Exhibitionisms and Blur in Brazilian Artistic Practices in the ’80s
by Victoria Cóccaro.
The following text consists of the transcription from Victoria Coccaro of her presentation during the activity “Activism and performative strategies in post-dictatorship Brazil” in common-place house.
A few weeks ago I started a research project at the Iberoamerikanisches Institute thanks to a grant from the DAAD. I’d like to present the firsts approaches I’m making drawing on the material that I’m consulting there. My comments are very preliminary because this is the first time (after years of looking for them in libraries in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo) that I am gathering, reading and seeing this material. This is something of a current of my PhD thesis in which I analyze figures and movements through the work of Brazilian and Argentinean artists and writers that creates modes of appearance for bodies and ways of living in the context of the implantation of ’90s neoliberalism and later during the Latin-American progressive projects (like Lula’s and Kirchner’s) starting in 2004. For example, I reflect on figures like the fossil, the zombie, and the mutant, and on movements like fluidness, petrifactions, fragmentations, dismemberments, and slowness, (among others), which put pressure on the neoliberal order (the subjectivities it create, the capitalists ways of living it reproduces, etc.). Now, at the IAI, I’m working with an earlier period and with artists that I haven’t analyzed in my thesis but that they continues –or in fact I should say that they function as a kind of “prequel”– the work of some movements and figures I’ve written about from the 90’.
So, now I’m working within a particular cultural framework at the beginning of 1980s to reflect on what I would like to call post-human figurations of bodies. This allow for the analysis of different modes of representing bodies in the field of literature and art. With this objective, I am considering the first works of João Gilberto Noll: the short stories of O cego e a dançarina (1980) and the novel A fúria do corpo (1981); the experimental book and performances with xerography of Hudinilson Jr. such as Xerox Action (1981); and the whole of the artistic interventions created by the Brazilian collectives 3Nós3, active in Sao Paulo between 1979 and 1982, and the Movimento Arte Pornô, an experimental art movement that published porn-poems and staged artistic performances and interventions on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro between 1980 and 1982.
In particular, this period marks the return of various democratic regimes to the Southern Cone which has been considered a parallel to the unfolding of the neoliberal model, in both its economic and ideological values (Avelar 1999, Silvia Schwarzbock 2016). Since then, these societies have been, at the same time, both neoliberal and in constant economic crisis, democratic as well as in the process of continually re-articulating and questioning different forms of memory, while striving to create new political spaces and forms of resistance.
First of all, my research looks at the fact that after the end of the military dictatorships, the question of bodies became a symptom of the culture in the Southern Cone. As democracies returned, as Ana Longoni said, “[the loss of] the human form” (Longoni 2014) appears in various artistic expressions as an operation of resistance, which disarms the humanist and modern conception of the subject and opens up various imaginaries that respond to repression, neoliberalism and the fracturing of socialist projects. This marks a change in the link between art and politics, outside the ideological demands of the traditional left or Orthodox militancy (Longoni and Bruzzone 2008). In this context, the body is located as a material of experimentation, and, thinking in terms of to Foucaultean perspectives, is also considered an object of production and control, as well as the site of the inscription of the social norm. But it is, however, especially thought of as an element of resistance and criticism. So, what modes of figuration of bodies were constructed during the end of the military dictatorships? And why were these modes chosen instead of others?
My hypothesis is that in 3Nós3’s interventions, Noll’s stories, Hudinilson’s experimental books and performances with xerography, and the anti-recitals and comics and poems of Movimento Arte Pornô, two strains or opposing forces are working in which post-human figurations of bodies, modes of memory, political actions and meanings, and new ways of life are explored: these two forces are blurs or erasures, and exhibitionisms. In the intertwining of bodies, art, and politics, I want to reflect on these as a symptom but, also, at the same time, as a way of inhabiting a space and a time and a way of managing signs and meanings. On one hand, we can think in terms of a particular cultural process in which what disappears (and here I mean the bodies disappeared by military dictatorship but also those queer bodies that were outside of cultural frames, that were somehow illegible), returns as exhibitionism in artistic practices. But, on the other hand, the blurriness was appropriated as a movement of figuration through which other figurations can pop up. In Noll’s fictions to be blurry is to be available for a transition, it is “to become” and it is to be available for encounters with other bodies. Erasure works like a portal… If there is blur, do we imagine it more as a distortion or as a new figuration? And what do they distort: nation, civilization, humanist identities?
