‘Aleta Valente – Stage Play (Jogos de Cena)’, by Luiz Camillo Osorio
At the end of 2019 the PIPA Institute acquired a set of photographs by Aleta Valente, seven in all, in addition to a work produced on a mirror. Below are some observations on her artistic philosophy and interventions on social networks. They are comments based on my interest in images that move without a certain destination, in work without any guaranteed institutional home. Being and not being art.
I first came into contact with her work when she was nominated for the PIPA Award (2016) and, on that occasion, received a large number of votes in the award’s online edition. I saw there – which was unusual – a type of work that fit easily into this kind of online circulation, or rather, whose origin was associated with this type of dissemination.
Moreover, it was intelligent, humorous, ironic work. In 2015 she created a character/avatar on Instagram called Ex-Miss-Febem (‘Former Miss Juvenile Detention Center’). For two years, until she was suspended by the platform, she posted visual commentary and self-portraits there daily, where everyday life is presented as revealed and reinvented. The most important aspect of this was her capacity to shift and give another voice and face to what was happening in the world and what was happening to herself. Her, looking at the world, us seeing the world through her, the world being revealed by her, her being transformed by the world. Everything at the speed of online life: unpretentious, but striking. But something detached itself from the informational speed and produced an interrogation, a reflection, a kind of wistful image.
Fictionalizing herself. Observing, dismantling, reassembling reality. Putting everything in motion. She did this because there was apparently nothing else to do. She had a routine, she transformed this into a procedure, not a prison sentence. Repeat. Pause. Don’t stop. Let the images, the image-phrases, circulate. In the flow of circulation, striations emerge, like speed bumps forcing the eye to stop. In the play of circulation and reflection, an artistic philosophy was produced in the noisy dynamic of the social networks. An artistic philosophy contaminated by the urgency of having to be produced in an unprotected environment. The tendency here is towards dispersion. We go back to Walter Benjamin’s question: how should we think about dispersion?
This question is answered by doing. Hence her irrepressible experimentation and risk. As the artist herself says: “take the risk and show that things have nuances”1. The ambivalence emerges precisely as the price to be paid for the insecurity of these images which move like swarms through the network. This process does not allow her to transform her artistic philosophy into conceptual research. The research here is the process itself without a defined method, comprising trial and error, planning and chance, stage play and poetic discovery.
Speaking of ‘Stage Play’ (Jogo de Cena) I rewatched the documentary (of the same name) by Eduardo Coutinho. Aleta Valente appears in it. She plays herself and Fernanda Torres plays her too. The real and her double. A life-character divided into two: a lived life and an interpreted life. How can we tell them apart? Precisely because she’s a great actress, Fernanda Torres was unable to do justice to the other’s speech. She failed because between the representation and the life there is a physical discomfort which she is unable to capture. In Aleta’s speech this discomfort is expressed in a nervous laugh which emerges during the more tragic moments of the interview. This laugh came from a place which the actress (Fernanda Torres) did not find, and could not find. The artist herself (Aleta Valente) talks indirectly about this discomfort in an answer given to the magazine Select: “the whole process, of seeing people at the premiere laughing or making comments, was really brutal. Everything that I wanted to distance myself from was explicitly there: vulnerability, poverty, despair, fear of madness…but this also opened me up to understanding how I represented myself”.
It was also a learning process to realize how the “self” and the “image of oneself” did not need (don’t need) to coincide. Indeed, to want to tie one to the other is an illusion and a reduction. An excerpt from Fernando Pessoa that Wim Wenders scrawls on the wall in Lisbon Story has the same sense: “Ah! Not to be me, to be everyone, everywhere!” The creation of herself in Instagram avatars was a strategy of heteronomy, of the multiplication of oneself in the flow of everyday life and its challenges of adaptation and escape.
In her self-portraits the characters are composed through the framing of the image, through the use of accessory-objects, through poses, light, and the title-phrases. She is the object and subject of her images; she poses and provokes; for this reason, she is rarely seen face-on but rather from above and below. Unlike Cindy Sherman’s characters, the character here is not a disguise, it is a double. She is the mask; she reveals herself through it. The vulnerability is not a defect of the auto-fictional construction.
Much has been said about her militancy on the social networks. A teenage mum, a woman from a low-income background, an ex-Miss-Febem of Instagram, the artist who works and struggles in a contaminated environment. The best of this militancy is in the strength of the nuances, the vulnerability, the image-phrases which separate from the flow and the trash. In this regard it is worth noting the untimeliness, of simultaneously belonging and being inappropriate.
Of being an artist on Instagram and an activist in the art world. Of being a bourgeois on the outside and an outsider within the bourgeoisie. Of operating at speed and braking unexpectedly. Of producing swarms of images and saving them from indifference. Of appropriating everything and giving the impersonal its own style.
I cannot fail to mention her exhibition at the Gentil Carioca Gallery at the end of 2019. It was a challenge to bring this whirlwind of the social networks to the tranquil space of the gallery. How could we avoid aestheticizing the noisy image? How could we do justice to the singularity of the image in the face of the indifference of the swarm? The first question seemed to me to possess the greatest danger, since in the dissemination on the social networks the presence of the wistful image was striking. But the risk of aestheticization was tempting: galleries and the market often request it. But no. Its staging replicated the cascading dynamic of the images in the virtual world, overlaying highlighted, printed and framed images with expanded images plotted with wallpaper. In one room of the gallery the woman-character, in the other the character-woman, the daily struggle and the necessary fiction, the being inside the image and the placing oneself outside of it, art and militancy, all at the same time, together and without affectation. The mirrors, with self-portraits and plotted phrases multiplied the cacophony and the reflexiveness, in the play between the materiality of the image and the incorporation of the gaze that sees from the outside.
To conclude without finishing, I want to comment on her latest work on Avenida Brasil, which is still in the production phase. Awarded a ZUM grant by IMS, this project by Valente is a dive into an approach road to Rio, along which everybody who lives in the low-income suburbs of the city and works in the center travels. It is a road on which she has travelled extensively, especially when she studied at Fundão (UFRJ – Federal University of Rio de Janeiro). She experienced everything there. Traffic jams, surprise, exhaustion, boredom, ugliness, fear, poetry; a polyhedral variety of affects and sensations typical of anyone oscillating between anaesthetization and attention. The bus window and the computer or cellphone screen grant access to a world in motion, which repeats itself, and is tedious and addictive. The challenge of projects of this nature is how to transform ethnography into poetry, description into fabulation, drawing some unthought of clairvoyance from what has already been seen. From Instagram to Avenida Brasil, we live immersed in a forest of signs and symbols. Either we drown in the catatonic meaninglessness or we work in the appropriation, dislocation, mixing of fragments and sensations, translating and inventing all this cacophony, into some wistful images, some moments of meaning.
1. Observation of the artist at a live event that we did together for the project Not-Cancelled on 26/6/2020.
Works acquired by PIPA Institute in 2019: