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In 2013, a large installation was presented at the 18th Bienal Sesc_Videobrasil with highlights from the festival's first 30 years. Photo: Disclosure

After a period of great uncertainties and instabilities – which have obviously not yet completely dissipated in Brazil today – the next few years promise to be a prolific and even celebratory period for Associação Cultural Videobrasil (VB). First, on the 40th anniversary of the 1st Videobrasil Festival, held in 1983, still in the last years of the country's civil-military dictatorship. Second, for the confirmation that the 22nd Bienal Sesc_Videobrasil will be held in 2023, postponed for two years due to the pandemic and which will already have activities scheduled for next year. There will also be a large exhibition of the vast VB collection in Vitória (Espírito Santo), starting in March, the continuation of virtual exhibitions on Videobrasil Online and participation in other projects such as an exhibition on display at the Museum of Language Portuguese.   

Established curator with extensive experience in Brazil and abroad, former director of MAM-BA and in charge of Associação VB since the beginning, Solange Farkas was just a young graduate – in journalism and art history from the Federal University of Bahia – when he decided to hold the Videobrasil Festival. Already based in São Paulo, her main supporter was her father-in-law, Thomas Farkas (1924-2011), one of the most important names in modern photography and cinema in Brazil and, at the time, owner of the company Fotoptica. Already interested in Brazilian underground cinema, the subject of her graduation work at UFBA, Solange let herself be carried away by Thomas' stimuli, added to the clear perception that video was establishing itself as a new language in the country and in the world.

“In the early 1980s, video was emerging as a device. There was cinema and television, but not what we call video”, she says in an interview with arte!brasileiros. Brazilian production prior to this period, still in the 1970s, was basically confined to the core of professor Walter Zanini, who after acquiring equipment abroad for MAC-USP gave it to artists such as Regina Silveira, Wesley Duke Lee, Carmela Gross , Julio Plaza and José Roberto Aguilar. “But the more affordable video equipment didn't arrive until the early 1980s, and Thomas knew there was something big there. And he asked me if I wanted to do a show or something that would encourage artists to use the video and show this production.”

And so the first edition of the festival was held at the Museu da Imagem e do Som in August 1983, on a still small scale compared to the current biennial, but already with a competitive show, presentation of performances, installations and even with a fair of new technologies such as computers, teletext and video games. It was the context of the last years of dictatorship – works had to be submitted to censorship – and the general tone was one of criticism of the monopoly of open television, which calmed down in the following years with the approximation of producers and video directors to TV channels. . From then on, the story is long, full of transformations and twists, and always linked not only to political and cultural contexts, but also to the path of audiovisual technological development.

After holding eight festivals, Solange created in 1991 the Videobrasil Cultural Association, with a statute that provided for the maintenance and activation of the growing collection of works and publications gathered at the events. In the following year, Sesc-SP becomes the main partner of the festival, which makes it possible to hold it with great structure since then, in units such as Pompeia, Belenzinho and 24 de Maio.

first battles

Not only the filming equipment was transformed, but the technologies for storing and caring for the collection themselves. “Keeping the video alive, physically, is very expensive”, explains Solange. “It's extremely fragile media for conservation and extremely volatile, because every few years the current conservation media changes and you have to convert everything all over again. I've been doing this for 40 years and it never stops, you can even do a media archeology from this VB story.” Due to the enormous costs of this work, Farkas is already negotiating the transfer of the VB collection to the technical reserves of institutions with greater structure, in a process that should have a conclusion in the near future.

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Part of the exhibition of the 20th Bienal Sesc_Videobrasil, in 2017, at Sesc Pompeia. Photo: Disclosure

Also connected to this technological history is the institution's long struggle for the recognition of video as a relevant artistic support, as important as any other. “The prejudice against video, within the arts scene itself, was very heavy”, says she, who was both an observer and an agent of the transformation of this perspective over the decades. Interestingly, with the current Covid-19 pandemic and the long confinement of people in their homes, the curator notes a greater return to this media: “It is interesting to think about how video, at this moment, occupies a central place in all fields of life. culture. Video is the mode of communication, it is the possible expression at this moment, it is what is connecting us,” she told arte!brasileiros still in 2020.

Another long battle fought by the VB over the decades, perhaps harder and more permanent, refers to the association’s decision to dedicate itself to the artistic production of the so-called Global South, defined in one of its publications as “a term that refers to the cultural condition of , economic and political aspects of countries and territories on the margins of hegemonic modernization and central capitalism”. After the festival's internationalization in the 1980s and 1990s and the inclusion of the term “electronic art” in the event's name in 1994, Videobrasil has in fact established itself as a platform dedicated to productions “outside the traditional axis formed by Europe and the U.S".

The concept of the Global South, however, was always in transformation and does not fail to include territories internal to the central countries: “It is a political South, not exactly geographical. It’s not cutting the globe in half.” The approach with different regions of Africa, Latin America, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia, among others, placed the VB in a vanguard position, but also created a series of difficulties in a geopolitically unequal world. “Even among the artists, some told me: I don't want to go to Africa, I want to go to Paris. Because everyone, in order to exist, wanted to go either to Europe or the USA”, he says. “It was our militancy to try to create bridges, networks, that would allow transit between us in the Global South, so that it could exist without artists always having to be chancelled by the North.”

