CB Talks to MxM • Mirella Brandi x Muep Etmo

On a sunny afternoon during the spring in Berlin, Mirella Brandi x Muep Etmo (also known as MxM) talked to Mateus Furlanetto about their artistic careers, the creation between São Paulo and Berlin, the contact with the public, and their recent and current works and projects.

Cultural Production
Performing Arts
Visual Arts
Written by
Mateus Furlanetto
Published on
May 6, 2023

MxM • Mirella Brandi e Muep Etmo | By Roberto Zanine

Mirella Brandi and Muep Etmo, also known as MxM, are a duo of artists and curators working together since 2006, researching and exploring the perceptive potential of light and sound in their artistic creations. Its projects range from performances to immersive environments, passing through concerts, audiovisual installations, expanded cinema, and multidisciplinary projects, aiming to transport the public to other layers of reality.

Mateus Furlanetto (MF): Muep Etmo, how was your artistic trajectory until the formation of the MxM duo?
Muep Etmo (ME): In 1998, I had an opportunity to turn around, literally live again, and choose something new to do. When you almost die, you can't stay the same person. So instead of buying what I would normally buy, I bought a bass. At the time, a musician who had returned from California was looking for a bass player; he invited me and we formed a band. Later, I bought a computer and started trying to create electronic music. I studied music and harmony, left punk rock bands aside, and started composing on the computer. My grandmother encouraged me to buy a piano and gave me piano lessons as a gift. In 2006, I received an invitation from Mirella and we formed MxM | Mirella Brandi x Muep Etmo.

MF: Mirella Brandi, what was your artistic journey like until the formation of the duo MxM?
Mirella Brandi (MB): My first contact with art was through dance. I have been a classical dancer for a long time, since I was a teenager. Over time I started questioning classical dance, migrated to contemporary dance, and after a few years, I began to disconnect. At this moment, I went to study Visual Arts and started seeing theater plays. The theatrical lighting caught my eye. I was enchanted by the light and saw the possibility of working with it. So I started assisting and working with lighting for dances, concerts, operas, etc. Over time, I learned some formulas that always worked, and the activity stopped being challenging; I felt discouraged.
MB: I started thinking about writing a personal project during this period, which would bring dance back in another way. At the time, I was very fascinated by Optical Art: graphics apparently very simple but very mathematical that provoke an optical illusion. When you look at the combination of graphic repetitions, you start to see something else that doesn't exist. It's an optical distortion. I was very fascinated with this, so I decided to write my first personal project for an open call, creating a choreography from the body of light, image, and sound. The choreographic process would already be made from those elements from the beginning. I called a friend who worked with video to join the project and asked him to invite a musician. That's how I met Muep and invited him to form MxM | Mirella Brandi x Muep Etmo.

Piano Works

"We work with stimulus curves that we provoke with light and music. The audience is not just an observer; it is involved in the performance without being directly pulled into the scene. Nobody is invited to participate in anything, but the public is immersed, and without realizing it, it's part of the Expanded Cinema."

MF: What was the first artistic project you created together?
MB: We both had two separate careers. We sent a project for the open call Rumos Itaú Cultural and received an investment to afford two years of research. This was our first project together. We traveled a lot with this work for two years, including Montreal, Canada. This gave us the courage to continue. The project was called OP1, a pun on Opium and Optical Art. The idea was not to be a ready-made show, but one that was constantly changing, maturing. We did this for two years. In the end, it completely transformed from what it was in the beginning.
MB: There is a funny story about our meeting. I didn't have much contact with electronic music at that time. One day I was passing by SESI's cultural space on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo, and a free electronic music show was about to start. I watched a pianist perform accompanied by video projections. I found it a bummer. A very minimalist proposal, both in terms of sound and image. But really, it wasn't the show that was boring. I was the one unprepared to consume that type of presentation.
ME: It was around 2004. The purpose of the presentation was to reach the limits of the public by creating an utterly minimalist sound and image that was repeated ad infinitum, and the idea was to see how much time the public could remain within the living room.
MB: And I'm a persistent person even when I don't like what I'm seeing. I try to stay until the end to understand the proposal because sometimes the beginning is not stimulating, but then things make sense. Then the audience was emptied, and there was just a small group. I, who couldn't take it anymore, left. When my friend referred Muep, I didn't know he was the same person from that show. We found out about this 10 years later in a conversation. It's fate. If I had known at that moment that he was the musician on that show, which I thought it was boring, I don't know if I'd have invited him to join the Rumos Itaú Cultural project.

