Essay Carla Zaccagnini, 05/2004

Wagner Morales

Writing about an artist's work is very different from writing about a specific work or an exposition. However, the starting point is always a group of works determined by a period of the production and the preferences of the artist, who shows us some woks and hides others. Even in a text like this, a text about Wagner Morales' production, we can never state something about the artist that exceeds the realm of his works, which are the subject of the text. While the artist is alive, we always expect surprises, different ideas, new issues and new ways to say the same things.

Maybe this is one more of these simplifying tricks which help us to understand everything, as the one we play when we arrive in a new country, trying to understand it all at once, creating and searching for equivalences between the sounds of an indecipherable language, the smells and flavours of the food, the features and gestures of its inhabitants, the new weather. As if a new information could be explained by a group of them, as if the sum of these specificities was a rational whole number. Maybe this is one more of these tricks, but the fact is that when I was watching the tape prepared by Wagner, with ten of his videos organized in chronological order, what I was looking for was a “conducting wire”, a constant. Of course I watched the images and the sounds, and I was carried away by each story, but I also expected that each film could be the first again and all the others.

Anyone who may have tasted sashimi will agree that its flavour is not in knowing that Japan is an island with little land surrounded by water. Neither can we say that the high consumption of rice in the land of the rising sun is related to the formal identification between this long grain and the eyes of the oriental people. The logic that certainly explains part of the eating habits by geographical location does not contain any trace of the flavour and texture of the thin slices of raw fish, nor a free formal association is capable of giving any hint on the characteristics of rice or of the eyes which are not the ones that identify these forms. What I mean is that these videos which will be referred to in this text are irreplaceable, as any dish or any trip, and that this text cannot be much more than the best transcription of the relations, at times logical, at times formal, at times of any other order, that I can establish between these works and other things that I know, with all my vices, tastes, and limitations.

This said, here are some notes:

I was looking for one, but I have found two elements that seem to be permanently in question in the works I have watched. The first one is the use of the sound, which always assumes a central role as the subject or as the structure of the films. The various ways to construct narratives are the second one. Of course, both of them are fundamental to video and cinema, and any artist who works with these media must take them into account. And we are not talking about paying special attention to these fields. Here, there is a research (a systematic one, I believe) on the functions sound and music can assume in a film, as well as a research on the strategies to tell a story. It seems to me that each video is engaged in questioning a possibility, one by one, testing a combination of few elements, focusing on different ways to make a film, always using the minimum necessary elements for the film to be complete.

Bloombaalde (single-channel version), 1999 (with Rafael Campos)

The screen is divided in two to display two places in which related actions take place. Or two moments. There is a main character and three secondary ones, the four of them with their heads covered with buckets or buckets in the place of their heads. And the course of a happening. There are no expressions to be seen. The movement is scarce and almost unproductive, marked by the sound it generates: the repetitive beat of the agogô (a percussion instrument of African origin); when it stops on one side of the screen, it is immediately continued on the other. The movement of the main actor, as he walks, generates arrows drawn on the ground with the stick of the instrument. The other characters wait beside a road.

He comes to the border of a swimming pool, he dives. His bucket floats alone, turns over and becomes full of water. It submerges and moves outside our field of vision, only to return again, full of water, being lifted and pushed towards the edge of the swimming pool. The actor comes out of the swimming pool, his head sunk between his shoulders, badly pretending that he has not got one. He sits down, touching the bucket, and put it on his head again. He stands up. The narrative is circular, coming back to where it came from. Nothing that they do generates a different result from what has been done. The agogô is played and its sound is the sound of the movement that is seen. No surprising things happen and there are no disguises.

