Representing mental illness

Note: if you don’t want to get personal, just don’t read this.

Mental health issues are always difficult to approach, be it in sociological or artistic terms. Both as a student and as a teacher, not a year goes by without crossing paths with photographic narratives that aim at questioning the stigma befalling the mental health issues. It’s true, they usually fail at it. Usually a student claims to know about depression and wants to represent it or someone in the family has a mental illness and they want to document its impact on their relationships. Why do they usually fail? Although I don’t have an answer for it, I think there’s always some truth in such failures. Maybe the problem has to do with representational schemes and how our artistic immaturity sometimes leads us to approach photography as if it were an illustration device. But maybe the core of the problem lies somewhere else: in our general disregard for things we cannot see?

Ten years ago I spent a month in a mental hospital. Every time I say that out loud one of two things happen: either a silence follows or “the issue” is avoid. As I see it, these are good indications of how we, as a society, keep ignoring our mental struggles. Let’s face it: there’s a huge stigma around it because mental illness (for the majority of people) equals weakness. In that sense, men have it even worse, because they used to be seen as the providers. It’s the same with alcoholism: most people address it as a failure, a weakness, not as a disease (I remember a particular debate in Britain that got a lot of attention back in 2012; there’s also this brilliant post by Pete Brook).

People who claim to have “a scientific mind” tend to be the first to cast unfortunate judgments upon those who suffer from such problems. Yes, I know this too well. Families also struggle with everything, being that this “everything” can be summed up in the way they deny language altogether: not saying the name of the illness; not saying words like “mental hospital”, etc, etc. The stigma also underestimates the impact of mental illnesses, but what it is most likely to do is ignore the problem all together. It’s as if the suffering, the anguish, the hallucinations, etc., weren’t proof enough of the existence of something like an illness. It’s as if people were expecting to see physical traces of it: some blood, some swelling, some skirmishes, who knows? For instances, when I entered the hospital I was already incontinent, had lost too much weight and had mobility problems. Do they count as symptoms? They do, of course, but still “the scientific minds” like to relate them to specific deficits (vitamins, for example), managing to ignore the core of the problem, once again.

Being that I was studying photography at the time, over the years that followed that summer I often thought about how to represent that experience, meaning: how to represent the profound struggle with myself and others that had led me to that hospital. I know now I was asking the wrong question, for that struggle is not representable and what can be transferred to the aesthetic dimension is something of a different order; it is transient, abstract, it’s about shape and color, not semiotic language.

David Nebreda, Après huit séances d’incisions sur la poitrine et les épaules, il atteint à une certaine tranquillité, l´hommage et le tribut étant alors accomplish, 29-7-1989.
© David Nebreda, Après huit séances d’incisions sur la poitrine et les épaules, il atteint à une certaine tranquillité, l´hommage et le tribut étant alors accomplish, 29-7-1989.

For example, we could consider the above photograph by David Nebreda (yes, I know, him again) as an illustration of how mental illness impacts the human body and how one could represent that. I know a lot of people already think Nebreda’s work is about his schizophrenia, but I couldn’t disagree more. It’s not about HIS mental illness, HIS schizophrenia, but about something that is universally understood as suffering, particularly about the space between disappearance and presence, about the struggle to exist, in all its plenitude: exist! It is about vitality, originality, presence, dynamics. As I see it, what makes his way of doing authentic is its truth, and this truth (of an ethical nature) is present as an aesthetic quality. 

© Sofia Silva, 'Three Entrances', from the project 'The Orchestra', 2011
© Sofia Silva, Three Entrances, from the project The Orchestra, 2011.

When I was asking the wrong question I did the photograph above. Although I see some truth in it, I recognize it fails as an expression of the state of transformation I was trying to allude to. I think for an artist (or an image-maker) finding a language of his/her own is the most difficult of things. And that language, that style, that expression needs only follow one star: truth. I’m not talking about “being true to oneself” or about “truthfulness” in a pure ethical way but, instead, truth as an aesthetic dimension. I guess that sums up my definition of authenticity: truth as as aesthetic quality…

A new pair of eyes

Extreme fatigue can change your perspective on things, but so can euphoria and melancholia. I guess our perception on what is or is not part of our conceptualized reality is heavily influenced by our biological and psychological conditions. Having said that, most of the so called altered states of perception tend to be transient, not defining the way we go about life.

