Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, Faz que vai / Set to Go, 2015, 2K video, color, sound, 11 minutes 50 seconds.

Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca, Faz que vai / Set to Go, 2015, 2K video, color, sound, 11 minutes 50 seconds.

Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca

In this exhibition, Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca presented You Are Seeing Things, a video triptych offering unpretentious insight into the multifaceted interconnectedness of Brazilian popular culture. The Brazilian duo showed that culture to be a composite of tradition, queerness, kinship, and proclamation. Dance, music, and belief all play a significant role in each of the videos, which focus on contemporary culture in Northeast Brazil, and particularly the city of Recife, where the artists are based. All of the performers and actors are real dancers, bystanders, MCs, singers, and preachers. Synthesizing fiction and documentary, these films neither uncritically celebrate their subjects nor aspire to the presumed objectivity of sociology or anthropology. All the subjects are allowed their beliefs, aspirations, and realities; all are allowed to be present, empowered and vulnerable at once.

The title work, Estás vendo coisas / You Are Seeing Things, 2016, follows two main protagonists, Porck, a hairdresser, and Dayana, a firefighter. Both are active in a local scene focused on Brega—a type of music the Brazilian upper classes regard as old-fashioned, yet the Recife youth have reclaimed, making it vibrant with explicit lyrics and choreography. The camera’s search for intimacy—established via over-the-shoulder shots and close-ups of the main characters—reveals their relation to this music as basic to their existence. We feel their aspirations and vulnerabilities. The film’s locations, including a nightclub and a recording studio as well as the set of a music-video shoot, express the social and cultural architecture that carries these affects. Here, hopes and dreams are felt in the background of impassioned performances. But the most powerful moments occur when the action in front of the camera has just ended, yet the filming continues and the actors are no longer acting, or when we glimpse them having a moment to themselves in front of the mirror. What feels like a moment out of time adds truth to the situation.

Such paused moments are also significant in Faz que vai / Set to Go, 2015, which introduces another style of music and dance, frevo. We see performances by four dancers, all shown separately and sporting their own signature moves and wardrobe, which range from extravagant drag to royal carnivalesque. When the music stops and the dancers continue to hold their poses, we can sense the incredible physical effort in their artistry and showmanship. Each performs in a distinctive yet seemingly irrelevant setting—the offices of a cement depository, an apartment-building rooftop, or in front of houses that together evoke the city as a whole, reminding us that these performances are not simply subcultural, but part of the shared urban fabric.

Wagner and de Burca saved their most tumultuous proclamation for their third film, Terremoto santo / Holy Tremor, 2017. With the advance of the Pentecoastal Evangelical Church, gospel singing has become popular in Northeast Brazil. And because it is also a way to earn a living, it is enacted with heartfelt intention and expression. The emotional intensity of this collection of stirring sermons is equal to that of the dancers and singers in the other films. The preachers here want nothing less than to literally move their audiences with their preaching. By the film’s end, the impact of the sermonizing seems enough to make the earth shake—and then it does.