Três montes (suíte para voz e máquina de lavar) [Three mounts - suite for voice and washing-machine], 2000 (with Wagner Malta and Rafael Campos)

The scenery is a garage, or an atelier, an indoor space where nobody lives, a bit disarranged and dirty. The ground is covered with an orange cloth, one of those cloths which adhere to the body. A washing-machine is in the centre of the room. A man with no shirt on enters the room through a door on the left, and crawls under the orange cloth to stand up behind the machine, forming one of the mounts. He begins to sing while two men crawl under the cloth to stand up on both sides of the machine. They pass their arms through holes on the cloth to begin a fourhanded drumming. The dimensions of the washing-machine are appropriate for the use proposed here: its top at abdomen level, its sides close to the arms. Music is done with few elements, the harmony of the chant, the rhythm of the percussion. And not much is seen: three badly cut silhouettes and, again, the movements necessary to make sounds. The central mount disappears with the voice. The percussionist on the right makes a movement that inflates the cloth before he lowers himself on the ground and crawls back towards the door. At last, the silhouette on the left grows, begins to empty slowly and crawls to the exit. In this case, there are also faceless characters, a plot with few actions and a narrative that ends as it had begun. In this film, the importance of the music as a result of the movement of the characters (and the movements determined by music) is even clearer.

As, in fact, it occurs to any activity which depends on the training of the gestures, maybe. When the video ends, I think about the differences between the actions and the sounds, if they are really significant. I cannot help thinking about the three characters stretching the cloth to cover the whole ground, as we do with sheets to cover a king size bed, and awkwardly carrying the washing-machine to the centre of the room. It must have generated sounds and images similar to the ones of the video.

Não há ninguém aqui #1, #2 e #3, (There is nobody here #1, #2, and #3) 2000-2001

In this three video series the narrative arrives already consumed, as if the actions took place in hidden rooms. In the film #1, to begin with, there is a preparation which precedes the recording of sound and image. Wagner published a newspaper ad, one of these personal classified ads in which men describe themselves as they think they are, and ask young thin women to phone them at an answerphone, and women “of average build”, in their turn, ask men “without vices and no children” to send them a letter with an attached photo. The sound that tells the story is the one of the answerphone, all the received messages in chronological order. And the images are of a drive through the city, recorded from within the car. Some women absorbed in their tasks appear on the screen, as if the camera was looking for the face of a woman who had called, saying again and again that that would be the last call. Eventually, a female familiar voice says “message deleted”, and the film ends.

Não há ninguém aqui #2 has a structure similar to the first, but this time the messages are from friends of the artist who call him by his name and talk about daily issues: a party, a walk to the cinema, the band's rehearsal, and other suggestions that you can accept or refuse more lightly. Unlike the women who describe themselves in the last video, people here are identified by name or nickname. Again, the images are recorded from within the car, but this time the camera focuses on the driver's face during the whole drive. And the way he takes seems to be a familiar one, from home to work, from work to home, the daily way.

The third film was recorded in a flat. The flat is very well characterized, its comfortable pieces of furniture in places where they seem to be for years, and the objects in their right positions upon the pieces. The corridor, a condensed space between walls, and the light that comes through the door slit, much brighter than the room's light, reaffirms the sensation of an indoor space. From a distance, we see a shadow passing in two or three moments. And, from a greater distance, we see the street from the window, the sentry of the front building standing on the pavement. A voice asks “Is what you see here what is going to be seen in the video?”, and another voice says yes, inviting us to believe that he is showing us what he sees.

Filme de horror (Horror Film)

In this case, there are also earlier happenings, the scenery completely prepared. A lake behind; the ground covered with barren leaves; a transparent hose with a diameter of about ten centimetres directs the water onto the still water. It seemed that this slow movement could last forever, but the music and some light tension movements give the hint that something is to happen. Afterwards, when the eyes are already used to the slow movement of the water (the lake's surface lightly shaken by the wind, and the water coming from the hose), and when we get used to the music, we hear a first opaque cracking noise and the hose bursts on the right side of the screen. Some water spurts out from the hose. A series of shots begins, at times hitting the hose; leaves begin to float in the air. It is as if the flowing of the water towards the lake was inevitable. While the water was flowing through the hose, its path was limited by it. But we know that a terrain around a lake slopes slightly towards it. And we know that the water escaping from the hose will flow towards the still water of the lake.

