What did the 15th Cuenca Biennial leave us?

March 20, 2022 | Analía Vallejo Larrea

The fifteenth edition of the Cuenca Biennial presents for the first time a sustainable edition project, through the curatorial thesis of "Biocene Biennial. Changing green for blue", by Spanish art curator Blanca de la Torre.
Sometimes the ocean vasculates between the leaves (2021) by Juan Zamora
Founded in 1986, the Cuenca Biennial is the longest-running Latin American biennial after Sao Paulo and Havana. At the beginning it was only a painting Biennial, however, with the changes that the art world has undergone, since its 6th edition it has been open to all artistic languages.
Plant records (2021) by Ana Teresa Barboza
The curatorial concept of this edition comes from Blanca de la Torre's previous research. The Biocene is a concept she has developed previously, proposing it as a replacement for the Anthropocene, a term criticized for eluding the political, economic and colonial implications of the ecological deterioration of the planet. In this way, Blanca calls for the beginning of a new era that finally places life at the center.
Rivers of people (2021) by Regina José Galindo
On the other hand, the idea of "Changing green for blue" refers to the term greenwashing, which is used to allude to the bad practices that some corporations or organizations use to falsely present a product as environmentally friendly. Therefore, a change of colors is proposed for the construction of a new narrative, which visualizes all the problems related to the environmental crisis and not only those that large companies want to use in their favor.
Routine flight (2016 - 2021) by Juana Cordova
I consider that this is a low-risk curatorial concept, that assures you that you cannot fail. It deals with real problems we are facing every day, which became even more evident after the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus. Thus, the XV Cuenca Biennial proposes a sustainable biennial that contributes new approaches to the construction of another possible world. In this way, it was decided to develop along three conceptual axes: ancestral and traditional knowledge, critical ecofeminism and futuristic scenarios.
Concert for Biocene (2021) by Eugenio Ampudia
This curatorial approach is not very risky for several reasons, among them, the fact that it has been widely used in the art world, however, there is still a need for these issues to be worked from this field, and, that's why the final result of the Biennial was very positive. Although it may have felt a bit repetitive, this Biennial had wonderful artworks that involved fundamental and complex research processes.
The thought of plants. Chapter 2 -When he woke up, the dinosaur was no longer there (2018-in progress) by Paúl Rosero
The Biennial featured works by 34 visual artists from different parts of the world. The awarded artists were: Fabano Kueva from Ecuador, Tania Candiani from Mexico and Cristina Lucas from Spain, with the first, second and third prizes, respectively. The honorable mentions, on the other hand, were awarded to the Mexican artist Amor Muñoz and the Swiss artist Ursula Biemann. Finally, Pamela Cevallos from Ecuador was awarded the Paris Prize.
Return currents (2021) by Pamela Cevallos
Fabiano Kueva presented his work "Geopoetic essay Alexander von Humboldt 2011-2021", which represents an artistic-historical investigation of around 10 years, where he inquiries about the travel books that Humboldt made at the beginning of the 19th century. The research goes beyond the type of writing and the images present in these diaries. Kueva decides to revive Humboldt's travels, following in the footsteps that the scientist took centuries ago. This is how he begins to replicate travel techniques, draw maps, make measurements and create an herbarium of the places visited.
Alexander von Humboldt Archive (2011-2021) by Fabiano Kueva
Thus, Fabiano Kueva highlights the way in which the imperial gaze interprets our colonial societies, and how universalist knowledge takes local knowledge and cultural objects for itself. The work is constituted by a collection of materials articulated from an archival modality, it questions the attributes of truth, memory, fidelity that the official institutions and the cultural market attribute to themselves. This collection aims to reverse the sign of dispossession and the symbolic control over the American past by activating the archives of the present.

For her part, the Mexican artist Tania Candiani creates a work specifically for this Biennial, called "Harps of Water". Thanks to the collaboration of a Cuencan luthier, she presents four stringed musical instruments, which translate the line of the four rivers that pass through Cuenca city: Tarqui, Yanuncay, Machángara and Tomebamba. Four embroidered pieces that accompany the instruments are also born from the same concept.
Harps of water (2021) by Tania Candiani
In this way, Candiani addresses issues such as artisanal and industrial processes, the rescue of ancestral techniques, and the materiality and visualization of sound, while also presenting a tribute to the rivers of the area.
The people that is missing (2021) by Cristina Lucas. Image: Fundación Municipal Bienal de Cuenca
Finally, Cristina Lucas took third place with her work “The People that Is Missing”, a name that comes from an original quote by the Swiss artist Paul Klee and underlined by Deleuze and Guattari to affirm that the purpose of art is to create “the people missing, a future collectivity yet to come, endowed with genuine cohesion and functionality”.

Lucas creates a poem composed of phrases from very diverse authors, among which we can find Karl Marx, Gilles Deleuze, Donald Trump, Claude Lévi-Strauss, etc. This poem is narrated in a shocking video recorded in the Svalbard archipelago, the northernmost place on earth, which is currently in Norway and has become a geo-strategic place that is constantly threatened by climate change.
Fragment of the video recorder in Svalbard.
Cristina Lucas's installation consists of a room, filled with charcoal and bathed in infrared and ultraviolet lights (which is the range of human vision). The powerful video playing in the background, and the poem written on the wall. All this manages to immerse the viewer in a posthumanist environment that forces you to think about the possibility of a postfossil era.

In conclusion, the Cuenca Biennial left a series of important reflections, around the environmental crisis, which force us to rethink our place as spectators. There were some criticisms about the lack of actions of the Biennial within the city and its lack of openness to an expansion of the public. Beyond that and the simplicity of the curatorial concept, the 15th Cuenca Biennial was very coherent, impressive and surprising, for which it continues to be a fundamental art space on a global level.

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