To affirm that the river is a serpent corresponds to designating it not as a “natural resource” in the service of humans, but as a being endowed with a life, trajectory, and culture of its own. Beyond that, it means to conceive it as a hybrid entity, a serpent-like and dynamic aquatic-animal body, skillful in transposing limits of different natures. Incorporating this perspective that challenges the Western episteme, the current edition of Frestas – Triennial of Arts of SESC Sorocaba has as its motto the relationship between non-hegemonic modes of existence and the paths they invent.
In the exhibition, the project’s vulnerabilities, dissidences, and potencies stand out from other aspects that singularize such existences. To acknowledge these aspects as being decisive in the decolonial process includes not only questioning speciesism, but also dealing with human bodies in their racialized dimensions – recognizing the asymmetries that these phenomena carry. In contrast to dominating modes of existence, these lives often do not rely on open paths for their crossings. The invention and negotiation of other routes or destinies come about as a chance to reorient the courses that have been traced until now by society’s hegemonic fractions with their mechanisms of exclusion, exploitation, and violence. Drawing other paths involves conceiving alternative ways of understanding the world and interacting with it.
It is in this direction that SESC hopes to aim with its cultural action, fostering symbolic experiences dedicated to the search for ways out amidst a juncture with paths heading toward places we do not wish to arrive at, although we already have. Emblematic of these “places,” the Covid-19 pandemic interfered in the trajectory of Frestas, demanding its course to be altered. In this retracing, the Triennial doubles down on its bet for resilience, more immediately developing its Study Program in a virtual setting that, in 2021, will continue its next phase in person. If the river is a serpent, what can an exhibition come to be?
Danilo Santos de Miranda
Regional Director of SESC São Paulo
SESC – Serviço Social do Comércio [Social Service of Commerce] is a private, non-profit institution, created in 1946 by commerce and service entrepreneurs from all over Brazil. In the state of São Paulo, SESC has 42 centers that congregate their areas of action in the fields of culture, education, sports, leisure, and health. SESC São Paulo’s actions are guided by their educational character and search for social wellbeing, with a broad understanding of the term culture at its core. In this sense, the full accessibility of spaces and content offered by the institution bear in mind the democratization of cultural assets as a means of the individual’s autonomy.
In the field of Visual Arts, the institution takes on the role of diffusing artistic production, both contemporary and from other historical periods, as well as the intersections with other artistic languages, having as a guideline the realization of exhibitions for all audiences. It also carries out projects with installations, interventions, and performances, as well as activities of education and mediation in varied formats. Its focus is to offer qualified services both to scheduled groups and to spontaneous audiences, seeking, overall, to achieve a sensitive training and the stimulus of autonomy and the liberty of choice.
The river is a serpent: first act
The river is a serpent, the catalyst-title for the 3rd Frestas – Art Triennial, embraces a cosmovision in the heart of the strategies we had to elaborate and recreate to arrive here, and, as such, has taken its own path as a curatorial proposal, which has begun with the sum of meetings in dialogue with artists, educators, activists, and others who produce thought and knowledge.
In every bend along this trajectory we have sought and debated critical strategies for political, economic, and institutional negotiations, which equally transit through multiple natural, spiritual, and subjective ecosystems. Similarly, we encountered the effects of countless contradictions and reflected on the possibilities, potencies, and challenges that inhabit the limits between what is negotiable and what is not, crucial to the health of our curatorial process. Beyond ourselves, we have learned that such strategies come from paths that were already taken by other bodies that, being located in different historical times and spaces, were led to strive for permanence and access as the only means to ensure the maintenance of their existences.
Standing on the unstable grounds of contradiction, unlocked by the advance of neoliberal capital, as well as by the systemic processes that captures subjectivities in order to generate financial value and reenact colonial ethics, we aim to raise a few questions: how can we produce a way out when the impossibility to choose becomes our own choice? At times when we need to create ways of seeing and conceiving the world that are still not historically available to us, what kind of elastic, sinuous, and porous body we create? Situating ourselves in the realm of the secret that recovers resilience, what kinds of technologies we develop? What strategies of solidarity are possible, and what is said by the bodies that create such vast worlds while inhabiting asymmetric structures of power?
