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Art & Social Space
Interview with BijaRi in São Paulo, Brazil. Part 2
by Virginia Gil Araujo

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Puente al Héroe Anónimo [Bridge to an Anonymous Hero] was the intervention we had planned initially: while we were wandering around San José, the capital, one day, a monument to a historic leader caught our attention. The monument, a large wall leading to the statue of the leader, divided the Plaza de la Democracia in two as a space for public demonstrations. You could walk on the monument, but you couldn"™t reach the statue itself because of an architectural barrier. A desire to reach the pedestal, to pose next to the heroic figure, prompted us to create an intervention that would circumvent the barrier imposed by the architecture. We decided to do it by annexing a bridge to the monument. This symbolic gesture stemming from an architectural "correction" ended up meeting with disapproval from the authorities in charge of regulating the space, who argued that the new addition would lead to acts of vandalism, since the Plaza de la Democracia, the site of the monument, was to be used for anti-NAFTA (North American Free-Trade Agreement) demonstrations in the following days.

After being denied permission to execute our initial idea, we decided to create a less specific, more viral, less institutional and more clandestine, less author-based and more collective work to encourage a discussion on the regulation of the use of public space through various, less specific actions. After that experience of censorship and seeing how control and security systems (surveillance cameras, gates, barbed wire) were entering the local urban setting, we started thinking of actions and interferences that would spark a debate on that issue. Together with other artists, we coordinated joint actions dealing with the issue of control. In those actions the notion of authorship was diluted by participatory, decentralized actions that blended various ideas and projects into a single experience relating to the city and its instruments of control. This gave rise to different pieces: poster collage actions with the Salvadorian artist Dany Zavaleta; performances in front of security cameras, conducted with the Ecuadorian artist X. Andrade (of Full Dólar); a video performance with the Colombian artist Carolina Caycedo, and other types of loosely-planned actions.

VGA: You also take part with live images in electronic-music events such as Skol Beats, which are sponsored by large corporations. To what extent does your participation in Skol Beats break with experiences, previously commented on as a means of engaging in micro politics through art, on taking part in "show business"? How did the group deal with the attempt to censor the projection of politically and erotically charged images during Skol Beats?

BijaRi: We don"™t reject the possibility of being both in the alternative circuit and in more institutionalized art circuits. It"™s important to remember that aside from our art work we also work commercially as a visual-arts and video company, so we have always combined the two fields. The issue is how to engage in critical dialogue with institutions and with capitalism. The key to it all lies in maintaining the integrity of the project at hand, in how we intervene in this particular context. Many museums and galleries outside Brazil manage to make a positive contribution to the development of artistic-political processes. We therefore think there is a possibility of gaining access to the instruments they provide for fostering creativity and desire "" which are increasingly repressed by the current system""in a free and intellectually autonomous way. We look for different ways of making our work viable, either through the income we generate through our commercial work, or through funds from institutions that sponsor our projects. Large corporations obviously have a strong desire to co-opt the work of a new generation of artists, so we have to be careful. It is impossible to get away from show-business within electronic-music events. But that too is an interesting way of reaching a larger public (more than 60,000 people attended Skol Beats) through discordant messages and counter-media content. At Skol Beats we didn"™t cease to project images with political content. The following year we weren"™t invited back, but two years later they called us again. At first the invitation seemed suspicious: we thought they wanted to create some agitation in the media–

VGA: Could you comment on BijaRi"™s participation in the First Ushuaia Biennial [2007]?

BijaRi: The First Biennial at the End of the World took place in March 2007 in Ushuaia, Argentina. For this Biennial we had planned a project called Resistance Architecture, in which we wanted to focus on the informal, illegal and mobile architecture in Ushuaia. Twenty-two days prior to the opening of the Biennial, an action carried out in Sao Paolo changed the direction of our project. George W. Bush was visiting Brazil to garner political support against the growth of the Latin American left, and also to sign a strategic agreement to supply ethanol to the U.S. market. In response we created and set up billboards to protest against this, which read: "Ethanol Molotov for Yankee Targets", in places where the presidential convoy would be passing in Sao Paolo. This action made a big splash in the independent domestic and international media. It was the first time the group had done a piece dealing with macro rather than micro politics. The response to and reverberation of the action made us, as a group, rethink and change what we had planned for the Ushuaia Biennial.

After having the opportunity of presenting that work and those concepts in the streets of Ushuaia, we took our questions to the city. Acting in conjunction with local groups, we put up posters on walls with the question/statement "What are we fighting for?" The posters were designed to spark active, critical debate in the population regarding their own struggles and the complex reality that surrounds us.

The work presented at the Biennial was very specific in terms of the relationship between an event and its timing. In presenting it we managed to establish a dialogue with various audiences, since we engaged in debate from a macro-political perspective ""global warming, wars over petroleum, terrorism, marginalization and extreme reactions, in which State violence overrides human rights""and also from a micro-political standpoint with its local needs and struggles. We thus managed to use the Biennial as a vehicle for promoting critical thought and debate on new approaches to policies and strategies through art. We saw that we had changed the focus of the Biennial"™s discourse, since few of the works presented reflected a sense of the immediacy and paradox of art as an institution. The great majority of the artists featured were vindicating the discourse of tourist-cultural representation which the new biennials continue to promote by simultaneously and horizontally institutionalizing artistic representation and conduct.

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About the Author
Virginia Gil Araujo holds a PhD in Art History from the Escuela de Comunicación y Artes de la Universidad de Sí¢o Paulo (ECA-USP). She lives and works in Sí¢o Paulo

Virginia Gil Araujo tiene un Doctorado en la Historia del Arte en la Escuela de Comunicación y Artes de la Universidad de Sí¢o Paulo (ECA-USP). Vive y trabaja en Sí¢o Paulo.

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