Pinacoteca de São Paulo is in lockdown and as such it is closed for visitors, but that doesn’t prevent the institution from reaffirming its commitment with public visitation as it has always done and as prescribed by its mission. Cultural institutions are collective experiences that involve contact and exchange between people. While these cannot yet take place in person, the museum realizes that other modes of visiting its collection and its programming can happen on this website and on social networks.
We’re now releasing Distance, an online exhibition with five audiovisual artworks from Pinacoteca’s collection. Films and videos by Cao Guimarães, Dalton Paula, Letícia Parente, Marcellvs L. and Sara Ramo will be shown online until August 3 . Originally designed for exhibition rooms in museums and galleries, they have now been adapted to the virtual environment. Instead of occupying a piece of space, they are shown in view windows and lose, as a result, their installative attributes.
In spite of their being different in so many aspects (historical, geographic, technical), what these artworks have in common is that all of them are presented from the point of view of someone who, for some reason, has been torn apart from an immediate sociability. Far enough not to have access the others, but at the same time close enough to observe and comment on their condition, these characters (either the artists themselves or other people; either real or fictional) make the spectator feel a little bit of what they themselves are feeling: the uncertainty of expectation, the silent power of resilience, a state of inquiry as cycles repeat themselves. The effects of distance show up in the images and also go beyond them. The works end up offering several possibilities of relating to our realities, all the more in a time when we all need to be distant from each other.
Please watch the following works, sequenced and commented by Ana Maria Maia, curator at Pinacoteca.
From the Window of My Room (2002), by Cao Guimarães, and 9493 (2011), by Marcellvs L., are the two first works shown in the exhibition. Both revolve around situations of voyeurism, in which someone secretly admires someone else’s movements. Someone on the screen is spying and we, the spectators, spy on him , so that the peeking action extends to outside the screen. From a first-floor room, with his Super 8 camera, Cao films two children on the street on a rainy day. In front of a camping tent in the middle of a windstorm, Marcellvs captures the private activity of a boy focused on his videogame in spite of the storm.
Both artists remain unseen and take up their positions on points of transition that do not separate the inner from the outer, but rather join them. Seeing through their eyes, we learn how to let ambiguities work themselves out even when apparent limitations come up. We give up on the judgemental perspective that distinguishes between fighting and communion in the children’s play. We understand that technological connections pervade the boy’s loneliness.
These first two works allow us to gain experience in order to reconfigure our notions of public and private. This also happens as a result of Sara Ramo’s provocations on The Band of Seven (2010), featured next in the exhibition.
For everything that is shown there is also something that’s kept hidden. The middle wall in Sara Ramo’s fiction stirs metaphors about the invisible processes that contribute to the creation of narratives and of language itself. Around this constructive element, a band of seven lined-up musicians plays, engaging in repetitive movements that seem to be continuous. The beauty and melancholy of the scene are enough to justify the film’s dramaturgy, but they also conceal an enigma which must be solved by attentive eyes (or ears). At each round, the musical arrangement changes. As in the backstage of a theatre room, in this long sequence shot only a few seconds behind the wall are needed for instruments to gain or lose emphasis, to play or to be silent.
The agents and processes of those changes are not seen, but only implied. Their opacity, however, has an effect on the imagination. In the face of the imposed distance, what is left is for us to go on making up stories or, before that, to sharpen up our sense of criticism and inquiry in order to suspect all discourses presented as apparently unquestionable absolutes .
The notion of distance that runs through the exhibition is, at first, synonymous with the spatial placement that organizes people and situations. In these last two videos, the sense of the term leaves the field of affections and steps into the terrain of social constructions, characterized by clear gender, class and race markers. It is of interest to notice how Brazilian artists belonging to different generations relate to those constructions, confronting them in their works.
Letícia Parente, a pioneer of video art in Brazil, would perform in front of a portable camera to comment on her daily life as a white, middle-class female. In Task I , a maid irons the artist’s clothes as the artist wears them. The whiteness that lies down over the ironing board becomes a black servant’s working material. This startling scene also invites us to see as strange something that was naturalized by colonial history, i.e. the black population’s legacy of servitude and vulnerability.
From a similar motivation, Dalton Paula problematizes another stereotype. In The Purse Hitter, Dalton occupies his own place of speech as a black artist and establishes his performance as a response to the work’s title phrase. In Brazilian Portuguese, purse hitters or wallet hitters are pickpockets, young people who perform small thefts on public streets without being seen. They common sense conventions that they are mostly racialized young males, revealing a prejudiced association between criminality and an identity profile. In the video, the artist plays that role and, trying to hit a women’s purse with a stick while blindfolded, as in a game of blindman’s buff, he uses literality and humour to recreate our collective imagery.
Out of the five works shown, only in the last two do the artists effectively touch some of the scene’s elements. In a pandemics context, the fight against which involves social distancing together with many other measures, this particular aspect draws our attention. It is worth mentioning, however, that this perception arises from an untimely interpretation, as all works were made before the Coronavirus crisis and, as such, had no claims to commenting on it.
In any event, in bringing to light persistent historical and cultural aspects, these works give us powerful food for thought on the one-sided character of the notion of distance, no only as a physical, spatial measure, but also as a human right. In a society based on patrimonialism, where property and privacy are all but equated , the possibility of seclusion is highly selective. There are those who can afford isolating themselves (#stayathome) and those who cannot due to their condition or their job. The distance between those two kinds of people is the true distance.