Essay Cezar Migliorin, 08/2006

Landscape Theory

The Landscape Theory video is all about patience. It features Bellini recording a conversation of his with a man, in the U.S., as a plane flies across the sky. The man tells him he should not be filming there: “people are kind of edgy…they get suspicious of people filming major overpasses or big buildings….” Bellini remains calm enough to realize something important is taking place here: a dialogue like this one won't happen twice, and the artist shrewdly keeps the conversation going, tension-filled, without acting submissive. Slowly, the talk renders Bellini's camera increasingly dangerous: “some guy was held in here the other day for taking pictures…” and Bellini keeps talking to the man, not giving in, just listening. The video is not aimed at provoking an uncommon, radical experience such as a fight, but rather at letting the conversation flow. How far is this thing going? The patience and cleverness here lie in allowing the text to go beyond the realm of communication, vibrating a state of the world.

In Landscape Theory, the artist managed to materialize the violence of a “casual” meeting, the violence in a talk that starts out as a friendly conversation. Landscape Theory stands on borders: between the delicacy of the birds Bellini intends to film, and the nature made private by a citizen who deems himself responsible for the safety of all. Here, the State no longer needs signs and rules to indicate the prohibition. The ban, the danger, the threat are everywhere: in the birds, in the landscape, in the overpasses, and in the occasional casual meetings one can have with strangers on the streets.

The terrorism that destroyed the World Trade Center is back in this video, featuring no image of the event at all, no black screen censoring the scenes. 9/11 inhabits the images of this five-minute video. Perhaps this materiality of a state of affairs is what impresses the most in Bellini's work; each and every image in Landscape Theory overflows, spills out of the landscape, pointing out to how the war of images has been “won” by the terrorists. The world is not meant to have a meaning, says the man who addresses the artist. Everything you are filming poses a potential threat: the big buildings, the overpasses, the computer companies, and even the landscape: “Do you know where I could do this without it being a problem?” Bellini asks. “No, I sure don't,” goes the man. Each and every place is impregnated. 

At first I asked myself, why not maintain a spatial unity between speech and image? Why not keep the original images? I reckon it was through a multiplicity of images, which meet the text at times and distance themselves from it at others, that Bellini managed to extrapolate that conversation between the two of them to infinite space. The ethical and political composition of space materialized in Bellini's video relates not only to the space in which the video takes place, but also to a reality of image and of space in general. 

The two voices in the video are vying for space. On the one hand we have the artist seeing a microaction of nature: the sun sets, birds fly, and in a strange, disfunctional way, he becomes interested in that space. On the other hand we have a voice that comes along to give “advice,” and ends up giving a “scolding,” a voice to whom that same space has a function. For that man, there are no ambiguities in between camera and space. Filming the space and nature is a statement in itself. It is a double capture: of spaces and of images. Bellini fights against this capture; in this sense, the video is strongly political. To produce an image is an act of opening up, of presenting something still under formation, still embryonic, whatever it is that might come out of this process. Meanwhile, the voice addressing the artist claims it knows what the images are meant for, hence they cannot be filmed. 

“The painter does not work on a blank canvas, the canvas is full of clichés that need breaking,” Francis Bacon once said. If preconceived images have always existed, they have now attained an unprecedented degree of saturation. The quasi-comic effect of Bellini's video lies in the fact that he is able to capture this terrorrism-related cliché in the flying birds or even the sunset. Oddly enough, the sunset, a cliché in its own right, escapes its fate when confronted and tensioned with yet another cliché.

“Do you watch the news or anything? Do you read the paper?” the man asks, expliciting what makes him a power agent. According to the panoptic model described by Foucault, there is an architecture designed to render individuals visible, causing people to introject this watch over individuals, making them responsible for their own surveillance. The indignation of the man talking to Bellini stems from the fact that the one making the film has not incorporated the surveillance yet. Beware! They will spot you and they will punish you. But here, different from Foucault's disciplinary basis, surveillance is anticipatory and preventive. The man is on the lookout for him with the camera, anticipating a risk that the artist (and himself) might be at, and the police watch over those filming, anticipating the risk “we all” are at. In a chain of predictions, contemporary surveillance establishes itself.

