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Breaking the Silence on the Art World: ArtLeaks Gazette Launch @ Brecht Forum (May 4th, NYC)

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546092_490420224358441_679844155_nCredit: Zampa di Leone

We are happy to share with you the details of the official public launch of our ArtLeaks Gazette which will take place at the Brecht Forum in NYC on Saturday, May 4th from 7 PM!  Hope to see many of you there – we promise it will be  an exciting evening! Please help us spread the word by sharing this announcement!

ArtLeaks members would like to initiate an open discussion at the Brecht Forum in NYC on May 4th from 7 PM, around our upcoming ArtLeaks Gazette, focused on establishing a politics of truth by breaking the silence on the art world. This will be the official public launch of our gazette, which will be available online and in print at the beginning of May 2013, and will be followed by a series of debates in the near future.

Artleaks was founded in 2011 as an international platform for cultural workers where instances of abuse, corruption and exploitation are exposed and submitted for public inquiry. After almost two years of activity, some members of ArtLeaks felt an urgent need to establish a regular online publication as a tool for empowerment, reflection and solidarity. (More about us here: http://art-leaks.org/about.)

Recently, this spectrum of urgencies and the necessity to address them has come sharply into the focus of fundamental discussions in communities involved in cultural production and leftist activist initiatives. Among these, we share the concerns of groups such as the Radical Education Collective (Ljubljana), Precarious Workers’ Brigade (PWB) (London), W.A.G.E. (NYC), Arts &Labor (NYC), the May Congress of Creative Workers (Moscow), Critical Practice (London) and others.

Eager to share our accumulated knowledge and facilitate a critical examination of the current conditions of the cultural field from a global perspective, we are equally interested in questioning, with the help of the participants in the event, the particular context of New York City with its cultural institutions, scenes and markets.

The event will be divided in two parts. In the first, we will announce and present the forthcoming ArtLeaks Gazette. Focusing on the theme “Breaking the Silence – Towards Justice, Solidarity and Mobilization,” the structure of the publication comprises six major sections: A. Critique of cultural dominance apparatuses; B. Forms of organization and history of struggles; C. The struggle of narrations; D. Glossary of terms; E. Education and its discontents; and F. Best practices and useful resources (More here http://art-leaks.org/artleaks-gazette.) This publication gathers contributions from different parts of the globe, highlighting both historical initiatives and emerging movements that engage issues related to cultural workers rights, censorship, repression and systemic exploitation under conditions of neoliberal capitalism.

This also becomes an opportunity to bring up for discussion a series of questions that have defined ArtLeaks’ activity and that we would like to tackle anew in conjunction with local cultural producers in the second part of the event: What are the conditions of the possibility of leaking information concerning institutional exploitation, censorship, and corruption in the art world? What does it mean to speak the truth in the art field and to whom may it be addressed? What analogies and what models can we use in order to describe and operate within the conditions in which cultural workers pursue their activities? We aim to bestow a greater level of concreteness to these questions by inviting the participants to share its own concerns and experiences related to inequality of chances, structural injustice and forced self-censorship within the context of their work. We are also interested in discussing current collaborations and future alliances and projects that unite common struggles across international locales. Visual and scriptural material which documents the evening will be uploaded on the ArtLeaks platform.

Gazette Contributors: Mykola Ridnyi, Gregory Sholette, Marsha Bradfield & Kuba Szreder (Critical Practice), Fokus Grupa, Amber Hickey, Lauren van Haaften-Schick, Organ kritischer Kunst, Veda Popovici, Milena Placentile, Jonas Staal & Evgenia Abramova

Gazette Editors: Corina L. ApostolVladan Jeremić, Vlad Morariu, David Riff & Dmitry Vilensky

Editing Assistance: Jasmina Tumbas

Graphic Intervetions: Zampa di Leone

Facilitators of the event @ Brecht Forum: Corina Apostol & Dmitry Vilensky

The Brecht Forum has a  donation sliding scale of $6 to $15. We recommend registering for this event in advance here. Even if you are unable to make a donation, we still encourage you to come – we will not turn away anyone that wishes to participate in the discussions.

