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The 32nd. São Paulo Biennial and its Living Uncertainties

Posted on October - 19 - 2016

Cartaz da 32a Bienal de S„o Paulo. © Design Bienal: Aninha de Carvalho, Adriano Campos, Roman Atamanczuk

Cartaz da 32a Bienal de S„o Paulo. © Design Bienal: Aninha de Carvalho, Adriano Campos, Roman Atamanczuk

The São Paulo Biennial received much-deserved hype this year. Since its opening on September 7th, 2016, not only was it Brazil’s Independence Day celebration, but also it accompanied the removal of the country’s twice-elected president, Dilma Rousseff, due mostly because of the country’s corruption scandal associated with Brazil’s elite. The scene was very politicized, and civilians, as well as artists, took the streets wearing T-shirts with slogans such as “Quiero votar para president,” “Diretas Já” among other militant aphorisms.

All of this political turmoil and social anxiety was the ground from where this year Biennial sprung in Oscar Niemeyer’s immaculate pavilion. The title “Incerteza Viva” was more than an appropriate title for what was happening in and out of the event. Also, the array of more than 80 artists consisted of many young Brazilian Latin-American artists, some unknown to the outside spectators, of which more women than men were featured, making it a never-before-seen selection.

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Lais Myrrhe “Double Standard”. Photo courtesy: frieze.com

As the curator-in-chief, Jochen Volz stated, “Art feeds off uncertainty, chance, improvisation, and speculation.” This assertion along with the intent of making the biennial a “platform which actively promotes diversity and experimentation, at the same time exercising critical thought and proposing other real possibilities,” make the core concepts behind the various works in the exhibition, which deal with themes like decolonization, environmental issues, and epistemological disparities. Much of the art presented took inspirations from indigenous groups of Latin Americas to create dialogues and recognize and set forth forgotten or ignored ways of thought, in an attempt to decentralize global ideologies.

Among the many works in the exhibition the ones that caught our attention where the largest installation of Lais Myrrha titled Double Standard that erected itself from the lower ground all the way up. The artist presented two towers constructed with juxtaposing materials, one made with wood, vines, and straws and the other with concrete, steel, and bricks.  Both structures manifested the different building technics between indigenous groups and modern construction.  Jonathas de Andrades’s video O piexe showcased native fishermen of the northeastern region of Brazil traditionally fishing in the rivers. As the fish were caught, the fishermen tenderly embraced them, soothingly while singing and caressing it as it slowly died. The ritual was fictitious and was designed to tense the relationship between hunter and prey.

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Jonathas de Andrade’s “O Piece”. Photo Courtesy: artsy.net

Another project that is worth mentioning following this line is the Vídeo nas Aldeias, which follows the initiative started in 1986 by filmmaker Vicent Carelli, where members of indigenous tribes were encouraged to produce their videos.

Countless works of art are worth checking out such as Eduardo Navarro’s interspecies communication initiative, Jorge Menna Barreto’s menu of sustainable food Restauro; Maria Thereza Alves fabricated conferences, Leons Hirszman’s Cantos de Trabalho, Anawana Haloba’s installation Close-up, Carolina Caycedo’s damn video A Gente Rio, and so much more.

The 32nd edition of São Paulo Biennial without a doubt offers a different perspective than other leading exhibitions currently around the world. It converses with the past edition curated by Charles Esche, and it sticks firmly to its decolonization outline. Sometimes it gives a somewhat patronizing perspective, and it may feel like it exoticizes indigenous groups giving it a more anthropological undertone rather than being a contemporary art exhibition. Nonetheless, this year’s biennial presents a vibrant atmosphere, meshed with many layers to offer new dialogues that engage with the country’s current political situation as well as the worldwide condition.

If you are close by or planning on going down there, the Biennial will be open until December 11.

By: Gabriela Martínez de la Hoz

Eduardo Navarro. Photo Courtesy: 32biennal.org.br