Studio wall, Montparnasse. Screen print based on frottage by Masao Okabe. Chihiro Minato showing one of his Phototypes.
Roland Barthes analyzed the image as surface on “Empire of Signs”, and although Barthes’ Japan was a fictional one, his observations nevertheless reverberate when one confronts firsthand the primacy of the printed image in Japanese visual culture, both traditional and contemporary. The printed letter becomes pure (de)sign when the eye cannot decode, and every printed surface can be experienced in graphic terms: composition, balance, scale, color, etc.
In Tokyo I had a very interesting meeting with Chihiro Minato, who was the commissioner for the Japanese Pavillion at the last Venice Biennale. The pavilion consisted of a large-scale installation by Masao Okabe. This Japanese artist originally trained as a printer, and he has for the past decades, done a series of collaborative projects that involve taking the imprint of streets, sidewalks and buildings. Using the “urban environment as a plate," Okabe collects rubbings of the surfaces. In Venice he covered the interior walls of the pavilion with rubbings of the stones from a train station in Hiroshima, which was subsequently demolished. The rubbings were accompanied by some of the recovered stones from the station. The visitors were invited to make their own frottages from of the historical boulders. Okabe’s considers these rubbings as a way to rediscover the environment, and he likes to work with volunteers, not only other artists but ordinary people and children as well. There is information on this project at the Japan Foundation's website: http://www.jpf.go.jp/venezia-biennale/art/e/52/index.html
Chihiro Minato is also an artist, and he has worked with Patrice Forest in France, one of the few workshops in the world that still does phototype. This is a technique is similar to lithography but uses a plate of glass to render exquisite details in the print. He showed me Okabe's silkscreens, done from the frottages, and his own phototypes.
From Tokyo, I traveled to nearby Yokohama to see the Triennial. This year’s team had two local and three international curators, two of which are seasoned Biennale experts and stars of the curatorial Olympus: the peripatetic Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Daniel Birmbaum, who is curating the upcoming version of the Venice Biennale.
Shilpa Gupta, Don't See, Don't Hear, Don't Speak, 2008. Cerith Wyn Evans and Throbbing Gristle, A=p=p=a=r=i=t=i=o=n, (2008).
The Yokohama Triennial’s theme was time itself, or rather how art creates an instance “outside of time”. Time Crevasse (its title taken from a poem by Paul Celan), included more than 70 artists, which makes it the biggest exhibition of this kind in Japan. According to the artistic director Mizusawa Tsutomu, “The best art arises when different forms of time twist, swirl, and collide, creating unexpected paths and crevasses through which we can glimpse a deeper abyss. By revealing this abyss and courageously descending into the ‘time crevasse’, art has the power to give us a more sensitive understanding of differences between individuals, societies, nations, genders, generations, races and religions in the context of our present circumstances.”
Despite the artspeak on the opening text, the Triennale was a great show by any standards. I found the scale of this event to be perfect: two main venues housed most of the works, which were well displayed, each in its own space. The curators took the opportunity to give visibility to a historic site (Sankeien Garden) by placing five installations in different areas of this incredibly beautiful park. More works were situated in other urban sites that required traveling to other places in the city, but overall the Triennial relatively small and pleasurable to visit. There were just the right quantity of artists per venue, so as to maintain the visitor’s interest yet not overwhelm him/her with too many works. Since the theme was time itself, performance was a strong component of the show, but video documentation of time-based art or long-duration videos, which are almost impossible to experience within an exhibition context, were shown in a series of small auditoriums, where the visitor could relax and see them in a proper setting. Moreover, there was a program of happenings and performances every weekend for the duration of the exhibition.
The complete information about the Triennial can be found here:
Fujiko Nakaya, Fogfalls #47670: Tales of Ugetsu, (2008).