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Filed under activism, contemporary art, critical thought, open letters, manifestos, appeals

São Paulo Is Burning: A Response

Editor’s note. On September 27, we posted an open declaration, entitled São Paulo Is Burning: The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial, in which the so-called Argentinean Brigade for Dilma and its supporters alleged that curators at the 29th São Paulo Biennial censored a work by the artist Roberto Jacoby. We have just received a response to this declaration from Moacir dos Anjos and Agnaldo Farias, the chief curators of the biennial, and at their request have reproduced it here in full, in Portuguese and English.

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Em resposta ao texto São Paulo Arde: o espectro da polítca na Bienal, divulgado pelo artista Roberto Jacoby em seguida à solicitação de retirada ou encobrimento de parte da obra El alma nunca piensa sin imagen, exibida na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo, os curadores-chefes da exposição vêm a público declarar o seguinte:

1. Ao contrário do que o texto afirma, em momento algum o projeto apresentado à curadoria da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo pelo Sr. Roberto Jacoby fazia referência direta à campanha presidencial no Brasil. Em todas as inúmeras comunicações feitas (por email, skype e telefone), o artista afirmou querer refletir sobre processos eleitorais a partir de uma campanha fictícia e hipotética. O conteúdo das informações fornecidas pelo artista está expresso no texto que apresenta sua obra, publicado no catálogo e no site da exposição.

2. O fato de as imagens dos candidatos Dilma Roussef (PT) e José Serra (PSDB) estarem publicadas no catálogo e no site da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo não atesta, em absoluto, o conhecimento prévio da curadoria sobreo conteúdo do trabalho tal como apresentado no espaço expositivo. As imagens foram entregues pelo artista apenas ao final do prazo de fechamento da edição do catálogo, com o objetivo suposto (nenhuma informação específica ou diferente daquelas anteriormentes fornecidas foi oferecida pelo artista) de simbolizar a referida campanha fictícia e hipotética, dada a fácil identificação das imagens com o tema do trabalho. Não aceitá-las significaria deixar as páginas do catálogo em branco e não confiar na palavra do artista sobre o conteúdo de sua participação na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo. Presunção que se mostrou, como o desenrolar dos fatos iria provar, pouco prudente.

3.  Ao iniciar a montagem do trabalho, o artista e demais membros de sua equipe vestiam camisetas em apoio à candidata Dilma Roussef e passaram a desenrolar e a exibir partes das fotografias dos candidatos que afixariam em seguida nas paredes (registre-se que tais fotografias foram produzidas sem controle e sem qualquer conhecimento da instituição, por decisão do artista). Simultaneamente, foi publicada matéria no jornal O Estado de São Paulo sobre o suposto conteúdo do trabalho do artista para a 29ª Bienal de São Paulo, a partir de entrevista feita com Roberto Jacoby: estabelecer um comitê de campanha para Dilma Roussef no interior da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo, chamado “Brigada Argentina por Dilma”.

4. A curadoria imediatamente alertou o artista para os possíveis problemas que esse projeto poderia causar, por estar infrigindo Lei Federal que proíbe a realização de propaganda eleitoral em prédios públicos (o pavilhão da Bienal é propriedade da Prefeitura de São Paulo) durante o período de campanha política. Essa infração seria ainda acompanhada por uma outra igualmente grave: fazer campanha eleitoral com recursos públicos (a 29ª Bienal de São Paulo é majoritariamente financiada com recursos públicos provenientes da Lei Rouanet). O Sr. Roberto Jacoby tranquilizou os curadores, afirmando que não descumpriria nenhuma lei brasileira, e que não nos preocupássemos.  Segundo nos garantiu, os jornalistas teriam interpretado mal o que havia dito. Uma vez mais, confiamos e acreditamos no artista. Recorremos na imprudência.

5. Na noite de abertura da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo para convidados (21 de setembro), o Sr. Roberto Jacoby e os demais membros da “Brigada Argentina por Dilma” distribuíram ao público, ao contrário do que o artista havia afirmado, farta propaganda eleitoral em favor de Dilma Roussef, além de difundirem, em monitor posto na sala de exposição, depoimentos gravados de várias pessoas em apoio à candidata.