Ficção científica, (Science Fiction) 2003

In this video, the narrative is structured by the sound. The sound of Solaris (Andrei Tarkovski, 1972) is the soundtrack which determines the image edition, at times by its music, which suggests outdoor or indoor, natural or constructed ambiences, at times by its dialogues between two or more characters. However, the dialogues' subtitles do not correspond to the true dialogues, creating a new story from the original intonations, sentences' lengths, voices, and noises. The narrative is structured by the text and the sounds of the voices which, in spite of being incomprehensible, give feelings to the written words and determine the fake translation. The same happens to the images, which are edited from old recordings to accompany the sounds and music. It begins with the image of a group of conifers swaying in the wind. Afterwards, an earthy river occupies the whole screen, and then, the same flowing water is viewed from above. It rains. The trees in the wind are back. With the quality of my video and TV, all the images become brownish, of sepia colour. A corridor of a hotel or a building with many doors and one of these stairs which you may use in case of fire are some of the indoor places which appear in the video. Night scenes display buildings which are connected by bright, tremulous windows. A waiter wearing a bow-tie, a person coming down the stairs we saw before. That is a collage. The last scene begins in a room that could possibly be in the flat of the film #3. We keep up with the camera that goes towards a window through which a lot of light penetrates the room, enough light to penetrate the corridor through the door slit. The video ends with an exaggerated approach of a lace curtain. And the sentence: planet Earth is blue. There is nothing to do.

Filme de estrada (Road movie), 2003

Here, the narrative that precedes the filming of the video is part of the content. The place was chosen because of its shape displayed in a satellite image. From São Paulo, the road leads to the small town of Cassino. There is a part of the road movie which has not been filmed. However, the movement displayed is quite the opposite of the general idea of a trip without a destination, in which the stops are determined by hunger and fatigue of the travellers. The travelling is determined by the direction of the rails and the speed of the wind in relation to the weight of the wagon. This Filme de Estrada is a documentary; the non-edited recording displays only what can be seen along a pre-established trajectory which, once chosen, does not depend on the will of the user or of the director. The narrative is determined by an external structure, by a series of real events which are chronologically registered. There is a certain irony in choosing a seaside town called Cassino (Casino) for a so predetermined plan. The sound of the rails and the continuous image of the rocks, at times higher, at times lower, hiding and letting the sky and the water be seen, display this inescapable destiny and the vertigo which this straight line, this constant speed and the impossibility to stop before the end always bring with them.

Faixa escondida, (Hidden strip) 2003

At the beginning, during an almost uncomfortable time, the screen is dark, its upper quarter separate from the rest by a strip of light., or lights, because memory gives us the hint that it is a view of a distant city, between the darkness of the earth or of the sea and the darkness of the sky. The sound of the waves makes us sure that there is water bellow the lights. When we decipher this place, because we have been to beaches like this before, a flash illuminates the scene, displaying a path right in the centre, a vertical line perpendicular to the luminous strip which demarcates the horizon. The flashes are repeated, consolidating the image little by little, a pier lost at a distance. A person lights a cigarette and plays with his lighter drawing light pictures in front of the camera. The sound of the waves is mixed with the noise of the rain. Daytime images of this place from this same point of view get mixed up with the ones that were imagined during the night, based on incomplete hints. A hand covers the camera lens before the beach appears for the first time at daytime. The sound system on the sand seems to confirm that all the elements of the film are clear, evident. Now, after so much confusing information, so many hidden things. Elvis Presley's voice, easily recognizable, suddenly becomes clear too, limpid as the images under the sun, without the insistent noise of the rain or of the waves. We can listen to the choir and the theatrical voice saying that the world is a stage and you must play a part.

EWÁ, 2004

Water again. I had already thought about it: water is another constant in these videos, though it is an unpredictable constant. Maybe that is because of the malleability of the liquid, capable of assuming different forms. Because it is continuously different but always the same. The different forms assumed by water in the world, all of them seem to have been recorded: the sea, the rain, the river, the lake, flowing in a transparent hose, absent but suggested by the washing-machine, in the swimming pool, in the bucket. This time, water is the main character. Here, it flows over abrade stones, eroded by its flowing. We are not talking about the water that we can see on the screen only, but also about all the water that has flowed in here before, seconds before, minutes before, millennia before. The water which has designed the path through which this new water is flowing now, this new water that, maybe, is in part (even if in a small part) the same. The sound seems to be a cattle sound, until a sharp noise foreshadows a change in the order of things. The water which occupied the whole screen disappears. In a repetition of the scene we can see that it is the inverse of the actual motion, a scene displayed backwards. Something flies towards the right hand of the person who is operating the camera. Something that had been thrown in the water before the water exploded filling the whole screen, expanding in a movement that, inverted, seemed to be a contraction movement.

