Universes in Universe

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São Paulo, Brazil

6 November 2013 - 2 February 2014

General curator: Solange Farkas

Held by Sesc São Paulo and Associação Cultural Videobrasil, the Festival celebrated its three-decade anniversary in 2013 as one of the premier platforms for the mapping, exhibiting and discussion of contemporary art productions from the geopolitical south of the world.

The 18th edition started on November 6, 2013, in São Paulo, with an intense week of launchings and Public Program’s activities, bringing together more then 120 guests (among artists, curators, researches, journalists and partners of cultural institutions and artistic residencies) - 80 of them from other countries. At the end of the intense programation of the Festival, 19 activities of the Public Programs gathered over 2000 people to discuss important themes to the trajectory of the Festival and the works of this Southern Panoramas show edition. The Festival continued its activities in December and January, with meetings, lauching of book, transmission of television episodes and Public Programs activities until February 2, 2014.

This Southern Panoramas show occupied a new venue at Sesc Pompeia: the 2nd floor of the sports complex, featuring 84 pieces in a veritable citadel specially built for the Festival. The show overflew into other Sesc units, broadening its scope of action and enabling contemporary art productions to reverberate among new audiences at CineSesc, showing 18 videos. The show featured a total of 106 pieces by 94 artists from 32 different countries from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and Oceania) at Sesc Pompeia and CineSesc.

The Board of Curators, composed of Solange Farkas (the Festival’s founder and curator-in-chief), Eduardo de Jesus (curator and professor at PUC Minas), Fernando Oliva (curator and professor at FAAP), and Julia Rebouças (curator at Institute Inhotim), reviewed over 2,000 projects, and shortlisted pieces by artists from 32 different countries. The pieces included installations, performances, drawings, sculptures, photographs, paintings, artist books and videos.

At Sesc Pompeia Warehouse, the 30 Years show consisted of a large video installation in which pivotal points in the Festival’s history were presented from different perspectives, spanning the 17 editions held so far – a trajectory that intertwines with the very history of video in Brazil, and with the redefinition of the South within the global landscape. In order to bring forth this comprehensive overview of the Festival’s 30 years, the 234 monitors created a setting where images of artists, artworks, shows, curators, critics, and the audience composed a large, diverse visual panel. The sound ambience was provided by the Brazilian collective O Grivo, a force to be reckoned with when it comes to audio investigations in current art. The exhibition was capped off with reissues of performances by Chelpa Ferro and Alexandre da Cunha.

At the Warehouse, as part of the 30 Yeas Show, a Video Library was available to the public, a space designed to publicize videos and enable research, comprising Videobrasil Collection pieces and works shown publically for limited periods of time. The Library has been rearranged and improved for the Festival’s three-decade celebration, in an effort that consumed over one-and-a-half year of research and retrieval work. The videos have been surveyed, catalogued, and in some cases restored and digitalized (several masters were in VHS, Beta and U-Matic formats). Finally, for the 18th Festival, around 280 new videos were incorporated into the Collection (including works by Paik, Viola and Hill), and the Video Library featured almost 120 pieces solely for the duration of the 30 Years show, amounting to a total of 1,300 works available at the terminals set up at the Sesc Pompeia Warehouse.


18th Festival: winning works

Fourteen pieces – ten prize winners and four honorable mention winners – reveal themes and procedures from Southern art. The Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil awarded a cash prize to Luiz de Abreu’s

The impactful performance Samba do Crioulo Doido, by the Minas Gerais state-based dancer and choreographer Luiz de Abreu, has won the Southern Panoramas show of the 18th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil. Wearing nothing but a pair of long silver boots and a chopped up piece of fabric with the Brazilian flag printed on it, Abreu deconstructs and resignifies the objectified black body throughout the history of Brazil, in an action lasting approximately 20 minutes. In this ritual, dancing is his object of work, incorporating and purging race and gender stereotypes, often in a humiliating way, in an act as political as it is spiritual. In the voice of singer Elza Soares, "the cheapest meat on the market is black meat” is the mantra repeated at the start of the presentation, as the performer does a smooth, primitive, sensuous, and feminine dance. An air of mockery takes over the action when Abreu appropriates the fabric with the Brazilian flag printed oxn it, the symbol of a country historically dominated by whites, parading alongside a female dancer to the sound of the emblematic radio show A Voz do Brasil. The parade ends as Abreu introduces the flag in his rectum, gracefully displaying his positivistic tail in a sort of gala dance, before furiously execrating it in a destructive act. The body-object has been extinguished, and from out of the abolition of the tarnished figure of the black man there arises a new subject, free to constitute his identity.

The piece won the Grand Prize at the Festival, worth R$ 70,000, gross. The Award Jury comprised the curators Cristiana Tejo (Brazil), Koyo Kouoh (Cameroon), Pablo Lafuente (Spain), Yolanda Wood Pujols (Cuba) and Rifky Effendy (Indonesia). According to Tejo, the piece is relevant “both in terms of form – how art can address the audience in a radical, captivating, memorable way – and of content – a content which speaks of a context at once local and global.” Solange Farkas, the Festival’s general curator, confirms that the jury’s choices “reaffirm the mission of the festival, whose main objectives include publicizing artwork that is conceptually and formally potent.” The curator also cites two other ways in which the prize reiterates the positioning of the Festival: “the presence of African artists amongst the winners reaffirms our attention to the South, seeing as the African continent can be seen as the representative par excellence of this scene, which deserves an even greater space within the art system. Furthermore, the strong presence of video at this award ceremony reveals the consolidation of our trajectory.”
See the winning artists and works

Socio-political life in review
The other winning works span a wide range of themes and procedures that offer a sample of the recent video output by artists from the geopolitical South of the world, including Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. One of the highlights is socio-political debate. In an interview to the Videobrasil team, Bakary Diallo, from Mali, winner of an artist residency in Sacatar Institute, said: “It is crucial for us to be together in order to keep the debate alive, developing new policies, unlike everything we know, averting wars, having a positive outlook on life, by means of cultural connections,” a perspective that is reflected in his piece, Tomo, a poetic take on the existential devastation wrought by war.

