In interview, Brazilian artist talks about the concept of invisible knowledge and explains how her work decodes and transforms violence, returning it to the audience in an aesthetic way.
Still of Macumbarica, a video-installation by Taís Lobo and Pêdra Costa. Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Chile, 2017.
C&AL: You’ve played a key role in the emergence of queer aesthetics and ethics in the field of contemporary Brazilian artistic production. How did you reach this conception of “invisible knowledge,” or rather, how did this conception reach you?
Pêdra Costa: The name came from a patchwork quilt of knowledge, which was created over time through observing various moments in colonial history, in direct connection with my personal history, namely: historical and artistic knowledge, and life experience. As my friend Musa Michelle Mattiuzzi says: according to the colonial project, only white people were supposed to exist today. So what went wrong with that plan? That’s where invisible knowledge comes in. Not to give an answer, because the answer’s already been given, but to indicate anti-colonial pathways and ways of surviving necropolitics. It’s knowledge that I continue to develop and that will never be complete. It’s nothing new and it already exists in many forms and under other names, surrounding architecture, immigration, ancestry, epistemicide, social class, the queer Global South, intuition, artistic and religious practices. And, most importantly, knowledge that this plan tried to erase, but which continue to develop and seek out other ways of being in the world, and which have a direct connection with my body. I’m still looking for a way to talk about it, since recognizing this demands life experience. Just talking about it doesn’t reveal the enormity of this process. Invisible knowledge is the crossroads.
C&AL: One particularly intriguing thing is the relationship between this concept and modes of the social, historical, and intimate organization of violence. “Invisible knowledge” is also “resilient knowledge”, which crosses its own extinction and manifests itself through time. You elaborate on this in a project called “Violence in the Arts”. How do violence and art link together in what you put forth, and in your career as an artist?
PC: This knowledge is sensitive. Therefore, it’s also empathic and, in order to be sensitive and empathic, it has to be resilient. Otherwise it’s just painful and processes don’t change. This knowledge brings resilience with it, but it’s up to us whether we access it and break free from the prison of trauma, if that’s possible. It’s just like you said yourself: the world is my trauma. And I believe that this is revolutionary, in the sense of going against the capitalist/colonial system in which we live. And there are no formulas: it’s sensitive, it’s collective, it’s resilient, it’s anti-colonial – all at the same time. And every way of manifesting it is unique. It seems paradoxical to have all these characteristics, but it’s not. It’s a crossroads. My work is based and fed on and by violence, which is decoded, transformed and given back in an aesthetic way. Some people find the result violent. I don’t, if you compare it with my entire personal history of violence. And I show my work in an often festive, amusing, fun way, but always straight to the point, whether that’s visible to the public or not.
The world is my trauma. And I believe that this is revolutionary, in the sense of going against the capitalist/colonial system in which we live.
I never expected approval from the art market or academia. This machine of production, competition and approval is extremely violent. Approval was never given to me and, automatically, I was pushed out of competition and production. When everything was saying no, I said yes. It’s a lonely, but free, path. Because of this, my work is based on direct action, the urgency of life and the time the works themselves take to mature. There are people who find me radical. And I am, because I’m at the root of things, at the foundations of social structures. This is evident from the feedback I get, much of it violent. That is my job: to pull back the curtains on this false state of well-being, through repugnance, and to empower subalternized subjectivities, through empathy. My work is specific and, you might say, limited as a performer, because I have to be present in order for empathy, apathy or loathing to happen with the audience most effectively. All these ways of receiving it, and feedback feed my work. One thing I can say about invisible knowledge: intimately, there is no room for dishonesty.
C&AL: This relationship between intimacy and collectivity is one of the elements that most strikes me in what you’ve said. What is your relationship to the communities in which you participate, and how would you describe (intersectionally) your own position in the world, between the uniqueness of your living body and the collectivities it embodies?
PC: I believe relationships are very formal, even more so in academia, even more so in Europe, even more so in the networking of the art market. I work a lot by blurring the public and private spheres. And I’m on a path that I consider very personal, by bringing this way of being into these spaces, creating affectivities where formalities exist, creating approximations where there are distances. That may be a risk, but I’m betting on what I believe, because I see myself as an empath. You can’t doubt yourself when you use intimacy to connect the collectivity. My position in the world is at the crossroads, it is in the meeting of embodied knowledge, where knowledge is acquired through experience. Knowledge of the global South and North, past and future, canonical knowledge and street smarts. This knowledge, with these specific names, appears much later in my life, and so what I did was acknowledge them and thank them. Acknowledge issues that are queer, anti-colonial, empathic, community, intersectional, geopolitical, etc., and be thankful for the work of people who spend their lives dismantling violent projects against non-normative, non-white, non-western, non-privileged subjectivities. My way of being in the world is revealing the violence that has shaped me and always being in dialogue with the communities of which I am a part.
C&AL: Amid this crossroads of knowledge, forces, and forms that comprise your work, I’ll conclude with a question: How do you see the future given the new rise of fascism on a global level, and the brutal re-articulation of colonialism in Brazil?
PC: I don’t think we’ve ever left that colonial period. We will continue to struggle and survive with the tools we’ve developed, with invisible knowledge.
Pêdra Costa works with her own body, creating performance art, videos and texts, and using the complex and fragmented epistemologies of queer communities. Her works are permeated with knowledge that was almost completely destroyed by the colonial project. She engages in a post-pornographic political aesthetic and anti-colonial strategies. And she faces failure every day, transforming it into creative force, always in connection with mixed and forgotten ancestries.
Jota Mombaça is a non-binary queer artist born and raised in the Northeast of Brazil, who writes, performs and studies the relationships between monstrosity and humanity, anti-coloniality, redistribution of violence, visionary fiction, the end of the world and tensions surrounding ethics, aesthetics, art and politics in the production of knowledge of the South of the global South.
Translated from Portuguese by Zoë Perry.