VIDEOBRASIL 40 | 17th Videobrasil

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posted on 09/08/2023

In the definitive format of a contemporary art biennial, the festival opens up to all artistic practices


Despite its name, Videobrasil was never just a video festival. If this medium, innovative at the time, was its starting point and main focus in the 1980s, languages such as performance and installation have been present at the event since its very first edition. In the 1990s, the proposal to expand the boundaries between artistic practices intensified even further, as Solange Oliveira Farkas explained in 1994: “The goal is to look forward and see how electronic art is progressing. Holding only video shows no longer corresponds to the movement of video art,” she said, also mentioning web art, games and hybrid works that were proliferating. But it was in the 2000s that Videobrasil definitively went beyond not only video, but electronic art itself: the focus on performance would intensify, as would the broader occupation of Sesc SP's exhibition spaces with installations, sculptures and works in other media. The culmination of this “inevitable movement” occurred between September 2011 and January 2012, when the 17th International Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil* was held, in the definitive format of a visual arts biennial that included all practices, including painting, objects and artist’s books. These works also became part of the traditional Southern Panoramas exhibition.



Videobrasil wasn’t abdicating video, but accompanying and encouraging the very experimentation and contamination that electronic art suffered, on the one hand, and promoted, on the other, throughout the entire field of contemporary art. By expanding its scope and expanding its occupation in the city (at Sesc Pompeia and Belenzinho and, for the first time at the Pinacoteca do Estado), the festival also had record attendance, with about 300,000 visitors. The main attraction was precisely an artist who did not come from the audiovisual universe—Danish-Icelandic Olafur Eliasson, who brought together twelve large installations in São Paulo that were spread across the three institutions. Curated by Jochen Volz, director of Pinacoteca, the exhibition Seu corpo da obra [Your body of work]—the artist's first solo show in South America—brought together pieces that presented a dense investigation linked to issues of philosophy, physics, neuroscience and optics, but always inviting visitors to accessible and democratic experiences. 

Mirrors (in Take your Time), lights (Slow Light Sphere), smoke (Your Sensed Path), waterfalls (Waterfall), translucent panels (Your Body of Work) and colorful projections (Your Cosmic Bonfire), among other resources, are worked by Olafur to activate senses and feelings, without requiring the audience to have a specialized repertoire. “Eliasson’s work constantly reminds us that artistic practices are only truly complete in fruition. Accessible, as they do not require mastery of the issues that engender them, the sensory experiences he proposes address the exploration of sensations and aim at an open dialogue with the public, questioning the preponderance of the object over the subject and inviting viewers to perceive themselves as building the work,” Solange argued in her curatorial text.

The result of the Dane's long-lasting investigation into urban spaces around the world, Olafur's participation in the festival also culminated in interventions not only within institutions—in dialogue with the architecture of Lina Bo Bardi, at Sesc Pompeia, or Paulo Mendes da Rocha, at the Pinacoteca—but also in public places. In Your New Bike, the artist spread twelve bicycles across São Paulo, replacing the wheels with mirrors, sparking curiosity and amazement among passersby. “I don’t see my work as a parallel world, but as part of the world, which is why I never consider myself part of a distant artistic avant-garde. I want to speak to people,” he stated in an interview with Fabio Cypriano, on the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. The project would be recorded in the book Seu corpo da obra [Your Body of Work], produced by VB in partnership with Edições Sesc, which brought together photographic essays and articles by the curator Lisette Lagnado and the critic Guilherme Wisnik on Olafur's approach to São Paulo. 

The other major highlight of the artist's arrival was the production of Domingo, by Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz, the seventh film in the Videobrasil Authors Collection series. The intense collaboration between the two, which also resulted in the creation of the installation Your Empathetic City for the exhibition, was the starting point for the short film, which poetically reflects the possible relationships between Eliasson's works and the public spaces of São Paulo. By taking the city as raw material, Karim and Olafur give new meaning to it, proposing new sensory experiences and perceptions that arise from the encounter. 

The titles of the countless articles published in the press created wordplay to summarize some of the key concepts in the artist's production. Among them, “Luz de Olafur” [Olafur’s light] and “Espelho da metrópole” [Mirror of the metropolis], in the O Estado de S.Paulo; “Arte em trânsito” [Art in transit] and “Autor de paisagens” [Author of landscapes], in Folha de S.Paulo; and “O illusionista” [The illusionist], in Serafina magazine. In his talks, the author pointed out that the imposing appearance of his works didn’t make them merely spectacular, on the contrary: “In my projects, I can say that it is always possible to deconstruct them, to see how they are made and, even though they are immense in scale, they are not incomprehensible. Therefore, I don’t let the spectacle submit to the arrogance of commerce. I don't want to subject the idea of beauty to marketing. I want to allow something beautiful to also be critical.”


