Digital Culture - short report

Este post foi agregado por RSS. Link original:

Em novembro de 2014, fiz um relatório (em inglês) sob encomenda do conselho de artes da Suíca - Pro Helvetia. A ideia era oferecer um panorama atual sobre cultura digital no Brasil. Mas antes de listar e descrever algumas iniciativas, grupos, instituições e pessoas, eu fiz uma introdução para mostrar o terreno em que se desenvolvem. Segue abaixo esta introdução, republicada aqui com autorização da Pro Helvetia.

1. Scenario

In order to understand the state of new media and digital culture in Brazil, two cultural episodes of last century must be acknowledged: brazilian artistic Modernism and the Tropicália movement. Both are deeply related to what Brazil has to offer internationally in terms of contemporary arts, pop culture and their social implications. To some extent they form the cultural basis upon which new developments are often laid.

In 1922, the modernists organized the Week of Modern Art in São Paulo. Until 33 years before that, Brazil was a self-proclaimed "empire" whose economy relied heavily on large plantations and slave workforce. As slavery was abolished, the republic established and legal immigrant labor became available, the country demanded new ways to understand and experience its mixed cultural background. During the Week of Modern Art visual artists, poets, writers and intellectuals helped to grant legitimacy to mixed social identities, as well as asserting the importance of São Paulo as a cultural centre1. The modernists proposed that brazilian culture was a mixed one, in which tradition and novelty were articulated in terms of dialogue and assimilation. It is in that sense that poet Oswald de Andrade posed in the Cannibalist Manifesto:

"I am only interested in what’s not mine. The law of men. The law of the cannibal.2"

Andrade drew on the story of Pero Fernandes Sardinha, first bishop of Brazil whose efforts to convert indigenous peoples resulted in him being eaten by the Caeté tribe in mid-16th century. Contemporary interpretation asserts that ritual cannibalism practiced by native brazilians was a sign of respect and admiration for an adversary. By eating his body, they were also assimilating his soul and spirit.

Using Sardinha's fate as a parable, the modernists claimed that identity in brazilian cultures was articulated not in terms of reinforcing borders, but instead assimilating (feeding from) what lies beyond them. A later example of a similar logic would be the Tropicalist movement.

As virtually everywhere else in the world, the 1960s were times of change in Brazil. Since 1964 the country was run by a military dictatorship which gradually became more fierce and violent. When the winds of 1968 (both in terms of the emergence of political struggle not aligned to any of the two superpowers and the rise of pop culture) arrived in the country, they were met by a generation whose rights were not only under menace but already in the process of being suppressed. From then on several artists, intellectuals and activists were exiled. Upon getting in contact with contemporary avant-gardes abroad, they would help forging even newer configurations for brazilian cultural identities that were inspired by the modernists but carried also new breaths of youth.

Tropicália or the tropicalist movement was an iconic manifestation of such a context. Gathering visual artists, musicians, playwrights, actors and other artists, Tropicália helped to bridge local traditional cultures, international pop culture and urban avant-gardes - mixing for instance drums from african-brazilian religions with psychedelic electric guitars.

As stated above, both brazilian modernism (especially the cannibalist manifesto) and Tropicália were widely influential in the way Brazil sees itself both internally and globally. That will have direct effects in the role, use and impact of digital cultures in the country.

2. Culture and technologies

Since the early 2000s, the overall presence of information technologies has had an immense growth in Brazil. This trend started in fact in the 1990s. After decades of a military dictatorship heavily protectionist in terms of international commerce, it was only in 1990 that brazilian citizens and companies were even allowed to import technological equipment. But it was shortly after the turn of the century that internet access started spreading and gave a huge cultural importance to information technologies3.

By 2007, Brazil already had some statistics of notice. The brazilians who had access to the internet then were among the nationalities that spent most time online every week (and that was before smartphones and tablets arrived in the market). Brazilians were also early adopters of social networks, witnessing already in 2005 through now-discontinued platform Orkut the kind of online social networking craze most other countries would only see a couple years later with Facebook. By 2013, about half the population in Brazil had access to the internet – a six-fold absolute increase in ten years, reaching more than 85 million people. Such increase comes with a high level of cultural, political and economic implications. For the purposes of this report, we'll focus on the construction of the discourse of a brazilian digital culture.

