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Creative Research Lab

SHADE- August 2005

video still by Roberto Bellini

Roberto Bellini
Interval, 2005
digital video

Catalog Essay by Alberto McKelligan Hernández:

"Coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical."
- Jonathan Swift

Discussing his artistic production, Roberto Bellini identifies two distinct strategies or methods he uses when dealing with video. In the first of these categories, he focuses on the formal aspects of his medium, creating pieces that explore the boundaries of his materials. In Out-lines, for instance, he employed projectors to depict a moving, breathing, human silhouette across the gallery floor, transforming the ominous human outlines one associates with police investigations into a multimedia art installation. In his second line of research, he uses video to document particular processes and activities. In Landscape Theory, for instance, he videotaped flocks of birds flying around Austin's Highland Mall, despite the obsessively persistent criticisms of a security person working in the area.

Interval, included in this show, more closely follows the explorations of Landscape Theory than those of Out-lines. The piece deals with an everyday activity, familiar to most, if not all: drinking a cup of coffee. Visiting a variety of locales in his home country, Brazil, the artist focuses his camera on his hands and an ever-changing array of coffee cups. The resulting videotaped record thus explores repetition and variation, as a transparent glass filled with coffee gives way to a more traditional mug stained with its liquid contents, a seemingly never-ending array of containers.

Viewing his finished piece noticing the ambient sounds of multiple coffee shops and kitchens one can easily imagine the artist drinking his coffee as he observed those around him. In fact, one can almost visualize any number of clichéd scenarios: a silent young couple on an awkward first date, a bustling group of businesspeople shuffling papers back and forth, two old friends grinning as they complete each other's sentences. As with any art work that deliberately highlights process, Interval prompts viewers to reflect on familiar activities in new ways, inspiring the very act of contemplation the artist himself experienced through his creation process.

Interestingly, even though the camera exclusively focuses on the artist himself, audience members may catch fleeting glimpses of other coffee drinkers. When describing Interval, Bellini considers the multiple social meanings a single activity can acquire over time. When discussing his home country, for instance, he states, "you cannot visit someone's home without being offered a cup of coffee." Additionally, he contrasts the act of drinking a simple cup of coffee in Brazil with the ultra-stylized experience of ordering a flavored beverage in the ever-expanding coffee branches of the United States. But by showing us those glimpses of different people, Bellini underscores how the shifting meanings of a single activity not only depend on place whether it is Brazil or the United States but on the individuals that witness it, their intentions and expectations.

Interval inspires a particular kind of contemplation then, one that very much relates to the connections one makes through sharing particular experiences with others. Rather than prompting an internal psychic examination, audience members will reflect on the ways in which they establish links with those around them, sometimes through observation, at other times through conversation. By using himself as a subject in Interval but only presenting himself in a limited manner, Bellini comments on the tenuous qualities of these connections. Confronted with Interval, audience members will find themselves working through any number of reflections, a pondering exercise that will continue when they go out and get a cup of coffee. It is no surprise that Swift included "philosophical" in his musings on coffee.