A curator and writer, Esche should initiate preparations for the exhibition in the month of May, 2013, when he begins assembling his staff which will be defined over the next three months. He will also be responsible for the 31st Bienal de São Paulo traveling exhibitions in 2015 as well as maintaining the current partnership between Fundação Bienal and the Ministry of Foreign Relations for Brazil’s official participation in the Biennale di Venezia.
Charles Esche is director of the Van Abbemuseum, located in Eindhoven, Holland, and headed the curatorship of such important international exhibitions as the 9th Istanbul Biennial (Turkey, 2005), and the 2nd and 3rd editions of the Riwaq Biennial (Palestine, 2009 and 2007), the 5th Ljubljana Triennial (Slovenia, 2010), the 4th Gwangju Biennial (South Korea, 2002), among others.
“Central to Charles Esche’s research is a rethinking of the formats of museums, cultural centers, biennials and the role of art in society today. I believe that the Bienal de São Paulo should be a stage for this discussion, a selfdiscussion, and should take on this challenge. After all, our vocation is to search for new configurations, reflections and propositions. It’s yet another way for the Bienal de São Paulo to advance and, as such, reaffirm itself,” assesses Luis Terepins, president of Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.
For the selection process, the Fundação Bienal established a few principles, such as the curator’s familiarity with contemporary artistic creation and its critical discourse, transparency in the project’s proposal and procedures and priority given to investment in education and communication. “We also evaluated the projects by the contribution that the biennial can offer to society in the search for real benefits for its public, contributors and supporters – and this is plainly aligned with Charles Esche’s ideas,” adds Luis Terepins.
The process of choosing the curator for the 31st biennial began in November of 2012 when the directory of the Fundação Bienal entered into a dialogue with directors of institutions, intellectuals and personalities from the arts circuit in Brazil and around the world. From that point on, the decision was made to evaluate the careers of 14 possible professionals. Of them, five received solicitations to send in project proposals. After the proposals were analyzed, two of the authors were invited to participate in meetings at the headquarters of Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.
Quotes of Charles Esche
The Role of Art
Art is capable of imagining the world otherwise, while being in the world at the same time. Indeed, this is almost a definition of contemporary art’s positive relation to the world beyond itself. It cannot change the world in any way because it is always subject to the world, but it can rearrange our perceptions of it so that things that were impossible might suddenly become possible.
The Curators Task
I have always believed the central task of the artistic director is to mediate the selected work to different kinds of ‘users’ – what we often call publics – and to construct a meaningful frame to help viewers encounter work that is rarely selfexplanatory.To value such work, users need devices and contexts, and if we succeed in this Bienal it will be because we have achieved the right balance between the work itself and the means to perceive and ‘use’ it.
The Changes in the World
The shift in economic, political and military power that will come to define the 21st century is very apparent. However, there is much uncertainty about its influence on the development of culture, art and its products.[…] In the last years, an important shift has occurred in biennialmaking where the basic question has subtly changed. The issue for a good biennial today is not only ‘does it show the most interesting contemporary art?’ but also ‘what is the value and the task of art in general today and in relation to society now?’
The São Paulo Bienal Yesterday and Now
This wider legacy of the modern and its ‘posts’ (postcolonialism, postmodernism etc) in turn shaped the history of the São Paulo Bienal and its previous incarnations […] However, I believe current conditions are what we might term a ‘pre’ period. In general, art and artists have sloughed off the conditions of modernity without fully adopting the mantle of a new age. We are therefore rather unclothed in terms of ways of thinking about, acting in or perceiving the way art acts in the world around us today.
A Concept fort he 31st Bienal de São Paulo
I would therefore like to draw this Biennial together around this concept of ‘how to speak about things that do not exist’, though I am uncertain if this will be the title […] I am talking about conditions that are close to the way magic, the occult, parapsychology and other studies of the intangible meet with a participative public. Think about a séance, a community ritual, or even a football match for dedicated fans. These are all ways in which the tangible and the intangible are brought into alignment in public.
The Use of the Exhibition Space
Given the scale of the biennial building, I would anticipate treating the three floors in quite different ways and leaving plenty of space for interaction and discussion with mediators or amongst the visitors themselves. In terms of the division of the spaces, I have in the past used quite irregular materials such as chain fences or low walls where appropriate and I can again imagine an attempt to develop different aesthetic environments on each of the floors.