Southern Panoramas and Focus on the East

If Olafur was under the spotlights, the decision to include the most varied practices and languages in the main exhibition, after almost three decades of Videobrasil, was no less remarkable for the 17th festival. Southern Panoramas received 1,295 entries, a third of which were photographic works, paintings, publications and other non-audiovisual experiences, from which 101 works were selected from Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania. Even the performances, always carried out separately from the competitive exhibition, became part of it. They were #4 (da série Corpo ruído – estudo para um soterramento), by Paula Garcia; Ponto de fuga, by Felipe Bittencourt; Bandeira de água benta/bandeira de água comum, by Deyson Gilbert; and Arquivo banana, by Leandro Cardoso. 

Four axes—which didn’t mean dividing the awards into categories—guided the selection committee's choices and the scenography for the main exhibition: Cartografias do afeto [Cartographies of Affection] brought together works that stemmed from subjective issues, moving between personal and collective; Natureza e cultura [Nature and Culture] presented works that addressed the complex relationships between what is natural and what is built, between human beings and the land they inhabit; Maquinas de ver [Seeing machines] involved optical devices and other mechanisms that alter our look and propose a new gaze; and Paisagens políticas [Political Landscapes] focused on a type of production that evokes dilemmas of the political, social and public sphere, shedding light on latent issues in the past and present of a violent and unequal world.  

In this sense, it is worth keeping in mind that given the extended period between the festivals—the previous one had taken place four years earlier—the political context behind the 17th edition carried along a large heap of recent events that marked the world. In Brazil, the first female president in history, Dilma Rousseff, took office in early 2011; on an international level, after the devastating financial crisis that began in the US in 2008, the first black president, Barack Obama, had won the elections and governed the country; conflicts and tensions in the Middle East—and the enduring consequences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, and the Arab Spring (which also included countries in North Africa)—still made thousands of victims and maintained a hostile climate between West and East. 

In this context, Videobrasil maintained its role as one of the main platforms for cultural exchange and dialogue between Latin America and the Arab and Eastern worlds. In addition to the participation of such names as Ali Cherri (Lebanon), Bouchra Khalili (Morocco), Lixin Bao (China), Sherman Ong (Malaysia), Tenzin Phuntsog (India) and Zafer Topaloglu (Turkey), the winner of the Southern Panoramas Grand Prize was the renowned Lebanese Akram Zaatari, a constant presence in all editions of VB between 1996 and 2013. In Tomorrow Everything Will Be Alright, a video with references to Egyptian cinema and dedicated to French filmmaker Éric Rohmer, the artist develops a story of love, loss and longing through an intense exchange of ideas over the course of one night. From farther East, the Chinese Liu Wei drew attention with the video Unforgettable Memory, a revival of the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square against the Deng Xiaoping regime, revealing the subjectivities of memory and the indifference towards it. 

Part of the largest group of Israeli artists ever present in Videobrasil's history, the duo Aya Eliav and Ofir Feldman presented the eye-catching performance Art Idol. While the videos coming from that country addressed the political issues more directly—“here, the artist working with photography and video has to make a huge effort if they don’t want to deal with reality,” Israeli curator Sergio Edelsztein told the newspaper Folha—the duo's action charted another path, in dialogue with both pop culture and the history of performance itself. A kind of satire on the reality TV show American Idol, the work simulated a competition between performers, chosen to reenact classics by Marina Abramovic and Ulay, Yoko Ono, Pipilotti Rist and Orlan. Paying homage to these great names, Art Idol also served as critique of the similarities between the art system and the mass industry. 

Still on the eastern side of the globe, the Israeli Moran Shavit was awarded for his video Exploring, while the Indian Natasha Mendonca won one of the trophies for Jan Villa. The other recipients were the Argentinian Sebastián Díaz Morales and the Brazilians Adriano Costa, Carla Zaccagnini, Gabriel Mascaro, Dirceu Maués, Eder Santos and the duo Cacá Vicalvi and Milton Machado. In addition to receiving an original trophy created by Tunga – a piece with crystal and amber liquid, contained by metallic mesh and attached to a video camera – they were granted a range of exchange programs and artistic residencies in institutions from three continents, based on further development of Videobrasil's policy on artistic production and commissioning. 

