Horizontal, color photo. Work by Luisa Lerman chosen for BIENALSUR
"View from the mouth of the Ugarteche stream looking down on the south", by Argentine Luisa Lerman, is one of the works that are part of the group show Laboratorio Ampibio del Plata. Photo: Disclosure

En its third edition, the BIENALSUR (International Biennial of Contemporary Art southern) expands its reach even further, extending its actions to different parts of the globe and trying to consolidate itself as an alternative event to traditional art biennials. The numbers indicate that the idea of ​​holding a decentralized, dynamic and collaborative event has been yielding results. In its debut, in 2017, it involved 16 countries, 34 cities and more than 80 venues (as the institutions that host the shows are called). Four years later, these numbers have increased significantly: there are now 23 countries, 47 cities and 120 headquarters around the world. With great concentration in Latin America (especially in Argentina, which hosts the project) and Europe, the event also has developments in less likely places such as Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Conceived by Aníbal Jozami and Diana Wechsler, from the National University of Três de Fevereiro (Untref), in Buenos Aires, the project From the beginning, it sought to subvert certain premises of the arts circuit, decentralizing decisions, opening open calls for artists, establishing partnerships with researchers and international institutions, and seeking to establish a platform that spans time and space. The first exhibition opened in July in Salta (Argentina) and has already set the tone that marks this edition of the event, with a strong presence of issues related to the environment and land rights. Listening and the winds. Accounts and inscriptions of the Grande Chaco brought works by artisans, activists of indigenous peoples and guest artists, such as the Argentine Andrea Fernández (who is also the exhibition's curator) and the German Inka Gressel, speaking about tradition and resistance.

“Since the first edition, the issue of migrations, borders, transits and identities has been a leitmotiv and it continues to appear very strongly, in the amount of proposals that appear”, explains Diana Wechsler, artistic director of the event. This idea of ​​predominant themes stems from the event's own structural logic, which is guided by open registration (in this edition, more than 5,5 projects were submitted) to identify the main mobilizing issues in the art field. Another strong theme at the moment, which is guiding the exhibitions organized in Saudi Arabia, is ways of inhabiting. the collective show echoes. A world between analog and virtual, opened in October in Riyadh, brings together 24 artists from different nationalities – 70% of them women – who deal with the issue of living space and existence, a daily experience that flows between the analog and the digital, the real and the virtual. These are works in which, according to Diana, “space and time appear at times aligned and at other times dissociated”. This discussion takes on greater strength when considered in the context of the pandemic, in which these two aspects appeared to be strongly dissociated and were the subject of many poetic reflections, in addition to having a deep connection with the somewhat timeless and nomadic character of the BIENALSUR project itself.

In fact, BIENALSUR is one of the few international events that has not changed its calendar due to Covid-19, as the Venice and São Paulo biennials did. Its natural geographic dispersion and the increasingly intense presence of internet networks in its structural logic - with a very important emphasis given to virtual communication, mainly through the website are among the reasons for keeping the calendar. “It seemed to us that the logic of the network, the logic of working in a simultaneous, polyphonic, decentralized way, would allow us to move forward and I believe this has been demonstrated by the fact that since July 8, when we launched the first exhibition, until today, BIENALSUR has been growing, adding offices, adding projects, articulating among themselves and generating an art community that contributes today to the development of a critical culture in contemporary times”, says Diana.

Horizontal, color photo. OL PAINTING, by Sujim Lim, exhibited at BIENALSUR
“Oil Painting” by Sujin Lim. Photo: Courtesy artist

Naturally, this fraying ends up causing a feeling of disorientation, which can be captured, for example, in the comments and requests for explanation that accumulate on the event's social networks. But, on the other hand, according to Diana, it brings a somewhat liberating flexibility, providing flexibility and a great capacity for adaptation. “BIENALSUR is an associative project that adapts, is flexible and works with the logic of each place. It is not an overbearing or imperative project that goes to each place to colonize, but the opposite: it arrives at each place with the humility of the foreigner, sits down to talk about the possibility of working together and sharing an agenda of interests and issues. to carry out together”, ponders the artistic director and creator of the event. “We are attentive not only to the processes that each artist performs in a unique way, but we understand that these processes are somehow processes of society, they are collective processes, they are processes that are also carried out in plurality and diversity”, he adds.

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