6. Alertados por membros do próprio Governo Lula (preocupados com a possível repercussão negativa que o uso de recursos liberados pelo Ministério da Cultura fossem utilizados para fazer campanha ilegal de sua candidata) e por juristas consultados informamente, a Presidência da Fundação Bienal de São Paulo decidiu consultar formalmente a justiça eleitoral sobre a situação. A resposta foi bastante clara: o trabalho do Sr. Roberto Jacoby configurava crime eleitoral e poderia, se autuado e julgado como tal, comprometer a capacidade da instituição em estabelecer convênios com órgãos públicos no futuro . A Presidência da Fundação Bienal de São Paulo e a curadoria da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo decidiram não incorrer em riscos que, causados pela má-fé do Sr. Roberto Jacoby, pudessem comprometer o processo de recuperação da instituição, que há menos de dois anos era dada como falida. Como gestores públicos, seria ato de injustificável irresponsabilidade com um bem público que ora é devolvido à sociedade brasileira.

7. Ao contrário do que o texto divulgado pelo Sr. Roberto Jacoby afirma, o alerta de um dos curadores a respeito dos riscos de penalização pessoal da situação se referia ao próprio artista, e não aos curadores. Se a instituição Fundação Bienal de São Paulo era, perante a justiça, certamente co-responsável pela situação, do ponto de vista pessoal era o artista quem estava infrigindo a lei eleitoral do país. Esperamos, contudo, que essa falsa informação contida no texto tenha sido devida a um problema de “desentendimento línguístico” e não a mais um ato de má-fe do artista.

8. Deixe-se aqui claro que a postura da curadoria da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo é a de defender toda e qualquer proposta artística desde que não esteja transgredindo normas legais. Pode-se discordar dessa postura (“covarde”, diria o Sr. Roberto Jacoby), mas acreditamos que é uma postura responsável e ética quando se está trabalhando com recursos públicos, arrecadados e distribuídos também sob preceitos estabelecidos em lei em um regime democrático. É por essa razão que a curadoria está defendendo a permanência de outras obras que também têm se mostrado polêmicas na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo ao mesmo tempo em que solicitou ao Sr. Roberto Jacoby o encobrimento ou retirada unicamente dos itens de sua obra que configuravam propaganda eleitoral em favor da candidata Dilma Roussef. Enquanto as primeiras não estão infrigindo qualquer lei acordada por princípios democráticos (ainda que pessoas ou grupos sociais se sintam ofendidos por elas e se manifestem ativa e livremente contra a permanência dessas obras na mostra dentro e fora do espaço da Bienal), o trabalho do Sr. Roberto Jacoby desafia a lei brasileira que regula campanhas eleitorais no país.

9. Ao contrário do que o documento divulgado pelo Sr. Roberto Jacoby sugere, todo elemento discursivo e participativo que seu projeto continha (debates, oficinas, etc) foi mantido, inclusive com críticas diretas e com frequência ofensivas aos curadores da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo, à instituição e ao sistema da arte em geral. A idéia de que o artista e sua “Brigada Argentina por Dilma” redigissem o texto aqui comentado (São Paulo Arde: o espectro da polítca na Bienal) e o afixasse no espaço expositivo foi, ademais, uma sugestão da própria curadoria, como o próprio Sr. Roberto Jacoby certamente pode atestar. A lastimar apenas a inclusão não-autorizada dos nomes de respeitadas pesquisadoras brasileiras como signatárias desse documento, que, em correspondência privada aos curadores e também aos responsáveis pela divulgação do texto do Sr. Roberto Jacoby, afirmaram não ter concordado nem com o conteúdo nem com os termos do texto escrito pelo artista e que não haviam autorizado a inclusão de seus nomes na lista de seus apoiadores, levando-as a ir pessoalmente ao espaço expositivo para retirar o seu nome da mesma. É lamentável que, mesmo após a manifestação das pesquisadoras, a lista continue a ser divulgada em diversos sítios da internet com suas assinaturas, induzindo os leitores a grave erro. Também ficou acertado entre curadoria e artista, sob o testemunho de diversos outros membros da “Brigada Argentina por Dilma” e da Bienal de São Paulo, que o presente texto, esclarecendo os motivos da curadoria, seria redigido e afixado junto ao texto do artista no espaço expositivo. Assim, em momento algum, a sua “máquina de produzir antagonismos”, como ele mesmo a designa, foi desativada. Os únicos elementos dela retirados foram aqueles que configuravam crime eleitoral no Brasil, conforme dito acima.

