Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca
18 April — 24 June 2018
curated by Emelie Chhangur
Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s works celebrate—while at the same time reframing—vernacular cultural forms as they have manifested through time: as popular traditions become pop culture, for instance. Through photography and film, the artists examine the space in-between, where cultural forms of the past adapt in response to changing economic conditions—particularly in emerging economies or post-colonial geographical contexts—and where popular genres persist through cultural mixing and diasporic re-fashioning.
Questioning what presents itself as tradition, Wagner and de Burca mix visual aesthetics, bodily movement, and musical genres across cultures and classes—much as in carnival. In this topsy-turvy world contradictions abound. In-between mimesis and alterity, transformation and adaptation, revivals and reversals, there is no difference between street or stage. The artists’ work cultivates an appreciation for local and open-ended pluralities in the making of culture over static metropolitan singularities. Their work resists the latter’s tendency to reproduce the “official culture’s” socio-economic status quo as it acts to frame and neutralize cultural forms of resistance by labeling them as expressions of folk heritage or dismissing them as “low-brow.” How embodied forms of resistance are “appropriated” for the tourist industry is paralleled in Wagner and de Burca’s critical use of documentary photography and film by complicating this industry’s tendency to flatten perspectives and turn culture into images for consumption and display.
Instead, Wagner and de Burca’s practice implicitly navigates a space between documentary and fiction. The artists have developed a subtle system of pointing that reveals rather than classifies: it is the slippery spaces in between the staged and the actual that the gendered, racialized, and socio-economic contexts of the subjects emerge. And, it is precisely there that the self-generated strategies of visibility and subversion between the fields of pop culture, high art, and tradition gets performed anew.
The self-fashioning of their subjects, the framing by the artists, and the conventions of film are entangled in the real-life politics of their films’ protagonists. On the part of the protagonists, self-fashioning becomes a means of cultural, economic, and social survival—in particular through the self-publishing and dissemination possibilities of social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube. Wagner and de Burca themselves translate, mix, and re-fashion this contemporary reality, bringing it into deep focus: figure and ground (i.e., performer and socio-political context, etc.) are given equal emphasis; frames include elements or actions that at first seem superfluous to the scene (a.k.a., behind-the-scenes, off-camera, etc.). Featuring a selection of works that make explicit the artists’ interest in all that surrounds the performance of culture today, the exhibition, too, is structured with this “depth of field” in mind—in order of appearance: “the making of” (Mestres de Cerimônias / Masters of Ceremony); “the backstage” (Estás Vendo Coisas / You Are Seeing Things); “the casting” (A Procura do 5° Elemento / In the Search of the 5th Element); “the tutorial” (Cinéma Casino); and “the rehearsal” (Faz Que Vai / Set To Go).
This is the artists’ first solo exhibition in a public gallery and the first presentation of their work in Canada. An AGYU-commissioned film that brings Wagner and de Burca into collaboration with Scarborough’s RISE (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere) EDUTAINMENT and featuring spoken word poets from across the Greater Toronto Area is currently in production. The film is co-produced with the WEXNER Centre for the Arts, Ohio, with equipment support from York University’s Department of Film, and will premiere at FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art in July 2018.
The collaborative works of Bárbara Wagner (1980, Brasília, Brazil) and Benjamin de Burca (1975, Munich, Germany) use documentary narrative structures to observe diverse relations between tradition and progress in emerging economies. Their work was shown most recently at Skulptur Projekte Münster, Germany; São Paulo Museum of Modern Art; 32nd São Paulo Biennial; La Biennale arts actuels Réunion; EVA International, Ireland, and the 68th Berlinale, Germany. Wagner and de Burca live and work in Recife, an old colonial city located on Brazil’s northeast coast. They are the AGYU’s 2017–18 artists-in-residence and are represented by Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo.