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Rosángela Rennó

Rosângela Rennó en su estudio by Rosángela       Rennó Rosângela Rennó is her studio by Rosángela       Rennó

interview transcript

Date of Interview: May 01, 2001
Location: Brazil
Topic: Interview with Rosángela Rennó
Interviewer: Maria Angélica Melendi

LatinArt:  Would it be possible to say that, from the beginning, you have remained faithful to a modus operandi which one could classify as that of a collector or an archivist?

Rosángela Rennó:  Yes, I am a compulsive collector, I enjoy the materialism of things. For example, the photos in the albums, the devices in the carrousels, the old envelopes to separate negatives. When I began to work with appropriation, I did it basically with family photographs, chosen for subjective reasons. For example, I used various pictures from my father's file. He was a kind of official photographer for the family. When I moved to Rio de Janeiro I was resolved to look at popular studies for the purpose of obtaining more material, and in the end I had a huge number of pictures which ended up in the garbage. At the same time, I began studying more and more the history of photography.

LatinArt:  What is the text of your work like?

Rosángela Rennó:  As a result of expanding my picture collection, I realized that, in the same way people have a life cycle, so do photos. They are born, comply with their function for a certain period of time, and then they die. So I began to ask myself, what would the future of a picture be? What is its life cycle? How and where would it circulate? When does it expire or lose validity? In what circuit is it contained? What role does it fulfill within that circuit? I saw that some photographs have a really short life cycle, like the photo of a newspaper character, for example. But photographs like that of the little Vietnamese girl don’t die, they continue to circulate as an image or as a written reference. If one reads a textual reference about the photograph, it’s not necessary to see it, a comment is sufficient to remake the image mentally. That is the basis of my project Archivo Universal, a work in progress commenced in 92 which I still continue to feed.
I began to appreciate and understand the mechanics of a newspaper picture and, as cross entry, of the pictorial potential offered by the newspaper text. I was already a collector of original photographs in the form of paper, negatives and negatives on glass and I also became a collector of newspaper clippings. I found that it was very common to find stories on specific photographs and began to analyze the manner in which journalists explored a private matter connected to a specific image - sometimes a simple image of an intimate nature - to speak of generic things. I saw that the press used the description of a certain photo, but in the majority of cases, it was not published. It was used only as a pretext to attract attention on a broader matter...pure sentimental exploration.

LatinArt:  What is your relationship with photography?

Rosángela Rennó:  My relationship with the photographic image and, in particular, with the image I have made is complex. For example, I like the family photo a lot, but I am always frustrated because it never responds to my desire to capture the moment photographed. There is only that sensation of something which has passed and can never again be revisited. I look for these pictures and it seems to me that the photos are all the same as those of any other family, and strangely it seems to me that the one in the photo is not me and that this is not my family.
For me, a photograph always creates a parallel world. I cannot establish any relationship between it and what is represented. When I work with photographs that were discarded by others it is easier, because I feel within a kind of "independent time line", and then I begin to create new forms of treatment to give another visibility to the images, to put forward strategies so that the pictures can be seen again, in another context, taking another role.

LatinArt:  You have recently been working with video. Tell us about this experience.

Rosángela Rennó:  The video Espejo Diario is a work which is not connected with photography, but it has a lot to do with what I did up until today. It is a collage of texts compiled from newspapers, articles that I read, cut out and classified over eight years and which are connected with events concerning women all called Rosángela, real stories which were newspaper material. Based on these, I tacked together the story of a unique (and fictional) Rosángela. Each story corresponds to a day in the life of an imaginary Rosángela, a special character, multiple and impossible. Nowadays I evaluate that video experience as the "possibility" of 133 3x4 identity portraits, lengthened or expanded in time.

LatinArt:  How did that work come about?

Rosángela Rennó:  I always had problems accepting my given name. Between 1992-1993, I read in the newspaper about a kidnapping and subsequent release of a woman of the upper class in Rí­o de Janeiro: "Rosángela was liberated while she prayed". I liked it a lot, the first upper class woman with such a popular name to become news.
From then onward I began to collect articles in which the name Rosçngela appeared, and when I found that I had around thirty, I began to think of compiling a diary. I passed the original texts to my friend, the writer Alicia Duarte Penna, the only person I know who has kept a diary since she was 17. She rewrote the texts in the form of a personal diary and afterwards we wrote the plot. I produced, directed and acted in the video, trying to make a pact with these women I never see, who I will never see and whom I do not know what they are like. The work was carried out as a Beca Vitae de Arte (1998) and part of a Guggenheim scholarship I received in '99.
In the video, I personify all the Rosángelas. It is, for me, a way of resolving my difficulty with representation, with my own memory, of not liking my pictures, of preferring the memory of others, and many times the lack of memory of the others. The amnesia of others is much more interesting, maybe I can work this way more intimately, with more freedom. On the other hand, it was precisely the impossibility of identifying myself with the other Rosángelas which allowed me to enter their territory. That is, to put their words in my mouth without having to interpret them, or imitate them, without having to transform myself into an actress from one day to the next.

LatinArt:  In your most recent works, the Bibliotheca book and installation, you go back to the family archives.

