It's dark but I sing
"Boca do Inferno", by Carmela Gross, with the meteor from the National Museum in front. Photo: © Levi Fanan / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo

Fdark az but i sing, 34th Bienal de São Paulo it is, without a doubt, a “Bienal of Hope”, as promised by the institution's management. There are many works that seek to point to a character of overcoming, of transformation through suffering, as in one of the first sets of the show, a display that shows a burned rock along with the entire building of the National Museum, in 2018, and which, for Due to the heat, it changed from amethyst, a violet-colored variety of quartz, to yellow-colored citrine. “It continues to be the same rock because it knew how to transform itself”, didactically explains the text next to the window.

This vision of a resistance, which is already in the bad title of the Biennial, an excerpt from a poem by Thiago de Mello, from 1965, when associating black people with something negative was not a poetic freedom in question as it is today, ends up reinforcing in the end a vision of meritocracy: “Because it knew how to transform itself”. Now, what about all the other treasures that turned to dust because they weren't rocks?

So, what you can see right from the start is that it is a show about a capacity for resistance based more on individualistic than collective actions, on isolated rather than community acts.

Other examples along the same lines are the thought-provoking portraits of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), an American black abolitionist, and especially of the “Black Admiral”, leader of the Revolt of the Lash, João Candido (1880-1969). Imprisoned in 1910, in the Ilha das Cobras dungeon, in Rio de Janeiro, he participated in the “Bienal da Esperança” with two embroideries made there, while 16 cellmates died of asphyxiation. Released two years later, he was expelled from the Navy and lived a life of deprivation. Romanticizing these embroideries is perverse.

At this point, the question of what led the team of curators, composed of Jacopo Crivelli Visconti (general), Paulo Miyada (deputy) and guests Carla Zaccagnini, Francesco Stocchi and Ruth Estévez to select examples of resistance actions in far away, when we are faced with the biggest health crisis of the last 100 years, which has shaken artistic activity in a catastrophic way, combined with the unprecedented political crisis in Brazil, which practically made the laws to support culture unfeasible. The politics of cultural scorched earth is lived, but the biennial sings.

It's dark but I sing
Portraits of Frederick Douglass at the Biennale. Photo: Hélio Campos Mello

There is practically no reference to the present, and, scheduled to be held last year, the exhibition now on display ignores the urgencies of those who actually resist. Perhaps it is in the very good will of wanting to give some kind of hope that the show sinks into an escape from the present. The French writer André Gide (1869-1951) already argued that “good literature cannot be made with good intentions or good feelings”. The same for a biennial, of course.

There is more Bienal atmosphere in the show say no, organized by Ateliê 397, in its new space in Barra Funda, than in Parque Ibirapuera. There are striking works there, such as the installation Snake, by João Loureiro, which houses a python hidden in the environment.

indigenous presence

Despite being overly sanitized, which also includes architecture, even if innovative in materials and transparencies, It's dark but I sing has a historical presence of indigenous artists: Daiara Tukano, Sueli Maxakali, Jaider Esbell, Uyra and Gustavo Caboco. It is not, however, a research with new discoveries, after all, all of this group are already inserted in the contemporary art circuit, having participated in exhibitions at the Pinacoteca do Estado – Véxoa – we know, organized by Naine Terena, in 2020, at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro and even at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, during the exhibition shuttle, in 2019. Undoubtedly, it is a presence deservedly conquered, which someday also needs to reach the curatorship, a difficult issue in the institution, which continues with under-representation in the presence of women and without any black representation in the general direction of the show, in what Venice and Kassel, with whom the Bienal de São Paulo likes to compare itself, are already much more advanced.

The 34th Bienal also brings significant groups of stellar artists to the circuit, such as Antonio Dias (1944-2018), Lygia Pape (1927-2004), Lasar Segall (1889-1957) and Eleonore Koch (1926-2018). They are groups of works that are always pleasant to see, but that seem more like special stands at art fairs. Koch still misses out because she is being exposed in places of passage, a poetic work that she deserved to be on a smaller scale.

But yes, there are a few works that think about the present, and one of the most striking
é overthrow, by Clara Ianni, who simply leaves all the flagpoles on the ground, which are in the external area of ​​the pavilion and which usually celebrate the internationality of the event. overthrow is one of the few works that point to the place of pariah that Brazil has become in the world, with no possible dialogue on the international scene, even if in the catalog this is seen only as a comment on the end of the “national representations” in the show.

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