What we know is that from the time of the post-dictatorship onward, artistic practices experiment with alternative ways of “making bodies” that do not fit within the hierarchical distributions of species, genders, families, and identities. In these practices bodies acquired (adquieren) spectral figurations that erase nation, civil, humanists identities and allow us to conceive of new manners that bodies make, create, their own meanings that are, at the same time, difficult to fulfill in this unstable bodies (Aguilar 2007).
Before starting, I’d like to point out one more thing in relation to my method, my way of doing criticism. I was formed in literature, I teach literary theory, but I always aim to trace connections between literary and other arts, holding up an interdisciplinary idea of research. And, if it is possible to address a link between the crisis of the representation of a stable body and the crisis of aesthetic autonomy in experimental works that erode specificities and disciplines (as the Argentinean critics Florencia Garramuño 2007/15 and Gonzalo Aguilar 2007 have suggested), my research problem, indeed, demands an interdisciplinary perspective. I attempt to identify a sort of “cultural series” that crosses different artistic practices and become consistent due to, in this case, this two strains: blur and exhibitionism.
1. JOãO GILBERTO NOLL.
Blurring has been a characteristic of Noll’s writing since his first book, a group of short stories called O cego e a dançarina / The blind man and the dancer, published in 1980. In the context of the period that begins with democratic returns, Noll opts for blurriness and emptiness as a way of figuring the relationship with the past. This is evident in the first story, “Alguma coisa urgentemente” / “Something urgently”, about the relationship between a mysterious father and his son, the narrator, who, one day, at the end of 1969, when he was still a child, went to live in an orphanage because his father went to jail for “transporting weapons”. Ten years later, the father reappeared at the orphanage missing an arm and took his son back. For the son, the father was a completely silent mystery, there was nothing known about his life or work, past or present: “Eu quero saber”, “I wan’t to know”, says the boy, insistently throughout the story, but the father never answers. In the end, the father disappears again and reappears, months later, skinny and without teethes. In front of the dying father, the son cannot know the causes of the wounds and mutilations, the reasons for the appearances and disappearances or why he is wanted by the police; in short, any information about his father’s past that seems to be related to political militancy. He is an indecipherable father who does not transmit any teaching and from whom it is impossible to gain an inheritance in terms of political struggles or knowledge about the revolution. The father is like “a hero who left no heirs”, as it said in other story called “A construçao da mentira” / “The construction of the lie”. As you can see, the question about political heritages continues in Noll’s O cego e a dançarina. How can we pass on political struggles? Is there an “inability to think the political” between this two generations or perhaps we could delineate other modes of the political and the common (I mean politics and communities) mediated by bodies?
In one hand, the father doesn’t have words, there is no transmissible past or knowledge, but there is a body: wounds and mutilations. There is a blurred, fuzzy father, but at the same time his body exhibits scars. There are no inheritances, there are no names, but there are bodies, Noll seems to say. However, against the blur of the figure who only borders a void –the past– Noll portrays a narrator in which another movement is activated, contrary to the accelerated deterioration of the father, a narrator driven by the desire to do something urgently / “fazer alguma coisa urgentemente”, an insistence that is shown in the repetition of this phrase, from the title, throughout the story. The son doesn’t know what to do but only to do –we could guess that, maybe, unlike his father, is far from Lenin’s knowledge (… I’m referring to Lenin’s book –What to do). From this desire that names only the impulse the narrator’s urban wanderings begin: “comencéi a faltar ás aulas e ficava andando pela praia” (Noll 2008: 16). So, from the interior of the apartment to the outside of the streets and beaches, and from the father to the son, the story goes from the experience of the clandestine body to the experience of the desiring body. From a clandestine community to a desiring community. From the mutilated body of the dad to the desiring body of the son that wanders erratically, aimlessly, according to only one principle: To go outside. In Noll’s novels the narrator always comes out: from a house, a marriage, a nation, a profession, a language, an identity, a name, a shape, etc. In those non-clandestine or secret “outside zones” and “thresholds”, however, instantaneous and precarious communities occurr as if they are ephemeral encounters of foreign bodies. At this point, I am working with a hypothesis which proposes that between the 60/70s and the 80s political struggle moved from clandestine to a public space, a space in which “exhibitionist practices” developed.
