Held on Thursday, September 6th, at the Ibirapuera Auditorium, the V International Seminar ARTE!Brasileiros, entitled “Art Beyond Art”, had the participation of important artists, curators, museum directors and art historians from several countries. The event began in the morning with the projection of the work “Again”, by the German Mario Pfeifer, and with the panel “Geopolitics and Art” and followed in the afternoon with the table “A Arte Além da Arte”, with the participation of Gabriel Péres-Barreiro. , Nydia Gutierrez, Paulo Tavares and Anneliek Sijbrandij.
First to make his presentation, Péres-Barreiro, curator of 33a Bienal de São Paulo, spoke about the curatorial proposal that resulted in the exhibition “Afinidades Afetivas”, on display until December at the Pavilhão do Parque Ibirapuera. In fact, more than explaining the curatorial line, he proposed to talk a little about the process of creating the show. “All of you can go there and see and form your own opinions, have your own experiences, so it makes no sense for me to explain what this biennial is like.”
Perés-Barreiro thus proposed to make a brief reflection on the current state of contemporary curatorship. “When you're called to do a biennial, there's already a lot of speculation about what the theme will be, who the artists will be and what the content will be. As if, from the invitation, all this was already a certainty. I wanted to do work in which the process itself was creative and generated the content, something that was not limited to the authorial power of the curator and the circuits and people that this curator knew.”
This led to the proposal to share the curatorship of the show – something that Barreiro had already tried on smaller scales – with other artists, as a way of escaping from biennial models “which are often getting repetitive”, he said. “This figure of the curator artist is nothing new, but it forms a certain parallel history to this thing of the professional curator, of a curatorship that takes place from the top down.”
Hence the invitation to the seven artists who share with Barreiro the curatorship of 33a Bienal, in an attempt to work horizontally and to avoid the “single speech” exhibition. “I would like to think that today we are ready to think about an exhibition that has diversity in its own structure”, said Barreiro.
The curator also highlighted positive characteristics that he sees in the structures of the two main Bienals that take place in Brazil, the one in São Paulo and the one in Mercosul, that is, “the stability and working conditions offered, both for curators and for artists”. Barreiro stated that, in their organizations and conduct, these events are much more consolidated than many others around the world. “What we propose is carried out exactly as we want, with full support.”
Barreiro also highlighted the importance of the Bienal de São Paulo's educational program, which makes the show strong throughout the exhibition period and a huge number of visits. “There are biennials around the world in which, at the beginning, all the celebrities of the art world are present, all the well-kept works, and then they are abandoned and empty. That doesn't happen here.”
Finally, Barreiro spoke about the strangeness of celebrating the opening of this biennial produced with all the necessary structure and good resources in the same week that the National Museum caught fire in Rio de Janeiro. “It is very sad, it is very difficult to live this moment of celebration, in an institution that works, watching such a tragedy happening in another that was abandoned by the State.”
The second speech of the panel was by the Venezuelan Nydia Gutierrez, artistic director of the Museum of Antioquia, in Medellín, Colombia, and artistic director of the International Art Meeting of Medellín (MDE15). Gutierrez began his presentation by talking about the location of the Antioquia Museum in a city that was, in the 1980s and 1990s, one of the most violent in the world, given the drug cartel war that took over Colombia. As a result, however, from the 2000s onwards, there was a huge reaction from society and city halls that helped to revitalize Medellín.
About this period, Gutierrez also spoke of the importance of the museum having received a huge collection of works by Fernando Botero, donated in 2000, not only for the artistic quality of the painter and sculptor, but for this collection attracting a vast audience to the institution's activities. since then. It was at this time that Antioquia became the most popular museum in the city and could move into a large building in the center of the city.
According to the director, the institution, with 137 years of existence, wants to define itself today as a contemporary museum based on the way it works and interacts with its surroundings. “But we understand contemporaneity from the point of view of the institution, not the object. In other words, we are not a contemporary art museum, but a contemporary museum, which houses the most important historical collection in the region,” she said. “Because taking care of a historical collection implies a permanent recognition of the present that continually updates the vision of the past.”
In addition to this premise of “critically reviewing the legacies left to us”, as Gutierrez explained, there is also a commitment to focus on the most oppressed and vulnerable populations and to dialogue with the urban environment. “Social commitment is a duty for the museum.” This happens, for example, in working in dialogue with the populations of Medellín and with the territory where the museum is located, in the historic center. “But we must not forget that we are an art institution, not an NGO or other type of organization.”