As 2017 approached, I found myself experiencing a sort of change that may well be of a different kind. After spending nearly three months in a state of extreme tiredness, I’m now ready for a new chapter and what is most surprising about finally taking a break and spending some days away from work is that my perspective on reality is going through a deep change. It’s as though a new sense of pleasure is changing the way things look, smell and feel. For example a bird, the sort of animal I’ve never used to pay much attention before, is now a source of delight. 

Now back at work and seeing the daily news, everything seems too distant, as if my concept of reality got reduced to a very small circle that comprises only those who are near to me, as well as my beliefs, dreams and responsibilities. This is obviously troubling in many different aspects: 1) for once, the events happening all around the world seem to be reallocated to a fictional dimension. Such a feeling is unsettling, not only because it questions my social identity, but also because it makes it hard to think about the historical, political, economic and social dimensions that tend to define one’s place in the world. Trump’s existence, per se, seems improbable – see the problem?; 2) but this also brings a new light on my nearest environment, highlighting different spaces of affirmative action, as if suddenly a new giant field of possibilities has just opened.

Writing a thesis is a crazy lonely process that I wouldn’t want to repeat. Although it is rewarding in many different aspects, it can also bring about a way of thinking about things that is (too) disconnected from others’ reality and a clash may well settle in once that scheme of logic starts to lose its ground. Now coming back to social media and going through some general discussions about photography and the visual field, I struggle to adapt to this “new pair of eyes”.

Take for example this news from The Guardian about a photographer who captured images of unknown Amazonian tribe. Do people think it is acceptable that curiosity drives our decision making process? On The Guardian, one journalist says that Brazilian photographer Ricardo Stuckert had “a moment of luck” when his flight took a detour and he spotted this tribe. The same news also quotes the author saying “I thought, ‘You have to photograph this, it has to be preserved’.” But what exactly does this sort of imagery help preserve? Really, how does this approach contributes to an antropological study about “their way of being”?

© Ricardo Stuckert.
© Ricardo Stuckert, 2016.

In another article, a multimedia journalist named Dan Collyns calls Struckert’s photographs remarkable and then goes one to recount his own experience with indigenous people, letting us know how Peru’s official policy of “no contact” has been able to protect and cushion tribes like the one shown in Stuckert’s photographs. But can we, on the one hand, promote this “no contact”/”no invasion” policy and, on the other hand, promote this sort of imagery? How is Stuckert’s decision to make these photos public not an act of exploitation?

When I read on the news that the photographer accidentally stumblled on these photographs I can’t help but laugh and remember the sort of excuses lovers often give one another to avoid confrontation. He may have spotted the event by chance, but everything else after that is product of his conscious choices, not randomness. Did he have to show the images? Do we need to see them? Should we promote the idea that young photographs should go out and photograph people in their private lives?

But besides me having a difficulty in understanding why no one questions the need to make these photographs public, what this new pair of eyes struggle most is with the hundreds of journalists calling the photographs spectacular, as if there was something absolutely new in the photographs, as if the world had just waken up to another way of living…

≡ Sebastião Salgado by Wim Winders: does it matter if we cry? ≡

ff445202-c619-45cd-9960-34b01f2e2dec© Sebastião Salgado, part of Mondrel Media press kit.

ff445202-c619-45cd-996t0-34b01f2e2dec© Sebastião Salgado, part of Mondrel Media press kit.

The Salt of the Earth (‘Le sel de la terre’/’O sal da terra’) is a documentary by WIM WENDERS and JULIANO RIBEIRO SALGADO about the brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Sebastião’s work for the past 40 years or so has shined a light on human condition, as he traveled all over the world witnessing dramatic events, such as global warming, devastation, starvation, war, working conditions and exodus.

In the documentary, in the role of the narrator, Wenders tells how filming a photographer is not like portraying anyone else:

“I learned one thing: having a photographer in front of your camera is very different from filming anybody else. He will not just be there and act like himself, so to speak. No. By profession, he reacts and responds using his weapon of choice, his photo-camera. And then shoots back.”

In the Mongrel Media press kit both directors are interviewed and Juliano, Salgado’s oldest son, is confronted with the alleged ‘inauthentic beauty’ of his father’s work:

Interviewer: Susan Sontag spoke of the “inauthenticity of the beautiful” in Salgado’s work. How do you respond to that?

