BRAVO-RADIO-ATLAS-VIRUS-OPERA is an installation comprising a video and two wall-based elements. The ten-hour and forty-five minute video is a real-time recording of the crossing of the Panama Canal aboard a sailing boat. The closed frame and angle of the static camera, positioned at the top of the mast looking down at the deck, does not allow the spectator to see much more than the boat itself. Only a bird’s eye view of the deck is visible; the only clues as to its location are the ropes tied to the mechanical mules that guide the ship through the canal’s locks.
The two wall-based elements of the installation each consist of five rows of words whose initial letters spell out, in Spanish and English, the phrase ‘dividing the land to unite the world’, presumably a reference to the importance of the Panama Canal as a route for international exchange. Each word in the phrase is spelled out using a phonetic alphabet akin to the official phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, etc.) devised by the International Civil Aviation Organization in order to prevent miscommunication incidents. This alphabet however was very specific to the English language and another alphabet, the ‘Ana Brazil’, was used in Latin America instead. Zaccagnini, with the collaboration of friends and colleagues, devised her own phonetic alphabet that includes contemporary references which have meaning across many cultures, such as ‘Camping’, ‘Taxi’, ‘Harem’, ‘Ninja’, ‘Karaoke’, and others charged with socio-political meaning, such as ‘Diaspora’, ‘Jazz’, ‘Libido’, ‘Utopia’. The title of the work spells out the word ‘Bravo’ using Zaccagnini’s alphabet.
The installation is unique, but the video component exists in an edition of three plus one artist’s proof. Tate’s copy is number one in the edition. The installation was exhibited at Arco, Madrid in February 2010, while the video element was included in the exhibition ‘The Traveling Show’ at Colección Jumex in Mexico City in April 2010.
Zaccagnini’s work is characterised by a desire to propose alternatives to accepted conventions of communication. The phonetic alphabet she created for BRAVO-RADIO-ATLAS-VIRUS-OPERA is similar yet different to the commonly used alphabet, thus forcing the viewer to reconsider what it means to operate such conventions. Through the tracking of the boat’s journey, the work makes reference to the history of human endeavour to overcome and domesticate nature (epitomised by the struggles to accomplish the building of the canal), land ownership, colonial histories, waves of migration and trade routes. Zaccagnini’s video work Duas Margens 2003, two videos made on opposite coasts of the Atlantic – in Portugal and Brazil – at exactly the same time for one hour, provides a precedent to BRAVO-RADIO-ATLAS-VIRUS-OPERA.
Zaccagnini moved to Brazil from Argentina as a child and has since lived and worked in São Paulo. As well as being a visual artist, she works as a writer, editor and curator for various institutions and artistic events. This multifaceted approach informed much of her early work, resulting in a particular brand of institutional critique that reflected her interest in Brazilian art of the 1960s, as well as in issues related to memory, history and identity.
Rodrigo Moura, ‘The Art of Travelling’ in Adriano Pedrosa (ed.), The Travelling Show, exhibition catalogue, Colección Jumex, Mexico City 2010, p.100