Born in the United States and raised in Brazil during the heyday of its Tropicália movement in the 1960’s, Arto Lindsay is best known for collaborative musical performances in which he mixes a dynamic variety of auditory and visual components culled from different cultural sources.Lindsay often uses the Brazilian Carnival parade as a conceptual and stylistic framework for his productions. For the 53rd Venice Biennale, he created a new parade, Mutlinatural (Blackout), co-produced with the Fondazione Claudio Buziol as a means of elaborating upon his interests in perspectivism and anthropology. Several weeks prior to Venice, Lindsay met with Art in America to discuss the potential for a parade to take a critical stance.
PIPER MARSHALL: Do you see the parade as a type of composition?
ARTO LINDSAY: Yes, I’ve I have been doing parades in Brazil for quite a while. I did one a few years ago with Matthew Barney, and we made a film out of it. I also did a parade last year at Städelschule, in Frankfurt.
PM: I know that you are influenced by the work of Artaud. With the parades, are you re-adapting cultural elements that have been carried between places and across genres?
AL: I was casting about for an underlying narrative in the parade. Carnival parades in Brazil almost always have a theme, and sometimes the themes are almost academic. In the 1930s, quasi-fascist presidents decreed that all carnival parades should all have nationalist themes. That history bled through, even though parades can now be about anything — they can be about rubber production in Canada, they can be about a dead composer. They’re all about something.
PM: Brazilian parades, then, are manifested more deliberately than the public parades we are accustomed to in the United States?
AL: Yes they do. During Carnival, everyone is dancing and pounding drums. The songs are very serious; they choose the themes seriously. I was looking for something to underlie the parade. When Artuad went to Mexico, he was searching for the Tarahumar [indigenous people]. He saw a dance performed that came from a region in Italy, and was brought to Mexico by the Jesuits. It turns out that Artaud had been aware of this, even though I had thought he wasn’t. I combined that story with another: Eduardo Viveiros de Castro is an anthropologist from Brazil who studied Amazon Indian perspectivism. He called it ‘multinaturalism,’ which is a play on the term ‘multiculturalism.’
PM: Could you tell me more about your particular interest in perspectivism?
AL: It’s an interesting theory, how westerners see, and believe that there is one physical world and many cultures and many ways of understanding the world. According to de Castro’s interpretation, there is one way of seeing things, but that there are many worlds in which to see them. The example that he gives over and over is that a man drinking beer and a monkey drinking blood is the same thing,the same act. Perspectivism is a provocative theory. I think it’s an interesting idea, and I started to read about the transformation that takes place between worlds. I threw that idea into the pot and the more I talk about it, the more I realize that it echoes Matthew Barney’s work, which concerns transformation.
PM: I think it is interesting to bring de Carlos’ idea of multinaturalism into a parade. You are gathering people together for a social event that unites them through collective memory.
AK: The parade is a pilgrimage or a demonstration of power on the part of rulers. It’s a pretty great form — I have several of planned for the year, they are all pretty different. For the Venice Biennale, I wanted to make a more controlled, powerful parade. I’m working with white noise and with some really good musicians that I work with a lot. Also, a choreographer called Richard Segal.
PM: As someone who works with music, how do you control the rhythm of the parade?
AL: We have a pretty sure route and it is controlled by tempo.
PM: If you think of a parade as a larger structure with different rhythmic elements, something that has to hold everything together composition-wise. How exactly you do that?
AL: I am working with students from the fashion institute here in Venice. They’ve come up with elaborate costumes with a lot of add-ons. For instance, we’ll have someone wearing [a costume with] legs and arms wrapped around their arms and back. I’m working with a few groups that will represent psychiatrists and anthropologists, and transforming animals.
PM: Since Carnival is something specific to Brazil, how are you thinking of it translating into a populist parade based on the ideas of transformation and multinaturalism?
AL: A parade is popular by nature, but these parades are out of context, they are not part of a larger festival of parades. Here [in Venice] people look at parades differently. I am trying to put them under the critical microscope. I am always trying to put my music in front of that gaze. .
PM: The parade is such a specific type of performance. How does it maintain its critical ability?
AL: It has a built-in sense of criticality. You actually reach a state of exhaustion and contemplation when you are participating in Carnival. There are few things as beautiful as the Carnival night, just before dawn – everything on the edges is sort of destroyed. The parade is not critical in itself, but it it poses a way to think critically.
PM: About the decadence of society?
AL: Don’t you think decadence is a kind of conversation? You can think about a conversation as having rules and rigor. Decadence is like that, too. There is a distinct contrast between a quasi-academic research related to Carnival and the experience itself. It’s pretty great.