Digital residencies: Fernanda Brenner reflects on the remote module of Pivô Research
Yasmin Abdalla / Barbara Mastrobuono
13 Apr 2020, 4:45 pm
Since 2013, Pivô, a cultural institution located in the Copan building, in the heart of São Paulo, has promoted the Pivô Research residency program. Focused on the practice of studio and project monitoring, the initiative has the collaboration of a guest curator and aims to create an experimentation environment, making room for both periods of individual research and moments of exchange between residents and guests.
Earlier this year, the program – like so many others around the world – encountered an obstacle: how to keep running activities based on encounters in times of pandemic and social isolation? To solve this equation, Pivô, under the artistic direction of Fernanda Brenner, and the invited curator, the digital platform aarea, led by Livia Benedetti and Marcela Vieira, chose to create a remote module of Pivô Research. Below, Fernanda Brenner comments on the challenges of a digital residency and the lessons that the art world can take from this moment.
What challenges are you facing in this moment of social isolation?
Fernanda Brenner: The first big challenge is the institution’s sustainability. We are thinking a lot about management and survival strategies in this scenario of absolute uncertainty. Reinvention is part of the daily routine of projects such as Pivô, and taking this into account, our team has been thinking very much about the possible correlations between physical space and the online environment while we are closed to the public. Our program is very much based on the occupation of the physical space of Pivô through projects designed for this context, and also on face-to-face meetings between artists and the public. For us it is important that the institution’s online presence is a creative process in itself – at its own pace – and not just a direct transposition of the content generated in the physical space to the digital one.
In an interview with aarea on Pivô’s website, you mention that it seemed like a “stroke of luck” that this year’s residency program was designed together with a platform that, for some time, has explored the digital medium as a curatorial possibility. How was the decision to make this module remote?
FB: Without a doubt, the fact that we are already working with curators with experience in the digital environment weighed heavily in the decision to move forward with the first cycle of residences at Pivô Research. We are learning a lot from this exchange of experiences. We suspended Pivô’s face-to-face activities very shortly after the artists started working in the space, they had barely installed themselves in the studios when quarantine was decreed. Together with aarea, we opted to test this new type of residency and invite the artists to follow us in this online experiment. Fortunately, the vast majority agreed to continue (some chose to postpone joining the program) and we invited a few more artists to complete the group. We are looking at this experience as a kind of pilot. The exchange between artists and curators has been very positive, and we are already working on the possibility of maintaining part of the Pivô Research program online.
What is your take on the movement towards the virtual environment that different residences are undertaking at the moment?
FB: I think there are two different ways of thinking about residency programs and they can be very complementary. As I said above, physical space, shared production and face-to-face meetings are the basis of almost everything we do at Pivô. Pivô Research is based on the experience of shared artistic production, is very focused on studio practice, and today’s circumstances have forced us to review this, which has been very interesting. I think that online environment can add to the experience of residency in the physical space, and not just be a palliative. It is an important tool to create international exchanges and to expand the scope of the content generated in the context of the residency. We recently did the first public activity of the residence – a speech with artist Flora Leite through Zoom – and the result was very interesting. We had an audience of 100 people (maximum capacity allowed by the platform), from various parts of Brazil, which would hardly happen in the physical space.
And how does this movement fit into a larger panorama of artistic collaboration and new forms of production? Do you think this will continue after the COVID-19 crisis?
FB: We will certainly have a new artistic scenario after the pandemic has passed, in which many things will necessarily be revised, such as international circulation, the scale of production and the role of institutions and commercial galleries. How professional relationships will take place and what are the possibilities for collaboration depends a lot on what we will find on the other side. I hope that the focus is more on the ethics of work relations and the consistency of the content produced, in addition to the speed of delivery and the race for the visibility of artistic production. I have been paying much more attention to artistic initiatives designed especially for the internet – which has never been my focus of interest and research – and I think that this time of seclusion will make all agents in the sector and the public more familiar with this language. This will undoubtedly generate interesting content and discussions, both on and off the internet.
What are the main challenges in developing an online residency? How have Pivô and aarea been working to make this project possible?
FB: We understood quickly that the online discussion can be very objective and focused. In this first experience, the quality of the dialogue has been very good, both in activities closed to the group and in those open to the public. Interestingly, we had more interaction from the audience in this first online lecture than in the face-to-face lecture, perhaps people feel more comfortable asking questions this way. However, online it is difficult to maintain the fluency and spontaneity of face-to-face meetings, especially visits to workshops where the physical encounter with what is being produced is very important. There is also less unmediated interaction between participants, which I consider an important part of the residency process. The pace is very different in the two modalities, and our challenge has been to think about how to make the most of digital media’s potential without comparing it to the experience of the face-to-face encounter. We are thinking about adaptations for Pivô’s website and how to better disseminate the content generated by artists on our social media. Another important fact is that in the online program, we will have a greater number of interlocutors outside of São Paulo. International exchange has always been something very important for our program and the idea is to involve more people from other countries and regions in Brazil in this new format.
And how are resident artists facing this change of format?
FB: It seems to me that, like our team and aarea, they are excited to participate in the development of a new type of residence. It is a new experience for all of us, and we are testing several things together. Their active participation is essential in this process. I think the situation of confinement that we are all submitted to contributed to the cohesion of the group. In the physical space it usually takes longer to have this quality of interaction between artists.
How will the integration between the residence and aarea platform take place? Will resident artists develop a project for the website?
FB: The residency does not contemplate the participation of the artists on the platform. We hope, of course, that the conversation between these artists and aarea will continue beyond the three months’ residency. As well as the residence in the physical space, this online model is more directed towards research and dialogue than at presenting completed projects.
Do you think that virtual models are something that Pivô wants to explore more in the future, be it for residencies or for other purposes?
FB: Yes, without a doubt. We are very excited about this first online version of the residency and most likely some things we learned from this process will be incorporated into the regular program. This year is the first time that we have obtained enough support for the Pivô Research program to be entirely free, which has considerably increased the number of subscribers. Maintaining a more intense online presence can be a good way to involve more artists in our programming.
Fernanda Brenner is a curator and writer based in São Paulo, Brazil. She is the founding director of Pivô, a non-profit space in operation since 2012, in São Paulo. Recent projects include the group exhibition “A Burrice dos Homens” (2019) Galeria Bergamin & Gomide, São Paulo, Art Dubai Residents Section, United Arab Emirates (2019), the group exhibition “Neither” (2017), Mendes Wood DM, Brussels and co-curation of “Nightfall” (2018) at Mendes Wood DM, Brussels and “Caixa Preta” (2018) at the Iberê Camargo Foundation, Porto Alegre. She is a contributing editor for Frieze Magazine and her texts are published in various publications and catalogs, such as Artreview, Mousse, Cahiers d’Art, Terremoto and The Exhibitionist, where she serves on the editorial board. Brenner also works as an art consultant for Kadist.