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Live Coverage: World Biennial Forum No. 2, 26-30 November

Image: © Sofia Colucci / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo

Please join us for live coverage of the World Biennial Forum No. 2, How to Make Biennials in Contemporary Times, hosted by 31st Bienal de São Paulo. Coverage will be provided by Jonatan Habib Engqvist and Vinicius Spricigo, and run for the duration of the conference, November 26 – 30, 2014.

The World Biennial Forum No. 2 is directed by Charles Esche, Galit Eilat, Nuria Enguita Mayo, Pablo Lafuente, Oren Sagiv, Benjamin Seroussi and Luiza Proença and organized by Biennial Foundation, Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, ICCo - Instituto de Cultura Contemporânea.

Here’s a little bit about the forum:

Taking the idea of the ‘Global South’ as a starting point, a term we understand as one that is still in the process of definition, the World Biennial Forum No. 2 will look at how this geography shapes the current condition of world biennials. What pitfalls and possibilities might southern biennials present for biennial cultures in (sometimes desperate) need of renovation? What happens to the form of the biennial when biennials become part of a world system of art institutions subject to a global temporality? Can a biennial occur as the expression of a common will, or as a desire for the formation of a public sphere? Who are biennials organized for? And does love have anything to do with it? These are some of the questions the World Biennial Forum No. 2 will pose.

This year’s Forum includes the voices of curators and researchers who are looking at the changes within the landscape and ecology of the biennial at the present time. It will open with Peter Osborne’s evening keynote speech, Contemporaneity and the Biennial. Over the following two days, four public discussions will look at the history and the current practice of organizing biennials within the ‘Global South’. Speakers and papers will focus on perennial events across the globe, from Ecuador, Greece and Turkey, to Benin, Brazil, Indonesia and Senegal.

The first day’s sessions will focus on how biennial histories are accounted for and preserved. Once Again, as If for the First Time will look at biennial institutions as a whole, discussing how they both reproduce themselves and radically change over time. Works and Their Changing Places will discuss particular artworks and their appearance in different biennial contexts. The second day will look broadly at the question of how a public is constructed through biennials, while considering the different criteria for what a public is. To this end, No More Imagined Communities will focus on the emergence of new biennials in the ‘Global South’, while Popularity without Populism will look at specific public and educational ambitions.

On both days of the World Biennial Forum No.2, Workshops on Biennial Practice will take place, moderated by the artistic directors and each including the participation of some twenty professionals. In these workshops, practitioners engaged with biennial politics will discuss issues closely related to the World Biennial Forum No. 2’s wider aims: to question and provoke the concept of the biennial while attempting to construct new exhibition (hi)stories. The overall intention is to stimulate new thought on what the potential of the biennial is in contemporary times.

To check out the full press release, click here.


Welcome everybody, we are on line from São Paulo!

In a few moments we will have the talk of our keynote speaker Peter Osborne.

Peter Osborne (England) is Professor of Modern European Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP), Kingston University London, and editor of the British journal Radical Philosophy. He was the co-curator of the lecture series making up the Norwegian Representation at the Venice Biennale, 2011. His catalogue essays include contributions to Manifesta 5, Tate Modern, Biennale of Sydney, among other important institutions and cultural events. His books include The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-Garde (1995; 2011), Philosophy in Cultural Theory (2000), Conceptual Art (2002) and, most recently, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art (Verso, 2013).

The title of his talk is: Contemporaneity and the Biennial Form

Here is an abstract:

What happens to the form of the biennial when biennials become part of a world system of art institutions, subject to the temporality of a global contemporaneity? In particular, what happens when the periodic rhythms of national narratives of biennial exhibitions are over-coded by an accumulating serial sequence of international biennials – competing for contemporaneity – seemingly without end? This lecture will reflect upon these questions from the standpoint of the politics of time.

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Charles Esche, chief curator of the 31st Sao Paulo Biennial introduces Peter Osborne focusing in a specific geography, the Global South.

A speculative notion

Is there a Southern accent to talk about the Biennials? Is there a Southern way of thinking?

According to Osborne: Such events, the biennials, proliferated from the 1980s and are linked to post 1989 neoliberalism and they produce a specific kind of temporality.

