“Fabiana Faleiros discusses the multidisciplinary aspect of her educational background, entangling the reader in an inseparable flow of life and art, with an approach based on issues dear to post-feminist discourse; she retains, however, a lightness and a sense of humor of her own. The fluid and endearing structure of the artist’s thoughts, constantly stimulated by associations, is seen clearly in this interview. The background of contemporary art is presented in an insightful and critical manner, through which paradoxes and contradictions are revealed in issues such as misogyny, social segregation, the elitist aspects of art, colonialism and the exotic view of the other, as well as the fears that arise as a woman faces the implied expectations on her personal and professional lives.” – Lilian Maus
ISABEL WAQUIL – Coming from a background in Media, was there ever a conscious decision to be, or a wish to be, an artist?
FABIANA FALEIROS – I graduated in Advertising in Pelotas, but I never worked in advertising. When I came to São Paulo I was full of ideas, I wanted to do a lot of things, but I was very shy, I was very self-conscious. I started to write and published a bit of poetry based on Getty Images, an image stock website for advertising that I used for my undergrad projects. I was invited for an exhibition in São Paulo, at Galeria Vermelho, where I showed them these poems (it wasn’t the book itself, but it was because of it that I was invited) and other works that also had to do with the public space and the internet. Back then I was taking a masters in semiotics. I was highly influenced by people who worked with art and technology, but I started to feel like it was all too technical. They have a very objective and non-politicized view when it comes to art. I the same time, I was taking classes at the Subjectivity Center with Peter Pal Pelbart, so I was stuck between the ultra-subjective and the very-objective trying to find myself. It took a long time, as I was also working.
You were at the start of your career as an artist, taking your masters degree and also working. That’s something we frequently see in the literature about this market – the double, triple, quadruple work shifts and how dedicated people are. It seems to be a portrait of contemporary life and it is not different with women, quite the opposite.
That is a symptom of our age. We are expected to be many different things at once, and there’s an ample supply of subjectivity – I can be whatever I want to be. I can consume this multiple persona. I am very much like that, but in reality my path was one of damnation.
Because of planning. I studied advertising, then received a masters in semiotics, and things came about in a sort of roundabout way. But I like it, I couldn’t be stuck in the art scene only. I find it to be too self-absorbed, too autophagic. People have this idea that to be an artist is to drown in your own work. I had an interesting experience though, I was a teacher in 2008 and it was horrible.
Yes. It was one of those “degree factories”; sixty students in one room and there was a lot of prejudice, mostly from the female students. I was 28 years old, I was pretty, there was a sort of resistance from their part in accepting my role as a teacher. They were constantly testing me. Then I started teaching at an NGO, the Acaia Institute, a project in digital literacy for children in two slums in the west side of São Paulo. So I had a very interesting experience. My work dealt with the internet, so I had this idea to have a literature blog with the students, but what happened was they were only interested in listening to funk music! I was already familiar with hip hop because of my final essay as an undergrad student, where I took pictures of the hip hop scene in Pelotas. I was very interested in their aesthetics, the sound and the connection to politics, the world, taking a stand using a microphone, their speech. I started to listen to funk and I liked it. I realized it was very interesting as a way to experience the world.
And that’s when funk began to have a role in your artistic work?
Yes, it was. I started a project called Projeto Passinho, where they would teach each other to dance and we would put the videos up on Youtube, so they could relate their lives with the internet. And then I started to work with Rafael RG, in a duo called RG Faleiros.
How did this duo with Rafael come about?
I met Rafael because of those annoying things, the vernissages. We started to do things we didn’t even consider to be artistic projects, like just dancing in the middle of Augusta Street. We wanted to occupy the public space – the street as a place for a party. So the the cars would drive by playing funk very loud. That’s a place where you see all kinds of people; the ones who like electronic music, funk etc. At Augusta, where Bar do Netão used to be, there was a lot of prejudice against funk. But those cars would drive by and when they stopped it was the perfect encounter! We didn’t even need our own sound system. We were out in the streets a lot, with a megaphone, saying things at the galleries. We would walk by and play Banda Dejavu, a band from Belém do Pará that does tecnobrega versions of things like Beyoncé. But we were out on the streets so the police would come and tell us we couldn’t do that.
Were you stopped by the police often?
Yes, we were.
And how did people react to your work and those interventions?
Out in the streets it was very interesting. People participated a lot, dancing, they were very open to it. But in the art scene it was different. We were bullied in a way, because we would say things that were a bit aggressive, but the goal was to get rid of that blasé attitude, the “Oh… the Art scene…” thing.