Another story of Noll’s relevant to this discussion. Published in 1981, A fúria do corpo is a story of a couple of panhandlers in which again this double movement appears: there is a blurring (of names, identities, pasts) and exhibitionism (of the body, particularly its sexual relations and execrations), that goes through Noll’s next novels as well. So as not to go on too long, I’d like to look just at the beginning. The first scene is so eloquent, in part because the starting point is the losing of the name: [FOTO]
O meu nome não. Vivo nas ruas de um tempo onde dar o nome é fornecer suspeita. A quem? Não me queira ingênuo: nome de ninguém não. Me chame como quiser, fui consagrado a Joao Evangelista, não que o meu nome seja Joao, absolutamente, não sei de quando nasci, nada, mas se quiser o meu nome busque na lembrança o que de mais instável lhe ocorrer. O meu nome de hoje poderá não me reconhecer amanha. Não soldo portanto à minha cara um nome preciso. Joao Evangelista diz que as naves do Fim transportarão não identidades mas o único corpo impregnado de Um (9). […] Sexo, o meu sexo sim: o meu sexo está libre de qualquer ofensa, e é com ele-só-ele que abrirei caminho entre eu e tu, aqui (9). […] O meu nome não. Nem o meu passado, não, não queira me saber até aqui, digamos que tudo começa neste instante… (9). […] [FOTO] Só tenho o sexo e aqui estamos, sentado um em frente ao outro, e isso importa (10) […][FOTO] …pomo a mão sobre a cabeça desta mulher para batiza-la do nome noto que ela recebe Graça e invoca seu próprio mistério como quem se investe de si mesmo, um nome que não é nada além de todos os outros, um nome, um nome enfim, que não outorga um registro pessoal mas contém mantra para todos os aflitos, um nome, um simples nome que adere apos que precisam de um nome, aos que perderam o seja, o nome do passado civil não, este lembra a mulher submersa ainda – mas ela também não gosta que se fale do passado, nisso nos confluímos, os dois, temos juntos um curso que começa aqui, neste exato instante em que ponho a mão sobre a cabeça desta mulher e a consagro com o novo nome: AFRODITE… (14). [FOTO[
After he presents themselves by the blurring of their identities as citizens –a name, a civil past, even their faces are not described–, one beggar, the narrator, baptized the other beggar with the name of the Greek god of sexuality, beauty, and love: Aphrodite. They drop the name and embrace the existence via sexual desire –the “fúria do corpo”– because, as the narrator insist, the only path is body’s path: “E cada encontró nos lembrava que o único roteiro é o corpo. O corpo” (24). In other words, names (identities) leave, and bodies, desire, and love arrive because the new name is the name of sexual desire: “Aphrodite”. In these sense, in Noll’s writing, as names and faces are erased, explicit references to sexual practices arise, and also explicit mentions to feces, urine, sweats and bodily fluids that transgress the aestheticized image of a “healthy, neat, hygienic, clean” body of the consumer society and neoliberal subjectivity (the one that Foucault called “the homoeconomicus”). By contrast, Noll’s bodies ejaculates, defecates, urinates, bleeds: his literature opens up a view on those areas peripheral to hegemonic perspectives about the body, it is a writing that aims to incorporate the excretions of the body into everyday life.
Whit this idea of blurring (past, names, hegemonic identities), we can put this Noll’s story in a conversation with some of the actions carried out by the Brazilian art collective 3Nós3 FOTO, and with his exhibition of bodies that are outside normative frames, alongside the explicit references to sexuality, Noll’s novel also makes links with Movimento Arte Porno.