In addition to the networks already established with FAAP (São Paulo-SP), Instituto Sacatar (Itaparica-BA) and WBK Vrije Academie (The Hague, Netherlands), new partnerships were secured with Galeria Kiosko (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia) and Vidéoformes (Clermont-Ferrand, France). For the first time the festival also offered, among its prizes, a residency on the African continent, at the contemporary art center pARTage, in Mauritius. A big new feature was Ateliê Aberto Videobrasil, a residency granted months before the festival was held to four young artists from São Paulo: Carolina Caliento, Guilherme Peters, Regina Parra and Paulo Nimer Pjota—all established names on the art scene today. Chosen by a jury, they spent four months developing their works at Casa Tomada, an independent space created by Thereza Farkas and Tainá Azeredo, in collaboration and with the support of curators and instructors. The pieces that resulted from this process of interaction between the artists, and between them and the city, were included in the Southern Panoramas exhibition.

As part of the activities linked to this axis, a series of meetings with creators, curators and researchers discussed editorial, institutional and curatorial initiatives devoted to the geopolitical South of the world—its strengths, shortcomings and increasingly central role in the art world. The participants included the Cuban Tania Bruguera, the Mexican Paola Santoscoy, the Colombian Nadia Moreno, the Nigerian Olu Oguibe and the Brazilian Clarissa Diniz. As Solange stated in an interview with arte!brasileiros a few years later about the Global South, “there is in these territories an absolutely powerful and extraordinary production not only regarding its meaning, but its operation itself, its making. And for 30 years at VB we have been doing this work of directing the spotlight to a place that used to be in the shadow. (...) I also think that, in the arts scene, there is a depletion in Northern countries. Why, for some time now, has this global art world—Europe, the US, etc.—started looking to the so-called underdeveloped places? Out of necessity, out of depletion of themselves.”

On the screen and in the notebook

After several editions producing the innovative and amusing Videojornal, with behind-the-scenes coverage of the festival, and others with partnerships with the Cultura and Manchete stations, the 17th festival inaugurated Videobrasil na TV, directed by Marco Del Fiol and Jasmin Pinho for TV Sesc, with consultancy from Eduardo de Jesus. The episodes covered all the axes of the edition, with records, interviews and visual essays. On the printed paper side, the Caderno Sesc_Videobrasil 08 – A Revista was coordinated by the curator Rodrigo Moura in a “highly personal unarchiving,” interspersing pages of old culture magazines and works by artists such as Arnaldo Antunes, Cildo Meireles, Claudia Andujar and Jorge Macchi. Designed by Marilá Dardot, the project revisits important media outlets in the country, combining research, memory and artistic work. As a festival presenting such a variety of languages and media, the printed notebook and the TV program pointed to an increasingly plural and hybrid Videobrasil.  

In a text for the catalogue, Sesc SP’s director Danilo de Santos Miranda confirmed the new phase: “Art affords the enrichment of human existence, through sensitive experiences, and invigorates how we view the moment in which we live. The new media and the images permeate our daily lives in different formats, causing cultural and social transformations. The emergence of different supports for artistic expression, driven by technological advances, creates an effervescence of visual possibilities that interfere with ways of seeing and interpreting the world, favoring the relationship and contact between traditional artistic frameworks and technological innovations. It is in this context that the 17th International Festival of Contemporary Art Sesc_Videobrasil appears, bringing about changes and absorbing the artistic languages that reflect the current issues in the field of visual arts.”


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
Everton Ballardin/ Videobrasil Historical Collection

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

Gallery 1
1. “Seu corpo da obra”, installation by Olafur Eliasson.
2. “Seu caminho sentido"”, installation by Olafur Eliasson.
3. Solange Oliveira Farkas and Fernando Oliva.
4. “Sua cidade empática”, installation by Olafur Eliasson.
5. “Seu planeta compartilhado”, work by Olafur Eliasson.
6. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.
7. “Art Idol”, performance by Aya Eliav and Ofir Feldman.
8. “Tapetes”, installation by Adriano Costa.
9. “As Pérolas, como te escrevi”, video installation by Regina Parra.
10. “Tomorrow Everything Will Be Alright”, video by Akram Zaatari.
11. Filmmaker Karim Aïnouz.
12. Tunga with the trophy created for the festival.
13. The trophy created by Tunga for the festival.

Galeria 2
1. "Tomorrow everything will be alright", by Akram Zaatari.
2. "Tapetes", by Adriano Costa.
3. "The unforgettable memory", by Liu Wei.
4. "Bravo-Radio-Atlas-Virus-Opera", by Carla Zaccagnini.
5. "Round and Round and Consumed By Fire", by Claudia Joskowicz.
6. "As aventuras de Paulo Bruscky", by Gabriel Mascaro.
7. "Em um lugar qualquer - Outeiro", by Dirceu Maués.
8. "Exploring", by Moran Shavit.
9. "Jan Villa", by Natasha Mendonca.
10. "Oracle", de Sebastián Díaz Morales.
11. "Pilgrimage", by Eder Santos.
12. "Vermelho" by Cacá Vicalvi e Milton Machado.