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Laura Erber

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Jan 05, 2006
Location: Brazil
Topic: Interview with Laura Erber
Interviewer: Marí­a Inés Rodrí­guez

LatinArt:  The film Diario del Sertão is one of the main works exhibited at Vassiviére. Sertão evokes a particular region of Brazil that has been the take-off point for several of your projects. Would you talk to us about it?

Laura Erber:  Yes, the film Diário do Sertão, made in 2003, is an invitation, a beginning, for the central issue in the Vassiviére exhibit: the construction and creation of space, which I wanted to unfold in various ways throughout the exhibit.

The film resulted from several of my concerns regarding the presence of the Sertão in Brazilian culture and in relation to a certain impoverishment, over the years, in the ways of approaching this emblematic place --source of so many powerful and contradictory myths and fictions-- which fascinates me for all that it is able to set into motion each time that an artist attempts to approach it, translate it, speak about it, touch it.

The Sertão is a geographically problematic region, to start with, since there are more than one Sertão in Brazil, all quite different from one another, with their specific cultures and varying insertion points in Brazilian history. What strikes me as most interesting, still, is that the Sertão exists in the convergence of historical, mnemonic and fictional processes, so that my perception of it is situated in a frontier zone or in the intersection, as it were, of these various dimensions. I chose the Sertão de Minas Gerais as a point of reference --that is the Sertão constructed by the great Brazilian writer João Guimarães Rosa who, in the decade of the fifties, wrote a most beautiful novel entitled Grande Sertão: Veredas, breaking away from regionalist literature and offering a totally new vision, sensorial, with high tension in terms of form and a very innovative, very inventive approach in the use of language. I can say that at the time when I made the film I was not so very interested in touching the reality of that space; I believe, rather, that I was interested in "touching" the desire of touching reality. Above all, I wanted to think and develop the Sertão as a space for the production of perception and sensibilities. A space in which one can experience extreme states of perception, visual and sonorous, and with the persons who live there. We tried to include this idea of an extreme perception, which led to the internal asymmetries of the film. It’s like adopting a certain tremor of the senses, a turbulence, and being available for apprehending certain forms of life. I was not interested in a specific geographic region, rather in all of the imaginary landscape and possible avenues one can choose in order to penetrate a certain space. How to dialogue with it, gaze at it and be attentive to the gaze it turns back upon us...

LatinArt:  It is interesting that this mental notion of the Sertão should serve as a take-off point for your Vassiviére project since this place, this art center, is relatively new, was built in the decade of the seventies and since the lake surrounding it was built by a man. We might say that it is a territory open to all kinds of constructions of the imaginary. How did you set about developing your project there?

Laura Erber:  Dircetor Chiara Parisi invited me along with the curator Federico Nicolao. The latter insisted from the beginning precisely because of the peculiarity of this site where the CIAP is located. I let myself be guided by the idea of passage and of translation. Passage because it allowed me to create other ways of articulating both places, without pre-established hierarchies, and translation because I was working with the matter of places and their contours, their edges, frontiers; and in frontier situations translation becomes necessary. When I speak of translation I do not mean decoding step by step but exactly something capable of revealing the schemes of force and tension --something that allows the overcoming of dichotomies. The frontier zone interests me to the utmost as a zone of flowing and counterfeiting, the opening of one place onto another, of one field of perception to another, of one language to another.

Coming back to the question, during the process of conception and realization of the exhibit I allowed myself to be guided by the ideas of translation and of passage. I wanted to avoid an exhibit that would be structured by parallelisms between the Sertão and the island of Vassiviére about which I knew little. Thus the idea of creating passages was also the idea of allowing those two spaces to emerge little by little with all their contradictions, ghosts, fictions and narratives --communicating vessels-- and to allow each spectator to trace his own itineraries. For example, in the sound installation of Contour Ouvert, which gives the exhibit its name, one can listen to 40 different ways of making a place emerge through a personal micro-narrative, each one sustaining and creating a place through his discourse in keeping with his own rhythm and intensity. I met people anywhere between 6 and 90 years old, some who were inhabitants of the island of Vassivére and others from the neighboring areas along with some Brazilians for whom the Sertão was somehow determining in their artistic, academic or intellectual career.

