by Trebor Scholz
Rio de Janeiro currently presents its first media art festival. Four floors in the newly opened Centro Cultural Telemar are dedicated to "Prog:Me." Tickets are free for this venue that focuses on art and technology and the crowds of Rio are coming-- from kids who interact with game art pieces to youngsters who return to see the daily changing video program. This festival does not compete with the Electronic Language International Festival (FILE) that was founded in Sao Paolo in 2000 because mobility is still limited for most people here. The exhibition hopping art nomad is not far as common in Brazil as she may be in Europe or the United States. For the local context this festival offers an introduction to interactive media art installations, net art, and critical artist games. The symposium that is organized in tandem with the exhibition launched with a series of artist talks and presentations by media theorists from Brazil and North America. The culture-activist, translator, writer and organizer Ricardo Rosas gave an introduction to the history of net art and zoomed in on web-based works from Brazil, Argentina and Mexico that are often overlooked. He is aware that we don't live in what Vuc Cosic called the 'heroic times' of early net art when the networked multitudes were still thrilled about the ability to access artworks independent of curators and their institutions. Rosas points to the fact that in South America it is mainly the middle and upper classes that have access to the internet. And those others without network privileges at universities or at work are completely left out. Ricardo Rosas and Carlo Sansolo collaboratively curated the net art section of the festival. With their selection of hundreds of works they go beyond the likes of the Belgian/Dutch duo Jodi who were put forward in the books by Julian Stallabrass and Rachel Greene. The curators do not only include artworks from the cultural capitals of Brazil-- Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo -- but also exhibit pieces from the Brazilian citi!
es of Mi
nas Gerais and Recife.
The project is encouraging also in other ways. To this day, Brazilian artists when entering the international circuit are expected to work in relation to the Brazilian artistic uber-parents Helio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. The desire for preconceived authenticity makes it quite difficult for younger artists working in new media to contribute their voices to this context. For Rio de Janeiro 'Prog:Me' is a first go at experimenting with contexts for new art avoiding such curatorial shortfalls. Monitors throughout the exhibition allow visitors to browse, think, listen and play their way through the armada of net art pieces made available here. A more educational, dialogical approach that would have included attention to the specificity of each net art piece and brief introductions to the often very conceptual works was not the intention of the curators. For them it was important to show the broadest possible range of work. Sitting in front of one of the monitors clicking from one piece to the next, each individual artwork becomes a frame in a cinematic loop. Like in the blogosphere (the network, or linked community of all weblogs) the individual blog is not what creates the overall meaning. The interconnections between the writing on the weblogs creates meaning. Browsing through the net art pieces in the festival one is left with the general impression of art as network and social esthetics. The meaning of the artworks appears in their cinematic juxtaposition.
When the exhibition closes in two months a trace in the form of a link collection on the festival's website will remain. This may become a situated knowledge pool for Portuguese speakers for whom US American or European books on media art and theory are unaffordable, not relevant to their local context or simply in need of translation.
The vast majority of pieces in the exhibition are web-based, which is partly due to the fact that the shipping of hardware is costly and often requires the artist to be flown in for the set up of her piece. For the Brazilian user/consumer/producer today, net art may be especially inspiring because the "you can do this too" call of the early days of video may echo here with those who have the basic hardware, net connection and free software. While it takes a good education to start thinking about the making of net art, the means of production are available to many and screen-based work may indeed be a good entry point to media art production in Rio.
This media art festival is an ambitious effort facilitated by the artists Carlo Sansolo and Erika Fraenkel who worked as curators invited by Alberto Saraiva at the Centro Cultural Telemar. We should look again when the next Rio media art festival comes up. A catalogue in English and Portuguese will be published by the Centro Cultural Telemar and can be ordered there starting at the end of September.http://www.institutotelemar.org.br/centrocultural/