Maria do Carmo M. P. de Pontes and Ilê Sartuzi interview Brazilian artists and collectives about their video practice and the ideas behind their production.
Although the problem of a national identity has been debated more or less assiduously by intellectuals in Brazil since the Romanticism–a debate that found its peak with the Modernists–this issue has never been solved, nor its tensions diminished. Thus it’s hard to name a common matter shared by all the 210 million inhabitants of this incredibly unequal country that could be designated as a Braziliality. Far from being our privilege, it’s hard to look into any country and find an intangible quality that’s mutual to all its population without falling into stereotypes. Accordingly, all the four artists and collectives portrayed in this article have very different practices and set of interests. Apart from a passport, what unites them is a shared enthusiasm for moving images. They were chosen, among many other exciting emerging practitioners working with this media today, precisely for their heterogeneous voices.
Bárbara Wagner (1980, Brasília) and Benjamin de Burca (1975, Munich) are Recife based artists who collaborate since 2011. Their recent investigations concentrate on the manifestation of the body of youths living in the peripheries of Brazil’s Northeast, which lose their connotations of symbolic resistance to become products of the tourism and entertainment industries. Though thus far they have approached mostly Brazilian subjects, their upcoming project addresses a musical phenomenon in De Burca’s native Germany. Cristiano Lenhardt (1975, Itaara, Rio Grande do Sul; lives in Recife) is multimedia artist who has been producing on-and-off with video since the early 2000s. His audiovisual works spans different formats and themes, being as diverse within themselves as they are from the other aspects of his artistic practice. His latest films, shot with Super-8, are Tropicalist tales inhabited by Brazilian folkloric creatures, such as the one legged Saci and Jussaras. Luiz Roque (1979, Cachoeira do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul; lives in São Paulo) works primarily with film and video to address subjects as universal as the future, the trans body and the relationship between sculpture and the body. At times black and white, at times with colour, his works are often devoid of dialogue, inviting the viewer for an extreme aesthetic immersion. Ana Vaz (1986, Brasília; lives in Lisbon) produces moving images, installations and performances. Her films gather within notions of cinema and video-art, touching upon a broad set of subjects such as colonisation processes, environmental issues and politics of the being.
Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca
Your collaborative work, which is mostly grounded on video, seems to have an almost anthropological approach to various cultural phenomena experienced by individuals or communities. Your latest videos have seen a growing interest in the role of dance and music within these places. Where did this interest come from?
Benjamin de Burca: Although we have different backgrounds, we share our identities as being informed by a colonial past. In 2013, we began to investigate how popular music and dance forms are, on one hand, synonymous of resistance to colonial suppression and, on the other, incorporated and commodified into the mainstream. Our first moving image work was made in La Réunion, a French department in the Indian Ocean with a population that descends from African slaves, Madagascan, Indian and Chinese indentured workers, as well as the Europeans in power, a perfect example of a créole culture. There we approached “Maloya,” a tradition strongly connected to the independence movements in that region that went from being considered illegal to being celebrated as a cultural product without an interim moment to requite the subject to be part of their shared colonial past.
Bárbara Wagner: Most of the young dancers we encountered in La Réunion were very acquainted with both Maloya and global rhythms (dancehall, zouk, coupé-décalé, hip-hop, electro etc), which led us to question how young generations of créole culture would experience, in their bodies, transiting along those specific forms of knowledge. This work preceded the one we made together with dancers of Frevo in Recife, where a similar phenomenon happens since that traditional carnivalesque dance became a patrimony of Unesco. In a certain way, by making films that address music, what we want to bring to discussion is how culture is implicated with economy, how “resistance” is constantly reshaped by media and how taste and desire are binded with class, origin, and power.
Although your videos present an artificiality that’s proper of videoclips and the contemporary music industry at large–as in Bye Bye Deutschland! Eine Lebensmelodie (WIP, 2017) and You Are Seeing Things (2016)–they also establish a deeply human connection with these realities. This is a beautiful aspect of your videos: while they borrow an exaggerated aesthetics–the vibrant, well lit, focused and vivid cinematography,–this rigid structure is interspersed with moments of emotional density, where the projection of the characters’ dreams is evidenced. Could you tell us more about the way you combine conventions of documentary and musical–which is particularly successful in the upcoming Bye Bye Deutschland!…–focusing on the imaginative dimension of these narratives, often projecting the characters’ dreams?
