The exhibition was a collection of video works by José Roberto Aguilar, resulting from a research made by Lucila Meirelles and Walter Silveira into the artist’s entire videographic output between 1974 and 1984, amounting to 25 hours’ worth of material.

Aguilar placed a bet on video at a time when equipment had to be imported and there were no independent production companies or regular access to editing equipment. He would often tease the critics, as in Ópera do Terceiro Mundo (Third World Opera), shown amid protests in Paris’ Beaubourg, 1978. In Where's South America, one of his most political videos, lumpens mingle with mães de santo (candomblé priestesses). In Sonho Contra Sonho, Aguilar strives for integration with other media, such as painting and performance, in an attempt at establishing an electronic dialogue by simultaneously employing various devices showing different images.

Parallel to the video show, several written media “vestiges” (newspaper clippings, catalogs) about the artist’s various works were shown. This exhibition was dubbed O Olho do Diabo (The Devil’s Eye), because this was how Aguilar defined video. 



Critical text Cacilda Teixeira da Costa

A year ago, a group of video artists organized the “Pioneiros da Vídeo Arte” (Video Art Pioneers) show and we were told that finding and showing tapes made in the 70s in Brazil had been a frustrating, difficult task.

This is too bad, because artist-made videos in Brazil during that period were the work of a few “obstinate” people, as Walter Zanini put it, who produced original, expressive artworks in spite of insufficient technical conditions. However, unlike the rest of the world, no Brazilian organization cared about safeguarding, circulating and preserving these artworks, and a significant part of them got lost.

Using what little could be salvaged, Lucila Meirelles, Walter Silveira, Tadeu Jungle and their colleagues hosted the 1985 show, and now the former two are back on the scene to present videos by José Roberto Aguilar, the artist whose tapes were found in the worst shape.

Certainly the artist cannot and should not be his own museologist and cataloguer, and it is only natural that Aguilar shouldn’t have cared to set up a video library. Still, it is shocking that his work from this period should go missing.

Aguilar was one of the most prolific and stimulating artists of the first era of video, when equipment had to be imported and there were no independent production companies, nor any possibility of regular access to editing equipment. His work was certainly impacted by this scenario, but some of his tapes cleverly addressed fundamental aspects of video: the performance-narrative, electronic space, the portraitist-documentary, the camera’s immediacy; in short, everything that he now poetically sums up as attributes of the “devil’s eye,” for which he envisioned two paths in in 78, with regard to research and language: “The first one, the purest, most radical form in the sense of language, is to discover the world through the camera as if for the first time, with new eyes; the emergence of the “non-act,” of the non-existent, of what is unveiled in the moment, in what exists. Not only do “objects” cease to be objectivated to become “assemblies of subjects,” but also the imagetic flow, in times of movement, is new and unique. These moments of total creation are very difficult to come by. I shot two videos in this category within a two-year period. The first one is called The Trip, shot in São Paulo shortly after my arrival from New York in 1975, lasting five minutes, and the other last month, Lucila, filme policial, lasting seven minutes. (...) The second path is video as a bearer of ideas. Whereas in the first path, the mind was not involved, here, it is the absolute emperor. This is about the concept, with its imperative scalpel, reinterpreting and rewriting History. Where is South America? falls into this category. I shot 10 hours of footage for it, which I edited down to 45 minutes. I started shooting in New York in April 75 and completed it during summer in Rio the following year. I believe this was the first video work made in Brazil to involve heavy editing work. If features cuts lasting up to 3 seconds”.1

Language research, however, has always been his concern, and one can sense, in his videos, the gradual changes that took place as he assimilated the details and complexities of his tool, as well as his quest for integrating other media, such as painting and performance, or his attempts at electronic dialogue through the simultaneous use of various pieces of equipment showing different images, as in Sonho e Contra-Sonho de uma Cidade. All his projects from this period reveal, above all, a huge curiosity regarding the medium.

He went to Japan and wanted the Japanese to come to Brazil: he brought Yamaguchi over with his electronically processed imagery, unattainable by our artists due to lack of equipment, but important to be aware of.

Thus, his participation was also that of the cultural agitator, the mastermind behind the 1st International Video Art Meeting in São Paulo, in 1978, one of the year’s most interesting and controversial events. By the way, in terms of video, nothing more important has happened since, not even in the three Biennials that followed.

But even his serious work or the success of the 1st Meeting failed to make enough waves to open TV studio doors to him, so that he could work and edit his videos.

The difficulty of the medium, whose research requires equipment which is inaccessible to an artist (this is why commercial and cultural TV channels in the United States and Europe always have resident artists working in their studios), the lack of a consumer market and, above all, the dearth of space at museums or TV channels in which to show artworks, have all put the continuation of the use of video in check. It was no longer a challenge, but simply a stalemate.

Aguilar decided to switch from video to research and creation in other media: record albums, artist’s books, performances and, as usual, paintings. However, the overarching goal of his work did not change at all: the quest for inner visions and images and the creation of a unique poetics, no matter what the medium.

As for video, he may eventually return to it and to the “devil’s eye.” 

1. “Uma História que está começando” (A History that is beginning) interview with José Roberto Aguilar and Fernado Lemos. Folha de São Paulo newspaper, June 26, 1977.

