SÃO PAULO, 1988
SCULPTURE, INSTALLATION, PERFORMANCE
No room for questions
Interview with Fernanda Barreto
BY REGINA DE CON COSSÍO
Photographs Courtesy of the Artist
Brazilian sculptor and installation artist Fernanda Barreto constructs an exhibit as a reflection to president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro’s last-minute pullout from the World Economic Forum. Bolsonaro’s excuse was “there would be no time for questions,” which gave birth to Barreto´s flame to start a conversation regarding the important meeting that never took place.
Barreto’s work heavily focuses on language and the practice of communication, collective enunciation and social structures making use of distinct media. Thus, this strange event of miscommunication attracted the artist to stage the meaning of this non-existent oral communication and the presence of a very big elephant in the room.
The press conference would have taken place alongside Bolsonaro’s ministers and was canceled due to a surgery the president was recently recovering from. However, the manner in which the media was questioning his accomplishments and promises gave way for the president to excuse himself from even more uncomfortable questions.
I sat down with Fernanda Barreto to ask her about her motivation and the meaning behind the exhibition inspired by Bolsonaro’s actions.
Regina: What was your main trigger for this piece of art and, for you, which are the places where communication can happen?
FB: We have transformed oral and written language as communication in this society. But there so many other things that that act as communication like the human body. The later medium is so powerful because it is always enunciating more than actual verbalization. There are so many limitations that oral language unfortunately box us like for example, translations never end up as the original message. There is so much room for interpretation that the original meaning gets lost.
What was shown to the world throughout news outlets was the image of this empty table with the names on plaques of the absent participants of the forum. The empty water glasses and the empty chairs create a great impact that felt as a comparison as the climax that never happened, but it should have. Communication also happens through the body, not just oral and written language, which is why the body is such an important vehicle.
Regina: The installation itself is not a contestation, is it? But rather…
FB: I’d like to think that this installation piece can come off as a response, but it is more of a reflection, isn’t it? I feel it is a resistance. The empty spaces where you project yourself can be coded as locations where actions can happen. However, there is a jarring feeling that makes the body stop and realize that the action will definitely not happen. But if you’d like to think of it as a response, then that is what art does.
Regina: When you first knew of the Bolsonaro’s actions and that the interview never took place, did it cause an abnormality in you that might trigger an alert in terms of putting attention to when a political discourse does not happen, when it clearly was his duty to do so?
FB: I realize that there is a phenomenon happening very similar to that of the United States where there is no political action and so much lack of preparation and understanding. This is finally being replaced by a rant of 140 characters on Twitter. The later circulates on a massive scale. Actually, yesterday was the closure of the carnival of Brazil and Bolsonaro uploaded a video with the question asking what a bumble shower was. These are the actual preoccupations and questions the highest position in Brazilian government asks the public through the official account on Twitter. The world is dying and the republic is fading. The retweets and the memes caused by this one are a façade for the real questions that are left unanswered, it is a trap. There are so many decisions being made without transparency that cause criticism and questions. The media is there for the bomb to explode and be unaffected by the changes.
Regina: Finally, would you agree that in the closure of spaces where questions to authority need to be made is the same as shutting down and avoiding a certain responsibility?
FB: Absolutely. The message he sent was “I do not want to be questioned.” This is the answer of a dictator, in which this person actively makes the decision of how they want to be portrayed as. The dictator chooses the narrative as opposed to the actual facts. If there is space for questions there is space for various different interpretations. And this philosophy can be applied to every aspect of life, right? If there is no place for questions there is no place for anything.