Lucas Bambozzi, a Brazilian filmmaker, visual artist and new media researcher, lives and works in São Paulo. He works as a professor in several university courses linked to the fields of communication, video, art, cinema and multimedia. He was artist-in-residence at the CAiiA-STAR Centre/i-DAT (Planetary Collegium) and completed his MPhil at the University of Plymouth in England in 2006 with the dissertation “Public Life and Pervasive Systems, a Critical Practice,” addressing issues of surveillance and biopolitics. He was curator of the Vivo arte.mov Festival, between 2010 and 2013, with editions in São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Belém and Salvador. In his cultural practice, questions related to the concept of informational space and the particularities of art produced from the mobilities and immobilities of the urban context area are constant.
Lucas, you graduated in the field of social communication and moved through the areas of video, cinema, technology and art. We also met in the past in different contexts of cultural and political activism. Could you quickly outline the interests that lead you to work in these various disciplines, which involve culture and politics?
I graduated in social communication and journalism at UFMG. I was stimulated by an experience my father had with a newspaper during the dictatorship, with a linotype set up in the garage at home, in a very brave situation. I was interested in the humanities, thinking about writing. But I ended up working straight away with image and television. Along this path, between super-8 and VHS, I saw the possibility of producing video using a different logic than cinema. Then, my second academic training was an MPhil in philosophy of computing, at the University of Plymouth (U.K.). And my third academic training is a doctorate in architecture and urbanism at FAU USP, under the guidance of Giselle Beiguelman, on informational spaces, a research project on the perception of signals that flow around us.
But why rescue all this? Because this unplanned tripod highlights a relationship between communication and technology, exemplified not only by the video, but by the interest in the philosophy of computing, the perspective of acting and communicating based on processes linked to computing and the presence of the computer in our lives and in society. My attempt, then, lies in seeking to understand or activate the perception of how connected we are in our space, whether public or private. I seek to understand and even extract the flows of signals present there, because in the broader perception of space, some type of communication is always engendered. I thus follow a path, which seems less than linear, but is cyclical and circular, that is, one in which I approach several fields that are interconnected: between space (the place, the environment), culture (society) and how they are affected by communication, technology and information. It is an understanding of communication that has a technological and speculative bias, which speaks about its own nature and agency.
Thus, I believe that the fields of culture and politics are interconnected in this spatial and informational complex. It is a place that hides information, and I am interested in entering it to see its invisibilities. And politics in our country imposes itself, acts as an obstacle to workflows and creation. It says: “It won’t be easy, you will have to learn other expertise to survive.” And this imposes itself from time to time, in a very brutal way. We have to stop our journeys to “clean up” the surroundings, to try to endorse some cry of protest, to be able to make what we were doing viable or to simply be able to think about continuing to live in the country. I gave up any prospect of escape, accepting to face the context, as it seems to me that we have no other escapist option… And this especially after my daughter was born, in 2002. So, trying to articulate and participate in a type of action that can make it possible for a better life in our surroundings, cultural and artistic at least, is fundamental.
Also when we talk about politics, it can sound a little presumptuous to think that you can do something that will make a difference. I don’t have that illusion. The sense that we need to try to change things, that which makes us feel imbued with a certain responsibility, leads me to seek to understand the space, our surroundings, what pulses in the environment. Understanding that this environment exudes politics, is affected, bothered, crossed by it, it is politically determined. And this is something that we have to talk about, negotiate and, sometimes, confront. This environment is often micro: the street, the square, the sidewalk, the work environment, which mirrors the macro. Combining these instances well is something that our society has not done well, and this exercise of micropolitics (paraphrasing Suely Rolnik, who says that the damage caused by macropolitics returns with greater force when we do not resolve our immediate surroundings) seems to be the possible way to strengthen the bases of a macropolitics, which also involves valuing culture and art in this process.
Interestingly, you mention a tripod that seems fundamental to our societies today, as I see it as the foundation of several axes in which politics is articulated. Space—which I understand as urban and social space. Communication, as language systems. And techniques, such as technical instruments and their uses. If I’m not mistaken, in your career, the notion of intervention is part of many of your productions—and this caught my attention even when you commented in relation to the newspaper written by your father during the Brazilian civic-military dictatorship. So I ask you if, given that we often cannot (or are not fully allowed) to participate in the decision-making that defines spaces and flows, whether on the macro or micro scale (as you put it—in the closest surroundings), do we have to, sometimes, participate without asking for permission, carrying out an act of disruption that brings, I would say, some activation of perception to then perhaps generate some change? Does the idea of intervention make sense in your journey? And how do you articulate it?
