Frestas Triennial’s Radical Approach to the International Art Exhibition

At SESC Sorocaba, Brazil, the third edition of the Frestas Triennial of Arts respond to the debates around decolonialization that have dominated the discourse in Latin America for the past two decades

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BY Fernanda Brenner in Exhibition Reviews | 23 SEP 21

O rio é uma serpente’ (The River Is a Serpent), the third edition of the Frestas Triennial of Arts – organized by Beatriz Lemos, Diane Lima and Thiago de Paula Souza – is a curatorial tour-de-force. Most of the works by the 53 participating artists – including rising Brazilian talents Denilson Baniwa, Jota Mombaça, Noara Quintana and Juliana dos Santos, as well as internationally acclaimed artists Laura Lima, Paulo Nazareth and Fernando Palma Rodríguez – are installed in the large underground carpark of the Serviço Social do Comércio (Social Service of Commerce) in Sorocaba, one of the few cultural venues in this wealthy, industrial city 90 kilometres from São Paulo.

Postponed and altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibition is a scaled-down version of the original concept, yet has an all-encompassing vitality, existing – to borrow the title of Rebeca Carapiá’s installation of twisted metal rods in a large asymmetrical base – in an Electric Field (2021). In spite (or perhaps as a consequence) of the unstable conditions of its making, the project seemed to foment more intimate exchanges between the artists and curators involved, awarding the show a stronger sense of urgency and depth. This is evidenced by the strong presence of commissioned works, mostly by a new generation of artists, whose practices have emerged from the ongoing debates around decolonialization that have dominated the discourse in Latin America for the past two decades.

'The Rive Is a Serpent', 2021, exhibition view, Frestas Triennial of Arts, SESC Sorocaba. Courtesy: Frestas Triennial of Arts, SESC Sorocaba; photography: Matheus José Maria
‘The River Is a Serpent’, 2021, exhibition view, Frestas Triennial of Arts, SESC Sorocaba. Courtesy: Frestas Triennial of Arts, SESC Sorocaba; photography: Matheus José Maria

A loud stomping sound, like an exhilarated heartbeat, can be heard throughout the space. On approaching its source, Wallace Ferreira and Davi Pontes’s video Repertorio #2 (2021), we see the two artists, both Black men, naked except for black trainers, performing intense and syncopated moves in what appears to be a high-ceilinged colonial house. According to the artists’ statement about the work, in a country shaped by ongoing racial violence, to dance is a form of self-defence or act of resistance. Pontes and Ferreira stomp to survive; they stomp to refuse the social stigmas inflicted on their bodies. By simply moving as they please, they cast structures of oppression into disarray.

Repertorio #2 is just one of a number of audio-visual works in the space that combine to create a concatenation of sounds, lending the exhibition a somewhat joyous atmosphere. Nonetheless, the works are politically and critically charged, addressing how issues such as climate change, inequality, racism and xenophobia are intrinsically linked to the perverse dominant pillars of heteropatriarchy, global capitalism, coloniality and extractivism. Still, the curators seem to have deliberately avoided overtly discursive artworks or prescriptive or even diagnostic approaches to social reality. Instead, the exhibition presents itself as an accurate and generative site for shared learning, exchange and healing.

Wallace Ferreira and Davi Pontes, Repertorio #2, 2021, video still. Courtesy: the artists and Frestas Triennial of Arts, SESC Sorocaba
Wallace Ferreira and Davi Pontes, Repertorio #2, 2021, video still. Courtesy: the artists and Frestas Triennial of Arts, SESC Sorocaba

Dalton Paula’s Cura B (Care B, 2016) is emblematic of the exhibition’s focus on spirituality and care for human and nonhuman beings within a radical social-justice system. Subtle in comparison to the show’s many large-scale installations, the work comprises a line of delicate oil portraits of healers and caregivers painted onto the covers of encyclopaedias, foregrounding a kind of wisdom that is often perceived as naïf or esoteric over books that, for millennia, have symbolized ‘universal’ knowledge. With this gesture, Paula advocates for the kind of politics that defends a relational perspective on life, attained through the reweaving of community, as opposed to the objectification of social relations that promotes dissociated interactions, which is more prevalent in contemporary Western societies.

After visiting the show, I drove back to São Paulo with a renewed enthusiasm for art – and life. The radical approach taken by the curators and the artistic practices on view made me think that the biennial and triennial models – often perceived as worn-out – can still sometimes operate beyond the suffocations of established knowledge systems and power structures. And, when that happens, we must always celebrate.

O rio é uma serpente (The River Is a Serpent), the third edition of the Frestas Triennial of Arts, is on view at SESC Sorocaba until 30 January 2022.

Main image: SESC Sorocaba. Courtesy: Frestas Triennial of Arts, SESC Sorocaba; photography: Mirella Ghiraldi
Thumbnail image: ‘The River Is a Serpent’, 2021, exhibition view, Frestas Triennial of Arts, SESC Sorocaba. Courtesy: Frestas Triennial of Arts, SESC Sorocaba; photography: Matheus José Maria

Fernanda Brenner is the founder and Artistic Director of Pivô, an independent non-profit art space in São Paulo, and a contributing editor of frieze

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