Giselle Beiguelman

Date 19 OCTOBER 2009
Country BRAZIL

In Last Exit Before Reality Giselle Beiguelman caricatures the politically correct borders imposed by a society of control. The aggressive stream of continuously flashing warning and prohibition signs leaves the viewer without any doubt that s/he is trespassing countless rules in a strictly controlled environment. According to Beiguelman, the steep influx of rules and regulations in our current climate, followed by their almost natural acceptation within civil society, leads to the loss of a possibility for conflict, and thus to a disappearance of -previously negotiated- public space.

Interview with Giselle Beiguelman

You describe your animation of warning and prohibition signs LAST EXIT BEFORE REALITY briefly as a ‘generic work that focuses on the politically correct borders imposed by society of control’. Could you elaborate a bit on that and describe the background to your work?
In the past years, we have been talking about cognitive capitalism and the configuration of the web 2.0 in some ways seemed to confirm this hypothesis. What is emerging is a conformist scenario where ‘fansumers’ are taking place of the creative producers, and where such people operate power and control. Social networks, for example, are spreading and growing up based on the paradigm of walled gardens, where we just move around and meet people who share the same tastes, books, desires, tags etc that we already have.
Conflict disappears in this context. And if there is no conflict, there is only one direction, one way, and the public sphere subsequently disappears. Maybe the most disturbing thing of our time is the way we have been ‘naturalizing’ the rules, like happy soldiers, and the privatization of cultural life. This is the background of the work.

Borders and boundaries seem to play an important role in your oeuvre. Often these are borders between cyberspace and the physical (public) space. In case of LAST EXIT BEFORE REALITY it’s borders influenced by current social trends. In how far do you consider your work to be political?
LAST EXIT BEFORE REALITY focuses the microphysics of power of our daily life. In this sense, it is a political work.
It is also important to highlight and remark on the particular situation of the city I live in, Sao Paulo, which currently undergoes a peculiar process of transformation. During the past 2 or 3 years many new laws appeared. There is now the law of silence – that states that all bars in residential areas must be closed after 11, in spite of the fact that most of the bars are in residential areas, the law of the clean city – which removed the commercial signage from the city and left the empty spaces without taking care of them, the anti smoking law – which has a special brigade to check if someone is smoking in common areas, and the Prohibition – which forbids people to drive if they consume alcohol.

Of course, some of those laws are very good and positive. But they are also part of an increasingly stronger conservative movement that suppresses negotiation. It tries to regulate everything in a very authoritarian way and focuses on the end result of the actions without taking care of the means and the social articulations of each action. In short, the prevailing idea seems to be to build a politically correct city without taking care of the basic standards of public policies, like infrastructure habitation, education etc.

The anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall is the starting point for the VFC_Berlin commissions. More recently we have not only experienced an increasing tendency towards gated communities, but also incidents such as the suggested measure by the city government of Rio de Janeiro to erect walls to limit the expansion of the local favelas (slums). What is your take on these developments in the built environment and do they require a new public discourse and/or new artistic approaches?
We are watching this tendency towards gated communities in all spheres. The web space has been converted to a bunch of walled gardens and corporate territories based on the confusion between ‘free lunches’ and public sphere.
As far as new artistic approaches are concerned, I think it is time to pay attention to the viral networks and informal structures that are proposing alternative models of production and distribution of access to technology and sustainable architecture. Concerning the built environment, it must take into account local factors and face that we need – in the Brazilian case, urgent habitation and infrastructure actions.

The suggested measure to erect walls around the favelas in Rio is not very different to the idea of walling the spaces under the viaducts in São Paulo to avoid them being occupied by homeless people. This happened some years ago and did not work because it did not face the homeless problem. It just tried to keep them out of the visual space of those who were considered real citizens. The homeless of course looked for and found different places and also developed ways of inhabiting the viaducts and similar structures.
But is important to note that in both cases one can observe the trend to solve problems by suppressing – in this case in a very violent way – the conflict of the social life.

Your art works are usually situated in environments that are not typical art settings, that is to say environments in which the audience watches art ‘while doing nothing’. You often use mobile or nomadic devices like mobile phones, PDA’s or electronic billboards, interfaces that the audience use while they are also penetrated by other visual and acoustic interference and interaction, and you introduce the notion of ‘distributed reading’ relating to work on electronic panels, In how far do these circumstances influence the work you produce for this environment?
In everything… but mainly in the path of the video that was conceived not to be watched but to be briefly perceived in a very short and dispersive moment, i.e. the moment when the audience is paying attention on the arrival of the next train and by chance can look, or not, at the screen at Checkpoint Charlie.

In ‘For an Aesthetics of Transmission’ you describe that land art already in the 60s ‘broke the prevailing relationships between works and places of memory’, and conclude that the meaning of monuments in the traditional sense has to be reconsidered. However, would you regard your work for VFC_Berlin in its warning ab out (new) borders, as a nomadic monument?

I think it is a nomadic device and not a monument. Historically, monuments are devoted to the consecration in the urban space of a character or an event. In that sense, they are a first form of public art. However, the form that has consolidated from the 19th century on, with the National States, is always a gesture of verticalization of memory through a political power circuit. I hope not just my work, but all this series of videos conceived for VFC_Berlin will not be able to work as an agent of the past in the present, but that they can work as a micro political device, which can only be read momentarily and contextually.

Has the saturated urban space – full of various sources of information, input and distortions such as omnipresent billboards – in your view made it more difficult to attract the audience’s attention towards art interventions? Is there a need for new artistic strategies for the appropriation of commercial or public screens (for purpose of cultural and social change)?
Those multiple inputs are part of the contemporary life in urban environments. And in this environments we already have a new kind of reader with a multitask personality. It is impossible to have the objective of attracting the audience’s attention: it will never be concentrated in one thing. Nevertheless, public art today should consider the appropriation of commercial or public screens because those equipments are part of our urban space today, and must be reworked as a layer of public space.
Sao Paulo hit the international news when its local government banned all electronic commercial signage and billboards in the city in 2007. Do you regard that change as a visual liberation, or what is your take on that?
It was urgent to take some measures for regulating commercial signage in São Paulo, because it was covering most of the buildings and in many cases without any measure that could grant the security of their structures. The problem is that nothing came after this. After the government had forbidden the commercial signage, the enterprises or owners of the signage took it out. Nothing came after this. In other words: no negotiation, no public sphere… What we have now is a lot of abandoned frames of former outdoors and electronic panels, lots of walls with the marks of their older light signs and nothing else besides a phantasmagoric and dirty urbanscape.

6-8 October 2009
Annette Wolfsberger

Giselle Beiguelman

Giselle Beiguelman is a new media artist and multimedia essayist. She teaches Digital Culture at the Graduation Program in Communication and Semiotics of PUC-SP (São Paulo, Brazil) and is artistic director of Sergio Motta Art and Technology Award. In her oeuvre she researches the cultural impact of the Internet and technology. Her work includes the award-winning projects like The Book after the Book, a hypertextual and visual essay, where criticism and web art melts into the context of the net_(reading/writing)_condition.
She has been developing art projects for mobile phones, art involving public access via web, SMS and MMS to electronic billboards and art works exploring the cultural potentials of mobile tags.