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<nettime> ATTAC newsletter interviews Sao Paolo Biennal curator Alfons Hug

from: "Sand in the Wheels" <>
sent: Wednesday, April 24, 2002 9:21 PM

ATTAC Weekly newsletter - Wednesday 24/04/02

Even Art wants its part : the Biennal exhibition of San Paolo out of Nato
By Marina Corbello

Translation. volunteer translators.

The 24th Biennal exhibition of contemporary art of San Paolo in Brazil
is currently taking place, till next June 2nd. It is one of the
historical ones, and therefore, with nothing to do with the present
world epidemic of Biennals. Its structures reminds of the Biennal in
Venice. Different nationalities are represented (around 70 this
year), organized by several art organizers and financed by their
countries. There are also exhibitions set up and financed by the
Biennal itself.

This year director is the German Alfons Hug, an outsider to the usual
olygarchy of the international biennals. " I am no part of the
eurocentric cartel " claims Hug, born in 1950 and with a degree in
Linguistics and Compared Litterature.  From 1984 till 2000, Hug was
the director of the Goethe Institute of Lagos, Medellin, Brasilia,
Caracas and Moscow, and he organized, among other exhibitions, "" The
other modern " for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin in 1997.
We've interviewed him a few days before the inauguration.

You may get the entire list of the guests of the Biennal and of the
country-members on .

Alfons Hug, you are the first non-Brasilian director of the Biennal of
San Paolo. Does this mean that the current edition is different from
the previous ones ?

It's not much different, but we do highlight contemporary art.
Previously, there always was a " historical  core ", which we've cut
out this time. With 70 country membres, the Biennal is even more
international than the  one in Venice. Brazil takes part with 34
artists coming from 10 State-regions and this allows us to present a
good overall of the Brasilian artistic scene.

You have asked Agnaldo Farias to be in charge of the Brasilian part of
the exhibition. What is the local situation of the young art?

To me, the Brasilian art is one oft the most dynamic in the world,
and, most likely, the most interesting in the Latin American
continent. It's more and more appreciated worldwide and Brasilian
artists are more and more active on the international scene, as you
may notice from their participation to the various exhibitions and
biennals. Brazil is more a continent than a country. With over 160
million inhabitants, it's the biggest country in South America. But
its economic situation is not positive : after the bankrupcy in
Argentina, the IMF claims that Brazil is also economically fragile.

A new president will be elected in October. In which ways do the
Brasilian art and culture reflect the current social and economical
situation ?

Art can only indirectly comment on politics. In a way, it is above
politics. No one expects art to hand out recipes to the day-to-day
politics.Yet there is one thing art can do : in a world with ever
growing social, economic and political inequalities, the artists have
the capacity to reconcile the hemispheres and the indivisibility of
humankind within their work.

Even during the years of the Brasilian military dictature, from 1969
til 1982, the government supported the Biennal, as it was important to
show a good image of the country. What kind of Brazil comes out of the
current exhibition ?

It is the image of an open country that comes out, a productive and
creative country.

The theme you have chosen for the 2002 Biennal is " Urban
iconographies ". How do big cities influence the artistic production ?

Big cities have always generated art and culture. But the artistic
strategies remain much different from one another. There are the "
direct " photographs, like, say, those by Frank Thiel, who observes
and portrays the new Berlin, but you also have the abstract painting,
like Katharina Grosse's work, which gathers the hidden urban energies
in themes.

The " Urban iconographies " section presents 11 cities, each one by 5
artists : San Paolo, Caracas, New York, Johannesburg, Istanbul,
Beijing, Tokyo, Sydney, London, Berlin and Moscow.

Are these cities the most important centers of the contemporary art ?

Even if the choice of those 11 cities is necessarily subjective, it
could prove true within this concept. Besides criteria such as the
geographic repartition and the global geoculture, I have sought, along
with other art organizers, one by country, to take the Southern
Hemisphere into account, as well as the extraeuropean centers of
artistic production, the cities potential and their " critical mass ".
To sum up the thematical unicity of the exhibition, the contributions
from the various countries are mixed up in its space.

What does the 12th city, to which one part of the exhibition is
dedicated, represent ?

A bunch of visionary artists build the " 12th city ", which completes
the famous Tatlin tower and realize El Lissitzkij's utopic project.
The 12th city breaks free from the grayish dust of the old
settlements,  which Majakovskij uselessly wanted to shape as rainbows,
and takes away the arguments from the sociologists. The 12th city
overcomes Caracas violence, Berlin bad luck and prevents Moscow from
committing suicide. It is the real Florence, the ultimate New York,
Shanghai at its latest fashion. Its buildors project a new Brazilia,
but without ciment nor the rigid rules of the 60 's. If the ancient
cities were political, economic or simply military projects, then the
12th city is an esthetic proposal. The artists that have worked on it
are : Sarah Sze, Vanessa Beecroft, Carsten H÷ller, Huang Yong Ping,
Mauricio Dias & Walter Riedweg, Bodys Isek Kingelez, Yukata Sone, Isay
Weinfeld/Marcio Kogan, Armin Linke, Arthur Omar, and Roberto Cabot.

As an event, every Biennal is " global ". Brazil is an important
center of the anti-globalization movements : I'm thinking, for
example, of the MST, Movimento Sem Terra, or of the Forum Mondiale
Sociale of Puerto Alegre. How does art react to the global/non-global
debate ?

The dialog that has recently begun at San Paolo between Europe and the
two Americas has evolved as an undertaking of global proportions. That
's the reason why the Biennal has invited those countries until now
kept on the outskirts of the mainstream. Only once in a while have so
many Africans and Asiatics taken part to a Biennal. The current
edition of the Biennal holds itself as a counterpart to the " Platea
dell'UmanitÓ " conceived by Harald Szeeman for the previous Biennal of
Venice. Only this time, with a Southern Hemisphere perspective.

So, in a certain sense, the Biennal of San Paolo is the opposite of
the visual arts at lenght dominated by an axis New York-Koln,
producing a system that can be defined as " Nato-Art ".

In parallel to the development of the political alliances, even in art
you could make out the " allied art " from the " non-allied one ". It'
s no hazard if, until recently, about 80 to 90% of the artists taking
part to Documenta, came from Nato-member countries. I think about the
role of the asiatic cinema, for example, the Brazilian, African or
Carabbean musics, or the success of the Latin American litterature.
Five of the latest Nobel Prizes in Litterature  came from those
so-called peripheral countries. As for the visual arts, until
recently, only the Biennal of San Paolo, would show " the rest of the
World ".

What do you think about the new Biennals around the world ?

The new Biennals from the Southern Hemisphere countries, born during
the past 10 years on the model of San Paolo, make people know regions
and cultures to which no one paid attention until now.  And they are
huge, since there are only few museums dedicated to the contemporary
art in the Third World. The massive presence of the Chineses at the
Biennal in Venice hints to a more important dialog between the
countries. And from Documenta 11 onwards, a new evolution into that
direction is expected. The international critic, which would limits
itself to comments  on Cassel, Venice and the Whitney Biennal fo New
York, also begins to look up to San Paolo, l'Avana and Gwangju in
Korea, to remain up-to-date.

Contact for this article. Granello di Sabbia

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