Notes about the curatorship and exhibition of the first new media festival in Rio de Janeiro
* We had the honor to be invited by Alberto Saraiva to conceive, organize and curate an exhibition of electronic art in Rio de Janeiro, and we ended up assembling something like a festival. Festivals usually last ten days or two weeks at the most, ours would be for six weeks, like an exhibition.
* It may have been expected that this text would provide a general theory on electronic art, but I believe that a text that examines the historical context, a synchronous and geographic out-take, is more important at the moment. Facts can enlighten important issues that we are facing. Issues related to the reception and reading of the artwork, of how people understand what is art, of how the production of electronic art is in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil and in the world in 2005; a specific cutout in space and time.
* I chose to write in independent and discontinuous paragraphs, that would connect between each other in a way that allows the insertion of different topics. Due to the variety of subjects I wish to approach, I believe that this is the most adequate format. Moving along.
* On the first day of the assemblage a very unpleasant incident occurred; the cabinetmaker delayed the delivery for the furniture of the computers, when he came to deliver the furniture (his office is about eight blocks from the Centro Cultural Telegram), to our amazement, he carried the furniture in a wagon pulled by an elderly man, who pulled the wagon with the strength of his muscles. This vehicle is an invention prior to the stone age, perhaps from the bronze or copper age. The vehicle stopped in front of the high-tech museum, to the astonishment of the staff and the security of CCT. Is this not the schizophrenic relation that the third world develops in relation to technology? The extremely developed and the extremely undeveloped cohabiting?
* "Decisions and curatorial decisions"
Following our line of work, we developed a video show, a net art show, and the installations, attempting to represent different formal aspects of every genre, and also attempting to represent different geographical points (although production is becoming more and more homogenous due to the effects of globalization).
We have decided to try to show a wide panorama of this nomadic production, presented in Rio de Janeiro, as an opportunity to research. What is being produced in video, net art, interactive CD-ROM? Interactive installation? Some other formats? Art video games?
We have gathered a great number of works from both experienced artists, students and young artists from the most varied points of the globe.
The video show for example, to be watched in its totality needs 8 days of consistent visits, since they are twenty sessions of selected artists, 9 international curators divided into 11 sessions, and 5 specials with artists divided in 6 sessions, making up 37 sessions of video art. A great opportunity for artists and researchers to have access not to sacred monsters or dinosaurs, but to an intense contemporary production.
* "Cables and wires"
An important victory in the installation was, for me at least, letting the wires and the cables show. There is an expectation that the art exhibits, in general terms, are magical, and this magic extends to the assemblage. The cables, wires, diverse appliances are hidden, it's like everything appeared out of nowhere, as if it was all a divine work. This is the image of perfection and harmony that society yearns for itself; that this is the most perfect world of all possible worlds, in other words, no contradictions. The wires and cables, the image of the computers, remind us of reality and the concept of history. All artistic and cultural production is supported by equipment, and these are not produced from scratch, but as part of a technical development that exists inside history and not outside it.
The work of Leonardo Galvão generally attends to some of these points. His work is extremely disturbing. Working with downloaded videos from the Internet, Leonardo combines robot images, bizarre technology and pornographic films, renaming the files with poetry and art theory, like in plastic modern love and ... The way he accomplishes the work is equally remarkable, organizing the films in the computer screen and filming the screen. The video almost becomes a register of a computer performance.
* Video art and net art are not hype. Video art and the body.
Video art is nearly forty years old, it already has its history, it already exists as a language, it has many genres and already with many theses, studies, world festivals and intellectuals dedicated to its studies. However in Rio de Janeiro this language isn't widely divulged or understood. Even counting emerging artists, the city still lack shows dedicated to the genre and the intellectual production to present this kind of work to a wider public as it has been done with short films.
Before prog:ME, Carlo Sansolo and Érika Fraenkel were extremely involved in this process (check: http://www.laisle.com/eventsenglish.html
), putting national and international production side by side.