At Sankeien Garden there were only five works, but each one was carefully selected and placed so as to highlight a specific building or area of this wonderful setting. This garden was built in the late 19th century by a wealthy businessman who reconstructed important 16th and 17th century buildings and temples from Kyoto and Kamakura. The visitor had to make first a long parcours in the park before encountering the first work of art, which was British artist Tris Vonna-Mitchell’s musings about time, a sound-and-text piece. At a point the visitor found herself walking in the garden amidst a dense fog, which highlighted the dreamlike character of Sankeien Garden. The piece, which could (or not) be identified as an artwork, was one of Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya’s mist installations. Nakaya has worked with musicians and choreographers like Trisha Brown and David Tudor, so the placement of the nozzles was very precisely done creating a mise-en-scene of the garden itself (the trees, the creek, the bridges and paths). The mist flowed from the high part of a slope, followed a little creek and branched into several small paths. I can truly only describe the experience as magical.
Not far from this installation was Argentinean artists Jorge Macchi and Edgardo Rudnitzky’s installation Twilight, displayed at Yokobuean, a Tea-hut built in the rustic “Inakaya” style. The visitors entered in groups of twenty and were expected to stay for the duration of the work, which was very simple yet powerful: a bare light bulb slowly descended diagonally from the top corner of the building to the bottom corner opposite to it, with a musical score composed by Rudnitzky with traditional Japanese instruments and electronic sounds. Macchi, whose work has always dealt with the printed image and with language itself, whose work was prominently displayed at the Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Reena Seini Kallat, Synonym (2007).
In Tokyo I visited a very interesting show about contemporary Indian art at the Mori Museum. I confess that besides Raqs Media Collective, Shilpa Gupta and Hema Upadhyay, I am not very knowledgeable about the contemporary art scene in India. This exhibition helped me to understand the current situation of a complex country that is grappling with rapid modernization in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, while struggling to maintain its identity and cultural traditions. Among the many interesting works, there was one that I found strongly print-related although it would not normally be considered a print: Reena Seini Kallat’s Synonym (2007), a series of sculptural portraits done with rubber seals. Each seal has the name of someone that has died in conflict. The pieces are visually striking, placed in freestanding frames taller than an average person. Kallat also does photographs of people's torsos with the shapes of a map inscribed with stamped names. The shapes vary, reflecting on the shifting boundaries of the territorial conflict.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
There has been much discussion in recent years about the pros and cons of the proliferation of Biennials and triennials, with a new one opening each year in a different place. Many of them respond to political agendas and/or efforts to boost the profile of a city through cultural tourism. But there are two things that remain valid regardless of the motivations behind a Biennial: one, they do provide the local artists with an opportunity to be seen in an international context, through exposure and new contacts; two, they provide the outside visitor with the opportunity to see a sizable group of artists from a given region, which allows him/her to catch a glimpse of the local and regional art scenes. Both have proven true in my visits to these events in Asia.
In Taipei I visited the Biennial, curated by Vasif Kortun and Manray Hsu. I met Vasif long ago, when we were part of the short-lived VOTI (The Vnion Of The Imaginary), an online forum for discussion about curatorial practice. I met Manray in Finland in 2005 when we were both doing research on art of the Nordic countries; at that time I was co-curating the Sao Paulo Bienal, while he was working on the Liverpool Biennial with the Cuban curator Gerardo Mosquera.
I arrived to Taipei last Tuesday, coinciding with a lecture that Vasif gave on the Biennial model. I decided to attend, because it is a rare treat to have a curator speak of the conceptual framework of his/her project as opposed to the slide walkthrough of the event (at worst) or a lecture on the chosen theme (at best).
Having curated two versions of the Istanbul Biennale, Vasif offered candid insights about the strengths, the dangers, the successes and the failures of these types of events—at least of the ones he has been involved with—and illustrated his arguments mixing images from Istanbul (a city he calls "contaminated") and from Taipei (where, according to him, it is still possible to create contamination).
He started by showing two meanings of the word Biennial: one was “something that happens every two years”; the other was “a plant that flowers at the second year.” He chose the latter to stress the fact that only after a two-year process—the process being what is really important—can something actually be achieved. If the plant is not well tended during the two years, it probably will not yield any flowers.
