Performance by South African artist Neo Muyanga
Performance by South African artist Neo Muyanga, presented at the Bienal Pavilion in partnership with the collective Legítima Defesa. Photos: Levi Fanan / Publicity

(Check it out here news from the Bienal de São Paulo, which has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and access the new website for the 34th edition, which features the “correspondence” written by the curators).


Under the title It's dark but I sing, 34th Bienal de São Paulo kicked off on February 8, with the opening of the Ximena Garrido-Lecca and the performance performed by Neo Muyanga and watched by an audience of almost 1,8 people. This anticipation of the agenda not only puts into practice the desire – often expressed in past editions, but rarely conquered – to extend the temporal reach of one of the main cultural events in the city, but also serves to set the tone for what can be expected from the city. great group exhibition this year.

Using the idea of ​​rehearsal as a guideline, of something that is built over time from an intense dialogue between the members of the curatorial team, the current edition The Bienal’s goal is to decentralize, to spread its actions across the city – through a broad partnership with 25 different cultural institutions –, opening up multiple possibilities for reading the selected works and artists. Other important aspects of the present edition are a greater openness to the insertion of works of a historical nature, a clear balance between genres and an interest in promoting encounters, dialogues between different poetics and works. In a recent interview, Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, curator of the show, and Paulo Miyada, deputy curator, explained the main contours of their project. Also part of the team are Brazilian artist Carla Zaccagnini and curators Francesco Stocchi (Holland) and Ruth Estévez (Mexico).

arte!✱ – Let’s start with the issue of “It’s dark but I sing”. How did you arrive at this topic?

Jacopo Crivelli Visconti – There is not a theme, but a methodology that has a lot to do with this idea of ​​expanding the biennial in time and space, with the exercise of proposing that people can see the works more often. In the three exhibitions that take place throughout the year, dedicated to the work of Ximena Garrido-Lecca, Clara Ianni and Deana Lawson, you can clearly see the interests and concerns of these artists. After a relatively short time you will again find those works juxtaposed with works by other artists.

In addition, the show spreads across the city with 25 partnerships with different institutions. Will you do these curations?

Paul Miyada – Each institution ends up being part of a kind of expanded curatorial committee. Not just because each exhibition has its curator, but because each exhibition has its audience and context. They do not only result from the interest for the Bienal, but also from the possibility of reverberating powerfully in that place, making sense with that audience.

Paulo Miyada, assistant curator, Carla Zaccagnini, guest curator, Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, general curator, Ruth Estévez, guest curator and Francesco Stocchi, guest curator. Curatorial team of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo.
Paulo Miyada, assistant curator, Carla Zaccagnini, guest curator, Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, general curator, Ruth Estévez, guest curator and Francesco Stocchi, guest curator. Photo: Pedro Ivo Transferetti/ Publicity

This idea of ​​expansion is very present in the history of biennials, but it is rare to see it put into practice.

Visconti - It may seem that the idea is to make a very large project, as if the Bienal needed more space. But I think that we are actually proposing a very intimate exercise, a different path, of creating a relationship with the works, something that these very large events normally do not allow. These individual exhibitions will cohabit for some time. And there will also be performances on opening days (Words Ajenas, by Leon Ferrari, and the round of death” unpublished piece by Hélio Oiticica).

Are you practically curating works?

Miyada - Exactly, if compared to other biennials, it will be much more a curatorship of works than a curatorship of artists. Perhaps in this we also differ from the majority, which has a lot of emphasis on the production of new works. Especially because with them you can't have such a precise tuning and what interests us here is this more intimate scale, it's this work here together with this one and this one, which you can understand.

Let's start with the story of the poem.

Miyada - It was written by Thiago de Mello, an Amazonian poet, between 1963 and 1964, between the state of Amazonas and Santiago de Chile, where he was a cultural attaché. It was a poem of hope, in a moment of progressive desire. But it was only published in 1965 when, as we know, the reality in Brazil was already very different. In 1968, Thiago de Mello was arrested. He says that he entered the cell, very scared, not knowing what could happen and when he looks at the wall he sees that the previous prisoner had written his verses: “It is dark but I sing because the morning will come”, which he did. for him to regain his belief. In a few years, that verse was hope, persistence, call, sigh. And we keep thinking: how does he arrive today?

Let's resist from above, shall we?

Visconti - And not just sing about this darkness. It takes a lot of courage to talk about other things at a time like the one we are experiencing. It is this courage that we are defending here, as a starting point.

Miyada - Within the exhibition, the very idea of ​​repetition would be one of those statements, of these sub-themes or diaries of convergence. It is very clear in the project that an exhibition is made as a rehearsal, keeping a relationship with Francis Alys's reading of how progressive projects, especially in the Americas, always seem like an rehearsal, in the sense of a repetition, of something that now seems to be going and then it is abandoned. Everything turns to ruin very quickly.

Is it possible to give a concrete example of this core of repetition?

Visconti - It won't be a block because there will be no separation, because these various subjects (some six or eight) intertwine. For example, we are trying to bring a bell from Padre Faria's chapel, in Ouro Preto. It is a very typical bell, but it has the particularity of having been rung at very important moments in the history of Brazil. Legend has it that it was played on the night of Tiradentes' execution, when obviously there was a ban on ringing the bells because an enemy of the empire was being executed. History changed, Tiradentes became a national hero and the bell was taken to Brasília and rung on the day of the inauguration of the new capital. We'll talk about how its history repeats itself in the most unpredictable ways over the centuries. Notions of resistance, of how things appear and disappear, are other approaches contemplated.

Paulo Miyada, assistant curator, Carla Zaccagnini, guest curator, Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, general curator, Ruth Estévez, guest curator and Francesco Stocchi, guest curator. Curatorial team of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo.
Jaider Esbell, “Damned and Desired”, 2013 acrylic on waxed canvas. Collection of the Jaider Esbell Gallery of Contemporary Indigenous Art. Photo: Marcio Lavor 

Who else would address this issue of repetition?

Visconti - Morandi is a good example. He painted a relatively small repertoire from an iconographic point of view over decades. But he also particularly reverberates the idea of It's dark but I sing. It is one of those artists who, like Monet painting Water lilies in World War I, can be seen as alienated or as – and this is how I think it is necessary to see them – someone who considers that persevering while the world is on fire it is not escapism.

Are the approaches in reaction to the dark different?

Miyada - It must be remembered that for some people it has been dark for a year; for another 10 years, 500 years, a thousand years. As you listen to the voices that are included in this experience, the idea of ​​what it means to sing in the dark changes. If at first reading the dark is seen as a threat, a risk, and that's right, up close it can be an ally for many artists. And, on the contrary, transparency can be a highly ideological resource, of control, of repression, of surveillance.


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