Bestiary

Lais Myrrha
Vídeo HD
4:3, 40:33 min, color, sound
2005

The video Bestiary is produced by the superposition of seven editions of the newscast with the highest audience in Brazil, Jornal Nacional from TV Globo. In this overlapping of sounds and images, the only speech that is heard in unison is the call: “now, in the national newspaper”. As in other projects, Lais investigates in this work instruments and knowledge that build our experience in the world from the place we occupy in it. Dictionaries, maps, flags, hymns, newspapers and TV news are some of the elements on which the artist articulates her works.

The Beast of the Bestiary[1]

To what extent can the Brazilian media, with Globo and its daily news program Jornal Nacional, acquit themselves from what is happening in Brazil today, in 2021?  Can they really hide behind the instricable ‘force’ of events or the changeable ‘logic’ of interests (albeit essentially fixed), or even behind their so-called ‘deontology’, with mouthfuls such as ‘public service’, which they slaver profusely from their tongues and lips as certainly as the slobber falls on their feet?

As I see it, the most astounding aspect in Lais’ Bestiary is not at all what one would perhaps suggest as its opposite, a news program more or less worthy of its name, which informs, clarifies, debates, reflects, etc., or, at the very least, refrains from legitimizing dictatorships, promoting impeachments, or whistling away obliviously when waking up, one day, with the country overridden to fascism, but something of an entirely different nature: the fact that, as real Bestiaries, national news programs such as the Jornal Nacional can be places or even non-places, of impossibility, real chasms, with layers and layers of noise, residues of nothingness, uninterrupted blabber about events, all to make sure that, in Brazil, at least, they never happen, that Brazil is never truly worthy of an event. It is as if the function of the Bestiary were precisely to dig and dig, one grave after the next, only to create holes the more bottomless the better, so that from them, perhaps only by means of a miracle (the sort of language the Bestiary knows well), one is able to escape.

What is an event? Can we say the streets of 2013 were an event? Whether they were or not, at least we can be sure the Bestiary reacted by doing what it does very well: which is to drill holes, empty out, ‘de-inscribe’, deregister, ‘nothify’ (turn to nothing), make sure that any possible event, together with the surface sustaining it – however briefly – are lost in layers and layers of whatever, from recordings so edited or cut out one may very well lose a finger, to paragraphs so heavily underlined it is the very paper on which they were written which seems to have passed through a grinder, to images of ‘riots’, provided by the police itself, and therefore as innocent as the dawning of a new day, to, of course, your everyday criminality, corruption cases as our daily bread, the purest form of imbecility as the higher workings of the holy spirit, whatever you want, casinos of whatever folklore, all to make sure the result, the effect, remains what it has always been, the sensation that nothing is truly possible, that only the impossible is really real.

In what sense is Lais’ Bestiary (which dates back to 2005) intensely contemporary? We would have to include the relationship of the Bestiary with its Beast. What happens when the Bestiary, after decades of doing what it does well, which is to disseminate layer upon layer of impossibility, erase any glimpse of inscription, finally encounters, as if unexpectedly, the Beast it had always presupposed precisely as what it is, a Bestiary? Wakes one good morning in bed with its Beast? With a Beast who desires so soullessly what the Bestiary has always produced, a hole of non-inscription, of impossibility, of nothingness, it is the Bestiary itself which all of the sudden seems to bite its tongue, stammer, as if it finally feeling the hole it digs day after day shake beneath its feet, over its head? Tremble with the boorish voice of the Beast spitting words between his teeth? With the infinite echo of his voice drilled daily in each Jornal Nacional?

It is as if years before the Beast, Lais, with her Bestiary, already sensed the Beast, sensed how the Beast would bestialize the Bestiary, but also – and crucially – that there being a possible line of flight, it would, perhaps, be one which took full advantage of their confrontation, of the Bestiary with its Beast. In other words, if the Bestiary is the production of impossibility, the Beast is this impossibility fulfilled, fulfilled to such an extent that it is Bestiary itself which gets jittery with the Beast’s undertakings, trembling and trembling, cornered like an injured animal, with the new kind of Bestiary the Beast wants to institute, of paranoia, fake news, obscurities and transcendences of all sorts. With a Bestiary more accomplished that its own – more accomplished even than the Bestiary of Globo’s Jornal Nacional, the Bestiary, this time, of the Beast himself, which spreads in the blink of an eye, as the real virus, with no ‘sanitary barriers’, on Facebook, Whatsapp and the like.