From the bends of the rivers that we navigated during our research trip, we could behold, in their serpent-like shapes meandering through a non-linear time, words full of images that would help us to translate the intangible experiences of contracts, conflicts, and agreements that we undergo. And so, the serpent as a metaphor expanded by its ample cosmology in the most varied mythical and cultural narratives serve us here as a glance to discuss the murky waters that govern contemporary plantation movements and their colonial geographies.
Flowing into the Sorocaba territory, we would like to think of an ethics that undoes already known modes of production of symbolic violence, placed in the relation of categorizing and fetishizing the other. And also to create new landscapes, investigating how codes and languages are created, and what mechanisms contribute to maintaining the infrastructures that regulate power dynamics, legitimize discourses, condition access, halt criticism, and forge an idea of pacification and consensus.
The river is a serpent because it hides and camouflages, and in between the unpredictable and the mystery, it creates strategies from its own movement.
The river is a serpent: second act
After a long breath in search of air, if there are no surprises when we look back at the words that are now well on their way, it is because we have learned that it is not possible to transpose a river’s bend and underestimate its effects. As we have written in what seemed to be our last lines, we know that the changes about to come will most likely not follow the same words, nor what they seek or flow. For this reason, to us, juxtaposing what we had elaborated in both texts highlights the design of the break.
Presentiments that had already been speculated by the group of artists, by people who construct thought, by communities with whom we have become involved and started a dialogue, gathered under the title The river is a serpent, have been manifesting themselves not only as a set of questions surrounding nature’s actions and its cyclical time, but above all as a cosmovision, performance, and technology that announced in its depths the imminent natural collapse that we now face under the name of a pandemic.
In this second act, this already announced catastrophe renders hypervisible the ways in which layers of violence overlap in the globe’s racial necropolis, opening even more precedents both for the politics of extermination, and the flattening of life, through systems of control and vigilance central to the neoliberal economy.
As we brought to the fore the project’s emphasis, we understood that part of the exercise of following the shape that the waters takes concerns the urgent and irretrievable choices we had to make when delving into Fresta’s conceptual and structural spheres. Despite the hopelessness and the strengthening of fear and anxiety, these bends and contours underscore the importance of continuing to create strategies in the face of the ecosystem’s total subordination to the atomic advancements of globalized capital, and of the social and subjective, climatic and microbiological effects that find themselves intensified in all classes vulnerable to degradation, in the most primordial aspects of life.
In view of how the strategies of negotiation we created or dove into prepared us until now, it was up to us intensifying such strategies by testing the limits of what was possible and necessary to do in the context of a contemporary art event. As such, by being careful so that the incentive for local practices is not mistaken for nationalist exaltations, so that individualism is not fixed as the only means of sociability, and so that virtuality does not compromise us, we have rethought the role of the exhibition apparatus according to a calendar of actions beginning in October 2020, which, as part of the platform, presents a Study Program composed of formative activities that aim at instigating radical educational practices, and at the same time encourage policies of redistribution and access.
The Program, formed by 15 artists, is accompanied by a public programming with a wide schedule of courses, seminars, talks, publication releases, and film and video screenings. By establishing a direct relation between the curatorship and the educational program, the goal is that this space of exchanges culminates, as soon as it is possible for us to be present, in a space of celebration and gathering that, until this moment and stemming from what we know, we can evoke as an exhibition. All of this being aware that from now on, the main characteristic of the exhibition is not its confined physicality, but everything that we do not know, will need to reimagine, and is about to come.
The river is a serpent because it hides and camouflages, and in between the unpredictable and the mystery, it creates strategies from its own movement.
(Rio de Janeiro, RJ – lives in São Paulo) is an autonomous curator, researcher, and holds a Master’s Degree in Social History of Culture by puc-rj. Founder and director of the platform Lastro – Intercâmbios Livres em Arte [Lastro – Free Exchanges in Art]. From anti–colonial perspectives, she works to conduct and articulate transdisciplinary and network processes of creation and learning. In collaboration with mam rj, she has coordinated the cataloging project of documents and work of Márcia X (1959–2005), which culminated, in 2013, in the artist’s monographic exhibition and the launching of the raisonné catalog. Between 2015 and 2016, she was part of the Visiting Curator program at the Visual Arts School of Parque Lage (RJ), which has developed into the basis for eav’s current Library | Documentation and Research Center. She was part of the curatorial commission of the 20th Contemporary Art Festival sesc_Videobrasil (2017) and Bolsa Pompulha (2018/2019), and has coordinated the artistic residency Travessias Ocultas – Lastro Bolívia [Hidden Crossings – Lastro Bolivia], which has become an exhibition in sesc Bom Retiro (SP, 2016/2017). She is currently part of the curatorial team of the 3rd Frestas – Triennial of Arts (Sorocaba, SP).
