- Networks of Dissent
LAXART's Video Art in Latin Americacaptures the sprawling network of Latin American video art. Showcasing over two dozen artists, the exhibit assembles diverse aesthetic visions that expose and challenge entangled histories of colonization, trauma, and social violence across Latin America. A stroll through the exhibit's three main galleries ensures a different encounter for each viewer with the videos on rotation—from the melancholic hues of water saturating Charly Nijensohn's Dead Forest(fig. 2) to the translucent figures of Cao Guimarães and Rivane Neuenshwander's Sopro. Unable to actively select which pieces to view, the viewer is rendered passive. Instead, the videos call out to the viewers, urgently transmitting aesthetic and political provocations.
The compilation of video art across Latin American represents the culmination of over a decade's worth of research by Glenn Phillips (Getty Research Institute) and Elena Shtromberg (University of Utah). Video Art in Latin Americacan be traced back to early projects for the Getty Research Institute, including Pioneers of Brazilian Video Art (1973–1983)(2004) and Surveying the Border: Three Decades of Video Art about the U.S./Mexico Border(2005). Since these beginning iterations, curators Phillips and Shtromberg have charted the larger hemispheric network emerging in response to and alongside shifting political climates across the Americas. The sheer number of video hours encapsulated by this exhibit conveys only a fraction of video art production circulating throughout Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Bolstered by the rise of digital video, the video art boom demonstrates how the portable video camera allowed for dissenting perspectives across Latin America. Although each video addresses a particular social or historical context, the works collectively index a social commitment to countervisualizations and counterimaginaries. The visual grammar of video art—borrowing from the genres of cinema, home videos, documentary film, television, abstract expressionism, performance art, dance, experimental music, glitch art, and so [End Page 913]forth—expose the undercurrents of race, ethnic, gender, sexual, and ecological issues. As part of the Getty's Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, the expansive scope of Phillips and Shtromberg's exhibit captures the variety of social and political desires circulating in different regions in Latin America.
A dark room greets visitors on entry. Gisela Motta, Leandro Lima, and Claudia Andujar's Yano-a(Brazil, 2005) illuminates the main atrium, the central space connecting the three galleries. Yano-aastonishes with piercing red, seducing the viewer with fire's licks. The installation depicts a burning Yanomami maloca(hut) from 1976, the dwelling of the indigenous Yanomami people in the Amazon forest. The piece reflects Motta and Lima's animation of Andujar's original black-and-white photograph of the maloca. The artists project the still photograph through a red filter under a layer of water. Superimposed on top is a video animation of flames, forever scorching the maloca. In the catalog that accompanies the exhibit, Phillips and Shtromberg provide an interpretation of Yano-a. In indigenous Yanomami cosmology, the flames signal the possibility for renewal and rejuvenation. 1The scene seduces the viewer into watching the fire engulf the originary image, promising a transformation that never fully arrives. This video installation reflects the interplay between stillness and motion, history making and memory making, and presentness and potentiality that subtend the spirit of the video art across the exhibit.
It is precisely this desire for change that activates the video artist. Another video installation best exemplifies the early aesthetic and political aims of Latin American video art. Tucked away in a corner of the main atrium is Pola Weiss's Videodanza(Mexico, 1979). The modest, short video depicts Weiss herself dancing on the street carrying a video camera on her shoulder. Her movement is both graceful and mechanical, entrancing and awkward. Anchoring the video is her isolated body both as spectacle and as spectator. The video alternates between clips of Weiss's body in motion and scenes portraying her fish-eye view of the street through the video camera. The shift in perspective—between distant street viewer to...