The 34th Bienal de São Paulo – Faz escuro mas eu canto [Though it’s dark, still I sing] opens on Saturday, February 8, starting at 9 a.m., the first of a series of three solo shows that introduce part of the themes that will be featured in the main show, starting in September this year. The monographic show by Ximena Garrido-Lecca (b. 1980, Lima, Peru) is inaugurating the series with nine artworks, including installations, photographs and videos, which will be on display on the third floor of the Bienal Pavilion until March 15. This is the first solo show in Brazil of this artist who works between Lima and Mexico City, researching the history of Peru and the impacts of the colonial processes as well as their contemporary consequences. The same day, at 11 a.m., South African artist Neo Muyanga (b. 1974, Soweto) is presenting the brand-new musical performance A maze in grace, which will spread through different floors of the pavilion, around the structure’s iconic building-high empty space.
The work by Garrido-Lecca is often based on the study of techniques and materials used in handicraft, art and architecture throughout Peruvian history. The installations presented at the 34th Bienal use ancestral ceramic techniques and weaving as well as materials such as copper, oil barrels, oil, wood, wire, nails and plants. One of her most emblematic works, Insurgencias botánicas: Phaseolus Lunatus [Botanical Insurgencies: Phaseolus Lunatus], 2017, is an installation with a hydroponic structure in which are planted seedlings of the bean species Phaseolus lunatus. As the plants grow throughout the year, the public will have the opportunity to accompany different moments of the installation’s transformation, in a movement that symbolizes the process of the Bienal itself, which is being inaugurated now but will be enlarged, transformed and problematized until December. For Garrido-Lecca, the gesture of cultivating the beans is a sort of symbolic reactivation of a supposed system of communication of the Moche culture, a pre-Incan Peruvian civilization that developed complex irrigation systems and which, according to some theories, used the spots present on these beans as signs in an ideogrammatic writing system.
Another notable work is the installation Proyecto país [Project Country], which is part of the series Paredes de progreso [Walls of Progress], produced by the artist between 2008 and 2012, based on research into advertising painted on adobe walls in Peru’s Vale Sagrado region. Built according to a traditional construction technique common throughout the country’s rural territory, these walls are frequently used to display political slogans and logotypes that gradually fade until disappearing completely, or the wall itself crumbles, since adobe, when exposed to the weather, breaks down bit by bit in the landscape. Proyecto país was the name of a small political party that participated in the 2006 Peruvian elections, but which wound up withdrawing from the running and disappearing due to a lack of followers.
To create Divergent Lots, Ximena Garrido-Lecca photographed Pucusana, a coastal district in the province of Lima, for three years (2010–2013). The artist documented a series of structures composed originally by bamboo panels and wooden posts, and which, over the years, begin to incorporate materials such as bricks and concrete. These temporary structures are built with the aim of laying claim to the land in these areas, which have received great migratory inflows since the 1950s as populations leave the Andean agricultural regions to seek better conditions for life and work in the areas of industrial and urban development. The migrant population often erects squatter settlements and seeks forms of survival linked to informal sectors of the economy. The video Líneas de divergencia [Divergent Lines] documents a recent moment in the occupations around Pucusana; the lines marked with chalk in the desert divide already registered parcels of land, demarcating new lots.
Carla Zaccagnini, guest curator of the 34th Bienal, explains: “we begin the 34th Bienal de São Paulo with this series of works by Ximena Garrido-Lecca, artworks that can help us to see the relationships that exist between the invention of electricity, the mining of copper, the demarcation of the land, the depredation of the soil and the scattering of peoples. Because we know that art can give us tools to deal with difficult moments at which other languages are fruitless or absent.”
The exhibition is being held in partnership with CCA Wattis (San Francisco, USA), which, in 2021, will hold a solo show by the artist as part of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo’s international collaborations.
Neo Muyanga – A maze in grace
On February 8, at 11 a.m., a brand-new performance entitled A Maze in Grace will be staged by composer, sound artist and librettist Neo Muyanga. On this occasion, a 40-voice choir will occupy the three floors of the Bienal Pavilion, around the structure’s iconic building-tall empty space, singing a new composition for the well-known melody Amazing Grace, often sung as a hymn at public mourning rituals in different parts of Africa, while also bearing religious-political connotation for the Afro-American community in the USA. Muyanga’s work proposes a deconstruction under a new perspective of this song composed in 1772 by John Newton, a white British slave trader who converted to become an abolitionist Anglican pastor at the end of the 18th century after a series of near-death experiences. The theatrical collective Legítima Defesa, from São Paulo, which stages poetic-political actions of reflection on and representation of blackness, is collaborating with the performance, as is also artist Bianca Turner (b. 1984, São Paulo, Brasil), who produced the videomapping used in the work.
Besides its staging on February 8, kicking off the programming of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, the new work by Muyanga will unfold in two other moments: the performance which, in July, will open the 11th Liverpool Biennial, a partner institution in the realization of this work; and the audiovisual installation that will be part of the 34th Bienal’s group show, starting in September. As a work composed on the basis of Muyanga’s country, South Africa, and now being staged in Brazil and England, this performance re-links the vertices of the so-called Atlantic Triangle.
