Anozero’19 Bienal de Coimbra A Terceira Margem
Coimbra hosts the third edition of the Biennial of Contemporary Art – Anozero’19. The biennial was curated by Brazilian curator Agnaldo Farias, and Portuguese Lígia Afonso and Brazilian Nuno de Brito Rocha as assistant curators. The project A Terceira Margem presents the work of these artists: Alexandra Pirici, Ana María Montenegro, Ana Vaz, Anna Boghiguian, António Olaio, Belén Uriel, Bouchra Khalili, Bruno Zhu, Cadu, Daniel Senise, Daniel V. Melim, David Claerbout, Erika Verzutti, Eugénia Mussa, Joanna Piotrowska, João Gabriel, João Maria Gusmão e Pedro Paiva, José Bechara, José Spaniol, Julius von Bismarck, Laura Vinci, Luis Felipe Ortega, Luís Lázaro Matos, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Magdalena Jitrik, Maria Condado, Mariana Caló e Francisco Queimadela, Marilá Dardot, Mattia Denisse, Maya Watanabe, Meriç Algün, Przemek Pyszczek, Renato Ferrão, Rita Ferreira, Steve McQueen, Susan Hiller and Tomás Cunha Ferreira.
The biennial takes place in various parts of the city – Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova, São Francisco Convent, Science Museum (Chemical Laboratory, Natural History Gallery and Physics Office), Círculo Sereia, Círculo Sede, Colégio das Artes, Edifício Chiado, Sala da Cidade and Galerias Avenida – and is jointly organised by the Coimbra Fine Arts Circle (CAPC), the University of Coimbra and the City Council of Coimbra. Two parallel programmes were organised in the biennial: ativação, developed by the students of the Master’s Degree in Curatorship of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Coimbra; and convergente, which are various exhibitions and projects organised by other entities, in different cultural spaces of the city.
QUESTIONS AND IDEAS
The programming and production of a biennial bring pertinent questions, which allow us to understand the intersection between the curatorial project, the works of art that are part of it, and its implementation in the city’s urban fabric where they take place. These are some of the questions:
– What is the role of biennials in the cultural and political context of cities? According to Anozero’s text, the aim of the biennial is to promote a broad discussion and “confrontation” between the classification of the University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site and Contemporary Art, seeking to establish itself as a privileged place to question and transform the architectural, social, cultural and political territory in which it is inserted. It is possible to infer that the interests of its promoters would be guaranteed: the municipality would politically benefit from the contemporary visibility of this action; the university would have a space for discussion and knowledge with different cultural agents; and the CAPC would continue to promote and produce discourses of artistic vanguards.
– What’s the theme of the biennial? The curatorial project is inspired by the short story A Terceira Margem do Rio, by the Brazilian writer João Guimarães Rosa (1908-1967), published in his first book Primeiras Estórias, in 1962. According to curator Agnaldo Farias, the idea of Coimbra cut by the Mondego River is very “poetic”. The relationship between the movement of the waters and the buzz of the city makes it seem like they are in unison. This friendly relationship may be called into question when the banks of the river invade the city, especially where the old monastery of Santa-Clara used to be, constantly flooded by the river. For this reason, the convent was moved to the highest point of the city, on the opposite bank to the University of Coimbra. In the old place of the monastery, now in ruins, a possible third bank is erected, as a place of seclusion and knowledge, of exception and suspension. In the tale of Guimarães Rosa, a father decides to live in the middle of the river. He did not confront it, but follows it, to a place that was not close to either bank. The whole family ends up abandoning their father, except for the son, who realizes that he has to take the place of the old man. At that moment, the father recognizes him, greets him and addresses him. The son, afraid, runs away and wishes, in his death, to be put in a canoe in the waters that never stop. Through five sentences of the tale, the exhibition develops theoretically in different voices and comprehensive views on the theme of the biennial in particular, and on art in general: “silence”, “passage”, “marginality”, “invention” and “militancy”. Taking into account the curatorial proposal, the third margin is that which does not exist, a place of representation and expression of the sensitive feelings of the contemporary world.
– How do artists respond to the challenges posed? Ideally, in different ways, and without indirectly revealing an illustration of the assumptions, but also without deviating too much from the proposed theme. In new works, the organisation of the biennial should offer artists the conditions for them to show questions in their work and career that need to be clarified or that do not have the conditions to be materialised. Therefore, the way in which these questions concern artists must be analysed according to the consequences they have had on the works presented, and the relevance of the works in which they are presented. Only when these two factors are combined does it become possible to assess the relevance of the biennial in the artistic and cultural context of the city.
