John Romão
Artistic Director

 

Before (all and before) the after, the human

 “Where intersection is possible, the map of a new society begins to be drawn, with new forms of production and reproduction of life”.
(Paul B. Preciado, 2021)

 “We must occupy the voids with affection.”
(Ailton Krenak, in an interview with BoCA Online, 2020)

 

BoCA inhabits an intersection between artistic territories, between spaces of culture and nature, welcoming audiences as parts of polysemic beings that require no identification – what matters is the generation of life, the exchange of experiences and knowledge happening within the collective. What matters is a relation of radical empathy that BoCA, being the agent of an artistic ecosystem anchored in crossroads, chooses to harbour. 

 This edition of BoCA maintains the mission of supporting new languages, prioritising the ‘in-between’ spaces – for example, between the performative and the visual –, new commissions from both Portuguese and foreign artists, in a trans dialogue (and so, transgender in all its meanings) implementing projects that propose a new consciousness and models between artistic practices and sustainability. 

 In the face of the new civilisational era that we experience, the only reliable path is action, in order to take concrete steps, however small, towards a long-term transformation. The route that opens up to us as a challenge is that of the search for a new consciousness, new models, new identities and new dissents.

The currents of innovation and resort to the digital will say that it is now too late to reflect on the human, to reclaim it, and that we must place our efforts into the reflection of the post-human. Given the dehumanisation we currently observe, it seems to me that we face the biggest challenge of our lives, which the pandemic has only made more evident: to make life ethics a responsibility , and of this ‘in-between’ and ‘trans’ place we wish to build, a place of love. It is in that direction that the programme of this edition of BoCA is aimed, making space for the many meanings of discourse, revisiting wounds from the past that have not yet been confronted, envisaging a future that can be built in collaboration. In the midst of a storm of crises (ecological, economic and of values), let us rely on the wise vision of Bruno Latour (who is also present at this BoCA) when he affirms that there are two ways of facing the moment we are living: the catastrophist, in which we accept that everything is ending and resign from our responsibilities; and the optimistic, in which we affirm that we are learning how everything is in a constant process of regeneration. This idea echoes that of the performative-lecture “Moving Earths”, in collaboration with the sociologist Frédérique Aït-Touati, where a parallel is drawn with the Renaissance and the 17th century, that of the presentation of a new, New World. 

 

New collective narratives

In a time of global crisis characterised by concepts of fluidity – of time, space, truth, identities, of vibrant being, life – in which history presents itself as a space that is open to new subjects and new critical approaches, we must collectively create narratives and elements that will inspire and mobilise us to reconnect with the most profound human dimension. “It is devastating that the earth is so brutally exploited today. Having its blood drained, with almost none left”, describes Byung-Chul Han in “Louvor da Terra”.

With “O Barco / The Boat”, Grada Kilomba creates her first piece for the public space, also inaugurating a new collective narrative in the same public space, one that is built upon a history of dehumanisation, violence, and the genocide of African and indigenous peoples.

How can we build new narratives that will reaffirm history as a fluid rather than a normative construction? How to make space for fictional narratives where imagination can heal the past and remodel the future? Odete, in “On Revelations and Muddy Becomings” dives into a dialogue between history, archaeology and research, in order to recover a place for mystery and fantasy in contemporary times. The fluid historical characters evoked for the performance, just like the bodies Miles Greenberg displays over pedestals with sand, create a new imaginary that is shared with the ‘Whole-World’ (Édouard Glissant), and this is what is being seeked: a humanity which is yet to come. In parallel, the Lithuanian artist Anastasia Sosunova manipulates modern mythology, exploring iconographic constructions and symbols so as to mould new narratives that can be revealing and metamorphic; while the visual and performance artist Carlos Azeredo Mesquita questions, with the project “Über-Alles”, the official, hegemonising and nationalist narratives that anthems tell about the identities of their people. 

How to propose narratives that reinforce the co-dependency between living beings (human, non-human, post-human, agents, actors, vibrant beings…) through a holistic perspective? Recognising that we are all nature (Ailton Krenak), Andreia Santana’s performance and installation work invokes, for this purpose, an interdependence between sculptures, performers and bacteria, which are placed into the sculptural objects through the physical, oral and sonic contact of the performers. And how to explore sustainable and inclusive vocabularies that, like in Noé Soulier’s “Passages”, explore the similarities in motricity shared by humans and other animals?