BdB: While in You Are Seeing Things we were looking at the Brega music production almost exclusively inside a nightclub, in Bye Bye Deutschland!… we are following two Schlager singers in a continuous flow between reality and fantasy in different locations of the city of Münster. Stefani and Markus became known from covering the main stars of the German’s pop genre, Udo Jürgens and Helene Fischer. At a certain point of the film, for example, Stefani is just walking along a promenade until she finds herself in the middle of the botanical gardens, which then, with the artifice of light, sound and framing becomes a staged tropical rain forest where she sings “Mitten im Paradis” (“In the Middle of Paradise”), a rendition to one of the biggest hits by Fischer. Staging Münster as a scenario is also a way of reflecting on it’s post war recreation as a city that looks like it was never destroyed.
BW: But it’s true that both music scenes, Brega and Schlager are equally taken as forms associated to a certain lack of class. So the rigor that Pedro Sotero brings with his cinematography (he also shot You Are Seeing Things) is an element of great attention for us. Also, in both films, while elements of sound and music are built to shift the narrative between routine and fantasy, it’s in the character’s performance that lies something we cannot really control or predict. Since we work with actual players of the music industries we address (Frevo, Brega, Gospel, Schlager) their self-representation is a subject in itself and has a fundamental role on how we perceive their gestures. Maybe this is the element of emotional density you mean: we are faced with real people and the labour they invest in performing the fulfilment of their dreams.
(Suggested soundtrack: Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988)
Though in your practice you often revisit some important Brazilian legacies–for instance, your works on paper seem to be informed by notions of Concretism-your videos (especially recent ones such as Guaracys  and Superquadra-Saci ) appear to be shaped by the experience of Tropicalism. Moreover, our folklore, mythologies and particularities are pivotal aspects to your production. Can you tell us about the role of our heritage in your artistic production?
Cristiano Lenhardt: In a world that’s world, when I create, I am creating within a world, I feel it’s possible to expand to others, I feel it’s already expanded but the world that delimitates and claims ownership seems to be indeed the owner–and yes, it is. But I know that creation has entrances in other worlds and exits of other worlds. I don’t feel pain by being the majority of my time here in this world-owner, but I feel joy in being in worlds where words are not the only holders of information to process understandings, where understandings are broad and charged with consciousness. The notion that I create from here is clear to me, but if I create from intuition, these are links that emerge through other channels, I don’t know which ones I connect in order to let intuition present me with paths. And so it flows, freely, gaseous, as these fingers in the piano that inform two different tunes at once and trespass the mind with vibrations of perfect ordeals, such as our body that works by itself. This body which is good even when it’s bad.
Performance seems to be a key element of your videos, where the characters are often dancing or staging a choreography or script. But beyond the videos, performance is also appearing in your other artistic experimentations, as of your presentation at the 32nd São Paulo Biennial. What is the importance of this type of thinking within your practice, and how does it flow between the different media you work on?
CL: The films I make blend images that come to my mind with little texts that I write almost with my eyes shut. From this mix, choreographies emerge guided by the rhythm of the video’s edition, very close to how I dance at home, loosely and freely accompanying the nuances of melodies and rhythms.
Our folklore, before being called as such, is a manifestation of spirituality. Art is also made by divine inspiration, as an intention to praise the sacred. And so it is, without explanation, just existing and bringing information.
In my films, existences in parallel dimensions are aligned in a rhythmic temporality. I breath in and follow unknown paths. I look at all of these places’ details that I did not know without the urgency to give names and assign meanings. In the performances and videos I work with people who come invited to work, sometimes they are friends, sometimes hired. I keep observing what arises during the rehearsals and making very simple compositions.
You work nearly exclusively with video. How did this preference of media came into being?
Luiz Roque: My background, that is, the first form of artistic practice I’ve got involved with, is cinema. For several years I worked as an art director, which helped me–and still does–to think in terms of an image’s composition. Although the majority of my production is indeed audiovisual, the themes and interests that permeate this cinematographic body of work, such as sculpture, became influential to other ends within my artistic research. I often do filmic portraits of sculptures, and the act of portraying with moving images something that is originally still has perhaps nourished my interest in photography.
A prominent aspect of your practice is the gender discussion, and several of your films showcase actors from the trans community. Yet another underlying subject is that of the future, and as opposed to the majority of works set in a future where such future is dystopian–for instance, that of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985)–yours is often utopian. There is an element of optimism in your future that’s both interesting and unusual.
LR: I believe that history is cyclic, or perhaps even something that moves in waves. When I think about the future I’m actually looking backwards, which is sort of the same as thinking that the first half of the nineteenth century is equal to the second half of the twenty-first century–a great abstraction actually, as there are no images on the subject. But answering to your question, the idea of hope does please me, to think of contexts where the concept of “otherness” is long extinct. In this sense, science fiction seems to be an interesting place, as it allows you to ‘invent’ an environment and re-tell a story–including the history of art.
Ancestral (2016) is a distinct piece amongst your video production. It portrays a giant anteater in its natural habitat and, unlike your other films, this one is entirely devoid of human bodies. Can you tell us a bit about this piece?
