C&: As a curator, you launched the Videobrasil Festival in 1983, just after the military dictatorship in Brazil ended. Tell us a bit more about how it all began and how it has evolved over the last three decades.
Solange Farkas: In Brazil, there are a few historical peculiarities in the relationship between moving images and the fine arts scene, and Videobrasil has played a key role in this trajectory in its 30 years of existence. Video first emerged as a medium in the 1960s, but only in the 1970s it was assimilated by Brazilian art production, in experimental works. During that same period, in the realm of film, the Brazilian movement known as Cinema Novo ushered in powerful new production parameters. Sporting the motto “An idea in mind, a camera in hand,” the movement, whose icon was the filmmaker Glauber Rocha, influenced a whole generation of new creators, highlighting the country’s reality and imagery, as well as political and social issues at the height of the military dictatorship. Within that context, the convergence between moving images – particularly video – and the fine arts was still rather tentative. The Videobrasil Festival emerged in 1983, at a time when Brazil was in the iron grip of a military regime that restricted and controlled access and cultural manifestation, especially when it came to alternative forms of expression.
In its early stage, the festival had strong ties with the technological developments in video, which were beginning to come to fruition, even though they were initially restricted to TV channels and production companies. In that sense, we were the first and for a long time the only space in the country for the showcasing of video productions; a platform for encouraging production and diffusion of the work of young artists. Throughout the 1980s the festival presented videos influenced by documentary language and cinema, but it also made room for experimentation by including productions striving to innovate television aesthetics. These works touted anti-establishment discourses, setting out to interfere with production processes and to invade TV – which was the “face of the dictatorship,” as people used to say at the time.
In the 1990s, our second phase, electronic art became established in the national and international festival and exhibition scenes – even though video remained somewhat distant from the more traditional art systems, their galleries and museums. Formal and aesthetic experimentation intensified, as did the incorporation of new media into art works. In this second phase, the festival went international. The curatorial emphasis of the competitive show shifted towards the geopolitical South, comprising countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and Oceania. During that same period, the festival’s competitive show was accompanied by other shows that were being held regularly, as well as exhibitions by internationally known artists such as Nam June Paik, Bill Viola and Giani Toti.