Change, transformation and the power of the intangible are some of the central themes of the 31st São Paulo Biennial to be held in this Brazilian megalopolis from September 6th to December 7th, 2014. The event organizers have placed particular emphasis on education and invite us to take our experiences from the exhibition to confront, appropriate, use and misuse them to shed light on our social relationships and imagine a world where the old forms no longer fit. We are thus entrusted with the task of defining how we work, how we behave and how we create.
The São Paulo Biennial founded in 1951 is the second oldest in the world after the Venice Biennale. It attracts more than 500,000 art lovers from around the world to its headquarters: the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion, designed by Brazil’s master architect Oscar Niemeyer.
This year’s title How to (…) things that don’t exist is neither a question nor a proposition, but a poetic invocation of the transformative power of art to reflect and act upon life, power and belief in a constantly changing world. It is up to us to fill in the blank with the verb of our choice, but those “things that don’t exist” could and would be possible through the actions and interventions presented at the Biennial as affirmations, negations or warnings.
The Biennial is also addressing the confluence of our political, social, religious, economic or ecological crises in what curators have labeled a stage of “turn”, meaning communication and influence between individuals with different sets of shared values, conflicting historical perspectives, unresolved global relationships and aspirations for a different society.
EDWARD KRASINSKI. Spear, (1963-1964).
It is worth mentioning the introduction in the Biennial literature of the term “project,” which is intended to create a distance from the traditional idea of autonomous works of art created in a studio environment by a single artist. According to Louis Terepins, President of the Bienal de São Paulo Foundation, “by using this word, we can introduce a broader range of contemporary cultural practices and include people working in other disciplines, such as educators, sociologists, architects or performers. Each project is an independent contribution but may consist of many artworks by individual or collective authorship.”
This year the Biennial will present 81 projects featuring more than 100 artists and about 250 artworks. The curatorial team led by Charles Esche, director of the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands includes Galit Eilat, research curator at the Van Abbemuseum and founding director of the Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon; Pablo Lafuente, associate curator of the Office for Contemporary Art Norway in Oslo; Nuria Enguita Mayo, coeditor of Afterall; and Oren Sagiv, professor of architecture at the Bezalel Academy for Art and Design in Jerusalem. Associate curators Benjamin Seroussi, a Paris-based filmmaker, and Brazilian art critic Luiza Proença complete the team.
After many years of showing primarily Brazilian and Latin American artists, the presence of Charles Esche as curator heralds a diversification of the Biennial’s geopolitical reach. Among the presenting artists at this year’s biennial are Yochai Avrahami (Israel), Voluspa Jarpa (Chile), Tony Chakar (Lebanon), Teresa Lanceta (Spain), Prabhakar Pachpute (India), Lázaro Saavedra (Cuba) and many others. Here is the complete list of participating artists and projects.
ARTHUR SCOVINO. Bracken Caboclo (The Caboclo of the Aflitos), 2014.
While Brazil’s second largest city, Rio de Janeiro hosts ArtRio, its Modern and Contemporary art fair, concurrent with the first days of the São Paulo Biennial, the proposals could not be more different. At ArtRio, Brazil’s illustrious Modernist heritage is exalted, but the São Paulo Biennial is moving away from the postwar movement because, according to the Biennial organizers, “it is no longer representative of a living present.” They have opted for “a different hierarchy of sources and inspirations, one that recognizes the possibilities in the pre-modern and the non-modern, or in the spiritual and popular culture, to offer different readings of contemporary conditions.”
These two world-class events may sound conceptually conflicting, but the fact remains that they are complementary in every way. One upholds the country and the continent’s artistic legacy while the other looks towards the future. It seems like the Brazilians have found a chorus of voices that come together to proclaim their evolution as an emerging power: artistically, economically and socially.
We live in a complicated world and art is a forum where we address issues of separation, division and despair. As Mr. Terepins points out in his introductory letter to artists and guests, “Hopefully, everyone who enters into contact with the Biennial will agree to accompany us for a journey and explore these possibilities before branching off on their own individual and collective paths and take something new with them. Those things that don’t exist might be conjured into existence, and this way we contribute to a different view of the world.” Probably this is, after all, the fundamental capacity of art itself. ■