What to Expect From the Viewer
The only thing I expect from the visitor is curiosity and an open mind, which are two really difficult things to have, I think. So it’s very demanding in a sense. A curiosity about the unknown is generally that we present contemporary art, so art which is not yet confirmed in some kind of book which tells you what the interesting art in 20th century was – because we’re dealing with the 21st century.
If autonomy means anything, then art has to be this place which has an autonomy to move interest in order to experiment with the world, and with images of the world. And I think this definition is different from what most people would understand as art – something which is made by hand and which is produced as an image to be hung on the wall or perhaps placed on the ground. Once we see this space as an experimental zone, then the mediation for that needs to be much more personal.
Some short comments on the start of a journey to September 2014
I am delighted to be invited to curate the 2014 Biennale. It is a real privilege to have the chance to contribute to the continuation of such a long and important tradition. The recent progress of the organisational aspects of the Biennale are wonderful to observe and my hope and desire is to deliver an exhibition project that takes full advantage of this new stability and addresses directly the city of São Paulo and its artistic scenes.
I will work with a few precious colleagues with whom I have an intuitive relationship built up over years. At this stage, I can announce two of them: Pablo Lafuente, with whom I work at Afterall Journal and Books, London and Galit Eilat, with whom I work at Van Abbemuseum. Others will be added for their knowledge of curating, architecture/exhibition design and public mediation. I want to bring Brazilbased collaborators into the team so that we can have our ears on the ground within the art scenes here, and I want also offer a experience of curating a major biennale to emerging curators from Brazil through the curatorial workshop.
Biennales need to address urgencies in the location where they are based. I have to yet understand what that might be here and will be very happy to receive ideas and share my developing perceptions with the artistic and political communities here. In order to formalise this process and get in touch with the upcoming generation, we want to organise an extended curatorial workshop in Sao Paulo, open to emerging artists, curators, critics and others connected to art. The workshop will be organised by the 31st biennale international curatorial team with local and foreign guests.
I intend to organise a number of gatherings and discussion forums in the lead up to the biennale, especially from spring 2014 onwards. These events will hopefully feedback to the curatorial group about the regional situation in terms of artistic practice and allow us to make interim reports and be open for questions about the progress of the artistic and curatorial projects. Part of these meetings can also be a way to continue to recognise the importance of the history of the São Paulo biennale and focus on particular editions.
It is important that the biennale invites artists to produce new works and offers the opportunity for international artists to be in Sao Paulo and Brazil for extended periods of time. I will therefore look to arrange residency possibilities for artists and to link with existing opportunities across the country and not only in São Paulo.
Some very initial ways of thinking about the project theme
There will not be a controlling theme or leitmotif in the 31st Bienal de São Paulo. Instead, artists and artworks will be shown in relation to one another. One of the pleasurable experiences as a public will be to make personal connections and work out common intentions or concerns. Curating can be light as well as precise. The experience of the huge exhibition will be guided by different forms of mediation and interpretation appropriate to the works themselves.
The city and the subject
All good exhibitions grow out of a location in a organic, slightly chaotic way. Because I am a stranger, I (and the other internationals) need to spend time in the city and in Brazil in order to determine what makes sense here. Given my interests, I will be looking for art that addresses contemporary realities or speculates about the future. At the moment words like hardship, magic and possibility and the way art can express them are foremost in my mind, but these terms and ideas will change over the next months. In all events, the Bienal will be concerned with the capacities of art – and the relations it can shape between the three core areas of human activity: politics, economics and culture.
Playing with histories
The opportunity to curate next year’s Bienal is especially poignant because in comes at a time when the legacy of Brazilian modernism can be usefully reassessed. The passing of Oscar Niemeyer, the architect of the Bienal pavillion, and with him an incredibly creative generation of artists and architects, necessarily demands that new forces and opportunities open up. I hope to be able to balance tradition with experiment and discipline with hybridity in the coming Bienal. At the same time, the long and rich history of the biennale will be one of the key starting points of the research and I am confident the archives and legacy of 60 years will find there way into the exhibition in numerous ways.
Imagining the world otherwise
In the three tier global economy taking shape around us, Brazil definitely belongs in the firstlevel. Economic growth has a different urgency here than in the USA or Europe. Yet, the deep human dissatisfactions with the crude domination of logistic efficiency and financial management is felt everywhere across the planet. This is not to blame logistics but to say that we need other propositions and imaginations of how we value, cherish and love. There is a conflict between the transparent logic of logistics and unquantifiable expressions of human desire that is at the core of our contemporary condition. Yet still the ways to ascribe value to everything that is intangible and not present in a material sense struggle to be heard.
