15th Biennal of Cuenca
"Change the Green to Blue"
One of the most interesting South American art events dates back to 1987. The 15th edition of Bienal de Cuenca Is organized by the director Katya Cazar and curated by Blanca de la Torre. Being held amid the ongoing pandemic it impresses by its concept and projects presented by artists from Ecuador, Brasil, Spain, Portugal, Peru, Swiss, Italy, Mexico, UK/Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, USA, Honduras and Slovenia. Let's get to know this event in more detail.
The 15th Biennial of Cuenca, Ecuador, addresses issues derived from the climate and ecosocial crisis, based on three lines of thought:
Ancestral and traditional knowledge,
rescuing the tradition of communities and indigenous wisdom and is attentive to biocultural knowledge: cultural traditions associated with biodiversity, with a special focus on the surrounding context.
Critical ecofeminism,
a section that links to the previous one regarding the recovery of knowledge about the pachamama, as well as ecodependence and intercultural learning as a way to improve all cultures.
"Escenarios futuribles"
will focus on art becoming an effective vehicle to build futures—probable and possible futures—fueled by the speculation of utopias and alternatives.
These lines of thought are close to the curator's thesis on the Biocene, which addresses an alternative concept to that of Antropocene. Previously, a multitude of alternative concepts have appeared, and in the case of the Biocene, it appeals to a new era that places life at the center.

The subheading, "Cambiar el verde por azul" ("Change the Green to Blue") alludes to greenwashing, a practice that has appropriated the color green. The water we are depleting is not green, nor are the territories devastated by extraction policies and anthropic action. Environmental racism, the loss of biodiversity, corporate colonialism… are part of an environmental narrative, much more vast than the one that made us believe in green as the color of ecology.
A Sustainable Biennial

To approach a sustainable biennial, framed by these lines of thought, the first action was to reduce the number of participating artists; fewer spaces and all close to each other. The intention is that no visitor would have to take any means of transportation to visit the venues, so as to enjoy the visit on foot and spend more time at each project. It seeks to escape the indigestible biennials, where there is never time to see everything, and they respond to a frenetic rhythm. In addition, 70% of the selected artists are women, the highest percentage of female artists compared to previous editions of the Biennial of Cuenca.

Sustainability guidelines

From the beginning, a number of guidelines have been established to care for the ecological footprint throughout the life cycle of the project. The shipment of artworks has been reduced to a minimum; most will be produced on-site, prioritizing local materials and processes that respect the environment. The focus has been on collaborating with artisans and working with the community, avoiding polluting materials and reusing display devices. A waste plan has also been developed and most of the materials will be donated to communities—wood, metals, fabrics, structures—and the few that are going to be discarded will be biodegradable.

Importance is given to the invisible processes, as the Biennial is not interested in creating a façade artistic event, rather one that really represents a change of paradigm and a transition to other ways of producing and consuming culture and knowledge. After centuries of consuming the planet, it is time to build the planet.

Mary Mattingly – USA
Ecotopic proposals, 2021

Sculpture, video, wearable homes and materials from its ecotopic bookstore

Mattingly's proposals stem from the belief that ecotopic art and thought can be a trigger for systemic social change. Limnal Lacrimosa (or of lakes, tears) describes the cyclical between water, air, and plants. In the sculpture the water flows into containers, the drops emit various sounds.
Avelino Sala and Eugenio Merino – Spain
Carpets, 2021

Totora rugs made by hand and laser printing

Avelino Sala and Eugenio Merino propose a series of rugs that will welcome visitors at the entrance of each of the Biennale venues, inviting them to step on and cross the threshold. In the phrases of historical personalities are read that show the existence of deep links between the subordination of women and the destructive exploitation of nature by the patriarchal society, as indicated by currents of ecofeminist thought.
Maria Thereza Alves – Brazil
To See the Forest Standing, 2017

Installation of nineteen video screens

This work is a call for attention towards the protection, care and preservation of the Amazon rainforest, based on interviews conducted by the artist with 34 forestry agents from AMAAIAC, Association of the Movement of Indigenous Agroforestry Agents of the State of Acre.
Eugenio Ampudia – Spain
Concert for the Biocene, 2021


This concert is a special version created as a symbolic action to reformulate the present as a paradigm shift for a post-COVID future. Unlike the presentation at the Gran Teatre del Liceo in Barcelona, where it was held for the first time before an exclusively plant-based audience, on this occasion, the plants shared seats with some spectators.
Vasco Araujo - Portugal
Machines for the End of the World, 2021

Sculptures-cart made of wood, metal, loudspeakers and text

The sculptures take the form of mobile carts, with built-in speakers from which a recording of a text by the artist comes out, in Spanish and Kichwa. These machines are based on an ancient tradition, common throughout most of the world, of disseminating news and information orally through loudspeakers or people walking through towns, villages and cities.
Ana Teresa Barboza - Peru
Plant Records, 2021

Installation, three pieces, wool fabrics, embroidery on natural materials, vegetable dyes, graphite drawing, paper tree branches.

