14th Biennale of Sydney (2004)

On Reason and Emotion

4 June – 15 August 2004
Artistic Director: Isabel Carlos

Artistic Director Foreword

First published on the occasion of the 14th Biennale of Sydney (2004) in the exhibition catalogue titled ‘On Reason and Emotion’ edited by Isabel Carlos.

14th Biennale of Sydney (2004) exhibition catalogue is available for purchase from our online shop.

‘I really wish I could write to you in the language in which I was brought up’ the philosopher Spinoza (1632–77) expressed in one of his letters, referring to the fact that he was unable to speak Latin and Dutch nearly as well as Portuguese, his native language.

Images from the 14th Biennale of Sydney (2004)

With the distance separating one of history’s greatest philosophers from this biennale curator well in mind, I nevertheless enunciate this gap at the very beginning, for while it is perhaps not decisive, it is fundamental. As the Brazilian writer Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro wrote:

In the first place, I’m not really bilingual, as some generous English speaking friends of mine like to pretend …

But honesty commands me to add that I also make a lot of not so subtle mistakes, even gross ones …

I mix categories, elocutions and word arrangements from the several languages I like to play with, and the result, of course, makes no sense. And if I get carried away when writing a text in English, I unconsciously let my native language slip into it. For instance, there is no neutral gender in Portuguese, so everything is either he or she.

I’m announcing this gap not only as a subjective issue but also because throughout the exhibition the dimension of translation is present. An international event, even if mainly visual, always carries the need for the translation of words, realities and worlds. This amounts to more than the changing of subtitles in some videos.

Following this idea, an exhibition is something to be experienced with feelings that go far beyond what can be written about, and this sort of introductory text is a kind of necessary evil; a discourse parallel to the exhibition itself and all that it creates. You might ask then: why not invite someone with a literary or theoretical background to write, instead of a curator’s text? Precisely because that would not be a parallel discourse, but rather another territory altogether, and I would like to assume this responsibility, even when written well in advance of the exhibition opening.

I have worked with a concept that has guided my choices, although the works and artists cannot be reduced to this; they overcome it in an enriching manner, above all being neither illustrative nor derivative of that concept alone. Hence, telegraphic references to the artists appear throughout the text, sprinkled about like beacons and indicating the paths and ideas that have guided me. However, these are not definitive readings of their respective works, and for this reason I encourage you to read the individual texts on each one of them.

What these references do provide are a better understanding of how a theoretical ‘skeleton’ is transformed into a body, with flesh, organs and feelings, which will move – or rather, be viewed – by itself, regardless of its origins. (Forgive me this metaphor, which is perhaps excessively anatomic, even Frankensteinian.)