And apart from the Brazilian art scene you also went abroad, right?
Yes! In 2012 we were invited to go to Berlin for a festival called Camp/Anticamp: a queer guide for everyday life. It was a very important moment because I had the feeling that we had no recognition in Brazil. This was a queer culture festival and there were a lot of performances going on. We were in a program called Tropicamp curated by Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz. We held screenings of Linha Amarela, a documentary we made, and I sang a song called Mulher também tem cu (Women have assholes too).
How did that song come about, Mulher também tem cu?
We had been working in the streets for a long time and it got to a point where we were a bit needy. It’s very hard to have this role of bringing ecstasy to a place that is decaying. We wanted to be inside a certain space, so we started to do projects indoors. We went to a building in downtown São Paulo where they have those underground parties, the Voodoohop, with Carlos Capslock, and we were doing interventions. I used to sing on the megaphone and DJ Thomas Haferlach invited me to do an intervention during his set. I started to sing this song Mulher também tem cu improvising, live. There’s a lot to the context here, places only gay men go to. Mulher também tem cu has a certain feminist tone, but there’s also the fact that with a lot of gay men in the scene I would go out and they did not relate to me. I sang that song in Berlin, but we were very careful with this being outside of Brazil because the image they have is already of something hypersexualized, that we are very free, even though we are not. There’s a lot of prejudice.
And that’s when you started to incorporate those gender issues into your work?
It started with this song, Mulher Também Tem Cu. It was very spontaneous, it was about how I felt at the time in that party environment, I said it in the middle of a song and it was incorporated into it. I started to realize how much sexism I was facing. The DJ scene is a rather sexist one, most DJs are men and I wanted to interfere with that. Besides, I wanted to add lyrics to the songs, because those parties usually only play electronic music with no lyrics in Portuguese. Guys, we are in Brazil! What’s wrong with singing a well known song, or some pop music, at a party?
So I created “Lady Incentivo”, a play on Lei de Incentivo*, taking into account this feminist context. I came up with a project called Novas formas de amar e de gravar CD (New ways to love and record an album.) There was this thing with the record industry, which is a very mysterious thing nowadays – there’s no direct relationship to the record labels anymore, but instead with the internet. There’s also the issue of the State’s servitude to money, because most of the funding provided by the State comes from large companies’ tax exemptions funneling money into culture. So how much is culture linked to this idea of companies wanting to be a complete experience instead of just a product? There’s a political and feminist issue there. I recorded this album at the Biennial because they had a radio station called Radio Mobile, where everyone could come in and do whatever they wanted. For example, that Amy Winehouse song, “I’m no good”, and I made a version of it called Sou Foda (I’m the shit), from that video that was really popular online. So when she says “I’m no good” I’d say “I’m the shit” – it’s this thing about the feminine experience with the singing, it wasn’t the docile singing we are used to, but instead something related to funk, which is easier to reach and is a very powerful manner of speech, of taking a stand as a woman.
It’s a very powerful discourse.
I think it’s very interesting when the women take the microphone in funk and start singing things like “I’m tired of hearing that you’re a gigolo; When we were doing it I thought it was absurd; you came once and wanted a break”. It’s something that’s not related to orthodox feminism, it’s as if they got together to discuss an issue but it happens on the stage, exactly where the problem is: on the stage you only see men singing, and they are occupying that space with their own voices, instead of just being objectified, both in terms of the masculine discourse as well as the physical aspect.
Those issues are expressed through funk then?
Funk is very much a symptom of what happens in Brazil. The flashy ostentatious side of it is the result of the pressure on the lower class to consume. There’s nothing as powerful as that happening in Brazil. It’s a cultural output that’s also very political. I think there should be an open dialogue between that and academic thinking.
Can we say you use performance and those other devices to come closer to the debate, the political issues?
Yes, but I like to allow a certain stream of consciousness to flow. In the discourse and the performance there’s a stream of consciousness that is not contained in this domain of the cultural project, something closed – now I am doing this; now I am doing that. You make up a stage where there is none. I can be out in the street and create a situation that will become a performance. This space of celebration and partying is something I consider to be very political, because people in general live in a work environment that has nothing to do with who they are, so come the weekend everyone seeks a place where everything is supposed to happen. I think that is very important, the party as a political thing, living in the moment.
