by Elizabeth Schippers // Aug. 4, 2020
A woman is absorbed by a game on her phone, oblivious to the scenery surrounding her. A still lake filled with huge water lily pads is interrupted by posing tourists. The Amazonian forest is juxtaposed with footage of the rubber trade. In her video essays, artist and filmmaker Barbara Marcel reflects on discourses surrounding colonial imagery and its connection to our perception of nature. Her work engages with a discussion on the commodification and exploitation of natural spaces like the Amazon, and how these practices are rooted in colonial thinking. From August 5th until September 8th, Berlinische Galerie will present three of Marcel’s recent works—’Victoria Amazonica’, ‘Arara’ and ‘The open forest’—in the IBB Video Space.
The Brazilian artist studied at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, the Institute for Art in Context at Berlin’s University of the Arts and the Universidade Estácio de Sá in Rio de Janeiro. Her doctoral dissertation propounds the essay film as a historiographical tool for decolonial thought, an idea that has since shaped her artistic practice. Marcel, who has been living in Berlin since 2009, focusses especially on the economical, cultural and historical links between Germany and Latin America and examines how these links are informed by colonial history.
‘Victoria Amazonica’ (2015), a 22-minute-long video about the Botanical Gardens in Berlin and the origins of its plants, shows a slideshow of old pictures depicting tourists posing on water lily pads in the Amazon. The intrusion of tourists on this pond is reflective of structural patterns regarding the commodification of tropical rainforests. The artist, using her own voice, calls into question her personal knowledge about the water lilies and the Amazon, addressing the impact of colonial education on cultural heritage. The video furthermore comments on the exploitation of these forests by human technologies, a theme that is evermore present in her shorter movie, ‘Arara’ (2017). In ‘Arara,’ Marcel explores themes of experience and space by contrasting the greenery of the forest with the virtual space of a smartphone game. The woman holding the phone is completely absorbed in her game. Turning away from the old “the youth of today” narrative, Marcel instead presents the audience with questions about the economic connections between nature and our technological gadgets, and the ways we perceive nature increasingly through these gadgets. ‘The open forest’ (2017), an assemblage of found images of forest commodification and destruction and footage from her journey from the Sahara to the Amazon, is very much a continuation of these themes.
Next to these three essay films, the Berlinische Galerie presents ‘Manioc, I grind you, sister’ (2015–19) in their virtual video space, a two-channel video made by Marcel in collaboration with artist Ana Hupe. The film, which talks about farm labour in the Amazon, is part of Marcel’s ongoing effort to work together with other artists, activists and researchers to collectively promote public debates around environmentalism and socio-political inequality, past and present.