Collective of curators of the 35th Bienal. From left to the right: Manuel Borja-Villel, Diane Lima, Grada Kilomba and Hélio Menezes. Credit: Levi Fanan/Fundação Bienal de São Paulo
Collective of curators of the 35th Bienal. From left to the right: Manuel Borja-Villel, Diane Lima, Grada Kilomba and Hélio Menezes. Credit: Levi Fanan/Fundação Bienal de São Paulo

The 35th Bienal de São Paulo – Choreographies of the Impossible, which opens on 6/9, released last September its curatorial project, designed by curators Diane Lima, Grada Kilomba, Hélio Menezes and Manuel Borja-Villel. Since they started working together at the turn of 2021 to 2022, they decided that there would not be a Chief Curator. The collective proposed what they called a “contradance” among its members, in a practice “which has as its principle the attempt to break hierarchies, ethical and normative procedures that enact vertical structures of power, value and violence of institutional devices – which, we all know , the world no longer sustains”, according to the project.

A partial list of 43 selected artists, duos and collectives was officially announced this Thursday (27/4). Still in this first semester, the relation complete with more than 100 names. In an interview with arte!brasileiros, the curators talk about their work process and try to shed light on the concepts of this edition, based on some of the guest artists and their respective practices. Read below:

ARTE!✱ - Four thinking heads together: when does it make it easy and when does it make it difficult?

Manuel Borja-Villel – The fact that we came together, which was something voluntary, comes first of all from an act of humility and anti-heroism, from knowing that a vanguard that follows only one path does not make sense, therefore, that the four together create an epistemological and governance exchange. Epistemological means that maybe, say, the traditional stuff of visiting studios, even though each of us has visited, is not that important. The important thing is what each of us discovered that we didn't know, and seeing things that we thought we knew from different points of view. About the ease or not of working, if you start from a point where you think you know everything and have to convince others, the difficulty is enormous, almost impossible. However, as we didn't start from what we knew, but from what we didn't know and what we wanted to learn, it was very easy.

ARTE!✱ - You start from an idea of ​​humility, but hierarchy is part of human nature. We hierarchize our routine, our thinking, etc. And, when we think of a collective, to what extent does this horizontality not also stifle the processes and intimidate the individual expertise of each one?

Manuel – Children do not forget practically anything they learn at a certain age. Why? Because they learn to relate to affective elements. In our case, this hierarchy had no meaning or role, there was no such desire. We all started from this affective element, from this element of wanting to learn from each other, of knowing that, let's say, we had to decolonize our way of thinking and, consequently, there is no need to hierarchize. There is an affective element that goes hand in hand with every element of knowledge.

Grada Kilomba – I find your definition very interesting that it is part of human nature to hierarchize. And I think this is the core of our discourse, which is not part of human nature. It is the fruit of a colonial and patriarchal history that repeats itself, and that is exactly the urgency: to dismantle these hierarchies. So, how do we form ourselves, with this horizontality, the artists we choose, what works of art we choose, go exactly in this manifestation of dismantling what seems to us almost normative and natural, which is the hierarchization that is always associated with an exercise of power and violence, but that is not natural. It has become politically exercised, but it is not natural. This is the choreographies of the impossible.

Diane Lima – We look at the list of artists and understand that their works do not thematize these relationships, they try to bring, from their perspectives, other ways of seeing that do not go back to hierarchy. This is just an example. We have some other examples of works that frustrate an idea of ​​political art, which places or reduces the artist's capacity for expression to another representative position, or literal, or extremely figurative, and they are works that bring abstract perspectives, or that converse with non-human elements, or that mobilize organic materialities, or that talk to certain spiritual levels and that do not necessarily return to thematize decoloniality.

