Issue 3/2005 - Net section


On the Brazilian net art scene

Ricardo Rosas

Is there Brazilian Net art? Yes, although the concept of Net art (or the classic »«) itself may not be very sympathetic to the notion of things like national typification, due in part to the Internet’s decentralized and globalizing nature. Maybe it would be better to talk of »Net art in Brazil«. This art has arisen and grown in the interstices of a fairly ample digital artistic production, thanks also to a remarkable increase in the use of the Net by Brazilians, despite grave problems like a huge digital gap and the scandalous differences in the country’s wealth distribution.
This increasing production of electronic art does not hide certain dichotomies which, at closer examination, become quite clear. Dichotomies that in a way reflect not only the obvious class divisions in Brazil but also problems in the educational sector and the difficult dialogue of the universities with society in general. These are problems that are implied not just in the situation of the Brazilian visual arts at large but, in particular, in the field of new media and digital arts. The usual scarcity of funding and sponsorship for new media art and the hesitant acceptance of this production by the art market and galleries also contribute to this scenario.

Class divisions are quite clear in the Brazilian university system, where most students come from the upper middle class or the upper class, and new media art and theory, mainly produced in the academic world, do not escape from the same context. The majority of that production is quite clearly distanced from the great problems of Brazilian society in a sort of elitist and techno-fetishistic way; it is much more focused on exploring novelties, gadgets and common habits of Netizens than making links with or statements on the reality outside.
Add to this a certain isolation of Brazilian new media art and theory produced in the universities with regard to the current debates in the international new-media community (like the ones in Nettime, for example). The fast obsolescence of ideas, outdated information and a lack of dialogue with new theories and practices are quite common in a circle where there is excessive academicism in Internet studies and media studies. This contributes to some conceptual confusions that are very usual in this field, like the current lack of distinction between terms like electronic art, media art, so-called »art and technology« and »Web art« (more commonly used than Net art), as well as the mistake of confounding mere digital animation with the very notion of Net art: that is, the deconstruction and subversion of Internet’s protocols and interfaces, as has been done by Net art pioneers like Shulgin or Jodi, or recent software art.

Such conceptual mistakes persist largely owing to the formation of exclusivist groups that reign over the new media and media art scene in a closed circuit, where the same figures are present at every conference and exhibitions, and where little space, if any, is given to new talents or amateur producers from outside the universities or known scenes. This ends up as a vicious (and vitiated) circle where innovations only appear, as has already been said, in the interstices.
It is no surprise that the now remarkable movement of independent or tactical media and free software/open source in Brazil has been growing outside this closed circuit. Some attempts to establish dialogues between the different scenes have been tried at festivals like Midia Tatica Brasil in 2003 and Digitofagia in 2004. But these connections still need to be made more effective and strengthened, although both sides have gradually become more open to each other’s production, and the horizon may now perhaps seem a bit more hopeful.

But experiments by Brazilian artists with media and technology date back to the 1950s, and one can even speak of a tradition that has shaped its own traits and history and received some (if little) space in the Brazilian art world. Venues like Itaú Cultural and Paço das Artes in São Paulo, Centro Cultural Telemar in Rio de Janeiro, and Santander Cultural in Porto Alegre, festivals like FILE, Videobrasil and Prog:Me, awards like Prêmio Sergio Motta, and the many congresses, conferences and publications throughout the country have opened a niche for this production of digital and new media art.

To return to our first question: given those conditions, how can we approach Net art produced in Brazil? First, it must be said that Internet art that subverts the Internet’s protocols and usability is here much more the exception than the rule. While most of what is called »Web art« in Brazil is reduced to Flash animations, eye-candies or visual puzzles mistakenly seen as examples of »interactive art«, a number of artists have created remarkable works, some of which are internationally known. Second, there was no equivalent here of a »movement« like the one in Europe. Dispersed and created in the breaches of the digital arts production, Brazilian Net art is much more like an almost invisible, yet outstanding, character with a multitude of different faces.

Rafael Marchetti and Raquel Rennó, a duo whose work Influenza ( installs a skin (like those QuickTime skins) that suddenly gets »glued« to the desktop, from which one can be taken to all other areas and programs of the desktop, like a »disease« or virus infecting the computer; Gisele Beiguelmann, also a brilliant critic of Net art, in works like Ceci n´est pas un nike (, which discusses the differences between image and representation, the confusion between surface and interface as well as the relationships of corporations, institutions and creators, through an image warping program, the “e-nike generator”, 10COMMS (, tackling the question of the copy and recombination in our somewhat »post-authorship« times, Content = no cache (, which explores mistakes and dysfunctionalities of interfaces in the Net, or Egoscope (, which combines the participation of the audience with the use of texts sent to electronic billboards throughout the city; Lucas Bambozzi, whose Meta4walls ( invades the user’s desktop to show that all his data is being collected, makes some funny and unexpected uses of spams and creates a kind of simulated meta-surveillance suggesting to the person accessing that his/her privacy is not totally pervaded now, presenting a parable of surveillance on the Internet; Brunno Galvão´s My_Apologize virus, which simulates the deletion of all archives in the computer while subliminal images of Abu Ghraib torture photos are shown (1); or Martha Carrer Cruz Gabriel with her Voice Mosaic (, in which one can leave messages by phone on the website, so that each little square becomes a message that can be heard just by clicking on it - all these artists’ creations represent efforts to deal with the Internet not as passive users, but in a very open, participatory and questioning way that surpasses by far the majority of visual animation now mistakenly also seen as Net art in Brazil.

In the face of the rather precarious situation with regard to the reception and theorization of Net art in Brazil, what all these works call attention to is a creative and reflexive production that, although marginal, not only establishes a conversation with what has been made as Net art worldwide, but also questions the usual parameters and presuppositions as to the use and fruition of the Net.


Translated by Timothy Jones


1 The virus can be downloaded here by just scrolling down to the download section: