Babylon burning, 2015

Exhibition views and interview at Pivô Art and Research, São Paulo, Brazil

all works

Pivô’s Annual Exhibition Programme features Frederico Filippi’s ‘Babylon Burning’. In his rst institutional solo exhibition, the artist investigates the use of the word ‘Babylon’ - both in its biblical sense and as slang coined by musicians and lyricists of reggae and rap that associate the term to the idea of a degraded metropolis. The core of the exhibition is the new video ‘Ghost’ (2015), in which a car drives at dawn in an industrial district of São Paulo carrying a sculpture made of speakers that emit the sound of oxen mooing. The overlapping of a typical rural sound to the image of an urban environment alludes to the biblical passage of the Tower of Babel, which describes the construction of a tower high enough to reach God. However, in the Book of Genesis, this bold enterprise was sabotaged when God made peo- ple speak di erent languages, making their communication absolutely impossible, which ultimately led to the tower’s destruction. The exhibition revolves around two key concepts: the tortuous image of a spiral that causes dizziness and disturbs the viewer and the idea of utopias and frustrated ventures, associated here with a certain mistrust of the civilising process and the ideal of progress.


Pivô - located inside the Copan building - has an unavoidable architectural and symbolic charge, being the opposite of the typical white cube. However, you chose not to refer directly to the subject of architecture. Could you expand on the concept of ‘Babylon’ - both in its biblical sense and popular use to describe chaotic cities - speci cally in relation to São Paulo city centre?

In terms of the building’s architectural relevance, I don’t feel compelled to confront it because it is not my subject. However, its symbolism interests me a great deal, as Modernism represents the project of a civilising heyday that isn’t unanimous anymore and that, to me, no longer makes much sense. In my point of view, Babylon is the modern method, the modern way of life. And despite its extremely charged historical and religious meanings, today it has become a Rastafarian symbol-slang, which I like a lot, and which is also present in rap music and is very useful to identify my target.

Babylon can represent the city, but in a broader sense it can also represent its consequences. It can refer to pollution, accelerated time, pesticides, violence, celebrities, hormones in meat, drought, evil people, money... the myriad of enemies that are impossible to absorb. And Babylon is a velvety, chil- dish word; it removes our guilt and helps u to digress. It removes guilt because it is smoky, because ultimately we have created it ourselves. It is more spiritual than saying ‘system’. It is malignant, but also very attractive. It is uncertain ground.

Despite the artworks not rejecting it manifestly, much of the exhibition’s tone stems from the concept of a monument, as a commemorative landmark that stands vertically thus also containing in itself the idea of falling. You have been developing this since your participation in the Bolsa Pampulha residency in 2014, with your ‘reverse monument’ that entered the soil. You said that as soon as you arrived at Museu da Pampulha, you went straight to the outside space. Could you comment on that?

I wonder why we build monuments, or menhirs, or any symbolic construction. After a long time in the horizontal, spreading, wandering around and occupying the land, suddenly someone decides it is time to be xed, to practice the vertical. The vertical only comes after a lot of horizontal. And Babel is an archetypal symbol of this idea.

Modernism and the avant-gardes are also an ultimate statemenof vertical a rmation and incorporation. Futurism and Suprematism are amongst my sources of inspiration because I feel they are very implosive moments. Many of the artworks I had seen in previous editions of the MAP prize were related to the building’s architecture or history. I wanted to avoid these clashes and saw more possibilities in the site outside the museum, which in the future will become an annex, across the street. There was a kind of freedom that I felt MAP could not o er me inside the museum.

I wanted to talk about mining, about Minas Gerais’ inverted mountains that you see from the aeroplane, the giant holes made out of digging for ore. I pondered: a car is a piece of mountain, a house is a piece
of mountain, therefore, the construction of a nation is also made of resources whose origins we cannot see and that generate an empty counter-form. It was the ideal place to think about it.

You have training in aviation and when speaking about the idea of this exhibition you mentioned the term ‘stall’, i.e. when the plane goes up so high that it cannot sustain its trajectory. Could you expand on this analogy and the importance of this training in your artistic practice as a whole?

Aviation was the first subject I studied after school. A good thing about aviation is that it has many metaphors; it is a way of seeing things from a physical dynamics point of view. The stall is one of them. The plane tries to y up at an angle greater than it has the power to sustain. A stall is the moment when it collapses: it goes up, up, up, until it can’t go any further and starts to descend as the aircraft involuntarily lowers its nose. In a way, the same happened with Babel. It rose until an invisible force - god or gravity – made it go down.

Although the exhibition ‘Babylon Burning’ deals essentially with the collapse of current civilisation and the idea of ruin, you argue it is not a negative approach to the civilising process. Why not?

In my mind, it contains a bit of humour – albeit black humour. The idea of eschatology, the end of world, has always been present in humanity. The repetition of this same idea, the fact that it is a constant in our imaginary, is very interesting, although reality can be scary. In response to this scenario, which I believe has reached a limit in terms of the way we live and con- sume the world, I produce a noise. A dubious rumour of what is still to come, of an uncertainty that I am exploring. They are not colourful works, of course, but I am experimenting with a new possibility.

In one of the exhibition works, the collage ‘Cow Volcano’ (2014), you combine two images together using a procedure that is more concerned with the form than a similarity of sub- jects. In your work, do you usually depart from an established pre-project or does it often re- sult from your practice in the studio, with more room for the assimilation of the unforeseen?

It always ends up being a bit unpredictable, and I think the best works arise from this practice, which is often beyond my control. When I start I don’t really know where I am going to end. I leave a lot of room for insurgencies. It takes longer but it produces a more comprehensive work. In the past three years, the process of art residencies has bee a great in uence in this sense. You don’t have a studio as such; your first draft plan falls apart when you arrive in a di erent place. You move around and have the opportunity to risk something di erent. You put yourself in a dead-end and try to leave. Even if there is a plan, it always implodes.

You have been developing the project for the video ‘Ghost’ for a few years now, how relevant is the route that the work has taken? The audio was recorded in Pantanal, then played in the streets of São Paulo when the video was shot and eventually formalised in this exhibition?

This work had a pre-plan. People who are closest to me had heard about the idea, but I had never had the opportunity to materialise it. The project started in 2011 when I recorded the sound in Aquidauana. I have been studying and thinking about it over time until I had the possibility of shooting it. This work refers to the ‘Intonarumori’ by Luigi Russolo an Italian Futurist artist. I wanted to articulate the tension between the movement’s ambition of progress and the idea of two universes that are economically united but opposed as premises. The sound of the oxen oating in a sleeping city gives rise to a disturbing dialogue.

In some of your works we see references to Structural Anthropology, such as in the video ‘Asdlfkjawea [apapaatai]’ (2014). How do you incorporate Anthropology in your work as an artist? As a key analytical tool or as a direct source?

My interest in Anthropology arose when I began wondering about other ways of life, and I learned about Ethnography and travellers’ journals. Then I started to study it formally, trying to nd a con- nection between research and my work. The discipline itself is very complex and I still don’t have enough knowledge to establish a rigid parallel. I use it as a source of information; many references come from it, mainly in terms of other cultures’ habits and ways of thinking. It brought me a ne balance that made me rethink and compare many elements, and understand the world as a multitude. I guess I could say that it is more of a line of thought than the target of my work, as it is still not organised speci cally in this sense. I think it is better to leave room for freedom of interpretation. However, many ideas emerge from readings and scribbles I produce in class.