Interview with Andrea Giunta
The theme of the 12th Mercosul Biennial will contemplate the articulations between art, feminism, and emancipation. What are, in general, the curating strategies adopted with the objective of approaching the connections between these issues?
We are currently in a preliminary moment of the Biennial, in which we are forming the teams, designing strategies. And although art, feminism, and emancipation are key-words on this Biennial’s concept, we still haven’t come up with a title. I want to emphasize two issues on this preliminary moment: that the Biennial will be inaugurated in 2020, but in 2018 we are already starting to think together what these concepts mean by organizing a seminar. In a certain sense, the Biennial starts now. This is, undoubtedly, its first strategy. The second is that we won’t start with the certainty that we know what these concepts mean. We will problematize these notions and amplify their meanings in order to redefine them. What is art? What is feminism? What do we mean by emancipation? These are the central questions for the November 6 seminar. It proposes an arena of thought, a field of debate that gathers different perspectives regarding a certain issue in which art is particularly involved lately: the place of women and all dissidences (sexual, cultural, non-normative, class-related, race-related) in contemporary culture and society. Feminisms more than feminism. Regarding this, we begin the Biennial’s investigation from now on and in unison, inviting for a forum featuring art, performance, art history, and also law, trans-activism, racial and intersectional perspectives, and at the center, the issue regarding the relation between the field of art – predominantly white, male and middle to high class – and exclusion. We want to know the perspectives, install a collective debate and, essentially, become aware regarding everything that, in art, we cannot see and enjoy simply because it is a world with usually very narrow doors.
One of the main issues of your studies is related to the insertion of the Latin-American production in the wider context of international contemporary art, advocating a more prominent role for Latin-America and questioning perspectives that separate dichotomically center and periphery, metropolis and colonies, avant-garde and reproduction. The next Mercosul Biennial will also be a setting for these investigations?
On my research and in the exhibitions that I curated, I subvert the notions of periphery or decentralization from which Latin-American, African, and Asian art are always approached, and that put them in a marginal situation. It all happens first on the European/North-American axis and then on the rest of the world. What we are proposing is to think art from simultaneity, as “simultaneous avant-gardes”. If we follow the canonical model of historical avant-gardes, if we subscribe to the logic of artistic movements that occurred on the first half of the 20th century, it is established that artists travelled to Europe to “learn”. However, what we see is that they immediately transformed the models from which they supposedly left, and the best example of this is Tarsila do Amaral, who, with Oswald de Andrade, proposed the anthropophagic metaphor to argue that, facing European culture, more than following it (or copying it), it is better to devour it. That is a powerful and controversial metaphor. A lucid analysis of its implication is on the recently published book by Roberta Barros, regarding art and feminism in Brazil. If this method of operating in relation to European culture can be analyzed on the first half of the 20th century, since after the war, the body, and in particular the female body, starts being explored as a problem. Of course, the impact of books such as “The Second Sex”, by Simone de Beauvoir, or “The Feminine Mystique” (1963), by Betty Friedan, helped to draw a horizon of common issues. However, the intensity of works of art that in different parts of the world are problematizing the body does not come from books, but from experience. A personal and social experience that starts to communicate and generates an “horizon of time”. The media refers to the place of women, and feminist activism problematizes the place of women and art, literature or cinema as well. It is an awareness simultaneously expressed in different parts of the world, through different artistic languages. Today we are in a new horizon of time in which existentialisms are problematized, the binary concepts of sexuality are questioned and everywhere movements against feminicide, harassment, and prejudice are expressed. The idea of family was transformed, regulated affection ended, and its formats multiplied. We aspire for the Biennial to cover such richness, these complexities that occurred and still occur in different parts of the planet.
It is certainly too soon to talk about names, but is it possible to say in advance if the 12th Mercosul Biennial will be more focused on Latin-American representatives – as it occurred twice in its history – or if we will see a wider variety of artists in geographical terms?
The Biennial will be international, but, at this moment in which we are dedicated to assembling a work team, I cannot even define how such representations will occur. Latin-America undoubtedly will have a strong and innovative presence. But, if we wish to understand the global dimension of feminisms and how they are interconnected with different art forms, an international perspective is necessary.
The permanence of Biennials is an issue that passes by the quality of social perception before and after the event – particularly in relation to the communities closer to its epicenter. Could you comment, even if briefly, what is going to happen in the seminar that will occur during the next Porto Alegre Book Fair?
As I referred previously, the seminar – which will not be restricted to a lecture, ill be a space to hear words, but also will feature images, performances – it will activate a starting point for us to think together about the multiple issues that female and feminized bodies propose in contemporary culture. We want to establish an intense relationship with the Porto Alegre audience. The intention, starting now with the seminar, is make the Biennial not jut an event that lands into the city every two years, but one that interacts with artists, with the public, with the university, and one that produces a new knowledge that involves the citizens of Porto Alegre as active citizens.
On the past few years, the biennial and triennial formats are being debated about, and even questioned by certain critics, artists, and academics. On your opinion, what is the relevance and function of biennials in today’s world?
The space for culture is never too much. What can be expressed on the field of art can’t necessarily be expressed on other spaces. It is a scope in which the limits of what we know are questioned. Therefore, how can we renounce to such a privileged scope that a biennial represents, in which artists who never shared the same space, from different parts of the world and different proposals, can finally stand together? I understand that a dispute between models is opportune, progressive, but this in no way whatsoever allows us to conclude that biennials will disappear or that they are formats that we no longer have use for: it is like to argue that museums or art no longer function. The biennial is a format among many others: the important thing is to analyze what each one gives us. Instead of playing with the idea of the biennial as a space on the verge of dissolution, instead of starting from a notion of loss, of an end, we propose to conceive it as an extraordinarily generous opportunity, a space that can transform our sensibilities and concepts about the world.