We understand that decoloniality is part of an incorporated knowledge. When we talk about humility, about the desire to talk and negotiate and exchange, it is also part of an understanding that we need to make a gesture, and that this gesture is in the practice of these artists. This is an important factor why we don't bring up certain issues as a theme, but rather as a performance and a daily practice that, obviously, we would never put them in a romantic place. I think we understand the difficulties, the noise, the friction, the conflicts [of the proposed horizontality]. Perhaps, the difference is the desire to be in a conflict, to remain in a conflict and to undo it from these perspectives and from a process of understanding that we do not know everything and that, therefore, the world brings a multiplicity of knowledge, of epistemologies, of cosmologies, and our exercise with the choreographies of the impossible it is precisely to bring them to space and present them to the public.

ARTE!✱ - The curatorial text, released in September, was considered vague by many people. Thinking that you had already started working from 2021 to 2022, was it exactly a snapshot of the process at that time? Or does it reveal how much all work, to the end, will be a process? Is this shifting character going to remain until the opening and even during the period in which the Bienal is on display? 

Hélio Menezes – This procedural dimension exists in each and every creation at the Bienal, some admittedly. In our case, I absolutely confess. We received different responses, criticisms, comments, and we believe that an event like the Bienal de São Paulo mobilizes passions, mobilizes discussions, mobilizes debates, and it would be strange if there were no comments and returns, including disagreement. In any case, I think that good criticism is based on something that happened, on something that takes place and manifests itself. I think that criticisms, comments that, in some way, try to speculate what will come, on top of imaginations of what will come, have a value, perhaps, less important than a criticism based on effective realization. We also received a series of compliments and comments, and I think this debate is part of and interests us. I wouldn't say there's a snapshot of anything at all. They are the propagation of ideals in an absolutely procedural dimension that builds up, crumbles, collapses and that, to take two steps back, the speed is still that of a choreography, it is still movement.

ARTE!✱ – One of the evaluations about the curatorial proposal of the collective started from the cart critic Sheila Leirner, general curator of the 18th and 19th São Paulo Biennials, in an article published in Folha de S.Paulo. Among other observations, she stated that politics took precedence over aesthetics in the project. 

Hélio Menezes – The 35th Biennial brings and will bring new possible imaginations between art and politics, thus expanding a certain field, especially in recent years, in recent decades perhaps, which has tied, sometimes very rigidly, art and politics to the field of representation, representativeness or figuration . This Biennial presents and will present other, more expansive modes of relationship.

ARTE!✱ – How will this materialize in the works seen by the public? Can you give examples?

Hélio – Practices that go in abstract languages, practices that go in performative languages, that seek in reference to spirituality or history, be it short-term or very long-term history. References that are not necessarily of eternal confrontation, which are not necessarily of eternal frontality, but that there is a space to imagine other worlds, which opens space for the sensitive, poetic, dreamlike, or who knows how to accelerate the destruction of this world itself where we are starting from other modes of engagement, not necessarily reduced to expressive militancy, not necessarily reduced to a combative frontality or even to excessive figuration as the only possible fields of artistic creation. We are more in fact bringing these innovations that don't just come from a curatorial perspective, but that come from artistic practice. This set of 43 projects and artists that we publicize, which will be extended in the following months, brings in its own practices other imaginations of the relationship between art and politics, which sometimes permeates, for example, the planting of Creole seed corn, as part of of Denílson Baniwa's project, or that we can pass by the sculptor, painter, thinker Torkwase Dyson, who proposes, from a certain black thought, another way of thinking what she has been calling black thinking, and these examples here can be multiplied in absolutely all projects. It is these new, unexpected and even countless ways of thinking about art and politics, of thinking about context, impacts of impossible contexts on aesthetic and artistic creation, that are of interest to the 35th Bienal.

ARTE!✱ - In some of these projects, did you come across the surprise of something that absolutely and immediately translated to what you had in mind? If so, which ones, for example?

