Still from "Swinguerra", by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, 2019.

There is currently a necessary debate on the relationship between the artist, the representations contained in his works and the concept that has been constituting a “place of speech”, with Djamila Ribeiro as one of its protagonists.

The question is to think about what is ethically correct, now in 2019, that it is clear, if an artist or a white artist can portray, for example, indigenous issues, when there are many indigenous artists who can talk about their reality with much more property?

It is unavoidable to think of Claudia Andujar and all her militancy with the Yanomami, which, in addition to addressing a massacre in progress since the 1970s, made combating it her central mission. Her radicalness goes to the point that her photographic work is actually an extension of this dedication and a significant part of all sales of her work on this theme is passed on to indigenous people. Before the term was created, Andujar was in fact already seeking to approach the place of indigenous speech in a radical way.

The representation of the real, in contemporary art, is an essential key to its own understanding and began when artists began to use photographic and video cameras in the 1960s and 1970s, which were incorporated into their repertoire of working instruments.

1974 photograph of the Yanomami in Catrimani (Roraima). PHOTO: Claudia Andujar

We saw there, in fact, an important movement: the departure from the protected space of creation as the studio to seek contact with the other, with the things of the world, at the same time denoting an attention to the need to be willing to contaminate oneself. for those things in the world, for randomness and surprise. This was an important moment in the renewal of artistic language, therefore of experimentation. It is undeniable to see how it is driven by the use of new technologies. Two artists used this procedure in an exemplary way: the North American Vito Acconci and the French Sophie Calle.

In 1969, in Follow Piece, Acconci randomly selected people on the street and followed them without them knowing. The persecution took place until they entered a private space, where the presence of the artist was not allowed. If the person entered a cinema, for example, Acconci would also enter paying the entrance fee. These pursuits could last minutes or even hours, depending only on the path of the other.

For Acconci, who had a background in literature and was a critic of the market-based art system, this type of action meant the very loss of the artist’s primacy over the work, as he declared “I am almost not ‘me’ anymore” . What he presented as his final work, in this case, was a map of the city on which he marked the streets where he passed, photos of the people he followed, taken without them noticing, observations and time markings on each walk.

It is possible to see there very clearly how this effort to leave the protected space of the studio really represents this desire to abandon total control over the work and a need to observe the other through the use of instruments that are typical, including, of the journalistic practice, in the case of Acconci, the photographic camera, especially because his images follow the documentary style: there is no staging, the character does not even know he is being photographed, thus composing a “real” portrait of that person.

Sophie Calle did something very similar in Paris, ten years later, in 1979, but in an even more radical way, when she started chasing people on the streets of the French capital until she became obsessed with one of them, whom she called Henri B., and that he meets at a party. There Calle discovers that he is going to travel to Venice and she decides to secretly follow him, recording, for two weeks, everything he does in the Italian city. The result is a series of photos and texts Venetian Suite (Venetian suite), in which she acts as a spy and analyst, making a series of inferences about the character in the written accounts. At the same time, this obsessive pursuit, in a romantic city like Venice, raises the question of affection for the object.

In both works, there are many elements that point to essential characteristics of contemporary art, such as the refusal of the autonomy of art and the notion of representation, and, for that, the search for an effective experience, who in both materializes in sharing an experience with the other. It is relevant here that, in both cases, procedures such as documenting actions in photographs and reporting objective data on each story are close to journalism practices. Another factor close to journalism is the exemption of both in the quest not to influence who they are persecuting, not allowing themselves to be identified, just as the journalist should not influence the answers of his interviewees.

art and journalism

If the approach to reality carried out by artists at the beginning of contemporary art already starts from the use of equipment and techniques of journalism itself - let's remember that 50 years ago journalism had a better evaluated position than it does today - journalism also sought inspiration in the art, especially in literature, in that period.

Throughout the history of journalism, a practice that aims to narrate facts in the most impartial way possible, taking into account, obviously, all the limits and contradictions of what it means to make a cut of the real, there have been many attempts to to use fictional resources for a better approximation with what we can call here as facts.

The so-called “new journalism” or literary journalism, as this approach to literature is currently called, has a wide history, both in the United States, where it is usually pointed out in journalists such as Truman Capote, Gay Talese, Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe. , as in Brazil, with José Hamilton Ribeiro and Joel Silveira, thinking about the same period of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. All of them used fictional resources, such as attributing what one of the portrayed was thinking without actually asking him about it , based, however, on dozens of interviews and observations. In Frank Sinatra has a cold published by Esquire in 1966, for example, Gay Talese made a profile of the American singer, considered the best text about him, without interviewing him. His descriptions of the singer's life, however, are so detailed and so well contextualize his attitudes that the lack of an interview becomes irrelevant.

