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Live Uncertainty

The title of the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, INCERTEZA VIVA (Live Uncertainty), proposes to look at notions of uncertainty and the strategies offered by contemporary art to embrace or inhabit it. While stability is understood as a remedy against anxiety, uncertainty is generally avoided or denied. The arts, though, have always played on the unknown. Historically, art has insisted on vocabularies that allow for fiction and otherness, and it dwells on the incapacity of existing means to describe the systems we are part of. Uncertainty in art points to creation, taking into account ambiguity and contradiction. Art feeds off chance, improvisation and speculation. It leaves room for error, for doubt and even for the most profound misgivings without evading or manipulating them. Art is grounded on imagination, and only through imagination will we be able to envision other narratives for our past and new ways into the future.

INCERTEZA VIVA recognizes uncertainties as a generative guiding system and is built on the conviction that in order to confront the big questions of our time objectively, such as global warming and its impact on our habitats, the extinction of species and the loss of biological and cultural diversity, rising economic and political instability, injustice in the distribution of the Earth’s natural resources, global migration and the frightening spread of xenophobia, it is necessary to detach uncertainty from fear. INCERTEZA VIVA is clearly connected to notions endemic to the body and the earth, with a viral quality in organisms and ecosystems. Though it is commonly associated with the word crisis, it is not equivalent to it. Uncertainty is, above all, a psychological and affective condition linked to individual or collective decision-making processes, describing the varying levels of understanding and doubt in a given situation.

Discussing uncertainty also includes processes of unlearning and requires an understanding of the boundless nature of knowledge. Describing the unknown always implies interrogating what we take for granted as known, an openness to learn from indigenous and local knowledge systems, and valuing scientific and symbolic codes as complementary rather than exclusionary. Art promotes an active exchange between people, recognizing uncertainties as guiding generative and constructive systems. Art appropriates a transdisciplinary approach to research and education. But how can art’s numerous methods of reasoning be applied to other fields of public life?

Setting out to trace cosmological thinking, ambient and collective intelligence, and systemic and natural ecologies, INCERTEZA VIVA is built as a garden, where themes and ideas are loosely woven into an integrated whole, structured in layers, an attempt at ecology in itself. It is not organized in chapters, but rather based on dialogues between distinct explorations by 81 artists from 33 countries. The exhibition looks to a series of historical artists, who have provided a set of strategies that are now perhaps more relevant than ever before. That said, the majority of the artistic projects has been especially commissioned for the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo, not to illustrate a theoretical or thematic framework, but to unfold the creative principles of uncertainty in many different directions. Numerous artworks look directly at nature and biological, botanical or alchemical processes, which can teach us about diversification and multiplicity. Other works incorporate or examine the multitude of narratives and forms of knowledge. Others critically examine political, economic and media structures of power and representation. And again others trigger the imagination and test alternative paths forward. The 32nd Bienal de São Paulo understands itself as permeable and accessible, actively participating in the continuous construction of Ibirapuera Park as a public space, expanding its sense of community; the exhibition as an extension of the park inside the pavilion. And the garden thus becomes a model, both metaphorically and methodologically, promoting a diversity of spaces, favouring experiences and activation through the public.

INCERTEZA VIVA is a collective process that started in early 2015 and involved teachers, students, artists, activists, educators, scientists and thinkers in São Paulo, in Brazil and beyond. But it is also a collective process about to begin. Just as art naturally joins thinking with doing, reflection with action, it is only through the audience’s encounter with the works, the many performances and the Bienal’s public and educational programs over the coming months that the real wealth of INCERTEZA VIVA emerges. Today, it is the Bienal’s role to be a platform that actively promotes diversity, freedom and experimentation, while exercising critical thought and producing other possible realities.

Jochen Volz, Gabi Ngcobo, Júlia Rebouças, Lars Bang Larsen and Sofía Olascoaga