Interview with Samantha Moreira – “The artist’s soul is what makes the difference.”

“Samantha Moreira talks about the developments in her career as artist and manager at Atelier Aberto (Campinas/SP), the changes in independent spaces management through the last 17 years, public funding and its alternatives. She also discusses the role of women in the contemporary art circuit and tackles the challenges in the field of culture, based on her experiences at  Campinas’ Department of Traffic and Transportation. Last but not least we discuss a few notably feminist projects, such as Poemas aos homens do nosso tempo, developed together with the Hilda Hilst Institute.” – Lilian Maus

ISABEL WAQUIL – You came from a background in visual arts, but soon you expanded your work to include management, curation and production. How did that come about?

SAMANTHA MOREIRA – I graduated in Visual Arts in 1993, but I have always been, even while going to college, very involved with social organizations in the University. I think that’s where it started, participating in the academic activities. I’m from the Fora Collor (Out with Collor) generation, so there was this dormant political awareness, which brought me to this collective and collaborative process. I never saw myself producing something alone. I was also involved in a series of activities at my University, as well as other spaces, assembling and organizing events in museums, galleries and bars. So this process comes from a desire to act in different areas, not only as an artist inside the atelier. I majored in something related to my work in Italy, but when I came back I was fascinated by the idea of artists’ collectives and spaces, where sometimes you all work together and sometimes you also have visitors over. Developing parallel projects, that was already happening and was starting in different formats, different places.

There was also something particular to Campinas – a process marked by public institutions, museums and galleries at big cultural centers, with no activity from collectives or any initiatives by independent artists. Ateliê Aberto (Open Atelier) was opened in 1997, amongst friends, and the idea was to have a space for collective work, exchanging ideas, seeking new paths, dialogues and, at the same time, I was working at Itaú Cultural in Campinas. Many foreign artists that would come to Itaú Cultural with their projects would end up staying longer after getting to know Ateliê Aberto. So we expanded this production space for other artists, other people that were present, taking part in informal dialogues and so on. After that we started some site-specific interventions at the house, and that’s the history of Ateliê Aberto. At the same time, we began to get more experimental with the curatorship, holding exhibitions and events in places that were not specifically used for art. All that grew bigger than my own artistic output.

In 2002, Ateliê Aberto began to effectively develop activities of investigation and exchange with other artists, through a continuous program at its space.

In 2005, I was invited to be a part of the team at EMDEC (Campinas’ Municipal Development Company), which was connected to the Traffic and Transportation Department. The invitation came from Secretary Gerson Bittencourt, with the idea of encouraging a different outlook on the city through activities connected to culture, community and sustainability, and also developing projects regarding urban mobility. So that was completely different. I was a part of the team for five years and then my change in outlook and desire to act in other fields was inevitable – to be where the art has a changing role, which isn’t always presented to us a possibility.

What demand did you notice in Campinas that lead you to start  Ateliê Aberto? Was it the issue of the institutions?

Ateliê Aberto started out as a place we began to perceive as more than just a studio for each artist. And why was that? Because the city needed it, because we needed to rethink the ways of production. The initiatives that started in the 90’s, from my point of view, began as spaces for artists that felt a need to work together, think together, experimenting and suggesting new initiatives and structures in contemporary art. Actually, that’s a part of understanding the artist as not only someone who has this role of putting together an exhibition and producing art specifically for the art gallery market and certain circuits. Besides, I was always a host – I always enjoyed having people over. It was easy to have the artists there, call other artists over, make the dialogue happen and, with that, create an independent scene that had its own investigative process from what we had near and around us.

Throughout the years, Campinas started to have even less effective public policies for culture, lacking adequate public structure and programming, with little to no incentive to expand local production, as galleries were closing and their interests were increasingly focused on the state’s capital. Staying in Campinas was a choice, a matter of resistance, believing it would be possible and fundamental for the processes we have today, such as interests in visual arts and contemporary culture.

Do you believe this characteristic of the female artist to take on many different tasks is a recurring theme?