Manuel – Following what you said about the separation between art and politics, it seems that things have to follow a discipline, and when you leave that discipline, it becomes politics. For example, the separation between a relationship with the lake, with nature and artistic practice in certain Mayan communities does not exist. Therefore, it means that when they are defending the lake, they are doing politics. When they are doing a poetic action on the lake, they are making art. So there is a separation that does not exist. The Bienal is here, and the decision for the Bienal to be free is political. In the first text, we spoke of the word enigma, which is the opposite of this view of the politician as a literal element, as an element that is not given. And, during the process, we found surprises, we found elements of authors that, as we talk and discover, in which translating is not the word, but that were related and added to what we were talking about in the multiple texts that circulated at the beginning. Philip Rizk, an Egyptian artist who will bring a piece to the Biennial called Awful Sounds, which is related to the idea that the English had when they were in Egypt, of popular music. It was literally horrible sounds to them, it was something that was horrible to them. Interestingly, in the 1930s themselves, the Egyptians had a big seminar to structure a type of music that came from everywhere and that seemed to be totally independent, but they created a notation system, which was British, where there is an element of self -colonization, a rather complex element. Interestingly, this was an idea that was circulating to us and Philip, who works in a way in which the artist is much more complete, much more subtle, feels not with words, but perceives with the body, and let's say that this relationship has existed continually where we thought it was one way and, talking to others, we realized it was another way.

ARTE!✱ – As you turned to the artists to make the selection, did you feel there was a great spirit of the times bringing together your ideas and their practices? Was there a confluence? Or were you guys bringing a more surprising element, a tease to them?

Diane – The result in this partial moment of the list of artists comes from a long process of research that we put together for the Bienal, and it is difficult to specify when we got to know these artists, that we started to follow them, to talk, to to be intimate with the work and practices, including because many of them are no longer with us. There is a very large exercise in understanding the urgencies of our time, what are the needs of certain debates, what are the possibilities of imagination, the possibilities of reorganizing certain types of thoughts, certain practices of knowledge and looking at the choreographies of the impossible, qualifying as where we talk about what is impossible, that certain contexts become impossible for economic reasons, for social reasons. Thinking that we work with a space that is international, that places Brazil in relation to other territories and spaces, then, in that sense, it is interesting to note this communication and this temporal expansion, how we look at this dynamics of time and space, and how this is massively reflected in the list of artists.

ARTE!✱ – In excerpts from the curatorial project, you speak of “gestures of deepening, compacting, collapsing and bringing together the theoretical frameworks, symbolic references and aesthetic repertoires that make up the collectivity that we are. These elements that we synthetically call inter or multidisciplinarity”. Also that “they seek choreographies that collapse the aesthetic categories of modern thought, creating a fractal image where the political, historical, organic, physical, emotional, spiritual unite”. Isn't all of this already given in the practices of contemporary art a few years ago? Aren't they peaceful spots?

Manuel – In fact, there are artists from other times who, obviously, are things from other times, but [now] are interpreted in a different way, [because] they were in another context. [An example is] Stanley Brouwn, an artist from Suriname who lived in Holland. There are a series of elements [in his work] in which he didn't want to appear, he didn't allow himself to be photographed, it was like a variant. The urgency of the present, the work we are doing, the contrasts with younger artists, show that it wasn't like that, show that his invisibility is related to someone from Suriname who was in Holland. It has a relationship with dance, with the body, with the performative, with the measurements of the arms, with the relationship with the world. And therefore, I know it was there, but a choreography that was limited, it was like in a straitjacket, where it existed, but only in one direction, it was seen only in one way, but not in another. What we want is a kind of choreography that is related, where one thing directs you to another and we see that this movement is important.

ARTE!✱ – Of all the emerging and urgent themes that artistic practices have been trying to address, did anything new emerge on the horizon as you were conceiving the project and working with these artists?