Juliano: There are two aspects to Sontag’s reproach: the supposed fascination with poverty – or death, in fact – that the photographer felt, and the fact that the subjects are not identified, unlike the photographer, who is revered at their expense. In her critique, Sontag also denounces the cynicism of the media that commission and publish these photographs. I think it’s very unfair to associate Salgado with all that. He would spend several weeks, even several months in countries that were often torn apart, which he was drawn to by his urge to bear testimony. He needs to create a relationship with the person he’s going to photograph, and says that it is the subject who ends up “giving” him the photo. The emotion, the empathy guide him. I think that comes across very well in the film.

87b70cc1-e55d-436b-a91b-c62974884b95© Sebastião Salgado, part of Mondrel Media press kit.

5f3a1cca-7745-4873-a22a-0c5617124564© Sebastião Salgado, part of Mondrel Media press kit.

Curiously enough, the documentary accentuates the status of Salgado as author, rather than as witness. I see the beauty, not the brutality, nor even the grotesque aspect of that beauty. He has such an accentuated style that it takes over the subjects. The people, the animals, the nature and the events depicted in his photographs aren’t brought to life in film, which could help understand them as part of OUR reality and not only as part of Salgado’s two-dimensional universe. I can understand that the way these pictures got to be known is not entirely his responsibility. Nevertheless, the aspect I always disliked the most is: the prints, namely their tone, contrast and hyper-silver-like quality (even if he is not behind the enlarger or the printer). In the press kit already mentioned, the interviewer also asks Wenders about the beautification of tragedy in Salgado’s work. Wenders’s answer couldn’t be any clearer:

Interviewer: Did you encourage him to comment on his photographs by taking him back to the time and place where they were taken? A Brazilian gold mine, famine in the Sahel, the genocide in Rwanda, and so on. They are, for the most part, tragic images. Did you ever find them “too beautiful”, as some have reproached him?

Wenders: In the “dark room”, we ran through Sebastião’s entire photographic oeuvre, more or less in chronological order, for a good week. It was very difficult for him – and for us too behind the camera – because some of the accounts and journeys are deeply disturbing, and a few are genuinely chilling. Sebastião felt as if he was returning to these places, and for us, these internal journeys «to the heart of darkness» were also overwhelming. Sometimes we’d stop and I had to go out for a walk to get a bit of distance on what I’d just seen and heard. As for the question of whether his photographs are too beautiful, or too aestheticized, I totally disagree with those criticisms. When you photograph poverty and suffering, you have to give a certain dignity to your subject, and avoid slipping into voyeurism. It’s not easy. It can only be achieved on condition that you develop a good rapport with the people in front of the lens, and you really get inside their lives and their situation. Very few photographers manage this.

The majority of them arrive somewhere, fire off a few photographs, and get out. Sebastião doesn’t work like that. He spends time with the people he photographs to understand their situation, he lives with them, he sympathizes with them, and he shares their lives as far as possible. And he feels empathy for them. He does this job for the people, in order to give them a voice. Pictures snapped on the hoof and photographed in a “documentary” style cannot convey the same things. The more you find the right way to convey a situation in a convincing way, the closer you come to a language which corresponds to what you’re illustrating and to the subject in front of you, the more you make a real effort to obtain a “good photo”, and the more you give nobility to your subject and make it stand out. I think that Sebastião offered real dignity to all those people who found themselves in front of his lens. His photographs aren’t about him, but about all those people!

sebastiao salgado-caceria© Sebastião Salgado, Tutsis, Ruanda, 1994/5.

Roughly one hour through the documentary and regarding the Exodus project (1993-1999), we see how Salgado has a special relation to Africa. In 1994 he goes to Ruanda to document the genocide – the massive killing of Tutsis. The image above grabbed my attention. While it stays on screen, Salgado speaks about the enormous amount of death people found along the roads and he claims (my translation): “There and then I understood the magnitude of the catastrophe I was living in. A genocide was underway in that country.

If I cry hearing Saldago’s description of the tragedies he witnessed in Ruanda is not because of his photographs but because he is living proof of such events and our humanity. That is what I admire about Salgado: having a nomadic, adventurous and activist spirit. His photographs can’t account for the conflicts in Ruanda, Mali or Congo. They’re too dynamic, too alive, they don’t fit into photographs without corrupting the nature of the events depicted. I’ll give him that. I may cry, as I often do when I hear about other world events, but how far can this empathic feeling go?

⁞ From the mountains to the sea: a conversation with Márcio Vilela ⁞

This conversation took place in July 2014, over the virtual space of Lisbon and Brazil. The original, portuguese version, of this conversation, can be seen HERE.

