In the apparent disorder of mangroves, Valentina D’Avenia [CH] found a direction, a way to structure her residency «Across the Boundaries of Language – Methodologies of Listening», which she conducted in several regions of Brazil.
In the project, the curator and translator sought to “invent a method of listening in translation”. “It is something very conceptual. But what does it mean? It means that in Europe people are used to receiving all content already translated into French or English. A lot of people want to hear decolonial and critical speaches, but they on listen in these languages. So, I got to thinking: can we re-educate our listening, so that we are able to really pay attention to something that has been translated, that is being formulated?”.
The mangrove, she says, became a metaphor for this entanglement of cultural references, which were also combined with Valentina’s research on queer language – she is currently the director of the FdS – Gender & Sexuality Art Festival in Lausanne [CH].
“The mangrove is this threshold place between land and coast, it is neither salty nor sweet (it is brackish), it is a solid and sometimes fragile ecosystem, it has several ambiguous and quite rich things. I see it as a very strange place, very queer, and there are also various legends about enchanted beings that live in this environment. Besides, the mangrove brought me a security, because I had the sensation of planting several roots during this residency, without knowing exactly where I was going. And I thought that its disorder can also be a balance, a north”.
The roots of this mangrove have taken the curator through various parts of Brazil, a country with which she has had a relationship for around ten years. She began her research in August 2022, attending an event at the Casa do Povo, in São Paulo, then the Chão residency, in São Luís (Maranhão), Teresina (Piauí), Fortaleza (Ceará) and the Casa do Sereio, in Alcântara (Maranhão) – a complex city, which has a space base and also a large number of quilombola communities (settlements found by people who escaped slavery). Afterwards, she spent a few days in Rio de Janeiro and returned to São Paulo, where she organised part of the material inside the space Pivô.
“Those three months were a time of absorbing a lot and writing, sometimes in French, sometimes in Portuguese. I think working my brain in two languages has a very important relationship in everything I do. I think about the world through those two languages. And, when I arrived in São Luís, I noticed that there are many words that I don’t understand, and this is very pleasurable for me. When a word does not yet have a meaning, it is surrounded by possibilities. If you hear a term for the first time and try, by its sonority, to create something, links with other known words, this creates some confusion, often poetic. In fact, that is what I like”, explains Valentina, who has also translated slang and funk songs during this period.
“And I keep thinking about the translation all the time, playing with it. Trying to see what is translatable and what is not, whether in songs or in daily life. I think translation is a metaphor. I am always trying to translate context, state of critical thinking, perspective, experience. And I think that what I have been doing here [in Brazil], for ten years now, is to create a strong displacement. Whenever I come here, I displace myself. Going to São Luís really made me update my notion of what culture is and what art is. In a place that has such a strong so-called popular art.”
The whole residency process, says the curator, was done at a slow pace, to develop this listening methodology. “I decided not to be an assimilator. I decided to receive the best answers without asking anything. I wanted to be in the time of things, not to cut across everything.”
“I think there is a conflict within me with this idea of residency. Of being financed by Switzerland to be in Brazil and travel, which many Brazilians won’t be able to do, and be creating narratives about this place. So, many times, I defend this passivity in research, because accessing a place like Alcântara, for my body and for my life, is not something I will easily understand, even if I speak the language. Because things are subtle. Communication and translation are not just a question of language.”