Frestas Triennial Between post-Truth and Events

Tobi Mayer on the postcolonial narratives of the Brazilian triennial

By Tobi Maier

Miro Spinelli, Gordura Trans #16, 2017, performance. Image: Adriano Sobal, courtsy the artist and SESC Sorocaba

SESC Sorocaba and other venues, 12 August – 3 December

While the biennials in São Paulo, Salvador da Bahia, Curitiba and Porto Alegre (inaugurated in 1951, 1966, 1996 and 1993, respectively) have been on the circuit for some years now, Sorocaba is hosting the Frestas Triennial for only the second time. An initiative of the non-profit SESC (thriving on a 1.5% payroll tax on commerce workers), this year’s edition has been curated by Daniela Labra under the title Between post-Truth and Events and features the work of 60 artists. Now a conservative industrial town, Sorocaba had been populated by indigenous Guarani populations until Baltasar Fernandes and the Bandeirantes ‘discoverers’ conquered the land in 1654 and enslaved its inhabitants. This narrative of the city’s ‘founding’ history is told on plaques that seem to have been semi-permanently attached to the monastery and historical museum as well as through public monuments dedicated to the colonisers around town.

Two female Guarani activists, Poty Poran and Eunice Martims, who had been invited to give a public talk by artist Maria Thereza Alves on the triennial’s opening day, narrated the other side of the story, describing the families’ ejection from their lands and the hostile reality of Guarani life in today’s São Paulo state. Afterwards, the audience were led to see a number of traditional Guarani ceramic urns, produced by Alves in collaboration with Maximino Rodrigues, and placed in different locations around the city with the intent of re-inscribing Guarani history in the local imaginary. Alves’s subtle disturbances of the public space are boldly underpinned by Nunca’s mural Fundadores (Founders, 2017) on Praça Coronel Prestes, depicting three Guarani with traditional facepaint watching over the city. Below them the words: Body, Memory, Land, History, Culture, Tradition, Language, Origin and Roots are painted in Portuguese and function as a reminder of the now disenfranchised ancestors.

Inside the main venue the smell of fat permeates the gallery. Miro Spinelli’s performance installation Gordura Trans (2017) features the artist and three other naked performers kneeling and resting between barrels of lard as well as occasionally sculpting the grease onto their bodies and surrounding walls. Asserting their own non-binary gender, the artist’s work provokes discussion on essentialist discourse and fat-phobism reigning not only in the Brazilian province but also in the artworld. The Guerrilla Girls present a selection of four banners from their last 30 years of production, including Do Women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? (1989-2017) and Dear Billionaire Collector (2015). Although the issues raised in the banners are pertinent here, they seem to lack traction with exhibition visitors. The Guerrilla Girls Complaints Department (2017) blackboard on the other hand quickly fills up with visitor sentiments ranging from ecological to political demands (‘More Trees’ and ‘Stop homophobia in Sorocaba’). O Nome do Boi protests the 2015 government takeover and the notorious kleptocrats currently reigning over corruption-ridden Brazil: the collective takes its name from a Brazilian saying which roughly translates as ‘by naming the ox one points out those responsible’. Mug shots of those implicated in the recent corruption scandal engulfing the conglomerate Odebrecht are wallpapered alongside codenames and placed adjacent to the mirrored logos of companies and agencies supporting the men in power. A of lump of beef, its packing bearing the logo of Friboi, a meat company accused of bribing government inspectors, rots in a nearby glass vitrine.

large-scale exhibitions such as this one prove an important apparatus to carry non-normative narratives into the more remote region

While their work functions as an audacious and straightforward disclosure act, André Komatsu develops the discourse with an analogy between abstract geometric traditions and socio-political perspectives. Placed just outside the city’s bus terminal, Komatsu’s Autômatos (2017), an architectural installation that juxtaposes building materials such as mirrors, semi-transparent Plexiglas and plasterboard, toys with ideas of transparency, permeability and enclosure that can be considered a paradigm for the exhibition’s title. These subjects concerning post-colonialism might not be new - institutions in São Paulo (and other artworld capitals) have long engaged in a critical discourse around such legacies - but large-scale exhibitions such as this one prove an important apparatus to carry non-normative narratives into the more remote regions.

From the October 2017 issue of ArtReview