Regarding this issue of artistic intervention, it is worth saying that I did not have formal training in art, it was a learning process, built in an intense interaction with artists and exhibitions. I remember that I focused a lot on this issue from Arte/Cidade (1994-1997), in one of my first installations, but also in the documentaries and special projects that I directed for this project. [Arte/Cidade was a project that took place in São Paulo in three editions between 1994 and 2002, supported by SESC and curated by Nelson Brissac Peixoto. Arte Cidade assumed the complex and dynamic space of the contemporary metropolis as a starting point for unusual artistic interventions, in operations that questioned the status and conventional procedures of art, architecture and urbanism.] And there was a lot of talk about urban intervention as an affirmation of a thought applied to a somewhat frayed, abandoned and questioned urban context, in areas seen as degraded and violent, such as Barra Funda—where I live today. So, “intervening” seemed to be a form of power given to the artist, as if endowed with superior knowledge.
Years later, we began to discuss the idea of intervention in more depth, as something that should necessarily be negotiated with the environments and with greater listening to the communities involved. And I think this is what prevails for me to this day: the artist, to intervene, has to listen a lot. He has to engage in a deeper understanding of what exists around him. In other words, we have to ask ourselves whether an environment that is affected by the intervention wants to be intervened. And this takes us to a political field, for me, much more relevant than that of the intervention of artists who want to assert an aesthetic, a work, an individual artistic thought.
Because in this other, less egocentric way of thinking, it is listening to the community that counts, as a process and as an expression. And there are several ways to do this listening: on the part of the artist, on the part of public authorities, on the part of instruments that can enhance common expression. And this idea of intervention can actually be bigger and more powerful than some buzzwords suggest. In fact, I believe that it is the singularity of the parts of a crowd that perhaps transforms into the power of that crowd. In this sense, I think it is interesting to think that politics must also be formed by sensitivities, by sensitive differences. In other words, we are talking about a symbolic production that meets the individual and a more clearly political collective need. So, the intervention, even when it is less explicitly artistic, it also has to be strategic and attentive, in the sense of taking into account this production of subjectivity that exists in the context where there will be intervention, and also in the context of those involved, those who presume to intervene.
I agree with the development of the idea of intervention that you bring, which goes from a perhaps more heroic and romantic level of the artist as a genius-author who controls almost everything to something more procedural and relational, that encompasses different processes, sensibilities and subjectivities placed in an equation. I take advantage of this hook to go into your most recent productions that I think can somehow exemplify this stance and care, in negotiating contexts of certain urgency and invisibilities. I wanted to ask you about your film “Lavra,” which I understand to be the nucleus from which your current exhibition at MAC USP originates. What was the film’s conception and production process like?
“Lavra” emerged more or less in a transversal way to this idea of intervention and listening. In December 2015, I met with a writer and screenwriter friend in Belo Horizonte, Christiane Tassis, and we talked about doing something about the Mariana [Dam] disaster, as we were outraged by the facts. But what to do? Immediately, a work of art remains on a very small circuit, unless it is made by a big name in contemporary art or the world of entertainment. The effects a work of art from an artist like me can reach may face certain barriers, it tends to dialogue with a more restricted audience in a gallery, or even in a museum or institutional space. So the idea was to create a documentary, a film that supposedly uses a pre-existing circuit, which can be quite broad in some cases. And at that time, in 2015, the entire structure of supporting funds for the sector was OK and Ancine (National Agency of Cinema) had not yet been dismantled; there were still circulation structures for cinema in a more accessible way, even for low-budget films.
So the film was made with the idea of bringing this troubling subject to a broader discussion. It was also something natural for me, as I had already made three feature films with a documentary nature. So, continuing to make films seemed like a great prospect at the time. Because sometimes contemporary art leads to a retreat. Not that it’s very different in its making, but the film has a life of its own, it continues to exist regardless of your actions. This perspective adds to a certain frustration in producing works of art that are shown only once; site-specific works that are shown in a single condition. Or even installations, sometimes, that involve some technological structure that you cannot easily repeat, because they require a lot of negotiations, with programming, development, maintenance, cooperation between areas and other exhaustive care. And it demands goodwill on the part of institutions in dealing with technologically unstable art.
Well, going back to “Lavra,” it was created just over a month after the Mariana tragedy, and the idea was to create a way of leading the viewer “by the hand,” to make them follow the reasoning about the damage caused by mining. The idea was always to make a route film, a road movie with a voice-over narration in which a lot of things which are said and suggested enhance what we see in the images. The project was included in a notice from Ancine, produced by a company from Minas Gerais (by artist Éder Santos), with a tacit understanding that the film could be at the same time a sensitive work, in a format for cinema that dealt with cinematic experiments, with nuances of literary creation. In “Lavra” we deal a lot with the character’s idea of belonging, a woman who gradually becomes involved with community issues because she feels, little by little and progressively, an intrinsic part of it. And for this, a whole syntax was adopted relating to the character’s journey, which appears only as a subjective camera at first, and we follow the definition of her own image. In other words, she composes herself and develops throughout the film. The film also brings some essayistic visual layers, portraying landscapes in a non-diegetic way, in addition to evoking thoughts with more philosophical nuances, which may sound like a provocation in relation to spectators who go to big cinemas expecting a more pamphlet documentary or a feature film of easier digestion.