Sofia: This conversation is driven by your recent book featuring the work done in Azores. I have a few questions about the images, but I’ll pose them later on. For now, what intrigues me is the object-book, namely your options regarding the fabrication, production and distribution of the book. Before I go into more specific questions, can you give us an idea of the reasons behind such choices?

Márcio: In my projects I always try to leave behind an object that speaks about the creative process. In Mono there was the box of Polaroides, accounting for the two years of production, in another project I’m currently working on it’s a transfers notebook… it’s always like this, there’s always something that stays.
I’ve always wanted to make a book, but had never manage to reach a successful compromise between the personal and manual labor of such objects and an industrially printed book. I then started to research an object that could be made by hand, like a book… and look like it was handmade.
I’m the one doing the printing, using the same method (inkjet) I use when doing the exhibit prints, this time in a continuous 5m print. This wouldn’t be possible in a Print Shop, the book would have to be bound with glue. The book’s cover is made on wooden paper, cut with its specific measures. I spent a lot of time searching for this paper, it had to be something really special. The inscriptions on the cover and the back (‘Azores’ and the map of São Miguel) are handmade, by transferring a pigment (a process I also use in other works).
The book is inside a card box which is also handmade. I wanted whoever opened the box to feel like he/she was being gifted something special, I wanted them to feel that what is inside is a part of me and it is unique.
Inside the book there is a text by Eder Chiodetto and an extra print that is not part of the exhibition of the series Azores. This extra print tells the story of what I went through during those 4 weeks in São Miguel, the extreme beauty, the freedom, the loneliness and the fear… a powerful mix of emotions. Eder’s text is beautiful, a result of conversations we had about such emotions. I think he was able to account for things I had felt, before I had thought about them.
Since it is a very limited edition, 100 copies, the distribution is also made by hand. People come to me to get the books, we talk, it’s all personal. There will be no mass distribution of the book. Besides myself, only three places will be selling copies: Photo Book Korner and Carpe Diem, in Lisbon, and Madalena’s bookstore in São Paulo. Meanwhile there are no more than 10 copies in these places. I really want people to come to me.

Sofia: Are you the one doing the handwork?

Márcio: Not anymore… in the beginning I chose the materials, the model, the box, everything. After that I asked a designer, Joana Durães, for help with the layout of the pages. As soon as the process was tuned, I started on the final books but it was taking me an entire day to finish each copy and at such a pace the project would never be over. So I decided to speak to Luís Rendeiro, in Tomar, in order for him to help me. He folds and cuts the 5m prints, and he also does the boxes, all by hand.
I then bring everything to my studio in Lisbon and finish the process, do the transfers, print and cut the extra image that comes with the book, fold in the text booklet, sign and number everything. Then I put it inside the box and it’s done.

Sofia: And why the preference for the handmade process over the industrial one? Are those options a result of an emotional connection, of an idea on ‘affective labor’ or is it a way to enhance the product with qualities than potentiate its economic value, such as singularity, rarity, amongst other things?

Márcio: It’s only a very strong emotional process, I’m not sure if the fact that it is made by hand can effectively potentiate the objects’ economic value. I think that happens more naturally because of the content and the way things develop inside a book, than because of its materials and its fabrication process. Besides, the exchange value of the book is relatively low, close to the production costs. My interest here was to move from the objects I used to make to a book, with losing control over the manual aspect of things.

Sofia: I think the value of a book, as with almost everything else, is greatly dependent on the nominal value of the author. If you have that authority, everything you produce has its value. But what interests me in this case is that your book is coming at a time when the handmade product is being overvalued, besides being trendy. To my knowledge, this is the result of a process of alienation between author and work that has been escalating since the Industrial Revolution in the XVIII century and is now reaching a peak with the notion of ‘virtual labour’ introduced by all the new technologies. Anyway, my question is: although it is not a strategy, do you care that your emotion connection to the handmade process is translated in an economic value?

Márcio: Yes, I do agree a book can depend, in part, of the author’s nominal value, but I also think the art public is more attentive than we think, people don’t say they like or dislike something based on a signature on the corner of the artwork.
I think the artwork needs to circulate, reach people. Those who can’t afford to do a professional high cost book, do it by hand… in the end what is judged is the consistency of the work.
An artists ruled by trends is a hostage of that strategy, and is always looking for references outside of himself, waiting for the marker’s approval. I always thought a true artists creates because he/she needs to, even without the monetary reward or the recognition… like food for your soul. I know a lot of people like this and have always admire them for it.
In regards to your question, I can say I care about the economic value of my works, but that isn’t a goal.