The most interesting thing of all is that the variety of ways of speaking about the place created a situation in which any parallelism or duality was dissolved. The ways of penetrating a place vary greatly in function of the intensity of each person, and that turned out to be something far more complex than anything I might have imagined at first. From the beginning I was interested in creating a situation in which the viewer would be invited to create a personal itinerary for listening, something like one's own mapmaking that would allow going from one possible place to another impossible one, from that one to what is unstable and then a return to the concrete --a description by an engineer, for example, who worked in the construction of the dam that caused the Vassiviére lake to be formed. So that there is a situation in the spaces; they are in construction: they did not crystallize either in the speeches or in the visual forms. I did the Diario do Sertão in 2003; and, in 2005, I was interested in presenting it so that it would allow the horizon of reflection and perception of this issue of place and the imaginary to be opened up. I was interested in opening even more so the contours of this Sertão; and, that is how the idea presented itself of inviting the musician Tom zé, geographer Asiz Ab Sáber, photographer Anna Mariani and architects Joaquim Guedes and Maria de Lourdes Davies Freitas to speak about the Sertão from other perspectives, from the Brazilian sectors. Architect Joaquim Guedes, in charge of a project in a city of the Sertão de Bahí­a, says something very interesting about the role of construction in its relation to reality; he says that it is the construction far more than the project that gives the dimension of truth in architecture, something tha

LatinArt:  Literature is very important in your work, either because you write or because it serves as a take-off point for your projects, as in the case of the adaptation of the work of João Guimarães Rosa, or poetry. Mexican writer Jorge Volpi said once that the novel is a way of exploring the world. What do you think?

Laura Erber:  Yes, I agree with him, but if you will allow me, I would say that literature is more a way of visiting the world, since exploration has connotations that are better left alone.

I do not believe I ever pretended to adapt Guimarães Rosa; his texts have such a level of inventiveness and experimentation with language and the verbal signs are such that it would be useless --an adaptation of something like that would be a contradiction. What Guimarães allowed me was an approximation to a baroque wisdom, a savoir faire with the real and its shadows, and I allowed myself to live the Sertão through the strength and tenderness of his texts; this is more like the way in which his novels guided me. Literature interests me very much because of its connection with life and its imperfections, asymmetries, mutations, fears and desires. Literature also attempts to create objects capable of accounting for our fluctuations in the real, to reveal to us how a reality takes shape, overflows and blows up.

LatinArt:  What are you planning for the Mercosur Biennial?

Laura Erber:  At the 5th Mercosur Biennial I am presenting the book El libro de las siluetas [The Book of Silhouettes] which I performed at the Fresnoy (France) in 2004 with the collaboration of choreographer and dancer, Sioned Huws. It is a work that questions the intervals between the body and language, between the body and verbal matter. It’s a video-installation but I like to think of it as a live sketch rather than as a video properly speaking. Two feminine bodies projected on a human scale, reduced to their contour line, awaken and reveal parts of a text that undergoes transformations. At certain moments we see words dropping off from the body of the silhouettes and how they attempt to place the fallen words once more in their bodies. At first the body is not very recognizable, it is rather shapeless, and to the extent that it begins to move the human form is revealed. I also worked with the sound that passes from an unarticulated language (the a-b-c, loose phonemes) until the repetition of the words in different languages creates a sonorous scheme that is more or less recognizable. I wanted to show that language is somehow an intensely physical force. It’s the first time that I present this work in Brazil and reactions during the first days of the Biennial were very interesting. People interact a lot with the body and its movements. The kids enjoyed making the movements alongside the silhouettes that turn into their shadows.

Marí­a Inés Rodrí­guez is an independent curator, living and working in Paris.

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