2.1. MTB

In early 2003, São Paulo hosted the first and only edition of Mídia Tática Brasil (MTB). A festival inspired by and associated with the tactical media movement articulated mainly in Amsterdam but with ties also in London and Dehli, MTB managed to put together artists, media activists, educators, policy makers, social workers and young urban creative collectives from all the regions of Brazil.

The event was inaugurated by a panel on "digital inclusion" in which the opposite perspectives on digital technologies of John Perry Barlow (EFF) and Richard Barbrook (Cybersalon) were moderated by Gilberto Gil, at that time initiating what would be his 5-year term of office as Minister of Culture appointed by then new president Lula da Silva. During MTB and afterwards, conversations were started by informed intermediaries as Claudio Prado who managed to put to a closer contact on one hand those collectives dealing with tactical media, free/open source software, free radio and the like, and on the other the team supporting Gilberto Gil at the Ministry of Culture.

Gil, once one of the most important musicians related to the aforementioned Tropicália movement, wanted to extend the tropicalist perspective to current times. Not only would he work to bridge traditional and pop cultures as they had done during the sixties, but now he planned also to incorporate digital technologies as instruments to reinforce at the same time the local relevance and the global connectedness of brazilian cultures. During his term, the Ministry moved away from being, as was the case beforehand, an institution devoted only to professional artists or to the business of culture. Instead, Gil proposed an anthropologic stance to its activities - meaning that it would understand any human activity as having potential cultural value.

MTB was deeply influenced by the 1999 protests in Seattle and the first edition of the World Social Forum which took place in Porto Alegre (2002). MTB had for its turn a series of important outcomes, as groups with interests and practices alike working in diverse parts of the country had a first opportunity to meet and exchange.

Some of these results were the Autolabs project of workshops in the outskirts of São Paulo which led to the Findetático festival, the Digitofagia meeting happening simultaneously in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (stemming from a digital interpretation of the cannibal manifesto), the participation of brazilian groups Midiatatica and MetaReciclagem in the Waag/Sarai exchange platform and the invitation offered to some of the groups involved with MTB to join the effort of developing - voluntarily in a first moment - digital policies for the Ministry of Culture. The latter would lead to a document called "appropriate technologies" that proposed a series of principles to be applied into cultural projects supported by the Ministry. The very idea of appropriate technologies relates to the way brazilians were assimilating digital technologies4. The most important implementation of those recommendations would be the Cultura Viva program.

2.2. Cultura Digital - Ministério da Cultura

The Cultura Viva program was a transformative effort by the Ministry of Culture to identify grassroots cultural projects that proved to be active and genuinely related to local contexts. These projects were then recognized as Pontos de Cultura (cultural points) and would simultaneously be offered a 18-month grant, receive a kit of digital production equipment (computers running free/open source software for multimedia production, cameras, scanners, printers, microphones, sound equipment, etc.) and join the network of Pontos. The network would organise regional and local meetings, propose exchange and joint projects between localities, map potential replicators of its methodologies and offer technical support to the practical use of equipment. The regional meetings had workshops on audio, video, graphic and cultural production, intellectual generosity, hardware reuse and other themes.

Even incurring into a number of administrative failures, the active use of digital technologies in the Pontos de Cultura project and the outspoken support of open licensing for creative productions from the Minister himself paved the way to the institutional recognition of digital culture as a legitimate area of attention for cultural policies. The sheer number of initiatives targeted by the program was responsible for big waves of change: the first call for projects established a number of 100 projects in all regions of Brazil. The jury couldn't pick less than 160, and two months later another 90 were added. In the following years, the number of Pontos de Cultura grew to 2,500.