Interview Eduardo de Jesus, 05/2004

How did you become interested in the audiovisual? Did this interest come from the Anthropology through documentaries?

If I think about the beginning, my interest in the audiovisual began through my interest in cinema, long before I came to know what was Anthropology or even documentaries. Probably, fictional cinema comes before everything else, and it is the basis of my interest in images, even today. In other hand, I was graduated in Anthropology, but it is present rather as a door to a very important issue to the documentary: the recognition of alterity. In the movement of recognizing the exotic in the familiar, and the familiar in the exotic, the anthropologist approaches the good documentarian. Thus, it was the texts by Malinowski and Clifford Geertz, much more than the ethnographic films, that encouraged me to make documentaries, recognizing the anthropological concept of alterity as a primordial issue in the realization of documentaries. So, after college, I was impelled to try to make documentaries. I had the luck to begin in a video producer company that produced documentaries but had also a foot in videoart. It was working for PaleoTV, together with Kiko Goifman and Jurandir Müller, that I realized how a documentary could be a sufficiently hybrid language to even stop being called “documentary”, and hover over the classifications. From then on, I began to make documentaries, fiction, experimental videos, video installations, installations, performances, and sculptures without distinctions between then. It's all art. The only difference is that sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

In your work, we perceive formal aspects linked to the documentary in works of clear experimental character. How do you relate experimentation to documentary in your works?

Experimentation and documentary are “brothers”. Maybe the documentary is a genre more open to experimentations in terms of cinematographic and television language. It is the television, the vehicle that exhibits the documentaries, that is against experimentations, not the genre itself. The documentaries we watch on TV are institutional and dreadful, but we need only to take an uncommitted walk around some specialized festivals, or even visit some websites, to realize that this genre is a rich terrain for experimentation. This is because, as I have just mentioned, the documentary is hybrid: it can be verité cinema, direct cinema, docudrama, short, long, institutional, authorial, didactic, journalistic, it can be about any subject, it can have a narrator, concealed or not, it can incorporate its own making-off; to summarize, it can be a lot of things, what makes it difficult to define it. Therefore, I think it's a perfect test tube for those who make authorial, experimental, artistic or whatever kind of films. However, I don't think the experimental work is beyond the documentary, something free of its formal chains; it's quite the opposite. Nowadays, video experimentalism suffers from many clichés, becoming almost a specific genre as comedy, western or war films. The experimentalism lacks the romantic, unattainable objectivity of the documentaries, whose images are just what you see in them. What is seen is what it is, almost nothing more.

There is a certain thematic line that seems to give unity to some of your works as, for instance, the body issues in the documentaries Olhos Opacos [Opaque Eyes] (1998) and Na Lona [On The Ground] (2002), and the solitude issue in the series Não Há Ninguém Aqui [There Is Nobody Here] (2000-2002). How are these themes brought about? Is there any research method to the approach of these themes?

It's funny, but I think these themes are always with us. The difficult thing is not to bring them about, but the opposite. Sometimes I think 'I must get rid of these themes, they are persecuting me for years!' And this is something we can perceive in the works of many contemporary artists, an almost minimalist repetition of the themes. This is not a negative point, but a characteristic of our time: the almost obsessive, schizophrenic reiteration of the same issues. In the mentioned works (Olhos Opacos and Na Lona), the body issue is present almost in the same way, in spite of the different approaches. In these works, I treat the issue of the failure of the body, of the moment the body stops functioning, revealing its fragility and, at the same time, its capacity to overcome it: the blindness in Olhos Opacos, the knockout in Na Lona. The theme of the trilogy Não Há Ninguém Aqui is no doubt the solitude. However, in each video it has a different direction. There is the solitude which is present in the sentimental newspaper classified ads of the great metropolises, and its anonymous character (Não Há Ninguém Aqui #1), the solitude of the artist in his private life (Não Há Ninguém Aqui #2), and the solitude of the confinement, of the immobility (Não Há Ninguém Aqui #3). Currently, I'm treating the theme of the cinema itself. So, there is no research method. There is only the desire to get rid of these damned themes through my work.