The discussion about what is video art today deserves not a rehearsal but a theses with many volumes. I leave this mission for really competent people, like Arlindo Machado and Christine Mello, but before that I will make some comments on the genre.
Video art started in a seminal form such as interference in the TV set, using as sculptures and image interference like Nam June Paik did. Once the early 70's video cameras started to be sold at a more accessible price, soon artists started to use it to replace Super-8 and 16mm cameras, to record performances and happenings. Soon artists were developing performances specifically for video.
*Rosalind Krauss* in her famous text *video: the aesthetics of narcissism*, affirms that video art has a strong relation with body art, using the body as a significant element. Therefore she considers video art a narcissistic art in the extreme, where the significant body is a privileged object ( and fetishized ) by the artist's tools then expressed in a number of complex meanings.
The videos that come to us nowadays do not prove this thesis. While about 15 to 20 percent of them deal with the body as an important element, there is an increasing interest in the camera's capacity and function, and in the use of editing software, animation and computer graphics. The incredible rise in production can be attributed to the fall in prices of digital cameras and computers.
The production of video art has focused on two distinct points; videos that are preferably screened as a loop or in installations in a gallery space, and videos that should preferably be projected in a video or movie room, showing the dialogue more clearly with the language of cinema.
In our selection there are works that privilege technical and abstract aspects with the intense use of computer graphics, others that work on the edge of documentary and fiction, but are differentiated by their non-linear form and by the fact that they're often not specifically documenting anything. Videos with political purposes and activist videos that have an elliptical and hyper-concentrated narrative in symbolic elements, other videos that engage in dialogue with political issues directly, but still remain conceptual. The variations are many. There is a broad dialogue with movie production, with contemporary art referencing the development of software as I have already said, and with the mass media producing content that seems hegemonic. Video art for me enters the space of video that is missing a better name to define it, for works that are easily defined fall back on very strong clichés about what is understood as video art, and seek to establish a formula for being accepted in the definition of this genre.
Interestingly, talking to some collegues who work with video, one of the influences that almost all of us have is J.L.Godard, who in spite of also working with video is a film maker. Glauber Rocha certainly is one of the influences quoted by Brazilian video artists.
It's almost a platitude to say that the "boom" of net art has gone. Looks like everyone agreed about that. But the internet continues to be a medium in constant expansion. With the tools available, be it with Flash action script, Java script, Java, html, vrml, xml, so many languages that appear and add to the character of web work, work that interestingly has a lot to do with collage, with ready-mades, with copy and paste, since many codes are visible, and so many other codes in the web are ready to be replaced and reused. How many other languages will appear? Doesn't the web expand in speed, capacity, and access to facilities? I believe that this kind of work is still in its early stages. Like many art works that will use the telemathic capacities as part of their concept, the question of interactivity and collaboration are other characteristics that will become even more important for art and our lives.
I'll speak briefly about some projects we've selected for prog:ME that illustrate this type of work a little bit.*In Gwei, for instance, a work by **Hans Bernhard **and** Alessandro Ludovico*, *the text is very self-explanatory and suggests action tactics. Read the synopsis:* *We generate money by serving Google Ads on our website **www.GWEI.org
** . With this money we automatically buy Google shares via our swiss e-banking depot. Google buys itself via advertisment! Google eats itself but we own it! If we succeed in establishing this model we can either deconstruct new forms of obviously surreal global ad mechanisms or we simply hand over the common ownership of Google to the community.* I don't have to comment much about this one.