10. A posição de vítima em que o Sr. Roberto Jacoby se coloca não condiz com a natureza de seus atos durante todo o processo que antecedeu a abertura da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo. Além dos fatos já relatados acima, o artista e demais membros da “Brigada Argentina por Dilma” criaram, ao longo da montagem da mostra, situações que visaram tão somente acirrar os ânimos entre o grupo e a instituição, em prática que desnuda as práticas políticas que o Sr. Roberto Jacoby realmente preza. O mais grave é que tais práticas tiveram como alvo preferencial o trabalho de outros artistas presentes na mostra, que em dois casos foram literalmente escalados por membros da “Brigada Argentina por Dilma”, colocando em risco a sua integridade (fatos lamentáveis presenciados por dezenas de pessoas que trabalhavam no prédio incluindo, em uma das ocasiões, um dos curadores-chefes). O desrespeito explícito pelo trabalho alheio (também expresso em provocações verbais durante todo o processo de montagem) diz muito do grau de autoritarismo que a prática do Sr. Roberto Jacoby embute, ainda quando travestida de correção política.

11. Por essas razões, é razoável supor que o Sr. Roberto Jacoby não se importe nem um pouco com os desdobramentos negativos que seu trabalho viesse a provocar sobre a inserção da Bienal de São Paulo no corpo social brasileiro, posto que parece basear sua prática em uma oposição simplista e retrógada entre artista e instituição. Menos que um real comprometimento com as mudanças sociais que uma eventual vitória da candidata Dilma Roussef possa representar para o Brasil e o continente latino-americano, o que parece de fato lhe interessar é a criação de um embate artificial entre o seu trabalho e os limites do meio artístico, causando o máximo de efeito midiático em proveito próprio. Não temos quaisquer problemas em admitir que, no presente caso, chegamos aos limites da instituição, e que tal admissão permita que o trabalho do artista “funcione” a contento. Não surpreendentemente, o Sr. Roberto Jacoby afirmou, durante a reunião em que comunicamos a impossibilidade da permanência dos elementos da propaganda eleitoral na obra, que documentaria todo o processo de retirada/encobrimento desses elementos para inclui-lo como parte de projeto para a próxima Bienal de Veneza. O texto supra-referido, acreditamos, certamente também será parte desse trabalho, e desde já autorizamos este nosso texto a também ser integrado ao projeto do Sr. Roberto Jacoby, caso ele assim o deseje e desde que o inclua na íntegra. Nossa contribuição à sua prática.

12. Quanto à referência à inclusão do Tucumán Arde na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo sob o título Grupo de Arte de Vanguardia, em que o Sr. Roberto Jacoby afirma tratar-se de mais uma prova da falta de comprometimento da curadoria com a radicalidade do fato político, temos a declarar o seguinte:  1. São amplamente conhecidas as divergências que existem, entre pesquisadores do tema (inclusive entre alguns dos signatários do documento escrito pelo artista), sobre as formas de apresentação e de nomeação desse complexo evento ocorrido na Argentina em 1968; 2. Optamos por adotar o formato e a maneira de titular em diálogo com pesquisadores e curadores do Museu de Arte Contemporánea de Barcelona (MACBA), proprietário do acervo documental que foi emprestado para exibição na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo. Chega a ser constrangedora, contudo, a aproximação, sugerida no texto divulgado pelo Sr. Jacoby, entre o evento Tucumán Arde e o projeto por ele apresentado na 29ª Bienal de São Paulo em termos de sua relevância politica. Este, sim, é um fato que diz muito a respeito dos abusos que a palavra “política” é hoje submetida no campo da arte.