Landscape Theory is a victory; it discusses a speech that provides rules for space and image, at the same time producing an image devoid of rules, exposing with great intensity an attempt to immobilize the act of image creation. In Bellini's video, it is the image and the spaces that rebel. “This is not surveillance,” the images of the video seem to scream, while Bellini keeps his calm even as he realizes, in the act, that he was capturing something precious. Nevertheless, this work shows that every camera is a surveillance camera and that every space must be watched. In the video, an ordinary man takes on the role of the eye of power, an eye that can do anything and which is not individual; it is not aimed at an individual due to certain features of race or nationality, but rather due to the way in which he/she operates with nature and technology. As we head down the path paved by Foucault, we grasp the concept that subjective constructions are not separate from forms of visibility. These are the forms that make themselves unique at each historic moment, and in Landscape Theory they can be detected in that which is specific in the contemporary: a transformation of space, with regard to its visibility and its forms of control. 

In the video, security is not a responsibility of the State anymore, but of each community, each citizen. Security is no longer regarded as a State standard, but rather as a local contract according to which each person is in charge of his/her own security, as well as the security of the community. In the United States, where the video takes place, these policies became known as “neighborhood watch” or “zero tolerance” but, as a matter of fact, this privatization of security involves the entire relationship with the State. Just look at the way in which the State is seen nowadays, no longer as a provider, but as a partner; it is not up to the State to provide health services, but to set limits for private health insurance-which people may or may not have. In the world today, as in Bellini's video, a person is responsible for his or her own destiny. This is what the man who approached the cameraman had to say; you may film if you want, but it is best not, you might get arrested. On the other hand, he deems himself responsible for his safety; this is what authorizes this man to view the camera and the architecture as threats. 

Since at least the mid-19th century, urban architecture was instrumentalized by the State for the sake of public order and citizenship. Urban reforms undertaken at that time are proof of concern regarding security and health in the reconstruction of cities. Those cities were becoming increasingly transparent and “organized.” Around 1880, the standards applied by Haussmann in Paris had spread to distant cities, such as Santiago and Saigon (Marshall Berman). Curiously enough, in Landscape Theory, replicating the 9/11 attacks, the urban architecture takes on new significance. Big buildings, which are synonymous with progress and order, turn into threats, potential chaos, weapons of crime that must be watched.

We are responsible for our security, our ongoing development, our education, our personal health, and our risk management. In other words, “postponement is limitless” (Deleuze). This postponement now includes terrorism, which can never go unmanaged, and responsibility for it is ours (so tells us the man who approaches the cameraman). To make a film of an overpass means to owe an explanation. The society of control, as pointed out by Deleuze, works through modulation between institutions. If, in a disciplinary society, we used to move from one institution to another-school/army/factory/hospital-, in the society of control, these transitions no longer occur by means of cuts. Each institution has its own flows and forces, which are passed on from one institution to the other. The flows of a given institution are often being updated in the other ones, therefore the very identities of these institutions are in crisis, so they too begin operating by flows. The scary thing about this work is the fact that the terrorist/criminal “flow” seems dispersed and all-encompassing; these are poisonous, totalitarian forces that demand multiplying, insubordinate actions, such as this video by Bellini.

Interview Teté Martinho, 08/2006

The issues of territory, landscape, and space have a strong presence in the construction of works such as Landscape Theory (2005), and the Outlines installation (2005). How did these concerns first come up in your work, and how does each of these works deal with them, in your opinion?

I had a strong visual arts and drawing background, therefore I felt real weird with a camera when I first started making videos. I had no previous experience with cinema, and had never engaged in significant film work. The camera was (is) a very awkward object in my hands. I felt the power of using a camera, the discomfort it brings, both to those who stand behind the camera, and those in front of it… Much of my work stems from the discomfort that the camera makes me feel.

I regard this connection with space and the landscape as a consequence of this discomfort. I am interested in the representation of space, in how a spectator perceives space through sound and image, and I am also interested in the transformation that takes place when we try to boil this spatial experience of the world down to a limited medium, such as video.

Landscape Theory focuses on the presence of the camera, on a sectioning of the landscape that happens exclusively due to the camera's transforming effect. Outlines tackles some of the same issues, but in a different way. It is an installation using animation to explore the notion of borders, the imaginary lines that divide our geographic space. It has a lot to do with the political authority for creating spaces and dividing territories, which is what I tried to do in this video.

You stated once that you stay away from turning the camera on yourself because you are not an interesting subject; nevertheless, you are often in the scene, in works such as Opaque and Tamandaré, for instance. What is the role of your physical presence in the landscapes that comprise these works?