(Mundo Novo, BA) is an independent curator, critic, and researcher. She holds a Master’s Degree in Communication and Semiotics from puc-sp. Her work consists of experimenting with contemporary curatorship practices from a decolonial perspective. Currently, she is part of the curatorship team of the 3rd Frestas – Triennial of Arts of sesc–sp, and is the curator of the exhibition Os dias antes da quebra [The Days Before the Crash] at Pivô Satellite. Some of her main projects include founding the art education program AfroTranscendence; the curatorship, between 2016 and 2017, of Itaú Cultural’s exhibition program Diálogos ausentes [Absent Dialogues]; and the curatorship of the Valongo International Image Festival, in 2018 and 2019. She was also the co–curator of the PlusAfroT Residency, and of the collective exhibition Lost Body – Displacement as Choreography, both of which took place in Munich, Germany. She has been the jury for several selections and prize committees, a lecturer on the specialization course in Cultural Management at Itaú Cultural, and co–curator/organizer of the book Textos para ler em voz alta [Texts to Read Out Loud], which will be published in 2021 by the French publishing company Brook.
Curator(São Paulo, SP) is a curator and educator with a background in the Social Sciences. He takes part in the program Propositions for Non-Fascist-Living, organized by bak (base voor actuele kunst), in Utrecht, The Netherlands. With the curator Gabi Ngcobo, he has created the platform I’ve Seen Your Face Before, part of the project Echoes of the South Atlantic, of the Goethe-Institut São Paulo. In 2018, he was part of the curatoship team of the 10th Berlin Biennale, entitled We Don’t Need Another Hero.
In this 3rd editions of Frestas – The river is a serpent, we have considered the education as one of the curatorship’s cornerstones. I like to think the educational program as the margin of this serpent-river. A river’s margin is its outline, its water’s edge inviting us to dip our feet, or to dive into it. It is the border-area between the exhibition’s inside and outside while impossible to split from it; A margin made of natural materials, porous, allowing exchanges between the river and what is outside of it: from inside to outside, but also from outside to inside. This image says a lot about how the educational program integrates the curatorship of this exhibition, not only outlining and communicating it to its audience, but also extending it across the territory, achieving other interlocutors, inviting them to interfere in it.
With this thought in mind, the Educational Program has been working as it follows:
Approaching the territory: Together with Camila Fontenele, the curatorship’s assistant, we have mapped the city of Sorocaba to dig up its official history and its authors, crossing the past and the present and uncovering the city’s trajectories that were never told of made visible. From this mapping emerges the Apé, a board game that inserts the personal trajectory of the exhibition’s viewer into the discussion regarding the coexistence of different cosmo-perceptions in the same territory.
The Topics for difference and social justice was the formation of educators in this edition of Frestas which has taken place from October 3 to November 21, 2020, remotely, and throughout eight Saturdays amounting to 24 hours of formation. We have built an extensive range of agents from several regions, and ways of thinking education, working with topics still seen as taboo in the classroom such as themes connected to gender and sexuality, childhood and racism, The African diaspora as central in the construction of the Brazilian society, the implementation of the Laws no. 10,639 and 11,645, technology and education, among others. All meetings are available in the YouTube of SESC Sorocaba, and also here on the website.
Afluentes is the educational publication of this edition of Frestas for which we have invited 34 educators and researchers from several regions and educational contexts, aiming to build a widened investigation of sources, perspectives, traditions, and agents that somehow flow into the curatorial concept of this serpent-river. It is a collection of interviews, essays, and syllabus regarding themes such as languages, accessibility, non-conventional educational methodologies, education of adults and the youth, college education, political education, health, spirituality, Africanities and Afro-brazilianess. Short texts working as an opening, an invitation to allow the reader to dive alone so they may understand the best ways for approaching the themes.
