CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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A Pile of Bricks? Pedro Costa’s Juventude en Marcha, labour, and the museal space

Session 2 The Rank of Art

ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Post-Doc


In Pedro Costa’s Juventude en Marcha (2006), Ventura, a Cape-Verdean immigrant in Portugal’s Lisbon, is sneaked into the Gulbenkian museum for a quick visit by a friendly security guard. Ventura walks up to The Flight into Egypt by Rubens. He proceeds to completely ignore it, scrutinizing, instead, the wall behind the masterpiece. Ventura was one of the construction workers, along with other immigrants from Portugal’s former colonies, who laid the foundations and erected the walls of the renowned museum. For him, it is the handiwork of the wall, rather than that of the painting, that consumes and captivates his attention. The shot stages a radical act of iconoclasm. But compared to the militant iconoclasm of suffragette Mary Richardson’s slashing of Velasquez’s Rokeby Venus in 1914, or the “creative vandalism” of Jake and Dinos Chapman, who painted rainbows and flowers over Hitler’s watercolour landscape paintings, the iconoclastic moment in Costa’s film is premised on a different affect - indifference. The frame-breaking moment for the audience is conditioned by the originally empty frame, where The Flight into Egypt appears as the centre of meaning for the shot. Ventura’s tender attention to his own handiwork behind the painting shakes loose our sense of centre and forces us to attend to the labour that functioned as the condition of possibility for the museum space. It compels us to consider the different value judgements and economies of attention that structure our understanding of high and low, artistic production and craftsmanship, art and non-art. In this presentation, I will consider precisely these slippery dichotomies by looking at Ventura’s gesture in relation to other pertinent events in art history - like the 1976 controversy around the exhibition at TATE modern of Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII, a sculpture composed of 120 firebricks arranged in a rectangle.


Rosa Barotsi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin, Germany. Her work looks at the notions of failure and misuse in contemporary art cinema both as tools for radical politics and as endemic characteristics of ‘debt capitalism’. Her postdoctoral project builds on her previous work on Slow Cinema, which was the focus of her PhD, completed in 2013 at the University of Cambridge. She has published on various aspects of contemporary cinema, including the Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti and postmodern impegno; contemporary Greek cinema and issues of class and the financial crisis; and long duration in contemporary cinematic production.