Interviews from the Archive – Frente 3 de Fevereiro

Date of Interview: Mar 14, 2014
Location: Brazil
Topic: Interview with Frente 3 de Fevereiro (Daniel Lima)
Interviewer: Rodrigo Martí on behalf of LatinArt.com[1]

LatinArt:  Mr. Lima, as we know, the group was formed following the assassination of Flavio Sant’Ana in 2004. That event gave the group its name. Could you fill us in more concerning the formation of the group and the development of the first artworks or actions carried out as Frente 3 de Fevereiro?

Frente 3 de Fevereiro:  If we’re going to talk about the origins of Frente, we should provide a time frame to give a broader historical perspective. We should speak about the history of the young artists who were here in São Paulo working in the streets as an alternative, since they had no spaces in the cultural institutions or galleries of São Paulo. This was at the outset of 2000, when a whole generation of artists was working with a different kind of support, looking for another kind of DNA for their art production.

This took place in a country with major social conflicts and in the enormous city of São Paulo, a megalopolis with 18 million inhabitants, which gave us a perspective, a certain idea of interventions and art in the city. Groups started forming and working collectively in social research and in urban interventions. Frente 3 de Febrero was established after this process had already consolidated and was pretty well developed. So when Flavio Sant’Ana was murdered a field of urban-intervention practices and social research was already in existence. It was very clear to Frente 3 Fevereiro that they were engaged in a process of media war, a drive to occupy the mass media. It was in this context that the Frente arose and it became possible to recruit a series of collectives to take part in actions against the police operation that led to Flavio Sant’Ana’s death. That was our origin, which then led to a more orbital movement that took shape around racial issues and subsequently a definitive nucleus started to be formed, a working nucleus.

Frente 3 Fevereiro was the first group to address a specific field of research: the issue of race in Brazilian society. Later on we broadened our approach to include other societies affected by processes of exclusion. This focus made us a little different to other collectives in São Paulo: the group’s highly specific line of research has given it a very clear, well-defined line of work. This gave us the possibility of doing work like the Zumbi somos Nós documentary, which had a well-defined approach based on research from the start and continued along that line during the five years it took to develop the project.

From a more particular point of view, we can say the origin of Frente was also inspired by my mother. My mother is a black woman who raised three black children in São Paulo and other cities in Brazil. This was a mother who saw the news of a young black man who was murdered by the police and also witnessed the whole process of criminalizing the suspect, which made her realize that this could happen to one of her children or to her children’s friends. So she started calling the network created by the members of the collectives who are our friends on the phone to say we had to do something, a protest, a demonstration, or some other creative endeavor. So we already had the means needed to organize what was to become the Frente 3 de Fevereiro.

LatinArt:  Can you tell us how you developed the strategies used by these collectives in your initial years?

Frente 3 de Fevereiro:  As of 2000, a generation began working collectively on a line of work characterized by social research. In this context in São Paulo, young people who wanted to work in visual arts could try working in galleries in the knowledge that work with political content does not have a large audience. The art-gallery public is not interested in this kind of discourse, and we’re also aware that Brazil in general is a country with a strong tradition of segregation and a tradition of enormous artistic and cultural shortsightedness. The whole of Brazil is permeated by a social issue that is not touched upon in gallery artwork and traditional cultural spaces.

So we were faced with the question: what can we do in social and political terms? This reflection and our art processes led to the varied production we have in São Paulo, its urban interventions and links to work both on the street and with social movements.

There came a time when the discussion took on an international dimension in São Paulo through an important event known as Zona de Ação (Action Zone), which was the first cultural event in which Frente took part, along with other São Paulo collectives (Contrafilé, BijaRi and Cobaia) and a collective from Argentina, the Grupo de Arte Callejero (GAC). We also invited Brian Holmes and Suely Rolnik to create a kind of ongoing discussion on the political dimension of art production. This event led to an international connection and it was then that Frente and other São Paulo collectives began visualizing an international stage for this kind of art production. This connection came to be very important for the development of these collectives and their research.

In terms of the historical context, we can say that this discussion of actions on the street, direct action, urban intervention, urban interference, those pieces that are done on the street, in public spaces, are influenced not only by contemporaries but by the artists of the sixties and seventies who worked with these forms and concepts. It’s not just a question of talking about our own historical period but also of how everything in art is a discourse with a previous background that ties in similar attempts and interests that seek to break with the closed system of art. It’s a quest to find their historical brothers and relatives in art.

LatinArt:  In 2007 you made the book, the documentary and the musical album known as Zumbi Somos Nós (We Are Zumbi). How did you arrive at the documentary medium, which seems to me a particularly appropriate medium for Frente’s transdisciplinary work, and how does it relate to the other artworks carried out under the same name?

