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  • 34th Bienal de São Paulo: A conversation with Jacopo Crivelli Visconti


13 / 02 / 2020
Appointed by the Fundação Bienal as chief curator of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, Jacopo Crivelli Visconti is the main name behind the upcoming edition of Bienal de São Paulo, an innovative project that explores the poetics of “relations” based on the “important mutual collaboration between the curatorial projects and institutional activity”. With a belief that artistic manifestations should be seen as “a gesture of resilience, hope, and communication”, the event claims the right to ambivalence in expressions of art and culture, showcasing the work of worldwide artists under the motto Faz escuro mas eu canto. Ximena Garrido-Lecca’s invitation to discover “the turbulent history of Peru” is the first of several solo shows that will occupy specific areas of the Bienal Pavilion. We talked with the curator to find more about the process and the challenging responsibilities of the world’s second-oldest art biennial.

The name of the Bienal Faz escuro mas eu canto from a poem by Brazilian writer Thiago de Mello could be a starting point for this conversation and the Bienal, but it's also a message of hope in a country with such a complicated political and social situation. What’s the message you want to promote by choosing this sentence?
In English, the verse could be translated as: ‘Though it’s dark, still I sing’. In his poems, Thiago de Mello speaks about the universality of problems and hopes of millions of men and women around the world. He famously said, “We are at a moment at which the apocalypse is gaining on utopia. For some time now I have made the choice: between apocalypse and utopia, I’m staying with utopia.” By its title, the 34th Bienal recognizes the state of anxiety the contemporary world lives in. In this context, we see art as a gesture of resilience, hope, and communication.

You were a member of the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo for eight years and you also curated the official Brazilian participation at the 52nd Biennale di Venezia, so it’s not your first time working with the concept. Your experience influenced your application to this position? What new challenges are you facing right now?
It is great to be back at the Fundação Bienal. From all points of view, the situation now is completely different from how it was when I first worked here. To begin with the political situation in Brazil, of course, but also the structure of the Fundação has evolved and become more professional on several levels. And yes, of course, the project I proposed was influenced by my experience here, especially in terms of how to deal with the huge audience who visits the Bienal.

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Do you believe this event acts as a vehicle for the democratisation of art in the country?
I think the Bienal de São Paulo is among the few contemporary art and culture events that can bring together different people, an authentically diversified audience. This edition is also an important mutual collaboration between curatorial projects and institutional activity. We are presenting several smaller exhibitions in the lead-up to the main presentation, and we want this Bienal to be as open as possible to the city.

Regarding the solo shows, can you tell us how the process of selection worked for you and what do you want to communicate bringing together different backgrounds from Peru, Brazil or the United States?
The three solo shows indeed feature artists from different lines of research and backgrounds, but with shared prolific and complex productions. The first of the shows, opening in February 2020, is by Ximena Garrido-Lecca, who lives between Lima and Mexico City. Her research examines the turbulent history of Peru and explores the cultural impact of the neocolonial patterns transmitted through the processes of globalization. The show will coincide with a performance, A Maze in Grace, by Neo Muyanga, in which a large choir of voices will perform his new composition based on the song Amazing Grace, which is often sung as a hymn at rituals of trauma and public struggle or to create feelings of connection at large political gatherings in different parts of Africa, as well as in the English-speaking world. The second solo show, to open in April, is by Clara Ianni (Brazil), whose artistic practice explores the relationship between the perception of time, history and space in the current context of globalized capitalism. The opening will coincide with the performance Palabras Ajenas, by León Ferrari, a literary collage that appropriates quotations from historical figures to disclose a narrative on violence, war, and power.  In July, the third solo show will open, with works by Deana Lawson (US), a photographer who has been documenting in a stunning way communities from the African diaspora around the world. For its part, a performance authored by Hélio Oiticica will be presented for the first time. Entitled A Ronda da Morte [The Rhythm of Death], it was conceived in 1979, when the artist returned to Brazil after living between London and New York for about ten years. It was created as a poetic and symbolic response to the optimism in Brazil following the decline of the dictatorship – a feeling the artist did not share, as he understood the many structural changes that could bring effective social justice were still lacking.

Ranging from the African diaspora to contemporary Indigenous art, what main topics are highlighted all over the show?
The 34th Bienal doesn’t have a unique theme. As a curatorial team (formed by Paulo Miyada, Ruth Estévez, Carla Zaccagnini, Francesco Stocchi and myself) we decided to let emerge the themes from the artists and artworks we are interested in, rather than first defining a theme, as it is often the case. Thus, what the audience will see and be confronted with is a series of interrelated ideas and themes, that touch upon ethnic, social and political issues, but also expand in a quite poetic and freeway.

In such a collaborative and diversified project, is it hard to find a coherent and consistent language? What are the main challenges while “connecting all the dots”?

Yes, it is a hard task to find the coherency, but this is also one of the most fascinating aspects of the challenge at this point, I would say. We are already working on the architecture and placing of the works, and it is already possible to envision how the works will fall into place at the main venue of the Bienal. The audience will thus be able to realize how artists that might have seemed very distant at first actually make a lot of sense together. I am looking forward to seeing that taking shape.

Being a curator demands a lot of research; there’s a strong need for connection with what’s happening all over the world. How do you manage to be always updated? Do you have any special routines or specifics (physical or psychological) places where you look for inspiration?
I would say inspiration and especially relevant issues that you might want to channel into the exhibition are around us all the time. In that sense it would be hard to quote one specific routine, of course, I read quite a lot, but I wouldn’t define being a curator as an entire academic or theoretical profession. I am among those who defend that to be a good curator one needs to also be very much aware of practical issues, as they are a fundamental part of “exhibition-making”.

What’s the biggest “advantage” and the biggest responsibility of being a curator of a Brazilian Bienal?
I think that the main challenge, but also what makes the São Paulo Bienal so relevant, is the fact that the audience, as I said before, is so big and diversified. It a unique opportunity to reach out to so many different layers of society, something which at this specific time in history, so clearly marked by an extreme polarization, is even more inspiring.

When everybody’s talking about sustainability, handmade techniques, and materials, what’s the role of the Bienal in this context?
As for any event of this scale, sustainability is a very relevant issue for each edition of the Bienal and the Fundação Bienal in its daily routine, so this is something we are taking very seriously. Most of the temporary structures built for the show are either reused in subsequent editions, donated to cultural institutions around town, or recycled.

For more information, visit the website of the Bienal de São Paulo
This article is only available in English.

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