I remember one of your works, “quien és esta niña? who’s that girl?”, which was very simple, but to me it speaks of everything – gender, politics, critics, art, intervention. How did that come about?
Yes, what happened was that during the final project for my doctorate I wanted to work with the idea of “Insertions in the Artistic Circles”. Cildo Meirelles, in the 70’s, was doing something called Ideological Circles. So during a residence in Colombia I noticed there were no women’s faces on their currency. There was one bill with a female face, the ten thousand pesos one. So I did this intervention painting those men’s faces on the bills, because the representation of money is completely linked to power. I would paint them and write “quien és esta niña“, from that Madonna song, “who’s that girl”?
It deals with a very symbolic triangle: men-money-power, and we ask ourselves how much a woman’s artistic work reflects those relations.
I find it appalling…because, you see, I always do this thing where I count how many men and how many women there are in each exhibition. For example, there was one in Poland called “Love and Hate to Lygia Clark”, which was happening at the same time as mine, “Art Music”. There was one woman and ten men. I’m doing a residence with Red Bull right now and there was an exhibition with everyone involved: six women and twelve men. Why is there still such a gap? Is is because the production is not relevant? I don’t think so. But at the same time, I look at my colleagues and they don’t seem to care about that.
There seems to be an illusion when it comes to gender democracy that is understandable in the sense that you are not likely to be discriminated explicitly for being a woman, for example no one will stop you from showing your work somewhere just because you are a woman, but at the same time the statistics are alarming, and very recent. The Guerrilla Girls have that classic saying that only 5% of the artists at the MET in NYC are women, but there are other statistics that show that gap. And generally speaking Brazil was in 82nd place in the Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum in 2009. So there is a gap, even if it does not always feel like it.
I remember when I was about 20 years old, I had so many boyfriends who were very sexist, and I would think to myself “no way, sexism is not a thing anymore, we are emancipated”. But I was very young, and I started to realize that sexism is still a thing indeed, even in places that are supposed to be very underground! I also think a lot of gay men nowadays are rather misogynist, they are not interested in feminist issues. I think that is a lot of resentment, there’s so much homophobia, it’s like they feel like they have to close themselves in their own groups to reaffirm themselves. The queer thing is very prominent right now, but I feel like Brazil is still taking baby steps when it comes to those issues in the art circles. I’m actually a bit scared, it might sound a little like Regina Duarte, “I’m scared” – but I really am, of the way those things can be incorporated into art as a fashionable thing.
It could however at the same time be a fashionable thing and inspire a certain aversion to the issue. For example, some women are not interested in taking part in feminist initiatives because they fear being associated to the cause, to that discourse. (Ana Mae Barbosa talks about this in an essay about the exhibition “Conexus: Women artists, Brazilian and North-American, in Dialogue”, where she says it was very difficult to get some artists to participate in this project because they did not want to be associated to feminism in any way, or even to an exhibition with women artists only. They belittled the initiative.)
Yes, that is very important. One thing I would like to do but have not done yet is to create a vocabulary. Because when you talk about “feminism” it brings about other things that I don’t think is what should be discussed right now.
And that comes from the discourse, it’s a word that’s traversed by interdiscourse and it already carries with it a certain amount of entangled meanings.
It’s in those times of crisis, when other models and ways to deal with the world are emerging, that we are left with the transition – very interesting times to create discourses. That’s what the artist needs, not just making objects and doing performances. That’s what I was talking about: it happens on stage, but it could also happen in a discursive space. I think this project of the book with interviews has a bit of that – bringing in the performance, but also the artist as a thinker who articulates this discursively.
The 60’s were marked by the struggles for freedom of expression, equal rights. What do you think is the main gender issue today? What is the challenge today?
At the second National Plan of Policies for Women, the importance of the media in spreading new public policies and attitudes to decrease the inequality was discussed. What do you see as the role for the media today in constructing the social idea of the female?
I think this is very complex because to think about the media is to think, again, about vocabulary. What is the media today. There’s the issue of what people say and what the media says. For example, if we think about the big media in Brazil, there was this thing with the Rede Globo soap opera and the gay kiss. People celebrated it, but I thought it was a bit more complex. For starters they are two heterossexual white men playing a gay couple. I don’t think that makes much sense and I feel like we are still far from having a relationship between the media and gender issues, because what’s being sold is what’s connected to the image of the female. The whole of the capitalist system is based on the figure of the woman as an object of desire – the hot girl in the car ad, and the man as the provider who will control her desires.
Or she could have the lead role in the ads for cleaning products or kitchen appliances.