What is to be done? At least, before all else, it seems important to consider the problem from the point of view of desire, which is precisely what I think Lais does with her Bestiary. The essential is lost when one frames this problem, of the Bestiary and its Beast, in terms of ‘interests’ (be they the interests of agribusiness, of evangelical churches, militias or whatever). It is not at the conscious or even preconscious levels that this problem is to be posed, but, more directly, at the level of the unconscious itself. As true Bestiaries, Jornal Nacional, the ‘jornais nacionais’, which find their way every day into Brazilian TV sets, desire, as the grandiose project of the green and yellow shirt, the impossible itself, as such, the eternal institution in Brazil of the impossibility of an event, of a surface, however fragile (isn’t it also this impossibility which is celebrated bestially in Marielle’s assassination?). That we now have the Beast the Bestiary has always presupposed only confirms Bestiary’s own coming to terms with the reality which, unconsciously at least, it has always desired, and that this work, by Lais, displays so well. The Beast only realizes the desire of the Bestiary, only reveals the ‘real’ of the Bestiary’s own desire, however much this Beast, which is its own, the Bestiary’s very own, causes the Bestiary to shiver, and is repressed by the Bestiary as such.        

One would perhaps have to say, with Maria Bethânia and her beautiful Carta de Amor [Love Letter], that what belongs to the Bestiary was already in store, to come, the man who “walks on earth but doesn’t feel it, only walks”, who, “so shriveled, not even the devil ambitions him”, who, other words, so soulless, “is the hollow, of the hollow, of the hollow, of the hole of the world”. Can the Bestiary take responsibility for its Beast? Turn to him and say:

“Where are you going, brave one?
You have dried up; your insomniac eyes have dried up
They can’t see the sprouting of the grass that grows free and green, away from your blindness
Your ears are closed to any music, any sound
Neither good nor evil think of you, no one chooses you.”

It is unlikely. In any case, between the Bestiary and its Beast, their soulless, sunken, bottomless, birdbrained confrontation, there is left what we will be able to take advantage of, as if we found ourselves walking on waste, in an endless dumping ground, searching for a line, even if twisted, tangled, tortuous, but which at least takes us from one point to another. This is what I feel Lais was already telling us, years before the Beast, sensing all his actuality in the Bestiary, in Jornal Nacional, as if giving us the Bestiary from the point of view of its unconscious. What is to be done? Perhaps we could begin by singing, with Lais, Maria Bethânia, 

“Don’t mess
Don’t mess with me I don’t walk alone
I don’t walk alone I don’t walk alone
Don’t mess with me”.

Filipe Ferreira
Lisbon, 10th of August 2021
[1] As in Portuguese, ‘bestiary' (bestiário) refers to a type of literature describing beasts, quite common especially in the Middle Ages. In any case, there is also at play here a little game between the words bestiário and noticiário (news program, televised in the case of the Jornal Nacional), given the way both words echo each other in their final syllables, in what suggests, phonetically, but also, of course, in terms of Lais’ work itself, “Bestiary”, the noticiário as a bestiário.

Lais Myrrha is a Brazilian artist, she holds a Master degree by the School of Fine Arts, UFMG (2007). Lais has actively participated in exhibitions in Brazil and abroad, with highlights to the 8th Mercosul Biennial, 18th Videobrasil Festival, 32nd São Paulo Art Biennial, Condemned To Be Modern | PST: LA / LA, 12th Gwangju Biennale and 13th Bienal La Hababa. In 2021, she will present a new project for the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo Octagon.

Filipe Ferreira is a writer and philosopher, he holds a Master degree in Philosophy from the New School for Social Research and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Universidade Nova de Lisboa. He is currently a researcher in the Graduate Studies Program in Philosophy at PUC-SP.