“Primera Bienal Iberoamericana de Lima”

Municipalidad de Lima

Biennials seem to be popping up everywhere, and now it’s Lima’s turn. The city recently chose to follow in the path taken by cities like Venice, São Paulo, Havana, Quenca, Istanbul, Johannesburg, and Kwangju. Last October, the Peruvian capital inaugurated the first Iberian-American biennial at the same time as the opening of the first Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The show’s organizers adopted the policy of showing the work of one artist per Iberian-American country (except in the case of Chile, which sent three artists, and Peru, which was represented by fifty chosen through a voting process), spread throughout fourteen centrally located buildings.

Biennial exhibitions seem to have become fabulously efficient diplomatic tools in a global era. Lima is no exception: the organizers invited artists and curators from many parts of the world to witness the city’s little-known artistic production, to experience its recent urbanization, and to view the renovation of historical monuments and buildings in its central area. Luís Lama, the show’s organizer, along with an international team consisting of one curator chosen from each invited country, managed to offer a historical tour of the town and its people, while also displaying the works in such a way that visitors were led, maps in hand, to follow a challenging route through the exhibition.

One of the Peruvian artists, Luz María Bedoya, drew quite a bit of interest with “Punto Cego” (Not Cego, 1997), a series of black-and-white photographs of the Peruvian coast. Organized in a continuous sequence, these images suggested a powerful imaginary narrative. The Brazilian José Bento and the Portuguese Angela Ferreira both chose to use wood as a symbolic theme. Bento exhibited thirty small sculptures made of wood placed side by side, resembling a fantastic miniature city. Ferreira showed a video she created about Mozambique that had been broadcast by Portuguese television, and which addressed nostalgia for the days when the country was a colony of Portugal. In order to watch it, the spectators sat on chairs made of wood from the African nation, which were fashioned in a European style. In another room, the audience was confronted with a slab of wood next to a similarly carved piece of furniture, emphasizing the relationship between colony and metropolis.

The Colombian artist Elias Heim deploys carefully tuned humor and irony to address the history and production of art itself. In the past, his installations have alternately focused on curators, critics, and artists. The theme of the piece that was exhibited here was the constant bruising of museum walls by nails and paint. Heim’s hilarious take was to build a machine that “caressed” the walls by brushingupholstery against their surfaces.

Paloma Navares, an artist from Spain, combines a sense of artifice with unsettling references to the human body. Los Cinco Sentidos (Sleep boxes, 1996–97), for example, consisted of Tupperware–like plastic containers arrayed on shelves, each holding serigraph images of body parts. The boxes were also filled with transparent plastic drilled with pipes. In Luces de Hibernación (Hibernation lights, 1997), images of newborn babies were plunged in glass sauce containers. Here, death and terror were the prevailing effects.

The “Primero Bienal Iberoamericana de Lima” had many good points but also some flaws. Organizing a large international show is always a challenge, and the fact that this one was realized is in itself significant. The problem, however, was a lack of the kind of conceptual consistency that can generate discussion. Since there had been no previous contact among the curators, and no specific themes were put forward, the pieces felt like individual expressions assembled in an aleatory fashion. If it is to succeed in the future, this new biennial needs to address urgent considerations about the production of art in Ibero-America.

Katia Canton

Translated from the Portuguese by Yara Nagelschmidt.