Networks, Collaboration and Resistance in/between Portugal and Brazil, 1962-1982: Works from the Arquivo Fernando Aguiar and the Coleção Moraes-Barbosa
This bilingual publication (English/Portuguese) is much more than the catalog of an exhibition. It is excellently edited by Maika Pollack, Assistant Professor of Art History and Director and Chief Curator, John Young Museum of Art and university galleries, at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, with a catalog essay contributed by Rui Torres, professor of digital art at the University Fernando Pessoa in Porto and current secretary and member of the Board of Directors of the ELO-Electronic Literature Organization (https://eliterature.org/). Well-illustrated and elegantly designed, this book offers a small but attractive selection of two archive specialized in avant-garde writing as published in magazines during the sixties and seventies (the Arquivo Fernando Aguiar in Lisbon and the Coleção Moraes-Barbosa in São Paulo), with the work of more than 400 Lusophone and international artists and contributors on display. It also helps raise fundamental questions on the place of so-called peripheral countries, cultures, and languages in a period of increasing globalization (the rapid terminological shifts in the context of postcolonial literature, from “internationalization” to “world culture”, already hint at the difficulties of identifying the correct scale and stakes of the rejection of the center/periphery metaphor).
There are indeed a lot of things to learn from the works of this exhibition and the cultural, political, and ideological context of their production and circulation. Torres’ catalog text focuses on the artistic exchanges between experimental writers and artists between Brazil and Portugal in a period of dictatorship (in both countries) and colonial war (in Portugal) when neither avant-garde nor free communication were supported or even tolerated by the respective political regimes. The most striking feature of the works produced by groups such as Poesia Experimental, Noigandres, Invenção or Código, to name just some of them, is undoubtedly their extremely radical character. This radicalism is not limited to the formal features of the works, although both Brazil and Portugal were then at the forefront of visual and conceptual poetry as well as intermedial art (and one should add that their avant-gardes were astonishingly well networked in a wide range of European and American countries, in spite of any apparent linguistic threshold). The avant-garde position also extends to all aspects of production, distribution, and reception of art. The institution of individual authorship is thus challenged by collaborative and co-creative practices; the position of traditional gatekeepers is bypassed by new forms of circulation and communication, for instance via mail art, while the idea of the fixed, finished, self-enclosed and copyrighted work is replaced by various form of appropriative art, as seen for example in the creative uses of translation as adaptation, if not rewriting.
A second characteristic of these works, inextricably linked with that of their formal innovation and experimentalism, is that of their political dimension. Not only in the sense of an instrumentalization of art through direct political messages, but in that of the politicization of form itself. Mayakovski’s statement: “There is no revolutionary art without revolutionary form”, is the flag that unites and inspires all these groups and artists. Art itself, that is formally challenging and experimental art becomes an act of resistance in an authoritarian environment where there is no room for free speech and where any kind of non-mainstream behavior and thinking is automatically interpreted and sanctioned as a form of political resistance.
Networks, Collaboration and Resistance clearly shows that the global study of world literature must urgently redefine the coupled notions of literature as well as world. In the former case, it is necessary to emphasize the links between, on the one hand, writing and, on the other hand, other artistic practices but also writing’s own materiality (literature should no longer be separated from art history, it should also be merged with book history, typography, design, the economy of publishing, the study of reading practices, etc.) In the latter case, one should stop streamlining the “worlding” of the art system in terms of center versus periphery. Brazil and Portugal may seem (relatively) peripheral cultures, yet their exchanges, which did not need to transit via Paris or New York (or if one prefers, via Tokyo or Berlin and today, at least for the time being, via Beijing or Istanbul), demonstrated that even non-central cultures can produce highly innovative art, that eventually proves crucial at a global level. At the same time, the exhibition also suggests how the relationship between colonizer and colonized can be transformed in non-dual or non-dichotomic ways.
Torres expresses the hope that this historical example of the 1960s and 70s can still inspire contemporary creators, and not only those working in the margins of the art world system. The case he makes is wonderfully convincing. And it should be stressed that language here is less an issue than an opportunity: the intermedial treatment of poetry, its links with book and mail art, its connections with creative translation are all elements that remain relevant for creators in the digital age, an age both tragically monopolized and radically decentered.