Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Porto Alegre, not so alegre on a grey rainy September morning

chief curator of the 8th Mercosur Bienal Jose Roca

Fernando Limberger, Vermelho Pungente, red pigment garden at Casa M

Interior of Casa M, the drop in house/community centre of the bienal, where conferences, talks, performances happen before, during and after the bienal

Pablo Helguera, curator of the pedagogical section of the bienal, presenting the less visible, but maybe most important part of the bienal, reaching to 40,000 teachers and their young students in the Rio Grande do Sul region.

view of the Caixas de Porto, the port warehouses where Geopoetics the main exhibition of the Mercosur Bienal takes place

Unfortunately, when we arrived doing an express visit of less than 24 hours, the morning of the opening of the Mercosur Bienal there was a general blackout in the city due to a rain storm, which made us see part of the biennial in the dark. Which when you think about it, it's not a bad idea. After Ivo Mesquita's empty 28th Sao Paulo Biennale of 2008, a Biennale in the dark, which you could only see with the help of lanterns o which was fluorescent, and which required no electricity would be an interesting concept to develop. Actually Pierre Hugyhe had a lanterns in the dark project at the AnySpaceWhatever Exhibition at the Guggenheim in 2008, where on the opening night visitors were given miner hats with lamps, the lights were turned off and the Guggenheim was transformed into a mine shaft. Also the IX Baltic Triennial: "Black Market Worlds" in 2006 curated by Raimundas Malasauskas with Sofia Hernandez and Alexis Valliant happened almost in the dark. But going back to the Porto Alegre Biennale in the dark....

Ana Bella Geiger, fantastic maps, unfortunately in the dark, which I forgot to photograph when making my way back when the light had returned...

Leslie Shows, flags which lost their colours

Eduardo Abaroa, project to cover the perimeter of Mexico with gold coated chains, and investigation on the disappeared island Bermeja, which used to mark the nautical limit of Mexico's frontier with the USA

Alicia Herrero, The Revolutionary Journey: A Navigated Novel, 2010
a trip through the rivers of the continent

Barthelemy Toguo, The New World Climax, 2001/11
immigration wooden stamps

Eduardo Aragon, from Ocotlan Oaxaca, Tinieblas, vídeos

Kajsa Dahlberg, We notice no disturbances, all are happy and friendly, 2010
postcards sent from Jerusalem to Sweden by tourists and travellers between 1911 and 1999

Andre Komatsu, The State of Things 1, 2011
raised segment of concrete wall with hydro pnemautic jack

Andre Komatsu, The State of Things 2, 2011

Voluspa Harpa, La No-Historia, 2011
two publications with declassified archives from the CIA regarding  their activities in the countries of the Mercosur in the last 40 years. edition of 1000

Paulo Climachauska, Complexo do Alemao Passport, 2008
passport, maps and flag for Complexo do Alemao, a favela in Rio de Janeiro

Yasmin Hague, Aldea Modelo, 2006/11
reconstruction in scale 1:2 of Aldea Modelo, a military model village built in Guatemala's border with Mexico in 1984, on the grounds of La Tecnica a civilian settlement destroyed by the military in 1983

Jean Francois Bocle, Racial Consumption, 2005/11
commercial products arranged by racial references from white to black

Marcelo Cidade, Luto e Luta (Mourn and Fight), 2008
concrete blocks over Brazilian flag

Detanico & Lain, Sol Medio (Cruzeiro do Sul), 2011
digital representation of the Southern Cross

Luis Romero, Sky, 2010
world flags with celestial symbols, the symbols kept in white, the rest in black, forming a constellation

Mayana Redin, Geografia de Encontros, 2010/2011
beautiful maps of overlapping places: Sahara Desert over the Amazons River, The Gibraltar Straight over The Isthmus of Panama, New Mexico meets Al Kufrah,

Manuela Ribadeneira, Tiwintza Mon Amour, 2005
a 1:1000 representation of a square km of Peruvian forest ceded to Ecuador in resolution of land dispute