Azores_06© Márcio Vilela, from the series Azores. Courtesy of the artist.

Azores_05© Márcio Vilela, from the series Azores. Courtesy of the artist.

Sofia: And regarding this project, how do you think the handmade aspect of the book meets the images? I suppose the book wouldn’t lose its meaning if it was made through industrial processes, so in your understanding what does this personalized approach to the object adds to the photographs?

Márcio: These images are relatively big, 120x150cm. When on a wall, the set of these 6 images has a different relation with the spectator, you can have a distant look at them to get an overall perception of the composition but you can also get closer to see the details… but it ends up being an object with a very strong presence.
I think this book would lose its sense if made by industrial processes, I’m addressing this book in particular. I’m not sure if it’s the object-book that adds something to the photographs or the other way around, maybe in the end they are one unique thing.
The relation one establishes with the book is very different from that one establishes with the image on a gallery wall, it is more personal. When we hold a manufactures object on our hands that relation is even more intimate, there is the notion that the thing we’re holding is delicate, that we need to hold it with care, that it needs time to be looked at. This time, this wait, they are important.
For me this book brings very strong sensorial experiences, there are the different textures of the papers, the smell of the cardboard… with careful attention we can also smell the solvent used in the pigment transference. It is an object one keeps rediscovering and that only strengthens that affective relationship I’ve been talking about.

Sofia: That’s why I mention alienation, because the great majority of people create more immediate empathies with objects in which the extension of the author’s body is easily recognizable, but I don’t think that empathy is more or less natural than any other (I don’t support the essentialist discourse), rather it is a reaction to a sincere discourse and that sincerity can manifest itself either in manufactured or industrial discourses. As a spectator, how are you, do you also create empathy with artworks in which you recognize the author’s footprint, or is that irrelevant?

Márcio: Certainly there’s an expectation when I go and see the work of someone I really like, be it a cinematographer, a plastic artist, a musician… I’m always curious and open to absorbing that experience. There have been exhibitions where I stayed for over an hour without talking to anyone, or I didn’t want further visual stimuli (as much as possible), I wanted to take it all in very slowly… I’ve spent over an hour sitting on the floor of a dark room at TATE looking at a Da Vinci’s sketch (and they have chairs)… I was stagnant on the floor, couldn’t get that out of my mind. This had happened a few times and some of these experiences have been with author’s I had never before heard about. Being unaware of the author’s footprint has only accentuated that experience, as if I had just discovered a new color.
When I know the artist I’m very emotional in my analyses, I can either enjoy the work very much and end up in a sort of “sensorial blockage” state I mentioned or I can be really disappointed by what I see… really sad, as if they had disappointed me. When I go to see a work I’m not expecting the artist’s success or failure (because sometimes I feel people root against you), I go out looking for a surprise and hoping that such experience can open another door in my mind.

Sofia: It’s curious that photography is precisely the most polarizing medium, its process is profoundly subjective and its presentation tendentiously objective. This seems quite clear in this series: on the one hand you have the installation of the photographs, public, with no anomalies, forcing the spectator to maintain a certain distance in order to contemplate; on the other hand you have the manufactured book that calls out for an intimate sensorial experience. Does this bipolarity between the private and public discourse suit you?

Márcio: It doesn’t bother me, I think they’re different situations. The exhibition is always the presentation of an end result, I like seeing people’s reactions to the artworks, sometimes I pass by a spectator and join a group in order to share that experience. At the Bird Eye View exhibition I even stood by a couple and asked what they thought was the white spot in the middle of the blue image… after thinking for a while they said they thought it was an aeroplane. I told them it was a ship, and suddenly the expressions on their faces changed completely, in that moment the sky was converted in the sea. It was a very special moment for me.
On the other hand, openings always give me a mix of emotions, a part of me is happy because the work is done, another is deeply sad because it is over… In Açores this was very strong.
I’m more interested in the process that in the end result, it’s the experience that counts, to allow myself the failure and the dream.
Regarding the objects I make, as the book Azores, this relation is quite different. The object will last, every time I open it, it is “new”, it ceases to be a memory and becomes something you touch.

backstage MONO_11© Márcio Vilela, from the series Mono. Courtesy of the artist.

backstage MONO_02© Márcio Vilela, from the series Mono. Courtesy of the artist.