Existential questionings also merge with politics in Brisas, by Argentina’s Enrique Ramirez, winner of a honorable mention at the Festival. In the video, the trajectory of the main character is reminiscent of a personal quest, but also an indirect mention to the history of Chile and the murder of de Salvador Allende. In turn, the video installation Pipe dreams, by the Lebanese artist Ali Cherri (winner of the Resartis Residency Prize at the A-I-R Laboratory, in Warsaw), is based around a collective event charged with symbols, in which compliance with social roles does not preclude a latent conflict. Apart from their political discourse, these pieces share a strong relationship with cinematographic language.

Video art as an expansion of cinema
But cinema converses with other winning works as well. Diluting the boundaries between documentary and fiction, the works of Caetano Dias (honorable mention) and Laura Huertas Millán (Resartis residency prize at Arquetopia, Oaxaca, Mexico), are surreal pieces endowed with an ethnographic spirit, rebuilding actual or possible stories. Rabeca, by Bahia’s Dias, is a piece of a hybrid nature, featuring documental recordings structured out as a fiction film, in a sort of fantastic road movie in which the fiddle player Eder Fersant travels the São Francisco River Valley to retrieve the legacy of the instrument, and its relationship with local history, customs, and myths. Shot at the Tropical Greenhouse in Lille, France, Journey to a Land Otherwise Known, by Colombia’s Laura Huertas Millán, is based on accounts and studies that hark back to the discovery of America to formalize a fake ethnography of the New World. Local architecture and local plants form the basis for the film’s narrative, which dispenses an ironic, critical tone to the exoticness that persists until this day.

Simple forms, complex propositions
The pieces We are One, by LucFoster Diop (FAAP artist residency prize), My Father Footsteps, by Pakistan’s Basir Mahmood (residency prize to be undertaken at the Ashkal Alwan, in Beirut, Lebanon), and 9493, by Marcellvs L. (honorable mention), are similar videos in the way they extract a surprising complexity of discourse based on formally simple constructs. Both were shot using static cameras, and open windows into different times and spaces for viewers at the show. Diop shows a disoriented hand that moves ceaselessly; Basir portrays his own father’s unsuccessful attempt at threading a needle; and Brazil’s Marcellvs merely captures the image of a boy in a tent, distracted by an electronic game amidst violent gusts of wind. The images in these pieces contain identifiable propositions – such as the complexity of interpersonal and family relationships, the dichotomy between objective and subjective times – and reveal, through very simple symbolic elements, the universality of their themes. “The fragmentation between human beings is useless because there is no such thing as segregation, we are all one,” says Cameroon’s Diop.

Cultural identity and intimate mappings
Artists like Israel’s Nurit Sharett and Malaysia’s Sherman Ong highlight issues relating to the construction and comprehension of identities, in plot contexts that involve geographical conflicts and socio-political issues. In the piece The Sun Glows Over the Mountains (China Art Foundation residency prize), Sharett recounts childhood memories that connect the histories of his family and his country, inevitably addressing his grandfather’s pacifist dream involving the State of Israel. The video Motherland, by Sherman Ong, focuses on immigration in Singapore, which has one of the highest population densities in the world, highlighting these people’s inner conflicts, as well as the region’s socio-political issues. The artist explains: “I am interested in social displacement and the speech of people who have adopted a language other than their family’s own. I seek to understand what can be called mother tongue.”

Views of Brazil
Another segment of artists who look at the local reality from an affective and sociological perspective are the Bahia-based Ayrson Heráclito and Virgínia de Medeiros, and Recife’s Gabriel Mascaro, whose works tackle Brazilian anthropological issues, emphasizing the emotional aspect of relationships between typical characters of the country’s. Whereas the piece Domésticas, by Mascaro (Wexner Center residency prize, Ohio, USA), focuses on the daily lives of domestic workers, highlighting relationships of subordination and power; the video Sergio e Simone, by Virgínia de Medeiros (ICCo residency prize, at Residency Unlimited), superimposes opposite discourses from one single figure, who goes from transvestite to evangelical preacher, marking the clash between two belief systems. The video installation Funfun, by Ayrson Heráclito (Raw Material Company residency prize, in Dakar, Senegal), explores the symbology of the white color, through the death of a religious leader in a city in the state of Bahia. Although these pieces converge on their views of Brazilian reality, they possess different inclinations. According to Heráclito, “my interest has always been in fiction rather than ethnography, I have always been passionate about mythologies;” to Virgínia de Medeiros, on the other hand, “in certain subjectivities, the process of formation and dissolution of figures seems to flow more than in others,” which explains her choice of a double character, which assumes “a logic of multiple, circumstantial affirmation.”

Public Programs
In order to arouse debate, extend the scope of the Festival, and create zones of reflection – throughout the event’s three months –, a series of Public Programs have been held. These programs goal is cast a multidisciplinary eye on themes brought up by the Festival. In total, 19 events gathered together almos 2000 people in these public events, structured into eight thematic focus sections: Counter-TV: experimental video practices in the 80's; 18th Festival - vectors and inflections; Residency and routes for artistic research; Performance: act, re-editing and recording; The South in perspective; Geographies in motion; Superimposed readings; In the light of 30 years.

Festival On Tour
From May to October 2014, the winning works from the Southern Panoramas show of the 18th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil traveled to cities in Brazil with the On Tour project.

Examples from the photo tour:

18th SESC_Videobrasil - Curators

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