Essay Arnaldo Antunes

He teaches classes. What else can I say? I have never been anyone’s good student, and I’ve been learning since I was in my mom’s belly. Anti-classes. Aguilar teaches anti-classes. The ones where you learn without learning. How you learn to fall once you can already walk. Like when I worked with him in the “Sonho e Contra-Sonho de uma Cidade” video, in performances and in the Banda Performática music group.

That shy people make the best actors. On the screen, they reveal themselves. That the camera captures an aura you don’t know you have. Electronic alchemy. That when you’re in the height of exhaustion, after filming for hours on end, is when the best comes out sometimes. That you can step on the floor and it can mean nothing, or you can step on the floor and it can be a fabulous performance. It all depends on how you do it. Thus, you can do anything, but you also can’t. You are free, but then there is the absolute strictness of the truth/intensity in each gesture. And the beauty of trash. And the repetition of danger. And decompartmentalization, that is: against the law of the earless eye and the touchless ear and the accentless touch and so forth. In other words: against the law of painting without music and of music without gesture without smell, etc. The sacralized profane, that the execution of a painting can last three seconds but contain three millennia of ideas. And that culture is a prostitute, and this is how Aguilar treats it. Crime. Dashiell Hammett revisited. And the not knowing how to do it, fuelled by the courage to do it. And that the knowing how to do it repeats itself, and shows only what it knows is irrelevant. And the Duchampian attitude of the thousand projects and drafts. No finished works, sedimented into the crust of public recognition. Restless motion. Ebullition. And all the rest can go to museums.

Essay José Roberto Aguilar

“Video tape is the devil’s eye. But it’s also the only eye that can convey visions of paradise.” (A saying by the great Chinese wise man Mao-Vee-Tee, from the 3rd century B.C., during the rule of the Sony dynasty.)

The lens is the daughter of Copernicus and Galileo. A conductor of realities. It brings reality closer or broadens its field of view. Zoomm. The photo or video camera. Physical mechanics. Gutenberg filming the Socratic river, the dance of Aristotle’s soul always present in the script. Descartes bought his Leica with a wide-angle lens polished by Leibniz. Marx filmed the class struggles wearing an Einstein costume. American cinema as the heir of British pragmatism. Nouvelle vague looking for lost time. Dashiel Hammett and Hemingway with Jesse James and Sundance Kid, killing redskins and Bolivians at a Texas corner bar. Glauber Rocha, Bressane, Nelson Pereira dos Santos at the hippie fair on Praça da República square. The lens filters everyone, on every cranny and corner. The diagramming of time. Beginning, middle and end, the viewer’s chair reigning absolute. The God Cinema. The spectator unharmed. The critic in his ridiculous role as king sun, absolute. Someone yelled: LET THERE BE LIGHT! The hand pressed the switch. HOW ARE YOU DOING MISS ELECTRICITY? And video tape entered the scene.

No, apparently video tape has nothing to do with reality. You look through the Camera and see nothing, everything is black. The camera must be connected with the recorder and into the power socket. The image forms within the camera through a translation of reality, filtered by the VIDECOM, made into an equation through dots, lines and electronic impulses. This way, not only do you see reality, you see reality+the texture of nerves of the present moment.

Light contains soul. Vibrating waves that involve objects and people, acquiring and conducting the moment’s mood. There are days when the equipment refuses to work. We put our hands on our heads and start thinking of how much it will cost to fix it. On the following day, we turn it on and it’s working wonderfully. The only explanation is that the equipment had translated negative vibrations and refused to operate. When the cause is existentially just, the device never fails to function. I say this based on five years’ experience as a “video taper.” A thousand examples and no time to count them up. The video tape abhors the profane view. It captures immediately and, what’s worse, it registers. Because it’s its eye, its world view, the Weltanschauung’s German aunt.

The eye will betray you, man. If you’re not centered, your video will be messier than Coutinho’s (Brazilian national football) team.

Film development is chemical and the outcome is a combination of light dosages. Cinema is an extension of the eye as eye, video is an extension of the eye as nervous system. Daddy MacLuhan is here. Video captures atoms and the aura, removing you from your position as spectator and critic and leading you to become voluntarily involved, or not. Time as a straight line does not exist. This is about an inner time that can take a minute or two hours. The best videomakers were the Presocratic ones. Heraclitus was one of the greats. Empedocles’ videos were state-of-the-art. Parmenides caused Paik’s jaw to drop. Guimarães Rosa, although he never knew video art, created magnificent works in this field. One needs not have equipment to create video art. All it takes is to be in tune with the here and the now. And so the World Cup is ours. In the East, the best videos are those made by haikai writers. Another useful, classified piece of information: the video tape is not Christian; it has no feelings of self-pity, expiation or good and evil, although it can have much love and respect for its fellows and non-fellows. In one word, it is nondualistic. When it comes to religion, it is more of a Zen Buddhist.

I was biding my time in my glorious studio when someone slipped a letter underneath my five-meter-high colonial door. It’s an invitation from the CAYC for an International Video Art Meeting to be held in Tokyo. As usual, I’m broke. I peek sadly out my window and see my white Brasília car. Enlightened, I exclaim: "Oh, little car of mine, you are taking me to Japan." I sold the Brasília and went to Japan.