Essay Eduardo de Jesus, 04/2006

Imagem Política

Contemporary audiovisual production ebbs and flows through the most varied paths and possibilities of creation. The multiple processes of image building lay bare several vectors, lines of force and of continuity that somehow strengthen the bonds that tie together an audiovisual history-of-sorts (or a “Media Archaeology,” as Siegfried Zielinski puts it). The heritages of video art, of Cinema Novo [New Cinema], of the avant-gardes, and of the first video productions are often rearranged into new productions aimed at revealing the crooked paths of audiovisual devices and their maneuvers around reality's shards.

The videos of Daniel Lisboa lie somewhere along the lines of continuity that tie together, sometimes almost paradoxically, experimental images based on formalist principles and the restlessness of a political and anarchic view of social events, especially the political and social situation of Bahia. Lisboa seems to have inherited the M.O. of the technical apparatus used by the historical avant-gardes of the 1920s, or of the first video productions of the 60s, and the uneasiness of producers who soon thereafter migrated to the experimental and community TVs that characterized U.S. audiovisual output during the 70s. Lisboa's work seems to belong to both these lines, that often seem to exclude each other, as pointed out by Martha Rosler in her essay “Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment,” published in the collection Illuminating Video* :

The attempt to use the premier vernacular and popular medium had several streams. The surrealist-inspired or influenced effort meant to develop a new poetry from this everyday "language" of television, to insert aesthetic pleasure into a mass form, and to provide the utopic glimpse afforded by "liberated" sensibilities. This was meant not merely as a hedonic-aesthetic respite from instrumental reality but as a liberating maneuver. Another stream was more interested in information than in poetry, less interested in spiritual transcendence but equally or more interested in social transformation. Its political dimension was arguably more collective, less visionary, in its effort to open up a space in which the voices of the voiceless might be articulated.

In the work of Lisboa, these two trends mix with each other in videos that, if on the one hand treat image formally, on the other hand reveal political and social issues. The highlight of this mix-reminiscent of Paul Garrin's videos, particularly Home(less) Is Where the Revolution Is (1990)-is precisely the use of formal procedures typical of experimental video, fused together with documentary elements, bringing forth a natural tension between image, its form, and the social contents presented. In the work of Daniel Lisboa, this feature is clearly present in U Olhu Du Povu, Freqüência Hanói, and in O Fim do Homem Cordial, a video that was awarded a prize at the 15th edition of Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival.

The long black-and-white sequence shot of ordinary people in the streets that lasts nearly the whole duration of U Olhu Du Povu reveals an interesting aesthetic approach. People are cut off from the background, which becomes a mere vestige, a thin reference of place. This image of the solarized background, with people standing in front of it, seems like a xerox copy of the real space, a worsened, unfaithful reconstruction, unable to reveal anything. Pure image construction. Thus, we are slowly lulled by the music of Chico Science (Coco Dub) and by images of perplexed people staring. The tension persists until the video's last minutes, when we realize that we are watching a demonstration of students, left-wing parties, and the general public in the streets of Salvador during the expelling process of Senator Antonio Carlos Magalhães, a central figure in the most conservative end of politics in the state of Bahia who was exonerated for tampering with an electronic voting panel. A statement by a woman at the end of the video collaborates to lend the images of the people a new meaning. Perplexity, passivity, and stupefaction; Lisboa managed to capture these feelings and to build an instigating narrative-of-sorts, that culminates with the revelation of the reason why people are so amazed. 

In the disquieting Freqüência Hanói, codirected by Diego Lisboa, beautiful images of an intensely blue sky crisscrossed by electric wires, antennas, and other “urban gadgets” serve as counterpart for the candid discourse of an inmate (or is he?) as he tells his story, expresses his indignation and his dreams. Throughout the entire video, the inmate's voice is interrupted by static, radio-like sounds. The interesting thing is that the static also interferes with the image, which blacks out at times, revealing small fragments of images. We also see very quick flashes of a police district, and of graffiti. Tunings that meet each other in the angry political discourse of the inmate and in these images that cut through the blue sky. In this game between losing and finding the right tuning, Lisboa gives voice to those who usually can't reach the media. 

The result is sheer potency, a revelation of the state of affairs, particularly regarding politics in Bahia and in Brazil. The images do not show the inmate, therefore they are not structured around a representation of reality, thus enabling the tuning possibilities of this “image-radio-voice” to reveal to us, in depth, a voice we are not so used to hearing. A voice that usually gets lost in the mainstream media. 

