VIDEOBRASIL 40 | 16th Videobrasil

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posted on 08/11/2023

Video, cinema and visual arts blend together and set the tone for the edition's hybrid nature


With some space in the Brazilian scene still in the 1970s, but widespread from the 1980s onwards, video and the languages resulting from its use—documentary, artistic and televisual—quickly contaminated other visual arts practices. Reciprocally, video let itself be quickly contaminated by those, turning conversation and hybridity into basic features of audiovisual production. Mapping this evolution, Videobrasil brought the theme to the forefront from the outset, but certainly did so with more emphasis in the 2000s, in festivals such as the thirteenth edition—under the axis “Fluxos, fusões e hibridizações” [Flows, fusions and hybridizations]—or the fifteenth edition (devoted to “Performance”). Following the same line, the 16th International Electronic Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil* chose to investigate the dialogues between video, the visual arts and, notably, cinema. Under the theme “Limit: image movement and a lot of strangeness,” the edition was held between September 30 and October 25, 2007 at Sesc Avenida Paulista, occupying the center's vast exhibition space, with part of the screenings held at Cinesesc. The festival also had a branch in Salvador, with a program thought especially for the Bahian capital.



“Video can transform attitudes due to its hybrid nature, as it acts in between the media, subverting and merging aesthetics. It is a formal catalyst for change, which points to a rupture, destroys certain conventions, desires to relate to the physical space and expand concepts of projection,” explained Solange Oliveira Farkas, director and curator of the festival, in the BIEN'ART magazine. Bringing to São Paulo important names such as the British Peter Greenaway, the North American Keneth Anger (1927–2003) and the German Marcel Odenbach, in addition to distinguished directors from the Global South, the 16th Videobrasil brought together quite varied artistic proposals, but always focused on breaking boundaries established between languages. “This festival is an in-depth investigation into the contamination of cinema by the visual arts, starting on Man Ray, then Andy Warhol, and reaching present day,” added Solange. No wonder the inspiration for the edition's title came from the film Limite (1931), an experimental work by Mário Peixoto (1908–1992), a pioneer in breaking traditional narratives and approaching plastic strokes. “Peixoto would be a video artist today,” Solange conjectured. 

In this line, the great honoree and most awaited name of the festival, the filmmaker Peter Greenaway, represented, like few others, the expansion of “the seventh art” towards the visual arts. For him, traditional cinema—text-based and narrative—no longer made sense: in an increasingly interactive world, in the age of the internet, cell phones, laptops, DVDs and iPods, it had become a dumb art, which overpowered by linear plots, wasted its plastic and aesthetic possibilities made possible by technology. As Solange explained, Greenaway sought to break the paradigm of passive screening of films in a dark room, “building a new audiovisual product, live” and making use of the moment as part of the narrative construction.

At Videobrasil, not only his features, shorts and television programs represented the artist's thinking, but also a mega-exhibition and a performance. A significant part of the works was related to the character Tulse Luper, a mysterious Welsh writer who disappeared after traveling the world and spending years in prison. In addition to the Tulse Luper Suitcases film trilogy, the multimedia project included an installation that recreated 92 of the suitcases left by the character in his wanderings, an internet interactive game and a VJ performance held outside Sesc, in the middle of Avenida Paulista. In it, Greenaway live-mixed and projected images of his character's “fantastical life,” conducting a kind of visual opera from a touch-sensitive plasma monitor (a rare equipment at the time).
Featured in the national press, the presence of the Briton made the headlines with some of his catchphrases, such as “Cinema is dead, the screen is alive,” in the Diário Catarinense newspaper, and “Cinema has become dumb art,” in the Estadão. If his work and participation in the festival were acclaimed in most articles, there was also room for some criticism, such as that of Fábio Cypriano in the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. For him, when migrating from cinema—where his “non-narrative” proposals are complex and consistent—to languages such as performance and the plastic arts, “that which was radical and original in Greenaway’s work became a cliché of contemporary production.” Contradictorily narrative, the pieces made for “a curious and obsessive set, which are enclosed in these two adjectives. (...) Fortunately, the festival brought his main production—the films that made him one of the mainstays of contemporary cinema.” 