MF: How would you describe your performances to someone who has never seen them?
MB: Our current works have a very strong relationship with space and time, a mixture of our energy on the day of the presentation versus that of the audience watching us at that moment. The location interferes a lot because we start from the shapes of the space itself to transform it.
ME: Our creations start from narratives with light and sound, which is very subjective and greatly influenced by the space in which they are presented. For example, a performance in a tight space can lead the audience to imagine a limited situation. However, in a broad place, the same performance takes on other meanings beyond what we planned. We particularly love this no-control situation.
MB: For me, Muep's music is very visual. We tried this path and understood that dramaturgies of light and sound are possible. We invite other artists and create joint projects. We invited many Visual Arts, Audiovisual, and Dance artists, among other areas, and we held occupations in São Paulo. We called about 100 artists to occupy an entire space; each one came with their personal work, and we united them so that they would follow a logic, a coherence between all of their work, creating routes for the public. The public entered a place and went through various situations until they left transformed.

MF: What kind of response do you get from the audience that watches your performances?
MB: People from the audience always come to tell us the story they understood from the performance we presented. Some people refer to personal memories; others create their own stories and share them with us with the certainty that it is the same story we told. However, most of the time, they have nothing to do.
ME: There is a dramaturgy, but it's totally abstract. We feel that the audience that has already experienced our work is sometimes more difficult than the uninitiated audience. The initiated one always tries to understand, wanting to know what the proposal really is. We work with stimulus curves that we provoke with light and music. The audience is not just an observer; it is involved in the performance without being directly pulled into the scene. Nobody is invited to participate in anything, but the public is immersed, and without realizing it, it's part of the Expanded Cinema.

MF: What was the first performance presented in Berlin?
MB: Our first performance in Berlin was called C I N Z A, and it was presented at the Acker Stadt Palast. From then on, we formalized a partnership to present a project per year in the theater. This guaranteed our annual visit to Berlin. We took the usual path of discovering new contacts and spaces. We are very fond of unconventional spaces, so Berlin is the ideal place. We started noticing that our audiences kept coming back and remembering seeing our previous performances.

C I N Z A | By Fabricio Remiggio

MF: How do you divide yourself between São Paulo and Berlin?
ME: In São Paulo, our projects are bigger, both in terms of theater size and budgets. Our annual calendar is based on projects we have confirmed in both cities. When we know the periods we'll be in each city, we try to close other projects based on them.
MB: We also create independent events. We think it's important to show that it's possible to build productions based on self-management and not depend exclusively on open calls. For this purpose, we also need the audience to support this kind of initiative. We feel that people in Berlin are more used to this.

MF: How did Pink Umbrellas Art Residency come about?
MB: The Pink Umbrellas Art Residency started as an online residency in 2020. When the lockdown came, and we were all locked up at home, we thought of creating something possible to accomplish in the face of that circumstance. The first residency was entirely collaborative, and there was no funding. We thought of doing something that would keep the artists in touch. We had the idea of creating a festival. Initially, the idea was to create a residency, putting two artists who didn't know each other, based in different places in the world, in partnership. They would have to come up with something together. They had two months to produce a new work. Then, two critics from São Paulo who own a digital magazine proposed to review each work presented. The idea was to experience the internet as a space for creation and not just as a space to document productions already presented in person.
ME: Every Monday, there was a release of the unpublished work of each duo. The critics also produced an audiovisual review of these works, released every Friday. This format was maintained for seven months. In 2021, we won an open call and made another smaller online edition, lasting one month. In total, there were three online versions. It's available on YouTube the 2020 edition of Pink Umbrellas Art Residency, you can watch it here.

MF: What current and future projects are you working on?
MB: Pink Umbrellas has the characteristic of being a residence to develop an original creation. We're considering doing the fourth version of this face-to-face festival in the second half of this year.
ME: In addition, we are creating small Pink Umbrellas actions called PINK YOU !!!. We've already done a face-to-face version in São Paulo, and on May 13th, we will do the first version here in Berlin in a church inside a cemetery. It is a secret event that involves art, music, leisure, and gastronomy. Smartphones are not allowed. The proposal is an authentic offline experience; it is not permitted to take a photo, send a message, or post on Instagram. The public should enjoy the immersive experience, in person.

MxM's Berlin:

Favorite neighborhood: Kreuzberg
Favorite bar: Bar at Acker Stadt Palast
Favorite restaurant: Cocolo Ramen
Favorite season: Autumn
What we miss the most about Brazil: My dog
Favorite museum: Hamburger Bahnhof
Favorite art gallery: Bethanien
Favorite bookstore: Curious Fox
Favorite club: Berghain
Favorite theater: Acker Stadt Palast
Favorite park: Tempelhofer Feld

Next MxM's events:
May 13, 2023 | 8pm: Berlin edition of PINK YOU !!!, at Kiezkapelle Neuer St. Jacobi-Friedhof (Hermannstraße 99-105, Berlin).
May 18, 2023 | 7pm: MXM CONTEMPORARY PIANO CONCERT, at HOŠEK CONTEMPORARY (Fischerinsel, Berlin).

Learn more about MxM on Instagram, YouTube, and on their Website.

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[1] MxM's personal archive • [2] MxM | By Beto Zanine • [3] BORSIG | By Anderson Kaltner