Rosana Paulino, As daughters of Eva, 2014. Work exhibited at the Mercosul Biennial
Rosana Paulino,
Eva's daughters, 2014. Photo: Publicity

Despite focusing on women's issues, the 12th Mercosur Biennial use the gender of the title in masculine: feminine(s), visualities, actions and affections. According to curator and academic Andrea Graciela Giunta, “feminine is not just a matter for women” and “feminine would reinforce binarism”.

She has been responsible for shows of great repercussion, such as Leon Ferrari - Retrospective, in 2004, at the Centro Cultural Recoleta in Buenos Aires, which angered the then archbishop of the city, Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. The show was seen at the Pinacoteca do Estado de SP, in 2006, a museum that hosted another important exhibition by the curator, radical women, in 2018, organized with Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Valéria Piccoli.

For the Porto Alegre-based biennial, which is scheduled to open to the public this year, she works with three more curators: Polish Dorota Maria Biczel and Brazilians Fabiana Lopes and Igor Simões.  According to Giunta, the show will address emerging issues in society, such as black feminism: “we would like this to be the strongest contribution of the biennial”. Politicization, however, will not abandon aesthetic enjoyment: “We are interested in thinking about a proposal for problems and also approaching an experience of beauty”.

Throughout its history, the Mercosul Biennial has already carried out several essays on how to be faithful to its name, based on a commercial treaty, while rethinking such boundaries through art. In this edition, Giunta promises a broad participation, from several continents, from artists who work with “the representations of the feminine(s)” in addition to the “colonial legacies, which are translated in terms of stereotypes or racism”. The list of artists will only be announced at the opening of the show, but then the curator details some of the main axes of the project.

ARTE!✱ – Biennials have sought to give attention and voice to local communities, as a way of gaining relevance in the context in which they operate. How does this occur in the 12th edition of Mercosur?

Andrea Giunta – The biennial was not conceived in terms of a geopolitical strategy for Porto Alegre, but in relation to the richness of this exceptional city due to the cultural fabric that surrounds its history. Since 2018, when we established two of the biennial’s axes, feminism and Afro-Brazilian culture, we opened the seminar “Art, feminisms and emancipation” at the Porto Alegre Book Fair, with artists, curators and cultural agents from different fields. The presentations held there were the initial critical platform of the biennial.

Porto Alegre is not a city airbnb, 70% of the biennial takes place around a square full of people who live and work in the city. Around this square, infinite times follow. It doesn't matter so much about Porto Alegre's place on the world's geopolitical map, but about the place that will have art, for four months, in the heart of a city of one and a half million inhabitants. During 2019, the educational program, which has an extraordinary tradition in this biennial, launched a tornado of questions that made it possible to make visible what we see, what we think, what we feel.

The term Mercosur has already been problematized in some editions of the Bienal. Do you intend to make a cut of artists that cover this region or will you also be flexible to go beyond the geographic borders limited by the commercial agreement?

AG -  Mercosur is widely represented at the biennial by Brazilian, Argentine and, to a lesser extent, Uruguayan artists. But we were more interested in working on the idea of ​​a cultural region than a region established by an economic agreement. In this sense, the participation of Chile, as well as Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, is important. We also consider artists from the Caribbean. In addition to questioning the representations of the feminine(s), we were interested in approaching colonial legacies, which are translated in terms of stereotypes or racism, and which bring cultural geographies that involve America in its entirety. A decolonial perspective, a hemispheric perspective and a transatlantic and transpacific perspective, amid so many stereotypes that serve as the basis for racism and discrimination, are not exclusive to America and less to Mercosur. In this sense, there is a strategic presence of artists from Europe, Asia and Africa, considered more in terms of the concept of diaspora than continental geographies.

shows how radical women or even the reorganization of the Malba collection (verbamerica), which had their participation, had a very historical character. What should we expect from the 12th Bienal?

AG - radical women, yes, it had a historical perspective. One of her purposes was to unearth female artists who had been eradicated from official histories. It wasn't like that in verbamerica, where we messed up the story. The biennial is different. I can anticipate that there are historical works and works by very young artists. But what interested us was not covering a grid of countries or ages. We are interested in thinking about a problem proposal and also approaching an experience of beauty. Enjoyment and thought. This is what we want to offer to the public in Porto Alegre and to anyone who comes to visit the biennial.

Curator Andrea Giunta. Photo: Disclosure

Feminism, and more specifically black feminism, has become a movement that criticizes post-colonial theories and provokes an important empowerment of women artists until then erased in the history of art. You have been putting on important exhibitions that rethink the official narratives of art history. How does black feminism fit into this Bienal?

