• Julio Pimentel, Andrea Giunta, Tânia Rivera and Sabrina Moura
Photo: Tiago Lima
    Julio Pimentel, Andrea Giunta, Tânia Rivera and Sabrina Moura
    Photo: Tiago Lima

  • Sabrina Moura
Photo: Tiago Lima
    Sabrina Moura
    Photo: Tiago Lima

  • Julio Pimentel
Photo: Tiago Lima
    Julio Pimentel
    Photo: Tiago Lima

  • Andrea Giunta
Photo: Tiago Lima
    Andrea Giunta
    Photo: Tiago Lima

  • Tânia Rivera
Photo: Tiago Lima
    Tânia Rivera
    Photo: Tiago Lima

  • Sabrina Moura, Tânia Rivera, Andrea Giunta e Julio Pimentel
Photo: Tiago Lima
    Sabrina Moura, Tânia Rivera, Andrea Giunta e Julio Pimentel
    Photo: Tiago Lima

Art, memory and fiction in discussion

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posted on 10/26/2015
The 19th Festival seminar addresses multidisciplinary perspectives in the debate about the construction of memory in art, politics and history, discussing the relationships between reality and fiction

In the third panel of the 19th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil | Southern Panoramas’ Seminar Places and Meanings in Art: Debates from the South, entitled Rethinking Narratives: Art, Memory and Fiction, the curator and Latin American art professor at the University of Buenos Aires and the University of Texas, Austin, Andrea Giunta (Argentina); the full professor in social history at the University of São Paulo, Julio Pimentel (Brazil); and the essayist, psychoanalyst and professor at the Department of Art of Fluminense Federal University, Tânia Rivera (Brazil), discussed memory, narratives, and fiction in the art field and their social, political, historical, and cultural implications. The panel was moderated by Seminar curator Sabrina Moura and included statements by the artists Gabriel Abrantes, featured in the Southern Panoramas | Guest Artists exhibition at Sesc Pompeia, and Ting-Ting Cheng, featured in the Southern Panoramas | Commissioned Projects exhibition at Galpão VB, whose purpose was to provide food for thought for the panelists.

The author of a body of filmic work that’s underpinned by fiction, and yet dismantles the classical storytelling structure to stay in touch with reality, the artist Gabriel Abrantes stated, in a specially-recorded video for the panel, that fiction is present in reality, endowing it with meaning. “Everything is fiction,” said the artist who, even when creating non-fiction work, claims the way one tells a story tends to be fictional.” Abrantes is featured in the Guest Artists exhibition with the film Liberdade (2011), and with a special selection of his films as part of the 19th Festival’s Film Programs at the Sesc Pompeia Theater and Galpão VB.

The creator of the installation The Atlas of Places do not exist (2015) – a library set up at Galpão VB for the Festival’s Commissioned Projects exhibition comprising roughly 500 books, in Portuguese and English, about places that don’t exist at the political, social, philosophical or geographical levels –, Ting-Ting Cheng asserted in a video that all fiction builds on reality. I don’t believe in an entirely fictitious work of art. All fiction reflects what people think and feel.” Her installation includes books such as Alice in Wonderland, Robinson Crusoe, Peter Pan, Harry Potter and others that are set in imaginary cities, islands, worlds, countries, and which intersect metaphorically with reality upon being read. “Somehow, all the places in these books exist,” the artist says.

Following these statements, the historian Julio Pimentel opened his speech by delivering an analysis of Abrantes’ and Cheng’s work, listing their differences and commonalities. According to him, “Gabriel Abrantes is a parodist and Cheng, a utopian. Abrantes shows us that we must work from actual places; Cheng inquires which places we belong to.” However, they both use humor to “build imaginary worlds we would love to get lost in. They propose trips and displacements. They give us the chance to travel, in narratives of widely varied thicknesses.”

The USP professor highlights the fluid, uncertain character of reality and fiction, truth and imagination, by resorting to a definition from the Dictionary of Imaginary Places, by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi, according to which Earth is blue as an orange.” “Blue implies happiness, harmony, contentment, an ideal state, plenitude. The orange is a fruit which, in the traditions of many countries up until the early 20th century, was given to children as presents, rich, juicy, full of blueness and life.”

Addressing the uncertain character of truth and reality, Pimentel cites cartography as an example of fiction in reality construction. “There are representations in cartography which are imagined. Reality does not unfold in a direct or unequivocal way.”

A researcher into the art-human rights connection, Andrea Giunta, who is working on a book on the topic, discussed how we remember the dictatorship eras, and the relevance of eyewitness accounts. “These accounts are not fiction; they are documents.”

She brought work by artists from Uruguay in a bid to publicize productions unknown to the public. She showed Nelbia Romero’s Sal-Si-Puedes (1983), which was not viewed as opposing the regime when it was first presented, and yet today one can realize its critical overtones. Another example she mentioned was Diana Dowek’ 1977 work Paisaje, a landscape which the artist intended as a symbol of freedom. “This is the outcome of the fictionalization that results from past experience,” she says.

The scholar expounded on the issue of museum spaces and memory that exist all over the world as it relates to historical moments like the dictatorial regimes in Latin America. “To what extent do these places reproduce or fictionalize the past?” she inquires.

According to her, the Latin American dictatorships, which fell apart in the first half of the 1980s, met their demise due to their “economic and military failure,” but also as a result of unflinching resistance against censorship of freedom of thought. “When faced with powers that set out to repress all critical thinking, expressing oneself and keeping one’s thoughts alive are acts of resistance. The demise of dictatorships was only made possible by resistances, which raised awareness, ultimately leading to the broader process that brought dictatorships to an end.”

Andrea is also critical of historical interpretations and revisions that oversimplify dictatorial regimes – and resistance to them – into Manichaeism, good and evil, without analyzing the nuances. She poses the question: “Can one classify a work of art as ethical or unethical? A binary ethic replicates the authoritarian form of thinking.” This is why fiction is important in the building of historical memory, according to her. “For the history of dictatorships, these accounts are not fiction; they are a primordial source for one to understand what was going on. History is also the space of emotions.”

Working with the Freudian notion that all memory is fiction, psychoanalyst Tânia Rivera said that according to Freud, “reality conflates neither with the realistic narrative nor with the perceptual indices that might endow memory with some degree of factual value,” and dreaming and reverie are a fundamental part of human existence; they “bring fiction into our daily lives.”

Still on Freud, she said that for him, memory is active work. Not scenes, but lines with which one can write letters or draw pictures” and that, in an analysis session, “you build a novel through speech, and this makes poets out of us all.” “Lacan, to whom the ‘self’ is a fiction, used to say that if someone were to go into analysis with a novel, they’d return home with a tale.”

Taking the issue of representation, reality and fiction, invention and memory to the field of art, Tânia mentions two art forms that have been crucial to human imagination since the early 20th century: photography and film. “Film creates illusory pictures with a maximum appearance of reality; they are narratively built in a realistic way, whereas photography had something crazy about it, since it fragmented reality in a way that makes any attempt at creating a linear narrative problematic. Many of the artistic avant-gardes that emerged after photography in the 20th century have tried to widen the gap that photography created between narrative and reality,” she asserted.

October 29th will see the final panel of the 19th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil’s Seminar Places and Meanings in Art, themed Rethinking Time: Art, Silences and Histories, at 2pm at Sesc Pompeia Theater. The Seminar is free of charge, but seats are limited. Tickets must be collected 1 hour prior to the start of the event from the Sesc Pompeia box office.

For detailed information about the panel go to the 19th Festival's website.