Essay 2005

“Risks of the Present Time” - by André Brasil, Christine Mello and Eduardo de Jesus

Risks of the Present Time

André Brasil, Christine Mello and Eduardo de Jesus

Poetry is risk. The famous poem-synthesis, proclaimed in a number of different supports by Augusto de Campos, reverberates strangely and inversely in Andrew Grove's(1) half-mystical, half-entrepreneurial formula: “only the paranoid survive”. For Intel's Chairman of the Board, in a society characterized by risk and instability, we must all feel constantly threatened. In the light of Grove's cynical lucidity, the immediate conclusion is that contemporary capitalism, quite apart from its furthering of exclusion and economic disparities, operates perversely in the realm of subjectivities: we are urged to take a stance against everything and against everybody, as part of a risky individualistic competitive strategy.

Whatever we call it - the society of risk, uncertainty or instability - contemporary experience is fragile: we are living on a tightrope, in a precarious balance between the prospect of finally enjoying, once and for all, the vaunted advances of techno-science, and the prospect - touted in the media and in scientific discourse - of the end itself (of history, of art, of science, of philosophy, of mankind, of life).

Above all else, risk is a rhetoric (which does not mean that it is not real or that it does not interfere in a very concrete way in our lives). Risk becomes reality when it has already become a catastrophe or a damage. In order to remain a risk it must stay latent, imminent, about to happen. That is why risk is always on the edge of discourse, on its boundaries.

The media seems to be one of the major sources of the discourse on risk today: in the media we are always on the brink of an environmental catastrophe, of a nuclear war, a terrorist attack, about to be infected by an incurable virus, to lose our jobs, to have our homes burgled, or to undergo an economic crisis. Increasingly present in our daily lives, and in its sheer media visibility, the discourse of risk eventually legitimizes control. In the face of the looming risk, we demand more and more security, more and more policing, more and more surveillance, more and more control. As Giorgio Agamben(2) suggests, instability legitimizes the transformation of political power into police power.

This means that contemporary experience stems from a contradictory desire: invited to become the entrepreneurs of our own selves, urged to tap into information, entertainment and consumption networks, we must constantly run risks, but - no, thank you very much - we do not wish to assume these risks. What immediately results from this contradiction is a sort of asepsis of experience: however, not without experience becoming first information, this new kind of communication that clarifies and explains everything.(3)

Asepsis of space, which becomes increasingly transparent, visible, mapped and monitored in its macro- and micro-physical dimensions. Asepsis of the body, which can be scanned and investigated by increasingly sophisticated optical instruments and, now that its operational code has been discovered, can be manipulated indefinitely.

But we are concerned mainly with time here. We know that the array of techniques developed in the field of communication and computing, biotechnology and genetic engineering, are changing our experience of time, which seems to be increasingly driven by ideas of predictability and forecasting.

Through increasingly sophisticated simulation techniques, used in a bewildering variety of fields - from genetics to finance - we have made the unforeseen predictable, we have translated the possible into measurable, calculable and pre-testable information. If, as Bellour writes, “time constructs the image by devouring it like a cigarette burning down”(4), the film is now playing backwards: it is the image - plastic, dynamic and processual - that consumes time, in its eagerness to anticipate it.

Chance, the unforeseen, that which is still coming to light: what the future represents in terms of risk, virtuality or the irreducible difference from the present, can now be monitored and controlled by means of every kind of preventive and modeling technique. In other words, to reduce what is “risky” in experience we must hedge ourselves around by more and more information, making our daily existence increasingly in-formed. As Jean-Louis Comolli(5) would say, we live increasingly scripted lives, protected from the “risk of the real”.

Within this context the electronic and digital image has an ambiguous status. On the one hand, having been made information, it can be part of surveillance and modeling devices, increasing the transparency of space and the predictability of the climate. On the other hand, taken over by contemporary artistic and political strategies, it can reinvent spaces of uncontrol and once again leave the future wide open to risk. Only that it is now a new type of risk, the risk of esthetic experience, that risk capable of reconfiguring our field of possibilities, of expanding our horizons of expectations and the scope of what we deem “thinkable”.

