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Luis Camnitzer:    Letter from Porto Alegre ( III - end )
The Mercosur Biennial is a potential response to the problem. By focusing on art in the rigorous manner proposed by Morais, avoiding national divisions and organizing an expressive fabric in terms of aspects, it attempted to establish an identifiable configuration. But Mercosur itself is only a regional fraction of Latin America. It is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and there are certain historical reasons (the colonization format and certain wars) which united these countries [ 6 ]. With the addition of Bolivia, Chile and Venezuela, the selection logic becomes more tenuous and results in a fragmentation of Latin America based on the predisposition of some governments to sign the respective trade documents. Thus this Biennial in fact seems to replace the old identifiable criteria of ethnic group and nationality by the criteria of production and consumption.

It may now be speculated that NAFTA (the regional agreement concluded between Canada, the United States and Mexico) might also organize a biennial based on its own sphere of production and consumption. With the diasporas which exist, there arises the obvious question: Where should an Uruguayan artist living in New York show his work? If the response is to be determined by the market in which that artist operates, then the place would clearly be NAFTA. If identity is based on the cultural region in which the artist was nurtured, then the place would clearly be Mercosur. And yes, he could also show his work in both places. But this would mean accepting that art can be globalized, an old view (pre-multiculturalist and pre-dating the recognition of ethnic rights) embraced by the hegemonic centers. It is also a position which refutes the possibility of a biennial with identifiable characteristics, such as a Latin American biennial or, in the case in point, what to some extent the Mercosur Biennial is trying to do.

Within these parameters, the Biennials of Venice and São Paulo are clear in their inter-nationalist position. Both have inherited the ideologies of the last century, where everything was concentrated on competition between countries. The Venice Biennial began in l895 and the Olympic Games were re-established in l896 - and both events were shaped in the same mold. Later, the São Paulo Biennial was established in line with the Venice model. The Havana Biennial, on the other hand, in a process of evolution, opted to represent ethnicity and marginality. The Mercosur Biennial represents the new contradictions which are emerging today.

Rubens Gerchman: The Judgement
Rubens Gerchman
and documentation
Morais clearly proposed the Biennial as a Latin American event. History, cultural roots, political and aesthetic proposals were clearly articulated and well conceived in the Biennial, where the art was not organized according to countries but by aspects: the political dimension (north to south, a current ranging from the Mexican muralism of the early decades to the Southern Cone of the l960s and l970s), the constructivist dimension (abstractionism, which runs from south to north) and the cartographic dimension (the mapping of identities which is occuring at the continental level). To this was added a show on the last five years, devoted to young artists, as well as other satellite exhibitions. This approach successfully transcended the arbitrary divisions established by geographical frontiers in an attempt to identify the cultural flow which reveals the coherences and differences of the continent. But the commercial-geographical dimension invalidated this enterprise. This was not because of the fact that Colombia, to mention one of the countries which were not present, was not represented, but because of the fact that Colombia's presence is necessary if the panorama is to have any meaning - and the same can be said for all the countries of the continent which were also absent.

The Mercosur Biennial is the second major Latin American exhibition created in Latin America [ 7 ]. It is also the largest and most ambitious, comparable only to The Bride of the Sun, organized by the Royal Museum of Antwerp in l992. But whereas the latter endeavored to provide a complete panorama of post-Columbian art, the Biennial focused in what in hegemonic terms would be called modern and postmodern art. The material presented was fascinating, but only had a meaning if the visitor filled in the gaps with his or her own knowledge. Since furthermore the show managed to present artists and works that were surprising but not very well-known, the frustration was even greater since it highlighted the ignorance remaining beyond what we know.

Luis Camnitzer
Luis Camnitzer
Despite its twofold lack of completion before its inauguration, the Biennial was already revealing artists. They included Ignacio Soler (Paraguay), represented by his militant-naif paintings. The work of João Câmara Filho (Brazil) consisted of a personal revision of German »New Objectivity« (Neue Sachlichkeit) as applied to the history of Brazil, culminating in the suicide of Getulio Vargas. Waldemar Cordeiro (Brazil), who had a small show in the constructivist section, provided a strange and missing link between pop art and conceptualism, with his work entitled Popcreto. Uruguayan constructivism appeared in a synthetic exhibition which was nevertheless more than correctly representative. There were also some folkloric and unavoidable curiosities, including the Andean geometry of Vergara Grez (Chile).
João Câmara Filho
João Câmara Filho
Of the intermediate generations, the Biennial included the finished installations of Carlos Capelan (Uruguay) and Cildo Meireles (Brazil). The former, in a (fruitless) attempt to free himself form his drawing work, sprinkled water, milk and Coca Cola over a space which he filled with wooden pillars and a sofa on which the specatator could sit with his back to a mural drawn in Capelan's characteristic style. Meireles re-did his piece entitled Mission/Missions: How to construct cathedrals. Created ten years ago, it had been inaugurated in the same place (the rectory of the University of Rio Grande) where it was now being shown. Of the younger generations, special mention must be made of the small objects and sculptures of Efrain Almeida (Brazil), the digitalized photographs of Keila Alaver (Brazil), the morbo-scientific installations of Rosa Velasco (Chile) and the work l950 by Pablo Conde (Uruguay).
Cildo Meireles
Cildo Meireles
Conde's work can be seen as a symbol of the positive potential of the Mercosur spirit. It consisted of a delapidated wall supported an incomplete mosaic mural, where the image was a photograph of a Uruguayan team which won the world cup in Maracana, beating Brazil. This event has become a watershed in the definition of Uruguayan identity and self-esteem and after almost half a century acquired the same importance which Waterloo had for England. In Conde's work, and in the audacity of placing it on Brazilian territory and in a deteriorated state, the memory of the game becomes a meditation on the partial histories which have faded and become invalidated by time. An offering in the name of the possible disappearance of nationalisms.

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Pablo Conde
Pablo Conde

6. The Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro had suggested back in l933 the creation of the Andesia Republic, made up of Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, to counter the North American hegemony in the continent.
7. The first was Ante America, an exhibition curated by Gerardo Mosquera, Carolina Ponce de León and Rachel Weiss, which began in Bogotá in l99l and subsequently travelled to the United States and Costa Rica.
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