*Carlos Katastrofsky** on the other hand, with the work Busca de vizinhança takes a different strategy: every computer in the internet has a so - called \"ip- adress\". That is to say, the equivalent to a physical
adress in the real world. But, in the real world, the next door neighbour of a head of state won't be an anarchist. In cyberspace this is possible. This machine lets you find out something about cyber-neighbourhoods. * In a very simple form, Katastrofsky makes an x-ray of this invisible and rhizomatic structure that is the internet, in other words gives appearance to something that seems magical.The Portuguese artist *Susana Mendes Silva *proposed the artphone. The idea is quite simple, she provides her address so we can talk to her through a microphone and headphones from the computer about contemporary art, using the computer as a telephone. I have talked many times with Susana, never about art, always about technical issues and always presenting one other artist that appeared while talking to her. Actually talking to an unknown person on the phone gives you a certain degree of intimacy that I always felt terrified about. As a matter of fact, I have always felt a certain compulsion to confessing things to this unknown voice. My first thought is always about the history of sexuality of M. Foucault, about this fear of confessing in intimate moments. She says, have no *fear*, ask me what you've always wanted to know about contemporary art, and all I felt was *fear*. The simple presence of a voice that talks about contemporary art has the ability to inspire disturbing or great situations for whoever contacts it. We may think it is a reflection on intimacy on the internet.
The work is not only a proposition, but the result of this chat that can never be completely predictable.
The work of *xo00, milleplateaux*, is a interactive CD-ROM, in which the keyboard becomes a generator of type forms and sounds that interact with the movement of the mouse. The interaction forms abstract drawings on the screen and rhythmic sound as we press the mouse buttons. It is a work of generative art, which uses visual elements and interaction to be realized.
There are many projects that work with the sensory and visual elements in an interesting way and this is another one of those.
* "The reception of the works"
I've been thinking for months that contemporary art and electronic art are two different things with some points in common. One of the confirmations of these was on *Trebor Scholz's* talk, he affirms that the public for new media exhibition is completely different from the public of contemporary art. A public for contemporary art in Rio de Janeiro already exists, there is no public for new media yet, we are creating this public.
- *The lay public -
The public that visited the exhibition daily, the faceless public, the silent mass. How to evaluate this public? This public seemed interested, but mainly entertained.
For days I could see children and adults playing on the video game art works of Robert Praxmarer, looking at the videos and on the LCDs, and playing with the buttons. Or in the evening all the computers with the pink screen of *Juliet Davies'* Barbie site, which provides a very critical reading of the American doll and her consumerist style. The public was fascinated with the computers and the internet, not necessarily with net art. We are led to think about the issues of digital inclusion, and the benefits it can bring, such as the learning of these codes that the use of computer and internet require.
What net art and web art tend to question is precisely the nature of the internet, that tries to present itself as a paradise of knowledge, and mainly One of consumption, of immediate gratification, the immediate tracking of data and vigilance.
* Where is the interactivity?
One of the examples electronic art can be seen in a superficial way, happened on our first interview on the second day of exhibition. The first question that we were asked was: "Where is the interactivity?"
I explained some of the interactive installations and various interactive sites, and that the installation next to us had an interactive part to be implemented.
The man's face went from euphoria to total disappointment. Would the fact that an artwork has or has not interactivity become essential in evaluating if the work is successful or not?
The same problems have confronted contemporary art for years, and still the strangeness continues. Forming an interested public is important, but our society lives together with other social economical priorities too.
The question should be: what is the role that art should play in this society? We've introduced our interpretation of how that could be. It is still open for everyone to research on the site www.progme.org. Texts and works are available for research, and net art and web art works are available on the internet.
* Why so many artists?
Some artists asked this question to me more than once. The answers are simple; first because at the moment we are reacting against this tendency to think that only certain elected people do interesting and relevant videos. The scene is in fact, enormous, and this show that was also enormous tries to represent and inform that. Who benefits from this attitude that only some elected people make good videos? Actually, the quantity of interesting pieces causes an interesting instability to the medium and we want to work with this instability. There is a lot more work but who said that in art anything must be easy?
*But is this really art?
I really don't know, and this is not my major concern at this moment. Nowadays, every time we don't know exactly what something is we call it 'ART'. This runs the gamut of disciplines and of different objects. It poses points of difference and points of resemblance, that unite carnivorously, that use both very sophisticated technological procedures and the most primitive matter such as our own body.
All those elements are part of a process, of an almost silent work that accelerates. Everything that appears today is quickly assimilated into the next, yesterday's marginal solutions are now established, its good to participate in this process and of the possible unfolding that this process may bring.
Text revision by Paul Rowley