Moacir dos Anjos  e Agnaldo Farias, curadores-chefes da 29ª Bienal de São Paulo

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In response to the text São Paulo Arde: o espectro da política na Bienal (São Paulo Is Burning: The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial), made public by the artist Roberto Jacoby as a riposte to the demand that part of his work El alma nunca piensa sin imagen, featured at the 29th São Paulo Bienal, be removed or covered over, the chief curators of the exhibition wish to declare the following:

1. Contrary to affirmations in the abovementioned text, at no time did the project for the work submitted to the curators of the 29th São Paulo Biennial make any direct reference to the 2010 presidential elections in Brazil. Throughout the extensive communication maintained with Mr. Jacoby (by e-mail, Skype and telephone), the artist asserted that he intended to use a fictitious and hypothetical campaign as a platform for reflection upon electoral processes in general. The information supplied by the artist can be seen in the text presenting his work in the exhibition catalogue and on the Biennial website.

2. The fact that the photographs of the candidates Dilma Roussef (PT) and José Serra (PSDB) were published in the 29th São Paulo Biennial catalogue and website in absolutely no way attests to any prior knowledge of the final content of the work on the part of the curators. The pictures were delivered by the artist at the very last moment before the publication went to print, with the supposed objective (the artist gave us no reason to think otherwise) of merely symbolizing the abovementioned fictitious and hypothetical campaign, given the ready identification between the images and the theme of the work. To not have accepted them would have meant leaving catalogue pages blank and not taking the artist at his word. As the subsequent facts would categorically show, our trust was misplaced.

3.  During the installation of the work, the artist and his team wore T-shirts in support of Dilma Roussef and began to unfold and display the photographs of the candidates that were then fixed to the walls (note that these photographs were produced, at the artist’s behest, without the knowledge of, or input from, the institution). In tandem with this, an article based on an interview with Roberto Jacoby appeared in the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo discussing the alleged intent behind the artist’s work: to set up a Dilma Roussef campaign post, under the title “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma,” inside the 29th São Paulo Biennial.

4. The curators immediately notified the artist of the possible problems this project could cause, as it constituted an infringement of Brazilian electoral law, which prohibits political propaganda in public buildings during electoral campaigns (the Biennial Pavilion belongs to the municipality of São Paulo). On top of this infraction was another ­− no less grave − that concerned the use of public funds for campaign purposes (the 29th Biennial derives most of its funding from government-sponsored tax rebates through the Rouanet Law). Alleging that he had been misinterpreted by the journalists, Mr. Jacoby assured the curators that his work would not be in breach of any Brazilian legislation and that there was no need to worry. Once again, our trust was misguided.

5. On the opening night of the 29th São Paulo Biennial (September 21), contrary to the assurances made to the curators, Mr. Roberto Jacoby and the rest of his “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma” not only distributed campaign pamphlets in favor of Dilma Roussef, but ran video footage featuring declarations of support for the candidate.

6. Alerted by members of the Lula government (concerned with the repercussions of Culture Ministry funds being used to campaign illegally for their candidate) and by jurists consulted informally, the Presidency of the São Paulo Biennial Foundation decided to consult the electoral tribunal as to the legality of the situation. The response was unequivocal: Mr. Roberto Jacoby’s work constituted an electoral crime that, if prosecuted, could disqualify the institution from receiving public funds in the future. The Presidency and curatorship of the 29th São Paulo Biennial decided not to take any risks that might – by Mr. Jacoby’s willful deception – compromise the drive to restore the image of an institution considered practically defunct only two years earlier. As public administrators, to have run such a risk would have been an unjustifiable irresponsibility toward a public asset and Brazilian society.

7. Contrary to assertions in Mr. Jacoby’s text, the warning made by one of the curators concerning the possible penalization referred specifically to Mr. Jacoby and not to the curators. While the São Paulo Biennial Foundation was certainly co-responsible for the contravention, personal responsibility for infringing the nation’s electoral legislation lay with Mr. Jacoby alone. We hope that this disinformation was due to some “linguistic misunderstanding” on the part of Mr. Jacoby, rather than another attempt to deceive.

