The educational curator of the 12th Mercosul Biennial, Igor Simões, comments on the specifications of the 12th edition of the exhibit which has taken place in Porto Alegre since 1997. Originally planned to open in April 2020, the conception for the Biennial, titled Feminino(s): visualidades, ações e afetos (The feminine(s): visualities, action and affection), came from a thematic approach more sensitive to issues such as gender and race. Having suspended the physical opening planned for April, due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was decided that a series of interviews with the artists, team and curators would be published on a digital platform. In his interview, Simões reminds us of the important role the Biennial plays in educating the public and professionals, as well as of how crucial exchange with other South American countries is in the context of contemporary art.
C&AL: How important is the Mercosul Biennial to the reshaping of Brazil’s contemporary art scene away from the Rio-São Paulo axis? And how does the event stimulate the cultural center in Brazil’s Southern region?
Igor Simões: The Mercosul Biennial has always been particularly focused and had a certain perspective on education, which intensified with the 6th edition (2006). This has always been a specific principle of the exhibit. Although the concern varies with each edition, the Mercosul Biennial has always been known for its educational perspective, which has had a series of local effects. Today, in graduate programs, in the universities, there is a large number of heirs to the Biennial. This is because, here in Rio Grande do Sul, it has taken on an educational role: simple things, like producing a workforce that is able to handle setting up an exhibition in a Biennial format, or training people who are going to think about cultural mediation. This has had a direct impact on local institutions.
It is a cultural event that must always be thought of in systemic and geopolitical terms. The Biennial came about at a euphoric time with respect to the working of the economy through blocs. It was born as part of a broader strategy to stabilize certain cultural capitals. Porto Alegre, in this sense, was elected to be a sort of Mercosul cultural capital. Certain areas of the city welcomed institutions like the Iberê Camargo Foundation, for example, which turned up in an area dislocated from the downtown area. That produced a new type of management of that space which has to engage with very tough social issues, such as, for instance, gentrification and the socio-spatial segregation as a result of it.
C&AL: And the interest in Latin American art? How has this been accomplished from the start of the Biennial and what effects can be observed in its artistic production?
IS: The first edition of the Mercosul Biennial (1997) was curated by the historian, critic and curator Frederico Morais. In the opening text of the catalogue, he reflected on writing Latin American art history. When people look at the first Biennial, they notice there was a whole effort to think about Latin American art history. It’s interesting to observe how the notions of “art” and of “Latin American” were being negotiated in each of the subsequent editions.
This debate, that starts in the South of Brazil, is important, because it has also produced a kind of very characteristic thought in the universities. I’d say that around here we are more aware of these Latin American issues compared to what I see in other regions of Brazil. The Biennial accentuates this interest in the region. Its emergence/establishment carries this weight, because it reveals the way contemporary art is discussed from here in the South. It’s interesting, for instance, to notice this in the repertoires that circulate among local artists: they reflect a view on the Pampa (the Plains of Rio Grande do Sul) and the relationship with Latin America.