Electronic risks

In its extreme instability - “dust in one's eyes”, as Fargier(6) so aptly puts it - the electronic image is inserted historically and semiotically into the several artistic and communicational fields, infiltrating, opening up pathways between one and the other, transforming them and being transformed by them. Today, more than ever before, electronic production is undergoing expressive proliferation, creating impure, unpredictable forms: forms that for this very reason do not fit snugly into generic classifications. This all helps make the field of electronic production a risk zone, a space of tension between cultural strata and languages.

This production is also expansive. Electronic images - analogical or digital - go beyond the limits of the screen, redesigning urban and domestic spaces, sheltering and changing subjectivities. If, as Philippe Dubois(7) puts it, we are living in a sort of “video-state”, this is because contemporary experience, from television to security cameras, is more and more intensely mediated and reconfigured by the range of electronic devices that are working ubiquitously and instantaneously. The electronic image thus becomes a state of the image and of reality itself: it is through it that other images and our own presence in the world are processed and conceived of.

However, beyond its expansive and permeable nature, the electronic image must be deemed risky owing mainly to its event-like dimension. This dimension can be investigated in several ways. One has to do with the particular means by which the electronic image operates the inscription of time: its temporal dimension and its processual character make it a true electronic event. As Arlindo Machado states, the videographic framework does not exist in space, but only in the duration of a sweep across the screen. Electronic images, he goes on to say, “are no longer the expressions of a geometry, but rather of a geology, in other words, of an inscription of time on space. Time is thus no longer what it was in the cinema, that which comes between one frame and the next, but that which is inscribed in the unfolding of the sweeping lines and superimposition in the frame”(8). An electronic event, therefore, which weaves itself in processual fashion, at the very moment when the image forms upon the screen. The risk of the image that permeates and is permeated by the risk of experience.

There is another way of thinking about the event-like status of the electronic image. Less as the slicing of an instant than as the uninterrupted flow of light signals, the electronic image is processed in real time and often enables a coincidence between the moment when the image is produced and when it is shown. Real time allied to telepresence makes ours a live society, continually being overlaid, in an expanded present of several spaces and temporalities. We might critically add, with Virilio(9), that images transmitted instantaneously and at a distance, enabled by electronic and digital technologies, dominate the thing shown, provoking a kind of accident, a short circuit between presence and distance. It is thus a “paradoxical era of images”(10).

Despite all the political and esthetic ambiguities created by this paradox, the openness to real time and to the ceaseless flow of the present also opens up the image to the event in its unpredictable emerging. The contingency of its capture and its instantaneous circulation permeates the image with the random, with (quasi) events.

Beyond its merely technical or technological aspects, yet indissociable from them, the esthetic appropriation of the electronic image takes place in the context of its temporal, processual and event-like nature. An artist working with the electronic source material will mould and manipulate, or rather, modulate time itself. He or she can therefore expose the image to duration, to the event, to the risk of present time and all that this entails in terms of contingency and uncontrollableness.

Being open to duration the image can thus accommodate the possible. It can often even provoke it, as in certain documental or performative procedures that aim less to record than to produce an experience (which would not take place without the intervention of someone behind the camera producing it).

The event, “the unexpected of all expectation”, as Blanchot might put it, is that which can affect us and thus reconfigure or expand our field of possibilities: when it pierces the image in its unseizable appearing, the event can make us think what was previously unthinkable for us. This opens up a risky territory: “a placeless space and an unengendering time”(11), in which moves “a thought that does not yet think”(12). Ambiguous, precarious, unstable, the image installs itself within this risk zone, where discernment, decision, explanation and action are impossible. All that remains for us is “an effort, not to express that which we know, but to feel that which we do not know.”(13).

We can take up once more Augusto de Campos' famous poem that opened this essay: poetic risk in many ways differs from the risk which, through techno-scientific discourse or media discourse, leaves us in a state of constant alert, or constant paranoia. While the latter is increasingly used in order to legitimize control, invasion of privacy and war (infinite justice, some might say), it is the former that can overturn our certainties: it thus reinvents our horizon of expectations, our field of possibilities. It is less a case of foreseeing the future in order to colonize it, than of opening up as-yet unheard-of virtualities.


(1) Apud Sibila, Paula. O homem pós-orgânico: corpo, subjetividade e tecnologias digitais. Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará, 2002.