Manuela Ribadeneira, The Art of Navegation, 2011

Manuela Ribadeneira, I Make This Territory Mine, 2007

Travel Notebooks exhibition:
where the artists travelled around the state of Porto Alegre and its frontiers. Previous to the bienal, they also exhibited their work in the locations where they worked, curated by Alexia Tala
Kochta & Kalleinen, Teutonia Complaints Choir, 2011

Mateo Lopez, Field Notes, 2011
notes and drawings of his trips to Iliopolis, which he also exhibited at the Bread Museum in Iliopolis

Beatriz Santiago, Folc Industrial, 2011
workers ending the day shift, workers during the day shift at a factory in Cixia do Sul, music score improvised afterwards by local musicians

Sebastian Rodriguez Romo, From Said to Fiction, 2011
Panorama and reconstruction of elements of a border town between Brazil and Uruguay

Back to Geopoetics, the main exhibition, the light has now come back! (actually there was already electricity to see the videos in the Travel Notebooks exhibition)

Jonathan Harker and Donna Conlon, Panama Drinking Song, 2011

Uriel Orlow, The Short and Long of It, 2010/11
about the ships and the sailors trapped in the Suez Canal for 8 years since 1967 due to the 6 day war

Pablo Bronstein's fantastic and funny watercolours, Islamic Culture in Southern Spain - 1000 years of Celebrations, 2010

Duke Riley, Reclaiming the Lost Kingdom of Laird, 2010
Research of the occupation of an island in the Delaware River by the Venezuelan Oil Company

Francis Alys, Untitled, 2011
Representation or Spectacle on a Given Situation over the Mexican Flag

Fernando Bryce, Revolucion, 2004
219 drawings of publications and documents of the early years of the Cuban Revolution

Seeland, documents and history of the micro nation of Sealand, and the opportunity to buy nobiliary titles from the island

Cristina Lucas, La Liberte Raisonnee, 2009 tableau vivant of Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830)

Cristina Lucas, Light Years, 2009, map of the evolution of the world frontiers

Mark Lombardi, World Finance Corporation and Associates, power maps, 1999

and back to the beginning Abaroa and Lombardi....

Eugenio Dittborn's Airmail Paintings Exhibition at the old building of the Banco Nacional do Comércio e Sul Brasileiro, today converted into Santander Cultural
Eugenio Dittborn's Airmail Paintings 

Eugenio Dittborn's Canibal video

Unseen City: in this section artists realize urban interventions in the city's fabric, curated by Caue Alvarez
Tatzu Nishi, middle class room with the facade of the City Hall as one of its walls, the room accessed through scaffolding outside the City Hall

and Marlon de Azambuja, Sculptural Potential, existing urban sculpture covered with tape

8th Mercosul Biennial
Essays in Geopoetics
Porto Alegre, Brazil
September 10 to November 15, 2011

Curatorial team
Chief curator: José Roca (Colombia, based in Bogotá) Education curator: Pablo Helguera (Mexico, based in New York) Adjunct curators:
Alexia Tala (Chile, based in Santiago)
Cauê Alves (Brazil, based in São Paulo)
Paola Santoscoy (Mexico, based in Mexico City)
Guest Curator: Aracy Amaral (Brazil, based in São Paulo)
Assistant curator: Fernanda Albuquerque (Brazil, based in Porto Alegre)


The 8th Mercosul Biennial Essays in Geopoetics
Curatorial Statement
José Roca

I. Background
After more than a decade, the Mercosul Biennial has fulfilled its aim of entering onto the international biennial circuit, positioning Porto Alegre on the cultural map of the Americas and creating a point to form a cultural triangle transforming what had hitherto been the Rio-São Paulo axis. The Mercosul Biennial is also recognised for its social commitment and its outstanding educational role, which has become more evident in the past two editions of the event.

The Mercosul Biennial has had a Latin American vocation and an international profile since its inception. If we consider the Biennial as a project of long-term cultural policy, it is reasonable that its initial positioning strategy should have been from the outside inwards. Having captured this international position, it is now timely to intensify the relationship with the local arena, particularly the art scene in Brazil, the region and Porto Alegre. This is one of the central aims of the curatorial proposal for the 8th Mercosul Biennial.