But it happened that throughout its production process, the cinema structure in Brazil was being dismantled and the film found a very barren terrain upon its release. Yet, “Lavra” was invited to very important festivals, achieved good circulation in exhibitions and continues to be in great demand to this day. And so, contrary to the expectations of a heated circuit, we circulate with it in a somewhat isolated way. I go wherever they want a debate to take place and I have been investing my own resources in these actions. So, as they say, “We are going where the people are,” where there is the prospect of meeting and discussion.
On the other hand, the “Solastalgia” exhibition-installation is a parallel project. The title is a figure of speech, a neologism that began to appear in academic papers on the environment from 2005 onwards. The term appears in the film “Lavra,” associated with a situation of visual tragedy, something you notice immediately in certain sequences of images. If “Lavra” is more of a team process, “Solastalgia” was a very individual, even solitary, process of thinking about this condition of the disappearance of the surroundings. I see a certain paradox in the definition: The subject does not leave the place, but the place leaves the subject. The place transforms itself in a very drastic way and changes for the worse. As a work, “Solastalgia” was configured as an exhibition made up of several installation elements, which also enter in dialogue with another public in the museum, which are typically “passing through” motivated to see other modern art exhibitions and who come across this installation—which has something of a spatial rehearsal too. Many people have been captured by the idea of “Solastalgia” and come back to me commenting on the awareness that the work has brought in relation to the environment. So, “Lavra” and “Solastalgia” meet at some point, both works have images and impulses in common but with different techniques, languages and procedures.
The crime committed by the mining company Vale that resulted in the collapse of the dam in Mariana and the consequences throughout the territory was one of the biggest environmental offenses we have heard about in relation to mining, with global media coverage, I would say, falling short of the real impact. Vale has been carrying out a major campaign to improve its image, with cultural projects, marketing support and a lot of advertising, but in the courts it has sought to minimize the impact of crime on its profit margins as much as possible. What was it like for you to deal with a catastrophic and criminal issue like this, and during a radicalized and retrograde political period like the one we are experiencing and which also impacts this mining sector with flexibility? How did you make the idea viable? With local or international funds?
In the plot we sought to review the mining route, as if taking a reverse path to the cycle of extractivism in Minas Gerais, starting from this last incident, which was Mariana, on the Rio Doce, and returning along a path through the iron quadrangle, through the Serra do Cipó, Serro region until reaching Diamantina, the site of the first diamond exploration cycle in Brazil. The idea was to have the circulation structure typical of cinema, with the expectation that, once completed, it would be able to take advantage of the circuit of rooms and suitable projection spaces. But this did not materialize, given the rapid dismantling of public development structures from 2016 onwards, which I have already mentioned. So, we started circulating the film in a very precarious way.
At the moment I’m commenting on your question, I’m in the interior of Minas Gerais, fourteen kilometers [8.7 miles] from Aiuruoca near the Matutu valley, where we’re going to show “Lavra” at Curupira Café da Floresta, in an outdoor session for around fifty, maybe sixty people. I brought the projector myself. I’m here with a very large white sheet and my computer, preparing this projection. There is a desire from the community and activists here in the region to discuss the imminent mining in the region, a wonderful environment in natural, economic and cultural terms. Here there is an economy that works very well, with stunning mountains, waterfalls, the highest river sources in Brazil, a part of the Atlantic Forest still intact and there is an entire local production of olive oil, wines, cachaça, beer, corn, trout and organic products, both as an income generator and for local consumption, and which fuels the best quality ecotourism. It is a region that does not need mining, but companies and mining ventures are starting to enter. So, from “Lavra,” we will discuss mining in regions like this. And the film has an aggregating function, it acts as a kind of tool for anti-mining movements—or to discuss other possible mining models. That’s why I want to think about cinema in this way in relation to contemporary art, because often a work of contemporary art cannot move in this way. It can’t go where the people are (using Milton Nascimento’s words). The arts have several mediums that sometimes allow this, and cinema and video are one of them.
