Solange Farkas & The 20th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil
Emo de Medeiros, Kaleta-Kaleta, 2013-2017. Vídeo. Courtesy of the artist & Galpão Videobrasil.
Solange Farkas established the Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil in 1983 in São Paulo, Brazil, and it has since grown into the largest festival for the exhibition of video art. Having run every two years for the last 34 years – the festival has built up an extraordinary archive of video art classics, own productions and art publications. This year’s edition marked the 20th Sesc_Videobrasil, and the festival looked to artistic investigations broadening our worldviews in attempt at restoring freedom to the human imagination.
ART AFRICA spoke to Farkas to learn more about how this incredible festival came to be, and the artworks they have amassed over the years.
ART AFRICA: You established the Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil in 1983, shortly after electronic art arrived in the country, and developed it into a leading international art festival for the promotion and reflection of the artistic production of the Global South. What were your reasons for doing this, and did you ever imagine the impact this festival would have on the global art stage?
Solange Farkas: First of all, I would like to clarify that some of the developments you mentioned, within the festival, are developments that video – as a language and medium – went through in Brazil. If we consider the electronic art itself – that is, video – we can observe its beginning connected to journalism and the disputes around television, which was seen as a tool for manipulating the masses and, at the same time, a chance to educate and bring culture to the very same masses. Over the years, we have seen the video production more and more in dialogue with cinema and, above all, with the visual arts, being used interchangeably by creators from these two fields, and also circulating indiscriminately both in art exhibitions and film festivals. These transformations are indicative of the fidelity to the purpose that has guided the festival from its beginning, which is to be a showcase for contemporary production, with its questions and peculiarities. The second transformation that you mention concerns an enlargement of the festival’s scope, which was originally dedicated to the Brazilian video only, and now covers the production of countries from the Global South. In this case, the enlargement of scope is a consequence of concluding that it would be fundamental to see and debate the artistic production of countries like ours that have experienced colonial processes, and long and delayed cycles of modernisation as a consequence. In other words, this widening of scope at a given time proved to be a necessary political imperative.
Now in its 20th edition, you have been working on this project for the past 34 years, and along the way have amassed a vast collection of video art classics, own productions, and a collection of art publications. Could you perhaps give us insight into some artworks included in this collection?
The Videobrasil Historical Collection includes about 2 000 titles and was formed, as you say, over more than 30 years, during a period of great transformations in the field of video production. It is also necessary to consider, in addition to the chronological extension, the geographic and political extension that Videobrasil’s Historical Collection covers, with works carried out in specific and very different social contexts. These two characteristics make it especially difficult to summarise the collection in just a few works. In any case, it may be possible to point out that common to all these works is the elaboration of poetic strategies that seek to circumvent the cultural marginalisation that hegemonic modernity sought to impose on them. In this sense, works such as September 11 by Claudia Aravena, Conversation Piece by Gabriela Golder, and Vera Cruz by Rosangela Rennó (all Latin American), Red Chewing Gun by Akram Zaatari, A Cercle Autour du Soleil from Ali Cherri, and H2 by Nurit Sharett (all from the Middle East) are very representative. Also, the recordings of the performances, My Possession by the duo Mwangi Hutter, half Kenyan, half German, and Exergie – Butter Dance by Melati Suryodarmo from Southeast Asia, both performed in past editions of the festival, and preserved in the collection. I could still mention Liu Wei’s Unforgettable Memory, The Ark of the Zo’é by Vincent Carelli, and many others. Among our productions, we are especially proud of the documentary Certain Doubts of William Kentridge.
Graziela Kunsch, Escolas, 2016. Vídeo. Courtesy of the artist & Galpão Videobrasil.
In line with the 19th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil, you launched Galpão VB – a facility specifically designed to house exhibitions, film programmes, seminars, workshops, artist residencies and laboratories for creation and reflection, and to permanently activate the festival’s collection of artworks. What was the thought process behind Galpão VB, and why do you believe it important to have a facility like this is Brazil?
The inauguration of Galpão VB responds, at first, to the need to create a home for the collection gathered throughout these years of the festival. It was necessary to create a place where we could receive researchers interested in the collection, organise exhibitions and debates in dialogue with it, keeping the collection alive and active. In a context where institutions dedicated to art are slowly weakened, Galpão VB is of crucial importance. Not only does it make a video museum – which does not exist in São Paulo, or rather, does not exist in Brazil – by promoting exhibitions, research and the circulation of this fascinating collection of videos, but also as a development, in the form of a regular programme, of the festival’s curatorial statement, its focus on politics and international links with other countries in the South. This year, for example, when the Brazilian political scene was a constant source of bad news, we held a deeply combative programme, a really activist one, always related to the expressions of the artistic field.
Galpão VB includes both a video library and a reading room – could you tell us more about how these spaces function, and how you archive the collection?
When we inaugurated Galpão VB in 2015, we had as a central mission, the creation of a home for our collection. This was decisive in the architectural choices we made: to allocate the Reading Room in the centre of the building, with our video library – which makes almost all of our digitised collection easily and quickly available to the public – as well as our library, with publications collected over more than 30 years of research. Another decision we made was to leave it contiguous to the exhibition space, because we did not want to have the collection in an ‘ivory tower’, surrounded by any kind of aura, instead of a constantly activated collection that is the object of knowledge and shared aesthetic appreciation, as it is nowadays. We wanted to demystify the idea that conservation and diffusion are opposite vectors in the construction of a collection. The reading room also houses our research and archive team, who are responsible for the conservation and cataloguing of the collection, and for supporting external researchers.
Jiwon Choi, Parallel, 2017. Vídeo. Courtesy of the artist & Galpão Videobrasil.
The 20th Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil enables a comprehensive interpretation of art, culture, astronomy, biology, history and geography, where the body of these artistic investigations conveys the idea that only by broadening our worldviews can we restore freedom to human imagination and expand knowledge, which are currently bound to Western models and mechanisms of production and legitimation of truths. Could you elaborate on how and why you came to this as the overall investigation for the 20th edition, and perhaps where you envision the festival going in its next 34 years?
This edition of the festival, like all other ones, did not have a curatorial statement created a priori. The very precise description you gave of the perspective developed by me and the group of invited curators for the 20th edition is, in fact, a consequence of an evaluation carried out from the works applied to the Open Call. That is, it is a diagnosis that is only possible to do at the very end of the selection process. We can say that the curatorial statement, which is at the base of each edition, is drawn up ultimately in dialogue with the artists. And because this is one of the distinctive features of Videobrasil, I believe that this method will be maintained for the next 34 years, during which we shall continue to dedicate ourselves to gather, display and research minority productions and counter-hegemonic narratives that, as the capitalist system expands its tentacles, become more and more necessary – even urgent – in strengthening and expanding the symbolic disputes of our times.
Mariana Rodríguez, Por qué disparan, 2016. Vídeo. Courtesy of the artist & Galpão Videobrasil.