Yes, heteronormativity is the base of the capitalist society. At the same time, there’s a lot of gay culture being taken over by the soap opera, by the media, as a way to captivate a new audience to consume it. For example, the soap opera with the character called Carminha, where she was poor and became rich – there was no rich people in that soap opera. That is a symptom and another product being consumed. “Let’s reach the lower class”. So they will consume the soap opera, they will consume whatever products are in front of them. And then the gays, let’s reach the gays. Suely Rolnik talks about that a lot, the subjectivity that is built as a flexible subjectivity. So I can be a woman, a man, a homossexual, I can be whatever I want. Capitalism appropriates that. When I was at that queer festival a guy asked me “Are you heterossexual?” I said “yes” and he was like “so what are you doing here?”. I think in the near future we will see heterosexuality losing a lot of space. I already feel that in my field.
A common critique is the one regarding the woman’s responsibility when it comes to the constitution of the family – she was to fulfill that biological role of maternity, the traditional path of marriage, children etc. Looking at you and your generation, particularly in the art circles, do you feel like this pressure still exists?
Yes, it does. First of all it comes from the family itself. For example, when my grandmother turned 80 years old, my uncle made this PowerPoint presentation for her. There were pictures of her, then my mother and my uncle, then his sons. All my cousins are married. So when my picture came up as well as my sister’s they were followed by a picture of my grandmother that looked like she was saying “those two will never find a man”, you know? I wasn’t offended, at the time I just thought “Wow… he really does not see me as anything but a breeding creature”, it’s as if my life and my work have no meaning. I feel this strongly, even though my parents never showed this sort of attitude, never communicated this to me.
I see myself in a huge struggle, because my work came together with these thoughts that I started to elaborate on that I really had to be a feminist, you know? I was very alone at the time, I had not been in a relationship for a long time. When I went to Rio de Janeiro I was seeing this therapist, she was great, and I was doing acupuncture, so I was taking care of myself so that I could be alone, you know? None of this boyfriend stuff. But then what happened? I was doing a residence at Red Bull and I had this project where I called in this fortune teller called Iracema. I looked into her name and found out it came from a novel by José de Alencar, “Iracema”, and it is an anagram for the word “America”. The novel is about an Indian that falls in love with a settler, anyway, it’s a tragedy. At Red Bull I called her in to talk about the future of downtown São Paulo and my love life.
The future of downtown São Paulo?
Yes, because Red Bull is located in a building right downtown, it has everything to do with gentrification. I couldn’t not talk about that being there. So she talked about that and then said I was going to marry a mixture of races, that he was a foreigner and would be the father of my children. The idea was to make songs from what she told me, “A side, A side”, no B side, as if there was only the mainstream, the underground captured, only the A side of the record. So I made this song and I would sing “I’m going to get married, I’m going to get married”. I would just keep going “Guys, listen to what I’m saying, I’m getting married”. And then I would say “She said so!”. Then guess what happened? This friend of mine stayed at my place, he’s half Bolivian and half German. We ended up having sex, fell in love and we are going to get married.
It just happened. She said it, it happened. He’s in Berlin and then he will come here. So this is really crazy right now for me. He works with Queer Theory, researching Hélio Oiticica. It’s really crazy because we are in the middle of this, the queer thing, this gender issues, free love etc. These issues are very present in my life right now as I am getting married.
But seriously, don’t you think this was influenced by what the fortune teller said?
She is a fortune teller. I think she saw what was going to happen. She said he would be of mixed race. The first time I went there, she said: “You work with an audience, directly, looking at the audience.” She is very sensitive and I think she caught something that was going to happen. There’s this question of the future – we always think it is to get married, the grand finale, the thing that went well. There’s also Macabéia, from the book “The Hour of the Star” by Clarice Lispector – when she is finally about to get married, she ends up dying. So I incorporated this into my project and now my project is what’s happening in my life. For me, there’s a big conflict, because I ask myself where this relationship stands exactly. My experiences with being a couple were never interesting, they were always sexist or ended up running away. So now I’m trying to think about “new ways to love”, like Lady Incentivo. But it’s very complicated, what you asked about this expectation that a woman will get married. There’s a lot of prejudice against single women who have chosen to be so, and there’s also the other side – a lot of prejudice against married women!
This seems to be an issue that only pertains to women, because a man can be considered successful based on his professional career only, but a woman with a career seems to be lacking something, and I think sometimes even women feel like that.
