Rui Cepeda—Culturofagia: those who eat culture

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Rui Cepeda is an art critic, curator, and writer based in London. Rui has been working for several years with various European cultural publications either print or online, and has focused his writings in the ideological conflicts between geographies on a global scale, and the construction of subjectivities and identity issues.

In the Os Culturofagistas exhibition, there is a dislocation of similar elements, but used in a more disembodied way. Whereas this text has a strong underlying post-colonial theoretical approach to art and its reality and in how visual art statement informs about a particular social and cultural context in a globalised world. A tension is set up between the text’s dominant idea and the deliberately separated elements that embody it, i.e. the exhibition, its works and its intention, and the text in itself. This serves different purposes. First, it acquaints the audience/reader with the full range of the story brought by the exhibition identity issues and its intervinientes approach. Second, for the reader who knows the topic of “interpretation” and “intended and perceived meaning,” it shows that the text is concerned with multiple ways in which the story in the exhibition has been used distinctively by artists, who, while having an international recognisable discourse, are able to show the difference between each other through their own individual reality. And, last, the text also implies a sequence that is a fiction constructed by the artist and/or viewer, since the apparent ‘reality’ is composed by the artist alone. Thus is, in fact, the real subject. The essay is not a dramatisation of the story told in the exhibition, instead it is about the nature of story and difference, as a construction over time and through cultures.

Artists participating in the project Os Culturofagistas (‘those who eat culture’) 1 [Video: Os Culturofagistas] use the Portuguese language as the starting point for their collaboration. Sharing the same common kernel—the Portuguese language—artists from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean engage in an exploration and interpretation of literary poetry in Samba and Fado, Brazil’s and Portugal’s traditional music, respectively. For the artists featured in the artistic project, emerging from different geographies, such as Latin America, Southern Africa, and Occidental Europe (Márcio Botner & Pedro Agilson from Brazil, Délio Jasse from Angola, and Sara & André from Portugal, between many others), who use words spoken and written in Portuguese, the interpretation of Samba and Fado music’s lyrics is meant as a proposition to a future action, while creating one body constituted by works of art, not as a collective gathering of art works.

While both Samba and Fado “celebrate human beings and their passions,”2 Samba “is known for its irrepressible joy, even in daily life’s little sorrows, and celebrates the meeting of cultures.” With origins in Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe, it is also the “celebration of the arrival, of the meeting—the exaltation of the good that life can offer.” Fado, instead, is usually “associated with a certain nostalgia and the diaspora spirit,” it is about “departure, the uncertainties and fears that such adventure might cause—the uncertainty of fate.” This is an artistic project that informs through one singular context about two deeply interconnected cultures, Brazil and Portugal and Latin America and Occidental Europe on one level, and Christianity and Paganism, on the other. This doesn’t constitute an action or an effect in itself. Each artist’s art work (video, photography, and installation), for example, interfere with the other artists’ art work. It embodies the territorial act, becoming a one-artist show with multiple expressions, perlocutions on a particular condition, a proposed multiperspectival glance on cultural embodiments that act upon the idiosyncratic milieu within the international sphere. Primarily, the more than twenty artists featuring in the artistic project cannibalize on Samba’s and Fado’s written word, they ‘eat’ the work of others to conceive their own work.

What are exactly the normative meanings or references in the lyrics acted upon by Os Culturofagistas? How do such artists, such as, Sara & André (Lisbon, 1980 and 1979), cannibalize those meanings or references when they disembody the lyrics from Meu Lamento (written by Ataulfo Alves in partnership with Jacob do Bandolim) [Video: Meu Lamento]? 3

Juro… Confesso…
Não faço verso
Para minha vaidade…
Meu samba é
O meu lamento,
Meu castigo meu tormento
Minha dôr minha saudade…