Hélio – Evidently. Every artistic process is a process that brings an enigmatic dimension, a process that brings a dimension of surprise, of knowledge that even takes place through various faculties beyond that popular-centric dimension and that therefore exist, or ask, from visitors, an affective relationship , emotional, sensitive, sonic, olfactory sometimes. And, therefore, these artistic elements and processes, maybe there yes, to use a bit of your last question, have always been in any process of artistic formation. An element that does not end in a given explanation, which cannot be reduced to the way I read it, because certainly the way in which you or other people related to these same works opens up other unimaginable fields. So obviously, and this is a very important point, we don't have any encyclopedic ambitions in the choreographies of the impossible. We have no ambition to make a mini world map or generalized and extensive coverage of the globe. It is about understanding how some processes and some impossible contexts directly impact the artistic, aesthetic and political production of certain artists, it is about understanding how these artists live in impossible contexts, but also in possibilities they find to confront, escape, deny, dream these impossible contexts. If there wasn't a surprise process along the way, if there weren't an expansion of our expectations, this would be anything but an Art Biennial.

ARTE!✱ – In these meetings with the artists, did any of them lead you to other paths that you hadn't followed yet?

Manuel – Even with what we thought we knew. I mentioned the case of Stanley Brouwn, and there are many others who have done it with their distinctive styles. Sometimes with names, with ideas, with opinions, with many things. Obviously, this pushes us to rethink what we believed we knew and what we saw that, perhaps, we could know otherwise, and it is this common space that is important. The Mayans and Guatemalans have a word, a very good expression, which explains what it means to be in community. And the walk parejo, is always walking with each other. You don't learn alone. You can memorize it alone, but you learn with others and you learn with others starting from openness, from understanding that, deep down, we all know little and that the idea of ​​an encyclopedic knowledge does not exist, it is a knowledge that becomes imposes so that others believe it is universal, but this experiment in humility, which I believe is fundamental, makes you grow continuously, which is why we said that this process will continue after the Biennial.

ARTE!✱ – One of the objectives of the Bienal is to form an audience. This uninitiated public will be surprised by what kind of manifestation?

Ante – We have an infinity of artistic languages ​​at the Bienal. We have paintings, drawings, engravings, as well as choreographic processes, scenic works, soundscapes. I think there is a multiplicity of languages ​​that can open an interesting space in the sense of mediation. The mediation itself with the public, speaking of an audience that is perhaps not so intimate with the visual arts, this is a central concern of ours at the Bienal. It is not by chance that we will launch our educational material on Saturday [29/4], it is a material that has this attempt. The Bienal is known for its permanent [educational program] team, and, thinking of a Bienal that is public and free, we understand that there is an attempt and a very strong desire on the part of the Bienal that education has a certain role during these processes of construction, mediation, enjoyment, reception and hospitality of the public within the exhibition space. In this sense, it is very interesting that some artists on the list also present some philosophical, poetic propositions, such as Inaicyra Falcão, who is a thinker, a lyrical singer, a choreographer, and brings reflections on what she calls this choreography and of this spiraling body, about this possibility of having African matrices as an epistemological place of knowledge production. Likewise, Hélio briefly commented on Torkwase Dyson, who is an artist who has been thinking through abstraction, both sculptures and drawings, the way in which certain forced migrations or forced displacements can be translated or reflected in abstract compositions through what the artist calls it a black compositional thought. There are a number of elements in this publication that help us to approach the public and remove this elitist idea that the visual arts create this distance. We are presenting a series of languages ​​and artists who are, in fact, very happy to meet this audience.

Manuel – Before we said that the Bienal starts from the will to address and understand the urgencies of the present and, as the impossibilities are many – ecological, there is a war, pandemic, inequalities, languages ​​– there is not a single audience, there are many audiences , and everyone can find their own choreographies, their own answers, questions. There is not a single answer and everyone can come and, as Diane said, another thing is the structure of mediation, which can exist between certain sections and works.

ARTE!✱ – Do you have any example of a work that, apparently, would be something that focuses on an individual or intimate issue, but which precisely vascularizes itself to the collective, to the urgent issues on the agenda?

