Photo Essays

Making Free Associations at the São Paulo Biennial

With 90 artists featured from across the globe at this year’s São Paulo biennial, it feels imprudent to cast all the work under a single theme.

Lais Myrrha, “Dois pesos, duas medidas” (2016), at the São Paulo Biennial (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

In my review of this year’s São Paulo Biennial, I noted an overwhelming trend among the featured artists to look back on their ancestral roots, whether by gaining deeper understandings of their ecologies, remembering slavery, or honoring Brazilian indigenous life. These are some of the “transdisciplinary approaches to research and education” that the biennial, curated by Jochen Volz, Gabi Ngcobo, Júlia Rebouças, Lars Bang Larsen, and Sofía Olascoaga, puts forth. The theme, Incerteza Viva or “Live Uncertainty,” is intended to show how artists have faced the unstable and unknown, and how they can provide us with useful “strategies” for living.

While the somewhat pedantic tone of the biennial’s literature can make the art sound more demagogic than it is, the best works here compel us to reconsider or pay attention to our daily habits, from the language we use to the food we eat. Víctor Grippo’s initially mystifying installation of piles of potatoes on dining tables, for instance, illustrate the potential to recycle the energy generated from the root vegetable. But with 90 artists included from across the globe, it feels imprudent to cast all the artwork here under a single theme. In reality, the experience of the biennial is more meandering, as the show struggles to contain itself, at times being subsumed into the worlds of individual artists, like Sonia Andrade’s “Hydragrammas,” a collection of 100 objects, including shells, gloves, suitcases, and scraps of ribbon, arranged as in a laboratory. So, in this photo essay, I’ve gathered a collection of images from the biennial — from Ebony G. Patterson’s baroque portraits to José Antonio Suárez Londoño’s obsessive, repetitive drawings — that recreate this feeling of wandering and invite you to stitch them together — or not.

Ruth Ewan, “Back to the Fields” (2015/16) (detail). The project references the French Republic Calendar, where time is organized according to agriculture and climate, rather than religion.
Bené Fonteles, “Ágora: OcaTaperaTerreiro” (2016) (detail). A series of nets hang in a hut intended to house objects that speak to Brazilian identity.
Felipe Mujica, “Las universidades desconocidas” (The Unknown Universities) (2016)
Frans Krajcberg, “Gordinhos, Bailarinas and Coqueiros.” The Polish-born, naturalized Brazilian artist Krajcberg protests against the destruction of Brazil’s forests in sculptures that appropriate remnants of wood, roots, and vines.
Frans Krajcberg, “Gordinhos, Bailarinas and Coqueiros”
Vítor Grippo, “Naturalizar al hombre, humanizar a la naturaleza, or Energia vital” [Man Naturalization, Nature Humanization, or Vegetal Energy] (1977)
Eduardo Navarro, “Sound Mirror” (2016)
Dalton Paula, “Rota do tabaco” (2016). The ceramic plates, generally used for food or in Afro-Brazilian rituals, illustrate the contemporary life of cities with a history in the tobacco industry.
José Antonio Suárez Londoño, “Planas: Del 1 de enero al 31 de diciembre del año 2005” (Exercises: from January 1 to December 31, 2005)
Sonia Andrade, “Hydragrammas” (1978–1993) (detail)
Sonia Andrade, “Hydragrammas” (1978–1993) (detail)
Michael Linares , “Museu do Pau” (“The Museum of the Stick”) (2013–16) (detail)
Anawana Haloba, “Close-Up” (2016), a poetic contemplation of salt, as it hangs in the form of rocks and gradually liquefies into the bowls below.
Güneş Terkol, “Couldn’t Believe What She Heard” (2015)
Bárbara Wagner, “Mestres de Cerimônias” (Masters of Cerimony) (2016). The series documents the making of “brega” music videos in Recife, Brazil.
Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, “Estás vendo coisas” (You Are Seeing Things) (2016)
Detail of Ebony Patterson’s installation
Maria Thereza Alves, “Uma possível reversão de oportunidades perdidas” (A Possible Reversal of Missed Opportunities) (2016) (detail)

The 32nd São Paulo Biennial, Incerteza Viva (Live Uncertainty), continues at the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo (Ibirapuera Park, Av. Pedro Álvares Cabral, Ibirapuera, São Paulo) through December 11. 

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