8. Let it be made clear that the curatorial policy of the 29th São Paulo Biennial is to defend all artistic projects so long as they abide by the legal norms. Some may disagree with this policy (deemed “cowardly” by Mr. Jacoby), but we believe that there is no other responsible or ethical position to assume when handling public resources raised and disbursed according to precepts established under democratic law. In line with this posture, the curators have defended the permanence of other works considered controversial at the 29th São Paulo Biennial and requested that Mr. Jacoby cover or remove only those aspects of his work that constituted pro-Dilma Roussef propaganda. The difference between these other much-criticized works (considered offensive by certain individuals and social groups that demonstrated freely, both inside and outside the Biennial, against their presence in the exhibition) and Mr. Jacoby’s is that while the latter infringes upon the legislation that regulates electoral campaigning in Brazil, the former break no laws.

9. Contrary to what the text released by Mr. Jacoby suggests, every single discursive and participative element in his work was maintained (debates, workshops, etc.), including those with direct criticisms of and frequent offences against the curators of the Biennial, the institution itself and the art system in general. The idea that the artist and his “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma” should write the text mentioned here (“São Paulo Is Burning: The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial”) and post it on the wall in the exhibition space was, in fact, a suggestion from the curators, as Mr. Jacoby could surely confirm. However, we deplore the unauthorized use of the names of respected Brazilian researchers as signatories of this document, who, in private correspondence with the curators and those responsible for publicizing Mr. Jacoby’s text, stated that they did not agree with either the content or the tone of the text and that they had not authorized the inclusion of their names on the list. As a result, they felt compelled to come to the Biennial Pavilion personally to remove their names from the petition. It is lamentable that this list continues to circulate unchanged on websites, inducing the reader to serious error. It was also agreed between the curators and the artist, as witnessed by members of his “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma” and members of the São Paulo Biennial, that the present text, clarifying the position of the curators, would be posted alongside the artist’s in that same exhibition space.  At no time, therefore, was his self-styled “Machine for producing antagonisms” shut down. The only elements removed were those that constituted an electoral crime under Brazilian law.

10. The role of victim Mr. Roberto Jacoby has assumed is not borne out by his conduct throughout the whole process that preceded the opening of the 29th São Paulo Biennial. In addition to the facts related above, the artist and fellow members of the “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma” went out of their way to sour relations between the group and the institution, unmasking exactly the kinds of political practice Mr. Jacoby really upholds. Gravest of all is that the group’s preferred targets were the exhibits of other artists, two of which were literally climbed upon by the “Argentinean Brigade for Dilma,” placing their integrity at risk (lamentable turns of events witnessed by dozens of people working in the building, including, on one occasion, one of the chief curators). This explicit disrespect for the work of others (also expressed through verbal provocations during the installation of the exhibition) says a lot about the level of authoritarianism in Mr. Jacoby’s behavior, albeit dressed up as political correctness.

11. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Mr. Jacoby is not remotely concerned with the negative impact his work could have had on the Biennial’s insertion within the Brazilian social corpus, seeing as he seems to base his practice upon a simplistic and retrograde opposition between the artist and the institution. Rather than a real commitment to the social change that a potential victory of Dilma Roussef might represent for Brazil and Latin America, Mr. Jacoby’s actions betray a desire to engineer a conflict between his work and the limits of the artistic milieu, purely in the interests of media exposure and self-promotion. We have no problem whatsoever in admitting that, in this particular situation, we have come to the limits of the institution, and that, in this sense, Mr. Jacoby’s work “achieved” its desired goal. Not surprisingly, during the meeting at which he was informed of the need to remove elements of electoral propaganda from his work, Mr. Roberto Jacoby said he would document the whole covering/removal of said elements in order to include the footage in the work he is preparing for the next Venice Biennale. We believe that the abovementioned text will also be a part of this work and make a point of authorizing the inclusion of the present text as well, should Mr. Jacoby so wish, and on condition that it be reproduced in full.  Consider it our contribution to his process.