If Freqüência Hanói provides some space to the inmate's voice, in O Fim do Homem Cordial the fiction that develops around a terrorist device reveals the marginal voice of the excluded. The video is comprised of images taken from the afternoon newscast of the most-watched Bahia TV station and, just like the terrorists of the Al-Qaeda Network, demands that the material they have sent to the TV station, about the abduction of a well-known senator from Bahia, be broadcast. What we see is brutal and seems to rub in our face the daze in which thousands of Brazilians live, constantly affected by the corruption of politicians. Upon turning video into a terrorist device (the image breaking into the TV schedule, the lack of camera motion, the violent discourse, the low-quality image, visual interferences of all kinds), Lisboa seems to subvert the location of the audiovisual, alluding to a reality that is built upon mediation, and of which image is already a part. Out of this subversive appropriation of images emerges the “not-so-cordial” discourse of those who usually have no voice. “Cabeça branca vai rolar” [White head will roll], shouts out the “terrorist from Bahia” as he fearlessly brandishes his knife for the camera. Lisboa delves deeper into the terrorist device, as he subtly switches the subtitles from English to Arabic, and includes an Arabic soundtrack at the end of the TV newscast. The strategy consists of using video as a device that violently fakes reality, covering it up with fiction to see how far its image shards go. This is a media short circuit, image as a vestige of actual media.

The work of Lisboa reveals, in a very blunt fashion, a trend in Brazilian audiovisual production that oscillates between formats and genres, using the current multiplicity of images to soak up possible situations of subversion, re-creation, and appropriation, such as, for example, television in its mediation (news, information, entertainment, numbness), in O Fim do Homem Cordial, or the tension between documentary, fiction, and experimentation, in Freqüência Hanói.

Moreover, the typical tensions of the meeting with the Other, revealed in the works, belong in a repertoire of strategies devised to involve us as spectators and to place different worldviews into conflict. The result is an impactful body of work that is intensely connected with social life, and capable of giving voice to the Other, thus laying bare in explicit fashion certain Brazilian political issues that are often left out from national newscasts.

Interview Teté Martinho, 04/2006

You believe that the goal of someone who makes a confrontational film is to “involve the audience in the middle of the gunfight.” Since when does the idea of confrontation guide your work? In that light, how do you assess your own evolution from U Olhu Du Povu and R$ 1,50 to O Fim do Homem Cordial?

The audience is already in the middle of the gunfight, always has been. The goal is to make them realize that a gunfight is going on. The system of oppression is a sophisticated one, it makes people so numb that facts can no longer be clearly perceived, happenings can no longer be understood, and confrontation can no longer be grasped.

In my work, confrontation begins in the moment when the city reveals itself, when the young artist finds that he is also in the middle of the battle, and when the creative process cannot be dissociated from the struggle that has been identified. That is why the first phase of my work, the college phase, has such a political, social, violent tinge to it, one which has already begun to change.

From U Olhu Du Povu and R$ 1,50, recordings of popular convulsions, to O Fim do Homem Cordial, I have managed to put together a social and political radiography of confrontation within the state. O Fim do Homem Cordial is nothing but a forecast, an anticipation of facts, the inevitable, the future chaos, the end of the cordiality for a population that can no longer stand its own poverty.

“We have learned Audiovisual Terrorism from TV and we will do it,” goes one of the commandments in the Manifesto Cinematográfico Anticordial [Anticordial Cinematographic Manifesto]. How did you develop the format of O Fim do Homem Cordial?

In Salvador there is an audiovisual empire formed by TV Bahia and TVE. Both of these stations work for the state government, therefore they work for Toninho Malvadeza (ACM). Audiovisual information is manipulated and funds are diverted for political propaganda, which infests TV commercials. Godfatherism and doing favors for friends are the prevailing practices. The province has been taken over. 

Just as terrorism strikes against the empire in the globalized system, within our context Audiovisual Terrorism strikes against the audiovisual empire. Just like them, we are aware of the power of image, and we, too, know how to do mean things (malvadezas), audiovisual malvadezas that we have learned from TV with our Middle-Eastern friends. 

O Fim do Homem Cordial is an audiovisual kidnapping. We steal the images they produced, manipulate them, and give them another meaning. This is audiovisual anthropophagy. The ransom was paid with the R$ 8,000 we won in a festival promoted by the state government. 