By way of Cultura Viva / Pontos de Cultura, the idea of a digital culture that would show particular brazilian characteristics began to be articulated. Inspired by the modernists and Tropicália, such brazilian digital culture would put together hiperconnected, dynamic sociability and creative solutions for precarity – echoing popular practices as the mutirão and gambiarra.

During those years, the Ministry of Culture created its own Digital Culture Coordination led by José Murilo Jr. which has since organised two editions of the International Forum CulturaDigital.Br in São Paulo and one edition of the International Festival with the same name in Rio. The three events were huge, counting with the presence of dozens of international guests and hundreds of brazilians, not to count the public. The Digital Culture Coordination has been working also on public policies for digital archives and for networked experimental laboratories since 2010.

Brazilian politics and policies (and to be true) rely a lot in the individual personality of current rulers, and that has an effect into cultural policies as well. Gil was the Minister until resigning in 2007 and appointing Juca Ferreira, his chief of staff, as the new Minister. Upon the election of Dilma Rousseff as the new president in 2010 though, her choice for a Minister of Culture was Ana de Hollanda. De Hollanda was totally opposed to anything that had to do with digital technologies, social role of technology, free/open licensing or even culture in a sense broader than only “the arts”. In fact, during her inaugural speech, de Hollanda said she wanted to give the Ministry back to "the artists". The following 18 months (until de Hollanda was replaced) were hard for all the groups involved with digital culture, but they had also the urge and motivation to reinvent themselves. The current Minister is Marta Suplicy, former mayor of São Paulo and noticeably more open to recognize the value of Pontos de Cultura and digital culture.

Under Suplicy, the investment in digital culture started to grow again - not only into structural actions within the Digital Culture Coordination, but also in the form of concrete projects run among other departments by the new (created in 2011) Creative Economy Secretariat (SEC) in the Ministry of Culture. Instead of submitting to the usual take on creative industries, SEC is presently trying to articulate a discourse and related practices that would allow the investment into creative economy to become aware to social issues and contribute genuinely to solve them.

It is worth noting that the Ministry is currently returning quite explicitly (whilst at the same time pretty slowly) to some of the positions and proposals that made it remarkably innovative during the last decade: reform of copyright law, creation of reference centres for digital culture, electronic arts, audiovisual production and digital inclusion, transforming the Pontos de Cultura into an official state program (in order to assure its continuity no matter who is in charge), among others.

At this very moment, the Ministry is also jumpstarting the Redelabs project that will sport a network of labs on digital arts between 5 or 6 university departments, as well as a funding scheme for experimental projects on digital culture. Redelabs is another project that started in 2010 and was put aside for a couple years. In its first incarnation, Redelabs heard dozens of practitioners from several different contexts related to experimental digital culture and organised a meeting during the second CulturaDigital.Br forum willing to discuss media labs, hackerspaces and similar formations. Attended by 50 guests and counting 17 presentations during almost 3 hours, the meeting was a who's who of digital arts and culture in Brazil. The conversations were used recently as source materials for a consultancy on policies for digital labs comissioned by the Digital Culture Coordination5.

1 During those decades, São Paulo city and state grew quickly due to the massive production and export of coffee beans. Part of the outcomes of such a growth were invested into rapid industrialization that would turn São Paulo into the most economically developed (and populated) city and state in Brazil in only a matter of a couple decades, a status it still carries nowadays.


3 From 6 million users in 2001, Brazil jumped to 22 million in 2003 - and the numbers kept going to reach 105 million ten years after that.

4 Statistics suggest that brazilians who have access to the internet are often among those who spend the largest time online every week. Brazilians had a social networking craze using Orkut around early 2005, a couple years before a similar wave arrived to developed countries with the use of Facebook. Brazil also is unfortunately renowned for the huge amount of virus attacks originated in the country.

5 Published in full (portuguese version only) here:


Tags: cultura digitalreportrelatóriodigital culturetextosprohelvetiasuíçamídia tática brasilmtbmidiataticametareciclagemculturadigitalbrautolabsfindetaticoeventosantropofagiatropicalismoCategoria: eventospessoasprojetos