Frente 3 de Fevereiro:  Well, as I was saying Frente came about when we already had a number of collectives with some experience in the transdisciplinary discourse; for instance there was a collective in which I and other members of Frente 3 Fevereiro took part, known as The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. This was a TV program in 2002 that addressed direct actions, interventions, video art, all that kind of thing. In this group we already had a clear idea that our field of action would be a space shared by different art categories. We were interested in working in the intersection of fields such as video, music and visual arts. As Duchamp said, “the artist looks for a way to reach a clearing”. The limit between art categories for us is a “clearing” for art work. In a world that tends to categorize, to pigeonhole knowledge, when we move horizontally we can shape a type of work, of production, that has a unique characteristic, an ability to move in a totally different way. So this came when Frente was being formed, in the understanding that its work would be transdisciplinary, crises-crossing art categories. This is super important because it allows us an institutional movement that wouldn’t be possible if we worked using a single language. What I mean is that it’s not just a characteristic of our art, but also a strategic movement for entering the institutional world. So when we made the documentary, for example, we had money from a documentary-cinema contest, but the origin of the work was a theater piece based on a musical production, which in turn was based on theoretical-textual research which led to the book. So the possibility of shifting from one field to another is what brought about the possibility of making a film like Zumbi Somos Nós and other pieces we’ve done that are characterized by different approaches to racial issues.

In short, our support is an art language in which we seek that artistic hybridization, a kind of intersection between art languages. Frente’s transdisciplinary and transversal thing is also a characteristic that stems from the collective production that already existed in our group, through our members’ different disciplines, their different points of departure. All this was overlaid with a strategy that makes use of and fits in with different institutional fields in order to cross different spheres and different forms of knowledge.

LatinArt:  Talking about this idea of the different institutional, artistic, etc. languages that Frente uses, how do you view the Frente’s theoretical-textual work in relation to your involvement with, and dedication to, direct actions? Many consider that these areas are contradictory or conflicting, but as I understand it, Frente resorts to both all the time.

Frente 3 de Fevereiro:  When you think that our field of action encompasses visual, musical and text-based creation, these are languages that allow for a different vocabulary and grammar. The sum of these languages is what generates Frente’s work potential. This question of theoretical research for Frente was very useful for establishing a very clear, well-defined topic of research at the outset. For some critics at the time, this quality was a limiting factor for the collective, something that pigeonholed our understanding of the world. But our development over time has shown that this approach means we can delve deeper into this subject. By concentrating on a very specific nucleus of research we can resort to different processes, artworks, exhibitions, presentations, and continue developing the same topic and delving into it further in theoretical terms.

Many of the members of the group work in the theoretical field and this has always enriched us. It was important to ask ourselves: how can we establish a process and a discussion of theory without doing academic work? How can we engage in social research without doing art that is superficial and limited? The different forces in the group formed certain conditions for the group to believe in merging the languages of theory with the languages of art.

We can also refer to Frente’s process. Not as a methodology, which is a concept that’s too fixed, but the actual process of 21 people working collectively to accomplish pieces such as a film, a musical album, a book, without a director or a single person leading the work, but focusing on a completely horizontal approach instead. Doing a piece like a documentary film with 21 directors is an incredible process! And it’s also the fruit of maturing through a collective practice. When Frente arose it already had the foundations for working like this, in a horizontal manner shaped, researched and practiced by other collectives.

At that time we had a collective known as Política del Imposible (Politics of the Impossible), which focused on education. We were given guidance by Paulo Freire’s daughter, Fátima Freire, and that helped us shape the pedagogical process for creating collective work.

LatinArt:  The piece you did in Medellin, Colombia, for MDE11 focused on the militarization of the low-income communities or shantytowns of São Paulo, and those of Medellin and Haiti as well. It was there that you started using the idea of the Architecture of Exclusion to guide your project. Could you tell us a little about this project and how it has continued in regard to the demonstrations and actions that have taken place in Brazil during the past year?

Frente 3 de Fevereiro:  For this piece in Medellin we worked Felipe Teixeira. Frente worked with him for three weeks doing social research for a documentary, and the Son Batá collective contributed to the musical part of the project as well as helping us to understand the history of Comuna 13. We’re now finishing the editing of the video.

