Read the conversation between Luiz Camillo Osorio, PIPA Institute’s curator, and Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, one of the Selected artists of PIPA Prize 2021:
LCO – Castiel, let’s start with your education in Espírito Santo, and later in São Paulo. Despite being very young, your work shows a shared background of Clinical Psychology, visual arts and Afro-Brazilian spirituality. How do these knowledge – usually so distinct in their specific institutionalities – integrate and constitute such a unique practice of poetic convergences and disciplinary displacements?
CVM: I believe it’s because I was raised in a way that didn’t let me forget the inseparability between my organs and the members of my body, or between my body and the biotic community that bred me and fed me during the first decades of this incarnation: the Fonte Grande community. What we have are distances that in Brazil are mixed through whitening. But even though I have “Brasileiro” [Brazilian] as my last name, I’ve never belonged to this country, and I also don’t belong to the story of the Universal Subject, proposed by psychoanalysis and psychologies, much less to any religion. Religions are boats and spirituality is the sea. On the surface I may be Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, but when I dive that name doesn’t matter anymore, nor any of those modern mythologies incarnated in me (Blackness, Travestiness). Because my blood belongs to the waters, not to Brazilianness.
I don’t have any institutional pact; I’m not interested in defending the history of my professions, because I don’t care about proving to the whitenesses and cisgendernesses that I’m a psychologist, artist and writer. I already am; I meet the requirements, and even so, I do not succumb to them. Then I realize that you, humans, get scared and bothered by my non-accountability regarding your history, your truth. The fact is that I was born in Brazil, decided to follow some careers, but my story does not end here, nothing does.
Yes, I must declare: catholic and neopentecostal religiosities are essential to the establishment and maintenance of modernity as a racial violence. Psychoanalysis and psychologies also feed on the same matter or substance co-opted by capitalists and religions: the soul, or, in other words, thought, cognition, subjectivity. Intuition is an exercise for the soul, and the soul is a substance for spirituality, and the body in which the soul lies integrates eco-social stories. In other words, Capitalism, Psychologies, Psychoanalysis and Afro-Brazilian religions integrate modernity and use the same sources to survive; drink from the same fountain, despite giving different names to it. You call me Castiel, Black, Travesti, psychologist, artist. Yes. But in the bottom of the ocean, none of this matters, that is what my life, my work is about: the good death, kalunga.
LCO – One thing that calls my attention is the variety of languages you manipulate in your art-making process – which is in a way a making of yourself. Watercolors (wonderful ones, by the way), photographs, photo-performances, ceramics, movies, installations. And they’re always activating a dimension very material and very spiritual of signs, bodies, and of interaction with the other, that is at the same time very material and very spiritual. How do you choose the processes you work with, the languages your poetics put into play?
CVB: I create because I want to have a good death. And every time I create, I transfigure layers and threads of my soul into shapes, textures, smells, earthling colors. Check out the series “Corpoflor” (Body-flower). Currently I create in order to leave planet Earth and connect with an intergalactic dimension of my existence. Because I’ve learned to love the creation process, I’ve learned to love my purpose – the one which tells me the unpredictability of shape will prevail as long as you choose the good death; that which is announced with every watercolor created, because drawing with water or creating temples are ways to remind me that when I die, I’ll be back not for the moments I didn’t live at the bottom of the ocean, but to remind me that I was never out of the ocean, because blood flows in me. That is why I create images, ceramics, dances, texts, movies, because I choose unpredictability. I wake up and feel that I must draw with water. I sleep and I feel that I must dance, work with clay or make a movie. I create because I get hungry, and I choose the technique in accordance with my hunger.
LCO – A noteworthy aspect of your production is the poetry of your titles, being themselves poetic addressings: “Quando o segredo é revelado, o mistério não é roubado” (When the secret is revealed, the mystery is not stolen); “Lembrar da maldição, sentir a profecia” (Remember the curse, feel the prophecy); “O estado sólido do fogo é a saudade” (The solid state of fire is longing), and so on. Do they turn up during your art-making process? Or do they exist beforehand and wait to be materialized in the art work?