Other journalists who participate in this aspect have even more radical practices, such as Hunter Thompson who did an immersion work, mixing himself with the characters he would write about, without identifying himself as a journalist. It was in this way that he portrayed the North American group of rioter bikers, Hell's Angels, at the invitation of the magazine The Nation, which resulted in the book Hell's Angels – Fear and Delirium on two wheels. For more than a year, he lived with the radical bikers clandestinely, thus being able to produce a very realistic text about their activities outside the law. Thompson himself called this style “gonzo journalism”, an ironic way of pointing out a contradiction in the very condition of a journalist, which is to characterize oneself as a character, without publicly admitting it, staying there in a very questionable ethically. In Germany, journalist Hans-Günter Wallraff has a similar procedure, having posed as an employee of the fast-food chain McDonalds, as a Turk working in underemployed conditions and as a reporter for the sensationalist newspaper Bild-Zeitung. In all these cases he published books, the most famous being Turk's Head, on working conditions for immigrants in Germany.

Both Thompson and Wallraf seek to extend the limits of journalism from inspiration in literature, using procedures from fiction. In Brazil, Otávio Frias Filho (1957 – 2018) was inspired by this model to produce immersive reports on swing houses, at Teatro Oficina and other experiences, which resulted in the book “Queda livre, essays de Risco”.

And the place of speech?

These immersive experiences in journalism, even if exercised with many limits, actually represent a perception of the need for empathy, that is, to be able to put oneself in the other's shoes in order to have a broader view. From empathy to effective collaboration is a passage that can be seen at work swing war, by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, which is still on display in Venice and should be seen at the São Paulo Bienal pavilion (see service at the end of the text).

Due to his training in journalism, Wagner has a good part of his work being the result of a dialogue between documentary practices and art. Born in Brasília, the artist graduated in Journalism from the Federal University of Pernambuco, in 2003. In the following two years, she frequented Brasília Teimosa, the largest favela in Recife, portraying its residents in a very different way from the way images of these people usually circulate. , in general victims after some catastrophe. She built a series of images where these residents are at leisure, with empowered attitudes, sometimes even similar to how sensational magazines portray celebrities.

Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, still by Swinguerra, 2019.

If, on the one hand, the artist gives vision to a group marginalized by the media, she constructs these images not only in a respectful way, but allowing them to pose with a dignity that is usually not granted to them. To build these images, even with advertising and fashion resources, she appropriates herself, thus deconstructing the typical image of the favelado. Coming to the public in 2005, the series quickly conquered the art system and has been shown in many exhibitions, being possibly one of the best representations of the social ascension that occurred in PT governments.

Since then, she has been working with the German Benjamim de Burca (Read the duo's profile here), especially making videos, in which he continues to seek to give visibility to marginal groups, such as evangelicals in Believers and Preachers, 2014. In this video they portray singers from evangelical churches, placing them in a pop context, something close to holy earthquake, a musical documentary with young people from the Zona da Mata region of Pernambuco who dream of recording a video clip gospel, displayed in the show body to body, who opened the Moreia Salles Institute in São Paulo.

The world of music was also addressed in Are You Selling Things, about the cheesy scene in Recife, shown at the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, in 2016, living uncertainty. In it, Wagner and Burca develop an effective collaboration with the musicians portrayed in the work, as the script was written jointly with the participants of Brega and the music video industry that surrounds it. Collaboration between artists and their subjects has become a common practice in more recent works, including swing war, and not only the artists, but Eduarda Lemos, one of the central figures of the work, were also at the opening of the Italian show. It is in gestures of this nature that it becomes clear how shared authorship actually becomes effective.

Talking about another, therefore, is not a voyeuristic or illustrative attitude. It is commitment, something that had its initial steps in the first works of Sophie Calle and Vito Acconci, although they followed each other, but without involvement. In Bárbara Wagner and Benjamim de Burca, representing the other means an effective partnership of exchanges for the construction of the work, and for it to be a place of speech for those who really should speak.

Swingguerra – public exhibitions
August 22, 21:XNUMX, at Cinemateca Brasileira
August 24, at 17:30 pm, at CineSesc
August 24, from 9 am to 19 pm, at the BIENAL PAVILION (1st floor), with free admission
August 30th, 15pm, at the São Paulo Cultural Center

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1 comment

  1. Dear Cyprian,

    Nice to talk about empathy and remember Djamila. I have debated (!!) a lot about this ethical position of the artist in different cultures.

    He could have mentioned the ethnographic practices of anthropologists in Brazil and how much contemporary art has appropriated this repertoire and tools.

    Who knows in another text.

    Anyway, what you wrote here helps a lot to call attention to the delicacy of this position of the artist.

    Thank you

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