The theme of the 26th Bienal de São Paulo
was chosen to enable a wide range of artistic positions to feel
comfortable. The concept of "Território Livre"
(Free territory) involves various dimensions: it has a physical-geographical,
a socio-political as well as an aesthetic dimension - the latter,
of course, being of greatest interest to us in the context of
The territory of aesthetics begins where the normal world ends.
It describes the space in which reality and imagination are in
conflict with each another. Artists are the border guards of a
realm that lies beyond the administered world, where politics
and economics have no more jurisdiction over interpretation. While
the whole world is constantly arguing about what belongs to whom,
art clarifies the ownership issue in its own way: in the realm
of aesthetics everything belongs to everyone.
What interests us in the context of the Bienal is how the devastations
of the real world and interpersonal relations are reflected in
art. Since works of art are more than bare facts, an artistic
condensing of phenomena of reality will always be more ambiguous
and more complex than simple reporting. This rule even applies
if the artist uses photography and video, i.e., two media regarded
as being very close to reality. Although artists are embedded
into conflicts, they do not copy the world, but create free spaces
within reality. With the help of metaphors and symbols they transform
the earthly raw material into a new condition that can be experienced
by the senses. The work of art reveals the other; it is allegory.
Art exists outside of causality and must not be imprisoned in
the iron casing of mundane constraints.
Artists create a power-free zone, a world that runs contrary
to the existing world: a land of emptiness, of silence and respite,
where the frenzy that surrounds us is brought to a standstill
for a moment. But it is also a land of enigmas, where the flood
of images surging in on us from the breeding grounds of kitsch
are encrypted. By breaking through the barriers of the material
world, the artist becomes a smuggler of images between cultures.
55 countries from all continents have accepted our invitation
to bring the best and most relevant of their present production
to São Paulo. Most artists have created new work after
preliminary visits to gain onsite knowledge concerning the building
and the city. There is a spatial interaction between the 55 artists
of the "national representations" and the 80 artists
invited directly by the Bienal. With a total of 135 artists, the
Bienal de São Paulo remains one of the biggest international
exhibitions. The 25th Bienal turned out to be the most highly
attended exhibition of contemporary art in the world in 2002 with
670,000 visitors. This year there will again be a major, systematic
program of guided tours to introduce contemporary art to a whole
generation of pupils and students, including many from the poorer
suburbs of São Paulo.
In order to emphasize the thematic unity of the overall exhibition,
the invited artists and those representing the countries are mixed
together on the 25,000 square meters of the spacious Oscar Niemeyer
Pavilion. So, despite the complexity of individual voices, the
end result will be a common concert.
As always, the biggest contingent of artists comes from Brazil:
like all the countries it has an artist in the "national
representations" segment, while another 19 Brazilians were
integrated into the list of 80 invited artists from all over the
world. The regions São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and "the
rest of the country" are equally represented, each providing
one-third of the invited Brazilian artists.
In addition to an intensification of the North-South dialog,
the Bienal´s aims include the promoting of links between
non-European cultures along a South-South orientation.
It is predestined for this task, being based in one of the largest
and most pluricultural cities in the world, where European, African,
indigenous and Asian elements mix and enter into productive relationships.
The Bienal Building itself - a cosmopolitan icon of modern architecture
made of concrete, steel and glass that also embodies the city’s
industrial heritage - automatically places each work of art into
a context of modernity and offers perfect conditions for presenting
and appreciating contemporary art over an area measuring the equivalent
of four soccer pitches.Its airy vault and its projecting ramp
that cuts, baroque-like, through all three floors in irresistible
spirals make it a privileged venue.
Special attention was therefore devoted to the allocation of
space. Conceptual, aesthetic and technical criteria were taken
into account. The point of departure was the architecture of the
building itself, which suggests a spatial grouping of media. The
spacious ground floor, with a ceiling height of over seven meters
and panoramic view of Ibirapuera Park, is particularly suitable
for a sculpture park with large, free-standing three-dimensional
works. The first half of the second floor offers ideal conditions
for a salon of painting, thanks to the favorable light that comes
in from the east and west and, diffusely, from above and below.
The second, darker half of this middle floor is perfect for a
"multiplex" of video installations, a planetarium in
which viewers can lose themselves, undisturbed, in the cosmos
of digitally generated pictures.
This arrangement not only helps the visitors to keep their bearings,
but also makes it easier to reach a critical mass within each
medium. Various gravitational centers with their respective specific
aesthetic "temperatures" thus develop in the building.
Crescendi and diminuendi alternate abruptly.
Photography, which allows cross-references to painting,
sculpture and video, forms a central connecting link between the
other three techniques and runs like a thread through the entire
The Bienal as an extraterritorial zone
There has never been a lack of attempts to create free territories
in Brazil. We simply have to remind ourselves of the founding
of Brasília, and before that, a good fifty years ago, of
the Bienal de São Paulo. Both are natural allies, as they
were created by the same enlightened spirit, and share the call
to change. Each was conceived as a quarry of new images, and together
they have smoothed the country’s path towards modernity.
The Bienal de São Paulo is an extraterritorial zone where
artists erect their utopian settlements. It is a sanctuary where
the streams of goods run dry and political strategies are to no
avail. The Bienal sees itself as a place for retreat where critical
mass and positive energy can be concentrated and combined to create
basic formulas for transforming society and conjuring up premonitions
of future forms of human social life. Each generation of artists
is called upon to make a new survey of this no-man’s-land
and to draft its contours.
The arts are unique in that they possess a universal reservoir
of signs and archetypes which, through exchange, mobilize the
collective memory of mankind. If the artist is an image smuggler,
therefore, the Bienal can act as an emporium in the realm of aesthetics,
where curiosity and the desire to discover suffice as a passport,
and an alert mind serves as the entrance ticket to a place where
priceless goods are traded yet no customs duties are levied.
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© Copyright text: Alfons Hug, July 2004