[spectre] Brazilian Tactical Theory

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sat Feb 4 15:32:20 CET 2006

<posted with permission by the author, best Trebor>

Ricardo Rosas

How can one define a show which is not really a show, or a TV show that
is not really a TV show? What should one do when the usual criteria for
reviewing performances or videos fall into a vacuum in which references
no longer exist, and the work to be reviewed goes against basic premises
of these media?

Upon watching pieces such as Futebol by Frente 3 de Fevereiro, or the
series of shows produced by the A Revolução Não Será Televisionada
(ARNSTV) collective, unsuspecting spectators and art critics might face
dilemmas such as those. Preconceived notions might be defied. How can
one describe the act of reciting Hermes Trismegistus while attached to a
drawbridge, thus drawing the attention of local policemen, or creating a
“virtual bridge” (with laser beam) to connect a favela to the financial
heart of São Paulo, or Bahia de Todos os Santos to Africa, or else
“promoting” an arrastão in Rio de Janeiro... featuring an all-White

Perhaps a good clue for understanding this jigsaw of contradictory
cross-references is the fact that artist Daniel Lima is involved in all
of the aforementioned collectives and actions. Whether as a member of
various art collectives, media artist, or urban interventionist, Lima
has developed a taste for contradicting preconceived notions regarding
art categories, as well as for putting his finger into open wounds of
the urban social tissue. Lima's willingness to see beyond outward
appearances, or to subvert them, is present even in his more politically
tinged work, in which that very tinge is sometimes put in doubt or
approached with an ironic twist.

But then again, we no longer live in an age of absolute certainties. The
“great narratives” have already been put aside, or at least partially
discredited; major trends in cultural studies, from postcolonialism to
deconstructivism, have brought down a whole bunch of once-sacred
paradigms and axioms in various fields of knowledge; and even Identity,
that great refuge, is currently surrounded by Post-Identity movements
led by the same minorities which only a few decades ago would defend it
as our sole hope of salvation; in that light, Daniel Lima's questionings
are not altogether surprising. 

Nevertheless, the “big issues” and open wounds still persist. Issues
such as social inequality, racism, homelessness, corporate media
domination, and so on are still valid, and Lima deals with them all. But
his approach is not that of self-victimization or of the old and
worn-out “cry against oppressors.” Neither does he blindly defend some
assumed identity, whether racial (1) or otherwise, but rather, he does
small tactical insertions, or “scams,” as Michel De Certeau would put
it, which, instead of promoting clear confrontation or antagonism
against an enemy, attack by surprise, using cleverness, opportunism, and
the distraction of the stronger ones (2). Opp-art-unism.

It is in these sometimes subtle, sometimes overt
interferences/attritions that one may notice a certain playfulness as
Lima messes around with codes, subverts them, or even “kidnaps” them by
dealing with language in certain ways, characterized by violations of
established protocols for presentation, whether in a public screening,
in the formatting of a TV show, or in an urban intervention. I would
like to point out two particular aspects of this subversion of the

For starters, there is a certain ambiguous fascination with the
spectacle which, if on the one hand may leave the unwarned in doubt and
eager to criticize a presumed glamorization of political criticism, the
existence of vacuums, indifference, or fetishization, on the other hand
does nothing to hide incongruence, noise, and dissonance which are
themselves the richest and most revealing aspects of what Lima and his
groups refer to as “antispectacle.”

The phenomenon of the “spectacle” had already been analyzed by Guy
Debord in his book The Society of the Spectacle, an essential book for
understanding current beliefs with regard to the invasive omnipresence
of media in our lives. The “antispectacle” in itself is not some veiled
reference to Debord's ideas, but rather a bold attempt at using the
entertainment media to disseminate subversive ideas, and not by chance,
Debord will be overtly quoted in the first antispectacle action to be
carried out by a collective of which Lima is a member, the Revolução
(ARNSTV) (3), in SESC Pompéia's Território de Antiespetáculo at the
Latinidades festival in 2003; the festival was an antishow in two parts
over the course of two days, packed with group presentations, lectures,
interruptions for Q&A sessions, hip-hop actions, independent media
images, and VJ performances. The framework, as one would expect, is that
of the paradox, for even the videos featuring the actions-such as
Liberte-se, jointly produced with the Companhia Cachorra collective-are
ambiguous with regard to the actions themselves. In this particular
case, the ambiguousness stems from selling empty bullet shells with the
inscription “liberte-se” [“free yourself”]; from asking questions about
the slogan to people waiting at stop signs, or still from burning the
banners with the slogan and throwing away the cardboard signs. What is
the point of subversion, after all? Is there a point? Or are these
groups interested in the question itself?

