„You can’t escape from that”
An Inteview with Laura Rolim de Carvalho about game shows, german-brazilian differences and globalization in the age of corona.
By Morgan Rapp
Laura, what’s your favourite game show?
That might be difficult to explain. My current work is based on game shows I used to watch when I was 13. I don’t know, if anyone would know them in Germany. Although that’s the funny thing about these programs: they’re all the same. You take a concept, copy it and maybe adjust it a little bit for cultural differences.
What did these shows look like?
There were two programs that stuck with me. The first one was Qual é a musica?. Celebrities would compete with each other and answer questions about music. Usually it was about raising money for something. The other one is called Fantasia. That’s a show, where people call in from home and play with a very attractive half naked woman to win some prize money.
You were planning a performance about such game shows for the PAF. What would that have looked like?
I already did, a version of this street performance - LAURA_AkiÓ->PLAYtrucke – last year in Berlin and another version in Rio de Janeiro. I have this trolley, a “trucke”, which I build from objects I found in the street. I’d have changed the trolley a little and taken it into the streets. There, me wearing my hat together with my trucke would “make noise” and draw attention to myself. People usually come closer to see what I’m doing. Then, the street show game, the performance, starts: I play to the passers-by in the streets my playlist and ask them questions, but it’s less about music knowledge and more about current political and social topics. In the end, the participants win food or drink. This year I wanted to give a Currywurst as a prize.
Yes, I always give people something to eat or drink at the end of my performances. I’m from Brazil and there the people have no time. When you are performing in the streets, you have to get people’s attention somehow. So I started to give them food or drinks.
Why a game show?
When I started with my trucke performances, it was mostly me talking. My goal was to reach the Brazilian working class. I was living and working in São Paulo and I wanted to reach a public, that doesn’t usually go to the museum, that maybe has never even been to one. People, who are more familiar with consuming culture through TV game shows. In the beginning, my performances were more of a monologue. But I wanted an exchange, a dialogue with these people. That’s when I had the idea to make it a game show, because an exchange happens more easily, when you are playing a game together. Now I’m in Europe and that’s a different public still.
Do people in Berlin react differently to you than they did in Brazil?
Yes. I come from a very unjust country. There are people, who don’t even know the centre of the city. In Berlin, everyone knows the centre. Brazil has such extreme social inequality, that most people have to work all day to survive. They don’t ever leave their neighbourhoods. Sunday is their free day and that’s when they clean their houses. It’s a very different public from Berlin, and that’s the public, I wanted to reach. I started performing in the streets instead of museums or galleries because I wanted to reach this public, that doesn’t go to these places because they don’t have the time and don’t feel accepted there. Between the lines, Brazilian society tells them, that they are too poor for these places and don’t belong there.
Do you think that you are reaching these people?
That was my goal in Brazil. It’s a complicated situation. If you are a professional artist, you need the right image and you have to sell your art to the right institutions. If you want to work with people, who aren’t the audience of these institutions, you’re on your own – in Brazil there isn’t as much support for artists as there is in Germany. So, no, maybe I didn’t reach them. That’s one of the reasons I went to Berlin. Here I have more freedom and can make the art I want to make without selling my soul to the devil. (laughs)
Did your work have more impact in Brazil?
I don’t know. I did a trucke performance in London about Brexit and the result was amazing! The people were more open to dialogue and had more time. They asked more questions and took the whole thing more seriously. Berlin is still different from London. Here everyone is crazy and spur of the moment. Nobody cares, if you walk down the street naked.
Is it harder to surprise people in Berlin?
It’s harder to make noise, to cause a commotion. You are very used to noise here. And to not looking at things. You have the freedom to do what you want. Good luck! That feels different from both London and Brazil. People are used to crazy stuff here.
Your trucke and your hat are pretty crazy. Where did you get the idea for them?
The hat just happened. At university we were supposed to make a map and I incorporated everything I found in my way into this work. That eventually became the hat. The trucke is like that as well. It’s made from everything I could find. There are a lot of informal workers in Brazil. They all have their own little trolley they use to move through the city. That’s the aesthetic of my work and it also expresses, that that’s the kind of people I want to communicate with.
Do you change the trucke for every new city?
Yes. In Brazil I did popcorn and talked about the political tension and polarization in the country. In London I did tea. For the game show I have two versions now: the Brazilian one and the German. But I also worked on a Chilean one and an North American one. The format works like a frame. It helps applying for residencies. If you rely on residencies, you have to send out applications all the time. It’s good to have something, that you can adjust to different contexts. My game show is about where it takes place, not the autonomous artist.
Your work deals with the economic and political crisis in Brazil. Has this crisis grown worse through the corona pandemic?
It’s horrible. Brazil was already doing poorly. This is the consequence of voting for a man, who doesn’t care about poor black people and destroys the amazon forest. It’s a genocidal government. That’s what it’s about: killing our own people. The pandemic made that worse. I believe, that’s justice in a way: people are getting what they deserve. The situation is fucked up and corona made it explode. But Brazil is beginning to learn from its own mistakes.
Is this a chance for change?
For sure, but we can’t be that romantic. I know things are okay here but look at the rest of the world. I believe, you sometimes get lost in romantic ideas because Fermany has a stable social-democratic state. That’s not normal for the capitalist world we live in. In the UK or the US, you don’t have this thinking, that the government should give money to people, who need it. I hope Germany can keep going like this. The world will be very different after the virus. Brazil is going down, so is the US. It’s only a question of time, when this will get here. We live in a globalized world. You can’t escape from that. So, yes, there will be change, but it will be more like how the second World War meant change. People are dying. We will suffer. It will be hard. And through the suffering, there will be change, but the first step is pain.
How does the crisis affect you as an artist?
I’m very affected. I was planning to go to the US, but I lost my funding from the Goethe institute to do so. I wanted to partake in three festivals. One was cancelled, the other two - among them the PAF – moved online. That means I can’t really show my art and I don’t get the publicity from the festival either. I don’t have a lot of pictures of my street performances. That’s why it’s especially hard for me.
So money is a problem.
Yes. I’m here in Germany on a student visa, that will expire in July, and I’m not getting any support from the state. I can’t go back to Brazil. That would mean being locked in and being afraid of dying. Maybe that’s why I’m being so negative. I’m waiting for my Italian citizenship, but Italy is shut down. It looks like I can go to Switzerland in August for an art residency and I can get a work visa there. Though I’m wondering how an art residency would be in this situation, because I still can’t show my art or perform in the streets.
How do you deal with that?
I’m knocking my head into the walls. (laughs) It’s difficult. I’m in a bad situation, but at the same time life goes on. For now, I will go to Switzerland and then I will try to get an art visa in Germany. If you know anyone who can pretend to hire me … (laughs) I have faith. That’s life. We have to stay positive, otherwise we can’t go on.
Will you try to work more online?
Yes, I will try to do online performances, but I need money and resources for that. And I don’t like it. It’s about the market and the system again. Now I have to be online. I have to adapt and change everything. I believe we need more time. We aren’t getting any time to digest. In just two months, the world has changed so much. We need time to cope.
Laura Rolim de Carvalho is a multi-media artist from São Paulo. At the moment, she lives and works in Berlin. As LAURA_AkiÓ, she performs all around the globe. Her work is often open concept to nurture a dialogue between artist and participant. In her performances, Carvalho uses found objects she modified and recontextualized using her sewing skills. The focus of her work lies on social structures and precarious living situations.