A fundamental characteristic of the project since its inception has been to conceive all its aspects as interrelated and complementary. The institutional, conceptual, thematic and artistic questions are interwoven to the point of being inseparable. The different layers of the project complement each other, and the exhibition is imagined as a process of reflection and construction maintained programmatically open, in which both external events and the maturing of curatorial reflections contribute to changing and shaping the exhibition. The ways in which the initial ideas remain the same or transform are made explicit through texts and in the way the works are presented.
The 34th Bienal, which officially started on 8th February 2020 and was due to end in December of the same year, has now been extended until the end of 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this new scenario, various aspects of the original project have been maintained, while others have had to be modified and adapted. Although significant, these modifications do not alter the core concept or character of the 34th Bienal in that they maintain its central premise, which seeks to transparently and dynamically construct an exhibition from a methodology founded in exchange and in relationships between institutions, curators, artists, artworks and the public.
Based on these premises, this version of the curatorial concept (drawn up in November 2020) takes into account the events of recent months, previous curatorial reflections, the correspondences, the performance and solo and group exhibitions that occupied the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion over the course of 2020, and, in particular, the work of the artists who influence, inspire and guide us.
The curatorial project proposes to structure the show based on the concept of “relation.” Freely inspired by the reflections of thinkers such as Édouard Glissant (Sainte-Marie, Martinique, 1928 – Paris, France, 2011), who took the Poetics of Relation (the title of a book he published in 1990) as one of the central points of his philosophy, and by the analyses of the Amerindian worldview developed in recent decades by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Rio de Janeiro, 1951), the 34th Bienal states that it is necessary to abandon narrow and monolithic viewpoints to become open to the multiplicity of possible relations under constant evolution. In the polarized context in Brazil and worldwide today, where the different sides are increasingly closed off to each other and to dialogue, these lessons become urgent and necessary.
Time, space and depth
Temporally, the initial proposal to expand the Bienal throughout 2020, with solo shows and events held in the Bienal Pavilion between February and August, has been extended even further, now continuing until December 2021 and deepening the reflections and exchanges with the participating artists through an intense online program.
In spatial terms, the event continues to embrace the city through partnerships with more than twenty of the city’s cultural institutions, a program which has also been extended to cover an even longer period of time than previously planned. Between October 2020 and December 2021, each of these institutions will host solo exhibitions by artists who have also been invited to participate in the Bienal, asking the public to consider the artworks based on the distinct relationships they establish in a solo show and in a large group exhibition, like the Bienal.
Finally, in terms of its depth, the show is initially arranged around individual statements and gradually opens itself up to dialogue and a network of relationships. The first events of the Bienal were a solo exhibition by Ximena Garrido-Lecca and a performance by Neo Muyanga (in collaboration with Bianca Turner and the Legítima Defesa collective), which can be considered as standalone statements. In a later event, the group exhibition Wind occupied the whole building with works by 21 artists. Possible relationships were rehearsed between them while, given the distance between the artworks, each artist was shown almost individually. In parallel to Wind, the first exhibitions at the partnering institutions already opened in the city, so some of the works began to be placed in relation to other readings of the poetics of the artists involved, becoming part of a more complex and interlinked discussion that expanded into the city, further enlarging the dialogue and construction of the process that will culminate in September 2021 with the group exhibition at the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion.
Though it’s dark, still I sing
Seen more as a statement than a theme, the title of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, Faz escuro mas eu canto [Though it’s dark, still I sing], is a line from a poem by Thiago de Mello, published in the book with the same name by the poet in 1965. In his work, the poet, who is from the Northern region of Brazil, speaks clearly about the problems and hopes of millions of men and women around the world: “Hope is universal, the social inequalities are also universal (…). 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,” the writer says. Through this title, the 34th Bienal recognizes the state of anxiety of the contemporary world while underscoring the possibility of the existence of art as a gesture of resilience, hope and communication.
By proposing a network of cultural connections, the 34th Bienal aims to strengthen the articulating role that the Bienal de São Paulo has played historically in the Brazilian scene, considering both the current scenario as well as the specificities and diversity of the local institutions, with which the Fundação Bienal seeks to build relationships in an entirely new way. There is thus a close fit between the curatorial proposal and the Fundação’s institutional goals, essential for the realization of this project. Through its engagement with this network and its multifaceted composition, the 34th Bienal intends to present a plural and transforming view of contemporary artistic production and of the moment in which we live.
The idea of an exhibition that is gradually constructed through an open process whose functioning and conceptual premises are constantly visible is supported on the notion of rehearsal. On the one hand, the term is used in the sense it has been given by artist Francis Alÿs, that is, as a symbol of
the Latin American context (the geographical context from where this Bienal is consciously and programmatically conceived), where things seem to always be about to arrive somewhere, but, as in a rehearsal, fall out of tune and return to the starting point. On the other hand, the idea of rehearsal allows us to think about the exhibition as a process, a space where things are presented without the aim of being definitively crystallized, once again enlarging the importance of resignification that arises from the relations that are created throughout the process. Finally, the theme of rehearsal is ascribed here to a further sense as well: the awareness of the need for a painstaking effort of attempts and repetitions until the artworks enter in tune with one another, sounding in unison. It is this tuning that is being sought for in the exhibition, and this is why a lengthened time is proposed for it, coupled with a poetics of repetition and resignification.
One of the essential premises of the 34th Biennial is to emphasize the relationships established between different works and artists as a way of enabling a broader understanding of contemporary production. Recent or commissioned works will be placed in parallel with the production of previous decades, thus evidencing artistic lineages that are often incomprehensible to the Brazilian public, due to the difficulty of directly observing this production and, even more, observing it in direct confrontation with contemporary art. At the same time, in promoting comparisons between works of different places and eras, the educational program may point to the necessity of questioning dominant genealogies (essentially European and white) in an additional movement of relativization inspired by the philosophy of Glissant. While educational purposes have been key to the Fundação Bienal's mission from its very beginnings, the 34th Bienal represents a unique attempt to introduce a bold approach to one of the main conundrums of every edition: being able to be innovative and attuned to the most contemporary art practices, while not being perceived as cryptic or elitist by a large part of its more than 800,000 visitors.
Just as the artworks are first presented in an initial configuration that will later be enriched and made nuanced by new juxtapositions, the publications on the 34th Bienal will comprise a collection of texts and images that will be fluidly articulated in the catalogue accompanying the main exhibition. The publications will attempt to appropriate the Bienal’s open methodology, aiming to emphasize the impossibility of definitively and faithfully crystallizing what is conceived as a process in constant transformation. The publications will include a main catalogue (with a partial version released online in April 2021 and a full and printed version in September of the same year), an exhibition guide and an educational book, as well as a website and materials published throughout the duration of the Bienal. Elvira Dyangani Ose acts as the guest editor, in collaboration with The Showroom, London.
Online public program
As the 34th Bienal was redesigned according to its new schedule, an intense online program was organized as a way to complexify and deepen the show's concepts in a space accessible to the public. In addition to the aforementioned correspondences, which are sent periodically via e mail, other activities have also been programed, including events, studio visits and a series of six live debates between the 34th Bienal curators and the show's participating artists.