The Best Shows Across São Paulo Ahead of the 33rd Bienal

From delicate geometric textiles, to deconstructed topographies, to Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s new documentary

BY Camila Belchior in Critic's Guides | 04 SEP 18

Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca ‘Canada. 20’
Galeria Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel
4 September – 6 October

Collaborators since 2011, Brazilian and German filmmakers Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s new documentary, RISE (2018), is set in the new Toronto underground extension.

Centred on the practices of R.I.S.E. (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere), a club founded by poet Randall Adjei that offers a supportive platform for participants to share their poems and songs, the film explores the mixed-cultural creative dialogues that result from the encounters between first and second generation Torontonians.

Most R.I.S.E. members are rooted in other cultures and languages and the duality that comes with this is often expressed in their performances. Mirroring this condition, the new underground area, linking the city centre to the suburbs, can be understood as an empowering space in which the sounds, rhythms and poetry that are expressed by performers can represent a therapeutic route towards a sense of belonging. 

Jessica Mein, Quase, 2018, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Galeria Leme

Jessica Mein 
Galeria Leme
25 August – 29 September

The imposing brutalist exhibition space designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha for Galeria Leme gains a white-washed, free standing cross-shaped wall structure to accommodate delicate geometric textile artwork and a video animation made by Buenos Aires-based artist, Jessica Mein. The exhibition is centred on a decade-long investigation into the physicality of image-making which uncovers the artist’s family’s heritage as lacemakers and embroiderers. Making use of obsolete found materials such as hemp spice bags, Mein methodically opens and deconstructs the original weave to create new textile forms and patterns. The obsessively reworked fabrics are stretched over visible wooden frames and the artist often painstakingly inserts new threads by hand into the loosened weave, adding colour and creating movement. This is the case in Desborde, 18 (2018), a vertical frame covered by an overall white loose mesh through which run large black and blue vertical zigzags made from coloured cotton threads. In other works, the artist covers sections of the textile pieces with acrylic glue and rubbings of different surfaces, to create a complex layering of patterns and textures. In the overall indigo corner-piece Desborde dobra (2018), the two parts that comprise it were glued together and then pried apart leaving behind imprints of this action.  

Yan Xing, 'Opfer', 2018, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo; photograph: Gui Gomes 

Yan Xing, ‘Opfer’
Galeria Jaqueline Martins
25 August – 13 October

Chinese artist Yan Xing's first solo exhibition in South America, displays his interest in exploring overarching themes such as resistance and order, by way of a video-installation and a series of performances taking place in an area covered by a floor-installation that serves as their stage. Xing is known for highly conceptual multimedia projects that reflect critically on history as construct, looking not only to contemporary art, but, also, cinema, literature and critical theory. The exhibition title, ‘Opfer’ (meaning ‘victim’ in German), acknowledges the last film made by Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky, The Sacrifice (1986), whose central character is an aesthetics specialist indignant with the state of modern man. The performances taking place on the ground floor gravitate around the concepts of ‘sacrifice’ and ‘mercy’, which also permeate the video-installation on the first floor made from footage shot in São Paulo, addressing the city's crude violent nature. Xing brings together different tensions to comment on the current state of flux we are living in and the deep-rooted changes societies are going through.

Acantilado, series 5, 2017, felt sculpture. Courtesy: the artist and Galeria Eduardo Fernandes, São Paulo

Rosario López, ‘Absence of Landscape’
Galeria Eduardo Fernandes
30 August – 5 October

Colombian artist Rosario López travels far and wide to experience unique locations. In many of which, nature is raw and rugged and the impact of geology and geography is imprinted in striking formations. The wall sculptures, drawings and photograph in this show, from the series ‘La Tierra Importa’ (Land Matters, 2017), are the result of the artist’s time spent in Cape Raoul, Tasmania. Rooted in exploring ‘territory’ as a theme in her work, Lopez studies her area of choice closely, deconstructing her subject in order to reach its essence. The black and white photograph of Cape Raoul on display stands as a testament to her source, setting a reference and encasing visual details, but also hinting at the invisible conditions and influences at different scales that shape it (weather, plate tectonics, flora and fauna). In the case of the works in ‘The Absence of Landscape’, her process results in felt and iron wall sculptures and drawings where contour lines and spaces prevail.