OPERAÇAO ENSACAMENTO was the first action 3Nós3 made in the city of Sao Paulo. April 27th 1979 dawned with almost all the statues of the city hooded. [FOTO] Between midnight and 4 am the group –formed by Hudinilson Jr, Rafael França, and Mario Ramiro França– covered the heads of the statues with plastic bags “provoking the suffocation of these displayed heroes” (Resende, 2016: 63). [FOTO] The gesture of “erasing” the faces of the historical monuments of the city, leaving them acephalous, dialogues with the narrator’s diffuse father in Noll’s story, “Something urgently”, and also with the nameless beggar of his novel, A fúria do corpo. In one view, If national heroes and national symbols were erased, the past –symbolized in those monuments– became indecipherable in the same way. Without names and faces, they are bodies that do not coagulate, do not make up an identity as support of the nation, as the projects of the modern states wanted. So, It is a critique to the idea of “Nation”.
In another view, If the “I” has neither a citizen’s name nor a body, if it doesn’t have a precise face, could that “ego” and that body belong to› anybody? What appears is a body that could be any-body? 
Also, this particular mode of sculpting, – wrapping features instead of carving the stone-, is a way to question the western –mostly European– artistic tradition, and the centrality and hegemony of vision. In this line, the acephaly statues suspended the humanist “faith in reason”. 
Besides this questions, the second part of 3nós3’s action, the broadcasting, lets us to think about the force of exhibition. After they covered the statutes they called the newspapers and television stations to announce it. Some newspapers  (Folha da Tarde, Última Hora and Diário da Noite) took notice and published reports that almost all the statues in the city center had been “hooded by unidentified elements”.  So, for them, the intervention not only consisted of covering the statues; the dissemination, or the public circulation of these images was an equally important aspect of the action. Recovering the tradition of media art (for example, Oscar Masotta in Argentina, and Paulo Brusky in Brazil) they profane media. They interfere in public space in two ways: the public statues and the public circulation of information (mass media). ¿What is “the public” after the military dictatorship, during the return of democracy? How to re-appropriate public spaces? What kind of politics emerged in accordance with these questions?
3. MOVEMENTO ARTE PORNO
Those are the concerns that GANG , the performance part of Arte Porno’s movement, were exposing in their actions. On February 13th 1982, in Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro, a group of poets made a collective performance: a Passeata poética Pelo-strep-tease da arte, a naked walk, or a “Passeata-Porno” as they called it, in which they read poems, sang songs, give the award “Oscarlaho”  and distributed the magazine “Porno Comics” , while inviting other people to join them in nudity.
Whit this action, we can think first about the body as a political space and means of resistance but in a very different way than other leftist projects of the ‘60s, in which the body appears as a sacrificial body (the one that scarifies to the revolution). Instead, at the beginning of the ‘80s, these artistic practices perform a desiring and joyful body. As in Noll’s fictions, Arte Porno’s performances go from the clandestine body taking power via armed struggle to the joyful and exhibitionist body that defends the positivitness of sex and considers pleasure, specifically sex pleasure, a universal principle .
I suggest that there is a transformation of political resistance . If leftist movements of the ‘60s gave the body to the revolution to gain a fairer and more equitable future for (“el pueblo”) for the people, Movimento Arte Porno stood up for  “the total penetration of the poemaporno under the wing of the people” / “Pela penetraçao total do poemaporno no seio de povo” as their Manifesto Antropofalico claimed, or, as Cairo Assis, one of the founders of the Movement, resolved in his Manifest : “Contra as ditaduras; viva a pica dura!” / something like: “Against dictatorships, hard dicks!”. The body is not only an object that disciplined by an exterior power, it is, at the same time, a means of subjectivity. For them, the body that becomes public creates community. As they say: “to joining nakedness, joining in nakedness, being a part of a universal sexual joy”), was their porpoise on the passeata, and poems.
Nudity functioned as a strategy to occupy the public space and, at the same time, nudity functioned as a critique to the White, humanist, western, moral and –of course– dressed man (It’s a digression, but we can keep in mind that Portuguese conquerors arrived clothed to Brazil…).
