On a dreary afternoon, a white unmarked van careens through the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s gritty industrial powerhouse. All ten of us sit mute, impassive, in thrall to the strange noises coursing through our heavy black headphones—clocks ticking, zippers zipping, streams burbling, roulette wheels spinning.
We are on our way to a light installation at the Capela do Morumbi as part of the Sao Paulo Bienal, but the journey is a work of art in and of itself. Prosaically entitled “A Journey through Sao Paulo,” it is a sound installation with a raw, emotional appeal, a journey through time and space that is both unsettling and oddly meditative. In an urban environment in which so much is public, we have invaded the last private space—the mind of the other. Or rather he has invaded ours. We are all privy to the artist’s internal monologue, and in fact we cannot escape it—his voice emanates from the right, then the left, above, then behind, like a pesky conscience you cannot ignore, as he conjures up the ancient streambed buried beneath a river of asphalt, the roar of the once booming pottery kilns, the favela that was razed in 2006 to make way for the drab apartment buildings pressing in from all sides. His ruminations touch on the anonymity and loneliness of cities, the voyeurism of observing life through the janelas (windows) of office buildings, apartments, and buses; he delights in the opportunities that they present for serendipitous encounters, too, but the overall impression is one of saudade, a uniquely Brazilian mix of longing and nostalgia.
Modernity, urbanization, alienation, the way technology mediates our perception of the world around us—these are the true themes of the 2012 Bienal, not “the imminence of poetics,” as the organizers would have you believe. Held primarily in an Oscar Niemeyer-designed pavilion in bucolic Ibirapuera Park, South America’s largest contemporary art event continues through December 9. Every conceivable art form is represented—sound and light installations, photography, videography, textiles, embroidery, collage, painting, drawing, and collections of found objects, in addition to exhibits that defy all categorization. South American artists are particularly prominent, but a wide range of American and European artists are also represented. Much of the work is not beautiful, at least in the classical sense, and some of it is of questionable artistic merit. But all of it is thought-provoking.
Paolo Vivacqua explores the abrupt changes in the soundtrack of our daily lives with “Interpretation,” a series of microphones arranged on music stands, each of which emits a sound corresponding to a nineteenth-century etching. The result—a cacophony of pages turning, cannons firing, canes tapping, roosters crowing, and carriages rattling—is an aural testament to a lost way of life.
For Los Angeles-based David Moreno, it’s all about the eyes, not the ears. In the light-hearted “Flying Eyes,” hundreds of multicolored eyeballs soar across the canvas like so many comets. “Touch” is far more haunting, comprised of dozens of photos of corpses—including luminaries such as Walter Scott and Thomas Paine—with blue ink splattered across the eye sockets.
Irish-born Patrick Jolley achieves maximum shock value with his disturbing video projections or monkeys gorging on human flesh, and Peruvian provocateur Alberto Casari presents several white canvas “painted” with salt water. “I wish I’d thought of that,” my husband grumbles, and I can’t help but agree.
Over a surprisingly good steak at the Bienal cafeteria, we chat with a professor from Rio in a mix of broken Portuguese and English. A professed socialist, he is soon haranguing me about U.S. foreign policy. “Which artist did you like best?” I ask, hoping to change the subject.
“O louco,” he replies, and for a moment I think he is referring to some U.S. politician. But no, he is pointing to a large area on the map of the second floor where the work of Arthur Bispo do Rosario, a paranoid schizophrenic, is displayed. We excuse ourselves to admire his embroidery, woven from the threads of the patients’ clothes at his mental hospital. It is impressive—particularly his sampler reproducing an interstellar message actually sent into outer space by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, complete with anatomically correct humans and an oddly arrayed map of the earth.
But while fascinating, Mr. Bispo do Rosario is not my favorite artist. That honors belongs to Turkish videographer Ali Kazan, whose simultaneous projections in a pitch-black room highlight the similarities between brain surgery and the seemingly ‘simpler’ processes involved in clock making, metal fabrication, taxidermy, auto manufacturing, and ‘stone-washing’ jeans. All are methodical and mechanical, accompanied by whirring and slicing. It’s a mesmerizing work that brings together all of the elements of the Bienal—the nexus of sight and sound, the central focus on maintaining our humanity in the face of dehumanizing technology, the exploration of the opportunities and perils of modernity.
1 like ·   •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on November 30, 2012 12:58 • 151 views • Tags: art, brazil, travel

No comments have been added yet.