Sofia: In reality, photography has always been associated with wandering and you seem particularly drawn to the contrast between the infinitude of the landscape and the limits of the human dimension. For that matter and because your discourse over this conversation has been one of proximity, I’d like to finish with a question I know will be hard to answer but that I find inevitable: what are you looking for?

Márcio: Problems… inevitably I’m always looking for problems. Not in terms of difficulties, confusions or suffering, mas in terms of challenges that are on the verge of being impossible. I get bored very easily and routine has a harmful effect on my life, while it comforts me (grants me security and stability) it prevents me from moving on.
It’s funny that you ask this question at this point in my life, because I’m in the middle of big changes, once again. I’m not going to lengthen these stories, nor do I pretend to appear like a fearless and detached human being… which I’m not.
In 2002 I was in an extremely comfortable position in Brazil. I was finishing the third year of my studies in Veterinary Medicine, with a stable emotional and financial life, I had many friends and my family close to me. It as a perfect scenery for someone wanting to be “someone”… that thing that frightens our parents to death: the possibility of us not succeeding. I wasn’t unhappy, but was tremendously bored and annoyed. The “happiness pack” was right there, but there was something missing… I needed to break the routine. “Still water rots”, my brother used to tell me. He has total influence in my decisions regarding art.
When I discovered photography, in 2001, was as if I was discovering the world once again. Instead of “discovering a color”, I felt I had been seeing the world in black and white… it was overwhelming, out of control. So profound that in less than a year I had packed two suitcases and was at my hometown’s airport, in Recife, on my way to Tomar… I knew they had a graduate course in Photography and not much else.
Time in Tomar was very harsh, though also very productive, I learned a lot.
Being detached brought me here. In Recife the weather was good, there was the beach, friends, financial freedom, and an “eternal” love… but so what?!
I mentioned your question is very pertinent in this moment for the same reason, because I’m bored again… extremely accommodated and bored. I’ve been teaching photography for the past 8 years, I love classes, but it’s taking up all the time and mental capacity that I have, even if it is also a great comfort. I am “someone”, a graduate school teacher. I know that on the 23rd of each month there’s this salve alleviates the pain and calms the tedium. It’s like “I have a car to go to work to pay my car”, or something like that. So I’m out, I won’t be teaching anymore.
I love to teach, I feel alive when I’m inside the classroom with my students, but all the extra-curricular problems kill me. I decided to become “no one”, I decided to be what I’ve always wanted but had never had the corage to fully become… an artist. When I’m involved with my projects there is never boredom, there’s never anxiety…
I think this constant dissatisfaction is the result of an extremely boring childhood, spent inside an apartment with few friends and little to do besides the daily suffering at school… I’ve sort of always been a terrible student. That only changed in Tomar, when I started studying what I really liked, that’s when I discovered that the secret to success is to be doing what one enjoys, I’ll never let anyone take that away from me again.
This sense of boredom is very noticeable on my work, everything that seems too easy causes my disinterest. This raises several problems, either financial or emotional. During the residency in Azores that was very simple, I would have four weeks to photograph and enjoy the island… to work and to relax at the same time. Of course I had to make things harder for myself, so I woke up early every day and coursed through the island from one side to the other without stopping, eating sandwiches and chocolate milk from Azores. I worked till nightfall, went to extremely remote places, always on my one, I took full advantage of the power a Jipe gives to be transported from point A to point B… drove into roads where there could have be no way out. I went up, down, then reversed… There was no music in the car, no travel companion. There was the silence, an eternal silence I had never experienced before… I went looking for the mountains and the cows, people simply weren’t around. I felt like coursing through a deserted island most of the time. When I returned home at the end of the day there was no one to share the adventures of the day with. It might seem strange, but I met no one in the island, I kept outside, on my one… maybe due to a social inability, lack of time for it… I’m not sure.
It’s obvious this has caused me physical problems and by the end of the third week I was taken to the emergency room in São Miguel during the night, I must have been dehydrated, hypoglycaemic… in chock even. My body was simply refusing to continue… I was on serum for hours. That day I had reached my physical limit, the landscape had literally crushed me. After spending two days at home resting I started it all over. I can’t do it differently.
The other day I was talking with Daniel Blaukfus about chess and I was telling him how boring it was to play against me because I had a suicide strategy when playing games. In jest he answered I had a suicide approach at life. I smiled, I take it as a compliment, specially coming from a friend.
I don’t think of myself as a strong person because of these things, on the contrary, my body gives me clear signs when I cross the line, but at the same time that’s what makes me wanting to be “here”.
In another recent event, this modus operandi has led me to a big discussion with a great friend and curator, Lourenço Egreja. He invited me to an artistic residency in Berlengas, the idea was to stay in the island for a period of ten days producing work in the archipelago, working and relaxing once again. This time I took the project to an extreme, I simply decided not to stay in the island… “I’ll get out of there”, I thought. I bought a life raft, one of those you throw at the sea when a ship sinks and is automatically inflated. I’ll turn myself into a voluntary castaway, stay adrift in the sea till one day I reach land… always alone. The scale of this project caused him to worry a lot, understandably, no one wants to feel responsible for the death of a friend… that was the base for the discussion: “It is my decision, you can’t stop me”, on the one hand, and “I won’t let you do that, I don’t want you to die”, on the other. It’s hard to hear a friend saying “you can’t stop me”. I’m deeply sorry that I cause this sort of anguish on people… but I can’t avoid it, I do it because I need to… I will do it. There’s a curiousity that makes me move forward anyway, when I make a decision it’s almost impossible to stop me. When I decided to come to Portugal it was the same thing, “you can’t stop me”… and here I am.
A very good friend from Germany, Jessica Lennan, once called me a “trouble maker”… I loved it, we laughed a lot about it. This is it, I like to go looking for problems for me to solve, I think that’s what I’m looking for. As if this problems were mazes invented by me… there is always a way out, I know there is. This is what drives me, no matter how difficult it is I know there is always a way out of there. This is why, going back to your question, I think I’m looking for a way to dream freely… and dreaming causes this problems.