I see it as a positive thing. There are artists that don’t want that, because in the end it is a matter of wanting. Nowadays we have a lot of fast flowing information; we have good possibilities for funding (as well as not so good ones) the process of setting up an exhibit, creating a project… The tools we have today allow us to pursue different paths. There’s something different now – the artist as a manager, as a producer. They are executing the whole project. That’s nice because there’s a very particular outlook from being an artist, changing the convention, the dialogue, which changes the entire process. The manager/artist is also different from the manager that comes from the marketing industry and the one that comes from administration. Today, anyone is allowed to do anything. The commitment and interest of the artist, today, is not limited to one’s role of producing their work without creating new connections in other fields, as well as new practices regarding social, political and cultural matters.

With the different roles you take on (manager, producer, curator), what are your main challenges, taking into account the Brazilian context?

The first challenge, when it comes to autonomous management, is in understanding the thin line between professionalization (valuing more and more the work of the artist, scaling up the staff, trying to divide the work in a sensible manner, keeping up with the growing bureaucracy, increasing partnerships) and sustainability, affection and ideology. These are fundamental issues to keep Ateliê Aberto working in the way I believe it should work. After a while you can become too much of a manager and stop being an artist. To “be an artist” not just in the sense of creating a work of art, but in the way you think, your ideals and true desires. That’s what it is for me: how I conceive the projects, my stance on managing a space that deals with art and culture, my role as a curator, researcher as well as taking part in dialogues. The artist’s soul is what makes the difference.

The second challenge is in developing works of art and culture outside of spaces dedicated exclusively to art (such as museums, galleries and cultural institutions). The five years I spent working directly with urban mobility were a bit of what opened up those new horizons for me. The secretary of transportation called me in as an artist, saying: “I need someone who sees the city in a different way. Isn’t that what artists do?”.

That’s very innovative, to put an artist in that environment.

Yes, it was very good because it was work related to education, to behavior, the reality of daily life in a city, more cars every day, dealing with traffic accidents, with how people have stopped being kind to each other in traffic and so on. It was a place where I had never imagined I would be, and it changes everything. You relate to people in a different way and, above all, to the growing potential of art. The project started to grow, so much that I stayed there for five years. I ended up as the director in a manager center of that department and the whole project was centered around a paradigm shift. They were projects dealing with education, art, culture, community, sustainability, urban design, communication, human relations, IT – all combined with urban planning, traffic operations and public transportation systems. This process of art in the city is what we want – dialogue!

Still on the issue of multiple jobs, there’s an article by Tânia dos Santos on gender and social policies where she talks about the dangers of multiple jobs, of accumulating tasks and the domestic responsibilities that normally fall upon the women. How do you see those issues in the artistic universe, is it a common characteristic of it?

In my universe, people do a lot of things at the same time. But I think it’s a matter of choice and survival. Pretty much everyone works more than one job nowadays. There are pros and cons in all areas, all professions, but domestic responsibilities are a personal thing, stemming from personal choices and a process of negotiations with the culture surrounding us. Today it’s not just the women who take care of the house and the children and it’s not just the men who make money.

A lot has been written on the silencing of women in the history of art throughout the centuries as well as their role in important artistic events. How do you see the participation of women in the current contemporary art scene, taking into account the different areas you work in? 

It is more equal and based on personal abilities instead of gender. We cannot ignore the increase in the number of women in a field that grows each day. We also cannot deny that it is the nature of women to be able to do many things at the same time. I don’t like to think about proportions, but if we look at numbers in the field of autonomous management in Brazil and Latin America, we see mostly women leading, in management roles. A few examples: Ateliê Aberto, two women. JA.CA, two women. At Subterrânea, Ateliê 397 and Phosphorus, also women. At Espaço Fonte, all women.

This is very complex, because when researching the subject we see many studies on art history and the absence of women in it, even though a lot has been done and a lot has already changed. So coming from the contemporary art scene, with independent spaces and curatorship, they are part of a different context unlike the one we would face many decades ago.

Yes. A lot has changed in all fields in our contemporary society, both in Brazil as well as worldwide. Decades ago, women couldn’t even vote, they had to fulfill their families expectations and follow their rules, financially relying on already established structures, in a society that was much more sexist with no autonomy, no choices.