Breaking boundaries

With his biggest retrospective ever held in Latin America thus far, Marcel Odenbach was another guest who broke boundaries and clichés throughout his career. Individual and collective memories, Germany’s past, the Cold War, the cinemas of Hitchcock and Leni Riefenstahl, the look onto other cultures in countries like India, Rwanda and Cameroon; everything appeared in Odenbach's video art in a very particular way, in an editing style that was neither linear nor didactic. “As opposed to television, I am consciously subjective, and therefore also more honest. I don't wish to explain anything, I don't let anyone get to the words directly. I can let the images speak for themselves,” said the German, presenting at Videobrasil ten videos and five installations made between 1977 and 2007. 

The third major name to land in São Paulo was Kenneth Anger, a Californian director who broke with Hollywood to make experimental, at times surrealist cinema, populated by homoerotic fetishes and references to Satanism. Author of the classic Fireworks (1947), a short that landed him in prison at the age of 20 on charges of “obscenity,” Anger showed at the festival this and eight other videos made until the early 1970s, avant-garde pieces that later influenced the world of rock, pop and the language of music videos. Concise and sharp in his responses in interviews he gave in Brazil, the artist spoke of his inspirations—“Aleister Crowley is my guru” and “Lucifer is my patron saint”—and even came to the point of being comical in his cutting phrases. Asked about the advice he would give to those who wanted to start out in audiovisual, he only said: “Don't do it, unless you’re rich or crazy.” The program dedicated to Anger at Videobrasil also dialogued with the parallel exhibit “Um Punhado de Prazeres Sublimes” [A Handful of Sublime Pleasures], curated by Rodrigo Novaes and focused “on the 20th century queer avant-gardes,” with works by Isaac Julien and Jean Genet, among others.

In addition to international names, three Brazilian authors with successful careers had special programs dedicated to their works. The Bahian Edgar Navarro, with a sassy, anarchic production that came out of the “countercultural and tropicalist cauldron,” presented films made between the 1970s and the 1990s. When discussing his early works, such as Alice no país das mil novilhas and O rei do cagaço, he recalled: “At a young age, we felt that we were part of something that was against (laughs), and we wanted to be against, we wanted to denounce the king's nakedness, we wanted to hit where it hurt.” Another notable name in experimental cinema, the Paulista Carlos Adriano, had some of his videos shown which, coming from the territory of documentary and contaminated by poetry and literature, were shaped in stimulating audiovisual pieces—in which the theme addressed and the formal possibilities of language gained equal importance. Finally, the mineiro Arthur Omar presented his production marked by transitions and fusions between film, photography and music. Strongly inspired by anthropology, Omar brought up harsh themes of political and social life without getting tied up in documentary and explanatory languages, but prioritizing an aesthetic and sensorial experience—as in the impressive installation Dervix, a projection on four walls of images captured in a mosque in Afghanistan.

The mineiro Eder Santos and the gaucho duo Angela Detanico and Rafael Laim, names that have been a constant presence in Videobrasil's history, completed the occupation of Sesc’s spaces. On the side façade of the building, on huge LED panels, Santos presented Low Pressure (Revezamento 3x1), a work in which the projection of a man swimming uninterruptedly reveals both a liberating pleasure and the feeling of “imprisonment in giant aquariums.” DetanicoLain, in turn, showed the installation Braile ligado at the entrance of the building, assembled with fluorescent lamps that formed, in the language for the blind, the phrase “la existencia en suspenso de las cosas sin nombre.” Having designed, for the fourth consecutive edition, the festival's visual identity, the duo deepened their research on the meeting point of written and visual languages, on alphabets and typography.


Southern Panoramas

In Videobrasil's traditional main show, entitled Panoramas do Sul [Southern Panoramas], the selection committee also resorted to the curatorial axis to choose 66 works—from South America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe—among the 791 submissions. In the international context, it seemed remarkable the perception of a Global South that, still “peripheral” and unequal, was gaining greater political and economic prominence in the world. At least in Brazil, which saw the beginning the second Lula term, a geopolitical repositioning began to place the country as a voice with greater impact, which was also reflected in culture and, consequently, in the relevance of art events such as Videobrasil.

Among the chosen works, no longer just in single channel, the jury concentrated on works that drew “a map of transits, drifts and experimentation of the image, ranging from appropriations of archaic cinema techniques to internet circuits.” Although the selection wasn’t an absolute delimiter, the committee emphasized the choice for “proposals that make use of cinema as raw material and 'database’,” either through “borrowed themes,” resources such as the recontextualization of classic scenes or specific editing techniques. Exceptional names were on the spotlight, such as the Argentines León Ferrari and Federico Lamas, the Lebanese Akram Zaatari, the South African Gregg Smith, the Australian John Gillies and the Brazilians Eduardo Climachauska and Nuno Ramos. 
Divided again into three categories, in the format established in the previous edition, eight works were awarded. In State of the Art, an axis dedicated to “mature works” by established artists, Juksa, by the carioca Maurício Dias and the Swiss Walter Riedweg, a delicate investigation into the life of the last inhabitants of a small island close to the North Pole; Sweet song small labyrinth, by the Bahian Caetano Dias, a video that records an artistic intervention on the complex history of sugar production and distribution in Salvador; and As Mãos do Epô, by Ayrson Heráclito, a video in which the Bahian artist turns to the dendê palm oil to address emblems of Afro-Brazilian culture and traumas from the country’s slave-owning past. 