Global modernity the temporality of capitalist globalisation

The chronology of the Biennials is based in a continuity that addresses the infinity. In this sense, the reborn in 2014 of the Bahia Biennale, which the 2nd edition was closed by the military dictatorship in Brazil is mentioned by Osborn. A original regional project now in a global realm of the new biennial form, he says.

Is contemporary synonym of global? If the recognition of the geopolitical periphery, the so called global south (another term for Third World?), is a feature of the biennials, why the pre-1989 history of the so called non-Western biennials is not considered in the genealogy of the Biennials, a self-historicization of the Biennial discourse? ‘To biennial or not to biennial?’ the question framing the 2008 biennial conference on biennials in Bergen. Does anyone know that this question titled an article in an Argentinean magazine about the boycott of the 1969 São Paulo Biennial? Is the self-historicisation of the biennials exclusive for narratives written en English?

An artist who cannot speak English is no artist

In conclusion, argued the speaker that contemporaneity as a historical form is synonym of transnational capitalism, a temporal model (and exhibition model?) that adapts to everywhere. In Osborne words: the question “When does/did the present begin”? should be rephrased to: ‘When will the present begin, again?’ - Anyway: When will the next Biennial begin?

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The second platform for today is about to get underway. Pablo Lafuente is the moderator and he introduces the first speaker Anthony Gardner who paper is entitled “South as Method: Biennials Past and Present”

After the morning workshops Anthony Gardner will give a talk about what he is calling the ‘fourth wave’ of biennials. Also presenting in this session Fabio Cypriano and Fernando Oliva. The four blokes are now on stage and Anthony is getting started. Here is his title, abstract and bio

South as Method? Biennials Past and Present

Two aspects of renewal are my focus here. On the one hand, a drive in recent biennials (what we might call the ‘fourth wave’ of biennial creation) to revivify, remodel or re-energize the biennial format as something other than a token of neoliberalism. On the other, at least if requests in my email inbox are anything to go by, an equally resurgent interest in notions of ‘the south’ as a geo-political focus. I want to bring these two matters together to see whether ‘the south’ – as a place, as a practice, as a politics, as a method – has much to say to biennial cultures during their current self-consciousness. In particular, what pitfalls and possibilities might that particular time of ‘biennials of the south’, of biennials from the age of the non-aligned movement and the margins of the Cold War, present for biennial cultures in (sometimes desperate) need for renovation?

Anthony Gardner (Australia/ England) is Associate Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Oxford, where he is also the Director of Graduate Studies at the Ruskin School of Art. Prior to working at Oxford, Anthony was the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, in 2010-11, working with Boris Groys and Sarah Wilson on the project Global Conceptualism, and an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He writes extensively on postcolonialism, postsocialism and exhibition and curatorial histories, and among his own books are Mapping South: Journeys in South-South Cultural Relations and Intimate Publics: Art in the Asia-Pacific.

Gardner is looking at the idea of the South as method, extending beyond categories. For him South emphasizes a certain history tied to the struggle against colonization and the necessity of decolonization. A need to create a counter discourse to engage the hegemony.

Is South a useful category for critical thinking?

Gardner provides a history of what he calls the first wave of biennials prior to the 1989. This first wave of biennials reflected cultural diplomacy as a way of national participation in the international cultural arena.

Gardner provides an illuminating account of first wave biennials in the South describing in details the very central role of the state in imagining the role of culture in the international arena. In what he refers to as consular curating, he discusses the role of embassies and public employees in exhibition making particularly in the 1950s-1970s biennials. What his paper is able to do is to fill a significant missing gap in scholarship regarding these first wave biennials in the South in places such as Baghdad, Saigon, Delhi, etc. and to draw attention to the absence of archiving as a practice as well as documented histories of these biennials. He also draws attention to these biennials as different models of biennial making in the Global South in the past. His presentation allows us to give serious thought the histories of these biennials in relation to contemporary biennials in the Global South.

Fabio Cypriano is presenting a study on the Sao Paulo Biennale entitled “How to Avoid Formal Representations through Activist Artists” The talk is being translated from Portuguese in headphones provided by the Forum which makes it bit difficult to follow.

