Vox Populi Fourth Wall / Video Sur III

Initiated in 2009, VideoSur is an ongoing series of experimental video shorts by artists from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico.

The films are chosen and distributed by DiscordiaFilms, a curatorial collective advocating for exchange between Latin American and United States practitioners. Their focus is on the social, political, and cultural contradictions and tensions within national and individual identities. From June through September, Vox Populi Gallery screened the collective’s three current VideoSur offerings in succession at its Fourth Wall space dedicated to challenging, under-represented new media practices. VideoSur III [September 7–30, 2012] brought together low-fi animation, appropriated footage, live art documents and essayistic video, showcasing the physical and digital means by which South American artists convey experiences of urban disturbance and transience with an eye towards their globalized reception.

Multilingual in origin and address, the series highlights translation as a space for subversive intervention. In Pinochet’s Women / Las mujeres de Pinochet, 2005, Eduardo Menz manipulates scale and contextual relationships between recorded television news, sound and subtitles to deconstruct mass-media versions of national histories concerning Pinochet-era state-imposed violence and the celebrity of a Chilean Miss Universe, whose image slowly expands to fill the screen. Almost inaudible at first, its soundtrack is the contemporaneous testimony in Spanish of a woman burned by the military. White, English subtitles are so large that they are initially illegible. The piece seems designed for a non-Spanish speaker, like myself, who must piece together fragments of text over several minutes as sentences gradually shrink into invisibility, metaphoring the burial of bad news.

In Chilean artist Hector Llanquín’s Geometría blanda / Soft Geometry, 2005, a near-abandoned parking lot and brand new shopping mall glow neon red and green, abstracted as a result of filming with a broken digital camera dated from 1995. Translucent, layered shadows equally trace and blot the few passing people, rendering them as ghostly, absent presences. The piece highlights citizens’ recent retreat from public space to the safety of home, as security culture and gated communities become prevalent in Santiago, Chile, thanks to rapid technological development. As the blurred image captured by the malfunctioning camera softens architectural—and thereby social—divisions, it visualizes a nostalgia for amiable, civic interaction, even if this might only occur within a framework of consumption. The relatively old camera, however, also symbolizes threat as a forerunner to the inexpensive surveillance equipment that has produced this migration to the domestic sphere.

The hour-long reel begins and ends with lo-fi, fast-paced works registering the chaos of urban development. With a soundtrack of revving engines, and quick cuts between fuzzy close-ups, Chilean-Canadian Javiera Ovalle’s Sujeto Trayectivo / Transit, 2007, captures transitory reflections of vehicles’ distracted occupants. A similar mechanical hum accompanies Nicolás Bordones Arena’s No Time, 2010, a hand-drawn tour of Córdoba, Argentina. A stop-motion animated version of Google Street View, each tree, road and building is rendered in childlike shorthand. The sequence of sketches does not seamlessly match up, so there is a sense of being flung from frame to frame, as if in an out-of-control car—reflecting the spirit of rapid, networked exchange that once defined the modern city, but that now leaps urban and national boundaries via DIY video sharing sites such as YouTube.

That all of VideoSur III’s selections are low-tech demonstrates a current, reflexive artistic drive towards revealing the medium’s modes of construction, its fissures and sutures. This critiques and provides alternatives to television’s slick, continuity editing and its commonly accepted versions of national identities and events. Building upon this foundation—and most pressing—the low resolution of these shorts refers to online image distribution as a complex, contemporary extension of collective memory beyond the illusory stability of the televised. Yet the artists represented here are not mere citizen journalists. While motivated by social concern and political outrage, Llanquín, Menz, and Ovalle successfully highlight the camera’s limitations—severe pixelation when zooming in, errors in representing color and light—as metaphors for the compromised emotional and intellectual vision we contend with when attempting to grasp historical and cultural trauma.

Argentinian artist Federico Lamas’ deliberate use of poor-quality special effects similarly produces a rupture between what is seen, experienced, and known. His Vete al Diablo / Go to Hell, 2009, explores acts of religious judgement in a bustling city square, depicting a man in agitated prayer, who annihilates passersby—and, eventually, himself—in bursts of neon-orange, animated flame. Mesmerized by a Hollywood version, we might jump in our seats and pass swift, shocked judgements of our own. Here, in viewing the work’s seams, there is an opportunity to exercise the critical thought that comes with distance. VideoSur III thus displays various visual strategies for processing events that challenge a city’s or a nation’s rosy self-image. In this way, DiscordiaFilms’ presentation is supremely relevant to its Northern audience in the United States, a reminder that despite its relative wealth, our culture is equally unsettled.