He contends that Biennales have turned into events, and the process tends to be neglected. And in most cases there is no connection to the host city. I completely agree; in most cases the curator does not spend significant time in the city that is hosting the event. These were concerns that we tried to address in MDE07, a six-month-long event that I co-curated in Medellín, Colombia last year: how to connect with the local scene in a way that was truly meaningful? We devised several ways to achieve this, with relative success. There is a link to the MDE07: www.encuentromedellin2007.com (sorry, only in Spanish).
Vasif proposed several guidelines for the curating of this type of events, although acknowledging that what might work for a given context might not be appropriate for another:
-Undo event culture: there should be a conscientious attempt at bypassing the “big and noisy event” syndrome in favor of something of a lesser scale that above all, serves the local public and the local arts scene. How to avoid “exhibition fatigue”? There is only so much a visitor can take, before one loses attention and interest. It is a question of scale, both of the scope of the event and in the size of the spaces chosen to house the exhibits.
-Institutional hospitality: one should strive to create the context so the city succeeds in articulating many other projects (in addition to those directly related to the Biennial) toward the same goal.
-Long-term residencies. A Biennial can be the ideal situation to invite artists to spend time in the city, mingle with the local scene, establish ties, and produce a meaningful work based on real involvement.
-Spanning the region: Vasif contends that biennials end up concentrating too much on the host city, neglecting the regions. In my opinion, this is true for certain contexts and not for others. Often when you try to cover too much ground you lose focus and become entangled in something that doesn't serve the local public and doesn't succeed in reaching a wider region.
-Rethink publications: instead of going for the usual catalog, it is important to think about what is really needed in each case, and how it should be designed and edited so it fulfills its role. I agree: too many trees have been felled to print fancy maps, flyers and guides that end up unused or thrown in the wastebasket.
-Ecology of the exhibition: in sync with the idea of only printing what is strictly necessary, an eye should be kept on the “carbon footprint” of the biennial: what is really needed? What is unnecessary, superficial or redundant? In Taipei they painted only those walls that needed to be a certain color for the sake of the work: the rest were left unpainted, in many places showing previous colors, the remnants of a side wall, etc.
Finally, he ended with a truism: biennials are a bundle of intelligent questions, at best an interesting narrative; they cannot purport to provide answers, nor to be conclusive about a subject.
The Biennial site (http://www.taipeibiennial.org/2008/index.aspx), provides a wealth of information about this event, although I personally find Universes-in-Universe’s coverage easier to navigate: http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/bien/taipei_biennial/2008
I found the Taipei Biennial a particularly pleasurable event to experience, with strong works that related with the others but not in an illustrative way. It was cleverly articulated in spatial terms so as to provide a varied viewing experience, with long-duration video installations being followed with paintings or sculpture, intimate works providing respite from overwhelming works, and humorous works providing a light note, in a conscious reminder to both artists, curators and the public to not take oneself too seriously.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I just visited Singapore, where the 6th Singapore Biennale is being held. The Biennale, curated by Japanese curator Fumio Nanjo (director of the Mori Museum in Tokyo) for the second time, was hosted in three main venues, with other projects also located on alternative sites. Here’s a link to the official website:
And to Universes in Universe coverage of the Biennale:
The 2008 Biennale is based on the concept of “wonder”, both in its demand for amazement and for questioning. The theme lent itself to a rather simplistic approach to the selection of works, all of which had, for the most part, some kind of spectacular or gimmicky character. Many pieces moved one to ask “how did he do it”? Large-scale, labor-intensive works coexisted with works that invariably had a trick, but all of them were intended to awe you in some way. For example, Zhan Wang’s Stone To Fill the Sky features a vitrine with a hovering silver rock that defies gravity; Marielle Neudecker’s piece is a striking model of a mountain range in a water-filled glass case with milky water that suggests clouds; Jane Lee’s impressive large-scale tapestry-like painting was done directly on the wall with paint flowing from a tube; Lee Yong Deok made bas-relief paintings,that appear convex to the eye if viewed from the right direction and thus seem to move as the viewer approaches them; Sergio Prego’s video is of a firework-induced cloud of smoke that was photographed simultaneously from all sides by an array of cameras, resulting in a video with a continuous shot around the cloud that allows the viewer to experience it in a quasi-sculptural manner; or Leandro Erlich’s twin barbershop rooms, one the exact reflection of the other, trick the eye into thinking that one of them is merely a reflection on a mirror. This quality of trickery made the event read very much as an archetypal Biennial: a theme-based, well-funded, cultural-tourism-driven event composed of spectacular rather than meaningful works. However, even despite this catering to tourism, the Biennale included many interesting artists.