Perhaps a previous action, promoted by the collective during the Mídia
Tática Brasil festival in March 2003, might be helpful in understanding
those ambiguous attitudes. During the action, ARNSTV took over a room at
Casa das Rosas and filled it with life-sized cardboard reproductions of
media celebrities, of the kind used for newsstand merchandising; during
the festival, the reproductions stood with their back to those people
who entered the room (depicting celebrities as they “actually” are:
cardboard pictures, mere surfaces). Afterwards, the members of the
collective went out in a procession, each of them tenderly carrying
his/her own model as they walked around the city, went into shopping
malls, stores, the subway, banks, etc., and then, in a grand finale,
burnt the cardboard celebrities right in the middle of Avenida Paulista.
This coupling of entertainment and social critique is the perfect
synthesis of the notion of antispectacle.

For some time now, even the most radical activist movements have been
trying to “learn from Las Vegas.” As Andrew Boyd and Stephen Duncomb
have put it in a text about how the contemporary left-wing can perfect
its tactics by borrowing from the industry of the spectacle (4),
contemporary movements should “learn how to use spectacle as a tool for
political communication-not against their own will, but enthusiastically
and guiltlessly.” But isn't it true that ever since the post-WWII
period, predecessors such as the situationists, with their theory of
détournement (or deviation), have plagiarized comic books and Western
movies, while yippie buffoons such as Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin put
their deep knowledge of the inner workings of media to their own use?
Even a guru of the new movements such as Hakim Bey has already taught us
how to learn from postmodernity in order to subvert it. TAZ, with its
quotation fever, is a postmodern subversive theory to the core, although
its essence may contradict the neoliberal foundation of postmodernism
itself. An example of subversive action within the society of spectacle
is that of culture-jammers, who use the language of that very society to
sabotage advertising messages, altering their meanings with
more-than-perfect layouts. Perhaps the notion of antispectacle lies
precisely in one such assault to a media format, filling it up with
meaningful noise and messages that flip script on the entertainment

Later actions by Lima and the collectives of which he was a member would
continue to perfect the format. For example: in the Zona de Ação
festival, 2004, created by Lima himself, several groups did
interventions in the city of São Paulo, among them the aforementioned
ARNSTV and the antiracist activist collective Frente 3 de Fevereiro, in
which Lima also takes part. The festival wrap-up was an antispectacular
grand finale-a cathartic “anticelebration” of the murder of young
Afro-descendant lawyer Flávio Sant'Ana by the São Paulo Military
Police-during which the crime was staged, and many different actions of
the collectives around the city were screened. A remix of that format
took place at the 8th Havana Biennial, near the end of 2003. The
presentation of the Sem Saída series, replete with hip-hop and videos,
celebrated an action in which Lima trapped security guards into a Havana
city square using chains and locks, thus forcing them to find an “escape
point” out of the place. The action, with its tension-riddled discussion
of the Cuban situation, the ever-present interpretative ambiguities, and
its uninhibited screening just a few hours after it took place, was yet
another antispectacle to establish a direct conversation with the local