There are two recurrent tendencies in the formulation of a curatorial project. On the one hand an aim of being completely different from the previous editions, as if, instead of culture being a collective creation formed by the sedimentation of layers of experience, it were created out of a void. On the other hand there is a search for a new theme that might be used as a filter for reading the contemporary production of a particular region or country, or in the case of the great international biennials, the whole world. Both attitudes are highly unproductive structurally in assuming that the only possibility for originality is to start from zero and, more essentially, that it is desirable (or even possible) to be completely original, and also that the idea of a model centred purely on exhibition (a major display with a highly original theme) is capable of meeting the needs of the local setting.

In my work as a curator I have tried to work against those conventions. I understand creation in the field of culture to be a process of review which is supported by previous experiences that I consider to have been successful (both my own projects and those of others) and which can be reshaped or adapted to new situations. In this sense, I raise the idea of the exhibition as a rectified readymade, and curatorship as collage.1 In terms of the choice of theme, I tend to think of a theme that can also be a strategy for curatorial action. In my work as a curator I have tried to reconsider the model of the Biennial so that it can be adapted to local conditions and more effective in activating the local scene where it is taking place.2 Identification of the audience to which a Biennial is directed therefore has to be the basis behind formulation of the project. I have also insisted on a requirement that, as well as being an important quality event that animates a city for an intense but short period, a Biennial should also contribute to the creation of an infrastructure for local culture, suggesting ways of remaining as an important activating agency in the local scene during the periods when there is no event.

Many biennials are intrinsically good in terms of curatorial quality yet reveal a weakness in how they are (or are not) received by their natural audience.3 The aim of this proposal is to interweave deeply with the social and artistic fabric of Porto Alegre and the region, to construct a project that generates a deep feeling of belonging yet without diminishing artistic quality or rejecting a cosmopolitan outlook that ranges beyond the borders of Brazil and the continental region and also establishes a permanent and constant presence on the art scene of the city after the Biennial is over.

The proposal is based on the following premises:
- Considering the main receptor to be the local non-specialist public, including the student audience;
- Involving a larger proportion of local artists from the town and the region;
- Consolidating the international profile that has been achieved to reach further than the immediate core of neighbouring countries;
- Presenting the Education Programme as an intrinsic component in the curatorial project, and not as parallel to or deriving from it;
- Considering that the chosen theme could also be a strategy of curatorial action; - Understanding the Biennial as an instance of creating infrastructure.

II. Overall concept
The name Mercosul Biennial refers to a political and economic regional integration project, and although the Biennial has never been exclusively confined to the geographical core of countries in what is known as the South Cone, that is still how it is perceived outside the region. Ironically, the Biennial has been much more effective in guaranteeing the circulation of artists, works and debate than has the Mercosul itself in achieving free trade of capital goods.4 Through its various versions, the Mercosul Biennial has established a Latin American and pan-Brazilian profile and, especially in recent versions, has opened itself out to international art. Historically, the Biennial’s emphasis has not been on local activation, at least in terms of participation of local artists.5 This proposal is guided by the 8th Mercosul Biennial being inspired by the tensions between local and transnational territories, between political constructs and geographical circumstances and routes of circulation and exchange of symbolic capital. These arguments will be articulated in the form of activation strategies and not just as thematic frameworks.

The title Essays in Geopoetics alludes to the following:
- The different ways in which notions of locality, territory, mapping and frontier are addressed by contemporary artists;
- Mercosul as a geopolitical construct, and other supranational regional organisations; - The town of Porto Alegre as a place to be discovered and activated through art.

III. Structure
The curatorial project is developing seven major actions, approached through two strategies: exhibition and activation. In the activation actions, which may also result in an exhibition, there is an emphasis on the relationship between the artist and the public. In the exhibitions themselves the emphasis lies in the work and its relationship with the works of the other artists and the proposed theme.

The city of Porto Alegre and the territory of Rio Grande do Sul are therefore seen as places to be discovered and activated through art. The intense action of artists and their works in this territory envisages the participation of the community and collaboration with institutional or independent cultural institutions and local artists, as in the Continents and Travel Notebooks projects, together with the Beyond Frontiers exhibition, in which artists have developed works based on the Rio Grande do Sul landscape. In addition to these exhibitions, the work of the artist Eugenio Dittborn, showing at Santander Cultural in Porto Alegre, will also be presented in three other towns in the state: Bagé, Caxias do Sul and Pelotas.