(2) Agamben, Giorgio. Sobre a segurança e o terror. In: Cocco, G. & Hopstein, G. (org.). As multidões e o império: entre globalização da guerra e universalização dos direitos. Rio de Janeiro: DP&A Editora, 2002.

(3) Benjamin, Walter. Obras Escolhidas:

magia e técnica, arte e política. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1994.

(4) Bellour, Raymond. Entre-imagens. Campinas: Papirus, 1997, p. 41.

(5) Comolli, Jean-Louis. Cinema contra espetáculo. In: FORUMDOC.BH.2001. Belo Horizonte, 2001.

(6) Fargier, Jean-Paul. Poeira nos olhos.

In: Parente, André (org.). Imagem Máquina. Rio de Janeiro: Editora 34, 1993.

(7) Dubois, Philippe. Cinema, Vídeo, Godard. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify, 2004.

(8) Machado, Arlindo. Máquina e imaginário. O desafio das poéticas tecnológicas. São Paulo: Edusp, 1996, p. 52.

(9) Virilio, Paul. A imagem virtual mental e instrumental. In: Parente, A. (org.). Imagem Máquina. São Paulo: Editora 34, 1993.

(10) Idem.

(11) Blanchot, Maurice. O livro por vir. Lisboa: Relógio D'água, 1984, p. 88.

(12) Idem, p. 60.

(13) Blanchot, Maurice. À parte do fogo. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1997.

BRASIL, André; JESUS, Eduardo de; MELLO, Christine. "Risks of the Present Time". In: Caderno Videobrasil. Associação Cultural Videobrasil, nº1, pp. 101-103, São Paulo, 2005.

Essay Christine Mello, 05/2006

essay_ "duVa body", by Christine Mello


duVa body

Christine Mello

One of duVa's earliest works-as he likes his name to be spelled-was the four-minute-long experimental video Grotesque, from 1987. Among his most recent works is the video performance Grotesco Sublime MIX (GSMIX), first presented in 2005. From the 1980s onwards, two decades have passed as he develops his poetic project. The issues raised herein are: why discuss duVa today, and under which circumstances?

There are many different ways of perceiving the presence of a gesture, an aesthetic action, and its creative contexts, just as there are many different ways of discussing the symbolic dimension of an artwork. Nevertheless, at the core of each interpretation lies a subjective experience. Therefore, it would be better for us to approach multiple character types, with regard to the notion of grotesqueness, and thus choose to analyze what we consider to be a hybrid, shapeless feature in the work of Luiz Duva, born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1965.

Why duVa?

First off, duVa's artistic existence is not about interpreting the world, but rather experiencing the world. It is about the issue of thought as a strategy, or as a process of subjectivation, as Deleuze put it. Therefore, this essay is not about introducing duVa as a subject, but rather introducing him in his dimension as a thought-artist.

He started on his path in the 1980s making fiction. This is a relatively difficult task in a country like Brazil, whose foundation lies in the daily soap operas on TV. How can one implement, within this genre, a language displacement?

Deus come-se is a video made by duVa in 1990. The figure of a man is thoroughly fragmented through electronic editing. The action, like a puzzle or a construction over an abyss (an edit within an edit), is raised to the deconstructive dimension characteristic of art discourses. In the video, image processing turns concepts into images. This is a key feature of creation using types of electronic media in which, more than the humanism of the sight that is led by the cameras, as Dubois put it, it is the hand that touches, fondles, gropes, infiltrates, edits, and consequently provides meaning.

Like a geometrician, by means of multiple cuts that he makes upon the screen, in Deus come-se duVa accomplishes a type of mathematically constructed edit. In it, he exerts semantic and syntactic control through the decomposition of a body in a fictional action. The body has an ambiguous character, something that is only possible in electronic media, since it appears to be fixed and, at the same time, moving in a series of successive cuts. Moreover, as the human body is cut to pieces, it bumps into an insect in a Kafka-like situation. Anguishingly and, at the same time, ironically, a bull has its throat cut, is dismembered, bleeds, and is killed. Meanwhile, the insect and the man try to devour or dominate each other. Their bodies dialogue with each other, and they recognize themselves based on each other. Nevertheless, it is the video's image and sound-metaphorically speaking-that eats them away, devours them, and subverts them through a tragic purging effect, or a sight that is too close. Better yet, the image has the power to transform them into a body that is different, grotesque, part man part animal, a denial of divine creation.

