A short film about Adriana Varella made by Ian Sternthal. To watch the video enter the password Adriana.

Adriana Varella:
Cracks in Civilized Landscapes

By Ian Sternthal
Sternthal Books has recently begun work on a new artist book with Adrianna Varella and Ife Niklaus called Cracks in Civilized Landscapes. I recently sat down with Adrianna Varella in her studio to discuss her life and work.

Cracks in Civilized Landscapes is a performative work that challenges architecture as a patriarchal authority. Filming ourselves in the process of fucking/having sex in a church, a mosque, a castle, a museum, a bank and other institutional monuments, we seek to deconstruct their sacred, heroic and sexist dimension. It is a subversive attempt of desecration. We infiltrate these buildings by focusing on the structure and trying to decipher the oppressive power of these infrastructures beyond their formal aspect. Each body is a political instrument, and nobody can represent us better than ourselves. Therefore, It is with full awareness that we act without concession or self-censorship. The pornographic aspect of the work tends to destroy gender, using the phallic symbol as a deconstructive tool. We use sex as a revolutionary process leading to social mutation and a metamorphosis of the masculine and the feminine. We believe that the orgasm is the culminating platform that opens consciousness and destabilizes the established order. Freedom is simply non-negotiable. It is not something that you ask for, it is something that you TAKE without asking permission. The film is punctuated by an abstract poem, which recalls how language creates gender and how oppression operates through language.
This work was created with a lot of humor and fun. It unfolds in various forms; video installations, photos, music, poetry, performance, etc… Cracks in Civilized Landscapes is a feminist manifest about architecture, that literally fucks all kinds of institutions.”

Adriana Varella & Ife Niklaus

IS: I love the moustache you are wearing. I noticed it on the back cover of your monograph TRANS, which is a beautiful book by the way. When you dress up like a man, is it as a performance, or is it part of your everyday life?

AV: I am an anarchist. I am a gay lesbian trans whatever. For me art is about ideas and about creating revolutions. That is the kind of art that I like to do and that I trust. My whole life is a performance. Am I woman or a man? Society needs to know who and what we are, but I don’t know what I am. Dressing up is for me an act of de-construction. I am so tired of this Cartesian language, and I try to avoid the classifications that divide masculine and feminine. To be trans of that.

IS: Is that why you titled the book Trans?

AV: My anarchist tendencies transcend my life and work, and the title refers to this broader rejection of categories. “Trans” was published on the occasion of my exhibition at Oi Futuro in Rio Di Janeiro, which is where I am from. I projected a video installation on the facade of the building, which is what you see on the book’s cover.

Trans by Adriana Varella Trans by Adriana Varella, availabe for sale at The Sternthal Shop.

The book is a retrospective that documents my various projects to date: Video works, installations, public works, dances, performances and experiments in collective anarchist art making. The book displays plans, written synopses, manifestoes, and digital stills alongside the works themselves.

IS: How else is this rejection of categories made manifest throughout your work?

AV: Lately I have been thinking a lot about creating a language that is connected to telepathy – when you stop talking and try to find other ways of communicating with people. I have been experimenting a lot with symbols that are letters…Take for example the site specific installation titled ‘Un-language’ that I created specifically for the Nowa synagogue in Poznan, to celebrate Stefan Lux, a Slovak Jewish journalist who committed suicide in the general assembly of the League of Nations during its session on July 3, 1936. He shot himself in order to alert the world leaders of the rising dangers of anti-Semitism, expansionism, and militarism. The process starts with 2 volunteer-participants that will each type one word creating an experience of telepathic connection. Based on a custom computer program, these 2 words will develop into an unpredictable phrase that the computer will extend into different languages, without the control of the artists’ hands. This generative poem will branch into different directions, creating many bifurcations and possibilities, and it will be projected onto the walls, floor and ceiling of the space. Each letter will be tied to a specific sound, referencing the body, and incidental noises, creating a unique symphony for each word and phrase. In this way the sounds of each letter are remapped into a new alphabet of noise, making literal the arbitrariness of the spoken word. Suddenly all the words will start to collapse…

Adriana Varella’s ‘UnLanguage’.

IS: Tell me about the new project, Cracks In Civilized Landscapes.

AV: Cracks in Civilized Landscape, or cityscapes, is a performative work expressed through video and photography that I created with my partner Ife Niklaus. We enter institutional spaces like government buildings, churches, mosques, and banks, and try to find cracks inside the spaces where we have sex. Of course we have a lot of fun, but we also believe that by fucking, we destroy the manner in which these spaces govern our behavior. We shoot videos of the whole performance, because for us, this is a performance. Afterwards I extract videos, and Ife and I work on the music and the poems that are spoken over the image. We have been preparing this work for the past two years, since we fell in love.