Por amar
Quase fracassei na vida
Por acreditar sincero
Em pessoa tão fingida…

As Stanley Fish argued, “there are no determinate meanings and the stability of the text is an illusion.”4 It is at this point that those artists, in Os Culturofagistas, aim to materialise their territorial creativity and inform about a particular condition of their everyday culture and life in general. They listen to words, to phrases uttered and, then, interpret them according to a set of conditions, values, and determinacies shared with different members of the same community. How can we then make sense of the works other than its original intentions? “We will automatically hear [the utterance] in the context in which it has been most often encountered,”5 because of the contextual setting within we are able to be, the wealth of cultural capital owned, and the vastness of our individual assembled repertoire—brought in at that precise moment and at the same time. For instance, when I “say” BNP, meaning the global bank, someone else might be convinced that I mean and refer to the British National Party, due to the context within which (s)he finds herself or himself, which, also, might be distinctive, or not, from mine. In any of the situations brought about by the Os Culturofagistas, as a whole body of work, the meaning of the expression spoken would be severely constrained, not because it is heard (“perceive”), but because of the forms that it intends, in the first place, are heard (“understand”). The same can be applied to an artwork.

When referring to the lyrics, or, on another plane, to the artists’ expressions featured in the artistic project, meaning exists as a function, derived from the act of speaking or writing with regard to its purpose in a particular context. In Meu Lamento, for instance, the written words emerge in a situation and within that situation: for Samba music, to “celebrate human beings and their passions”, in general, and “celebration of the arrival, of the meeting—the exaltation of the good that life can offer.” It goes on to take as many interpretations as people who may hear it! However, the lyrics of Meu Lamento emerge as a Samba through the interpretation instituted by several Samba singers. In the same form, the lyrics emerge through the body of work brought by Sara & André in the exhibition context: “the bohemian side common to Samba and Fado, as well as the intrinsic relation these two music genders have with popular festivities in both countries, Carnival, in Brazil, and Popular Saints, in Portugal”6. [Video] The object of knowledge is distinctively to read and listen, though; it is the performance manifested through the lyrics of Samba and Fado music, which are sung in and share the same common resource—the Portuguese language—in the artistic context of the Os Culturofagistas, that has been challenged—the criteria in which knowledge is attained. The disembodiment. In this context, the meaningful unit it combines is immediately corrected and preread, making another predetermination of the structure of interests from which the lyrics arise.

If the arts were used in the past as a field of conflict, nowadays, the sensation is quite similar. Having chosen a distinctive route from that taken by Asian or African artists and theorists, artistic creation and critical thinking in Latin America, in particularly in Mexico and Brazil, occupies a unique position on the modern and contemporary international art scene, with artists and theorists consistently linking international current events with issues of cultural identity. Making it a proper language. In Latin America, in 1928, the Brazilian modernist, Oswald de Andrade, called to the critical, selective, and metabolising appropriation of European artistic tendencies, by artists from that continent, “anthropophagy” or “cannibalism”; later, in 1948, Cuban anthropologist, Fernando Ortiz, coined it as “transculturation”, which had an emphasis on resistance and affirmation of subaltern subjects; already in this millennium, Gerardo Mosquera, framed it as the “from here” paradigm, where artists from Latin America create “fresh work, by introducing new issues and meanings derived from their diverse experiences, and by infiltrating their differences in broader, somewhat more truly globalised art circuits.”7 The untranslatable interpretation of certain images into other cultural ideals could be regarded as going through the process of cannibalism, of being reterritorialized when the Western civilization structures of political imposition is replaced by the others’ structure of beliefs and rituals, i.e. the deterritorilization of Western ideals is then followed by reterritorialization in to Latin America’s own system of beliefs and rituals, which can go beyond Pre-Columbus’ world visions and life’s understandings.

The mural painted by Diego Rivera Man at the Crossroads was repainted and renamed as Man, Controller of the Universe at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.