12. As for the reference to the inclusion of Tucumán Arde in the 29th São Paulo Biennial under the title Grupo de Arte de Vanguardia, which Mr. Jacoby takes as further proof of the curators’ lack of commitment to the radical nature of the political fact, we would like to declare the following: 1. there is no secret as to the ranging divergences that exist among researchers (including some of the signatories to the artist’s text) concerning how this complex event that took place in Argentina in 1968 should be presented and designated; 2. The adopted format and designation was established through dialogue with researchers and curators from the Museu de Arte Contemporánea de Barcelona (MACBA), the owners of the documental material lent to the 29th São Biennial for exhibition. Mr. Jacoby’s attempt to liken his work presented at the Biennial with Tucumán Arde in terms of political relevance, however, borders on the embarrassing and says a lot about the abuses to which the word “political” is subjected in the art field today.

Moacir dos Anjos and Agnaldo Farias, chief curators of the 29th São Paulo Biennial

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Filed under activism, art exhibitions, censorship, contemporary art, international affairs, open letters, manifestos, appeals

Sao Paulo Is Burning: The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial

Sao Paulo is Burning: The Spectre of Politics at the Biennial

“The 29th Sao Paulo Biennial is anchored in the idea that it is impossible to separate art and politics.” In view of the events of the past 48 hours, there are serious reasons to doubt the honesty of this statement.

The work that is shaping up to become the most interesting at the Sao Paulo Biennial has not been made by any artist, but by the institution itself, when it issued the order to cover some imposing panels with plain paper, to prevent visitors from seeing two large photographs: the friendly, attractive face of Dilma Rousseff opposite the sour expression of José Serra, her Social Democratic rival in Brazil’s presidential elections.

The Argentinean artist Roberto Jacoby’s work for the biennial consisted of socialising his space and allowing it to be managed by the Argentinean Brigade for Dilma, which openly proceeded to spread propaganda in favour of the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate as Lula’s successor, choosing to be part of an exceptional historic moment of unity, solidarity, redistribution and democracy that is opening up in Latin America.

According to the – not very convincing – justification that has been issued by the Sao Paulo Biennial Foundation, a report by the Electoral Attorney General’s office has decreed that the work qualifies as an “electoral offense” in that breaks the law that prohibits the “transmission of propaganda of any nature” in spaces that are run by public authorities. However, the Biennial itself had contacted the legal authorities in the first place to report the work that they had invited.

In a statement to the press, one of the curators of the Biennial, Agnaldo Farias, declared that “we can not contest the court ruling, because we even run the risk of going to jail. If we had known in advance that the work dealt with Dilma, we would have warned the artist, because we’d have known there would be problems.” The curators’ arguments that they had been “taken unawares” by the evolution of the work does not stand up to scrutiny, given that the censured photograph is included in the Biennial’s catalogue and web site.

The only possible response to this cowardly statement is a question: what does an established art curator think he is asking for when he invokes the word “politics”? Aside from this specific case, it is not unusual to see curatorial projects that use the link between “art and politics” to exhibit documentary cemeteries or portraits of faraway strange or poor people. Jacoby’s political artwork at this Biennial effectively opposes the disempowerment of political art that is currently exercised in the institutional mainstream.

So what happens when an artist is serious about the need to turn an artistic space into a public space, in order to generate political confrontation – rather than false consensus – in real time, and in the very belly of the art system? El alma nunca piensa sin imagen / The soul never thinks without images – which is the title of the work – does not just consist of electoral propaganda in favour of Dilma: the section of the exhibition allocated to Jacoby was also transformed into a machine for producing antagonism between different opinions, taking sides and forcing the art establishment to become involved in a discussion on the verifiable fact that, today, in a geopolitical space like Latin America, there is more experimentation, more creativity and – ultimately – more hope in the realm of politics – from institutions to social movements – than in the contemporary art system.