IS: So you are co-artists in the project…

AV: Totally. Ife is a wonderful artist, poet, and musician. She did all the music for the video, and of course the performance was done together together. I worked more on the video aspect because that is my background, but Ife made all the music and we collaborated on the poems. One of the first places we went to was the St. Patrick’s Church in New York City and we fucked inside the organ. It was a great victory for us. We filmed the whole process, entering the Church, finding our way inside the organ. When they found us they threatened to call the police, but we escaped. Ill never forgot, the custodian said to me, “How could you!? How could you do this here?” I said, “I just walked by, and I am a tourist here and I wanted to see what the organ looks like.” When he went to call the police we escaped. We also went inside a Mosque dressed as men, and snuck into the women’s bathroom. We fucked in the Chase bank on Wall Street, in the Louvre, very close to the Mona Lisa. It was interesting to see how people would react to our interference, we ended up running a lot throughout many places…


“We use sex as a revolutionary process leading to social mutation and a metamorphosis of the masculine and the feminine. We believe that the orgasm is the culminating platform that opens consciousness and destabilizes the established order. Freedom is simply non-negotiable. It is not something that you ask for, it is something that you TAKE without asking permission.”


Cracks In Civilized Landscapes Images from Cracks in Civilized Landscapes.

IS: How important is it for you when you do these projects to effect some kind of social change? Or is it enough for you to claim more personal freedom for yourselves?

AV:: I hope I provoke larger interferences, sure, but all the work I do is for myself and for my freedom. I think each person has to work on themselves by themselves. I am not responsible for anyone’s freedom. I am just responsible for my own freedom. But at the same time when you make art, you have a conversation with other people. I make art for other people, not just for yourself. I think I am a huge provocateur. I love to provoke institutions and society because I do not agree with almost 99% of things.

IS: What does being an anarchist mean to you?

AV: Firstly, I think an anarchist is a person that thinks for themselves, outside of any hierarchy, rules, or norms. I try each day to know myself deeply. Anarchists don’t accept any form of government – I don’t vote for President, or for anybody. I strive to represent myself. Anarchists work with freedom, and like freedom always.

Cracks In Civilized Landscapes Images from Cracks in Civilized Landscapes.

IS: What the Laboratory in the Living Theater?

AV: The Laboratory is a kind of anarchist laboratory, where I invite many artists to come together and create collectively. We have artists from different mediums like music, dance, poetry, and film. We come together, choose a concept, and create a corresponding performance. Everything is about improvisation; we don’t prepare anything in advance. We interfere in each other’s mediums. For instance, if I prepare a video installation than a dancer will come and dance in response to my video, and a poet might interfere with spoken word. That’s how we have a dialogue between artist and how we integrate each other. The artlab is about fostering creative collaboration, as well as about rethinking our own works through the intervention of others. I think in society there exists a kind of mythology about the artist a kind of g-d, who works mysteriously and in solitude. With the anarchist artlab we try to break this notion by emphasizing collective creation. This is one of the things that interests me most lately, how challenging it is when you try to create things with other people, and how beautiful and intense this can be.

IS: Do you think that being a lesbian influenced your libertarian tendencies, or were there other pivotal events in your life that made you so mistrustful of authority?

AV: I got expelled from school when I was eight years old, I went to a religious school, and I fucked my girlfriend. I started saying sex really early on in my life. I am a really sexual person I don’t know why. I continued to get kicked out until I was a teenager. After that it was because of drugs and because I don’t accept the authority of the directors, I don’t accept the authority of the teachers. I say to them “fuck” all the time so I was expelled. I have really hard life in society because I am gay and feminist and because I question authority a lot. Once I was expelled from the eighth or ninth school they really started to think something was wrong with me. I felt alone a lot. I lived on an island for a year to try to survive and not be too crazy. I was really in trouble all my life.

Cracks In Civilized Landscapes Images from Cracks in Civilized Landscapes.

IS: That’s an unusual move. At what age?

AV: When I was fourteen years old I decided to move to an island in Brazil called Ihla Do Mel – I lived there for one year. I was just a kid, but I lived in a little house without electricity. I used to work with the fisherman to have my food and pay for me house. Everything was so simple and easy. I lived there for one year. I was very deep inside myself. It was one of the best experiences in my life because I did this so young. I was really a rebel when I was a teenager and I think I am still am now, but I am try to exercise these urges more through my art, that protects me. I can create whatever I want with my art and that is a good territory for me.

IS:: You might have been in trouble with others, but were you at peace with yourself?

AV: Oh sure. I am okay with myself, and I know I am not alone. I met many people like me later in life, many other troublemakers…

IS: What are your hopes for the Cityscapes project?

AV: I don’t think any institution will approve of this work. It is my dream to project it publically on one of the buildings we filmed in, because the work is meant to be a critique of how patriarchy dominates these spaces. We are also excited be working in collaboration with Sternthal Books on a small artist book that will document both the process, the finished work and our relationship, that will be published in English, Portuguese and French…

Adriana Varella is a photographer and video artist. She produces works in multiple media: installations, videos and audios, photos, drawings, sculptures, performances, and site-specific public art projects. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. She has a permanent public art project installed in Palo Alto, California. A three hundred pages book “Trans” about her work was published in 201. Born in Brazil, she lives and works in New York City. To order a copy of Trans click here.