The most recent antispectacle known to us was Futebol, carried out by
Frente 3 de Fevereiro at the last Videobrasil Festival in September
2005. Of all previous works, Futebol is perhaps the one that best
epitomizes the conflicting aspects of the antispectacle concept. Taken
at face value, the antispectacle is not intended to entertain, but
rather to bother, or at least convey that uncomfortable feeling of
detachment Brecht used to aim for with his theater. Well, Futebol sure
is bothersome, as it puts a finger into open wounds with regard to the
formation of Brazil, but at the same time it has rhythm, it “goes with
the flow,” and it entertains. Once again, the ambiguities are there. Let
us not be fooled: the issue is serious and very real, after all, is
there racial democracy in Brazil? What about identity, is there any?
“What is your identity?” If, on the one hand, a hip-hop vibe provides
the soundtrack for MC Roberta Estrela D'Alva's fascinating “Socratic
monologue,” with her deep questioning of Brazilian History, on the other
hand lies the image remix of the mass media, of TV newscasts, of
newspapers, and of recent racist episodes involving soccer celebrities,
as opinions are voiced amidst a roller coaster of loops, repetitions,
samplings, all of which with an added twist of doubt, irony, and
questioning. Can we really think of Futebol as a spectacle? What about
its more incisive passages, such as the surgically precise questions
about our architecture, pointing to the fact that the contemporary
maid's room is a leftover from slavery, or the semiotic
“flash-kidnappings” in which huge banners with phrases such as “Onde
Estão os Negros?” [“Where Are the Black Men?”] were shown during
mainstream media soccer match broadcasts? 

If the antispectacle is partly defined by ambiguity itself and the noise
that sets it apart from a conventional, entertainment-oriented
spectacle, then these symbolic scratches (5)-true “flash-kidnappings” of
media attention by means of instant, hit-and-run banner flashing in
soccer stadiums-are another important element for understanding how
codes are subverted in Daniel Lima's individual and collective work. 

The aforementioned element is Lima's reverse, inverted use of signs,
these symbolic conventions that surround us, as he takes them by storm
and turns them around in what I shall call “semiotic arrastão.” The
image of the arrastão came from an intervention of the same name that
was presented by Lima at the Prog: Me new media festival in Rio de
Janeiro, 2005. Given the curators' concern that there might be problems
with people on the beach if Black men were to simulate an arrastão, Lima
chose the racially “opposite” path: a “blond arrastão.” He intended to
lay bare a subliminal premise involved in this process: thirty Black men
cannot walk together in Ipanema, but thirty blond men can. In other
words, the image of the arrastão is clearly linked to that of the poor
Black man. 

When it comes to signs, one need not go too far to realize where the
image of the Black man (or that of ethnic groups other than the White
one) lies within the symbolic hierarchy of our society. Lima himself
comes from that ethnic group, and as we have seen previously, his work
often discusses racial issues and the social divides that they create.
This, of course, does not rule out the confusing ambiguity and
self-irony, detached from any kind of fixed identity. One such example
is the Blitz photography series, which runs counter to the critical
tinge of Zona de Ação, which dealt with police racism; here, Lima smiles
as he greets policemen in pictures so harmless that they were even
displayed in front of the 7th Battalion of Military Police in São Paulo.
But the half-smile of a Black citizen might hide a certain irony, as he
shakes hands with policemen notorious for their violence against Black
people, in such a way that overidentification itself becomes a source of

But let's get back to the arrastão. It was musician Tom Zé who first
came up with the concept of arrastão as a cultural practice, through the
aesthetics of appropriation, the idea of creation through
“plagiarism-combination.” This “urban theft technique,” as Tom Zé
himself put it in the booklet of the Com Defeito de Fabricação CD-in
which “a small group runs wild through a crowd, 'sweeping away' money,
rings, purses, and even people's clothes” (6)-is a metaphor for an
appropriative and even invasive approach towards artistic creation, one
that is uninhibited regarding established codes and discourses.
According to American theoretician Christopher Dunn, who studies the
Tropicália, “given the present-day framework of neoliberal
globalization, creation through arrastão can also be an act of violence,
subversion, or even resistance.” (7) Dunn believes that the arrastão is
a contemporary equivalent of anthropophagy in past times, since these
creators “attack the cultural legacy from which they are excluded,” in
addition to the fact that the arrastão metaphor “is an explicit
reference to the socially underprivileged.” (8) Lima, for instance,
promotes a sort of “semiotic arrastão” in which current codes and signs
are taken, meanings are reversed, and the original messages are inverted
or mixed up with noise and short-circuited. Here the term semiotic is
not as much a reference to Pierce or Greimas' science of language
analysis as it is to the polissemic possibility of relating content
systems to expression systems (9). The concept relates to Umberto Eco's
“semiological guerilla” as well, as it aims at reintroducing a critical
dimension to the relationship with the media, and deals with ambiguous
codes in aesthetic communication or mass communication (10). Another
reference is what Franco “Bifo” Berardi calls “semiocapital”: the
semiotic capital, another word for the capital of immaterial work, the
“economy of knowledge” that is laying the foundation of contemporary
globalized economy, according to theoreticians such as Michael Hardt and
Antonio Negri, the authors of Empire and Multitude. As Bifo puts it,
“the deepest running process that began in the 1990's is the full-blown
interaction between the economic and semiotic systems, the full
integration of productive work and semiotic production. Essentially,
globalization consists of this integration.” (11)