According to Paulo Miyada, the exhibition’s adjunct curator, “it is hard to imagine a more fitting way to open the programming of a Bienal entitled ‘Faz escuro mas eu canto,’ since Neo Muyanga reminds us how much a song of hope is marked by violence and cruelty and, then, re-enchants its sound with musical and discursive elements from the history of the Brazilian and African black men and women – precisely those who lead and led the fight for racial emancipation that lends meaning to this song.”
Poetics of rehearsal
One of the guiding aspects of the curatorial work of the 34th Bienal is the notion of “rehearsal,” emphasizing the project’s processual approach, as a space where the things are presented without an aim of being definitive, enlarging the importance of the re-signification that arises from the relationships which are created over time. It is in this sense that the exhibition design of the solo show by Garrido-Lecca stands as a prelude to the architectural design of this edition of the Bienal, projected by Andrade Morettin Arquitetos. According to Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, the 34th Bienal’s chief curator, “the architecture that holds the first exhibition is likewise constituted as an exercise, the inaugural gesture of a layered construction that will gain complexity over the course of the year. The works by Ximena Garrido-Lecca and Neo Muyanga that are presented now will be charged with other meanings by establishing relationships with the works of other artists. In an analogous way, the space that the architecture already delimits, but which the first movement of the exhibition does not occupy, is not an empty space: it is a space in potential.
34th Bienal de São Paulo
Marked by mutual encounter and leverage between the curatorial project and the Bienal’s institutional activity, the 34th Bienal de São Paulo emphasizes the multiplicity of possible readings of an artwork and an exhibition based on the concept of “relation,” approached by thinkers such as Edouard Glissant and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, and adopts an innovative structure of functioning, which involves the holding of shows and actions presented in the Bienal Pavilion starting in February 2020, coupled with a concerted network of related events held in partnership with the Bienal at 26 institutions in the city of São Paulo. When the pavilion is taken over entirely by the show, starting in September 2020, these institutions will hold, in their own spaces, exhibitions by artists who are also participating in the Bienal, emphasizing how the understanding of an artwork is always influenced by the “relationships” that are created with the works around it and with the context where it is shown. Curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti together with a curatorial team consisting of Paulo Miyada (adjunct curator), Carla Zaccagnini, Francesco Stocchi and Ruth Estévez (guest curators), the 34th Bienal de São Paulo is titled “Faz escuro mas eu canto” [Though it’s dark, still I sing] a line from a poem by Amazonian poet Thiago de Mello. For the publications, Elvira Dyangani Ose is acting as guest editor, and her participation is a collaboration with The Showroom, London.
According to José Olympio da Veiga Pereira, president of the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, “the 34th Bienal is taking place as the outcome of a fortunate encounter. On the one hand, there is an institution that believes in the importance of dialogue and the power of its rich web of partners. On the other, there is a curatorial project that leverages the institution’s objectives and strong points to propose this edition’s brand-new format. In the expanded times and spaces of the shows the aim is to multiply the possibilities of contact and relationship with art, because the Fundação’s power and motivation reside in its capacity for transformation and opening to the other.”
The three solo shows are featuring works by mid-career artists from different backgrounds, who have different research focuses but nevertheless share in common the quality of having relevant, complex and instigating productions: besides the show by Ximena Garrido-Lecca, now in February, in April there will be a solo show by Brazilian artist Clara Ianni (b. 1987, São Paulo, SP), and, in June, an exhibition by US photographer Deana Lawson (b. 1979, Rochester, NY). The opening of the show in April will take place simultaneously with the presentation of a performance authored by Argentine artist León Ferrari (1920–2013, Buenos Aires). A third performance will take place at the opening of Lawson’s exhibition in July: a never-before-staged work titled A Ronda da Morte [Death Patrol], authored in 1979 by Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980, Rio de Janeiro).
Faz Escuro Mas Eu Canto
Considered more as a statement than a theme, the title of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo, Faz escuro mas eu canto, is a line from a poem by Thiago de Mello, published in the book by the same name in 1965. In his work, the Amazonian poet speaks clearly about the problems and hopes of millions of men and women around the world: “Hope is universal, the social inequalities are universal as well […]. 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 stated. Jacopo Crivelli Visconti adds: “by its title, the 34th Bienal recognizes the state of anguish of the contemporary world while underscoring the possibility of the existence of art as a gesture of resilience, hope and communication.”
34th Bienal de São Paulo – Faz escuro mas eu canto
Bienal Pavilion, Ibirapuera Park
Ximena Garrido-Lecca – visitation
February 8 – March 15, 2020
Wednesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m
February 8, 2020
opening of the solo show – Ximena Garrido-Lecca: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
performance – Neo Muyanga with Legítima Defesa + Bianca Turner: 11 a.m. (duration: 60 min)
Chief curator: Jacopo Crivelli Visconti
Adjunct curator: Paulo Miyada
Guest curators: Carla Zaccagnini, Francesco Stocchi and Ruth Estévez
Guest editor: Elvira Dyangani Ose in collaboration with The Showroom, London