2015 Curitiba International Biennial
October 3 – December 6, 2015
Curator: Teixeira Coelho
Light is the necessary condition for the existence of most artworks, if not all of them. But there is one specific contemporary art domain that addresses light in itself as the sufficient condition for its manifestation. Among all art forms, light art is possibly the freest from any kind of rhetoric and cerebrality. There is in light art a silence of words and images that is most appropriate to create around the beholder the conditions for his direct contact with the deepest and purest esthetic experience, the kind of experience a number of artists looked for in the late 19th century and in the early decades of the 20th without actually succeeding before abstract art came into being. The invention of the first operational light bulb by Thomas Edison in 1879 opened the way for a new kind of art , a possibility that was not perceived as such until several decades later. To paint with a light ray was possibly the oldest dream of many artists up to modern times, the most immaterial medium for art if ever was one.
Free from representational intents and aims, light as an art form in itself was likely to say what could not be said, to speak the unspeakable. “Writing led me to silence”, said Samuel Beckett just a few shades of meaning away from Wittgenstein’s “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”. One must be silent about that but we may show it. The visual arts are free from Beckett’s curse, if it was one for him. It usually does not appeal to words and representational images, but when it does it gives to what is being said and shown a denser and more interior dimension that can be better felt than understood. There are forms of light art that do resort to words and images, an exception to this picture: that is just as well, art is not a closed and poor system that manifests itself in one way only and whose components correspond entirely to previously established structures and functions, like the system of meaning in a traffic light with its three colors that always mean the same thing and always come in a very same and strict order. Even then, those forms operate more according to the picture here described than to the more traditional languages in art.
Light art creates with its beholder a direct and immediate connection that avoids the interface of reasoning and, therefore, dismiss with interpretation. There are no prevailing trends in art these days anymore, which is just as well; however, that does not stop art from being again and repeatedly documentational and argumentative in a time when these two kinds of narratives in art have probably lost most of their meaning. This absence of meaning is often replaced today, not surprisingly, by new modes of representational images, metaphorical or conceptual, that suggest a meaning while leaving to the beholder all responsibility of interpretation. In its nakedness, light art goes beyond that. All issues are abolished in the iconical scene built by light art, an art that more often than not does not feel the drive to address any issue at all, an art free also from concepts and logical schemes, apt to reveal and to present itself as sense-refreshing and literally eye-opening.
This kind of art is not historical, psychological, social or philosophical, not even spiritual in a strict sense: it may have traces of all that but it is above all phenomenological, linked to the actualexperience of the beholder in front of it or involved by it, a beholder who is not an spectator anymore but a living component of the art situation thus created. Art narratives in an exhibition usually start by suggesting a concept that is not necessarily translated into the content actually displayed, and that therefore does not offer the observer an opportunity to experience any actual sense and feeling. Contrary to that and independently from any specialized requirement, usually available for the art professionals only, light art offers itself as a direct experience. The greatest tragedy in the art situation is the almost always unsurmountable distance between the artist’s and the beholder’s perspectives and expectations . In light art, such a distance tends to disappear or to be sized down to its lowest possible dimension. Estrangement, however, which still is what one expects from an authentic work of art, manifests itself in light art, either in the traditional gallery inside a museum or in open and public spaces. Estrangement and fascination, this is what best defines light art, a perfect and rather unusual combination.
The title for the 2015 edition of the Curitiba Biennial is taken from the eponymous novel by the Finnish author Halldór Laxness, the 1955 Nobel Prize winner. The title of his novel, published in 1937, is not the only reason for it being reproduced in this version of the Curitiba Biennial. Living and writing in one of the world’s end, Halldór Laxness affirmed the power of beauty, which he believed to be at the core of poetic experience whichever it may be. Halldór Laxness also venerated and paid his tribute to nature, whose “inexpressible music” he could hear and in which he was able to find the “sonic revelation” of a deity that for him was not only purely imaginary or religious but resulted from the sense of all living beings in their relation with one another and the world – a world that, he wrote, should be guided by the idea of freedom and social justice. It could hardly be more contemporary than that.
Light has been consistently identified with beauty, there is and there has been a culture of light and humanity rightly sees beauty in light, besides a medium as indispensable to life as water and air. It is now rightly acknowledged that light comes from all corners of the world, not from some of them only, another reason for trusting the beauty in it. Light is not positivity only, though, and this edition of the Curitiba Biennial, not oblivious of the fact that darkness and light are a strictly tied couple, will remind it once more. Nevertheless, light calls for more light, just as Goethe may have said in his last words; and that is what the 2015 Curitiba Biennial wishes to suggest once more.