To invent something is to invent an accident. To invent the ship is to invent the shipwreck; the space shuttle, the explosion. And to invent the electronic superhighway or the Internet is to invent a major risk which is not easily spotted because it does not produce fatalities like a shipwreck or a mid-air explosion.*
The aim of this text is to describe different experiences which explore the connections or boundaries between arts, technology and society in a Brazilian context. These works are not just performances which can immediately be recognized as such, but I have chosen to bring a variety of examples of works that may dialogue with each other, composing a quite a heterogeneous reality.
Eduardo Kac. © The artist.
According to Eduardo Kac, Abraham Palatnik was the first Brazilian to explore the creative use of technology in Brazil. Mario Pedrosa called his devices cinechromatics (Morais 2012). In 1951, his work was part of the first edition of the Bienal de São Paulo, despite being initially refused, as the curators couldn´t categorize his work. The devices were composed of 600 meters of electric wires and 101 lamps (Morais 2012):
In 1968, Waldemar Cordeiro in collaboration with Giorgio Moscati produces the first Brazilian artworks made by computer; BEABÁ and Derivadas de uma imagem. Cordeiro aimed to produce works of emotional content using techniques and tools know as "cold." In 1969, the Bienal de São Paulo opens a section for arts and technology and in the same year Waldemar Cordeiro and Giorgio Moscati exhibit their work in another national event called "Computer Plotter Art." Cordeiro represented Brazil in several events worldwide, such as “Cybernetic Serendipity” in London in 1968. He believed that the computer was able to change society, due to its capacity of apprehend reality and translate it into digital form, proposing then alternative developments through simulation processes. The artist wanted to create a new art form: "repeatable relation, a mechanism for integrating the object in the outer world," with accurate meanings that do not exist in conventional and subjective formulas of traditional aesthetics (Fabris 1997), compatible with the industrial production.
The first known Brazilian video work is M 3x3 by Analivia Cordeiro, Waldemar's daughter. It was a choreography for video, composed for the Edinburgh International Festival. The project was recorded with the resources of TV Cultura de São Paulo in 1973. She conceived the work using the notion of embodiment, using the body as interface between subject, culture and nature (Machado).
According to Arlindo Machado, the first generation of video artists, such as Sonia Andrade, were actually working with performance for video. The artist recorded little self-mutilations, deforming her body with nylon threads, nailing her hand on a table, or removing body hair with a pair of scissors; or Rafael França, producing a video testament a few days before dying of AIDS; or Letícia Parente, another artist of the period, embroidering "Made in Brazil" on her own foot.
During the sixties, few portable video devices were available throughout Brazil, and even if accessible to just a few artists, they allowed them to explore different ways of expression, blurring boundaries between artistic fields, and especially offering alternatives to the television perspective, as television has always had a massive influence in Brazilian popular culture.
The use of digital technology in dance today is also thoroughly explored through advancement in the use of sensors, images and telepresence, wearable devices and so on, seen in the work of Cena 11, the PIP pesquisa em dança, Lali Krotoszynski, and universities such as the Grupo de Pesquisa Poéticas Tecnológicas from UFBA. Artists have also applied creative use of technology in installations, such as Aguilar, a first-generation video artist; Chelpa Ferro; Lucas Bambozzi; Sandro Canavezzi de Abreu; Raquel Kogan; Gisela Motta and Leandro Lima; and Vivian Caccuri.
In theater, we can quote the work of pioneer Jocy de Oliveira, whose work has experimented with everything from installation to opera, creating multimedia pieces such as Probabilistic Theater (1967–68) and Polinterações (1970). The Teatro para Alguém group affirms to be the first Brazilian group to produce web plays. Since 2008, the group has created over 60 works accessible online and free of charge. The TPA website also has a cultural network where artists can have a profile and interact with each other. The Phila 7, founded in 2005, works with telepresence and remote spatialities. In 2006, the group produced Play on Earth, which was performed simultaneously in São Paulo, New Castle, and Cingapure. Corpos Informáticos, led by researcher Bia Medeiros at Brasilia University, is another national reference regarding the use of telepresence in performance, having produced several performances, texts and events between 1999 and 2006.