AG - We would like this to be the strongest contribution of the biennial. Black, not exclusively feminist. An art made by black women, completely expelled from the patriarchal, racist and classist history that dominates the concept of modern and contemporary art: a geography of power that universalized, imposing itself as a parameter against which all other forms of thought and affection that involve art are marked as “cases”, “curiosities”, “exceptions”, “particularities”. We are not going to talk about our project in percentages, despite being often expected of a biennial, but we want to present to the public a set of works completely involved with those who represent more than half of the Latin American population. The culture and sophisticated language of Afro-Brazilian artists will have a wide presence at the biennial.

The Bienal occupies traditional art spaces in Porto Alegre, such as the Iberê Camargo Museum, the Margs, the RGS Memorial and even the CHC Santa Casa. The exception is the Customs Square. How can one “rub limits and constraints” and “invent new ways of doing, saying, thinking and creating” in such conventional spaces?

AG - It is possible to intervene in power from the margins, but it can also be done in the very spaces that concentrate power. Why give up museums? With Ferrari at the Recoleta Cultural Center, with radical women in Hammer, Brooklyn and Pinacoteca de SP, we managed to rub the power of the Church, patriarchy and misogynist discourses embodied in political power. I never underestimate the fact that the works act in front of a hundred thousand spectators to privilege a circle of 25 cultural agents who sustain a small conversation. Workshops, seminars, residencies are extraordinary laboratories, which we use in the preparation of the biennial, and the educational program was a constant platform in 2019, but we do not fear or discard the radiant spaces of museums.

Brazilian geometry tropical paradise
Brazilian geometry tropical paradise

Among the five women listed on the biennial's website, — by the way, why not women? —, #2 speaks of “all non-binary, fluid, non-normative sensibilities”. Art galleries are very slowly and discreetly starting a process of inclusion of non-binary artists. What was it like to carry out this mapping outside the commercial circuit?

AG - We attribute many meanings to the title word. Feminine because the feminine is not just a matter for women.  Feminine would reinforce binarism.  I believe it is false that galleries are incorporating non-binary artists. The art world has marginalized subjects who transit through fluid identities. Less in contemporary art. What art and the market are doing is incorporating subjects who are empowered from non-binary, fluid, non-normative identities. So they thematize them, investigate from a philosophical matrix, and do it in the first person. It is worth asking ourselves again if the market domesticates. At the same time, I am also interested in the slow inclusion in the market of black artists, of Afro-Latin American artists. It is such an incipient process that the power of the market cannot yet assuage its criticism, its intense revolt. We are facing a completely new situation. I am full of expectations in front of this scenario, which I consider the most stimulating in Brazilian art.

In #4 for women, you talk about “materials and techniques traditionally attributed to the feminine arts”. Can you give examples of artists or works with this premise?

AG - Yes, just one, since I don't want to diminish the ad of the artists: Rosana Paulino, who does more than embroider, suture. She uses the needle and sewing as a powerful symbolic mark of oppression, racism and violence against black women in Brazil. It revolts us in relation to the serenity of the domestic. She sews her stitches with the archives of racism from photographs by Auguste Stahl [1824–1877] compiled by Louis Agassiz [in the book Brazil trip, 1865/6], in the pretension of 19th century European science, which articulated itself as an instrument of racism.

She crosses this fundamental critique to understand Brazil (the violence of the race, not the harmonious coexistence) with the feminist agendas, the violence against the bodies of black women. Its focus on the canon of Brazilian art history is also fundamental, an art that is collected and ranked as an example of the union between abstraction and progress. Concepts of cleaning and asepsis that hide the tragedy of slavery whose matrices are still in force.

Lucy Lippard, in a beautiful text for the Bienal Sesc_Videobrasil, defends the need to reduce scales as a way of opposing the current economic and social system. Biennials are often large-scale events. Is it possible or even necessary to rethink this Bienal format?

AG - I fully share the idea of Lucy Lippard. Initiatives opposed to the spectacle contribute to imploding the symbolic bases of the dominant economic and social system. I have always been interested in the power of the precarious, in the extent to which a work that moves away from the abundance that can be seen in the theme parks of the installations has a power of friction that is not based on its size, but on its affections. With affections, powerful revolts were created.

At the same time, biennials are spaces for public intervention, which it does not seem strategic to abandon. I do not believe that articulating a biennial as a critique of biennials adds to the critical power of art in society. It is an institutional critique that, because it communicates with a very small and privileged circle, can end up being swallowed up in its strategic logic. We have seen biennials with few works, cold, distant. I don't find rhetorical curatorial exercises interesting or closing in on a biennial to debate with a select circle of specialists. These topics, I prefer to discuss in a cafe.

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