Irish documentary filmmaker Bob Quinn in a scene from
Irish documentary filmmaker Bob Quinn in a scene from "One Hundred Steps", a film by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca. Photo: Disclosure

AAfter a first panel focused on environmental issues, indigenous knowledge, the possibility of a “less cold” science, in addition to questioning the false dichotomy between nature and culture, the second presentation of the VI International Seminar ARTE!Brasileiros brought the debate closer to issues more directly linked to artistic production. in the presentations of Andrea Giunta, curator of the Mercosul Biennial 12, and the artist duo Barbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca (who participate in MANIFESTA 13), questions about the responsibility of art in the contemporary world, the search for a collective action, the visibility of marginalized knowledge and the need to escape the logic of the “self-centered body” in the arts reinforced a conductive line between the different lines.

First to present, Giunta outlined this year's edition of the Mercosul Biennial (Biennial 12 Online), which would take place in person in Porto Alegre and ended up migrating to the virtual environment because of the pandemic. Highlighting the plurality involved in the themes and in the title of the show, Female(s). Visuality, actions and affections, Argentina highlighted the importance of this diversity being present in the constitution of the curatorial team of the biennial. In this sense, she stressed the fundamental role of Fabiana Lopez, Dorota Biczel and Igor Simões, who brought attentive eyes to artistic production, especially in Latin America, but also from other countries around the globe. There were a total of 25 countries represented by more than 70 artists and collectives.     

The term “feminine(s)” – and not “feminine” or “feminisms” – represented for Giunta this choice for a plurality of points of view, not always only of women, believing in the “idea of ​​difference as multiplicity and not as separation". In this sense, the word “affection” also gained space, even more so in a moment of such fragility with the pandemic. “And when we were all isolated, it was very important to ask: how are the artists who were about to travel to Porto Alegre and couldn't go? So we asked them to record short videos with their cell phones for our website, which was very important. This created an archive of affections, a kind of presence of artists at the biennial that we had not previously planned. There are some good things that have happened.”

About La Familia en el alegre verdor, a work by Chiachia & Giannone exhibited at the Mercosul Biennial. Photo: Disclosure

Affection, as stated by Giunta in a recent interview with arte!brasileiros, is not disconnected from the struggles, protests and an art that cries out for social change. “With affections, powerful uprisings were created,” he said. In this sense, Giunta presented at the seminar a series of works that he considers representative of the themes addressed in the biennial, starting with a tapestry by Chiachio & Giannone that presents a scene of integration between man and nature, where people and animals are part of a same family--"not man as master, controlling nature, but man in nature." Then, the curator presented a photograph of the Argentine feminist collective Nosotras Proponemos: “We take into account activism, women’s rights, but also women’s rights and feminisms as the need to rethink all the relationships between the human and the world” , he said

Emphasizing that “the struggle of feminism is a struggle for rights over one’s own body”, she also presented works that deal with femicide, such as that of Fatima Pecci Carou, and the various ways of experiencing the body, as in the works of Jota Mombaça, Liuska Astete, Janaina Barros, Lorraine O'Grady or Priscila Resende. The possibility of a restructuring of language in the field of gender discussion emerged in the production of Mujeres Públicas, while crucial questions about memory – and specifically colonial and Afro-Brazilian memory – were addressed in the work of Aline Motta. At this point in her speech, Giunta recalled a phrase by Rosana Paulino, “who told me something very important related to the theme of this seminar: in Christian and Catholic traditions, based on the Bible, God gave nature to men; in Afro-Brazilian religions, man and nature are together”.

Psychoanalysis of the cafuné catinga de mulata, by Janaína Barros, work exhibited at the Mercosul Biennial. Photo: Disclosure

Ireland, France and North Africa in Dialogue

Continuing a fruitful and diverse series of audiovisual productions filmed in different corners of the globe, the duo Bárbara Wagner (Brazil) and Benjamin de Burca (Ireland/Germany) has just premiered, at MANIFESTA 13, in Marseille, the work One Hundred Steps. The 30-minute film was the subject of the duo's presentation at the seminar, which also featured a first-hand exhibition of an excerpt of the work. In the virtual seminar, while Benjamin appeared with his cell phone at the Marseille School of Music, exposing the completion of the assembly of the work, Bárbara spoke from her home about the production process of the film, which started at the end of 2019. A few days after the seminar The arte!brasileiros also spoke on the phone with Benjamin. 

