Dana Awartani
installation of Dana Awartani's work, "I went away and forgot you. A while ago I remembered. I remembered I'd forgotten you. I was dreaming", 2017

A The diversity of themes, poetics and approaches of the 21st edition of Videobrasil is one of its highlights. There are no redundancies or overlaps among the more than 60 works selected for the exhibition, which for the first time in history has a common thread defined even before the invitation to bid. “Imagined Communities”, a motto inspired by the work of Benedict Anderson, becomes a powerful guide, but not imposing, which allowed to bring together a wide range of research whose main common characteristic is perhaps the delicate way in which they deal with often dramatic issues.

Destruction, threat of extermination, distorted view of the world due to racial, economic or social prejudices are aspects largely addressed by the 50 artists selected by the judging committee and by the 5 invited by the curatorship. And yet, a certain subtlety predominates in the show, a bet on the transforming power of art, which does not need to scream to be heard. Some examples clearly demonstrate this defense of utopia in the face of contemporary tragedy. A prominent work in the exhibition, the series of photos of urban landscapes taken by Hrair Sarkissian, a Syrian living in England, deals in a subtle and surprising way with totalitarian repressions by showing places where public executions are usually carried out in several countries where the penalty of death is state policy.

Hrair Sarkissian
Hrair Sarkissian, photos from the “Execution Squares” series, 2008

Peruvian Claudia Martínez Garay explores with a mixture of subtlety and sharp aim the annihilation of indigenous ancestral culture and the effects of colonization on the indigenous people. She appears at the show with two works: the installation entitled We are aún!, made from the sum of a series of sculptures of an anthropomorphic character, which mix traces of ancestral cultures with a persistent defense of the popular imagination, and a touching video, I will survive you, in which close-up images are seen of the shapes of an ancient 7th century vase of the Moche civilization, famous for its ceramic work,  kept in the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. While getting lost in the sinuous and mysterious forms of this archaeological object, the viewer listens to a strange, somewhat surreal narrative, made in first person by the vase, narrating from its making to its closure in a distant museum.

Claudia Martinez Garay
Claudia Martínez Garay, I Will Outlive You, 2017

The ancient culture of its people is also the subject of Dana Awartani's work. In a specular relationship between video and installation, the Arab artist makes a critical comment on the abandonment of the ancient Hejazi architecture, typical of her region, until the beginning of an overwhelming modernization process, which began in the 1950s. Dana covers the floor of her installation with a carpet of beautiful tiles with a typically Islamic geometric pattern, patiently made with colored sands. The ephemerality of the composition is even more evident in the video, which shows the artist sweeping the same formation, in one of the few houses with this type of architecture still existing in Saudi Arabia.

Evidently the presence of the video is remarkable in the exhibition, but it is by no means hegemonic. Many works mix language with other forms of expression such as painting, photography and drawing or simply incorporate typical video procedures in works that do without the moving image, as can be seen in works such as those by the Brazilian André Griffo, the Malian Tiécoura N'Daou and the Tunisian Nidal Chamekh, who travel freely through the most different means of expression to develop a work with a high content of political resistance. In other words, the event puts us in front of a series of works that speak, in the words of artistic director Solange Farkas, “different languages ​​for very similar situations”.

Upper Amazon Audiovisual
Alto Amazonas Audiovisual, Detail from “About Cameras, Spirits and Occupations: A Montage-essay Triptych”, 2018

In terms of denunciation, the highlight of the show is the works related to the indigenous population, removing the drama of these populations increasingly threatened by violence and who have long been relegated to a position of invisibility from their invisibility. Collective groups such as Alto Amazonas Audiovisual, which brings together anthropologists and indigenous filmmakers, stitch together and put together images captured in the region. There are also historical records such as the interviews made by filmmaker Andrea Tonacci with indigenous leaders in the late 1970s, which were only recovered and restored now, in 2014. But there are still strong voices of warning on the situation of communities and groups in search of survival and affective spaces of conviviality and struggle are still present in the exhibition, and in chorus. This effort is summarized in the incisive action led by the Mexican Teresa Margolles, one of the five artists specially invited to participate in the Bienal, which denounces the brutal violence against transsexuals. The work, entitled Priscilla Present pays tribute to the transvestite stabbed to death a year ago in downtown São Paulo and unfolds in three different elements: performative action, embroidery and video. Or in the paintings by No Martins, which associate powerful portraits of black figures with the phrase “Enough is enough!”.

21st edition of the Sesc_Videobrasil biennial
Sesc 24th of May – R. 24th of May, 109 – República, São Paulo
until February 2
Free admission

The internationalization of Sesc_Videobrasil

With 21 editions and 36 years of existence, Sesc_Videobrasil has established itself as one of the most powerful and long-lived cultural events in the country. In the current edition, which can be seen until February 2020, at Sesc 24 de Maio, the show made some important changes in its structure. Among them, there is the incorporation of a theme not only for the selection of works, but already announced before the artists registered their projects (imagined communities was the guiding thread adopted for the current edition); the expansion of the curatorial team; and — perhaps the most impactful of the changes — the transformation of the event into a Biennial.

The term Bienal, incorporated into the title of the event that is now called the Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil, is not just a periodicity information or a brand coup. Assuming itself as an event of its kind inserts the now biennial into a broad international agenda of contemporary art. It is a way of reasserting itself as part of a broad and active circuit of cultural action. Brazil already has two other important Bienals, the one in São Paulo and the one in Mercosul, but the Videobrasil field is well defined: it clearly works against the hegemonic nuclei, basically bringing together artists and thinkers from Africa, America, the Middle East and Caribbean. “This is the place we have to research, we have to investigate”, says Solange Farkas, creator and current artistic director of the project.

Solange Farkas. Photo: Disclosure

She makes a point of emphasizing the importance of keeping the event always ready for adaptations. Sesc_Videobrasil has already resembled a film show, has already assumed the identity of a major festival and is now concluding an important stage in this slow process of leaving the black box of the movie theater and moving to the “white cube” of the exhibition space. “The first decade was for understanding video production in Brazil,” explains Solange. In the 1990s, there was a certain disappointment, a frustration of the hope that video would occupy a more significant space in the cultural scene. “We went from romanticism to pragmatism and, faced with the perception that we were not going to occupy TV, people started to investigate and experience more intensely the specifics of language”.

In the wake of this process, there was an important process of internationalization, first bringing together and showing in Brazil the best of the international scene and the historical bases of video art and, subsequently, opening space for a young and intense production, of difficult access, from the south. geopolitical. “There was a lack of knowledge, a great ignorance about the history of the video here”, he says. The result of this mapping can be measured in the archive of almost three thousand works gathered in the Associação Videobrasil collection, available for consultation. “It is a broad material that allows us to understand this place of critical invisibility”, he adds.

According to her, the strategy of becoming a specialized biennial has been in the works for three editions, when she brought the work of Olafur Eliasson to Brazil. Among the challenges facing the new model of the event, Solange cites the increase in international and local dialogues, bringing together groups and issues traditionally relegated to the margins. “It's no use being self-absorbed”, she concludes.

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