If Deus come-se was generated at the core of a creative process that began two decades ago, to speak of Luiz Duva today means, more than anything else, to speak of a consistent poetic proposition which not only stands the test of time, but also has the power to give off a worldview. Along that line of thought, one can also realize the timeless dimension in which that worldview is expressed. For example, just as Peter Bruegel from the Netherlands conveyed his grotesque perception during the Renaissance, one can notice similar aesthetic gestures nowadays, be it in the work of artists such as Matthew Barney, in the international context, or in the work of artists such as Luiz Duva, in the Brazilian context.

Why the aesthetics of the grotesque?

Pointing out to grotesque aesthetic experiences in the work of duVa means linking him to a repertoire aimed at discussing human contradictions, represented during 19th-century romanticism by Victor Hugo, through contaminated operations that prompt scorn and laughter, ranging from tragedy to comedy, from the sublime to the grotesque. In that moment, opposing himself to classical norms, Hugo* presented, with his modern drama, the principles of mixing genres, of rejecting rules, of refusing to imitate models, and of freedom in art.

For Guinsburg, it is through the paradox, the unlikely, and the abyssal vortex, that the art of the grotesque destabilizes and sets everything it touches into motion, unbalancing harmonic relationships, juxtaposing in the same axiological horizon the high and the low, the refined and the rude, the fair and the beastly, the tragic and the comic**. That is the direction in which language displacement takes place in Luiz Duva's propositions. It is not only a semantic displacement, it is also a syntactic one. The displacement occurs both in singular procedures (as is the case with the disruption of fiction in Deus come-se) and in the limit situations he submits electronic media to in his work.

Such statement stems from the act of observing duVa's perceptive gestures as stemming from a type of intelligence that is oriented towards unconformity, hybridism, and the disorganization of forms. In Deus come-se, the grotesque takes place through disarticulation, or the disaggregation of the whole for the fragment, with the intent of exploring, in video, multiple views and their most complex procedures. Here, the displacement happens through the deconstruction of motion and the way in which he undoes symmetrical arrangements, within the context of editing the work. That is, through the insertion of motion as a fictional element in the very plane of image-video.

Deus come-se, though, is not the only case in which grotesque gestures and language displacements occur in duVa's work. Such phenomena also take place in Jardim Rizzo (1992), in Momentos antes... (1995), and later on, in The bodymen lost in heaven (1996), among others. All of these are fictional videos, and they all build upon the problematic of the grotesque.

Thus, the grotesque appears in duVa's artistic practice under the logic of reversion. For this and other reasons, the aesthetic action of the grotesque in his work stems from the way in which he promotes a language that is incompatible with preestablished norms, thus disclosing the expansion of expressive forms.

The reading of the language used by an artist who crosses through media pathways, or deterritorialized landscapes, can be considered, as Plaza would put it, as the reading of parallel, simultaneous universes that tend to lose their contours and fixed boundaries. Thus, like a multiple sensoriality, duVa's trajectory in Brazilian art can be presently seen as a moving, shapeless drawing in the field of electronic media image and sound.

Collective body

Sometimes we feel as if image in the contemporary world were no longer able to express itself. The problem is no longer how to make image express itself, but rather to provide it with another instance of power.

Image is a symbolic construction; its production requires a series of operations which, in this case, consist of working with the expansion of current electronic media. It is up to the artist, then, to draw from this reality in order to bring new circumstances to the sensory-motor scheme of image.

Luiz Duva brings new circumstances to contemporary image by means of the disorder in his syntactic system. The hard determinism with which duVa edited his early works gave way, towards the end of the 1990s, to a process of introducing chance and randomness in the field of image production. He began articulating images by using the logic of imprecision, incorporating the unforeseeable and the mobility of information into them.

duVa, who used to make videos for the TV screen, now moved toward other sensory spaces. Thus, he expanded the motion of image, taking it to the architectural environment of video installations, as well as to the synesthetic, immersive improvisations of his VJing presentations.

In 2001, duVa made Corpomóvel 1 e 2, a combination of installation and performance. The work is like a mobile production, editing, and image manipulation unit in which duVa recorded, edited, and presented the work to the audience, all at once. The motion of image, which had already been fictionalized and turned into installation, now became a performance as well.