Did you expect O Fim do Homem Cordial to cause such an impact? How do you assess the result of the process that started after the video was censored in Bahia?

O Fim do Homem Cordial was made with a goal in mind. It was a bomb ready to go off in a certain place. And it was a successful attack, above all expectations. This was an unprecedented act in Bahia. Irreparable damage has been done to the Secretary for Culture, to the Cultural Foundation, and to DIMAS (Visual Arts and Multimedia Council). 

A new way of relating to audiovisual, by going all out, not fearing retaliation, by being dissatisfied and disobeying, was launched into this little monotonous world of purchased artwork, this state and its tourist culture.

It is not easy to deal with this type of art, which defies and proposes, attacks and exposes, hence the aberration of censorship in the 21st century. The fear of losing their jobs, of attracting the commander's wrath, leads to the anticensorship, the stupidity of trying to put out a fire using gasoline. The way in which culture is dealt with in Bahia was exposed to the whole of Brazil.

The O Fim do Homem Cordial situation has not yet been solved. The video was never shown in the room where the censoring occurred.

What did you look for in the characters portrayed by the Figuraça Project upon choosing them? Was the work made for TV? Was it ever shown on TV?

Figuraça is an audiovisual catalogue of the characters that comprise everyday life in the city. Every city has its characters, people who stand out due to their idiosyncrasies, and Salvador is no different. I am fascinated by different ways of confronting the world, reality, the city, through the variations of morality, through the transvaluation of prevailing values. These elements ultimately define the choice of characters.

The project was initially thought out for television aesthetics. However, we are thinking about changing that format. It is hard for us to get to show our project, and when we manage to do so, some of our characters' (figuraças) speeches are cut out. This is unacceptable.

How did you make Freqüência Hanói? How did you instruct the narrator?

Freqüência Hanói is a byproduct of a feature film we are making, me and my brother, Diego Lisboa, about a rapper from Bahia who is specialized in taking the stage away from big acts in order to show his own work... “A microphone thief.”

We built Freqüência Hanói borrowing some elements from this feature film. We combined the phone calls made by the rapper from the penitentiary to our home using a clandestine cell phone with images of telephone wires, from when we went to the penitentiary.

No instructions were given during the calls. We would just warn the inmate that we were recording.

Through the use of new technologies, our character breaks down physical barriers, frees his thoughts, and provides us with an inside view of the penitentiary system.

Freqüência Hanói belongs to Terrorismo Audiovisual, for it is an image crime.

What are your projects and priorities right now? Is Movimento Anticordial [Anticordial Movement] still on?

1. To keep on making my home videos (zero budget).

2. To keep on making Figuraça.

3. To keep on putting my projects into edicts in order to accomplish the most complex ones (on a budget).

4. To keep on doing underground VJ (projections).

5. To theorize and execute Terrorismo Audiovisual.

6. To fight for the survival of MovAC - Movimento Anticordial.

Comment biography Eduardo de Jesus, 04/2006

The output of Daniel Lisboa from Bahia (Salvador, 1980) sets itself apart with its political vocation and its particular grasping of the mobilizing power of image. The artist casts a melancholic, almost fatalistic eye on political subservience-the proverbial Brazilian cordiality, Lisboa's main theme-, evolving into a use of video which, instead of conforming to regular forms of leftist militancy, borrows from the rawness of contemporary strategies for spreading terror, not without a tinge of irony. With O Fim do Homem Cordial (2004), which aggressively concretized the idea of “Audiovisual Terrorism,” Lisboa earned recognition (he won the New Vectors Award at the 15th Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival) and made some people uncomfortable: the work was removed from the show Mostra de Vídeo Jovens Realizadores Baianos, in Salvador, in an outrageous case of censorship.

Preceded by homemade experiments and music videos-he got his first camera when he was fifteen years old-, Lisboa's embracing of political themes came from the contact not only with the poverty in the streets of Salvador, but also with a passivity that seemed just as ostensive to the artist. The experimental documentary film U Olhu Du Povu (2002), his first significant accomplishment, begins with a public demonstration in which students, militants, and the general public asked for the expelling of Senator Antonio Carlos Magalhães, then involved in a Senate election fraud in the capital of Bahia. Camera in hand, Lisboa turns his back on the demonstrators to record the apathetic gaze of a crowd as it watches by without participating or sharing the rebelliousness.