I think my presence in the videos is important, but not because it's me, specifically. What I am interested in is the concept of an individual who places himself inside the landscape and transforms it. In works such as Opaque, I appear more as an obstacle, or maybe a thread, than as an actual person. I am not concerned with exploring my own personality in those videos. Now, the Tamandaré video is a whole different story, because it was actually done as a travel log, with no pretensions whatsoever… It is interesting, though, to see that some people have shown interest in screening Tamandaré in a gallery setting.

You claim that Landscape Theory made you think about the power of contemplation. What were your thoughts about it, and what does that experience tell us about the fear of being seen?

Landscape Theory was one of my first videos, a part of the master's degree which I am currently pursuing in Austin, Texas. The video ended up determining all the work I did there. All this discussion about landscape and space originated from my experience with Landscape, as I tried to make sense of what had actually happened in that video.

For me, the prevailing idea in the video is the notion that the simple act of looking can be effectively aggressive, political, and transforming. The fear of being seen might have something to do with that, or maybe with escaping that violence, that authoritarian thing which is the gaze.

How does your background in drawing reflect on your video and animation work?

As I said before, the way I use the camera always had more to do with my visual arts background than cinema, documentary films, and such. I never bought into the idea that in order to make videos, I necessarily had to use a camera, and despite the fact that my work deals a lot with the notion of the camera, I find it extremely liberating to be able to work with computer-generated images, for instance, or else just text, drawings…

What steps did you take to the creation of the Outlines installation?

I was intrigued with the notions of space and authority, which we have discussed above. I wanted to continue working on these issues, but in a more immaterial way. Landscape Theory is quite concrete, an interaction captured from the real world… With Outlines, I wanted to see how that would work as a spectator-oriented experience. I really enjoy the fact that this work actually features nothing but light. I believe this immateriality tells us a lot about the current policy of spaces, which is quite perverse. 

How was your participation in the Austin's Soundtrack project with Mario Ramiro?

It was a real nice surprise to me. The entire process lasted about three or four days, from the beginning of the work until the final presentation. Ramiro is a great guy, very relaxed to work with, and he made me feel very comfortable to do what I felt was best. My contribution to the project consisted of mirroring Ramiro's process of working with sound, in a way. We went out in the city searching for image fragments that would relate to the sounds he had captured. Afterwards, I prepared a sort of Live/VJ set using the images, and then I accompanied Ramiro and Skyler, a musician from Austin, in a live performance. It was a dynamic, fun work, contrasting a bit with what I am used to in my personal work, which entails some suffering.

So how is your Transmedia master's degree in Texas going? Are you working around a specific research project?

The master's degree over there in Texas is very practical, production-oriented, which really pleases me. Therefore, I haven't got a defined research project, but rather a steady output of videos and installations. Evidently, some themes and shapes stand out in this body of work, and those are questioned in a series of evaluations, as in any school. But it has been a good experience, they have great professors in the Transmedia department.

What will your upcoming audiovisual projects be about?

My next video continues on this dialogue with the camera, this time using a photographic type of approach. I am working in collaboration with a US photographer named Dave Woody. We are working with photographic camera flashes, with exploring the instant within the video environment. It has been interesting, because it is a backwards work, since there is next to nothing to be seen in images that last only one frame. The sound becomes very important in this quest for image, which takes place both inside the video and outside it, with the spectator.

Comment biography Teté Martinho, 08/2006

With a background in visual arts and drawing, Roberto Bellini (Juiz de Fora, 1979) makes videos in which the feeling of strangeness that the camera produces-in others as well as in himself-becomes a provocative element. The holder of a degree in drawing from Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais' School of Fine Arts (2002), Bellini's artistic education includes workshops such as Roteiro visual para quadrinhos e cinema (Bryan Talbot, UFMG, 1998), Escrita e imagem (grupo A4, UFMG, 1999), Questão de espaço II (Ana Maria Tavares and Martin Grossman, UFMG, 1999), Realidades inventadas (Eustáquio Neves, UFMG Winter Festival, 2000), and Videodança (Laura Taler, Instituto Itaú Cultural, São Paulo, 2003).