The mural painted by Diego Rivera ‘Man at the Crossroads’ was repainted and renamed as ‘Man, Controller of the Universe’ at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
Diego Rivera. ‘Man Controller of the Universe’ or ‘Man in the Time Machine’. 1934. Fresco, approx. 15′ 10 7/8″ x 37′ 6 7/8″ (4.85 x 11.45 m). Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City. © 2011 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS). Photograph by Schalkwijk/Art Resource, New York (USA)

Throughout the 20th century, artist creation in Brazil and Mexico has occupied a unique position on the international art scene with artists, from those countries, consistently linking and focusing on international political and social movements with issues of the country’s urban and political realities—the awareness of suburban and displaced popular culture. In particular with the idea springing from the anxiety of not knowing their place in the world or being discarded as an error of European colonialization.8 Brazil, for instance, has made important contributions to the dialogue engaged in by the international art community: the concept of Antropofagia, the São Paulo Bienal, the Neoconcretism movement, etc. Whereas, in Mexico, the Muralist movement, led by Siqueiros, Rivera, and Orozco, in the beginning of the 20th century, and, most recently, contemporary art from Mexico, through the works of Carlos Amorales, Minerva Cuevas, and Teresa Margolles [Video], for instance, influenced by internal political and social circumstances in fragmented Mexico, revindicate their position on the international art scene with a more global perspective and embedded in the world discourse. Nonetheless, “The formation of contemporary Brazil is different from that of other Latin-American countries” (Mesquita, 1996), including Mexico. Figuratively, Mexico reflects much of what has happened across the Spanish speaking countries in Latin America; essentially, due to a shared Spanish colonial past and impositions brought to that continent by the Catholic church. For more than four centuries, Latin American Spanish speaking countries tended to replicate, mimicking the impositions dictated from colonial Spain. While, instead, the same did not happen in Brazil. Portugal, throughout most of its history, was in a state of oblivion in regard to what was happening in the surrounding world, in general, and in the art debate, in particular. Just recently, only in the last two to three decades, and after internal social-political convulsions and external economical impositions, has started to have a voice in and to be heard by the international art scene. Whereas, instead, Spain has been one of the forerunners in artistic trends and impositions during its historical development. Throughout its history, Brazil has accompanied and has been at the forefront of the art discourse.

The act initiated by the Os Culturofagistas, proposed as a multidimensional perspective towards a relationship between Brazil and Portugal through their shared language, has an action as its aim, but that, in itself, does not effect or constitute an action. It is open to interpretation. Sara & André left empty bottles of water and wine, beer cans, cigarette butts lying on a dirty floor—remnants of what has happened. Was it a festivity? Was it an exhibition opening? The object is open to interpretation, but its meaning—that which is represented by the artwork and that which the author originally meant by her or his use of a particular sign sequence, either spoken or visual—is only understood by those who have knowledge of the word uttered. If not it will become an untranslatable interpretation. That is what most of the artworks are not! Including some of those in the Os Culturofagistas proposal, since some are or have been reduced to the artist’s intentions, while others are or have been irreducible to a minimal unit in the process of creating something, which cannot be diminished to the statements of intention that accompany it.

© Rui G. Cepeda
London, December 2012

 

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References

  1. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kLzPBFzezw
  2. Castilho, M. and Oddo, E. (2012) Os Culturofagistas. Presentation paper (Personal communication, 2012)
  3. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xua2JeJZgr8
  4. Fish, Stanley (1980) Is There a Text in This Class? In: A. Neill and A. Ridley (Ed.) (1995) The Philosophy of Art: readings Ancient and Modern. New York: McGraw Hill, pp. 446-457.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Castilho, M. and Oddo, E. (2012) Os Culturofagistas. Presentation paper (Personal communication, 2012).
  7. Adler, P. et al. (Ed.) (2010) Contemporary Art in Latin America. London: Blackdog Publising, p. 16.
  8. Mesquita, Ivo (1996) Brazil. In: Edward J. Sullivan (Ed.) (1996) Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. London: Phaidon Press Limited. pp. 202-231.

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