In such a scenario, where the signs themselves-language according to
philosopher Paolo Virno-have become the driving force behind economy,
the image of a semiotic arrastão, or even that of a symbolic
“flash-kidnapping” as a subversive or antagonistic practice, may not
seem so strange. This type of practice was already present in one of
Lima's first efforts, small actions of poetic terrorism where he would
alter or replace stickers in subway stairs; what once read: “ATENÇÃO!
Segure-se sempre aos corrimãos” [“ATTENTION! Always hold on to the stair
rails”] or “ATENÇÃO! Segure as crianças pelas mãos” [“ATTENTION! Hold
the children by the hand”], Lima would place stickers with the message
“ATENÇÃO! Segure sempre a minha mão” [“ATTENTION! Always hold my hand”].
Other examples were his transpositions from graffiti to laser beams in
Scribe and Pichação Laser, in his “virtual bridges,” also made out of
laser, connecting impoverished neighborhoods to affluent areas of São
Paulo, or Salvador to Africa, and when he hung from a moving drawbridge
in Rotterdam while reciting verses from Jorge Ben's Hermes Trimegisto
[Hermes Trismegistus], thus attracting the attention of the Dutch
police. Another example was the arresting of those who had the power to
arrest, the security guards, in the aforementioned action in Havana,

Therefore, the act of comparing the work of Daniel Lima to an arrastão
is an allusion to his attitude regarding valid codes, his violence which
is nearly “terrorist,” or better yet “disobedient,” to use a well-liked
term in contemporary activist movements, since what one does in the
semiotic realm is not properly illegal or illicit, but rather an
appropriative arrastão that takes over a space, a sign, a format, and
then remodels it, inverting it in order to attain the desired effect. 

Perhaps the most emblematic examples of semiotic arrastão in Lima's work
are those he developed in A Revolução Não Será Televisionada. ARNSTV's
pieces involve recycling, deviation, and altered plagiarism of various
mass culture productions; its creations are collective efforts; its
output features inverted and ambiguous signs; and, for the most part,
the group's series consists of a true arrastão of the signs usually seen
in television, media art, and video art, as well as in the pop culture
dictated by MTV, among others.

Initially screened in a paid public TV channel, TV USP, the eight
episodes (as well as the following ones, either shorter or longer than
the twenty-five-minute format of the series) began in 2002, designed as
an “anti-TV show,” as the group described it (12). Featuring various
artists and collectives, combining TV news, documentary films, and other
images, to tell the story of an urban guerilla soldier experiencing an
existential crisis, the series unfolds amidst quick cuts from scene to
scene, surreal experimental production, and a sometimes distorted, scary
voice in off, making for some clearly paranoid moments.

The sign-inversion begins with the fact that the series was made for TV
and got screened in a paid TV channel, while the collective's name,
taken from a Gil Scott-Heron song, states that the revolution will not
be televised. On the other hand, since the group was inspired, as they
claimed in an interview (13), by graffiti artists and by the urban
cultural guerilla, their intention is clearly that of interfering with
TV media. ARNSTV's unabashed artistic experimentalism would never fit
into an open TV channel, since they stray too far from the commercial,
“utilitarian” framework of that format. Their undeniable political
inclination, on the other hand, makes their show unfit for a channel
such as MTV, which did not show any interest in broadcasting the series.
Finally, the rapid, quick cutting, highly professional editing (very
similar to MTV's own editing style), the thoroughly pop, well-finished,
TV-series-type aesthetic also sets the show apart from the video art
realm as we usually know it (14). The shamelessness in being narrative
and pop-esque, as well as the groundbreaking experimentation with video
and politics in Brazil, a country where there is no such tradition,
characterize ARNSTV's series as a unique creation within the Brazilian
audiovisual scene. 

