The first Biennial of Contemporary Arts (BoCA) relies on a network of partnerships between 40 Portuguese and international cultural institutions that reinforces the nuclear importance of these organisations. They are, in essence, places of connection, and therefore play a primordial role in people’s lives. Museums, theatres, galleries, nightclubs, public space… The spaces that BoCA inhabits are the new temples of a society facing the reformulation of the pillars of democracy, threatened by the emergence of extreme ideologies propagating separation, fear and uncertainty. In these times and places of worship, contemporary art, even more fundamental today – in this historic moment – lives up to its promise of freedom, fraternity, critical thinking, and celebration of difference. These places are made sacred by virtue of the extraordinary exception that they represent, responding to the need for inclusion, dialogue, and mystification, for a place where we can question and reflect on tomorrow’s society, together. The new temples of contemporaneity, places of refuge and retreat processed through aesthetic experience, are oxygen tanks that hold the promise of safety. A safety so safe that it gives us the confidence that we need to walk through the shadows and darkness – in other words, to risk and to hope.
Like an agora, BoCA asserts itself as a place of thinking, discovery, fantasy, and festivity. It claims the gaze of the spectator with artwork that hides or exposes – or even overexposes, like Poe’s stolen letter – different points of view on society and its political, social, economic, philosophical, gendered, and technological questions, among others. Contemporary art has an almost divine power to make us remember who we are and where we are, the sacred power to remind us just how profound and fragile our humanity is.
The more than 30 artworks produced, co-produced, and/or presented at BoCA stand for the questions and gestures that translate our era. These are artists who question our times, throw themselves into unknown intimacy, and question their own aesthetics and languages, putting the present at the heart of their work and their hearts in the present questioning of their work.
There is a dialectic of images presented in this programme, designed in different cities, countries, and cultures. Most of the artists that are part of the programme are, at this very moment, reflecting, raising questions, and creating new work commissioned by BoCA, which will premiere in Lisbon and Oporto. Despite the space and time that separates them, their different cultures and physical, sensorial, and intellectual experiences, points of contact are being drawn between them: themes, aesthetics, vibrations, and references, marked by the general feeling of uncertainty in which we live. In this atmosphere of ambient fear (M. Doel and D. Clarke), things arrive without warning and leave without notice. We prefer not to live in a world that hides mysteries, while pretending that it doesn’t. We prefer to live the mystery itself.
There are several artists in the programme that refer to the creation of new rituals or new religiosities, from different perspectives, and with different artistic objects: Swedish artist Anastasia Ax constructs sculptures with bales of recycled paper that are activated through a visceral performance with black paint, drawing parallels to mandalas and their symbolism connected to natural forces of construction and destruction; Rodrigo García presents “Pinball Bosch” at Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, a pinball machine transformed with images and sounds from Bosch’s “The Temptations of Saint Anthony;” at Teatro Nacional São Carlos, François Chaignaud and Marie-Pière Brébant present a recital/durational installation based on the music of Hildegarda de Bingen (12th century) that puts their vision at the service of the divine through a carnal and meditative relationship; Nepalese-Tibetan Aisha Devi and Chinese visual artist Tianzhuo Chen create a musical performance at Lux that combines religious symbols and iconography from urban subcultures; choreographer Mariana Tengner Barros directs and performs the durational piece “Instructions for the Gods – i4G” at Museu Nacional do Chiado, in collaboration with fashion designer Estelita Mendonça and musician Johnny Kadaver; and Russian artist Kiril Savchenkov, whose videos will be projected on the facade of Casa da Música, presents “Museum of Skateboarding,” a survival guide for skateboarders in the city that includes an exercise routine with mantras, breathing exercises, and philosophical epigrams. This new religiosity, releasing us from the dictatorship of reality into critical fantasy, is also present in the projects connected to technology, such as “Dead Drops” in the streets of Lisbon and Oporto, by German artist Aram Barthol, in Portugal for the first time; in the performance-installation “1k ways to die” by Swedish artist Florentina Holzinger in collaboration with Spanish artist Claudia Maté, an exponent of digital art, both also coming to Portugal for the first time; or in the dance piece “Meeting” by award-winning Australian choreographers Anthony Hamilton & Alisdair Macindoe, who bring 64 robotic percussion instruments to a spare choreography. These are just some of the elements being woven together for BoCA that, through their various intersections, cross-overs and paradoxes, give form to a movement that, while essentially cultural, is social and political.