Sofia: Thank you for being so prompt and willing to make yourself known and to expose your strengths and fragilities. Thanks for this conversation. All the best with the drift away project, no doubt you will succeed, as much in the more immediate dimension of breaking with the daily routine and go out on a limb, as in the spiritual dimension. One day, in a PhD class where we were discussing that same old question of how to define ‘art’ a colleague suggest that an artist is a ‘problem solver’… I suspect you can identify with such description.
See you soon, Márcio.

┐ Rafael Lage – tupi or not tupi └

Rafael is documenting the life and struggle of street artisans in Brazil and mapping contemporary nomadic culture. To know more about his project and support it go here

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I am only interested in what’s not mine. The law of men. The law of the cannibal.

We are tired of all those suspicious Catholic husbands in plays. Freud finished off the enigma of woman and the other recent psychological seers.

What dominated over truth was clothing, an impermeable layer between the interior world and the exterior world. Reaction against people in clothes. The American cinema will tell us about this.

The spirit refuses to conceive spirit without body. Anthropomorphism. Necessity of cannibalistic vaccine. For proper balance against the religions of the meridian. And exterior inquisitions.

We can only be present to the hearing world.

We had the right codification of vengeance. The codified science of Magic. Cannibalism. For the permanent transformation of taboo into totem.

Against the reversible world and objectified ideas. Made into cadavers. The halt of dynamic thinking. The individual a victim of the system. Source of classic injustices. Of romantic injustices. And the forgetfulness of interior conquests.

Screenplays. Screenplays. Screenplays. Screenplays. Screenplays. Screenplays. Screenplays.

Against Memory the source of habit. Renewed for personal experience.

We are concrete. We take account of ideas, we react, we burn people in the public squares. We suppress ideas and other kinds of paralysis. Through screenplays. To believe in our signs, to believe in our instruments and our stars.

Against Goethe, against the mother of the Gracos, and the Court of Don Juan VI.

Happiness is the real proof.

The struggle between what we might call the Uncreated and the Created – illustrated by the permanent contradiction of man and his taboo. Daily love and the capitalist modus vivendi. Cannibalism. Absorption of the sacred enemy. To transform him into a totem. The human adventure. Earthly finality. However, only the pure elite manage to realize carnal cannibalism within, some sense of life, avoiding all the evils Freud identified, those religious evils. What yields nothing is a sublimation of the sexual instinct. It is a thermometric scale of cannibalist instinct. Once carnal, it turns elective and creates friendship. Affectivity, or love. Speculative, science. It deviates and transfers. We arrive at utter vilification. In base cannibalism, our baptized sins agglomerate – envy, usury, calumny, or murder. A plague from the so-called cultured and Christianized, it’s what we are acting against. Cannibals.

excerpts of Manifesto Antropófago/Cannibal Manifesto by OSWALD DE ANDRADE, 1928. full manifesto here

