The short, proactive life and abrupt death of Chico Mendes – Brazilian trade union leader and environmental activist – provides inspiration for this new installation by artist Kooj Chuhan. As Mendes embodied collaborative action, and innovated ways of dealing with complex, messy social and political circumstances, so the artist has convened an installation that is highly collaborative, innovative, and acts as the confluence for three areas of interest: art, environmental activism and justice.
“Chamada” means “a call to all” in Portuguese, the mother tongue of the show’s eponymous figurehead, Mendes. Each of the artists involved in Chuhan’s installation have stories that resonate with Mendes’. Yet Chuhan is quick to point out that this art has not been made solely in homage to Mendes: “Chico was committed to protecting the Amazon’s ecosystem. He had opposition from industrialists and corrupt government officials, was jailed, fined and threatened, and just over 25 years ago he was eventually murdered. He has now become a national hero in Brazil. For the installation, just one artist has responded directly to Chico’s story with a film, another lady wrote a poem about Chico – that’s from over a dozen artist contributions.” Chuhan surmises well that, “It is really an exhibition within an installation.”
This is real world, politicised ‘statement’ art, more clear-cut than much of conceptual art. It can resonate with a broad variety of people on different levels. Some visitors will see its place and worth within the contemporary art context, some will be stirred by its environmental activism aspect, while others will enjoy its playful interactivity.
“The project is an alternative to the usual descriptions of climate and environment found in artworks. And it intentionally uses non-elitist space.”
The global, and local, collaboration of artists and researchers has driven the installation. The artist describes an integral journey with the group: “I have liaised carefully with a number of documentary film-makers and got their interest, contribution and support for this composite art work. It feels to me like a new way forward for people across the world to produce cultural meaning together, if that isn’t too romantic?”
A genuine sense of collaboration is evident in the multi-layered, audio-visual, digital intervention that has been placed by Chuhan in an arts venue whose everyday use is for carnival arts, training and workshops. As Chuhan says, “it is a playable, interactive installation. Visitors encounter a range of objects they can play like instruments, which spark off videos, music and poetry from different artists and environmental activists.”
The artist worked locally with the host venue, Global Grooves in Tameside, Greater Manchester, and through a workshop process in the UK that produced some of the audio. When people interact with the installation, the music loops that they will hear have been created through workshops with Global Grooves involving young people from around the country as part of Future Leaders, a national training programme.
While innovation remains a trendy term for many artists, and funders alike , it remains elusive to most. Yet in Chamada there is a reasoned rationale behind all that you see and hear, and interactively ignite – far from the basic level of digital arts that can be reliant on found footage embellished by found music and interactive gimmickry.
Chuhan says, “A very important aspect of the project is in using digital media to enable documentary film to have a different connection with the viewer, one that is interactive but not in clunky and formulaic ways. This is an interactivity that uses music and physical performance as the connective tool. It also involves interconnecting different documentary realities and the communities surrounding each documentary’s subject.”
Chuhan’s installation is the manifestation of the consensus that wide ranges of people – in this case Chuhan, the artists involved, Chico Mendes and his enduring legacy and the audience – can share real narrative connection.
“It connects parallel experiences, analysis and contexts. The project is an alternative to the usual ‘language’ and descriptions of climate/environment found in artworks. And it intentionally uses a non-traditional, non-elitist space.”
Chamada from Chico Mendes is at Global Grooves Carnival Arts Centre, Mossley, Greater Manchester, until 21 March.