Minerals exported by Brazil are part of the work "A cruz do sul", in which Aline Baiana criticizes extractivism. Photo: Mathias Voelzke Völzke

For Lisette Lagnado, one of the four curators at 11a Berlin Biennale, the new coronavirus has highlighted issues even more than the event itself, whose official opening took place in September 5, three months late, proposed to discuss in 2020. “We were talking about necropolitics, fanaticism, capitalist patriarchy, extractivism and ecological devastation. The pandemic has only deepened the gap that separates the countries of the global south from the place where we are”, pondered Lisette in her opening speech at the VI Virtual International Seminar ARTE!Brasileiros.

The conversation was mediated by the journalist Fabio Cypriano, with the participation of the Spaniard Agustín Pérez Rubio (from the curatorial team of the Berlin Biennale, alongside Lisette, the Chilean María Berríos and the Argentinian Renata Cervetto) and two of the artists selected for the exhibition , the Brazilian Aline Baiana and the Guatemalan Edgar Calel.

Still in the opening, Lisette expressed some discomfort with the subtitle of the seminar, The art of the possible. “Our job as producers and culture agents is to always deal with the impossible,” he said. “It is very difficult to put the concept of solidarity when an international, European biennial announces its dates, despite the fact that the artists are still in lockdown in the countries of the global south. I wanted to draw attention to the intrinsic violence of the initial decision to make the biennial happen in 2020.”

For the curator, the “most substantial chapter of the biennial” – whose epilogue, entitled The crack begins within (breaking starts from the inside), will be displayed up to 1o of November in the German capital – had been opened in September 2019, with workshops, small exhibitions and performances, in the Berlin neighborhood of Wedding, in a space that proposed listening and exchanging with the residents of the place, mostly immigrants.

“There was a whole dynamic of being together and suddenly we were interrupted in this way of working”. It was necessary, continued the curator, to create what she calls an ethical protocol: “To say that we would not give an inch in our position and, in this sense, the word possible is dangerous because it can seem opportunistic. Rosa Luxemburg said that opportunism is the art of the possible. And I want to insist that, in doing a biennial under these conditions, we have to be concerned with our own principles. And not bending over to those dictated by an exceptional situation.”

activist artist

In the virtual seminar, Lisette exemplified the political weight of the show, initially presenting the American Marwa Arsanios and her trilogy Who is afraid of ideology?. The work reflects, said the curator, an ecological feminism that

ue since 2017 marks the work of Marwa, together with women who participate in movements fighting for land, in places like northern Syria and Colombia.

“[It's something that] recontextualizes a feminism from the 1990s, which concealed the ideological analysis by claiming that gender equality was already an overdue stage,” he said. “With this critique, Marwa sought a feminism beyond the middle-class kind of liberal life she found in ecological militancy. In this film, the rural area is the territory where the struggle for land takes place and where these women are also guardians of seeds, water sources and biodiversity. We see here an example of the figure of the caring and activist artist.”

Scene from the work “Who is afraid of ideology?”, by Marwa Arsanios. Photo: reproduction

Marwa's activism ends up finding echoes in the sphere of contemporary art, which is also regulated by the logic of extractivism, said the curator. “I bring, like her, the concern of avoiding the transformation of these precarious lives into goods worshiped in international biennials. How to prevent the appropriation of this genuine knowledge from turning into something else from the exploitation of other people's ills”.

The Cross of Colonialism 

Aline Baiana began her participation questioning the difficulty, on the part of science, of perceiving Afro-Brazilian or indigenous knowledge as such, relegating to these perspectives a fable character, often in children's books.

“What I try to do with my work is to share these understandings of the world and tension them with the Western, hegemonic understanding […] a way of collaborating for the anti-colonial struggle”, explains Aline, who presents the installation in Berlin the southern cross.

“This work started, as an idea, when the environmental crime happened in Mariana [the breakup of the Brumadinho dam, in January 2019]. I was shocked and disturbed seeing those images of the river killed by a company that already took its name [Vale do Rio Doce], which made me think of this place of infinite exploration that Brazil and other southern countries occupy. And as the risks of mining are obliterated from the final product, they are left to the populations.”

The choice of the name of the work also contained a criticism: the constellation, symbol of Mercosur and present in flags of many countries in the hemisphere, represented as a cross, from a Christian perspective, in a colonizing act.

Aline also explained why the idea of ​​“the art of the possible” bothered her, remembering two phrases: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”, by the British Mark Fisher, in the book Capitalist realism. And “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but until then, the divine right of kings also seemed. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art”, by the American Ursula K. Le Guin. “What I think as an artist is that the role of art is perhaps to provoke reconnections, to imagine other possibilities”, concluded Aline.

Ancestry and resistance

In his speech, Edgar Calel initially pondered that we are a product of nature and of the ancient cultures of the world, like the one he was born and raised in Guatemala. The artist then read an excerpt from an account of the creation of the universe according to the Popol Vuh, 16th-century Mayan documentary record.

“Under this panorama of ancestral indigenous literature, it seems interesting to me how, through art, people manage to cross different physical spaces and time, and with this we unite ancient and contemporary situations, with the need to listen to the past to design the future. Part of my job is to do these physical and temporal paths as well”, said Edgar.