The construction and formation of the educational team who will work in the exhibition. We sought to construct the team with college youths from different courses, who had experience of non-hegemonic education, who work with formal or informal education, and who do not necessarily have a previous art background. Our idea is for this team to establish the most diverse views as possible for the exhibition, to learn by coexisting and with their different views from one another and with the audience, and for the knowledge to be collectively constructed across the exhibition’s course, understanding there is not a single knowledge when we talk about art.
This is not a piece of writing about a project. Or at least it is not an ordinary piece of writing about an architecture project for an exhibition. When I was first asked to write for the Frestas website as the show was being put together, I had a feeling I would find it hard to do it. Putting an architecture parti into words seemed to be too little to convey this process that had been underway for quite some time. So I decided to steer away from a plain description of the work conducted and into an account of what I have experienced.
In December 2019, I was invited by Bea, Diane, and Thiago to develop the exhibition design for the Frestas Triennial in Sorocaba. Before making things official, we met one afternoon that month at Ana’s office. The idea was to get to know each other. We talked about my experience designing exhibitions, and they presented their initial ideas for Frestas. As we talked, images came up of a field trip they had conducted for the triennial. I remember they were describing this huge river, and I said assembling an exhibition was somehow like composing a landscape. I recall they were speaking of sinuosity, and I told them I was interested in how bodies would move around the exhibition spaces. In early 2020, I presented a preliminary project plan in which all those issues were materialized as a space situated at one of SESC Sorocaba’s parking lots. I proposed a reasoning for the flooring on which some pieces would lie. It was full of diagonal lines, as I thought of messing with the orthogonal logic of that underground garage, pursuing other ways visitors’ bodies could move around.
Back from Carnaval break, I had made the commitment with SESC to finish the project in a few weeks. But the entire process was suspended in mid-March, when the Covid-19 pandemic brought us to a halt. From that point on, my memories are a little confused about the sequence of events. But I remember talking on the phone with Francine. Maybe it was May. Unsure about the future of the project, we wondered what a visual art exhibition would look like amid a pandemic or after it, which seemed impossible to envision at that point.
Sometime in the second half of 2020, when we still had no answers about the future of the exhibition, virtual actions were conceived for Frestas. Among them, I was invited to create a course for those who are interested in exhibition design. I had previous experience teaching some related courses at the SESC-São Paulo chain. The exciting news was that the virtual environment would make it possible for people from all over Brazil to attend it. As an architect who obtained my degree in the northeastern state of Ceará, I know how difficult it is to access opportunities that are mostly available in the southeast region of the country. Travel is often necessary, but this is a reality only a few can afford. I moved to São Paulo in 2005, a chance I had through privilege. I came here because I intended to become closer to practices in architecture that were not well established in my home state. I was looking for things such as scenic design, production design, and exhibition design.
Back to the course, enrollment showed that people from different places were interested in the subject. This provided us with more fruitful exchange during our sessions. My experience as an exhibition designer is mostly in the state of São Paulo. So I am always at risk of making generalizations based on a very specific experience. Listening to Matheusa’s views on exhibition production in Recife, a northeastern city, for example, provided our conversation with interesting friction. It was also a very heterogeneous classroom. There were educators, managers, producers, artists, and some architects. This obviously helped to improve the discussion. The only tricky thing about it was proposing a project exercise—the course had a practical element in which we had to produce an exhibition draft. However, not everyone had a good grasp of graphical representation tools to be able to formulate plans or perspectives. We overcame this obstacle by understanding that drawing is not the only possible way to represent space. As a result of the studio exercise, in addition to more conventional proposals, one of the participants resolved her work in writing. She emulated a floor plan, connecting art pieces and exhibition rooms. Somehow, to me, this resembled dance exercises in which your movement is conducted by someone else. I think we even closed our eyes as we read her piece.