We know that you also work as a musician. How do you deal with music in your work? Is there an exchange process between music and your works' images?

I'm a dilettante musician. I play in two rock bands, and I take this dilettantism seriously. We rehearse twice a week. We have recorded CD's, and played for small, not always gentle audiences. Maybe that's the reason why music is often a starting point to my works. To be more precise, it's not always music, but sounds in a general way. The sounds of the answerphone in the trilogy Não Há Ninguém Aqui, the sounds of the railway tracks in Cassino, Filme de Estrada (Casino, Road Movie), or the sounds of the dialogues of a Tarkovski's film used in Ficção Científica (Science Fiction), for instance. I'm talking about the din, noises, roughly recorded voices which were the raw materials of my works. Even when there is a song composed specially for the work, it generally comes before the images, as in Cassino, Filme de Estrada, whose soundtrack was recorded before the video, foreseeing what would come. It is as if I was in the place of the characters of the documentary Olhos Opacos, blinded, listening to the sounds to figure images out, but provided with vision.

Some of your video installations also treat the body issue. How was the passage from single-channel to the installation ambience in relation to the thematic approach?

I think I can't answer this question now… Can I think a bit more?

Your video Ficção Científica, almost an essay on the sci-fi films structures through the appropriation of sounds and the alteration of common images, was awarded at the 14th Videobrasil. What was the main motivation for the production of this series about cinema?

Ficção Científica is the second video of this series, which also includes Filme de Horror (Horror Film) and Cassino, Filme de Estrada. The basic idea of this series is to realize videos about some cinematographic genres; that's why its name is Vídeo de Cinema (Cinema Video). Genres like western, musical, comedy, detective films etc. are based on limited narrative and thematic patterns. Each cinematographic genre has a specific format. The audiences know what to expect from “romantic comedies”, “teen horror films”, or “sci-fi films”, for instance. The critic, the audiences and the history of the cinema diffuse and consolidate these labels, building concepts by reiteration which are perpetuated as generic conventions, creating a true paradigm of what may be called the “big Hollywoodian cinema”. The project Video de Cinema aims to make a critical reading of these typical genres of the classical Hollywoodian cinema through experimental video, isolating elements which make up its essence, and which are continuously repeated in the films, standardizing them to the point of defining them as genres. It's interesting to notice how experimental video and videoart are directly related to music, visual arts, performances, dance, and other artistic disciplines since the 60's. However, the dialogue with the classical commercial cinema is still incipient: the Hollywoodian cinema is seldom an object of interest for video productions. Quite the opposite, it's the Hollywoodian cinema that benefits from experimental productions, borrowing many visual resources that, after a time, begin to feature in some blockbusters. This work aims, therefore, to go in the opposite direction, using video's electronic language as an instrument to reinterpret commercial cinema. Given that entertainment cinema's narrative has always been opposed by contemporary electronic art production, this project aims to make a raw material of the commercial narrative for the experimental production: to reiterate commercial cinema through its genres, clichés, and patterns, transforming its nature through its own characteristics, using the power of synthesis of electronic images to talk about cinema through its own means, in other words, its own images.

Videobrasil Festival's prize is a residency for the purpose of developing a project in Le Fresnoy - Studio National des Arts Contemporains. What project do you have in mind?

I have not decided yet, but probably I will continue to work on the series Vídeo de Cinema during my residency in France. Given that Le Fresnnoy is situated in the north of France, I'm thinking about realizing a video called Filme de Guerra (War Film), based on the films about the Second World War, specially the D-Day, the invasion of Normandy.

Comment biography Eduardo de Jesus, 05/2004

Wagner Morales (São Paulo, Brazil, 1971) - Graduated in anthropology from the University of São Paulo, Wagner Morales, within the audiovisual field, began taking interest in documentaries. This initial interest, certainly a consequence of his formation, does not restrain Morales from creating a wide range of productions, which includes experimental works and videoinstallations. These passages between the documentary and the experimental video can be realized in the uncommon procedures used in the construction of the works, or even in the thematic choices which reveal views of the world and of the contemporary audiovisual universe.

