More than a festival, it’s a platform, a celebration
Interview with Solange Farkas, Videobrasil director
By Haupt & Binder
Binder & Haupt: The upcoming SESC_Videobrasil Festival is announced as having two main parts: the large exhibition of art from the geopolitical South, and several installations by the Berlin-based Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. How do they relate to each other?
Solange Farkas: The Southern Panoramas exhibition, the "festival access", will feature artists who have been selected from submissions from Latin America/the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Oceania. Alongside Southern Panoramas, we have a solo exhibition by Olafur Eliasson, his first in South America. It’s a choice that has to do with the change in the scope of the competitive show, once devoted exclusively to video and video art and now open to all contemporary artistic manifestations and practices. Eliasson is an artist whose practices go way beyond all language limitations and whose work imposes itself as a sensory experience accessible to all audiences. We have always felt the need for more dialogue between South and North. To invite artists like Olafur Eliasson, or Bill Viola, or Bruce Naumann, or Sophie Calle to show their work alongside artists from the South is important for us because it stimulates this dialogue. But the whole strategy of SESC_Videobrasil is focused on the artists from the South.
We understand the festival as a kind of window, a showcase for artistic production from the South. When we started it 25 years ago, of course the first thing we had in mind was to present Brazilian artists. As the Festival became better known and bigger, in the early 90s, we started to consider inviting international artists; but we knew it would be a mistake to restrict ourselves to the American & European circuit. It made no sense. The São Paulo Biennale has always been very strong and a reference for the international production.
Binder & Haupt: One of the first questions that comes up is precisely about the main difference between SESC_Videobrasil and the São Paulo Biennale, both taking place in the same city. Of course your history is completely different from that of the Biennale. But now, the new approach of SESC_Videobrasil, whose internal logic is drawn from the fact that video and new media are incorporated in and mixed with all other disciplines of art, will raise such questions, and this also in terms of the Southern focus, which somehow can be observed in the São Paulo Biennale as well, for example in the 2006 edition.
Solange Farkas: The main difference is that SESC_Videobrasil has a commitment to the South from the very beginning, to make the production of artists from these regions better known. And of course by making it more visible, the idea is to attract the attention of the North, to help insert this production in a broader circuit, but as a "via dupla", a two-way road: expanding the circuit in the Southern direction and strengthening the circuit of the South for this encounter. We strive to contribute to balancing this dialogue, because the production of these regions doesn't have enough of what we call "protagonism". The idea is to give them more protagonism in this festival.
It would make no sense to organize such a large event of contemporary art in Brazil - in the South - with, for example, a Eurocentric perspective. Of course our interest is to look around us, to look for the production of art that is being done, and also to look for like-minded partners in the world.
The festival has always worked in the direction of not being only an event. In the period between events, it is also a source of actions, opportunities, partnerships, and policies, involving the government, involving other institutions, and of course, the artists, curators, and researchers to help make the circuit grow stronger, like with the residency program, the production of documentaries on artists, etc. This year, besides of the competitive show, we are commissioning four young artists living in São Paulo to develop works in residency that will be shown at the festival alongside the Southern Panoramas.
It is different to do this kind of platform here from doing it - let's say - in Europe, because we don't have such a good infrastructure for arts and culture from the government: the grants and subsidies, for example. So, although the event is every two years, we do different things in between. We do publications, organize small shows, a lot of conferences and meetings, produce documentaries about artists, try to improve our network in the Southern circuit and establish partnerships with colleagues in other places. I prefer to describe SESC_Videobrasil as a platform, but of course it’s a real festival, with lots of things happening. It's a celebration, too, because we invite all the artists to come here, to stay together, to work, but also to have a good time together. You will see, that the whole program is a kind of madness.
Binder & Haupt: Will you continue with the open submission call for the next editions as well? Because this is also something very different from the usual Biennales, where the curators just choose from what they know or what colleagues recommend. With an open call, you reach out to artists who are not yet known in the art scene.
Solange Farkas: Yes, for many reasons the submission system will be kept. It is definitely more democratic. And one has to keep in mind that many of these regions are very hard to reach and get to know. And we are not talking only about Africa. Even in Brazil, you can't depend only on research for the curatorial decision. It's a way of bringing in artists who otherwise wouldn't be found. We are a reference not only in Brazil, also in South America and the Middle East, especially for artists working at the confluence of art and technology.
Binder & Haupt: Will you keep special attention on technology and new media in the arts, even though the approach from now on will be broader?
Solange Farkas: Not necessarily. Historically the festival has been identified with video. This is related to the genesis of the festival, but things have been changing in the last 25 years, we've had interactive works, media works, installations, etc. But what we see today in every important art event is that video has a supremacy among the tools that are being used by artists. We didn't privilege works involving video in this year's selection, but we had a lot of video entries, even from artists who don't usually work with video (painters and sculptors). So we'll have a lot of videos in the exhibition indeed. But this doesn't mean that the festival will continue to be a platform restricted to a ghetto of video and art & technology people. Video has become a common tool and has taken its place. So, the Festival feels that this role has been fulfilled - this war has been won. Especially here.
Resistance to video was very strong 25 years ago. I remember, that in institutions and museums it really was like a kind of war. I was the director of the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia for four years, and there was a big gap between video and the visual arts. Here in São Paulo it is more or less like in Europe, Japan, or the US, but if you go for example to the North of Brazil, video is still a new strange tool, and the "real" visual arts are just painting and sculpture. I struggled hard to change this conception.
Binder & Haupt: What will be the themes of the discussion panels at the Festival's symposium this year? And how will it work?
Solange Farkas: The discussions will focus a number of themes, including residency programmes and their role in the contemporary production. And we'll have a Seminar devoted to the particularities of the Southern circuit. It will have a new format, with four different panels, one each month of the festival from September to December. The panels will be based on four thematic axes: art as a territory for learning; institutions at the margin of networks; curatorial propositions for the South; and editorial intentions. Each session will feature two case studies, whose function is to illustrate different dimensions of the subject matters; a guest participation in video; a mediator; and a debater, who will summon up the set of issues presented into one critical proposal.
Haupt & Binder
Gerhard Haupt and Pat Binder. Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art; co-publishers and editors-in-chief of Nafas Art Magazine. Based in Berlin, Germany.
© Interview: Gerhard Haupt & Pat Binder