One of the most emblematic cases of how artists can overcome their work, without deviating from their practice, are the drawings by Rita Ferreira (1991, Óbidos, Portugal). For this occasion, the artist made four drawings – Figueira-da-Índia, Figueira-da-Índia, Foguete/Malmequer and Figo (2019) – of large dimensions (360 x 270 cm), installed in steely structures at the end of the corridor of the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova. The notion of architectural space – depth and horizon – is constrained by the scale of the drawings, which subjugate the corridor to its condition as a site of passage. At the same time, they transform this space into an exhibition room, in other words, into a privileged space to enjoy works of art. The artist’s courageous gesture in the dimension of the drawings causes a fissure in the space where they are presented.
Another example of this courage is the curatorial project ShipShape by Tomás Cunha Ferreira (1973, Lisbon, Portugal), installed at the CAPC – Círculo Sereia. Through the collection, archiving and presentation of books by artists and works of concrete and visual poetry by different artists, the curator-artist makes a coherent and meaningful exhibition under the context of the biennial. In addition to an intoxicating and welcoming montage, the relationship between writing and its visuality seems to be part of a hybrid and transcendent space, in a kind of poetic questioning about whether what one reads and sees is actually related to its content and form.
The delirious project Eclipse – Interstellar Journey to the English Countryside (2019), by Luis Lázaro Matos (1987, Évora, Portugal), in Edífico Chiado, located downtown, shows three paintings of the stereotyped image of extraterrestrials in a cosmic environment, where spheres like planets spread throughout the site. In this inventive creation, which shows the imagination as a place of passage, the artist did a performance during the inauguration, reading a personal text about his love relationships, in contrast to the alien life. Therefore, artistic space no longer relates only to its social, political, historical and cultural condition, but rises and is suspended in a privileged place filled with humour and cynicism. Another project that questions the fictional space is Estudos das passagens (2019) by Renato Ferrão (1975, Famalicão, Portugal). The artist transforms small rooms of the convent into a temporal and narrative installation, with luminous objects that project a ghost cat that follows the viewer.
Although not all works are new, the efforts of João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva (1979 and 1978, Lisbon, Portugal), Mariana Caló and Francisco Queimadela (1984, Viana do Castelo and 1985, Coimbra, Portugal) and Belén Uriel (1974, Madrid, Spain) are interesting approaches to a place full of intentions. All the works were installed in the Monastery of Santa-Clara-a-Nova and put the spectator in a place of meditation and contemplation. If the first works (Gusmão and Paiva, and Caló and Queimadela) darken the space to bring out the light of the projections, Uriel’s works contrast with the inhospitality of the monastery, both in one of the small rooms with objects of homelike dimensions, and in the glass wall that emphasizes the monastery’s the natural light.
The video Landscape painting (2015) by Julius von Bismarck (1983, Breisach am Rhein, Germany) reveals an annulment of reality. By painting a landscape in white, the artist erases the history and intentions of this place. This intentional gesture is quite pertinent in an increasingly oppressive society, which never puts itself in a silent place to simply contemplate or listen to the other. The work of the artist Marilá Dardot (1973, Belo Horizonte, Brazil) is visible only from the outside and occupies the monastery’s façade. Like other works of the artist, the juxtaposition and dislocation of meanings are the source of her work. Therefore, the artist paints a sentence from the poem Ricochete, by Natália Correia, which dialogues with the tale of Guimarães Rosa, the biennial’s motto. In a small chapel outside the monastery, the artist presents the surprising video Ir e volver (2019), which paints and repaints on a wall the sentence “A la esperanza vuelvo” and the persistent phrase vanishes. Both artists – Bismarck and Dardot – reflect on the importance of the surrounding space to enjoy the works of art.
Contrary to past editions, and even with access to works by ironic artists such as Susan Hiller and Steve McQueen, it seems that this biennial’s edition has failed to present high-profile projects and that, to some extent, the biennial’s typical motto of excellence persists. It seems that the artistic projects are too much conditioned to the physical spaces where they were installed, without there being a negotiation of this relationship. Hope will re-emerge two years down the road, when its promoters may not try to occupy their spaces and allow the curatorial project and the artists to occupy the city as they see fit, in a more organic and adjusted relationship with the works presented. Another possibility is to restrict the biennial to the demanding convent and contain the works and the spectators in this enclosure, without the possibility of escape. Even if the curatorial project crosses both banks, the constraints of the physical space cannot contain and castrate the artistic projects. Ultimately, artistic freedom should be privileged to the detriment of the organisational options of an event with the institutional collaboration of the Regional Directorate for Culture of Centro Portugal and Turismo Centro Portugal.