Artist Edgar Calel wears jaguar skin in an ancestral ritual at the Bienal building in São Paulo
Above, the decolonizing performance by Edgar Calel, who wears jaguar skin in an ancestral ritual at the Bienal building (SP)

The artist took the video to the Berlin exhibition obsidian swan, made in collaboration with Fernando Pereira Santos from São Paulo. In it, Edgar represents an indigenous ritual linked to the land, set against one of the icons of Brazilian modernist architecture, the Bienal building in São Paulo. With the skin of a jaguar, its animal spirit according to the Guatemalan tradition, or a blue sweater, which is displayed in the daadgalerie, and in which he sewed the names of indigenous languages ​​of his country, the artist speaks of anti-colonial resistance through the reconnection with the ancestry.

“Taking this walk in that concrete building, being an indigenous person of Mayan descent, is an affirmation about the destruction of the limits, the borders imposed between countries like Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, etc. We are all one. That, to me, is something fundamental, that we must contribute to this other possible world,” he argued.

God and the devil

“This is a biennale of sensitive capital, capital of relationships”, highlighted Agustín Pérez Rubio, as he began his participation. “And also what maybe the pandemic has made us value it more, an idea of ​​cure, of curator, not only to heal anything, but to accompany, to take care of”, he said.

Agustín used the image of Edgar dressed in jaguar skin, in the Bienal building, to talk about another part of the Berlin show: fanaticism and the god of capitalism, the internet and, in the case of the Guatemalan artist’s work, an idea of church of contemporary art, incorporated by the modernist construction. According to him, it is important to open cracks in institutions such as the biennial and museums, for these questions: “For artists like Edgar to show us how, in an icon of Brazilian modernity, the denial of knowledge that has been segregated for years is implicit” , argues Agustin.

The curator then mentioned the work of Antonio Pichillá, also from Guatemala, presented at the Berlin show: the video Action of a tree character, on display at Gropius Bau, which houses the segment the inverted museum of the biennial, an attempt at a “counter-narrative” to the Eurocentric perspective on art. “To understand how this colonial vision is perpetuated by institutions,” said Agustín, citing the Humboldt Forum, a museum space that will open later this year in Berlin.

Agustín also criticized the reception of the works by German journalists: “They can only see the ethnography of these works and cannot consider them from a philosophical, aesthetic and artistic root as contemporary works. Or, for them, they are works with something esoteric. It is very interesting to see that all these critics and German culture have allowed this racism and this way of seeing otherness to be perpetuated, from their Eurocentric ethnography,” he said. “And as in Germany esotericism is very close to the extreme right, they almost prefer not to talk about these works”.

demolition, retribution

How to avoid, then, the extraction of biennials and other cultural events? How did the curatorial quartet at the Berlin show deal with the issue? “The patriarchy, the colonial ills, are suffocating us, and we have to react even with violence. On the other hand, there is an issue of care. So, how to be violent and, at the same time, welcome other voices and these more vulnerable lives? What always guides me is a mixture of intuition and ethics. And in that sense, listening has been our compass.” For Agustín, in addition to listening, a non-extractive way would be to understand that you take something, but also give back. “The idea of  restitution, with vulnerable artists, communities, museums”, he concluded.

Strategies of the Possible

In a videoconference by the Goethe-Institut, the Argentinian Osías Yanov and the Brazilian Castiel Vitorino spoke about the works they exhibited in Berlin

PTo complement the open seminar, the Goethe-Institut Rio also held a videoconference specially organized for a group of guests who were unable to travel on the occasion of the opening of the 11th Berlin Biennale, in September. Among them, curators, artists and managers of different museums and the different units of the Goethe-Institut in Latin America. In addition to the curators, artists Osías Yanov (Argentina) and Castiel Vitorino (Brazil) participated on this day.

In Berlin, Osías participated in the exhibition space dedicated to experimentation, the ExRotaprint. Part of his project was compromised by the sanitary restrictions of the pandemic, among them his group exercises, which he had already done in Argentina, in a reflection on the repression of bodies, among other issues.

Work by Osías Yanov presented at the seminar. Photo: Disclosure

The artist sought to maintain the necessary contact at a distance with his group of performers, who made drawings and read stories. The results were presented at the biennial, along with elements dear to his artistic research: spoons – cucharitas – which refer to the act of sleeping hugging someone, and appeared in sculptural forms, and salt – a substance linked to the notion of purification and healing. Through loudspeakers, the sound recording of the readings made acrylic tables vibrate on the floor, creating drawings in the salt in contact with them.

Lisette Lagnado highlighted the importance of listening in Osías' work and mentioned another experiment carried out in ExRotaprint with the feminist collective FCNN, which discussed the institutional space that art leaves for young mother artists, who have nowhere to leave their children. The presence of women in the biennial, in the fight against patriarchy, is also one of the important themes of the exhibition. In Berlin, the curator had the opportunity to read a book on motherhood, by the Egyptian Iman Mersal, which brought the idea of ​​a child destroying the possible future of the mother, in a hurry to reach the new world. “It was something we were feeling about the biennial, in the face of the pandemic, and we borrowed this notion of a crack, a fissure, for the title.”

Work by Castiel Vitorino presented at the seminar. Photo: Disclosure

Castiel, on the other hand, took to Berlin a series of photographs in which he appears wearing masks bought at an antique shop in Santos (SP), sold as African, but actually made by a friend of the store owner. With the work, the artist exposes the exoticization of the colonizing discourse on the cultures of the continent. “With photography, I try to create images to remind myself of the possibility of living uncircumscribed and ordered by racial mythology,” she said.



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