BIENALSUR – the International Biennial of Contemporary Art of the South – is a multipolar contemporary art biennial working as a network of associative collaboration between museums, cultural centres and universities around the globe, stemming from the South as an exercise of indiscipline. In 2019, the second edition of BIENALSUR came to the Middle East for the first time, choosing Riyadh as its host.
For 2021, the third edition travelled to Diriyah (JAX District) from 15 October to 15 November, and to Jeddah (Qasr Khuzam) from 30 November, presented in the Art Deco-inspired Qasr Khuzam (Khuzam Palace). The event follows the inception of KSA’s Ministry of Culture (MoC) in 2019, with the goal of developing a flourishing arts scene, whilst contributing to an international exchange of ideas internationally. BIENALSUR is part of the Ministry’s 27 cultural initiatives, which include annual projects, scholarships, programmes and residencies that actively encourage the fields of science, literature and culture.
Echoes: A World Between the Analogue and the Virtual features more than 20 artists who consider the spaces we share, both literally and metaphorically. Under the main curatorial axes of BIENALSUR, Modes of Inhabiting / Fluid Constellations, this year’s edition focuses on the acoustic phenomena of echoes and reverberation as metaphors for how we move through analogue and virtual planes. BIENALSUR’s Curator, Diana Wechsler, notes: “We flow between two dimensions: time and space. Today, we move between them through different kinds of experiences – sometimes face-to-face, sometimes virtual – that lead to their dislocation, which leads to the installation of other ways of configuring the ‘real’. Some experiences merely resonate as echoes. This exhibition offers an immersive space to feel and rethink our day-to-day life. One of our goals is to see each piece of artwork as a space for reflection.”
Hugo Aveta (b. 1965) explore duplicities of the self through the construction of time. In the video installation Ante el Tiempo (In the Face of Time), the Argentinian artist harks back to when hours were measured by grains of sand falling from one vessel to another. In this meditative and surreal film, time flows randomly, a pile of sand slowly falling through the ceiling. In certain frames, the pile seems to move upwards, as if with its own gravitational pull. Aveta considers the ways in which time has become distorted – disembodied, stretched, or otherwise reversed – with a large portion of human beings no longer able to tell time through analogue. Instead, most of us refer to our phones, opting for a kind of digital rendering of the day.
Malagasy artist Joël Andrianomearisoa (b. 1977) features with Dancing with the Angels, a site-specific installation, which makes room for dual perspectives, exploring unforeseen possibilities and forking paths – which we can see and cannot see simultaneously. A black sculpture, made from artificial flowers, hangs from the ceiling as a kind of totem. Replicas of tulips, tropical flowers and agapanthus intertwine and co-exist, blending into one, indiscernible mass. The work symbolises the idea that the “choreographed” path we take in life is due to those we meet and the parts of them that we take with us, invisibly and unknowingly.
The flowers were modelled from images gathered on the internet, which further removes viewers from the “original species” in question, and in turn, the idea of an “authentic” self. The amount of external influences we receive is astronomical, both on- and off-line, and these interjections undoubtedly affect the steps we take, from the products we buy, to major life decisions. Human beings meet on average 80,000 people in one lifetime, a figure which doesn’t take into account all the profiles we might encounter through the digital sphere. How will we continue to change and develop in this socially accelerating world? Wechsler continues: “Through the figure of the angel – both benevolent and invisible – Andrianomearisoa invokes the idea of the ‘Other’, and in doing so, brings us face-to-face with a game that includes several forms.”
Darren Almond (b. 1971), a 2005 nominee for the Turner Prize, calls upon the aesthetics of clock faces, abstracting and splicing numbers into near-indistinguishable glyphs, like a language all its own. Perfect Time explores how we have simultaneously become obsessed with time, living in a hyper-accelerated, deadline-driven world, whilst losing our understanding of deep, geological histories that have defined human evolution. Almond has remarked: “I’m fascinated by the idea that whenever anything seems too far away, we turn to numbers. We’ll say: a million, billion, trillion, but we can’t really grasp the actual scale of them I’m naturally drawn to numbers. I love that within the abstract realm, everything needs to be in balance.”
Across the exhibition, a series of video installations looks at landscapes that have been recovered and challenged, or otherwise augmented through the lens of industry and mass-consumption. These pieces consider memory, history and geography, as well as spaces both real and fictitious, and how we move through them, either through modes of physical observation or in our imagination. In the piece Yonaguni Area, Angelika Markul (b. 1977) shares footage of a submerged rock formation off the coast of Yonaguni, the southernmost of the Ryuku islands in Japan. The rocks were discovered in the mid-1980s, and have since been tied to theories that the structures are at least 5,000 years old, belonging to a lost, sunken civilisation.
Echoes: A World Between the Analogue and the Virtual, showcases the ways we communicate with each other and the world around us, as well as the universality of our existence – both in the past, present and future, and amongst various countries. Connections are made, geographically, psychologically and spatially. For Anibal Jozami, Director of BIENALSUR, the biennial is about providing “a space for permanent dialogue, creating vital and auspicious cultural exchange with Saudi Arabia, whilst building its own cartography across the five continents. The event is part of the MoC’s wider objective of creating intercultural dialogue whilst highlighting the value of the local in the global, and the defence of the right to culture.”
BIENALSUR brings together 120 venues in 50 cities, with participation from more than 400 artists from July to December 2021. Echoes: A World between the Analogue and the Virtual, runs until 30 December, Qasr Khuzam, Jeddah, KM 12009. engage.moc.gov.sa/bienalsur
1. Hugo Aveta (Argentina). La fascinación de la falla / La fascination de la faille, 2019. Site-specific installation, mixed media. Dimension variables. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by BIENALSUR.
2. Sève Favre (Switzerland). Être au pied du mur (Edition for BIENALSUR Saudi Arabia), 2021 Mixed media on paper. Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.
3. Gabriela Golder, 52 shades of blue. Photo credit: Paolo Minelli.
Installation image featuring (front) Joël Andrianomearisoa (Madagascar), Dancing with the angels I, III, V, 2021, Mixed media, 260 × 80 × 80 cm, 210 × 130 × 130 cm, 180 × 100 × 100 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Sabrina Amrani Gallery and (back) Anaïs Lelièvre(France), Sandstone 2, 2021. Installation, printed PVC, reproduction of a drawing of a sandstone fragment. Courtesy of the artist.
4. Hugo Aveta (Argentina). La fascinación de la falla / La fascination de la faille, 2019. Site-specific installation, mixed media. Dimension variables. Courtesy of the artist.
5. Installation image featuring (front) Joël Andrianomearisoa (Madagascar), Dancing with the angels I, III, V, 2021, Mixed media, 260 × 80 × 80 cm, 210 × 130 × 130 cm, 180 × 100 × 100 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Sabrina Amrani Gallery and (back) Anaïs Lelièvre(France), Sandstone 2, 2021. Installation, printed PVC, reproduction of a drawing of a sandstone fragment. Courtesy of the artist.Hugo Aveta, In the Face of Time. Photo courtesy of the artist.
6. Darren Almond (United Kingdom). In Reflection 014, 2016. Installation, acrylic on mirrored glass, 12 panels, 146 × 154 ×3.5 cm (each). Courtesy of the artist and Xippas Gallery.
7. Angelika Markul,Yonaguni Area. Photo courtesy of the artist.