Still from "Rise" (2018)

Among the first work done together and the present day only six years have passed. In this prolific period, Bárbara Wagner, 38, and Benjamin de Burca, 43, carried out around ten major projects – including photographic series, video installations and musical short films – and with them were present in a series of biennials, exhibitions and festivals around the world. of the world. They traveled through spaces in the worlds of art and cinema and, in this 2019, they were awarded at the Berlin Festival with the short film RISE (2018). Now, they are getting ready to represent Brazil in the 58th Venice Biennale with the unpublished swing war, filmed in Recife.

In an almost breathless productive sequence since 2013, the duo developed a coherent and solid line of research both in the themes addressed and in the creation of an authorial language and aesthetics – even with the nuances and peculiarities of each project. But, according to them, they rarely stopped to analyze this body of work. “I have only recently started to think about it. Until recently, we could not see a body, because we produce a lot in a short time. Now that we have accumulated some work, we are able to look back and see the relationships between them more clearly”, says Wagner, who, alongside De Burca, spoke for more than an hour with the ARTE!Brasileiros.

Especially in the film projects, which now number seven, the duo presents audiovisual works conceived together with their protagonists, which mix documentary and fiction, reality and imagination, and which raise debates on the use of the body, the music industry, dialogues and conflicts between pop culture and traditional manifestations and on the ideas of good and bad taste. Themes dealt with in a multidisciplinary way in works that portray characters from marginalized universes and how they represent themselves and present themselves to the world – from brega musicians and frevo dancers from Recife to rappers from Toronto; from the singers of the Münster schlager to the evangelical speakers of the Zona da Mata in Pernambuco.

Still from “Swingwar” (2019)

“On the one hand, they are manifestations that seem marginal, but in real life they are very central to the culture. Schlager is the most consumed genre in Germany, hip hop is a worldwide phenomenon and brega is very popular here in the Northeast”, says De Burca. “I think that we try to understand these phenomena that seem marginalized, but that actually have a central nerve in our experience of culture”, completes Wagner. “They drink all the time from this central cultural production, at the same time they do not need it, they are not dependent on the mainstream and conventional media. They are groups that find outlets for their own existence, within this universe of exchanges between center and periphery”.

In this sense, Wagner and De Burca question the notion, in vogue in sectors of political activism and in areas of the social sciences, of “giving voice” to minorities and the marginalized. For the duo, these groups have their own voice, “they know very well how to present themselves”, and the work is much more about listening to these voices or even creating other possible voices together. “So we always ask ourselves what our contribution can be. The record that we make in audiovisual has to go to another place, which comes from the encounter, from the dialogue between our desire to observe, understand and question and their artistic desire, of the people with whom we collaborate”, says Wagner.

What results, therefore, comes from a shared doing that arrives at something new. In a way, it refers to ethnofictional films by Jean Rouch, who created narratives with the protagonists, while showing less improvisation than the works of the Frenchman. For the duo, the joint work begins with the planning and script, continues with the filming, and continues later throughout the work's career. "We keep in touch with everyone we've worked with from the first film to today, and they always know where the films are circulating."

From Europe to Brazil

Wagner and De Burca were already developing authorial works when they met in Europe, at the end of 2009, at the time when the artist was doing her Masters in Visual Arts in the Netherlands. Wagner, born in Brasilia and trained in journalism in Recife, pursued research mainly in photography, already centered on issues of the body and in the fields of pop culture and tradition. Benjamin, born in Munich (Germany), with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Arts completed in Glasgow (Scotland) and Belfast (Northern Ireland), had a work focused mainly on collages, photographs and painting.

The duo Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca. PHOTO: Chico Barros/ Publicity

The first work done in partnership began to take shape when the two moved to the capital of Pernambuco at the end of 2012, in “a very interesting period to observe what the representation of a new middle class in Brazil was”. Recife Building (2013), a photographic series accompanied by short interviews, analyzes “the relationship between the sculptures of noble buildings in Recife and the doormen of these buildings”. Despite not being centered on musical or body issues, the work already presented several of the themes developed later by the duo, such as the contrast between social classes and the use of urban space.

In the same year, the first audiovisual work appeared, Cinema Casino (2013), an investigation into the maloya musical genre among the new generations in Reunion Island. Commissioned for 4a The Indian Ocean Biennial, the work was filmed in the French overseas department, located close to Africa, and puts local sounds and dances in perspective – both traditional strands linked to Creole culture and anti-colonial resistance as well as contemporary manifestations aligned with the consumer industry. “We were interested in understanding how the bodies of these young people, heavily influenced by pop culture, move between tradition and the contemporary”, comments the artist.

Still from “Faz que Vai” (2015)

It was this same line of research, transported to another territory and context, that resulted in the short make it go (2015), work done in Recife after the production of two other projects: Construction site design (2014), a video collage about the real estate market; and as if it were true (2015), a hybrid of photographic series and installation made at the Cidade Tiradentes bus terminal, in São Paulo. make it go, filmed with four frevo dancers, also raises gender issues, which run through the duo's other works.