CVB: I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t know, because there is really no explanation when these miracles or smiles occur. I choose titles when I’m relaxed, and that doesn’t always happen.
I think in many languages… Portuguese, English, Kimbundu, Pajubá, Spanish. In this moment, I know my titles are reminders or invitations, and also poems. I often start to write the title of a work, and I continue to tranform it into a poetic paragraph. Then I stop and say to myself: “Take it easy, breathe in, you don’t need all that because the image is enough”.
Then I answer to myself: “But an image does not depend on words.”
So I generally choose to resume the title in a separate framework, and single out the sentence that shall be said when necessary. However, no language precedes my body. If that happens, there is racial violence. That is why my titles emerge during what goes on in my creations. And for that translation you’re asking of me towards an understanding “à brasileira” [in a Brazilian way], I say that my creation doesn’t correspond to chronological time. I have another rhythm; immeasurable to the figures we call numbers. So I really don’t know how to answer that question.
LCO – I find it very interesting when you say that you’re not worried about categories such as Afro-Brazilian, Travesti art etc; that you feel a radical distance from Brazilianness; that you belong to planet Earth and its elements – fire, water and earth –; that you’re seeking to create what you call “perishable spaces of freedom”. All that is very instigating, actual and urgent. Tell me more about it.
CVB: Yes, I go to Macumba centers and I’m often disrespected there. Not in all of them, but unfortunately travestiphobia is very common in those temples. To become aware of the colonization happening in those healing spaces has allowed me to disenchant the idea of freedom as a Christian paradise, of art as a museum artifact, and of clinic as a practice to be carried out solely inside the White Cube. I also find very important the links I make between Brazilian quilombos, the incompetent Lei Áurea (Golden Law) and the mediocre white abolitionists that did nothing but develop empathy amongst themselves. That is, they put themselves into the shoes of enslaved people, when what needs to be done is to put themselves in their place of inheritors of colonial wealth, of plunders and colonizers.
Freedom and cure, in Brazil, are words and experiences that walk together and get mixed up, confused. In my poetics, I propose healing as a perishable moment of freedom, and acknowledge freedom as a real event, although unfathomable to language, and unpredictable to known shapes. I confabulate freedom to Black and native people. That is my concern. But I know my reach exceeds my initial coordinates.
Therefore, freedom is not a space, but an event that sets up spatiality and also temporalities, because even though this freedom throws us into vital moments in which the category of space-time doesn’t apply, freedom is ephemeral, and when it ends, we see ourselves inhabiting places of violence. It comes and goes. So the challenge is to create a space that accommodates mechanisms, tools and conditions so that this freedom can be established. Freedom – to us who are dark – is becoming indescribable to gender, race and whichever modern markers/predictions/mappings that are daily used to translate us.
In order for that to happen, I’ve decided to radicalize my poetics by embracing the ephemerality of shape, and with that I’ve decided temples are built only once. These spaces interact with history and the ecological conditions of each environment in which they are created. That is why repetition is not a possibility. The work “Quarto de Cura” (Healing Room) is the only one that allows the possibility of being installed in several places; in each one of those territories there is a new Healing Room. That’s what freedom is about: embracing the river-like, liquid condition of life; embracing the transfiguration.
LCO – The installation “Quarto de Cura” (Healing Room) took place between December 2018 and January 2019. Could you explain how it worked? Can we call it an installation? Was it activated by the visitors and you? Did the healing happen through scheduled visits? What do you find therapeutic about your work? What connects and what separates art and therapy?
CVB: I think the Installation category has traditionally corresponded to the poetic and curatorial interests of a white Brazilian elite, with which I have no desire to associate myself, even though my work has been sometimes placed by the Brazilian curatorial agenda – inside and outside the country – in dialogue with artists such Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. Or sometimes even with Nise da Silveira. My story is a different one. I do not make art-therapy, I do not fetishize the favela and its architecture, and I’m not interested in reflecting on emotional and sensitive castrations of whiteness with my work.