In the Contemporary Investigations axis, dedicated to attempts to expand the limits of language, the winners were Revolving Door, by the Australian duo Alex & David Beesley, an animation on the life of a sex worker in the streets of Melbourne; Várzea, by Estúdio Bijari and Ricardo Iazzetta, a video that draws on dance to reveal the unfair and exclusionary social order surrounding football in Brazil; and The Chemical and Physical Perception, in the Eye of the Cat, in the Moment of the Cut, by the Argentine Marcello Mercado, a 3D animation with a surrealist atmosphere, which starts from a cut on the artist’s finger to delve into the “organic processes that result from this small tragedy.” Finally, in the New Vectors category, aimed at young filmmakers, prizes were awarded to Rawane's Song, by Mounira Al Solh, a video about a Lebanese woman who doesn’t want to talk about war but, ironically, is attached to the topic; and Jerk Off 02 - Projeto dízima periódica, by the carioca Alice Miceli, a reference to Warhol's classic Blow Job (1964).

In addition to acquisition prizes for Sesc TV, financial incentives and trophies—“cartazes de cinema” [cinema posters] made by Rosângela Rennó based on the redefinition of images from the works—the 16th edition strengthened the network of international partnerships established by Videobrasil through the granting of artistic residencies. The recipients spent seasons at the French center Le Fresnoy (Caetano Dias), at the Dutch postgraduate center WBK Vrije Academie (Jamsen Law, Marcellvs L., Danillo Barata and Eustáquio Neves) and at the Brazilian Lutetia Building, FAAP space in São Paulo (Federico Lamas), Instituto Sacatar, in Itaparica (Nicolás Testoni) and at Capacete Entretenimento, in Rio (Dan Halter). 

With the aim of making public the work carried out in these experiences, the artists awarded with residencies in the previous edition of the festival were invited to present the results of their research. While the mineiro Cao Guimarães spoke about his two-month experience at the London contemporary art center Gaswork, the Lebanese Ali Cherri (who is participating in the 22nd Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil this year) showed his new piece, Slippage, the result of his time at Edifício Lutetia. His work once again brought the artist's—poetic and painful—vision of war, this time the conflict between Lebanon and Israel that took place in 2006. “I was born at the beginning of a war that ended when I turned 16 [the civil conflict that devastated his country between 1975 and 1990]. When the new war started last year and I heard the sounds of gunfire more real than ever, I saw that I wasn't prepared for it, even though I grew up in the conflict,” he told BIEN'ART about his departure from Lebanon. In addition to this conflict, the world was still witnessing, in 2007, the lasting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the persistent demonization of the Middle East encouraged by the US under George W. Bush.


Parallel exhibitions and educational axis

As in previous editions, the members of the award’s jury were invited to curate parallel exhibitions for the festival, bringing their research and experiences from different corners of the world to the event. Following the path proposed by the edition's theme, the Australian David Cranswick, director of the d/Lux/MediaArts media center, the Spanish Berta Sichel, from the Reina Sofía Museum, the Trazanian Martin Mhando, from the Zanzibar International Film Festival, and the French professor and critic Jean-Paul Fargier assembled overviews of the confluence between cinema and visual arts, with narrative forms that were sometimes more traditional, sometimes experimental, sometimes more political, sometimes centered on formal and poetic aspects. 

In addition to the ample occupation of the exhibition space, and the awards and parallel exhibitions held, the 16th festival was remarkable for its expansion in the reflective and educational axis, characterized by the partnerships established with art and film training institutions. The streaming of part of the program was coordinated by ECA-USP students; FAAP students accompanied the installation of Greenaway’s exhibition; tutoring projects and photographic coverage had the collaboration of Senac São Paulo; and Faculdade Santa Marcelina hosted part of the debates. In the lectures, seminars and meetings with artists, researchers and curators, the discussions on the hybridization of languages, multiple narratives, the paths of the image in contemporary times and the artistic production of the Global South took center stage. Entitled Zona de Reflexão [Reflection Zone], this axis hosted artists participating in the exhibitions and other guests such as Arlindo Machado, Christine Mello, Giselle Beiguelman, Ivana Bentes, Jorge La Ferla and Tom van Vliet.   