To speak about this project, we must first talk a little about the research we undertook for Zumbi Somos Nós. This project, including both the book and the documentary, were divided into three parts. The first part was guided by the issue of police racism, which was the reason for forming the group and that led us to the process of research that subsequently changed when we realized that we had to work with other issues too in order to delve deeper into the issue of police racism. The second part was established on understanding that to address police racism we have to talk about something that is very strong in Brazil, which is the idea of “racial democracy”, and how that idea has developed historically. In each part we use a social trigger, i.e. something that happened recently or in the past. In the first part it was the murder of Flavio Sant’Ana, which we used to discuss police racism; in the second part we used a case of racism during a football match to address Racial Democracy. Football is the strongest metaphor in Brazil and perhaps in other parts of the world for referring to the idea of Racial Democracy, the idea of coexistence and harmony between races and the utopia of peaceful coexistence. This idea is very important for Brazilian society, just as much as the invisibility of social conflicts is. The third part of the book and the documentary began to address the “Geography of Exclusion”: how cities and urban spaces engage in processes of exclusion and racism, and how visible and invisible walls are raised.

With that discussion of the Geography of Exclusion, we had a whole line of development that took us to the piece we did in Medellin. When we began, we first investigated the issue of homeless occupation[2] here in São Paulo and the metaphor of Quilombo in regard to this situation. Here the metaphor of Quilombo[3] and the occupation by the homeless broadened the racial issue, not just for the black population but also for the indigenous issue, the issue of immigrants… We used the concept of the Quilombo or Palenque to work with a historical fact. These places can offer us an alternative to colonial society in that they’re an example that encompasses the blacks, indigenous peoples, and whites who did not fit into colonial society. The research on the Geography of Exclusion gave rise to a series of questions, the first being how did this process of segregation come about in the city? From there we started on a documentary in Rio de Janeiro in 2010 called the Architecture of Exclusion, which looks at the process of making Rio de Janeiro more spectacular for the World Cup and the Olympics. During the process of research we started looking at the means used by public power to create invisible walls in society. In other words, how the spectacle of TV and making the city more spectacular have been based on the construction of social segregation. This has been done in order to “prepare” Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup. In Brazil the State created a series of devices to reinforce social segregation. Through this endeavor they instigated a model for occupying the shantytowns in Rio de Janeiro known as the “Pacifying Police Unit”. This doesn’t just mean police occupations but also installing surveillance cameras and building walls around shantytown communities. So they created what are almost open-air prisons.

Who created this model for occupying Brazilian shantytowns? The model was created twelve years ago in Medellin when its shantytowns were occupied as part of Operation Orion. On investigating the process that has taken place in Rio de Janeiro, we found a model that originated in Medellin, so we went to Medellin to investigate how the model had been created for its shantytowns. So we saw how this story took place in Medellin’s “comunas” and how it can point to the future of communities in Rio de Janeiro. This led us to ask what kind of impact the police state has had in communities both in Medellin and in Rio.

Another line of research stemming from our investigation of the Geography of Exclusion and the preparation of Brazilian cities for world sporting events refers to the development of technologies for controlling the masses. In this regard we have a very revealing phenomenon of all the geopolitical game that is Brazil’s military occupation of Haiti. At the request of the UN, Brazil has been carrying out military surveillance in Haiti to this day, to maintain social control. With this we reach another understanding of the geopolitical diagram in which Brazil created the development of forms of technology with which to control the masses. Haiti has become a laboratory for that technology, and those Brazilian troops trained in Haiti subsequently invaded Rio de Janeiro’s main shantytowns. The troops that learned occupation strategies in Haiti are those that then carried out the military occupation of Complejo de Alemania (a district and group of shantytowns on Rio de Janeiro’s north side). So we started making a geopolitical diagram showing the control of the masses and control of the population that showed a very revealing link that has been kept invisible to society. That is to say the connections in the development of control technologies that our research showed had taken place in different parts of Latin America and the world.

In this piece we are now trying to connect and work with the situation regarding the transformation of Brazil, not just in Rio de Janeiro but in all the cities where World Cup matches will be played. We’re making maps, in conjunction with other collectives and artists, showing how those control technologies are being used throughout Brazil to make show pieces of cities in order to create the right atmosphere for the World Cup.


 

[1] Originally published on LatinArt.com.

[2]  These include movements that fight to secure urban low-income and community housing by occupying vacant lots in the city. The struggle then goes through legal hurdles and often involves confrontations with the police.

[3] Quilombos: stockades where politically organized fugitive slaves, indigenous peoples and whites gathered during the colonial period. They were the main form of resistance to slavery in Brazil. They were also communities that often traded with colonial society, and, as such, spaces where another model of community was possible. The largest quilombo in Brazil was Palmares, which engaged in resistance for more than 100 years. Its best-known leader was Zumbi dos Palmares.

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