Cypriano’s abstract and bio posted bellow:

Biennials have been increasingly seeking to exhibit activist collectives or artists in tune with a type of art production that questions the occupation of formal museum spaces. This lecture presents some case studies on inclusive curatorial strategies without, however, betraying its principles. One of the analyzed cases is the Jardim Miriam Arte Clube (JAMAC) and its participation in the 27th São Paulo Biennial in 2006, curated by Lisette Lagnado. JAMAC was created two years before the exhibition and is active in the outskirts of São Paulo; it was part of the biennial yet without occupying the pavilion designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

Fabio Cypriano (Brazil) holds a Ph.D. in Communications and Semiotics from the Pontific Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP). His dissertation was on the German choreographer Pina Bausch, for which he lived three years in Berlin to do research, (1997-2000). Since 1995, he is professor at PUC-SP where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on art, history, critique, curating and journalism. Today, he is the coordinator of the graduation degree in Art: History, Critique and Curating. Since 2000, he is active as an art critic and journalist for the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. Cypriano writes for many other Brazilian publications, such as ARTE!Brasileiros, as well as international art magazines such as Connaissance des Artes (France), Frieze (England), Flash Art International (Italy), The Art Newspaper (England) and Atlantica (Spain). His publications include Pina Bausch (Cosac Naify publishers, 2005), among others. He has participated as jury member for various awards, and written monographs about artists such as Joseph Beuys, João Tabarra, Rosângela Rennó and Amilcar Packer, to name a few.

The third presentation is underway and it is by Fernando Olivia, who is a doctoral student but who is also involved curatorially with the Bahia. biennale. His presentation is to chart the history of the Bahia biennale and it’s significance to an understanding biennial making in the Global South.

Fernando Olivia Speaks about his involvement with the Bahia Biennial and the issues that came out of the experience. The biennial would have been undergoing its 25th edition and not the 3rd if not because of the role of the military in the past. The 3rd Bahia had to face the trauma wrought upon it by the military after the second edition of the biennial in 1968. The curators were jailed by the military. The biennial was going against the cultural hegemony of the Southeast, meaning Rio and São Paulo. The 3rd reiteration of the Bahia biennale is really about exorcizing the ghost of that trauma.

The basis of the Bahia biennale in the past was revolutionary art which was why the military came and closed down the biennial on the fateful day in 1968.

It doesn’t seem strange that the organisers of biennales are criticized by the artists participating in them. Often the protests are related to the funding structure of the biennale. And it is the artists that force the curators to position themselves. Cypriano states that in moments of crises within biennale production, it is important to side with the artists. After mentioning a few recent examples such as Sydney, St Petersburg and the current Sao Paulo biennale, Cypriano stresses how this is not a new phenomena. Indeed, he continues, the Sao Paulo biennale has several historical examples of this. After discussing the historical background of the biennale by mentioning some of participating countries boycotting the biennale in 1969.
The talk mainly focuses on three specific cases of censorship from the history of the Sao Paulo Biennale. Cypriano starts by talking about the Danish artist group Superflex’s 1993 work Gurana Power from 2003 where they after an economic study investigating the conditions of the farmers in the Amazonas region and produced the soft drink “Guarana Power”. Superflex doubled the profit for the workers. The word Guarna was copyrighted by the large cooperation which more or less had monopoly of the market. The chairman of the biennale opted for a removal of the work and meant that the biennale was not the place to discuss questions of legality The chairman was, according to a rumour, now seen as solid proof, invested in this company. The curators decided to assume the project into the curatorial process and clearly confront the institution - making the censorship explicit by highlighting it. Guarana Power was also sold in other venues in the city despite the censorship. Superflex meant that this censorship was against the social reality that we live in. The frosty the relationships to the director led to the curator being removed from working with the Brazilian pavilion in Venice. The second example mentioned was Marcelo Cidade’s work where he blocked mobile phone signals and the third Jardim Miriam Arte Clube (JAMAC) that was created by a group of artists and activists in the South zone of Sao Paulo. This is still active as a cultural centre. Working with dwellers of informal settlements trying to create generative nucleus that enables the local creativity. It is a strategy advocated by the speaker, and he is careful to mention that this project not only has the character of activism and social engagement but also is an aesthetic reaction to the tradition of belief in an artwork’s immunity to the surrounding environment. For instance, JAMAC decided to rather than represent the project in the biennale, organise a bus tour that took visitors to the area during the 3 months of the biennale. JAMAC quickly became a place where the things that were prohibited by various restrictions of the 30000 Square meters of biennale building could happen.

