In Conversation with Aline Baiana

Art as Counterspell

Aline Baiana creates an installation for the Berlin Biennale in response to environmental crimes, referencing the devastation caused by mining in Brazil.

C&AL: Social criticism and political thought are key elements of your creations. Could you talk about this?

AB: For me, being Latin American and, more specifically, Black and Brazilian, a separation between art and politics has never existed. From the beginning, what led me to make art was indignation, perhaps my motivation is what the Zapatistas call “la digna rabia”. My work generally arises from a discomfort, outrage or anguish. In the research process, which is often painful, I come to understand why and how to deal with this. I try to look for ways to question the ideas that sustain this world, and share other worlds in which those ideas are inconceivable. The shape that each piece takes, as well as the mediums and materials I use, present themselves to me during this research process.

C&AL: Feminist and environmental themes, and racial issues are part of your work. How does the current situation in Brazil specifically influence your production in that regard?

AB: The situation right now in Brazil is really bad. There is an extermination plan. When I say that in my research I look for ways to question the ideas that sustain the world where these atrocities take place, the world I speak of is a patriarchal and white world. And questioning the ideas that support it has become even more pressing at this moment. We have to tear down the structures that oppress us and that have allowed a monster to take power over lives it clearly doesn’t respect. I’m not so naive to think that a work of art has that kind of power. I like to imagine works of art as a sort of counterspell for capitalism, patriarchy, racism, alongside others in the anti-colonial struggle.

C&AL: How was the process of creating the work you made for the Berlin Biennale?

AB: A cruz do Sul (“The Southern Cross“) is a piece that was developed in the aftermath of the environmental disaster in Mariana, in the state of Minas Gerais, when a Samarco (Vale and BHP Billiton) dam burst, unleashing a tsunami of mud and mining waste, and causing death and the destruction of ecosystems from Minas Gerais to the coast of Espírito Santo. As news of the death of the Doce River and pictures of animals and people dying in a sea of mud reached us, I began to think about how the risks of mining and its process of environmental destruction are obliterated from the final product. And also thinking about this place that we have historically occupied with other countries in the Southern Hemisphere as a source of natural resources to be exploited and exported until exhaustion, for the profit of a few and at the expense and suffering of many people.

The work is an installation piece that reproduces the Southern Cross constellation out of fragments of rock from which some of Brazil’s most exported mineral products are extracted. In order to see the rocks laid out as we see the constellation in the sky, you have to stand in a specific spot, marked on the ground by a compass rose with references to mining and positioned on iron ore collected in the region of Brumadinho, the stage for another major environmental crime. The South point is marked with mud from the Vale dam that burst in Brumadinho, also in the state of Minas Gerais, and which is polluting the Paraopeba River.

C&AL: How important is to be present at the Biennale at such a unique moment in time?

AB: At this dark time in Brazil’s history, in which the Ministry of Culture was dissolved, cultural production is being sabotaged and professionals in the art world are getting fired, I realize how extremely valuable the opportunity to participate in the Berlin Biennale is, and with a piece that addresses something as serious as mining.

C&AL: What projects are you working on currently?

AB: I’m working on two projects: one that I’d like to produce in São Paulo and another in Pará. Mercury contamination in the Tapajós River due to illegal mining has serious consequences for the people who depend on the river for absolutely everything, and the lack of access to clean drinking water makes people drink mercury-contaminated water and become ill. I’m also starting some preliminary research in Germany, still at a very early stage.

C&AL: Do you believe it’s possible to talk about a new way of making art after the pandemic? What consequences have you seen, for example, in conducting projects since then?

AB: It seems hasty and arrogant to want to speculate about a post-pandemic world, when I can’t even wrap my head around what I’m experiencing right now. One obvious and painful consequence is the distancing. But one thing I’m certain of is “I’m not in this alone”. My work is linked to a network of people who are also dealing with this subject in some way and these meetings and exchanges are a very important part of the process. An imaginary exists around artistic practice in which artists create alone in their studios. My practice is the exact opposite. The first thing I do is meet and talk to other people. The work begins in these exchanges.

Fábia Prates is a Brazilian journalist. She currently writes on topics related to culture and behavior.

Translation: Zoë Perry