Shortly after the course was over, I was invited, also as part of the virtual actions proposed for that second half of 2020, to take part in the early stages of the study group. The idea was for me to meet the 15 artists of the program and their proposals for Frestas, even though we were still unsure about whether the physical exhibition would actually take place. Over the course of a week, I watched their presentations and spoke twice. The first time, I introduced myself, while the second time I tried to show a little bit about the physical facilities of SESC Sorocaba. For some artists, getting to know the space was key. Before the pandemic, inspecting the site before preparing the exhibition would be enough. But at that point of the health crisis, they were not able to travel to do it. So I was the one informing them about the space, which had to be based on trust. I believe that was when something clicked. If the exhibition were to happen, it would have to be the result of very tight communication between my work and the artists’ propositions. Therefore, we began to develop an intimacy that established the way we were going to work and experience something together from that point on. A few days after the study group was over, Laís added me on WhatsApp. Hi, Laís!
Once Frestas was officially scheduled to open in April, I delivered my project on January 8th, 2021. The original proposal was tweaked a bit. The permeability of the space I had suggested earlier seemed to still make sense in that new context. However, some artists now required enclosed rooms, looking for immersive experiences or total light control. I added five rooms to the project, attached to two side rooms at the parking lot. Each room was designed based on the aspects of each work. We had curves and a diamond-shaped venue. These irregularly shaped rooms were nevertheless part of a regularly shaped skin on the outside, allowing the diagonal lines of the architecture of the center of it to exist on their own.
Second wave, postponed again, separation, hell
I think we resumed our conversations about Frestas in May. The new opening date was set for August. Once the company that would assemble the exhibition was defined, I met with Jaime to talk about making minor adjustments, as some of the works had naturally changed after so much time. Assembly started in July, and I basically moved to Sorocaba. It was lonely at first, because not even the art technicians were sleeping there. A relief was a dinner with Camila, when I was able to visit her place for the first time and get to know a different part of town. In August, things changed radically. As all the teams arrived, I finally met people I had only seen on the screen. The amount of commissioned works set the tone for the installation phase. I had to change the implementation designs several times to solve previously undetected issues or to highlight aspects of the previously unknown pieces that were popping out of the boxes. The trust we had built through the study group allowed this play. Evidently, everything required a lot of negotiation and feelings of doubt. But we were there, together, deciding what was best for each one without losing sight of the project as a whole. Frestas opened on August 21st, 2021.
It was not until November that I got back to visit the exhibition again. First, with a group of friends who wanted to visit it with me. We spent the afternoon, and it is always interesting to move away from a project and then come back again some time later. Other meanings emerge and some disappointments soften. A few days after this reunion, I visited Sorocaba again. I asked to speak with the two education program teams. This seems like a good way to close this piece, sharing this exchange. The school visit cycle had not yet started. So we talked freely about what was like to remain in and mediate that space. We addressed how visitors were perceiving the flooring created to receive the artwork. They pointed out the pieces that seemed to be eclipsed on the pathways visitors chose to take more often and showed me playful mediation techniques through dancing. I was reproached for the harsh furniture finishes. We shared the desire to roller skate across the exhibition space. Of all the comments, one hit hard. Maybe it was Erick’s. He told me the space allowed educators to keep visual contact with each other. Even though they were scattered around it, the team was able to maintain a relationship and the feeling of mutual care. This kind of choreography interests me.
My love to all the teams.
São Paulo, December 3rd, 2021.
In addition to the Afluentes publication which is part of the educational material of Frestas – Triennial of Arts, and had the support of the editorial coordination, this Frestas core, composed of Cecília Floresta, and an internal and external collaboration team, proposes publishing a catalogue with texts gathered from the curatorship, artists’ collaborations, articles, unpublished translations, and an image archive of the exhibition. In this edition, we understand the relevance of a graphic piece not only committed with registering the works and writings related with the exhibition, but also one that may survive this moment, working as a reference piece of the curatorship thought behind the exhibition.
The Visitation Guide is another view of the Frestas, and it gathers technical information and short reviews of the exposed artworks. These reviews are texts commissioned by the curatorship, and produced by agents of different areas, comprising bibliographical approaches, basic descriptions of the works and critic perspectives regarding the works and productions of each artist. It is a piece thought to serve as support for the audience during the exhibition’s course, and it unfolds as a kind of a critic fortune of the 3º Frestas – Triennial of Arts.
Between Post-Truths and Events
Curator: Daniela Labra
From August 12th to December 3rd, 2017
What would the world be without the things that don’t exist?
Curator: Josué Mattos
From October 23, 2014 to May 3, 2015