After working on frevo or brega in Recife, on the genres maloya in Reunion Island (a French department near Africa), schlager in Munster (Germany) and rap in Toronto (Canada), the duo enters the universes of Irish popular music. (with its harmonicas, chants and tap dancing) and North African music with Arab roots in Marseille, in the south of France. If, on the one hand, the film deepens the duo's research into marginalized musical universes, in a constant dialogue between documentary and fiction, between what is pop culture or traditional manifestation, on the other hand, the film seems to bring new elements to the work of Bárbara and Benjamin. One Hundred Steps it is, for example, the first film that takes place in two different countries and that penetrates in a forceful way the European and African colonial history.   

According to Barbara, the research began with the approval of a publicly funded project by the Irish Arts Council. This was the first opportunity for the duo to work in Benjamin's home country. It was while researching the Irish region of Connemara that they came across the work of Irish documentary filmmaker Bob Quinn. “In the 1980s, he developed a quartet of documentaries that spoke of the origins of Irish culture in a very sophisticated way, questioning the European hegemony in the formation of the culture there and suggesting that contact with North African countries was fundamental”, said the artist. In the series entitled atlantean, “he asks: what if our Irish culture is much closer to Africa than to Europe?”.

One Hundred Steps scene filmed in Marseille; work by Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca is part of MAMIFESTA 13. Photo: Publicity

Based on this hypothesis and on living with Quinn, now 87 years old, Bárbara and Benjamin had an initial project in mind until the moment when the invitation from MANIFESTA came to “give a formal tie to work”, according to Bárbara. In the end, the film became “a kind of visual experiment and montage between Ireland and the south of France, in dialogue with North Africa”. The duo invited popular artists to perform in two emblematic spaces for colonial history in these places – palaces that became museums –, creating ambiguities, frictions and moments of beauty with several layers of meaning.

In Ireland, musicians and dancers were filmed in spaces at Bantry House, a late 17th century palace directly related to British imperialism in the country and which, in addition to a sumptuous garden, has a 100-step staircase – the “hundred steps” of the title. – built between 1840 and 1850, the decade of the great Irish famine. “In every corner of Ireland is a huge mansion built by the dying people. And if we think about it, this great famine, which created a diaspora of almost 2 million people, is still very recent in the country's history”, says Benjamin. The artists who enter the house, therefore – and Bob Quinn appears there with his camera – “become this other voice, which is the voice of Irish culture”, according to Bárbara.

In Marseille, in turn, a house-museum in an old bourgeois residence, “with a similar history, despite the quite different context”, served as a stage for the performance of North African musicians based in the city. “So we created a way to get closer, without necessarily comparing. It's speculation, again, but above all rhythmic and musical”, explains Bárbara. If the Arab culture of North Africa emerges explicitly in the house in Marseilles, it can also be diffused in the Irish music that, according to Quinn, drew from these roots. “And suddenly we look at these artists, as if they were visitors, the Irish and the Arabs, and the film creates this fantastic device in which we can perceive the occupation of these spaces with another story”, concludes the artist. Because, according to Benjamin, “colonialism continues to exist in another form, more mental, more immaterial”.

In the speeches at the end of the table, Andrea Giunta highlighted, in line with the presentation by Bárbara and Benjamin, that “art has the ability to be an archive, an archive of experiences that were created at different times. And with this file we can ask the questions of the present”. In addition, for her, it is necessary to rethink the relationship between the body and the world, in the sense of moving away from the idea of ​​the self-centered subject so common in art – “to understand, experience and feel that we are in the world”. To which Bárbara agreed: “In the sense of the body that experiences another form of knowledge, which is shared. Our work is an audiovisual work that is based on collaboration. You can't do work alone, you can't do it without friction, without difference”.

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