Nowadays, I would raise different questions. Who has access to art? How much does it cost to be an artist? Men or women, how many of us can survive on art?

Paulo Herkenhoff states in an essay on the exhibition dedicated to women, Manobras Radicais (Radical Maneuvers), that “Brazil is stubborn when it comes to any talks on the differences in the art scene”. Do you believe this rejection is real?

That discussion goes beyond art. We still have few Brazilian artists with a political and social stance, artists with real dialogues, who are genuinely interested in bringing up the differences and inequalities in our country. Despite the improvements and significant changes we still live in a country that is sexist, racist, homophobic, with illegal land evacuations, with underemployment, with corruption, that kills native Indians, where the dominant religions forbid the use of contraception despite the high numbers of HIV positive individuals and abortions. Will the Brazilian artistic production remain isolated from all that for very long? I hope not.

Still on the theme of feminism and the feminine, you recently had the project Poemas aos homens do nosso tempo (Poems to the men of our time) at Ateliê Aberto, which had as a catalyst the voice of Hilda Hilst, who’s very important for the feminist/feminine universe. How was articulating the artistic productions and the work of Hilda?

The project came about through a partnership that was already going on between Ateliê Aberto and the Hilda Hilst Institute, which is based in Casa do Sol (House of the Sun), in Campinas, where Hilda lived. The partnership began when Jurandy Valença came back to Casa do Sol.

Poemas aos Homens do nosso tempo – Hilda Hilst in dialogue, was a choice made by the curators of the project (Ana Luisa Lima, Ateliê Aberto and Jurandy Valença), from the poems in the book Júbilo, Memória e Nocivado da Paixão, from 1974, during the dictatorship, where Hilda writes as a male narrator. 

I thought it was a bit ironic.

No. It was a choice, a provocation.

And how was this immersion of men in Hilda’s universe, looking at the project’s results?

Can you imagine, five men together for a month of residence! Five strong men, who were already interested in her work. They were Thiago Martins de Melo (MA), Divino Sobral (GO), Paulo Meira (PE), Nazareno (SP) and Adir Sodré (MT). At the end of the day, it was one of the most intense projects I have ever worked with.

At the 2nd National Plan for Women’s Policies, it reads “So that public management can go beyond the traditional and restricted reach of the arts and products of the cultural industry, guidelines that guarantee a plurality, an equality in opportunities and valuing diversity are needed.” Do you think this is happening in practice?

We had a big increase in possibilities and public policies, funding opportunities for those things. I would need more data to answer the question without “guestimating”. Anything I say, now, would be very relative. Do we rely solely on public funding?

What other paths can we follow when trying to follow up on incentive policies outside of the governmental sphere?

I believe another path is understanding and seeking a widening in the scope of our work in different fields. We can’t live on public funding alone. 

That’s a matter of survival and moving forward that we seek constantly. More ethical and cohesive connection between the public and the private,  more collaborative processes, better understanding the process of structuring the work, of formation and the transforming role of art.

To be an artist is work. To be a manager is work. To be autonomous, having a business, that’s what it is – a daily exercise in tactics and creative economy. Possibilities to choose from. Otherwise, we would just go into public service or work a 9-5 job.

After 17 years of existence and work at Ateliê Aberto, this year we got funding from Petrobrás for exhibitions from March 2014 until March 2015. One of the things that made me happy about this funding is that we are able to create more than 10 jobs for a year.

That’s the good side of work, of having a lot of work.

It’s very good. Right now, everything is very good. But it was 17 years of fighting. You get some things wrong, some things right, you change your views on certain things… I think this is what every place should have: support for all spaces that are competent and relevant to the city in which they are located. Spaces of resistance. Now we have the chance to do this, to not live only from this single project, but to make this one happen while still trying to do more. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s also a choice. I read an essay that questioned that the other day – if working with what you love is really the best choice.

Do you think it is?

Yes. Some people derive no pleasure from their work so what do they do? Save money to go on holidays? To spend most of your time doing something you don’t like? Counting the hours everyday? It’s a privilege to work with what you like. It makes life possible.

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