LR: I believe art is about language rather than subjects. In that sense, Ancestral is an important mark within my production precisely for pointing towards this direction, as I trust my work is a lot about body and about sculpture and, through this angle, I see this animal as gathering both interests. I guess that I approach all my subjects as sculptures, they pose to my lenses–always placed frontally to them–more or less as records of art, sculptures’ photographs. Previous works such as Geometria descritiva (Descriptive Geometry, 2012) or Estufa (Greenhouse, 2004, in partnership with Leticia Ramos) are perched by the idea of doubting what we see–in those cases, the landscape. In these works, “foreign” elements like glass or smoke are introduced in this sort of postcards, immutable images, intended to question our eyes. Later on I came to understand that my interest towards the condition of the trans body goes through this same place, with all the social weight that this ‘questioning our eyes’ action may cause as we contest, for instance, the legitimacy of a trans woman as a feminine presence.
You were born in Brazil, studied in Australia and France and currently live in Portugal. Accordingly, your films are set in various locations across the globe, approaching issues such as power and interpersonal relations, as well as the relationship between man and its environment in both micro and macro scales. How does this mixed cultural baggage inform your films?
Ana Vaz: I like to think that I went from one Farwest to another, from the Farwest of Brazil, Brasília, to a Fareast that corresponds to a Farwest, Australia. Places scared by settler narratives, vast arid landscapes, expanding deserts and yet, places of subterranean waters, subterranean stories. I can’t help but think that this great antipodean leap populates my dreaming, antipodean sites that draw the hard edges to an inexistent centre. Two kinds of “new worlds,” only new to an “old world” stunned by the discovery that another kind of sun was already in movement there, sun to other kinds of dreams.
Dreaming is the necessary dimension to liberate us from reason, to enlarge our relations with other forms of life, in other dimensions. It has now been long that my dreams seem to be devoted to connecting antipodean places, beings, ideas. This dreaming is not the sleeping dream but a form of consciousness that draws irrational connections between places and beings. And I think this kind of dreaming is akin to cinema, to montage, an art of bringing impossible things together. Cinema if for me a kind of lucid dreaming, a cyborg fiction in which body and camera fabricate other realities, explore the possibilities of other temporal and spatial dimensions, widen or deepen our perception, awake our senses. I feel bound to all of these places that have perfumed my dreaming. I feel belonged to them, affected and infected by the places from where my dreaming is made. In some Aboriginal tribes in Northern Australia, one must go to a specific site in order to awaken the mythic dream of the tribe–my dreaming is made of this constant motion and my films are my most intimate expression of them.
And I think that if we are as porous as the rocks that pave our cities, then our steps are as determined by the rocks as they are by our movements. All of these sites have imprinted upon me. And now here from the edge of Europe, the Atlantic edge of the continent, I like to look over to the Americas and know that another sun rises somewhere else.
In technical terms, you combine a variety of processes to compose your films–found and original footage, incidental sound, narration and quotes, digital and analogical textures and so on. At times they adopt a more narrative structure–as of The Age Stone (2013) or A Film, Reclaimed (2015, in collaboration with Tristan Bera)–and at times that of a visual essay–as evident in Les Mains, Négatives (2012, in collaboration with Julien Creuzet). Can you tell us about this in-between, hybrid space between art and cinema that you speak from?
AV: This in-between is the place from which I choose to speak from, an in-between that touches both edges, that is near and yet in tension with both sides. It is there, in this anxious space that knows not if we veer to one side or another, if we accept of deny, if we embrace or escape, There is where thought is really in movement, for it needs to negotiate consistently rather than give into the inertia of established models. In a time when we live the re-awakening of great separations, of irreconcilable dualisms, of ignorant postures, I feel this in-between place in the site where looking is closer to sensing, where we can reawaken our complex nervous system and think with our ears and skin, and dream with our mouths and tongues, and see with our hands and feet. And if cinema is an art of sensing, it is and has always been an art, the separation between the two is false and industrial. Yet, whilst cinema is openly an industry of unionized workers, technicians and pre-determined structures, art is a sphere in which all definitions fall into opaque values, transient light effects, minutes of attention, often passing winds. I enjoy working from within a structural world of cinema in which power and work relations are very clear, open and stable and yet this other world, that of art as a sphere or a horizon, allows for a porosity of forms, expressions and conditions that seem to embrace the becoming of other forms more willingly than the canonical structures of cinema. I pertain entirely neither to one nor to the other and yet I feel partially belonged to both of them, at kin with some tribes and affects that bind me to some ongoing conversations in both worlds. Each of the films I make are made for the cinema and yet I increasingly like to see them as free radicals, expanding and conversing with other forms, mutating with other beings, collaborating with other volumes and hence become infected and perfumed by others and perfume them in reverse.