Hector Zamora, Capa-Canal, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and Luciana Brito Galeria, São Paulo

Hector Zamora
Luciana Brito Galeria
1 September – 6 October

In the back annex of the modernist house home to Luciana Brito’s gallery, Hector Zamora, a Mexican who lives in Brazil, exhibits his new video-installation Nas Coxas (2018), which is a development from his performance work presented at the 11th Bienal do Mercosul. The original performance comprised 13 people of mixed ethnicities sat on stools rolling clay tiles on their thighs, for two hours. The 500 tiles that were made as a result are exhibited at the gallery alongside the video-installation.

The untitled exhibition's point of departure is the expression in Portuguese ‘made on the thighs’ (feito nas coxas), which means ‘badly done’ and is echoed in the title of the video-installation. There are different theories as to the origin of this expression, but all hail from the same period – when Brazil was a Portuguese colony. Some say the phrase refers to when slaves were made to mould clay tiles on their thighs and others say it comes from a Portuguese expression that connotes sexual relations. To the artist, who says the first theory has been debunked by historians, both contribute to the artwork, which hinges on the incongruities of social relations in Brazil.

‘Acima de Tudo’ (Above All), a new performance by Zamora designed for the gallery’s façade and taking place during the opening of the exhibition, looks at the contradictions of the utopian ideals of Brazilian architectural Modernism.

Minerva Cuevas, La venganza del elefante (The Revenge of the Elephant), 2007, twelve slides from 19th Century illustrations. Courtesy: the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City; photograph: Michel Zabé/Enrique Macías, São Paulo

Minerva Cuevas, ‘Dissidence’
Galpão VB – Associação Cultural Videobrasil
30 August – 15 December

Known for her documentation of political environments to comment on contemporary society and ecological abuses, Mexican artist, Minerva Cuevas’ video-installations and slide-projections are exhibited in the Videobrasil warehouse at a time when changes in Brazilian legislation about the demarcation of indigenous lands, the deforestation of the Amazon and the use of agrochemicals are in motion.

The artist’s first solo exhibition in Brazil takes its name ‘Dissidence’ from Cuevas’ emblematic eponymous work, a video piece that documents political demonstrations and protests in Mexico City, the slums that surround it and the discrepancies between their social narratives and those of corporations. Cuevas often appropriates the language of marketing and advertising, makes use of humour and irony, and dialogues with contemporary pop icons to establish her social narratives.

Patrcio Farías, Equipamento Para Voar Alto (High Flying Equipment), 2005, iron, wood and audio. Courtesy: the artist and Bolsa de Arte

Patricio Farías, ‘As Desauras de Patrício Farías’
Bolsa de Arte
3 September – 17 October

Curated by Adolfo Monetejo Navas, this retrospective of the Chilean artist Patricio Farías compiles artwork made since the 1980s, bringing together a selection of the plurality of mediums he has explored over his decades’ long career.  Farías moved to Brazil in the early 1980s, fleeing the Chilean dictatorship, and this is his first solo show in São Paulo.

Mastering the craftsmanship of shaping wood, metals and cloth into exquisitely rendered three-dimensional pieces, the alluring imaginative machinery and equipment in the exhibition are a highlight. Farias’ work expresses the spirit of an inventor, something that evokes a dialogue with Leonardo da Vinci: socially aware and unhindered by mundane boundaries. In Equipamento do Escalador Social (Social climber’s equipment, 2010), Farias presents an outfit that blends the style of a hazmat suit with the exoskeleton of an exotic creature, bearing a tail and wheels on its portion of trunk. In Equipamento para voar Alto (Equipment to fly high, 2010), another wacky suit bearing wings, a helmet and a rocket for a tail, the artist ignites a sense of naively boundless freedom. Farias’ unique blends of recognizable everyday objects nods towards commentary on consumer society and in O Grande Vidro (The Large Glass, 1998–2010), which explicitly references Marcel Duchamp’s homonymous iconic piece, Farias pays homage to the legacy that preceded him.

The 33rd Bienal de São Paulo runs from 7 September to 9 December 2018 at the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion, Ibirapuera Park.

Main image: Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca,  RISE, 2018, film still. Courtesy: the artists and   Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro.

Camila Belchior is an independent writer, art historian and critic based in São Paulo.