Poetry, politics and sexuality form a nucleus that takes up the tradition of political and protest poetry to make corporality visible. “Make visible” Is an impulse that is also inscribed in their poems: instead of creating a new “poetic” language, they exhibit quotidian language. The poem serves as a frame or a canvas to show everyday expressions, preferably those referred to during sexual climax [FOTO], which the performances simulate too. And, so, exhibiting the body is exhibiting language (words that are non said in literature, that words that belongs -supposedly- to a non-literary, prosaic, quotidian language). Freeing language and bodies to struggle against repression, as Leila Miccolis’s “Manifesto corpofágico” claimed : “The repression that castrates our verses is the same that censures our bodies”. If freeing poetry is freeing bodies, nudity is an exercise of freedom .
Since the return of democratic regimes, art and literature have presented strategies for responding to the forces of normalization (Guerrero 2014), and have brought bodies excluded, disappeared, and made invisible by cultural codes to the foreground (Bourriaud 2015; Didi-Huberman 2014). This suggests a critical and affirmative relation of the body to the political: to EXPLORE their formal possibilities and appearances is a way of creating of new subjectivities. In this sense, art practices experiment with unclassifiable sexualities, ones that often escape normative modes of representation, like those in Noll’s fictions or those explored by the Arte Porno, that aim to recapture the civil and public space after the dictatorships, and, also, make present those bodies made invisible by normative culture. In short, releasing sensuality, subverting language and incorporating minorities were the three most important aims of Arte Porno.
4. HUDINILSON JR. XEROX ACTION
In conclusion, I’d like to comment on one more work in which this double movement or strain, exhibitionism and blur, is operating. In 1981, Hudinilson Urbano Jr., who was at the same time part of 3nós3, published a particular book-like object. It is an envelope that has 17 separate pages: 14 photographies that show the relation between Hudinilson’s body and the machine, and 3 Xeroxes that shows parts or surfaces of his body. In both types of pages, while the body is displayed, the shape is erased. His body is, then, at one and the same time, exhibited and erased. In some way, we see a body escaping from human figures.
 On one hand, in the photographs, the body is recreated with strange and sensual forms: there are close planes that cut the body, highlighting the curves , and there are fragments of arms, folds of joints , and high and low angles that put Hudinilson’s curly hair in the foreground .
Then, in the xerographs,  the body appears more as a texture and mix of shadows, lights, and contrasts than with a delineated form. He seeks to capture—or, we could say, print or register or document or record—the shapes, marks, and textures of the body , like he did in another work: Roupas/esculturas  “Clothes-sculptures.”
Folds, marks, textures: these are the ways through which the body appears, more an inscription than a representation. Of course, we can consider this in relation to “anti-ocular” practices that questioned Western culture’s visuality, (Martin Jay has this excellent book that analyzes the denigration of vision in 20th-century French thought). From a visual to an haptic presence asks for a more affective perception (in touching, affections get involved).
The “corpo xerocado,” the “photocopied body,” is an image of the body generated by a machine via its aleatory “decision” of focusing on certain parts, and in prioritizing some parts instead of others: the Xerox recreates the body in its own way. In this sense, the machine and its robotic eye is a co-author of the work, as Hudinilson says, and in the performance, the body looks for new figurations in its relation with the machine. Like here , I was inspired by Hudinilson, I performed a relation with the scanner machine of the Insitute, but, well, is not the same, I couldn’t lean naked over the scanner….
Just as 3nós3 made profanatory use of the media, here we can think about the unconventional use of the photocopier in two ways: in one way, Arte Xerox appropriates an action conventionally used for bureaucratic functions—the duplication of documents and images; in another way, photocopying as a performative action renews the tradition of the political pamphlets of the left. But here, what is urgent to tell and disseminate is not political ideas in precepts, or political propaganda; it is, rather, his nude body. Like Arte Porno, it is the impulse to make sexuality public, or even more, to exercise nakedness as a means for performing a different way of life.
Can we think about these figurations as innovative links between arts and politics? If we no longer think in terms of “revolution” but rather in “emancipatory movements,” do the modes of resistance become transversal, multiple, or profane? Would art be the practice that interrogates statements and visibilities and opens positions to formulate new conceptions of bodies and forms of life? How did these artistic practices make inscriptions of missing and murdered bodies and, at the same time, create new affects and ways of living? These are the questions I’m trying to answer by investigating these artistic practices of the ‘80s.