One of the key projects of the 8th Mercosul Biennial is the creation of Casa M, a meeting place for the local art community, people interested in art and culture, art students, teachers and other interested parties. This proposal arises out of a wish to create a temporary community around the event, promoting reflection and dialogue and encouraging exchange and the creation of networks. After the 8th Biennial, Casa M will remain open for seven months, offering the community a programme of curatorial residencies, small exhibitions, meetings, workshops and other activities. The building includes a social area, reading room, library, studio and other spaces. The Casa M programme has been developed by the 8th Biennial curatorial team in collaboration with the Education Programme and supported by an advisory board of seven artists, theorists and cultural agents from Porto Alegre.

More than ten towns in Rio Grande do Sul are hosting artists, works, exhibitions and education activities, including Bagé, Caxias do Sul, Ijuí, Montenegro, Pelotas, Santa Maria, Santana do Livramento, São Miguel das Missões and Teutônia
Porto Alegre is hosting the Geopoetics and Travel Notebooks exhibitions in the Quayside Warehouses; Beyond Frontiers at MARGS (Museu de Arte do Rio Grande do Sul); and the exhibition of the artist of honour, Eugenio Dittborn, at Santander Cultural. Nine places in the town centre are also forming the Unseen City project, drawing the public’s attention to places that usually pass unnoticed by the local population.
A distinguishing feature of the Mercosul Biennial in relation to other world biennials is the fact that the Education Programme has a presence throughout the whole conceptual structure. The various lines of curatorial action have been conceived as educational actions. The 8th Mercosul Biennial Education programme includes teacher-training activities, a mediator-training course, workshops, conferences, seminars, publications aimed at different audiences and, especially, the Casa M programme. Guided visits, free transport for public-sector schools and a range of different activities will be offered to the visiting public throughout the exhibition period.

1 Direct references: As a Satellite Space, Americas Society, New York; Casa del Encuentro and Espacios Anfitriones, Encontro de Medellín MDE07, Medellín; Hidden City, Philadelphia; 4th Berlin Biennial; Artempo, Palazzo Fortuny, Venice; Lugar a Dudas, Cali, and my previous curatorial projects in general.
2 See my text about the Medellín Encounter MDE07: www.revistaplus.blogspot.com/2009/12/domesticando-el-modelo-bienal.html.

3 The Valencia and Seville Biennials in Spain are examples of quality biennials with famous curators which are considered by the local community simply as prestige operations solely benefiting a policy of cultural promotion in the city, using almost all the public resources for culture and leaving little or nothing for the cities and their artists. About this see citizen activities such as Plataforma de Reflexión sobre Políticas Culturales (prpc.e-sevilla.org), which appeared as a critical space arising out of the Bienal Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo de Sevilla (BIACS), Ex-Amics do IVAM, in relation to the Bienal de Valencia (www.ex-amics.org), or the Asamblea de Resistencia al Forum Barcelona 2004.
4 “The Biennial has allowed the construction of a cultural fiction that overcomes the obstructions and imbalances of customs and import restrictions. The fact that needs to be considered is that the circulation of discourse, works, artists and references etc. positions Porto Alegre as a place attracting energy and accelerated exchanges on a map under construction.” MELLADO, Justo Pastor. V Bienal del Mercosur. In: Rosa-dos-Ventos: posições e direções na arte contemporânea. Porto Alegre: Fundação Bienal de Artes Visuais do Mercosul, 2005, p. 53.
5 “Biennials tend primarily to relate to a cosmopolitan international audience and ignore local issues by relating to the international scene to the detriment of the local audience.” FIDELIS, Gaudêncio. O comportamento das bienais. In: Rosa-dos-Ventos: posições e direções na arte contemporânea. Op. cit., p. 38.


See the Centre for the Aesthetic Revolution's post on the previous, 7th Mercosur Biennale curated by Victoria Noorthoorn and Camilo Yáñez in 2009 here.

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