Among the most beautiful works were Ben David Zadok’s Blackfield, a field of plants and flowers etched out of metal, inserted one by one on a sand carpet. The motifs for the plants were taken from 19th-century botanical illustrations, multi-colored on one side and completely black on the other. The resulting effect caused the viewer to witnesses the “field of flowers” as it came to life or died out, depending on which side he or she approached the work from.
Another work that interested me was the one by Indonesian collective Tromarama’s Serigali Militia, a fast-paced music video done entirely with woodcuts that were animated with the traditional step-frame method. Visually it was very effective, and the raw quality of the woodcuts reinforced the band’s punk attitude. The video showed various steps in the carving of the wood, and, as the image developed and morphed into something else, the viewer witnessed the carving of the wood incorporated in the video, which in terms of process was very engaging and self-reflective.
Joselina Cruz, on eof the co-curators, comments on this work in universes-in-universe, the leading website for the often-overseen art from Latin America, Africa and Asia-Pacific. It can be found on this link (there is even a snippet of the video):
Also, on Tromarama’s blog, there are some images of the process of turning a live performance into frames that were then carved one by one and then animated:
Scroll down to: Behind the Scenes Serigala Militia.
While in Singapore I visited the world-famous Singapore Tyler Print Institute (SITP), a veritable cultural center devoted to the print medium, which was conceived by the American master printer Kenneth Tyler, who for more than 40 years collaborated with artists such as Josef Albers, Anthony Caro, Helen Frankenthaler, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, James Rosenquist, Frank Stella and Donald Sultan. I saw Sema Upadhyay‘s exhibition there, which featured large-scale prints in mixed media, often incorporating sculptural elements like Chinese wooden puzzles. Here is the link to the STPI site:
The STPI also hosts a residency program. The current resident was Japanese artist Tabaimo, whose work was prominently displayed at the last Venice Biennale.
Tabaimo is known for her references to Japanese Manga culture, which are often displayed as animations on video installations:
She was working on several projects at the STPI, most of which involved collaborating with the Institute’s two main strengths: etchings and paper-making. Tabaimo’s drawings of different types of insects were printed in lithography on a gossamer vellum-type paper, which were then incorporated in a single sheet in alternating layers: printed vellum, paper pulp, another printed paper, another layer of pulp, etc. With the paper still damp, Tabaimo proceeded to cut “windows” on the paper, thus revealing motifs hidden under the paper pulp. The results were large-scale prints with round “potholes” that reveal fragments of insects, delicate and poetic, yet powerful and visually striking.
From Singapore I traveled to Shanghai, to visit the 7th Shanghai Biennale. The Biennale was curated by a team composed of Zhang Qing, Julian Heynen and Henk Slager.
Here’s a link to the official website:
And to UIU’s coverage:
Like the Singapore Biennale, the Shanghai Biennale had a distinctive title and theme: Translocalmotion, which demands a sense of migration in the featured works. But, unlike in the Biennale in Singapore where the works themselves were strong and varied, in Shanghai it was difficult to find truly engaging pieces because most of them tended to be subsumed in the illustration of the all-encompassing thematic premise of mobility and migration. There were many videos that tracked the experience of migrants in different contexts around the world. Other works showed different aspects of displaced cultural groups clinging to tradition as a way to maintain a connection with their homeland. The wall texts tended to give a reductive view of the works by attempting to tie them too tightly to the curatorial premise. They lead so often into the same argument that in most cases any given text would have worked equally well for any given work of art.