Yes, as if there was something wrong with her. There’s a poet called Angélica Freitas who wrote O útero é do tamanho de um punho (the uterus is the size of a fist). In this book, there’s a series of three poems made with Google. She would type on the Google search bar: “The woman will…” and there’s a series of suggested searches, it’s like a genealogy of what people think a woman will do. I made a song from that, a tecnobrega song that goes: “the woman goes to the cinema, the woman is going to do something crazy, the woman is going to feel pleasure, is going to regret until she cries her last tear. The woman thinks about her career before having a child, she wants to get pregnant, dedicate herself”. All the issues that, despite centuries of feminism, we are still facing. It’s very constitutive, in the sense of being a cultural construct. At the same time, there’s the biological issue of procreation.
I was reading a women’s supplement in a newspaper from Porto Alegre, which is usually very superficial but it had an article about women who decided not to have children. I was shocked to read that one woman who was interviewed found it so tiring to explain to people that she simply did not want children that she started to say she was not fertile. Then people would leave her alone and accept it. That really left an impression on me, because I think we fool ourselves when we think we have freedom of choice, that we will not be judged by our choices.
And at the same time, there’s this thing today with dressing as a woman. It seems everyone wants to be a woman, the womanhood as the becoming. I think in the future we will have the becoming of the man – there’s never been a becoming of the man because he was always in power. But I see the white man in a crisis. They have always had this role as the provider of the family, and since women do not require that anymore this is an unresolved matter for them. Women dressing as men is something that’s been around for a while – even Chanel had that whole thing with the short haircuts. Women have been doing it for a long time and now it seems to be the men’s turn.
Are you appropriating glamour?
I have a hard time consolidating my image as a singer because I don’t want to be the hot girl or the standard funk singer. I suffer because I am white, there’s this implied thing “what is a white woman, from this specific social class, doing singing funk?”. As if I couldn’t get involved with those things. I don’t like the glamour, I like the dirty stuff. I enjoy the freedom to be ugly. But it’s interesting, for example, the song “Piriguete” is really in right now; there’s a certain appropriation of the aesthetics of danger – the word “piriguete” comes from the word “perigo”, danger, the woman who is creating danger. But I have a very wealthy relative and she wears the same things a “piriguete” would wear, and she is 18 years old. So there’s the question of what is glamour nowadays, it’s a very thin line.
Does humor and parody appear in your work as a strategy to deal with the political issues?
I use humor a lot, but people have a hard time taking humor seriously. It’s as if to talk about something and to be considered important I had to be serious, no amusement. But humor can take many things apart. Nowadays our society uses that a lot, on the internet anything becomes a joke, a meme. It’s an ability to have a different kind of reasoning about what is happening. I think parody is very important, but at the same time I have been thinking a lot about doing something that is not a parody; I have been wanting to do more affirmative actions.
And how did you get closer to DASPU?
It was through a friend, Elaine Bortolanza. She is doing research on prostitution for her doctorate, including Gabriela Leite, the founder of DASPU. As I got more involved in it I started to find it very interesting, the whore as a self-assuring process – I want to be a whore so I will be one. There’s much pondering and questioning by Gabriela Leite when it comes to the legalization of this profession, something very important that she had been doing for years in Brazil. Then she had cancer, got very sick and died. We paid homage to her at Estação da Luz, with the people from Pessoal do Faroeste, a theater group. The Luz Square is a place known for prostitution and there are some older prostitutes there. There’s a hole there where there used to be a tower which was known as a place where women went to cheat on their husbands. I don’t know what year, but apparently a mayor of São Paulo found out his wife had cheated on him and had the tower knocked down. Now there’s a hole where the tower used to be and that’s where we paid homage to Gabriela Leite. I had my megaphone and was singing, and Laerte was there too. It’s something I’m deeply interested in, thinking about the relationship between prostitution and the world, the ability to be a whore. How our bodies are not set in this square structure, with a regulated sexual drive etc. The man is the one who will desire me. Laerte said something amazing, that the word prostitute means “being ahead”.
At Red Bull, I had a project that dealt with that, this reflection on prostitution. I wrote some lines in the restrooms, including “Work Bitch”, from the Britney Spears song, going along with the idea that when you are working for something, you are prostituting your body. If you are going to sit for eight hours straight working for a company, your body is there, your life is there. So why can’t a prostitute work with her body, since it is her own body and she derives pleasure from it?
*[T.N. – Lei de Incentivo, the “Incentive Law” is a federal cultural financing initiative]