception of black bodies.
Ten additional prizes, taking the form of residencies with Videobrasil’s international network of collaborators, were awarded. Among the winners is Lebanon’s Ali Cherri, who took the Resartis residency prize – hosted by Warsaw’s A-I-R Laboratory – for his 2012 video installation “Pipe Dreams.” “My Father,” the 2010 video by Pakistan’s Basir Mahmood, took one of the Sesc_Videobrasil residency prizes, which will bring him to Beirut’s Ashkal Alwan.
“Twenty years ago we changed to put the focus on the Global South,” Farkas smiles wryly. “I don’t know why we did this.”
Videobrasil, she notes, has altered to accommodate changing video art practice. The trajectory of Brazilian video art also parallels global trends.
When the form was still in its infancy – with international artists like Valie Export undertaking aesthetically (and physically) risky performance-based work – Brasil’s Let?cia Parente released “Trademark” (1975). An expression of artistic dissent to the military junta then ruling her country, the artist threads a needle and carefully stitches “Made in Brasil” onto the sole of her bare foot.
“Let?cia was among our first generation of video artists,” Farkas says. “Our artists have always been strong in performance. Afterward, a new generation was interested in engaging with television, and Brazilian artists began to show their work internationally.”
These were the glory days of MTV, when Brasil’s franchise of the then-music network commissioned content from the cream of the country’s artistic community.
During its third stage, Brazilian video art “became very rough, as the artists searched for references in other media practices – like documentary and Cinema Novo [the critically engaged film movement born in Brazil in the 1960s].
“In its present stage, the practice has completely opened up, with video being incorporated within other forms – from performance to sculpture – though there remains a very strong relationship between the evolution of video art and the revolution in documentary.”
Farkas hesitates to acknowledge a common “southern” aesthetic.
“Less a common aesthetic, perhaps, than a [common] way of seeing,” she says, then avers, “No. There is an aesthetic. It is less formalist, more political – though it is a subjective politics: Talking about the self in an unconventional way can be political.
“When people have bigger problems [to worry about, their concern is] not whether the work is pretty or not, but what it means. There is an urgency in this work … It’s about demanding a voice.
“Our interest in the South stems from looking for other ways of being seen. We’re looking for a kind of alterity, for [nonstereotypical representations of] others.” Farcas smiles again. “Or maybe we’re simply proud of ourselves.
“Of course, to find the best of this work, you have to go to Kassel [home of the famed documenta contemporary art exhibition], to Venice, to Paris … But I like to take risks, to go to villages, to smaller spaces to see the work in its own context.
“Maybe that’s what keeps the art vital and energized.
“At the same time, we normally invite established artists, so people can see their work here. We show well-known work alongside that of-lesser known artists. And at the same level of respect.”
The Global South is a broad and populous terrain. So, when scrutinizing Videobrasil’s list of participating artists, it’s a bit surprising to find so many Lebanese names. Southern Panoramas includes work by four Beirut artists, which – considering the country’s population is a small fraction of that of Sao Paulo – must set some kind of record for per capita representation.
A wave of pleasure sweeps over Farkas’ face as she recalls her encounter with Lebanese contemporary art during the first edition of Ashkal Alwan’s Homeworks Forum in 2002. The 14th edition of Videobrasil, in 2003, she says, marked a turning point for the biennial.
That edition of the festival might be dubbed the Lebanese edition, with Ashkal Alwan founder Christine Tohme and artist Akram Zaatari co-curating the screening cycle “Possible Narratives,” which included works by ten Lebanese artists – Fouad ElKoury, Ghassan Salhab, Jalal Toufic, Jayce Salloum, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Mahmoud Hojeij, Mohamad Soueid, Nigol Bezjian and Zaatari himself.
“Possible Narratives” also included a large contribution by Walid Raad, “The Loudest Muttering is Over: Documents From the Atlas Group Archive.”
It was a busy biennial for Zaatari who, aside from being the focus of his own retrospective – along with Toufic, Rabih Mroue, Lamia Joreige, Nabil Kojok and Roy Samaha – showed work in Southern Panoramas.
“We have a great empathy with Beirut,” Farkas smiles. “We’ve a strong Lebanese community in Brasil, especially in Sao Paulo.
“When we first encountered Lebanon’s contemporary artists, we were shocked by how well articulated and integrated their work was. It is very special: incredibly tough, and imbued with a unique sense of reality.
“There are other countries like Lebanon,” Farkas concludes, “but there is something special in the Lebanese DNA.”
For more information on Videobrasil, see http://site.videobrasil.org.br/en/festival.
(Source: (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http)