Among the works that I found most interesting was media theoretician and artist Harun Farocki’s video on immigration, a fast-paced slide-show narration done entirely with ideograms and charts taken from German official documents.
Two other videos also based on graphic illustrations were visually and conceptually interesting. The first one was Bu Hua‘s Savage Growth, an animation whose aesthetics reference woodblock-printed children’s books; the other is Huang Hsin-Chien’s Shanghai, Shall We Dance?, a three-screen video interactive installation in which the viewer feels completely immersed. The animation reacts to the viewer’s movements, mimmicking the viewer’s shadow with computer-generated images of buildings. It thus comments on the rapid urban development of China through this flowing dance of images.
The Biennial was full of young people on a Sunday morning, and in this sense, it seems to be capable of fulfilling its role of creating a new audience for art. The “pièce de résistance” was Yue Minjun’s impressive cavalcade of dinosaurs, which referenced the famous display at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Each one of the dinosaurs had a human head that boasted Yue‘s signature grinning smile, and could be interpreted as an ironical commentary on China’s happy and relentless “evolution” towards globalization. Take cover: the dinosaur is waking up…
Monday, November 10, 2008
Dear friends of Philagrafika:
For those of you in the West coast or planning to go there in the coming months, there is a wonderful exhibition at the Hammer Museum. Curated by Allegra Pesenti of the Grunewald center, the exhibition, titled Gouge: the modern Woodcut 1870 to Today traces the evolution of the woodcut as a distinct art form. From Gaugin's rediscovery in the late nineteenth century to the present day, so many artists are using it because, as I have written elsewhere, its atavic associations (being arguably the oldest of the printing techniques) contrast with the visual output of the technologically-driven society we live in.
The show includes wonderful works, some of them rarely seen. They range from one of the few Matisse's woodblock prints with the only known block (a strong sculptural presence that contrasts with the seeming lightness of the resulting line) to anonymous Indian printers from the 19th century. It also includes an impressive group of artists such as Vallotton, Munch, Nolde, Picasso, Kollvitz, Beuys, Baselitz, Kiefer and, more recent artists like Terry Winters, Christiane Baumgartner or Zarina Hashmi.
The exhibition is divided into themes that address issues like the re-emergence of the medium after it had fallen into oblivion due to the developments in etching; the presence of the grain of the wood as an important component of the work; sacred imagery, a section that brings together works from India, Korea, and a series of German expressionist woodcuts; and the role of woodblock printing -accessible to anyone with a carving tool and a sheet of wood- in social struggles. Indeed, one of the most striking pieces is Carmelo González-Iglesias' The Pseudo-republic and the Revolution, an enormous seven-block woodcut done in 1960 in the wake of the Cuban revolution.
One of the most beautiful pieces is Artemio Rodríguez' The Triumph of Death, inspired equally by Brueghel's work as for Mexican calavera woodcuts. Rodríguez, who did the linocuts for Juan Devis' award-winning online video game Tropical America (www.tropicalamerica.com) has a project called Graficomovil, which is, in his own words, "a traveling mural, a mobile cinema, gallery and print studio dedicated to promoting the graphic arts and independent filmmaking". Rodríguez's activist attitude is an example of the only thing lacking in the exhibition, namely the current activist woodcut scene better exemplified in collectives like Cannonball Press or Drive By Press and artists like Swoon. One could imagine a lively room filled with these strong works and their creators staging interactions with the public, but it would have certainly required a far bigger space and maybe would have offset the grave tone that this wonderful and tightly curated show has.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Dear friends of Philagrafika:
As part of the research for Philagrafika 2010 I have been traveling in different countries, giving public talks about the festival and making studio visits. My recent trips in Argentina and Chile were very productive both in getting to know artists that are working with expanded forms of printmaking, and visiting artists or collectives that we have already invited to Philagrafika.
