30th Sao Paulo Bienal: Pavilhao Ciccillo Matarazzo, Parque Ibirapuera

By Fer, Briony | Artforum International, December 2012 | Go to article overview

30th Sao Paulo Bienal: Pavilhao Ciccillo Matarazzo, Parque Ibirapuera


Fer, Briony, Artforum International


LUIS PEREZ-ORAMAS, the chief curator of the Thirtieth Sao Paulo Bienal, stakes out a critical space for an "imminent poetics"--for "what is on the verge of happening, the word on the tip of one's tongue," as he puts it--as if now is the time for art to open onto the "about to be" rather than remain in thrall to melancholic reflections on that which has been," or on what art has lost of its own histories. The exhibition makes the claim that to turn away from an art of explicit social engagement is not necessarily, or not only, to turn inward or backward to older formalisms; there may be ways to imagine the efficacy of art beyond this simple dichotomy.

Certainly, the hundreds of artworks on view here veer away from obvious social or political content, making the case for a more nuanced sense of what a relationship between art and politics might look like. To be frank, the term poetics is given a broader ambit than it can comfortably encompass. At issue is something closer to what I would call the work of the work, following Maurice Blanchot. That is to say, we are urged to attend to the conflicting demands made by the work in a permanent state of questioning itself and its place in the world. Oppositions such as those currently prevailing between poetics and politics, the hermetic and the social, are precisely what much of the work refuses and what the curatorial strategy tries to reconfigure. Perez-Oramas's decision to represent each artist with a substantial amount of work, shown in a single and relatively autonomous space, allows viewers to get a handle on the art and a grasp of its nuances--something fairly rare in the desperate anthologizing that is typical of themed biennials.

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Metonymy and juxtaposition, key poetic strategies, help to drive these nuances home. The adjacencies here are unpredictable, and as ever, the ones that carry the most danger or verge on the absurd often work best. Absalon's white monochrome units of sensory deprivation are close to Brazilian artist Fernanda Gomes's brilliantly spare spatial bricolages, as are John Zurier's slow, sensual, yet exacting paintings. It is an incongruous cluster, but questions of immersion and of what it is to be in the artwork, in both a phenomenological and an ethical sense, are posed in each work. Elsewhere, Daniel Steegmann Mangrane's film of being drawn deeper and deeper into jungle vegetation reflects on what pulls us into images--including his own serial drawings--only to be lost there. The excesses of Hans Peter Feldmann's collections of other people's personal effects, near the extraordinary work of the outsider artist Arthur Bispo do Rosario, both have a compulsive logic. Objects here are not mired in the past, hut are motile, modular units of meaning, however opaque--or perpetually imminent--that meaning may be. Even the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay loses some of its classical poise here and looks a little manic, while its late creator appears more like a purveyor of synthetic totems of nature than a latter-day Green Man or forest sage. Laid out in this way, a reclusive impulse is shown to be not much of a refuge. It's not that there's no safe place--just that art isn't it.

What does it mean, then, to claim a space for intensely reflective work at a time when direct protest may seem more important than ever? The question is crucial, and necessarily complicated. Perez-Oramas answers by making a case for art to do its work differently from other knowledge forms. What kind of critical regime must be dominant, in any case, for art's proximity to poetry to be assumed to be any withdrawal at all? Rather than plead a special case for poetics, one might instead question how far art criticism has come to believe that art is subservient to other determining orders of meaning, whether they be social or technological.

In a show with multiple threads, one of the most intriguing is the movement away from visions of grand utopias toward basic forms of community and collectivity. …

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