Los Angeles

Dentro Brasil

Long Beach Museum of Art

A surprising collection of new Brazilian art in various media, “Dentro Brasil” (Inside Brazil) included installations by artist/poet Arnaldo Antunes and Bruce and Norman Yonemoto as well as the video program reviewed here. This program comprised 31 works which represented the results of an exchange with four Brazilian cities initiated by Bruce Yonemoto and curator Carole Ann Klonarides. At least from a North American perspective, many of the videotapes in “Dentro Brasil” presented an unusually energetic mix of elements that ignored conventional distinctions among various genres.

Video is a young medium in Brazil, having taken root in the ’70s when North American video had already developed into several distinct strains. Perhaps this explains the love of pastiche in these works: the mixture of, say, formalist, narrative, metaphoric, and documentary work. A documentary on homelessness in São Paulo by Renato Barbieri, Marcelo Machado, and Paulo Morelli quickly loses the anguished tone associated with such work in North America and becomes a surreal meditation on the parallel realities of its subjects. Similarly, Vincent Carelli’s affable murder mystery set among the Yanomamo people, Video Cannibalism, 1994, violates the sincere moral tone one has come to expect of ethnographic cinema. Even works with a more formalist bent are laced with plots, complex symbolism, and moral messages. Digital effects, animation, text, and other features of this “cool” medium are layered to “hot” effect. A Cartilha de Instruções Básicas Para o Uso do Peso (A primer of basic instructions for the use of weight) by Versão Brasileira (Eduardo de Jesus, Claudio Santos, and Rodolfo Magalhães) packs a surreal narrative, digital morphing, and an acerbic text delivered at high speed into a five-minute morality tale. Like many of the videos in this exhibition, A Cartilha delighted in the quicksilver power of words to reshape or overwhelm images.

A number of the videos presented here were effectively portraits of Brazil’s big cities—Sandra Kogut’s What Do You Think of When You Think of Brazil?, for example, captures the jangly optimism and opportunism of Rio as the kind of city that, paradoxically, lives for and despite tourism.

One of the works most appealing to my characteristically Northern reserve was a day-in-the-life portrait of Brasilia, Le Corbusier’s experiment in regimented urban living. Brasiconoscopio, 1990, by Mauro Giuntini, coolly traces the abstract flow of people among the city’s utilitarian buildings and vehicles, distilling the structure of Brasilia into feeling. The São Paulo of Heróis da Decadência (Heroes of decadence, 1987), by Tadeu Jungle and Walter Silveira, by comparison, is an inspired, Dadaist collage of politics, memoir, and fake television. Its most memorable scenes are the on-the-street “interviews” conducted in absolute silence by a friendly young man in a bright-blue suit.

Little of this work circulates in North America. Videos by Brazilian activists and indigenous peoples are fairly well known here, perhaps because they meet our expectations of Brazil as a subject of interrogation. The Brazils of “Dentro Brasil” are loquacious subjects of their own that may actually bring new energy to our languishing discussion of the uses of video.

Laura U. Marks