If the issue is far from being resolved, Farkas sees a huge change today, with the proliferation, for example, of cultural spaces and artist residencies in places previously excluded from the global map of the arts. In the interview given in 2020, at the first peak of the pandemic, she said: “There is one interesting thing - if it is possible to talk about something interesting at this time when there is so much suffering, so many people suffering - which is that all the great certainties, the guidelines always placed from there to here, from North to South, are being called into question. (…) In that sense, we are a little similar. And when the climax of all this passes, maybe we will be a little ahead in relation to some alternatives and exits; we who live in permanent crisis and who have always had to deal with precariousness and find alternatives, especially in the field of art and culture”.

21st Bienal Sesc_Videobrasil, in 2017, at Sesc 24 de Maio. Photo: Everton Ballardin

fall and come back up

Long before the pandemic, other milestones in the history of Videobrasil were the inclusion, as of 2011, of the most varied artistic media in addition to video and electronic art in festivals and exhibitions; and the relocation of its headquarters, in 2015, to a grandiose warehouse in Vila Leopoldina (São Paulo). In 2019, the event also took on the name of Bienal, changing its name to Bienal de Arte Contemporânea Sesc_Videobrasil. But the VB, like so many cultural institutions, was not immune to the uninterrupted crises experienced by the country in recent years, especially under the Jair Bolsonaro government. With the difficulty in raising funds, the association returned the shed (where it even held important exhibitions) in 2019 and faced a kind of institutional paralysis. “It is impossible to plan any project in the face of a government that disrespects culture, attacks culture, eliminates culture. In fact, this concerns culture, the press and democratic institutions, in this clear flirtation with totalitarianism,” said Farkas in 2020.

The director also says that in a deep period of reflection in recent years, she realized that she needed to rethink some structures of the association, including establishing a kind of independence of the VB in relation to its own person. "Why the huge, wonderful collection is also scary. The pandemic brought a cruel reality, the perception that we can die at any time. And what happens to this collection? It can't just be in my hands, I saw that I need to think about continuity.”

The responsibility for a collection with a high maintenance cost, which includes not only the works gathered during the 21 festivals – many of them made from commissions - but also entire collections provided by artists (or their families) such as Rosangela Rennó, Rafael França, Marina Abs and Moysés Baunstein, accelerated the idea of ​​transferring the care of the collection to other institutions. The implementation of this plan would not, however, mean the detachment of this collection from the association, as Farkas emphasizes. At this point, she exemplifies the richness of the material, citing some names who have at least two works in the collection: Akram Zaatari, Barbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, Enrique Ramirez, Eder Santos, Bouchra Khalili, Cao Guimarães, Jonathas de Andrade, Liu Wei, Marcellvs L., Maya Watanabi, Sebastian Diaz Morales, Seidou Cissé, Vincent Carelli, Virgínia de Medeiros, Walid Raad, Walter Silveira, Ximena Cuevas and Ximena Garrido-Lecca.

With all this in hand, VB began to emerge from its paralysis with the creation of the Videobrasil Online platform, in September 2020, at the height of the pandemic. “In this absence of physical space, it became very clear to me that the place of video is in fact on the small screen. And it makes sense, more than ever, to refocus on video, which is the origin of the association.” The virtual page, which presents both exhibitions with works from the collection and unpublished productions, is now in its ninth exhibition, by the Argentine artist Gabriela Golder. The show, the second of a partnership with KADIST (an institution based in San Francisco and Paris) that opened with the exhibition by American Lynn Hershmann Leeson, will continue with a group show featuring only women from the collections of both institutions.

The exhibitions of Abdoulaye Konate (Mali), Ayrson Heraclito (Brazil), Ayoung Kim (South Korea), Giselle Beiguelman and Ilê Sartuzi (Brazil), Calderon y Piñeros (Colombia) and a press conference on the prison system in Brazil, curated by Juliana Borges. “So Videobrasil Online emerged, in large part, as a project that works in this virtual world and that minimally fulfills this role of digitizing and activating the collection. It's an exhibition platform that forces us to digitize the media, subtitle, create new entries and put everything on the air, with a global audience reach, which is fascinating”, says Farkas.

VB’s “turn around” also takes place with the holding in Vitória, at the invitation of the Espírito Santo State Government, of a large exhibition that will occupy two spaces in the city: at the Espírito Santo Art Museum there will be a large selection of the collection of the association; at Galeria Homero Massena, a curatorship on the more than 300 videos of performances saved by VB that will be mounted in a large audiovisual installation. In addition, on display at the Museum of the Portuguese Language, in São Paulo, is the exhibition I dreamed in Portuguese!, which houses a room with VB videos related to migration and diaspora themes of peoples around the world. “It is an example of how, based on a given curatorial proposal, you can go to the collection and find things on any topic. You can tell many stories, assemble different clippings, including those that dialogue with local contexts. That is our great treasure.”

Finally, the biggest celebration should be the 22nd Bienal Sesc_Videobrasil – which was on hold due to the pandemic – in 2023, exactly four decades after the incipient festival of 1983. Curated by the carioca Raphael Fonseca and the Senegalese Renée M'boya , the show at Sesc 24 de Maio was already in planning when it had to be cancelled, but now it resumes production at an accelerated pace. At the beginning of the year, an open call for artist projects will be held, in addition to the five names invited to the edition. “We will have to adapt the themes and the curatorial approach to another world, very different from that of two years ago”, concludes Farkas.

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