“In the case of films, we understood that music is the element that constitutes a kind of foundation for the practices we researched. Be it dance, video clips, song. It's the performance in general linked to the music industries that are on the border between tradition and pop”, says Wagner. “These are young people who have the opportunity to work with art for the first time, and the body is a central element in this. He is the instrument of work in this culture of the spectacle”.

Democratization and the art world

Guests for the 32a Bienal de São Paulo, curated by Jochen Volz, the duo produced are you seeing things (2016) also in Recife, moving from the universe of frevo to that of young brega singers in nightclubs and in video clip recordings. Considering that 900 people attended the Bienal, it was there that the artists' work was most visible. Wagner confesses: “It was very moving to see how people relate to work. People with different ages and repertoires, with different understandings of what a work of art is”.

Still from “You're Seeing Things” (2016)

According to her, it was also an interesting moment to see how the work had an impact on the art world itself, with educators, the commercial circuit, independent curators or the management of institutions. “We are always testing, because each instance of these has its specificities. And for having this hybrid work, it is very good to be able to show the RISE, for example, both in a private gallery in São Paulo (Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel) and at the Berlin festival. It is interesting to test the intersections of these spheres, the points of intersection”.

The short made in the year after the biennial, Bye Bye Deutschland! (2017), made for the Skulptur Projekte festival in Münster, follows a couple of schlager singers, a popular musical genre in Germany and in northern European countries marked by sentimental lyrics and melodies. “And it also had a lot to do with this question of good taste and bad taste. Contemporary German artists turn up their noses at schlager, so our wanting to talk about this genre came as a surprise, even for Skulptur Projekte. But for us, it was the only possible way. A job in Münster had to be about that,” explains Wagner.

This surprise that the artist talks about also raises a strangeness when one thinks of the great recognition that the duo has achieved in environments where the musical genres they deal with are normally considered bad. “The art and cinema circuits are very elitist. But what I feel is that somehow our works communicate something, even beyond our intention, that interests people. But it's hard to explain, we're always trying to understand ourselves.”

Still from “Bye Bye Deutschland!” (2017)

The most controversial reaction came with the short Holy Earthquake, 2017 – the year in which Wagner won the PIPA Prize –, which presents the evangelical universe of the Zona da Mata of Pernambuco from a gospel music label in the city of Palmares. By creating in the film an atmosphere that is both real and fantasy, in which, at a given moment, the camera shakes simulating an earthquake – in dialogue with the music being sung –, the duo disturbed part of the artistic community. “To this day the reception is divided. There are people who think that the film is conservative propaganda for evangelicals, others think that we may have even made fun of them”, she comments. The curious thing, according to De Burca, is that the excerpts that sound more fictional in the films are always conceived in the creation processes with the characters themselves, based on things that exist in their lives.

“In the artistic practice of these groups, whether singers, dancers, brega, schlager, gospel or swingueira music producers, this fantasy is very present. There are no boundaries between fiction and reality. Getting in and out of the show is a practice they manage very well, and the boundary between one thing and another is very fluid,” says Wagner. “I think that cinema allows us to manage between these narratives and, for us, blurring these boundaries is important even to suspend judgment about what we are seeing.” Making the camera shake at the moment of the “earthquake”, would be like “making shake” any kind of easy reading about the duo's work. “We have no qualms about pushing this idea that a film can speak of reality, but at the same time be completely fanciful, to its ultimate consequences. We want to create fissures.”

RISE (2018), a short that won the Audi Short Film Award at this year's Berlinale, continues this idea. Filmed in a newly opened subway station on the outskirts of Toronto, the work was carried out with members of the group Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere, which brings together young Afro-descendant rappers, poets and singers from the city. The short, which was commissioned by AGYU (Art Gallery of York University), draws attention, perhaps even more strongly than other films, to the extreme technical and aesthetic care that runs through the production of the duo – who always work with the director of photography Pedro Sotero (partner in Kleber Mendonça's films).  “I think that if it weren't for this rigor of the cinema, with high quality of sound and image, we would lose all our effort to promote an empathic relationship with the content of the work”, says Wagner.

Still from “Holy Earthquake” (2017)

swing war, which is in the post-production phase, is the work that will represent Brazil at the 58tha Venice Biennale, commissioned by Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro. The new film features three groups: swingueira, who meet in public school blocks in Recife and prepare choreographies to socialize and compete with each other; the brega funk dancers, who derive from swingueira, but work commercially on stages in nightclubs and in MC's shows; and the so-called passinho do maloka, teenagers who create dances and choreographies to have fun and advertise on Instagram: “From the court, to the stage, to Instagram. In the film we cross these expressions, their codes, bodies and gestures”.

In a multidisciplinary practice that mixes cinema, visual arts, performance, music, dance and anthropology, in which doing is shared and where questions of gender, race, class and cultural industry arise, Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca are aware of the responsibility politics of his works, especially in the current Brazilian context. “This place where instead of 'giving a voice' one tries to listen, or speak together, is possibly a place of resistance. Because it shows how these groups that we meet, these artists, create their own outlets to resist in the world. And to work together with them is, therefore, to participate in the construction of these forms of resistance”.


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