Rosángela Rennó:  The Bibliotheca consists of 37 tables / glass fronted cases which contain the 100 family albums, journeys and slide collections I found, they gave me or I bought at ’flea markets’ in different countries over the course of 10 years. What you see in the upper part of the glass cases of the installation is a faithful reproduction of the contents, at a 1.1 scale, that is to say of the closed albums and covered boxes of slides. These can only be seen through the glass side of the cases. The purpose is to prevent the "object experience", that is the final profanation of something already "de-sacrilized" while, at the same time, opening a discussion on the role of the museum as culture of the masses. I created a color code for the background and the table structure based on the origin of the pictures and the origin of the object. This code can be deciphered through a mapa-mundi and a small black-painted steel file, and its drawers contains 100 cards recording information on the contents of each album, the work of a "filing clerk", a small work of fiction created based on observing the pictures, their groups and containers.
The Bibliotheca artist's book complements the homonymous groups of the cases, contains around 350 photographs, and deals with a grouping of the best images taken from the albums. It is a polychrome-printed hard-capped book/object, and its small size (15 cm. high by 20 cm. wide) and horizontal format fosters the association with conventional books and retains the intimate nature of the relationship between the viewer and that particular image.

LatinArt:  Why "Bibliotheca"?

Rosángela Rennó:  "Bibliotheca" is a reference to the similar book by Focio, which contains a summary of the main books he has read and which have disappeared or been destroyed, and relates itself immediately to the narrative content of the albums which will never again be opened.

LatinArt:  How did the images of the Red Series (military), which you are going to present at the Venice Biennial, come about?

Rosángela Rennó:  They are a selection from my family albums and the negatives on glass. In actual fact they are the end of a series, begun in 1996. I wanted to discuss the bourgeois portrait, for that reason it interested me to use photos set with the most neutral backgrounds possible: portraits made to safeguard beings from spiritual death. I did the first five photos between 1996 and 1997, and at that time there was just one feminine image, a little girl holding a bunch of lilies in her arms. It looks like a studio portrait but one can see that the background is a badly-draped cloth. I called it Lilies. Also in this group is the photograph of a baby, another of a boy in front of a tree. Later on, I included the first man in uniform. It was the photo of an integralista, a negative on glass which I bought in a second hand library in Niteroi, in 1998. Then I bought three negatives on glass of the boy who belonged to the Nazi Youth, at a flea market in Vienna. This is a sequence which makes a great impression, because the physiognomy of the boy gradually changes to the photograph where he is standing, posing in the uniform of Nazi Youth.
In the end, I mounted a dyptich showing him at two different moments. In the first, wearing a typical boy scout uniform, the boy has a very sweet look, almost tender. In the second picture the posture is completely different, the haircut, the look, the posture changed. He now adopted the typical posture of the Nazis, with the left hand resting on the belt-buckle. After that dyptich I decided to use only photos of soldiers.

LatinArt:  Do you relate these images in any way with the violence of the contemporary world?

Rosángela Rennó:  To tell the truth, there are several things to be considered. It isn’t only that matter of latent evil or violence in those common family album pictures. There are other readings which interest me. When I showed this work, at the Biennial/50 Years, Regina Silveira commented that they were very striking because of the blood red color, but that the photos were very romantic. I had a fright when I heard her say that, because the last thing I wanted was for people to see those soldiers as romantic. But, looking at it more closely, I wondered whether she was right. In the end, weren’t they romantic?
I evaluated the pictures again and, of the sixteen making up the series, I would say that one-third are photos which could really be appreciated as romantic pictures. I began to think about the series and realized that they work exactly because they are "romantic" and supposedly inoffensive. What is frightening is exactly that we are capable of looking at them with something of tenderness, and then the blood red color acts as a warning to remind us that that tenderness is unacceptable.
When I thought of the series my idea was really to erase any possibility of glorification associated with the typical posture of "bourgeois portraits". But what carried more weight, at the moment of collecting and selecting the pictures and which, in a certain way, ridiculized the idea of glory, was the matter of masculine vanity associated with the use of uniforms.

LatinArt:  How do you see this man/uniform relationship?

Rosángela Rennó:  I believe that men like uniforms because they believe they give them power. On working with the photos, even, certain aspects of the uniform were reinforced on purpose.

LatinArt:  It will be ten years this year since you first participated in the Venice Biennial. What has changed in your work during this period?

Rosángela Rennó:  It seems to me that the first thing, fairly obviously, is the maturity itself in the contemporary practice of art. As an artist, one learns to economize the forms, the use of the production media and the ideas with which one works. On another aspect, of course, is winning credibility by becoming professional (naturally, when one works with honesty and cleanliness...). This makes things seem easier. But, I still see painful things, such as the development of specific projects which are not very fruitful, or are too expensive, such as those which depend on third parties or require advanced technology. Let me give some examples: To produce photographs in Brazil is still a little like playing "Russian roulette": sometimes it is technically impossible or too risky. In video, today in Rí­o de Janeiro, we can literally do anything; there are production studios with the most advanced technology possible, but one has to pray that one’s pockets will not be emptied when you leave the studio. To publish artist’s books is still a problem, they are expensive and few are sold and no one wants to invest. We therefore have to face problems which, independently of the length of the curriculum, are simply problems inherent to the cultural activities of any developing country.

Maria Angélica Melendi was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has lived and worked in Brazil since 1975. She is an Assistant Professor in the Plastic Arts Department of the Beaux Arts School at the Minas Gerais Federal University, and holds a scholarship from the CNPq., National Scientific and Technological Development Council. She is currently investigating the manifestations of visual art in relation to the political scene in Latin America, with emphasis on memory and identity strategies, on which she has published articles in books, newspapers and academic magazines.

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