From there, the director spoke of a series of projects carried out by the museum over the years, such as the 2015 Medellín International Art Meeting, entitled “Local Histories/Global Practices”. In addition to the exhibitions at the museum, other exhibitions spread to independent spaces in the city, in an attempt to dialogue with as many people as possible, often also in public and open spaces.
After Péres-Barreiro and Gutierrez, it was Dutch Anneliek Sijbrandij’s turn to talk about the Verbier Art Summit project, founded by her and held since 2017 in the Swiss city of Verbier, in the Alps, at 1500 meters of altitude. The event, which brings together influential artists, thinkers, gallery owners and collectors from various corners of the world and which each edition is guided by a major theme, aims to be a multidisciplinary space for discussion and innovation that, according to Sijbrandij, “can bring return the cultural value of art”.
For the director, the search is for in-depth conversations that can have real influences on the art world by debating the complexities of the current system. According to Sijbrandij, the event's location in a small town amid Switzerland's snowy mountains allows participants to distance themselves from their everyday lives. “Isolated from the distractions of urban life, people can focus, exchange ideas, socialize and connect.”
An independent initiative carried out by a non-profit organization, the Summit discussed, in previous editions, the growth of museums and art in the digital age. The first event was curated by Beatrix Ruf, from the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the second by Daniel Birnbaum, from Moderna Museet Stockholm.
The next edition, from 2019, is curated by the German based in Brazil Jochen Volz, curator of 32a Bienal de São Paulo and current director of the Pinacoteca. Entitled “We are many: art, the political and multiple truths”, the Summit will debate the multiple artistic and political narratives in a world marked by uncertainty. Among others, artists Tania Bruguera, Grada Kilomba, Ernesto Neto and Naine Terena, curator Gabi Ngcobo, sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Tate director Maria Balshaw, and neuroscientist Wolf Singer will participate.
To reach a wider audience than the participants who can travel to Verbier, the Summit makes all discussions and debates available online, usually with live streaming, and organizes a printed publication every year.
The last participant to speak on the “Art Beyond Art” panel was Paulo Tavares, co-curator of the upcoming Chicago Architecture Biennale and professor at the University of Brasília. Tavares began his speech by proposing a question: “If the city and the territory are rights, can architecture be conceived as a form of advocacy for this right? And what does that mean?".
The architect and curator presented the Memória da Terra project, related to the process of forced displacement of the Xavante Indians from Mato Grosso, in which, precisely, architecture – “the drawing, the modeling, the mapping” – are used as an advocacy tool for rights.
“It must be said that the process of modernizing the Brazilian territory has an intrinsically colonial foundation,” he said. Tavares stated that the project of environmental destruction experienced by Brazil in the 20th century, especially during the period of the military dictatorship, was also an architectural project of territory. He spoke about what was called the “pacification process”, that is, the creation of indigenous posts that concentrated the Amerindian populations and, removing them from their original territories, freed up the lands for exploitation.
Given the difficulty of physically mapping the disappearance of indigenous populations, precisely because of the lack of government records, the Memória da Terra project began to investigate the forced removal of Xavante peoples from their territories based on existing images. With photos taken by journalists of the time about the “conquest” of indigenous lands, Tavares and the other members of the project began to make a kind of “archaeology of the image”, using architectural strategies to reconstruct the map of these disappeared villages.
Thus, relating the design of the villages – always a kind of arched structure – seen in the photos with old satellite images recently made public by the US, the project's researchers were able to map the villages. They also used the marks that can be seen in the territories, such as signatures on the ground, defined by the botanical standard. “The trees grew in the same arched structure on which the villages were drawn. Thus, the history of this people continues to be recorded in the botanical composition of the forest.”
This botanical design, therefore, is a direct result of the architecture of these villages, explained Tavares. “They are products of ruins, but they are living ruins. Can we then understand trees and plants as historical monuments? Can the forest be considered an urban, architectural heritage? Can it be seen as culture, not nature?”
Considering the positive answer to these questions, the project unfolded in a report that, together with the other evidence collected by the Public Ministry, serves as “evidence material” for a petition that was made to IPHAN and UNESCO for this soil to be considered an architectural heritage. The work has also been done in partnership with the indigenous populations of the region, as Tavares showed throughout his exhibition.