You point to cinema and its circuits as a way of expanding access to critical issues that interest us (the Italian phrase “Il cinema è l’arma più forte” comes to my mind). At the same time that cinema has its spatio-temporal limitations, the exhibition environment provides another temporal and spatial context for enjoyment. In this sense, the survival of the work can be ensured in some way by moving across multiple fields. But still, we are faced with institutional structures with which we must negotiate. Speculatively, I ask you: could we think about how these qualities of time, space and access could be combined in a public and urban space? Here I try to align the ideas of intervention, the public sphere and the production and circulation systems with which we deal.
So, dealing with circulation and its deficiencies or the “average” insertion that an artist like me has in the arts circuit ends up demanding that we unfold and try to reach, with other voices and languages, a larger audience. In other words, it is a recognition of certain scope limitations given the urgency of each case. I know how much the level of recognition or influence of some artists allows them to speak to a lot of people. We can think about the great institutions and exhibitions that dialogue with millions of people, many tourists, all interested… But I ask myself: am I on this path? Am I walking this path? No, I’m not looking for that. I am looking for a dialogue through the means I have access to.
I think we end up having to look for new places, instruments and tools to speak and express ourselves. In other words, a curiosity, an urgency, a restlessness that leads to exploring other means. Cinema has always been a medium with which I have a dialogue. Right from the start, in the early 1990s, I identified with the discourse of the alternative medium: I don’t seek to “make cinema,” I want to be able to work between the lines, envisioning the freedom of video art. In the hierarchy of definitions, a well-known phrase by Humberto Mauro hovered in the air: “Cinema is a waterfall, video is a cascade.” Because video was really seen as something smaller: It’s electronic, a small screen, it doesn’t have the power of large projections. But everything changed a lot and the circuit ended up absorbing this technology and enhancing it. I made my first feature film at the same time that Cao Guimarães was also making it (in co-direction), and in common we used a practice, a modus operandi that was very typical of alternative media, super-8, video, a production kitchen, the garage. It’s not a big cinema, it’s a cinema/garage band, which plays there with the acoustics possible within an improvisation space…
…a garage that houses demands and urgencies, that calls for great courage, in a cycle that perhaps echoes the initiative of the garage newspaper created by your father during the Brazilian civic-military dictatorship. Well, finally, could you talk about the installation at MAC USP? While cinema allows access to larger audiences, it requires more expensive infrastructure. Art, in turn, ends up being a medium with perhaps a smaller audience, but which often allows projects with fewer resources to come to fruition. In the case of the show at MAC USP, what was it like translating the film experience into the exhibition space?
“Solastalgia” and “Lavra” address a concern with two philosophical ramifications: topophilia and solastalgia. I had a great conversation with José Miguel Wisnik [specialist on the writer Carlos Drummond de Andrade] and he told me how close Drummond’s feelings are to the term, Solastalgia, which still doesn’t exist. Because when Drummond sees the Cauê peak being removed from in front of his house… he is in the same place but it is the mountain that disappears; it is the landscape that has disappeared. Topophilia is more about people having to move around. “Lavra” is more about people moving. Thus, “Solastalgia” is a thought that the environment transforms, changes for the worse, in a very fast space of time. So, in fact, it was not a translation of the film into the exhibition space, but rather a migration of some elements that are philosophical details of the film.
The exhibition space I wanted for “Solastalgia” was a large one, with a high ceiling. For example, I was interested in the installation having a more sensorial scale than what we have today in most cinemas—or when the spectator himself is positioned very far from the screen. This scale of the image is especially important because the installation involves craters, permanence and duration. It involves being there in front of something that can generate an almost abyss, the astonishment when you are in front of a crater, a giant field of devastation. The individual disappears in this landscape, in front of trucks whose tire is two, or three times the size of a person. The trucks themselves disappear in this image. So, I wanted to reproduce this amazement, an uncomfortable amazement, of those who witnessed this devastated landscape. The MAC USP has a very low ceiling, so it was a bit of a struggle with the space to be able to place the screen from the floor to the ceiling, and expand the proportion of the screens toward the sides and play with other elements within the space. It wasn’t easy, but it yielded a result that I consider excellent, taking into account a certain economy with the elements in the general set of the exhibition, allowing a distance between one element and another. The museum was generous in providing the space and provided Fernanda Pitta with very careful curatorial support.
And thinking about the questions that originated the works, we are carrying out several activations of the exhibition with the screening of the film, debates, conversation circles and a musical performance in front of the images. So this has broadened the audience and the central question has expanded to other fields. I think the installation and the film complement each other very well. And besides being a pleasant challenge to work on this translation from one language to another, these borders end up becoming a very powerful possibility given the setbacks and extreme difficulties we face, whether due to the last governments, the pandemic, or the few opportunities we have as artists, we need to provide continuity and in-depth to the research that matters.
“Solastalgia, by Lucas Bambozzi” is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of São Paulo, Avenida Pedro Álvares Cabral, 1301, São Paulo through October 1.