The festival's expansion also took place geographically, since for the first time, part of the event was designed exclusively for another city—not in the old touring format already carried out by Videobrasil. The stage chosen for this journey was Salvador, the city where Solange had just taken over as director of the Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia. At the institution, based at Solar do Unhão, works by Odenbach were installed in the chapel of the historic complex, in the same space that housed the new performance by Marcondes Dourado—a kind of “symbolic washing” of the place. Debates with Anger, Claudia Andujar and the Moroccan artist Bouchra Khalili marked the reflective axis and an exhibition of 60 works held in partnership with the Goethe Institute mapped 40 years of German video art. The Bahian branch of the event represented an incentive for the setting outside the Rio-São Paulo axis, that is, a kind of South within the South. “This movement doesn’t just follow our desire to broaden the festival’s audience, but also to stimulate the artistic production of the Northeast,” Solange argued.

After a longer than normal hiatus, consolidating the definitive transition to the visual arts biennial format, open to all languages and media, the next Sesc_Videobrasil festival would be held in 2011, in the second decade of the new millennium. This was the continuation of a trajectory that, in the words of Danilo Santos de Miranda, director of Sesc-SP, kept innovating and resisting in the Global South scene. “Helping build audience and provide content for creators and thinkers of culture, the festival, in its ebbs and flows, develops in a cultural dynamic that alternately pulsates in contraction and expansion, crisis and assimilation, as a flash, a brazier, a fire, or as earth,” he wrote.


By Marcos Grinspum Ferraz

*the title used to name the main exhibition organized by Videobrasil, now called Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil, has undergone adjustments over the years. The changes were based on the organizers' perception of the features of each edition, especially in regards to its format; duration; frequency; partnerships with other companies and institutions; and the expansion of the artistic languages showcased. The main adjustments to the titles of the exhibitions were: inserting the name of the partner company Fotoptica between the 2nd (1984) and 8th (1990) editions; including the word “international” between the 8th and 17th (2011) editions, from the moment the event starts to receive foreign artists and works intensively; using the term “electronic art” between the 10th (1994) and 16th (2007) editions, when the organizers realize that referring only to video did not account for all the works presented; including the name of Sesc, the show's main partner in the last three decades, from the 16th edition onwards; and replacing “electronic art” with “contemporary art” between the 17th and 21st (2019) editions, as the focus expands to varied artistic languages. The most recent change took place in 2019, in the 21st edition, when the name “festival” was replaced with “biennial,” a term more appropriate to an event that was already being held biannually and with an exhibition duration of months, not weeks.



Videobrasil Historical Collection

1. Poster of the sixteenth Videobrasil, by Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain.

Gallery 1
1. “Tulse Luper Suitcases”, by Peter Greenaway.
2. “Tulse Luper Suitcases”, by Peter Greenaway. 
3. Filmmaker Peter Greenaway.
4. "Tulse Luper VJ Performance", by Peter Greenaway.
5. Performance created by Greenaway for the exhibition.
6. “Limite” (1931), by Mário Peixoto film screening.
7. Installation by Marcel Odenbach.
8. Marcel Odenbach (centre) with members of the VB staff.
9. Installation “Low Pressure”, by Eder Santos, on the facade of Sesc Paulista.

Gallery 2
1. “Dervix”, by Arthur Omar.
2. Arthur Omar.
3. “Braile ligado”, by Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain.
4. “Rawane's Song”, by Mounira Al Solh.
5. “As Mãos do Epô”, by Ayrson Heráclito.
6. “Jerk Off 02 - Projeto dízima periódica”, by Alice Miceli.
7. “Várzea”, by Estúdio Bijari with Ricardo Iazzetta.
8. “Revolving Door”, by Alex & David Beesley.
9. “Juksa”, by Maurício Dias and Walter Riedweg.

Gallery 3
1. American Keneth Anger.
2. Solange Oliveira Farkas.
3. Danilo de Santos Miranda and Peter Greenaway.
4. Edgar Navarro.
5. Argentine Federico Lamas.
6. Dutchman Tom van Vliet.
7. Caetano Dias.
8. Eustáquio Neves.
9. Explanatory poster, by DetanicoLain.