His extensive artistic background has led him to switch between different media, an increasingly prominent feature of his work, after an initial period that consisted basically of drawings, “big ones with a lot of black in them.” Bellini's first exhibition, created in collaboration with artist Rodrigo Borges, was entitled Ponto, Linha e Plano (2000). Only a year later, his Resposta exhibition was already a mix of audio and photography, in a visual and audio reading of the artist's parents' house, in the city of Juiz de Fora, in collaboration with local electroacoustic musician in-cubus. The piece inaugurated an important line of work for the artist, involving sound and memory. 

Preceded by a series of seven or eight experiments with digital image in motion, Bellini's first video, How Things Work (2002), shows an ingenious mix of textures including metal, meat, and rubber in a sort of surgery that is reminiscent of the classic Ballet Mechanic (1934), by Fernand Léger, perhaps mostly due to the noises. The video causes uneasiness through its intensive use of detail shots, due to which one can't tell what is being cut, what is being injected, and how the process occurs. This mix of weirdness and irony was selected for the competitive exhibition of the 14th Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival, 2003, and was awarded second place at the 2nd Inter-American Biennial of Video Art the following year.

Also in 2004, the artist went on to pursue a master's degree in Transmedia at the University of Texas, Austin, which enabled him to have a constant output in the fields of video and installation. The animation Eu desisto (2004), a return to drawings, marked this transition. The shades of black and white and the combination of dream, reality, and fiction make this video a touching, upbeat portrait of the artist and his uneasiness. The work was featured in an exhibition entitled Liquid Days: Navigating the Mutable Tides of Memory, held at the Dougherty Arts Center, Austin, last July. 

The year of 2005 was particularly intense. Exploring the surroundings of the University of Texas at Austin, Bellini lived a situation that he transferred with almost no interference to his Landscape Theory video. As he tried to capture images of birds flying across the city's blood-red sunset, Bellini was approached by a security guard who asked him why he was using a camera in private property, and then proceeded to try and persuade him to stop recording. The author defined this short treatise on the power of camera and the terror it inspires as a poetic documentary, rather than a performance.

Landscape Theory quickly made a career for itself: the video was featured in the Contemporary Investigations axis of the Southern Panoramas competitive exhibition, at the 15th Videobrasil (2005), and in the Focus on South America exhibition, curated by Solange Farkas for the KunstFilmBiennale, Germany. It appeared in an exhibition curated by researcher André Brasil for celebrating the Year of Brazil in France, won the Mostra do Filme Livre, Rio de Janeiro, and was part of the Ways of looking at: Places and landscapes exhibition, curated by Juliana Mundim and held at Centro Fundación Telefónica in Lima, Peru. Landscape Theory was also one of the videos selected for the Videobrasil on Tour 2006-2007 Special Selection programme, and will travel through Brazil and abroad from August onwards.

Also in 2005, in the Transmedia program at the University of Texas at Austin, Bellini exhibited his Outlines installation, in which he uses three projectors to draw, on the floor, the lines of an ever-changing map, along with outlines of bodies, which at times resemble the police procedure of drawing chalk outlines of dead bodies, and at other times are just reminiscent of people sleeping. In the same year, the artist created a fragmented travel log entitled Tamandaré; the odd Over There, in which he pits excerpts from old war movies against each other, creating “a battle of fiction versus fiction”; and Interval, which gives glimpses of streets, bars, rooms full of friends, and other urban scenes, all viewed from behind cups and glasses of coffee drunk in several places in Brazil. Interval was part of the Shade exhibition, which brought twelve artists together in the Creative Reserch Lab of the University of Texas at Austin. 

Opaque, a study on the presence of the camera and the artist in the landscape, was Bellini's following work. In April 2006, the film was featured at the 2nd Athens Video Art Festival and, more recently, in the Digital Showcase 37, held at the Austin Museum of Digital Art. In the same year, along with artists Mario Ramiro and Skyler McGlothlin, Bellini participated in the Austin's Soundtrack. He did live video image manipulation during Ramiro and Skyler's presentation, as part of the Sin Título, 2006 event, organized by the Creative Research Laboratory and the Austin Museum of Digital Art, in partnership with the Blanton Museum of Art. 

Bibliographical references
News, CV, press texts, exhibition links, on-line projects, and artists' Web sites, plus the author's entire video work.

In the Web site of the University of Texas at Austin, an essay on Bellini's Interval video (2005), which was screened at the Shade exhibition.

Videobrasil On-line 
Features Bellini's participations in the Videobrasil Festival, works presented in Festival-related curatorships, and other appearances.