Jacoby is participating in the Biennial on two counts, given that he is also part of the collective of artists, sociologists and militants from several Argentinean cities who produced the historic exhibition Tucumán Arde (Tucumán is Burning) in 1968, a project that is mistakenly documented on the Biennial web site – and this is a serious and telling symptom – as a work by the Grupo de Arte de Vanguardia of the city of Rosario. Tucumán Arde was closed down at the labour union headquarters in Buenos Aires, due to pressure from the army during the dictatorship of General Onganía: its provocation consisted in overflowing the art system in order to embrace the social protest against the existing system. The other way round, El alma nunca piensa sin imagen seems to have been censured for having brought into the centre of the art system an activity in favour of a non-artistic process that takes place in the political institution. The Argentinean Brigade for Dilma exhibits it as something much more real – in that it is more imperfect and ultimately complex – than the immaculate halo that usually surrounds the word “politics” in curatorial texts.

Buenos Aires / Sao Paulo, September 23rd , 2010

To publicly support this declaration, email:

elalmanuncapiensasinimagen@gmail.com

Please support, distribute, and publish in your blogs.

Members of the Argentinean Brigade for Dilma:

Adriana Minoliti, Alejandro Ros, Ana Longoni, Alina  Perkins, Cecilia Sainz, Cecilia Szalkowicz, Daniel Joglar, Fernanda Laguna, Francisco Garamona, Florencia Hipolitti, Paula Bugni, Hernán Paganini, Javier Barilaro, José Fernández Vega, Julia Ramírez, Kiwi Sainz, Laura Escobar, Lidia Aufgang, Lucas Rubinich, Mariano Andrade, Mariela Scafati, Mariela Bond, María Granillo, Nacho Marciano, Roberto Jacoby, Santiago Villanueva, Syd Krochmalny, Tomás Espina, Víctor Florido, Victoria Colmegna.

Supporting this declaration (updated: 25/9/2010)

Marcelo Expósito (Barcelona/Buenos Aires), Gachi Hasper (Buenos Aires), Diana Aisenberg (Buenos Aires), Cecilia Sainz (Buenos Aires), Federico Geller (Buenos Aires), Helena Chávez (México), Fernanda Nogueira (Sao Paulo), Miguel López (Lima), Francisco Reyes Palma (México), Marina de Caro (Buenos Aires), Octaviano Moniz Barreto (Bahia), Damián Ríos, Inés Patricio (Rio de Janeiro), Hugo Salas, Guadalupe Maradei (Buenos Aires), Federico Brollo (Buenos Aires), Hugo Vidal (Buenos Aires), Leo Ramos (Resistencia), Ramiro Larraín (Buenos Aires), Inés Martino (Rosario), Compartiendo Capital (Rosario), David Gutiérrez Castañeda (México/Bogotá), Hernán Rodolfo Ulm (Argentina), Beba Eguía (Buenos Aires), Ricardo Piglia (Buenos Aires), Mariana Serbent (Mendoza), Laura García Hernàndez, Magdalena Jitrik (Buenos Aires), José Curia, Leandro Katz (Buenos Aires), Adrián Pérez (Buenos Aires), Eduardo Grüner (Buenos Aires), Carolina Senmartín (Còrdoba), Mariana Botey (México), Carlos Aranda (México), Daniel Duchowney (Argentina), Aldo Ambrozio (Brasil), Carlos Banzi (Argentina), José Luis Meirás (Buenos Aires), Gabriela Nouzeilles (Princeton), Lía  Colombino (Asunción), Museo del Barro (Asunción), Taller Crìtica (Asunción), Fernando Davis (Buenos Aires), William López (Bogotá), José Ignacio Otero (Buenos Aires), Leonardo Retamoso Palma (Santa María), Emilio Tarazona (Lima), Ricardo Resende (Sao Paulo), María Cristina Pérez (Rosario), Gustavo López (Bahía Blanca), Marcelo Diaz (Argentina), José Luis Tuñón (Comodoro Rivadavia), Carlos Dias (Brasil), Claudia del Río (Argentina), Juan Manuel Burgos (Còrdoba), Marcos Ferreira de Paula (Sao Paulo), Amalia Gieschen (Argentina), Suely Rolnik (Sao Paulo), Cristina Ribas (Rio de Janeiro), André Mesquita (Sao Paulo).

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