De Wachter – Carpintaria Para Todos, 2017, Carpintaria, Rio de Janeiro, RJ. Photo: the artists
‘Our work experience has prepared us for this’ – in conversation with Antonio Amador and Jandir Junior
The artist duo from Rio de Janeiro creates performances that expose the social conditions of working in an art institution. Curator Tanja Baudoin talks to them ahead of their participation in the 35th São Paulo Biennale.
‘Amador e Jr Segurança Patrimonial’ (freely translated: Amador and Junior Institutional Security) is the name of the so-called company of Antonio Gonzaga Amador (1991) and Jandir Junior (1989). The coming months they will present a work at the 35th São Paulo Biennale that they have been performing in different variations since 2015. I first saw them in 2016, at an exhibition at the Museu de Belas Artes of Rio de Janeiro: two security guards in suits, at first glance indistinguishable from the other guards. But one of them stood in front of a work of art, obstructing my view.
Their performance lasted the whole day; taking turns the artists shielded the painting Gioventú by Eliseu Visconti with their bodies. I tried to look at the painting, thinking it had to be a very special work to be guarded in this way. But most of all, I wondered how I could relate to the person standing there, demanding my attention in an unusual way. It reminded me of all those other people whose work requires them to be present, but at the same time be somewhat invisible to those around them: cleaners, taxi drivers, the doorman in the building where I live….
For every exhibition the duo has a special proposition. For instance, it is possible to hire them to do their work with their eyes closed, as if they are in slumber mode; or they can wear flip-flops instead of closed shoes; there is an option where they stand in a corner for the entire working day, their gaze focused on the wall; another possibility is a continuous series of coffee breaks in the exhibition space itself. These are actions that take place on a micro level, sometimes very subtle and other times inescapable.
Amador and Junior know each other from their studies and from the time they were colleagues at the Museu de Arte do Rio, where they both worked as guides.
‘One day I was given the task to stand next to an art object by Hélio Oiticica and prevent visitors from touching it. This produced a lot of frustrated reactions, because many people know that Oiticica’s actual idea is the physical interaction with the work. After a while, I began to see my dialogue with the public as a form of interaction too, also provoked by the art object, but now focused on me and the rules I had to enforce on behalf of the museum.’
The first time Antonio and Jandir appeared as ‘Amador e Jr Segurança Patrimonial’, they mimicked this situation for a work called “The Interactive Object”.
‘We were dressed in suits, neatly shaved and trimmed. During this performance, a friend approached me and asked me where the toilet was. I replied and only after she had already turned around did she realize who I was. As a result, we quickly understood the visual effect of putting on a suit and adjusting our behaviour. We saw the potential of this performative relationship.’
‘That first experience put us in touch with the basic ideas we explore to this day with the audience and the institute, such as presence, servitude, exhaustion, being (in)visible and the precarity of outsourcing. It also brought out feelings we had already experienced in our work as guides.’
There is now a repertoire of actions that are offered on their website as possible ‘services’, each of them explained with a drawing and a short text. The website also shows that ‘Amador e Jr’ have participated in a large number of exhibitions in museums, arts centres and galleries over the past eight years. These are the ‘clients’. They deliberately use the vocabulary and codes of an actual security company as much as they can.
‘From the second time, we started thinking about ‘performance’, ‘score’ and ‘documentation’ as part of the world of private security companies. So when we talk about our work, we use terms such as ‘service’ and ‘products’.’
‘We are a company that provides a service that is outsourced by other companies. That is why our website also shows the names and logos of the institutions or arts initiatives that have already hired us, along with their testimonials.’
Do you also implement this in your direct contact with clients? Do you negotiate about work conditions?
‘We have become increasingly aware of this. We started small; in the beginning, we were happy just to get an invitation. Now we think about all the steps, including travel expenses, lunch break, our payment. We work throughout the entire opening hours of an exhibition, usually during several days, so we need fair compensation.’ Because of the precarious state of many Brazilian art institutions, this is not a given.
How do you consider your position in the art world? In what way does your own work experience, background and ethnicity relate to the performances?
‘Antonio and I are pardo [“pardo” is a term that Brazilian law uses to refer to a part of the black population, TB]. Our personal experiences are basically no different from others, but society dictates that there are some differences. Our race affects workplace relationships. For example, I had intern-level jobs for a long time, while white middle-class colleagues already moved on to other opportunities. I don’t think this connection between entry-level jobs in cultural centres and our identity is arbitrary. It also reinforces that we want to be professionally active in this context. We are the first in our families who pursued higher education and chose a field of work that is not “ours”: contemporary art. We have to find our own way in it and understand how we, as artists, can contribute to this field.’
Junior and Amador are both pursuing doctoral degrees: Junior at the Federal University of Niteroi (UFF) and Amador at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). In addition, Jandir works in the educational department of the Bispo do Rosário museum and Antonio is coordinator of the pedagogical programme for children and youth at the Parque Lage School of Visual Arts.