In keeping with this more hybrid nature, still in 2001, another expressive body came up in his images: the collective body produced during his live image presentations, also known as live video presentations. During this period, by means of partnerships such as the one involving Videobrasil, duVa created work of the likes of PVC (2001) and A mulher e seu marido bife (2001).

In Vermelho sangue (2002), a video performance presented along with musician Wilson Sukorski, twelve projection screens were specially designed for the 1st Brazilian Festival of VJs - Red Bull Live Images. On these screens, duVa showcased the undetermined, ever-changing language of scratching, the electronic cutting of image, as he immersed himself in the environment of the electronic scene.

Departing from formal control, the expressiveness of duVa's images gained new dimensions. His work was no longer about decomposing images in a calculated fashion, or aimed at obtaining a finished audiovisual product, as in Deus come-se; little by little, his creative process became more open to informality, to the lack of control and finishing. His works began coexisting in space with more plural and collaborative dialogues, thus embracing the creative body of the other, who is also under displacement in the acts of visiting, entering, living, and sharing his video installations and video performances.

Following those experiments, in 2003 duVa presented the video performance Desconstruindo Letícia Parente: Marca registrada, a minimalist exercise in appropriating and deconstructing another video performance. In this case, he dismantled Marca registrada (1974) by Letícia Parente. This work, which pioneered video art in Brazil, has nothing to do with live image. Rather, it is a tribute to the artist Letícia Parente, expanding her image into three simultaneous screens, and setting her ideas into the realm of live video manipulation.

More recently, duVa has broadened the dimension of image even further in the fields of improvisation, and of presenting his work to audiences. In order to do so, he began working with interfaces and interactivity. This is how he made the installation Demolição (2004). In this work, duVa proposes a sort of virtual demolition of the image. The demolishing effect is accomplished by pushing the buttons on an interface, as the audience before a projection conducts the events like in a videogame and, aesthetically speaking, demolishes the image.

duVa body

In a very particular way, duVa currently incorporates a musical dimension into his work through image sampling. It is by means of this cross-procedure of image and audio samples, or by playing synesthetic games in the technological realm, that image becomes capable of producing sound. If electronic image, like music, exists only in time, that is, in duration, rhythm, frequency-as Machado put it-, then we can assume that, in a direction opposite to that of video art pioneers (the great majority of whom, such as Paik, came from the musical realm), duVa reactivates these abstract dialogues, inverting them, and taking images back to the field of audio experiments.

A fruit of this wide array of experiences, Luiz Duva's artistic maturation occurs in a moment in which his audiovisual writing presents itself most radically as cinematic expression, plasticity, and sensoriality: it is pregnant with inner motion. It is in the quest for these new aesthetic substances that his trajectory takes on the dimension of a poetic body, or a duVa body. Such a distinct, impure, undetermined, nonstandardized, and shapeless body of language expands the very dimension of media, and returns to its origins: it becomes shadow, brightness, drawing, painting, photogram, frame, sampler, it becomes itself contemporary imagery and thinking.

* Hugo exposes this view in his Preface to Cromwell.

** Guinsburg exposes this view in the introduction to the Brazilian edition of Wolfgang Kayser's The Grotesque in Art and Literature.

Bibliographical References

Deleuze, Gilles. Conversações, 1972-1990 / Gilles Deleuze. Translated by Peter Pál Pelbart. São Paulo: Ed. 34, 1992.

Dubois, Philippe. Introduction to Video, Cine, Godard, by Jorge La Ferla. Buenos Aires: Libros Del Rojas/Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2001.

Hugo, Victor. Do Grotesco e do Sublime: tradução do Prefácio de Cromwell. Trans. and notes by Célia Berrettini. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2004.

Kayser, Wolfgang. O Grotesco. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2003.

Machado, Arlindo. Máquina e Imaginário. O Desafio das Poéticas Tecnológicas. 2nd ed. São Paulo: Edusp, 1996.

Mello, Christine. Extremidades do Vídeo. Doctoral dissertation, PUC-SP, Communication and Semiotics, 2004.

Plaza, Julio. Tradução Intersemiótica. São Paulo/Brasília: Perspectiva/CNPq, 1987.

Associação Cultural Videobrasil. "FF>>dossier>>018>>Luiz Duva". Disponível em: . São Paulo, May, 2006.