Fernando Oliva’s abstract and bio:

A Space for Making/Remaking History: the 3rd Bahia Biennial, 46 Years Later

If in 1968 the Brazilian military regime had not abruptly interrupted the sequence of Bahia biennials, we would now in 2014 be staging not the 3rd, but the 25th edition. The problems faced by the curators of the 3rd Bahia Biennial began with the question of how to resume the idea of a project that had persisted in time without leaving any visible traces, as a quiet rumor, a suppressed object that only began to show signs of life again four decades later. How do we tell a story that existed for decades only as a ghost of itself, a trauma about which little or nothing was spoken, in Bahia or in Brazil as a whole, surviving only in the memory of the elderly.

Fernando Oliva (Brazil) is a researcher, PhD student in History of Art at the University of São Paulo’s School of Communications (ECA-USP), university teacher (FAAP) and curator, who was part of the team that produced the 3rd Bahia Biennale- “É Tudo Nordeste?”. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM-SP). He has curated “Batalhão de Telegrafistas” (Galeria Jaqueline Martins, 2014), “O Retorno da Coleção Tamagni - Até as Estrelas por Caminhos Difíceis” (MAM-SP, 2012), “Cover = Reencenação + Repetição” (MAM-SP, 2008), “I/Legítimo - Dentro e Fora do Circuito” (Museu da Imagem e do Som, 2008), “Comunismo da Forma” (Galeria Vermelho, 2007) and “À Chinesa/À la Chinoise” (Microwave, Hong Kong, 2007). He edited the book of essays and artistic projects “Caderno Videobrasil - Turista/Motorista” (2010) and was Head of Exhibitions for the São Paulo Cultural Center and project manager at Paço das Artes, a position he also held at the Museu da Imagem e do Som.

The third edition of the Bahia Biennale was from June to November 2014. It was held in 54 spaces and had a budget of 2,300000 euro that mostly came from the state of Bahia. The biennale was interested in engaging the political history and cultural memory of the Northeast as a counterpoint to the more affluent southeast. It thought of the northeast as a historical condition.

It was thus important to recuperate the memory of the first two editions in the 1960s. It was crucial to remind the Brazilian as well as the international audience about this past which is not readily known or recognized.

The third edition of the Bahia biennale was not a project of nostalgia. Instead it was important to address the ghost of the past, the cultural memory associated with the earlier iterations in order to resume from where it stopped and not starting afresh, from scratch.

The memory of biennials that have posed many of the questions already addressed in earlier biennales is interestingly enough something that has not been discussed yet. We can probably assume Anna Paula Cohen will talk more about this tomorrow.

What seems to tie together these three presentations is the idea of uncertainty and lost information and the questions that to a great degree remain unanswered: How can we as producers and how can researchers build this research? How can you produce this knowledge about things that no longer exist? A new way of speaking of oral history and the archive in the absence of documented, fragile history.

One might, as someone in the audience proposed, see this documentation issue as a part of the paradox where a biennale on the one hand challenges the freedom of expression, while on the other hand is regulated by funding structures which counteract it: How about finding an activism based, self organised funding structures?
In this sense, the catalogue is still in 99 percent of the cases a top-down document, and perhaps not the most appropriate way of understanding what actually happened. One strategy that is proposed here for researchers might be the use of informal paths; another is more or less an enhancement of the fictional narrative by, as Gardner put it, means of reference, rather than reverence and even including gossip, anecdotes.

It is clear that the archives held by many host institutions primarily hold external material like press clips, sometimes even lacking posters, etc. from the exhibiting artists. The institution does not always keep the most relevant material. The official voice of the institution needs to find a means of keeping the memory of the biennale.

Perhaps it is not the responsibility of the institution. Brazil still has a close history of dictatorship and the archives play a central role. So speaking of the past here also has its specificities, In Bahia, it was even common with mysterious fires in the archives, or they were allowed to deteriorate.

No narrative is innocent and so the institution does not produce innocent stories, one proposal that was taken up was a temporary figure like the curator could be a candidate to work with the production of this archive. Meanwhile, the curator has to create an image that goes beyond the biennale itself and creating a narrative is different to creating an archive. Gardner means that the whole concept of a curated archive sounds appalling. Indeed, a “de-curated” archive might be much more sustainable for future researchers than what would seem relevant for the curator today.

In a nutshell: How important is historical memory to the understanding of the now?