┐ Hélio Oiticica – Be marginal, Be a hero └

megulho do corpo, hélio© Hélio Oiticica, Bólide Caixa  22, Mergulho no Corpo, 1966-1967

oiticica_helio02g© Hélio Oiticica, Parangolé, 1964

Helio-Oiticica-seja-marginal-seja-herói© Hélio Oiticica, Seja Marginal, Seja Herói, 1968

tropicalia© Hélio Oiticica, Tropicália PN 2 and PN3, de 1967

cosmococas© Hélio Oiticica, Cosmococa 5 – Hendrix War

Sorry but I couldn’t find the following text in English and it really is the one presenting the kind of analogy I wanted to call forward. It compares the work of Helio Oiticica with the work of Derek Jarman and it couldn’t be more poignant…

“Caminhando pela exposição de Jarman em 97, chamou-me a atenção a fotografia de 1969 do autor-ator com uma capa, uma cape-dollar, muito similar aos parangolés de Oiticica de 64 em diante. A foto de Jarman data do mesmo ano da famosa exposição de Oiticica na Galeria Whitechapell em Londres. A fotografia denuncia a impossibilidade da repetição da performance (dissolvida ou transformada no instante mesmo da sua aparição), sua unicidade, sua eventualidade, ao constituir-se em um registro em 2º grau, simulacro, verdade frustrada e impossível. De qualquer forma, Jarman está contra um parede de tijolos à vista, num happening com uma das várias capas que fez entre 69 e 71. Trata-se de uma arte que junta restos colhidos do Rio Tâmisa, notas de dólar ou mesmo símbolos alquímicos sobre uma capa transparente. O que nos interessa é a possibilidade de um hyper-texto, não exatamente se Jarman viu a exposição de Oiticica. Provavelmente sim, mas esta não é a questão. A questão é ler um pelo outro, juntar alguns hyper-elementos que os artistas recolheram desde a noção de que a arte pode sair de seu espaço passivo de observação, para um campo performativo de incursão no espaço social, numa ação marginal em relação aos sistemas culturais centrados, ainda que híbridos por formação.

PTV6O que surpreende na fotografia era o design complexo e sua rede de relações: Jarman parece um bispo hippie, que desde a ótica do Oiticica poderia ser lido como uma imensa tropicália. Isto relembra-nos que ambos faziam uma intervenção estética no universo urbano, relacionando a arte com a produção de subjetividades críticas em relação ao mundo capitalista, especialmente no que tange à expressão de uma identidade cultural ou sexual, e que, a despeito desta universalidade, ambos eram leitores de seus micro-territórios, dos seus lugares. (…)

Pode-se pensar a marginalidade como heroísmo em Oiticica e um heroísmo como marginalidade na imagem do mártir queer de Jarman. Com efeito, há entre ambos uma névoa do poeta maudito de Baudelaire. Tal idéia advém de um desdobramento de termos e tempos que Benjamin propõe na leitura de Baudelaire: Baudelaire moldou a imagem do artista de acordo com a imagem do herói. Desde o começo eles se equivalem, num contexto onde há uma fratura crucial entre o poeta e a sociedade. Por que ele não gostava de seu tempo ou por que ele não queria iludir a si mesmo, engendrou várias figuras reativas: Flâneur, Apache, Dandy, Trapeiro. Eles são os simulacros de herói em um palco subitamente esvaziado de atores. Cada um destes personagens vai configurar um relacionamento com o tempo: o anti-movimento diferencial, o alimentar-se dos restos, etc. O heroísmo emerge desta situação paradoxal: frente às ruínas e restos dos sistemas de certeza, frente a transformação da arte em produto e do público em massa, o artista faz da imagem de si uma linguagem de resistência.”

excerpt of Be marginal, be hero: art, identity and gender in Hélio Oiticica and Derek Jarman, by Wladimir Antônio da Costa Garcia. continue reading here

More of Helio’s work here

Helio’s MAJOR exhibition is in Portugal @ CCB until January 6th, 2013

┐ A Curva da Cintura └

One of the reasons for my absence. A journey to watch this project live. It brings together Brazil and Mali, with Arnaldo Antunes, Edgard Scandurra e Toumani Diabaté. Absolutely worth listening and seeing. Songs about struggle, love and how the arts, music in particular, can bring people together…

┐ Marcelo Zocchio └

© Marcelo Zocchio, guarda-roupa, 2010


© Marcelo Zocchio, fusca, from the series Utilidades Domésticas (Domestic Utilities), 2005


Marcelo’s portfolio here (pdf)