Time Out São Paulo

Inside the Bienal, with Sheila Hicks

Sheila Hicks discusses the innovative work of the Chilean architectural collective Ciudad Abierta.

With the great and the good of the São Paulo art world buzzing about the 30th São Paulo Bienal, we got the insider lowdown from three Bienal artists – Shelia Hicks, Eduardo Berliner and Sofia Borges  –  on whose work most impressed them at this year's Bienal.

Here, the textile artist Sheila Hicks talks to us about the work of the groundbreaking Chilean architectural collective, Ciudad Abierta. 

‘Without a doubt the discovery, or rediscovery, for me at the Bienal was the presentation by Ciudad Abierta. It encompassed and epitomised the range of emotions and intelligence promised by the curator’s title, “The Imminence of Poetics”, and the statement of purpose of the exhibition as a whole. It was just beautiful, from beginning to end.

‘They made a series of about 20 structures from this white material that was lit from behind – structures on what I’d call a kind of pliable plane, elasticised, to simulate earth shapes. Since it was fabric, they were able to push and pull that textile, pliable plane into the most beautiful forms that became architecture. I watched as they constructed their stand and organised their space with grace and brilliance, telling the story of nearly 50 years of shared poetic enactments on two continents.

‘Before the Bienal, the curators visited them in Valparaiso. They were amazed, because when they invited them to show them what they did, the 19 students who had signed up created their installation right there on the floor.

‘They arrived with their soldering tools, their saws and so on, and created the whole thing. They made the sub-structure and the super-structure, which is elasticised fabric. You look at it and think, this is a whole new world. ‘Where they live in Valparaiso, on the coast, the terrain is very uneven, so building involves finding forms that suit that kind of terrain. I saw something like that in São Paulo too – I went to Lina Bo Bardi’s Casa de Vidro, which is built on stilts.

‘But these people, instead of using stilts, carve into the terrain and come back out of it to create the most beautiful and unique kinds of forms. They marry the earth with the sky, lifting us to a kind of wonderful celestial space on Earth. It’s very, very poetic.

'Which is something that seems to be making people quite nervous about this Bienal: they’re saying, “Why are we talking about poetry?” I think people seem little flat-footed, a little nerved out by the curator’s idea of poetics.

‘Ciudad Abierta’s is a creation that starts from scratch – it’s an encounter that transforms your whole sense of being by lifting you to another register of existence, or another level of intensity. There are a lot of intense and almost frightening experiences in the Bienal. But if you’re willing to open up and experience that, it’s absolutely worth it.’

By Claire Rigby


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