This hybridism-or boldness-in combining intervention, video, poetic
terrorism, and the TV format might make it hard to understand the
creation in a traditional manner. From the perspective of less
conventional theories, such as tactical media according to David Garcia
and Geert Lovink (15), ARNSTV's episodes (such as, for example, the
Pernambuco-based VJs of the Media Sana collective) are not exactly
antagonistic, but shocking nevertheless in media terms, and therefore
probably figure among the most significant examples of tactical media
ever produced in Brazil.

The contradictions and ambiguities remain. The ideals for which they
stand are not so clearly defined, but is this all about ideals or the
way in which they are conveyed? How can one defend cultural guerilla,
and yet produce a series for paid TV? Those very paradoxes make Daniel
Lima's creations both rich and problematic. Without the paradoxes, we
would not understand Lima. When questioned if they feared being
swallowed by the voracious entertainment industry, the ARNSTV members
replied: “Let them swallow us, get sick, throw up.” Not by chance, one
of the series' iconic scenes would never make it into a TV Globo
retrospective: yes, that “innocent” image of Xuxa doing her show when,
in slow motion (courtesy of Revolução's editing), she spots a fire in
the set and runs away, the children run away, and the set burns. You
name it: art, appropriation, activism, entertainment?


1. I have addressed the relationship between the race-identity issue and
the work of Daniel Lima in further detail in another essay, published in
the Pan-African Exhibition of Contemporary Art catalogue: “Daniel Lima -
Casting a flash of multiplex consciousness?” Farkas, Solange, curator,
Pan-African Exhibition of Contemporary Art (São Paulo: Associação
Cultural Videobrasil, 2005), 72-74. 

2. Michel De Certeau, A Invenção do Cotidiano - Artes de Fazer [The
Practice of Everyday Life] (Petrópolis: Vozes, 1994).

3. The group consists of Daniel Lima, Fernando Coster, Daniela Labra,
and André Montenegro.

4. Andrew Boyd and Stephen Duncomb, “The Manufacture of Dissent: What
the Left Can Learn from Las Vegas,” accessed on 31 December 2005:

5. Scratch, in hip-hop slang, is the effect DJs attain by placing their
hands over vinyl records, making loops and repeating parts of songs,
achieving sounds that sometimes resemble whistles or similar
high-pitched sounds. 

6. Tom Zé, “A Estética do Plágio,” Com Defeito de Fabricação CD leaflet
text, released in Brazil by the Trama record company, 1999. The texts
are available at the artist's Website: www.tomze.com.br/pdefeito.htm#6. 

7. Christopher Dunn, “Tom Zé põe dinamite nos pés do século,” O Estado
de S. Paulo, available at Tom Zé's Website: www.tomze.com.br/art82.htm.

8. Carlos Calado, “Antropofagia devora a atualidade no EIA!” Folha de S.
Paulo, 14 December 2005. 

9. Federico Montanari, “Semiotica dei medi e del movimento. Semiotica in
movimento?” in Matteo Pasquinelli, Media Activism, Strategie e pratiche
della comunicazione indipendente (Rome: DeriveApprodi, 2004), 30-37. The
book can be downloaded here:

10. Umberto Eco, “Guerrilha semiológica,” in Viagem na irrealidade
cotidiana [Travels in Hyperreality] (Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira,
1983), 165-175.

11. Franco “Bifo” Berardi, “O futuro da tecnosfera de rede,” in Dênis de
Moraes, org., Por uma outra comunicação (Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2003),

12. Check the group's CoroColetivo Website, accessed on 02 January 2006:

13. The interview is equally revealing of the contradictions embraced by
the collective, is archived here, and was accessed on 02 January 2006:

14. With regard to video art's difficulty in dealing with more
pop-oriented narratives, closer to a traditional TV format, as well as
the turn it has taken for the contemplative white cube of the galleries,
see the essay by John Beagles and David Beech: “Video Purified of
Television - On why video art wants to be boring,” published in the
Variant electronic magazine, accessed on 02 January 2006:

15. Geert Lovink and David Garcia, “O ABC da Mídia Tática” [“The ABC of
Tactical Media”], published in the Rizoma electronic magazine,
translated from www.ljudmila.org/nettime/zkp4/74.htm, and accessed on 03
January 2006:

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