A test like in “Prove You Are Human” (an act that has become almost primitive given how familiar our relationship with the Internet is) is about the activation of a radical empathy with history, presently rewriting and reinscribing collective narratives which will, on the one hand, propose the opening of history to a biodiverse coexistence of multiple voices and, on the other, respond to the urgencies of a contemporary world in a crisis mostly caused by climatic changes – and which allows the sun to speak directly to us (“The New Sun”, by Agnieszka Polska).

 

Limits of the human: image, language and noise

The philosopher Bruno Latour, whose performative-lecture “Moving Earths”, in collaboration with sociologist Frédérique Ait-Touati, we are presenting, draws attention to the urgency of living together, a challenge that must include all pluralities that constitute life on Earth: “Whereas in 1610 we had to absorb the shock that ‘the earth moves’, in 2021 we have to accept the much more surprising shock that the earth trembles and reacts to human actions, to the point of disrupting all our development projects”.

Today, we must redefine a physical and mental geography that translates the need to rethink the totality of the world, and that challenge involves precisely the representation of the world through images that can build paradigms and myths. Art is a language, and media is the fundamental link to the construction of this new, New World. This is the vision of the world that, in the face of the direct effects of human action, approximates Bruno Latour to the ephemeral construction of the theatrical form.

The mental world that we create based on the visual and cognitive productions to which we are exposed, especially in contact with digital, has an effect on the neuroplasticity of our brains. According to Byung-Chul Han, the exposure of the human to digital causes fragmentation and makes collective action more difficult, damaging our subjectivity. The risk of a psychopolitical dictatorship puts the human at risk. With “The Third Reich”, director Romeo Castellucci precisely depicts the image of a mandatory and imposed communication, where authoritarianism is hiding behind a claim to equality. On a big screen, we see projected all the nouns in the Italian dictionary, presented one after the other by a hyper-fast machine that strips them of sense and meaning, making them all the same, in a mass emptying out. A digital military aggression which separates and wounds the human behind the spectrum of “freedom”.

It is also with a civic and affective consciousness that promotes the radical rupture of fascist and anti-democratic tendencies that we must test our humanity: “Prove You Are Human”. One of the best examples of this in the current programme is in the mobilising capacity of the feminist activist collective LASTESIS (Chile), which in 2020 expanded the street performance “A Rapist in your Path” to more than 50 countries, showing its sense of humanity through radical empathy. Conscious that nature is affected by this physical, cultural, social and political mobilisation, that we are but another element, the Chilean artist-activists come to Portugal for the first time to develop, together with 80 local women and dissidents, the performance “Resistance”, which denounces the violence of colonial thought and extractivism. Grada Kilomba also paves the way for a break with the oppressive and colonial vision of the past with the performances adjacent to “O Barco” (“The Boat”), where communities from the African Diaspora are given the main role, to create a space of reclamation, lamentation and ritualism so that History may be recovered and rewritten.

In a different way, Pedro Costa touches on this same wound. Using video, theatre and music with Os Músicos do Tejo to create a fictional narrative that once again places an emphasis on post-colonialism. The Portuguese debut of the north-american photographer and director Khalik Allah shows us the diverging faces on the streets of New York with a disarming gaze that exposes a viscerally beautiful humanity.

 

Affective scales

Mónica Calle (“Between Heaven and Earth”) or Dayana Lucas (“Katabasis – Anabasis”) direct their attention to the public, natural and urban space by guiding small groups of the audience through intimate routes and leading them to unknown places. Mónica Calle returns to intimacy, inspired by the words of Fiama Hasse Pais Brandão to remind us that we are connected: “In the Apocalypse, regretful demons will be angels and guilty angels will be demons, physically attached, back to back”.

The scale of affects and proximity is also very present in the practice of Joana Castro and Maurícia | Neves who create, from a micro situation of emotional vulnerability (the end of a romantic relationship), a work that reflects the macro, a world in rupture, in revolution. André Uerba reaffirms that place of closeness, reclaiming the non-social distancing characteristic of his performative creations and offers an exploration of the different dimensions of touch, its properties, qualities and complexities, proposing the breach of all kinds of barriers between performers.

The film director Gus Van Sant debuts his first stage piece, the musical theatre show “Andy”, inspired by the story of Andy Warhol. Here, Gus Van Sant not only retrieves a narrative of art history that makes a radical break with the past, but proposes a change of paradigm over the body, time, the camera and a sustainable poetics based on interpersonal relations of affective proximity. Documentary narratives are combined with fictional writing, revitalising a belief in the collective and in the creation of new movements with the strength of reconnection to the human. Besides the novelty of this performance within the artistic and cinematographic oeuvre of the north-american director, the work featuring Andy Warhol is also unique in bringing to Lisbon, as the place for its creation, the memory of a significant moment in global pop culture that Gus Van Sant got to experience from within. This new New York – Lisbon – also demonstrates how we are all connected while showing, through the narrative created by Van Sant, the importance of affection and friendship.

