text by Renan Araújo
ATY OUR SERVICE* SELF DEFENCE
(dedicated to Marcelo Eduardo Bovo Pesseghini)
“Crime is, then, necessary; it is bound up with the fundamental conditions of all social life and by that very fact it is useful, because these conditions of which it is a part are themselves indispensable to the normal evolution of morality and law.” Émile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method
The structure of the repressive apparatus of the State is based on the use of lawful violence, a fact that separates two distinct sides: the police and the criminal. In 1966the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre took place, in which nineteen people who had been participating in a demonstration led by the MST – Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement) were assassinated by the military police of the State of Pará. Comrades killed by knives and bullets. The changes that have taken place regarding land reform and property rights since then seem far from significant.
Edwin Sanchez is a part-time artist, producing his work on weekends or in the evenings, in between the projects that ultimately pay the monthly bills: design projects for advertising agencies, including campaigns for electronic devices, cocoa powder and detergents. He builds totems using TV sets that exhibit hastily edited videos,which in most cases show people exercising or using such appliances or products. In other cases, colorful packaging twirls in the centre of the screen, spinning round in line with the retail market’s classic choreography.It could be said that before Sanchez the artist, there is Sanchez the civilian.The individual who can also execute his actions without the initial validation of the art system – and going further, who partly takes advantage of this particular condition in order to find materials for his work as an artist.
Twenty-one years have passed since the Carandiru Massacre, the reported number of deaths account for 111 victims, a visually harmonious sequence that does not invalidate the death sentence. Point 13 of the PCC – Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital) – states: “We must stand united and organized to avoid a massacre similar or worse than that which took place in the Detention House on October 2nd, 1992, where 111 prisoners were cowardly assassinated, an event that shall never be extinguished from Brazilian society’s conscience. Because we, from theComando, will rock the system, forcing the authorities to change such inhuman,unmerciful prison policy, laden with unfairness, oppression, torture and massacres in the prisons.”
Contrary to the character who observes the situation from the outside, Edwin attempts to draw closer to his object of study, standing near to the context which he speaks of,as an observer rather than a delinquent, even as he works with elements that subvert laws. The artist feels the need to be or at least maintain a link to his country of origin, and his source material is imbued with this context. It is not easy for him to sell a weapon or assault a crippled beggar, and although the load of guilt does not vanish, it plays a necessary part in expanding the discussion of specific social boundaries. Someone must play this part. The artist risks [or at least attempts to] stand in the same frame as he exhibits,rather than in the shielded and privileged standpoint of art, and the actions are carried out in the streets, in acceptance of the dynamics, distinct from the laws of the State or those dictated by morality. He became Jimmy’s friend,who taught him how to handle knives. In his attempt to interview combatants and guerrilla fighters, he actively maintained a network of contacts, and when he managed to do so, they recounted stories such as one about an alligator that was exhausted from eating countless human bodies. He visited a participative sex house where he documented scenes of collective rendezvous,and when a client complained of a stolen wallet he was almost caught using his camera. He bribed policemen to have them rent him a gun. The artist is surrounded by risks at all times, always lying in wait to capture him.
The Vigário Geral massacre in Rio de Janeiro left 21 dead. The classic image shown by the media of the bodies laid out in the community depicts 18 of them aligned side by side: 2 rows and 9 columns, the other 3 are missing from the scene – some of them wear nothing from the waist up, one is covered by a sheet, another wears a dress. At the time, the UPPs – Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (Pacifying Police Unit) had not yet been set up. Now, the individuals who get hit can no longer be depicted in any photograph: their bodies disappear mysteriously or, as some may say, they never existed in the first place.
In Bogota’s city centre it is possible to find the stuff he needs to develop his projects very closely. As long as one can get there by taxi to avoid thievery in the vicinities of certain brothel areas. “Santa fe” is a place of this kind, fraught with pick pocketing, labourers wearing jackets with the Claro logo, drunk and asleep on strip-club tables, police cordons, prostitutes, drugs, weapons,Poker, barbecued meat on sticks. The girls are neo-slaves, migrating to the capital from other regions in Colombia (as is current in Brazil or in other countries), sleeping in the same place as they work (renting a room both to live in and to meet with clients). Waiters do not earn salaries, but get paid for every beer sold, or else resort to tips or making money off anything they manage to sell – legal or otherwise. Wilson is one of these waiters who work in one of the many brothels in the neighborhood. He acts as mediator for the artist to attain part of his working material, he helped him in the search fora .38 for “Inserciones en circuitos ideológicos” (“Insertions in ideological circuits”) and in the initial contact with the characters for the project “Heroes en Colômbia si existen” (“Yes, there are heroes in Colombia”) [D].
In some cases, after viewing one of his works, it is instinctive to utter a “son of a bitch!”; morality,yes, always morality, never abandons us. It is necessary to stop, in order to understand what is going on. To realize it is also our fault. We prefer to keep our hands clean, commenting only on the absurdity of such actions [ask the gallerist about “Arte Útil” (“Useful Art”)]. If before participating in the artist’s actions the characters in Sanchez’s works were invisible, they are now granted the right to live; the individuals are now seen by other strata of the community, and their image now inhabits a protected zone. Socially, a feeling of compassion is evoked for those who previously only configured as props in the urban scenario. The work will always be struggling – both with the context from which it arises and with its own ethics.
The artist remains in his intellectual role and cannot speak for the oppressed/subaltern/marginal– as the artist only acts as a mediator of things between different worlds.Here we can refer to an enquiry posed by Spivak - The intellectual must be clear about this condition: it is not possible to speak for the Other. Proximity, affect, and overall, eliminating all pre-existing judgement are the necessary structures for the testimony gathered by Sanchez to become less diffuse, thus acquiring greater symbolic force. Once again he is seized by perversity: the Other is granted a voice, and the audience it activates is limited to a very small circuit. The comfort offered/granted by art is an after effect of the artist’s work/actions.
The ten-year-old Joel da Conceição Castro was murdered on November 22nd, 2010, during a police action in the Northeast part of Amaralina, a neighborhood in the city of Salvador. Joel was inside his home, getting ready for bed, when a bullet fired by the police hit him. He was killed during an operation of the 40th CIPM -Companhia Independente da Polícia Militar (Independent Battalions of the Military Police) in his neighborhood. His father watched his son’s slow death,as the policemen refused to provide emergency assistance.