We can also look to Luis Duva, who explores the idea of live cinema using his own body; Eder Santos; and Otavio Donasci, a pioneer of video performance since the eighties with his video creatures. Later on, he explored multimedia performance, like the one presented in Videobrasil in 1992, where he built an immersive environment with floating screens and projectors on wheels moving during the scenes. Artur Matuck, also active since the eighties, was one of the first Brazilian artists to raise questions of copyright, proposing a series of publications of previously published articles with the author's consent. A Semion label was applied to the text.
Photo © NANO.
Other cross-disciplinary projects with an emphasis on the dialogue between organic and artificial organisms include núcleo de artes e novos organismos (NANO), a study group based at Rio de Janeiro university that investigates hybrids of natural and artificial organisms within the fine art departments. One of the projects, developed in collaboration with the University of Bahia (UFBA) and the University of Ceará, UFC, is a telematic performance involving an antropofagic hyperorganism (AH) robot. For the performance, three interfaces communicated with each other and the robot. Body sounds, vibrations, and breathing noises were captured through OSC protocol transmitted via xBee from Rio de Janeiro to Fortaleza. Group leader Guto Nóbrega also explores the artistic use of plants.; the professor facilitated a workshop where a simple interface was built, using plants as organic sensors for hybrid interfaces. They also built a shield for Arduino, using the devices to produce a sound installation.
Another artist that has been very polemic and has destabilized some frontiers between biology and technology is Eduardo Kac. Kac performed Time Capsule in an event curated by Lucas Bambozzi titled "Arte Suporte Computador," hosted by Casa das Rosas in 1997. In this action, the artist implanted a chip in his leg; the event was broadcast on television nationally. Kac´s works raises many discussions concerning ethics: He has worked with telematic connections, biopoetry, and transgenic organisms, like Alba, the rabbit. He used a protein from a Aequorea Victoria and injected Alba with the genes of the zygote, making the rabbit glow fluorescent when exposed to blue light. In another work titled A-positive, made in collaboration with Ed Bennett, Kac explores the relationship between living organisms and hybrid machines. These machines incorporate biological elements like metabolic and sensorial functions. In A-positive a human and a robot are connected through a tube and a needle feeding each other mutually. The robot is called "phlebot" and uses human red blood cells to absorb oxygen in order to maintain a small flame. In exchange, the robot gives dextrose to the human. Kac´s works have many ethical and philosophical implications, suggesting in one of his articles an inversion of McLuhan´s quote: "the machine is an extension of the body." Kac's works is a proposal that the body is becoming an extension of the computer.
Arlindo Machado suggests that the value of art lies exactly in its ability to subvert the productive functions of machines and being able to create new ethics and aesthetics for the technological era. The artist is capable of refusing the industrial project, creating a metalanguage of the mediatic society, acting as medial and institutional derivations, creating critic alternatives for the laws and models of the mechanisms of control (Machado 2004: 5-7). For Machado, the arts could deprogram the techniques of industrial tools, distorting their symbolic functions, proposing them to work outside of their know parameters, making then visible its mechanisms of control and seduction.
A movement of new ethics is connected to technologies in the open source and copyfelt movements. Making tools, programs, and knowledge accessible and questioning the notions of property and authorship could be the beginning of more processual researches that are not necessarily connected to final products or subject to institutional restrictions. Many artists in Brazil are developing projects which use very cheap and simple prototyping platforms like Arduino. The changes in the perception of space, body, presence, and human communication beyond a space-time unity definitely have many more implications in several aspects of everyday life, and new aesthetics and ethics are still emerging.
Philip Auslander believes that the performing arts have already been placed within the culture of commodities, and they are almost impossible to distinguish from the mass media discourses. For him, one of the most important aspects of performance was its liveness, or presence, but once it is circumscribed in the culture of flows, the difference between life and mediated presence is irrelevant (Auslander 1989: 130). For Auslander the organization of spaces in flows, controlled by capitalism, has created a global hypertext which converts every element and place to its logics; he suggests, then, that it might not be very important to determine whether a work is performance or if it is art at all; but rather we could ask ourselves in which way these works can create a differentiated experience inside a network that tends to standardize discourses and isolate experiences (Auslander in Connor 2004: 99-100).
*Virilio in Dufresne 2005: Dufresne, David. (2005) Virilio - Cyberesistance Fighter: An Interview with Paul Virilio. Trans. Houis, Jacques.
Michele Louise Schiocchet is a PhD candidate in Theatre at the UDESC, Santa catarina, Brazil. She is based in Florianópolis, Brazil.