Hélio – There are many possible examples. I ask you a question in the form of an answer. When an artist like Aline Motta, for example, establishes a research process of her own genealogy, understanding, for example, her paternal, male and white dimension, [this] led her to find documentation capable of retrace the genealogical line of his family that goes back, very quickly, to the XNUMXth century. While the female side, of black African origin in her family, does not go back beyond her grandmother. This demands from the artist a genealogical, creative, speculative process and a critical fabulation of reconstruction of an absolutely personal, absolutely familiar history, but which is inseparable from a transatlantic history of enslavement, forced displacements, creation of territories within the diaspora, of persecution, but also of affection, of violence, but also of resilience. How to separate this absolutely familiar and subjective dimension that originates from the trauma of the artist's mother, how to dissociate it from a dimension not only of Brazilian history, but of the entire Atlantic? This is an example, we could take many others here. Dayanita Singh is an artist who has a long relationship of intimacy with a friend, with a person who was part of her cycle of friendships, and who generates with that person a series of productions of moments of enormous intimacy, of affective exchanges between them. , or moment of absolute everyday life, and this person being someone who is part of a sexual dissidence of gender, how to separate the dimension of the intimate relationship between the artist and her friend from a much broader political dimension that questions and collapses categories of sexuality, gender, what is intimate, what is private, what is public?

ARTE!✱ - In 2021 and 2022, when you started working, we were in Brazil under a very tense political climate. The changes that took place, the return of a centrality in culture for the new government, what possible elements did this socio-political change, still fragile, bring to your curatorship?

Grada – It is interesting, because, going back a little, this question of separating the biography from the politician, we go back a little to the beginning of the conversation. To the idea that we can fragment the body of the heart, the mind, sexuality, the spiritual, the ancestors, the political. I think busting that myth is a big part of what we do in choreographies of the impossible. It was given to us and we worked through time and space with wisdom that no longer serves us to explain who we are, just as it does not serve artistic production, which is much more complex than all these artists and what we we have talked together here [reflect] the urgency of looking at ourselves as humans, in this complexity, and that it is impossible to separate biography from politics and the space of politics. That everything is so much more complex, exactly this fragmentation and this segmentation of steps and times in ourselves is what serves as a series of identities, racial, gender, sexual, climate politics, crisis, human, etc. What serves are these options, so as an answer it is impossible to separate one thing from the other. The great exercise choreographies of the impossible it's exactly working with this concept of complexity and sophistication that is what these artists bring, and then manage to cross a series of materials, a series of narratives, bring themes ranging from LGBTQA+ to the climate crisis, poverty, migration, and all of them inhabit the same space and the same time. And that's what we find so interesting and so important, because this question 'oh but hasn't this already been dealt with?', and many of these things are treated segmented, fragmented, separated, with a core that appears within an exhibition and that we will address and let's look segmented and separate, and then look at it in another way. Because it is urgent and important to see this complexity that we carry within us. For many years, I taught at the university, I always played a joke with my students and, in Berlin, we took a tour of the university, which was a palace, with many historical figures and sculptures. And we would walk around to look at what the figures were and how they were presented, and the figures were presented with a head and neck and the bust. In other words, its existence was reduced to intellectuality and knowledge. They were disembodied intellectuals, in which the body, emotion, gestures, gender, ancestry, history, politics and context are not mentioned. That's why they are busts, only the head counts. And I think everything that we talk about here and what artists bring and what choreographies of the impossible bring is precisely to question all the knowledge that has been given to us and the urgency of creating questions in full, in our complexity.

35rd Bienal de São Paulo – choreographies of the impossible
From 6/9 to 10/12
Curatorship: Diane Lima, Grada Kilomba, Hélio Menezes and Manuel Borja-Villel
Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion – Ibirapuera Park – Gate 3
Free admission

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