 

Defense of Nature

Everything connects in the generic conception that we are all part of the whole, and the human is a vast notion that includes various entities, some impossible to name, and that finds its central axis in nature. In this sense, and almost inevitably, BoCA seeks to combine the artistic programme with natural spaces and, in order to do so, develops the 10-year project “Defense of Nature”, inspired by the legacy of Joseph Beuys.

The gesture that composes “Plantation of 7,000 Trees” is divided between the planting of 7,000 new creations (natural / artistic) of an autochthonous species, sowing the seeds of a long-term project in which new regions and thousands of national and international artists (a part of which are common citizens, here revisited as artists) will be agents in the construction of a forest of artists and artworks. In this merging of roles between natural and human, artist and non-artist, Beuys said the famous words “we can all be artists”. In light of this statement, we say: “we can all save the world”. Acting, in this sense, is the necessary step to take towards the identity test that will prove our humanity. It is precisely in this pulsating place between art and nature that is set “Quero ver as minhas montanhas” (“I want to see my mountains”), curated by Delfim Sardo and Sílvia Gomes, with contributions by the artists Sara Bichão, Diana Policarpo, Dayana Lucas, Gustavo Sumpta, Gustavo Ciríaco, Musa paradisiacaand the collective Berru.

If CAPTCHA (the automated Turing test that makes the distinction between computers and human beings) is a security authentication test through challenge and answer, the third edition of BoCA sets the challenge “Prove You Are Human” and listens to answers and questions from the artists that are part of the programme, but also encourages the audience to take the test through the proposed premises, from the starting point of an aesthetic experience, reflection and an invitation to act. This small movement in that direction, which constitutes the programme of this edition of the biennale, is only possible thanks to the funding entities, the institutional partners, the co-producers, and the support it gathered and to all I am enormously thankful.

This plurality of rhythms, formats, genres and relations constitute the intersection that Paul B. Preciado tells us about and which rests on fusions that never stop being revealed by nature, as is the example of António Poppe and La Família Gitana’s project (where the poetry of Davi Kopenawa, and the Yanomami joins that of Camões); or in the new forms of experimentation with tradition that Tânia Carvalho and Matthieu Ehrlacher create, together with the Folklore group Casa do Minho em Lisboa. The crossings and the transcendence of segmentations and categorisations, in an appreciation of a community of difference, is grounded on the politics of care that raises other large questions, such as migrations and the reasons behind them, such as in “Brasa” by Tiago Cadete; the feminine and its historical condition, which Anne Imhof explores in “Untitled (Wave)”; and the visual and sound futurologies that Jonathan Saldanha gives life to in the vegetable space, similarly to Capicua with Tiago Barbosa, presenting “A Tralha” (“Junk”) in a natural space.

I propose, in this edition of BoCA, a programme that combines different rhythms of projects and of relationships with artists and institutions, leaning into a transition of processes of production and creation, integrated, plural and sustainable, such as: short-term projects that reinforce the artistic and ethical commitment to artists and structures of production, creations that elongate themselves over time and space in a bigger commitment, as opposed to the short ephemerality of the theatrical and performative spheres (Grada Kilomba, Miles Greenberg, Mónica Calle), sustainable, long-term relationships with artists and projects (Gus Van Sant, Grada Kilomba, Odete and Miles Greenberg are the Resident Artists in 2021-2022), a deepening of reflection and long-term processes that combine performativity, visuality, activism and neuroscience (Tania Bruguera and Jonathan Uliel Saldanha, highlighting the partnership with the Champalimaud Foundation in artistic residences with neuroscientists with a duration of 2 to 3 years), a focus on the direct relation and representation of local communities, artistic, associative and from diverse sectors, whose active involvement is essential to the creative development of projects (LasTesis, Grada Kilomba, Musa paradisiaca, Miles Greenberg, Gus Van Sant, project Defense of Nature), as well as begin an inter-relational ecosystem with art, sustainability and science through the project Defense of Nature, developed for 10 years and calling upon artists and populations from diverse geographies, institutional and academic partnerships (Liga para a Protecção da Natureza, Centro de Ecologia Aplicada do ISA, CENSE in FCT/Nova, Universidade do Algarve, and the city councils of Lisbon, Almada and Faro).

Prove You Are Human.