In Argentina I had a long conversation with Javier Barilaro, the founder and leader of the Eloisa Cartonera group. Eloisa Cartonera has been working with cardboard recyclers, some of whom are homeless, providing them with a means of expression as well as a means of survival. When we invited them to the Sao Paulo Bienal they replicated the project, and have done similar projects in Bolivia and Peru, among other cities.
Barilaro is the only one who studied art and works in the artistic realm proper; the other members are more poets, social workers or activists, and of course the cartoneros themselves.
Javier told me that the experience they had had in first world cities was completely different than in Latin America.
Barilaro has a very interesting practice of his own. I am enclosing some images.
He recycles printed materials, some of them done by him or Eloisa Cartonera, or replicates the printed look with drawing and painting. He has been doing large works or installations.
In Santiago I visited Eugenio Dittborn, one of the key figures in Latin American conceptualism, and very well known for his Airmail paintings (the New Museum in New York devoted him a retrospective some years ago). He had prepared a mini-display of his work for me to see, which was a treat since most of his works I know from books, since they spend most of the time either traveling or folded in the envelopes, awaiting to embark in a new trip.
The person in the photo with Dittborn is Alexia Tala, who is the author of “Installations and Experimental Printmaking”, a handbook soon to be published by A&C Black in London. Alexia had put together a very intense studio visit program for me, focused in alternative forms of the print. I did see some interesting work, some of it historical like Dittborn’s or Lotty Rosenfeld’s, who was invited to the last Documenta. Since the beginning of the dictatorship in Chile, Lotty has been marking the territory with crossing lines, sometimes done in tape, sometimes imprinted on the road. The message is at the same time subversive and poetic, and has never ceased to acquire new meanings whenever it is done/shown.
I saw works by other interesting artists:
She etches Perspex sheets and hangs them in various positions. Projected light creates the image by casting shadows on the wall.
Gerardo Repetto. Lives in Córdoba.
His work is closer to photography. People send him images taken with cell phones, which he then enlarges and prints digitally.
Patricio Larrambebere. He founded “ABTE” a real/fake association (the acronym stands for Agrupación Boletos Tipo Edmonton, which translates as Association of Edmonton-type Tickets). Edmonton was the inventor of the classic train (and metro) ticket that is used everywhere, the small cardboard rectangle. In reclaiming these tickets as a collector, Larrambebere is referring to the history of trains in Argentina, which were instrumental in the development of the country but that have almost disappeared because of corruption and, more recently, privatization. The ABTE organizes events in train stations, shows their collection of tickets, and published tiny “catalogs” the size of a ticket that opens like an accordion.
Agustín Blanco. www.Blangustin.blogspot.com
He has been working with stencils like the ones used in schools in Argentina. They provide the students with stencils of the faces of national “heros” (e.g. Bolívar), and all you have top do is draw with the stencil as a guide. It’s an interesting commentary on the role of education in the shaping of political ideology early on. He has taken other educational materials such as “simulcoop”, a letraset-type system used in public schools in Argentina, as with the stencils the public is encouraged to print their own images.
Eduardo Molinari. Has an ongoing Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne-type project titled Archivo caminante, which is quite interesting conceptually although visually not very compelling.
Camilo Yáñez. He is an artist and a curator, he will curate the upcoming MERCOSUR Bienal.
He recycles soviet graphic imagery and replaces the political signs for quotes to art history such as op-art. He then prints the images as large digital prints. He has also worked with catalogs of household objects of the Allende era.
I will be posting soon from Brazil.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
José Roca, the Artistic Director for Philagrafika is going to begin a series of posts from his curatorial travel to South America and Asia. This travel was funded by a grant by the Warhol Foundation.
