Wondering around such an enormous space with so much information in the form of images, texts, paintings and an endless number of installations placed above, below, to the right and left of you, can be overwhelming. But somehow the curators of the 13th Sao Paolo Biennale, under the leadership of Luis Pérez-Oramas, did a very good job both in terms of the content and the display. Considering its vast size, they managed to keep the excitement, interest and tension, throughout most of the show.
The Biennial pavilion was designed by the renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer and is spread over 3 massive floors with large openings between the spaces and large windows all around. This kind of building and its massive scale, is not easy to install in but in my opinion it was comfortable enough to move around the spaces, view the different sections of the show and even enjoy some intimacy with each artist’s work.
I will have to be selective in this blog as space is limited and choose just a few artists that really drew my attention though there where many other good ones on show.
One of the most interesting works was by Edwards Gil from Caracas, Venezuela. I entered a room where at first I saw people wondering and approaching closely some old rotten, chunky fabrics, sticking their ears and trying to listen to something. Once I got nearer I realised that these are all children’s mattresses that were fixed to the walls. Most of them falling apart, stained and ripped. On some mattresses I could see familiar children’s characters like Mickey Mouse, Pooh Bear and Cinderella. The sound that came out of the speakers build in these mattresses sounded like a storyteller, as it was in Portuguese I couldn’t understand much (I mean nothing). Each one of these mattresses had a different voice and story behind it.
Apparently these mattresses were taken from orphanages in Sao Paolo in exchange for new ones. The artist then asked traditional Brazilian psychics to observe these mattresses and express their visions about these kid’s past and present and to predict the future of each child. The psychics read through all the stains, marks and smells. The sound coming out of each mattress was in fact the psychic describing the life and future of the child who slept on it.
A young artist from Brazil Sofia Borges caught my eye. Her compelling photographs initially looked to me like paintings, drawings or photographs of paintings. Once I approached them closely it was clear that these are prints but still I wasn’t sure what the technique or the process of their production was. They all looked like they were taken from science books or some research references. Three days later, when I visited Millan gallery in Sao Paulo who represents Borges, I learned that these striking images were all shots taken in natural history and science museums around the world. A few days later, after consulting Simon and Rob, we decided to buy two of her works for the collection. From discussions I had it appears that like me, many other art professionals think that Sofia Borges has a great career ahead of her. We will follow it closely.
Another very exciting artist was Sigurdur Gudmundsson from Iceland, his installation and conceptual work made mainly using his own body placed against found objects or in different positions creating a parallel line between his body and an object, both indoors and outdoors. His body appears lined against objects, standing squashed from right and left between two piles of books. In another work he is lying, squeezed in between bricks and stones above and below him like a sandwich. The interaction between the body and its surroundings made me think about our relationship with the space around us and our existence as objects. The neutral black and white colour allows the viewer to observe the body and other objects used in the composition without being disturbed by beauty or clear identification of each object. The works were also full of humour, which made them a joy to look at.
Finally I must mention the mid-career British artist Saul Fletcher. His small-scale photographs, about 15x20cm, depict carefully observed still lifes featuring some familiar objects like a suitcase or vegetables placed against carefully crafted and detailed backgrounds that were created by the artist. Fletcher makes imagery that reveals installations he meticulously constructs directly onto his studio wall. The images are dense, with marks and stains in the background, and usually with a central focus on an object or a group of them. The scale of the works makes them attractive and inviting for a closer inspection, where one can discover much more of the detail and the richness of the image.
The Sao Paulo Bienal was thought provoking and inspiring and well worth the 28-hour journey from Hong Kong…
The Bienal is on until 9th December 2012