Videobrasil Meeting | The Caribbean: Archipelagos for Thought has been the first experience with an activity format that is part of Videobrasil’s Public Programs series.
The inaugural phase of the Program will permeate the 18th International Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil (November 5, 2013, through February 2, 2014) with activities that will prompt reflection and shed light on the themes of the Festival’s shows, while conversing with other areas of knowledge. The Program is based on multidisciplinarity and on direct, horizontal audience participation as a laboratory for interaction, and includes a collaborative digital platform for debate and research, performance-oriented tours, and activities involving residency programs.
The conversation that took place last May 14 at Ateliê397 (São Paulo) focused on a geocultural context, which is key to Videobrasil’s projects. Alongside Latin America, Africa, Oceania, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and part of Asia, the Caribbean is an important region to Videobrasil, not only for its significant art and research scene but also for the way it provides rich material for critical thinking on culture-identity relations.
The meeting was attended by visual artist Annalee Davis, the director of Barbados’ independent art practices center Fresh Milk; Andrés Hernandez, a Cuban-born, Brazilian-based curator; and the Brazilian researcher and professor Mirtes Oliveira.
The public conversation focused on the ideas of Martinican writer Édouard Glissant, who embraced the insular nature of the Antilles as an allegory to “archipelago-thinking” as opposed to “continental thinking,” which is by nature hegemonic or homogeneity-inducing. The mediator, Sabrina Moura, Videobrasil’s Public Programs curator, said Glissant’s concept of ‘creolization’ “derives from the dynamics of the Creole language’s formation in the Antilles, and extrapolates the field of linguistics to be used in reflections about cultural phenomena pertaining to globalization.” The understanding of Creole as a language of relationships rather than essences keeps its original linguistic tensions at work, and enhances the comprehension of cultural exchanges.
Andrés Hernandez, whose research involves art events in Central and Latin America, invoked the history of the Caribbean, highlighting its most acute experiences of shock and assimilation. During and shortly after the first waves of colonization, which expatriated settlers, slaves, and natives either territorially or culturally, and after World War II (when the Caribbean changed from receiver of migrant populations to an emigration hub), the history of the Caribbean encompasses extreme instances of the intercultural confrontation process, which are reflected in both theoretical production and the arts. Hernandez discussed the history of the Havana Biennial and the oeuvre of Wifredo Lam, who was able to syncretize different experiences without losing the symbolical autonomy.
For Mirtes Oliveira, a member of study group G27 (dedicated to historical research on curating processes and practices), this debate is focused on relationships of exchange that aim to maintain diversity rather than to dilute it—a conflict between the utopia of the universal and the utopia of diversity. Among other attempted approaches, she mentioned historical vanguards that propositioned an internationalist view from a local perspective, and shows such as Family of Men (MoMA, 1955) and the 27th Bienal de São Paulo. A particularly fortunate confrontation would be the work of Isaac Julien, which builds upon the neologism ‘geopoetics’ to give rise to an art that superimposes itself onto politics as a sociocultural arena.
In her speech, Annalee Davis presented a contemporary experience under a provocative topic: We’re all floating islands – Some much larger than others. She noted how “Fresh Milk, as an art project, has become an opening for human exchange within the insular Caribbean and further afield.… Glissant writes about being ready to make detours and we are often directed to attune ourselves to opportunities that present themselves to us.
This happened when Thereza Farkas [Videobrasil program director] visited. After listening to each other’s stories, we began to wander and wonder. Fresh Milk was writing a grant application for a project with our friends and partners, ARC Inc., and the project took a major ‘Glissantian’ detour, being then shifted to São Paulo.” The project, named Tilting/AXIS, is intended to rethink the international theoretical and artistic polyphony, while enhancing the role of the Caribbean in this debate.