Dear friends of Philagrafika:
In Brazil I installed a small show in which I had been working for more than two years, and that was finally realized this past month. There is more information on the website(http://www.nararoesler.com.br/exposicoes/otras-floras)
It is a reconsideration of the scientific traveler, and the relationships between botanics and politics, and includes older artists such as Arnulf Rainer, Mark Dion, Roxy Paine, Jan Fabre and Maria Fernanda Cardoso. There are also younger artists like Jaime Tarazona and Miler Lagos, whom we have invited to participate in Philagrafika 2010. Miler created an 8-foot tall tree made of stacked newspapers, which he then carves to create the sculpture. I am enclosing some photos of the installation.
The Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paulo, has a beautiful show of Maria Bonomi, a highly respected artist here in Brazil who has worked in xylography (spanish for woodcut) since the sixties. I also visited Regina Silveira's exhibition at Brito Cimino, and later her studio (http://www.britocimino.com.br/en-exposicoes-presente.html). The show looks amazing, and has everything to do with our ideas for the festival in Philadelphia in 2010. I am also enclosing photos. The current show is about the biblical plagues; some of them are all types of bugs, that were gleaned from old engravings and illustrations and either blown up and rendered in plotter-cut vinyl, or screen-printed on decals that were then applied to white china (for the table service visible on one of the images).
For those of you that might not be so familiar with her work, since the seventies, Regina has been working in alternative forms of printing, using toner in lithographic stones, distributing flyers, applying screen-printed decals on various three-dimensional surfaces, and eventually taking this work to the public sphere by intervening façades of buildings. I did a survey show of her work last year at my (ex) museum in Bogotá.
The opening of the Bienal de Sao Paulo was a success. As the curators Ivo Mesquita and Ana Paula Cohen (whom I invited last year to co-curate the Encuentro de Medellín) chose to discuss the ideas associated with the void, the space looks, well, empty.
Prior to curating this show, I first saw this space completely empty when I met with my fellow co-curators in 2005. Yet, it’s breathtaking to see this immense building with hardly any works of art installed as part of a curated statement.
Here’s a link to the curatorial statement:
There are works, of course, but most of them are almost imperceptible, since they either reflect on emptiness of the space or on the idea of the archive. One of Ivo’s ideas was to use this biennial as a think-tank to reconsider Biennials and “Biennalism”, so there is a large archive with catalogs of all the past and current biennials, triennials, quadriennials, etc, and many artists working on personal or public archives.
There is a very beautiful work by Dora Longo Bahía. She has been an artist concerned with counter-culture in Brazilian poorer neighborhoods, especially the alternative rock scene in Brazil.
She has done several works where she sets up a radio station in the gallery.She is also a painter, and calls her large-scale paintings “scalps”, as they seem something that has been pulled off with force and scarred, a bloodied trophy of sorts.
For the Bienal she covered the whole floor of the third level (more than 12.000 square feet) in screen-printed self-adhesive tiles, which will be walked upon by visitors, slowly revealing the red paint underneath and in doing so, mapping the various patterns and intensities of the circulation of the visitors of the exhibition.
Another project that interested me was Erick Beltrán’s “The World Explained”, an encyclopedia that is done in real time with the definitions provided by the public. I worked with Erick in San Juan and Medellín, and each time he pushes his ongoing project of mapping the way thought functions, a little further. For the Bienal he set up a sort of edition house in real time, with tables where people write their definitions, his assistants transcribe them, a designer does the mise-en-page, and the page is immediately printed on an offset press. By the end of the Bienal we will have a 200-page encyclopedia. On the third floor of the Bienal there is a structure that tries to represent visually and spatially the processes of thought.
At the Pinacoteca I saw Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias’ show. It was a series of large-scale installations; models of site-specific projects and public art commissions; and some interesting printed works related to the installations. There was a labyrinthine installation done with tresses made with braided wire, and a very beautiful suite of prints based on photographs of this installation. The technique was described to me as this: she takes photographs of the installations, which she prints digitally on a metal plate and etches, then reworks directly on the plate with drypoint.
There were also two large-scale screen prints on copper plates done from images of the models for her installations.
More to come.