Awarded for its poetic quality, the work carries within itself the seed of something that would later become central in Lisboa's works and articulations: the idea of the cordial man. The artist made a free interpretation of the Brazilian citizen as defined by Sergio Buarque de Hollanda in his masterpiece Raízes do Brasil: a cordial, affable, generous, and hospitable man. Later denied by Hollanda himself, who considered it “ambiguous,” the expression was reborn with the additional meaning of political subservience in both O Fim do Homem Cordial and in the name of Movimento Anticordial [Anticordial Movement], an urban intervention collective created in response to the film's prohibition, and in the set of commandments of Manifesto Cinematográfico Anticordial [Anticordial Cinematographic Manifesto], which preaches an “abrupt, fast-paced, necessary” cinema, financially independent from government edicts, and born out of the “contact between digital technology and the lack of resources.”

Before the idea behind O Fim do Homem Cordial consolidated itself, though, Lisboa explored different directions. In Um Milhão de Pequenos Raios (2003), a musical documentary about the war of kites between grown-ups and children that takes place on the seashore of Bahia's capital on weekends, Lisboa explores his affinity with electronic music and the choreography that lies in the streets of Salvador. In the same year, Lisboa exercised his fascination for the human richness of Salvador with the Figuraça Project, a portfolio of peculiar characters from the capital city such as Seu Marinho, a retired man and a self-proclaimed traffic patrolman, and Pimentinha, a bar owner who welcomes his customers with candomblé blessings. Still in 2003, Lisboa recorded a week of demonstrations that followed an increase in the city's bus fares, in the documentary R$ 1,50. 

The demonstrators who throw the city into chaos to protest against bus fares in R$ 1,50 and the citizens who raise their voices against the elitization of Bahia carnival in the Figuraça Project are far from being examples of cordiality-neither do they enable us to foresee the vicious attack to the godfather of Bahia's 'Colonelism' on O Fim do Homem Cordial. Aimed at Antonio Carlos Magalhães and his mechanisms of political perpetuation, Lisboa's first fiction film puts all commandments of anticordial cinema to work: the film stages the abduction of the Senator and the ransom demand with rawness, and is built upon an “audiovisual kidnapping”-it appropriates and manipulates images by TV Globo from Bahia. “Just as terrorism strikes against the empire in the globalized system, within our context Audiovisual Terrorism strikes against the audiovisual empire,” Lisboa claims. “Just like them, we are aware of the power of image.” 

In addition to its obvious merits-such as its use of precariousness as a language, favoring the viciousness of the message conveyed-, O Fim do Homem Cordial is born out of a discovery: the idea of confronting a form of political power the longevity of which owes a lot to control over means of communication, with the practice, seldom used in Brazil yet a staple of Palestinian terrorist groups, of sending messages and promoting actions through TV. The power of this mix can be measured by the reaction it provoked: a bizarre case of censorship-the video was removed in a hurry from the show Mostra de Vídeo Jovens Realizadores Baianos-, which led to the departure of Sérgio Borges from his job as Director of Visual Arts and Multimedia at Fundação Cultural da Bahia.

After O Fim do Homem Cordial there was a string of awards in Brazilian festivals, as well as a wave of actions by Movimento Anticordial, a group of artists who organize actions in order to protest against the censoring of the film and to fuel public debates on politics, art, behavior, environment, urbanity, and communication. A watershed, the film put Lisboa on a trail that is closer to artistic creation than to militant documentary filmmaking. Freqüência Hanói, his next video, juxtaposes the speech of a man serving time in a penitentiary in Bahia, recorded during a phone call using a clandestine cell phone, and random images of a darkening sky, crisscrossed by high-tension wires and seen from inside a moving car. It seems as though the artist has returned from his radical incursion into fiction with increased freedom.

Bibliographical references

Informativo MovAC
The actions coordinated by MovAC (Movimento Anticordial) are the theme of the bulletin, last updated in November 2005. Texts and images record and review each of the actions performed by the collective, who uses theater, video, photography, graffiti, music, poetry, and performance to explore new possibilities for taking over the city's spaces.

Manifesto Cinematográfico Anticordial [Anticordial Cinematographic Manifesto]

Presents the thirteen guiding principles of Lisboa's output from O Fim do Homem Cordial onwards, including his quest for financial independence from government edicts, his choice of poverty and political violence as basic issues, and his embracing of “Audiovisual Terrorism.”