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You are seeing things, Barbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca at the Galeria da Boavista

Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca are showing in Lisbon, at the Galeria de Boavista, two video installations. On the lower floor, RISE (2018) and, on the upper floor, the piece that shares the exhibition’s title, You are seeing things (2016). The duo’s growth, and the international projection of their work, in just over a decade, are both impressive. The recent highlights are, in 2016, their participation in the 32nd São Paulo Biennial; in 2017, at the Skulptur Projekte Münster; and, in 2018, representing Brazil in the 58th edition of La Biennale di Venezia. In Lisbon, the exhibition curated by Rayne Booth reveals the singular freedom with which their workflow between the different art spaces and contexts. Both those closest to the visual arts, such as galleries and museums, and those closer to the cinema realm, such as the screening of Swinguerra (2018), on 17 January at Cinema São Jorge. Both highlight different characteristics of B. Wagner and B. de Burca’s audiovisual production, which (also) swings masterfully between documentary/fiction film and the commitment to aesthetic experience.

The porosity of the work of Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca is closely associated to their heterogeneous careers, to the diversity of the groups with which they collaborate, and also to the way they approach popular culture – it should not be confused with Pop Art, because it is not about the hegemonic culture, relative to the forms of expression of minorities – without falling into the usual clichés.

The two projects, one filmed in Canada and the other in Brazil, share the same technical production quality – the exploration of image and sound is simply sublime – and the intense script work, albeit inseparable from the wishes and stimuli of the collaborating groups. And this is perhaps the most important narrative element: although there is no sense of improvisation, there is also no intention of “giving voice” to those people – real dancers, singers or MCs –. That would be the same as starting from a position of inferiority; as so often happens, “giving voice” to these groups would mean “objectifying their voice”, because it already exists, autonomous and resistant. The two pieces by B. Wagner. and B. de Burca. are impressive because they listen, give space and share control; at the confluence of the different individual contributions, the work emerges; and something new is materialized.

RISE (2018) takes place at a newly opened subway station on the outskirts of Toronto, focusing on a spoken word group (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere) with local rappers, poets and MCs. The site where the recordings took place allowed a suburban area to be connected to the rest of the city, in a metaphor for the prayers of the group members, who share the same desire to belong, to take root and to live without being condemned a priori for gender, racial or social reasons. “I still introduce myself to people by mispronouncing my name/ I feel slightly embarrassed when people pronounce it properly because/ if it is not smooth on the Anglo tongue / then saying my name sounds more like / “Go back where you came from” (Timaaj). But, again, it’s important to underline that these works are not only worth the message or the story they convey. The aesthetic quality of the images and sound immerse us in an intense sensorial experience, explored by the minimal and suitable display at the Galeria da Boavista.

On the upper floor, in a black box, You are seeing things (2016) is screened, recorded in partnership with a group of young “brega” singers from the outskirts of Recife, who wish to record video clips. The notion of individual operativity is called into question. On the one hand, the desire of the youngsters to become professionals and, on the other hand, the need to industrialize their passion for music, so that it can be taken seriously and not as a simple distraction. The singers’ uncertainty is mirrored by the disjointedness of this film, which seems to be constantly starting up again. These cuts can be compared to an artistic exercise. The work as a consequence of a cumulative process of failed attempts, of abrupt and constant beginnings and endings.

The nonchalance concerning the labels and genres imposed by the artistic medium(s) places the work of Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca in an odd, distant and near territory; but, above all, one that is pleasurable. It’s not working about, but working with. In the end, humility, quality and strictness seem to be diluted, with no signs of folklore or elitism.

Until 12.03.2020, at the Galeria da Boavista, in Lisbon.

(Since all museums and galleries closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Galerias Municipais and the artists Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca have freely released world-wide their work for everyone to watch online. Click here to watch the video.)

Francisco Correia (b. 1996) lives and works in Lisbon. He studied Painting at Faculdade de Belas-Artes at Universidade de Lisboa and finished the post-graduation on Art Curatorship at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He has been writing for and about exhibitions, while simultaneously developing his artistic project.

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