I am interested in stories of Stela do Patricionio, Arthur Bispo do Rosário and of so many other Black and native people that were incarcerated and psychiatrized as well for their aesthetic doings, which showed life beyond the existential limits imposed by the category/tool/methodology/mythology of The Modern Subject. We could restart the history of dance and performance in this country from the first arrest of Black men for practicing capoeira. We could start the history of Brazilian art by looking into the fact that police stations became museums as they looted Afro-Brazilian temples of their sacred objects. We should start the history of the body from the catechizing of native people, which were obligated to kneel and pray to a phallic God that is also used by psychologies and psychoanalysis to tell us that Black families are dysfunctional and that gender transition is a disorder. So to answer your questions, we need time and joint effort, because those are matters that, if analyzed in an ethical manner, show us that Brazil should come to an end.
Yes, I can affirm that “Quarto de Cura” is a perishable space of freedom, are suspension zones created within this cursed geography. At the end of 2018, my congo master, Renato Santos, visited the group exhibition “Malungas”, curated by Rosana Paulino and integrated by Charlene Bicalho, Kika Carvalho and myself at Museu Capixaba do Negro. On that visit, Renato invited me to set up “Quarto de Cura” at his house, at Fonte Grande hill. And so I did: I went back and forth between work and the hospital where my grandfather, Benedito Brasileiro, was admitted three days before the grand opening. My grandfather Bininho died while “Quarto de Cura” was taking place. He always told us he wanted to die at the edge of the woods of Fonte Grande, where we lived.
In that Healing Room, I made myself available to visits, spending several hours inside the room welcoming people. We would talk about traumas, we would create music, photographs, we would cry and I’d ask the following question: “What is healing?”. I recorded some of those testimonials, and then I elaborated a soundtrack that became the music for the movie “Lembrar daquilo que esqueci” (Remember what I had forgotten – 2019). Some people from the community understood that I had opened a Macumba center in Fonte Grande and was offering blessings, like it used to happen in the neighborhood’s past. Today I know that they were right, because my artwork is a spiritual, clinical work, that is, it’s an exercise for and from the soul, an intuition. It was very important to build that Room, because it contributed to the history of Fonte Grande hill as a quilombola territory, even if the City Council of Vitória and the Brazilian State don’t recognize it as one.
I provided days and hours and waited for people to come visit me. In those encounters, I noticed linkages of pleasure and a fetish that had not yet been elaborated by me with the proper care and courage. I’m blick, and in Brazil people expect servitude from me. Fetishes such as Tia Anastácia and the Black Old Lady that heals white people, or Wet Nurses, which are daily used by you in order to approach and bond with me, whether in clinic or in art. Later, I published my book “Quando encontro vocês: macumbas de travestis, feitiços de bixas” (When I meet you: Travesti macumba and Queer witchcraft – 2019).
LCO – It’s hard to deal with your work. There is helplessness and strong energies. What would you say to someone who is getting acquainted with your work, your poetics, and does not know where to turn?
CVB: Remain in the misunderstanding or you will rape me with your enlightenment desire, which whitens me to try to grasp my totality. I’m nothing beyond a dark creature, una mujer invertida, un hombre maldito, una flor, una tormenta. Si, soy tudo isto pero no se mi nombre. Pois soy tudo isso. Pois no soy nada mas que un respiro citrico. La forma de la menya. Kalunga.*
LCO – How did the pandemic affect you and your work? What will never be the same?
CVB: I lived what was necessary to me, with the wisdom I had to offer myself. What transfigured was my interests, I’m disenchanted. Currently I no longer wish to meet you.
*We chose to keep this passage in Spanish, because translating it would impair the symbolic meaning of the artist’s statement.