Morales began his professional career in video producer companies, working as an editor and director. Between 1995 and 1997, he specialized in multimedia at the University of Campinas.

Between 1998 and 2002, he produced works (videos and installations) that thematize issues related to the trajectories of the bodies (human or not) in the space. This theme is present in the videoinstallations “Bloombaalde” (1998), “Eliot” (1999), and “Rossi 22” (2002).

In other hand, in the documentaries “Olhos Opacos” [Opaque Eyes] (1998) and “Na Lona” [On The Ground] (2002), Morales displayed the limits between the body and the space surrounding it. The former, produced with the help of a prize fund provided by Campinas’ city council, is a sensitive essay which displays the relations between vision and memory, dream and language, and mix statements, texts and hazy images from films and videos to approach the universe of the blind people. The second one, produced with the help of a prize fund provided by the Secretary of Culture of the city of São Paulo, displays the ambience of amateur boxing at the outskirts of São Paulo. The documentary transcends the simple approach to the sport, revealing peculiar aspects of life in the outskirts of big cities.

Both works have taken part in many festivals and exhibitions, including the É tudo verdade Festival (It’s all true Festival) in São Paulo, in 1999 and 2003 respectively.

Afterwards, between 2000 and 2002, he began to produce videos with specific themes which are developed into series. In this phase, three videos form the series “Não Há Ninguém Aqui” (There Is Nobody Here). In these videos, Morales reflects on the impossibility of communication and meeting at the great metropolises. In spite of being experimental videos, they bear marks of the artist’s experiences with documentaries.

The three videos bear these marks, but, probably, the best example is “Não Há Ninguém Aqui #1”. Morales publishes a newspaper classified ad with a fictitious name of a man who is looking for a girlfriend. The phone number in the ad is the one of his answerphone, which collects almost desperate messages of women who want to stop being lonely. These messages – some women called thousands of times – form the audio that guides the empty city’s nocturnal images from the interior of a car.

The videos of this series have been exhibited and have taken part in many festivals, as the 13th Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival, São Paulo; the Rio BR Festival, Rio de Janeiro; the 5th Bienal de Video e Novas Mídias, in Santiago, Chile; the Medio@rte Latino, Berlin, Germany, and the VIDARTE 2002, in the city of Mexico, Mexico.

In 2003, Morales began the production of a new series of thematic videos. This time, he approaches the universe of the traditional cinema and keeps a dialogue with the language clichés of the cinema and its genres. The first of the series is “Filme de Horror” (Horror Film), in which Morales, through a single plane, tries to recreate the atmosphere of these films. Afterwards, he produces “Ficção Científica” [Science Fiction] (2003), which assembles extracts from the dialogues of the film “Solaris” (1972), by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovski, and superpose common images of a new year party, a corridor of a hotel, and the dance floor of a club which, recreated in the edition, generate the ambience of a sci-fi film. The video received the Le Fresnoy Prize for Audiovisual Creation at the 14th Videobrasil International Electronic Art Festival, what gave the opportunity for the artist to develop his work during a residency in the institution in Tourcoing, north of France. For this same series he produced “Cassino – Filme de Estrada” [Casino – Road Movie] (2003), which was awarded by Centro Cultural São Paulo.

In 2003, Morales was awarded for the plot of the documentary “Preto Contra Branco” (Black Against White) at the 1st Doc TV, promoted by TV Cultura and the Ministry of Culture. Afterwards, he was awarded by the Jan Vrijman Fund, Amsterdam, Holland, for the post-production of the feature film version of the same documentary.

Bibliographical references Eduardo de Jesus, 05/2004

To enlarge the approach to Wagner Morales' work, we have included in this section some links to critical texts which display the repercussion and reflections caused by Morales' work.

Le Fresnoy: the video Ficção Científica (Science Fiction), winner of the Le Fresnoy prize in the 14th Videobrasil, granted Morales a residency for the development of a work at this important centre for artistic creation.

Morales' Law: Rafael Campos, a plastic artist who participated with Morales in the collective exposition Iniciativas (Initiatives) at the Centro Cultural São Paulo (2001), describes his experience with Morales' work and points out important references in a new text.