A NETWORK OF SINERGIES
BoCA is a laboratory for cultural democratization. From 17 March to 30 April, our activities are centred in Lisbon and Oporto, but will then expand outwards, as the pieces premiered at the biennial are presented in 5 regions in the country and internationally. This unfolding and expansion is a return on the investment of artists and participants (audience members, among others): audiences encounter and are in contact with artwork and new artists, and the artists in turn tour their work, nationally and internationally.
Another pillars of BoCA is its outreach programme that covers 4 cities in the country (Lisbon, Oporto, Castelo Branco and Braga) and includes different actions: laboratories of thought and creation, workshops, conferences, debates, and meetings with artists. Through this contact with students and teachers, universities and technical schools, BoCA engages with non-specialised audiences including teenagers, young people, and seniors, that accompany the preparations for the biennial and follow the creation of new work through to its premiere. The BoCA under-21 team, made up of young people under the age of 21, is a good example of this. Over three months, they will accompany the preparations for the biennial and the work of the Portuguese artists involved, resulting in a documentation project and regular posts on the biennial blog. I would like to highlight the BoCA video library, located in the foyer of Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, where you can watch or re-watch work that is not otherwise available.
Conceived as a transversal and expanded event, BoCA creates synergy between people and national and international cultural institutions (museums, galleries, theatres, night clubs), including occasional actions in public space, between artistic territories (visual arts, performing arts, performance, and music) and their respective audiences. This unique synergy enables the general population to access a plurality of creativity and promotes dialogue between individuals, groups with specific characteristics, and communities that do not usually communicate.
The programme includes projects with metaphorical ideas and images that reflect the double relationship of art with poetry and politics. The group of images produced by artists that are part of the programme highlights the role of artists as ‘semionauts’ (Nicolas Bourriaud). They make use of different times and styles, and from signs that belong to time-spaces that are distant from each other, create images that reflect a globalised vision of culture. This vision reflects the times in which we live – a liquid generation, marked by speed, technology, and the expansion of (virtual) knowledge that uproots the body from its native land, because “we are perfect nomads,” as Paul Virilio writes. Artists have absorbed this quality of globalisation, and their languages, floating through mixed territories, frequently reflects the current juxtaposition of material and digital worlds.
In response to this quality, during the two years of preparation of the first BoCA, I met with artists to propose they create original work outside of their areas of expertise or the venues they normally inhabit. These supposedly “deviant” proposals are nothing more than the members of a body-identity that each artist has composed and is entirely their own. Extracting a quality or characteristic from their existing work, I suggested, for example, to visual artists João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva, that they design an exhibition for the stage of Teatro Nacional D. Maria II. I made a proposal to Argentinian dramaturge and director Rodrigo García that he create an installation for Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga; and to Salomé Lamas that she conceive her first piece for the theatre. Other artists submitted their own proposals to create work in a different medium: Cuban artist-activist Tania Bruguera confessed her wish to stage Beckett’s Endgame, a text she had read in 1995 and still kept, filled with notes. The piece will premiere in Oporto and go on to tour internationally. The artistic duo Ana Borralho & João Galante will premiere a concert-installation for a non-theatre space, the Pavilhão Branco of Museu da Cidade.
BoCA is a place of intersections, exceptions, reflections, and artistic experimentation, but it is not limited to art. The dynamic of exchange operating between institutions, concerning artists and audiences, allows Portuguese and international audiences to discover a vast and diverse programme in the field of visual and performing arts, performance art, and music, through a mapping of the cultural institutions that stand together to open their doors to the first BoCA.
The biennial is a shared gesture that puts the world in motion: artists, technicians, producers, audiences, programmers, artistic directors, critics, thinkers, politicians, citizens of the world – they, in their diversity, with one movement, BoCA. I, instigator of this shared gesture, position myself as artistic director but also as an artist: I question the creative and constructive processes, the places of representation and transmission, the role of the artist and the audience. The choice to have four resident artists for 2017-2018 – French choreographer and performer François Chaignaud, Portuguese visual artists Musa paradisíaca, Portuguese film director Salomé Lamas, and Cuban performer and artivist Tania Bruguera – is tied to the desire to have a deeper relationship with artists from different artistic territories and countries, thinking together, understanding what motivates them, helping them to produce and premiere new work in Portugal that is open to the world.
To see and make visible are two gestures that are tested in this programme, reflecting on the unsettling power of art that questions our gaze and reveals what surrounds us. This is my proposal for audiences, that they look through the eyes of the artists, that they allow themselves to experience other spaces – new temples – freely, that they meet other audiences, that they exchange perspectives, that they become part of the movement that is BoCA; a movement that inscribes itself in the city, leaving a trace and colour – like the skateboarders who quickly colour the streets of Lisbon and Oporto in the BoCA promotional video.
See you around.