Cliché, by Juliana Kase
Interview by Maria Hirszman (based on Kase’s recent exhibition “Clichés”, at Paço das Artes, São Paulo)
This exhibition brings the suggestive title “Clichés” derived from a profound research on archives concerning the period of military dictatorship in Brazil. What was your starting point?
In 2014, a friend of mine got in touch, saying that a man wanted to sell a box full of clichés. If nobody bought it he would throw it away, sell it to the junk yard. I ended up offering a 100 reais and received an old bag, full of rotten and crumpled envelopes, the clichés, everything very dusty. I had a look, and saw the portraits of some Brazilian presidents from the dictatorship era, images of the inauguration of the Transamazonica road and thought to myself: “Gosh, this is going to be a difficult task. I need time for that.” So I put it away for almost a year since it’s not something that you have a quick look at and it’s done.
Was it difficult to handle this material, for all its chaotic aspects and for the reference to the terrible era of our recent history? Tell a bit about this process.
I didn’t even know what I was going to do with the material. I didn’t have an idea at first. I didn’t know either if I really was going to use it. It’s not easy to re-print images that you don’t even agree with. You start to question: What am I going to re-print an image that I hate for? This work does not involve pleasure. In fact, it is really heavy to deal with.
Organize, hierarchize, classify, in a certain way it has to do with your method, doesn’t it?
It does. I didn’t know if it was the material that was demanding me to approach it like this, or if it was my own process, but I tried to organize it. I saw it was dictatorship period material, with propaganda, probably from a small newspaper, which I couldn’t identify. It took some months to print everything, and the time it took to finish was crucial for me, to take time with the images. I used to go to Centro Cultural São Paulo (CCSP) every week to print, it was a very slow process, and the images started to become familiar.
And it became a body of work, a reflection of the present historical moment?
Yes, I think it so, because it becomes clear that you really ought to do it, that it would be irresponsible to leave these clichés aside. Send it to the State Archives.
These images don’t have a visual and conceptual power per se. It is acquired through you work.
Yes, but I think it comes naturally. It’s not something intentional. It’s the artistic process itself. I think it’s the grace of things. To file, print, clean it was the first part. Later, at the end of 2015, I printed the second part of the project, the set of prints that work as sticker albums. It was important to organize the material in more concise, more coherent groups. As there were over two hundred images in total, I noticed that it was illegible to people. I feel that today people face difficulties in filtering images, you see. So, I made a selection that contemplated economy, connected to politics, connected to belic means, and connected to a greater ideology. You can’t separate them, they’re hand in hand.
It is curious that you only have images, not text. But you worked on these references.
The text I have comes from some envelopes written by hand. I made notes about everything I could identify. This was the first time I worked with second hand images. It’s a different responsibility. Aesthetic becomes Ethic. Each colour used in the print has a different meaning; the military green, the (Brazilian) flag colours, the dollar green… the zig-zag pattern used in the prints comes from the inside part of the envelopes. There is nothing superfluous.
The exhibition, in fact, might be considered to be a large scale installation, which also contemplates two other works with great denouncing character. The map, and a selection of the clichés, with counterpoint images for the same themes, dealt apologetically with the base material.
I wanted to show the clichés as well. It’s difficult to talk about them without people knowing what they are. I wanted to show them side by side with analog images, not disseminated, on the same subject. The map for me derives from another feeling, of a proposal, a redrawing of the Latin America map, mainly with indigenous names. It also is a positive thing that people can be hands-on, printing parts of it and taking it home, instead of just standing looking.
The map also counterpoints directly this Brazil of the progress that you can see in the clichés?
What people live in Amazonia or Acre? The colonization. We’re still in 1500, nothing changed. Or here in Pico do Jaraguá. It’s the same. We face genocide all the time, don’t we?
This necessity of being in the world is your mark?
Yes, but I don’t know any artist that is not aware. Some might pay more attention to the visual aspect, which calls more attention, but there is always a kind of awareness. We need to start from somewhere, or else we just chase our tails. As Massao Ohno (publisher and graphic artist about whom Juliana Kase is directing a documentary), “it matters, the poetry in all levels, because it is in the different levels that it’s going to sensibilize different people”. In the visual arts, as well, I think this plurality matters. People demand postures, statements from others. I don’t think a formalist painter or one that paints flowers is less important than someone who talks about politics or today’s news. What matters is that the person is coherent to his/her own process. Because we’re always in movement, always learning.
You don’t have a preferred language? Perhaps photography, or reproducable images?
Yes. In fact I like them all, you know? I like to be somewhere where I’m always learning. If I don’t learn, I leave, go somewhere else. People sometimes have difficulty to understand when you go through many artistic languages and techniques.
The strong presence of the cliché in your work is interesting, as much in terms of graphic support, as for the semantics. What would be the most “cliché” image among this group. Is there a synthesis image?
There is one of the merchant navy that shocked me. It is an image of the Brazilian coast with a bunch of ships, with some verses in praise of the idea of progress, the expansionist ideology: “The ships bring cargos/ the countries make commerce/ the people travel/ this is communication/ communication brings progress/ progress is our goal”. And it has not been clear until today what the price is we pay for that.
This project starts from a great encounter. It’s as if the archive has found you and not the opposite.
If you’re porous, you are trespassed by many subjects that surround you. In the specific case of dictatorship, one day or another you will stumble upon it. It can be in someone else’s action, or in a newspaper, or in a cliché that comes out of the blue. We always stumble upon this subject in Brazil.
It’s not overcome, right?
No, it’s right here. You just scratch and it becomes an open wound. Even those who were not victimized by torture or by violence practiced by the State, were also victims of an ideological conditioning, and of a brutalization process of human relations, without even knowing.
We have a great visual illiteracy.
If people still think media is impartial?
Do you think the ways that we live now are remains of that era? It is a continuation or revival?
It’s continuation. It might have been a little less intense for a while, but it’s not resolved. We didn’t have the deaths and tortures committed during dictatorship prosecuted by law. How do we overcome that? It’s worse now, with the governments we have at municipal, state and federal levels. Now people feel free to put out all the hate. That’s why I’m recalling memory that was not resolved.