There is now a repertoire of actions that are offered on their website as possible ‘services’, each of them explained with a drawing and a short text
How do you see the differences and similarities between yourselves and other museum security guards?
‘When we look at these colleagues, our higher education is already a huge social difference. Usually, security guards finish high school and those who continue their studies often quit because they have to earn money at the same time and this is too intensive. But when we talk to them, we find that we have a lot in common with them, such as the work routine, fatigue and the experience of having to deal with difficult or racist people… But it’s also the simple things: we take the same public transport to and from work, spend a lot of time in transit. All this has made me more aware of the people around me who do this kind of work, including my father and sister who have worked in the security sector. But “Amador e Jr” ultimately isn’t about the figure of the security guard. The guard is an icon, a way for us to talk about the contemporary art field and the conditions that define it – subjects that were absolutely not discussed during our studies.’
‘Imagine if we were white guys doing this performance; the work would have been completely different. What happens as soon as we put on those suits has a lot to do with our bodies, with people’s reactions to our skin colour. Some people think we are real security guards behaving strangely. It happened once that someone came up to me and said: “I’m going to report you, I know someone on the board”. It also happens that people want to know if we are the artists or if another artist has hired us. They ask if the work is our own idea and if we make the drawings ourselves. I think all these questions have to do with how people place us, because of our appearance.’
The guard is an icon, a way for us to talk about the contemporary art field and the conditions that define it – subjects that were absolutely not discussed during our studies.’
There are several artists active in Rio de Janeiro who address similar issues; Millena Lízia, for example. She researches the position of the domestic help in Brazil, where it is still common for people of a certain class to have daily help in the home, a job mainly carried out by black women from the periphery. Another example is Tadáskia, who in a series of performances explored the idea of “not serving anything” by appearing with a black tongue, eyes turned away or lying on a threshold.
Do you feel that you are part of a generation of artists dealing with similar themes?
‘Definitely. The artists you mention have in common with us that we are all university graduates, which is the result of quotas, the policy of affirmative action that has opened the doors of universities to black and indigenous students over the past 15 years. This has changed the art circuit and led to a wider view and attention to racial issues. When you turn on the TV these days, you see black people and it’s really not because the TV network wants it that way! This comes from us, from our participation in society, the intellectual capital we accumulate, the positions of power we now hold as well. Society is waking up and it is embarrassing for institutions to continue functioning without our contributions. Art is part of this and ‘Amador e Jr’ contributes to this discussion.’
‘Many art institutions are slowly looking at themselves critically. Our performance brings certain relationships to the fore, but usually nothing changes afterwards. That’s also why we say it’s not about the security guard, but about the performativity of the institution and the audience. We don’t even make a hard claim, we present a situation and people can take it or leave it. Usually they find it funny and that’s it. Of course it’s often easier for art institutions to programme critical work such as ours than to make structural changes.’
Aside from the reactions of the institution and audience, are there certain services you prefer to perform over others?
‘I like “Round”!’
‘Are you crazy?! For this performance, we make a single round in the exhibition space and it takes us all day. We walk in slow-motion. Some people don’t even realize we’re moving. I enjoy “Cooler Box”, for which we sit on beach chairs with a styrofoam cooler between us and we drink and eat from it all day long.’
‘I thought “Cooler Box” was terrible! We sat in the full sun when we did that, you fell asleep, I got drunk. I felt broken at the end of the day. It first seems fun, but after a few hours… Some of our services we’d rather not repeat! “Vigilante” is also a tough one. For this action we keep our eyes closed. You don’t want to know the nonsense people spout at us. That makes it difficult to keep your eyes closed.’
How do you keep these actions going for an entire work day? Do you sometimes enter into a meditative state?
‘I sometimes use meditation techniques. But you know, it’s really the other way around. I once did a yoga class where I had to hold my arms in the air for a long time. Most people barely managed, but I stand in a very crowded metro every day, where I hang on with my arm held up, one hour to get there and one hour back. What I’m trying to say: work and everything surrounding it has given us the best training: just try and stand in a gallery all day…
‘Our training doesn’t come from Eastern traditions, nor from Western Marina Abramovic-methods. If you look at the techniques of actors and other people working with their bodies, you can certainly see similarities with the situations we describe, but the alienation of labour prevents you from focusing on your body in the moment. Workers are like little Buddhas. The difference is that they don’t transcend.’
The 35th São Paulo Biennale is titled ‘Choreographies of the Impossible’ and is curated by Diane Lima, Grada Kilomba, Hélio Menezes and Manuel Borja-Villel, curators who often work from a decolonial perspective. The biennale can be visited from 6 September to 10 December. During different periods in these four months, ‘Amador e Jr’ are at work in the exhibition.