The Bienal


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A scribble goes a long way in Cuenca. Especially if you give it a good name. A clever one. Since 1986, the inaugural year of Cuenca’s Art Biennial, there is probably no Ecuadorian city as comfortable with the extravagance of contemporary art as this one.

The Bienal de Cuenca is, conclusively, the country’s foremost receptacle of world art: “art” in that newer sense of the term, a word that no longer means pretty pictures, soothing landscapes or happy portraits. We’re talking digital smudges, bells hanging from ceilings, photographs of pain and grief projected onto bed linen, video rooms, or a drawing table covered in architectural models, a coffee cup and aMcDonald’s paper bag.India’s Shilpa Gupta, in 2011, left the boundaries of the museum walls, and used the city itself as her backbone, support and concept, projecting her work onto Cuenca’s heritage architecture. It received a second prize.

Venues open their doors for free to host a long-antipated ‘art fest’ that comes around every couple of years under the pretense of discombobulating what many people curiously believe is Ecuador’s most conservative city. Just out of sheer curiosity, regular Cuencanos, ex-pats and visitors join the art-lovers, art experts and curators who arrive specifically to take part in these world-class exhibits, prepared to rack their brains and try and “get” what goes on inside the minds of artists around the world.

The community at large has inevitably been exposed
to, if not explored, new boundaries. At the very least, people have learned to accept that art comes in many incongruent, non-descript and unexplainable forms. But some believe a surge of creativity and avant-guardism has coursed through the city since the Bienial’s inception.

This is due not just to the influence of work of the individual artists who display at the event, but to the secondary, indirect reactions of younger generations of Cuencanos, exposed to the world’s most extreme sensibilities who call Cuenca their temporary home during the Bienal.

Cuenca-born Juana Cordova is like a go-between of high art and craft talent. Her work is witty, yes, but it’s immaculate as well. It’s elegant and it’s thoughtful, and it feels extremely contemporary, with unexpected materials usually offering that deeper feel that will, more often than not, get you thinking.

Juana Córdova, artist.

Her attention to detail and her skill make her conceptual work look stunning, not only because of how well-crafted the finished products end up, but because you’d surely love to see her in action, find out just how in the world she pulled it off. And while you are concentrating on the technical side of things, you’ll come back to how modern her sensibilities are, which ultimately explains why her work lies at the cutting edge of contemporary pizzazz in Ecuador.

She makes checkered shawls out of dice, tapestries out of chicken bones, and forests out of paper; seashell earphones, a body collaged in bandages or beauty pageant crowns built with matches.
She’s always saying something, or at least it feels like every piece is as much a concept as something to hang on a wall, perhaps all alone, to give the observer time and space to take it in. He or she will surely enjoy the mental exercise of put- ting two-and-two together, a fun activity they will appreciate and usually couple with that inevitable admiration for the te- nacity and patience it takes to make each piece as seamless as possible – like any Cuencana artisan would her silver filigree or finest paja toquilla hat…

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