Art has the capacity to portray the unquantifiable, to give form to the intangible, to present things that are not visible under the logic of capital. Most of us know this, yet there is very little place in our working lives where such counter logics hold force. I am interested to display these paradoxes in the biennale and to focus on what is not recognised so easily. I plan to commission works that deal with aspects of life that are not seen, not accounted for in the current common sense analysis of our world – aspects like magical thinking, imaginaries of the soul, out of body experiences. Reconciling our culture, politics and economy to these parts of our lives and discussing them with others through art might be a way to help us collectively imagine the world otherwise.
Charles Esche (Scotland, 1962) is a curator and writer. He is director of Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and codirector of Afterall†Journal†and†Books†based at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, London. He is a visiting lecturer at a number of European art academies and teaches regularly the Exhibition†Studies†course at the University of the Arts, London, and for the De Appel Curatorial Course, Amsterdam. In the last years, he has curated international exhibitions across Europe and Asia:
- 2012 Muslim Mulliqi prize exhibition at the National Gallery of Kosovo entitled, It doesn’t always have to be beautiful, unless it’s beautiful with Galit Eilat
- 2011 Cocurated an exhibition of the museum’s collection in the CAPC, Bordeaux entitled Strange and Close with Galit Eilat
- 2010 5th U3 Triennial in Ljubljana, Slovenia
- 2009 3rd Riwaq Biennale, Ramallah, Palestine, with Reem Fadda
- 2007 2nd Riwaq Biennale 2007 with Khalil Rabah
- 2005 9th Istanbul Biennial with Vasif Kortun, Esra Sarigedik Öktem and November Paynter
- 2002 Gwangju Biennale in Korea with Hou Hanru and Song Wang Kyung
- 2000 Tate Triennial: Intelligence, Tate Britain, London, England
- 2000 Amateur – Variable Research Initiatives, Konstmuseum and Konsthall, Göteborg, Sweden
From 2000-2004 he was Director of the Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art, Malmö where he made solo exhibitions with Surasi Kusolwong, Nedko Solakov and Superflex a.o. and group shows including Baltic Babel and Intentional Communities. From 1998-2002 he organised the international art academic research project called ‘protoacademy’ at Edinburgh College of Art. From 1993-1997 he was Visual Arts Director at Tramway, Glasgow where he curated exhibitions by Elisabeth Ballet, Christine Borland, Roderick Buchanan, Douglas Gordon, Jonathan Monk, Stephen Willats and Richard Wright as well as group shows such as Trust and The Unbelievable Truth. A book of his selected writings, Modest Proposals, was published by Baglam Press, Istanbul, in 2005. Charles Esche has written for numerous catalogues and art magazines. Also, he lectures at museums, art centres and academies and universities on a regular basis.
Pablo Lafuente (Spain, 1976) is a writer, curator, and has been coeditor of the publication Afterall since 2005. In 2013, he is cocurating the Norway Pavilion at the 55th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, along with Marta Kuzma and Angela Vettese. He researches themes that involve contemporary art, the history of exhibitions, aesthetics and politics, in addition to working in the field of education, developing two courses at the Central St. Martins College of Arts and Design of the University of the Arts in London. Since 2008, he has been associated curator of the Office for Contemporary Art Norway in Oslo. He has contributed to the area of art criticism and education, participating in symposiums and frequently writing for such publications as Art Monthly, Art Review, Parkett, The Wire and Frieze Magazine.
Galit Eilat is a writer, freelance curator and the founding director of The Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon. She is cofounder of Maarav†— an online arts and culture magazine. Currently she is a research curator at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven as well as the President of the Akademie der Künste der Welt in Cologne. Last curated and cocurated exhibitions: It doesn’t always have to be beautiful, unless it’s beautiful (2012), (cocurator Charles Esche), National Gallery Kosovo, Kosovo; A Voyage To Cythera (2012), The Berlin Medical Historical Museum, Berlin, Germany; And Europe will be stunned (2012), Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; Beyond the Truth (2011) (cocurator Alenka Gregoric) City Art Gallery of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia; Black and White (2011) (cocurator Łukasz Ronduda), Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland; It’s Time We Got To Know Each Other (2011), October Salon 52nd (cocurator Alenka Gregoric), The Museum of Yugoslav History, Belgrade, Serbia.