The artist revisits practices and knowledge of her native Peru, she works in textiles that she learned to weave from her grandmother as a child. Here she has created maps woven from exploring the urban environment where she lives and the dry forest in the north of her country.
Elizabet Cervino - Cuba
Pantheon, 2021

Installation of a poem carved on the unfired clay floor.

Cerviño carves a poem on the floor of a tunnel traversed by museum visitors, who carry the erosion of the inscribed text on their feet. Thus, fired clay is given over to wear through the process of decay and erasure. The metaphor proposed by the artist is that of a soil/planet subjected to erosion by anthropic action, a slow deterioration, but in which every step counts.
Regina José Galindo – Guatemala
Rivers of People, 2021

Multi-screen installation

In Guatemala, the place of origin and residence of Regina José Galindo, 95% of the bodies of water are contaminated with high doses of organic matter, toxic elements, microorganisms and carcinogenic materials. For this reason, the artist developed Ríos de Gente, a project conceived together with Abelino Chub Caal, a community leader who defends the rights of indigenous peoples and the Guatemalan territory.
Glenda León - Cuba
Ways to save the world, 2021

Embroidered on raw cotton canvas, mirror engraved with pressure sand and repurposed school blackboard

Glenda León works with speculative fiction as a curative proposal for a way out of the misunderstanding, lack of love and frustration in which a good part of humanity finds itself.
On the other hand, she activates other spaces of the imagination and proposes alternatives to achieve another possible world.
Sandra Nakamura - Peru
Kay quritachu mikhunki? / Is this the gold you eat?, 2021

Installation of copper threads, pyrite, high relief embroidery, tubers, and potatoes native of different varieties.

The work is based on the gesture of the Peruvian farmer, weaver and activist Máxima Acuña to sing a song when receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2016. In it he narrates the abuses committed by the Newmont Mining Company in retaliation for demanding the right to remain on their lands and defend the water sources of their region.

Wilfredo Prieto – Cuba
Blind Spot, 2021

Rock, thread and coin

Prieto puts on the table the idea of accumulation by dispossession developed by David Harvey, who criticizes the hoarding of wealth in the hands of a few based on the dispossession of extractive policies. To do this, he has chosen to design a simple installation in which a piece of mineral is tense, creating balance with a coin that hangs from the opposite end.
Paúl Rosero Contreras - Ecuador
Pensamiento de las plantas

Video, sound, drawings, sculptures made with Ganoderma mushrooms and Oyster, plastic waste.

This installation is part of a long-standing research project where Rosero uses recovered fishing nets, collected cigarette butts and plastic bottles that serve as molds and structures. With this he develops an installation in the form of a forest of hybrid plants, using cacti and succulents as reference. These living sculptures are the result of the biodegradation process of the aforementioned materials.

Adán Vallecillo – Honduras
Censers I and II

Discarded Automotive Filters

Vallecillo collects filters, of different shapes and sizes, from mechanic workshops in the city of Cuenca, which mostly come from work vehicles and trucks that circulate daily and, therefore, accumulate large amounts of carbon monoxide in their structure. The artist uses them to compose sculptures as monoliths that refer to this fossilized society incapable of overcoming its dependence on non-renewable resources, the main cause of the current climate crisis.
Cristian Villavicencio – Ecuador
Experience Technologies, 2021

Sculptural, sound and audiovisual installation

Technologies of Experience rehearses an environment of expanded perception, questions the category of the "technological" as a modern system that mediates our relationship with reality through hyper-digitalization. Instead, a strategy of subjectivation of the scientific in dialogue with ancestral knowledge of the Ecuadorian context is proposed.
Basia Irland - USA
Ice Receding / Books Reseeding, 2007-2021

Frozen Book Sculpture Photographs 92.6 x 126.3 cm

Irland has been developing this series since 2007, with more than a hundred frozen book projects in which he includes endemic seeds to replace the text; these have been released into rivers around the world to repopulate their once depleted banks. The seeds embedded in the books have been selected in collaboration with botanists, ecologists and experts from each of the areas.
Asunción Molinos Gordo - Spain
How much river up there!, 2021

Ecuadorian traditional ceramic sculptures

The water began trading on the Wall Street futures market in December 2020, breaking all established agreements on the right to free access. Working with pottery and ceramics from Cuenca and Ecuador, Molinos Gordo starts from the traditional devices of the inhabitants of these latitudes of Abya Yala to transport, store and consume water. As totems, he builds sculptures using pieces fitted one inside the other.
Amor Muñoz - México
Flow, 2021

Rattan fiber (sugar cane), flexible solar cells, conductive thread and electronics.

Amor Muñoz questions the monotechnological culture that has led to the depletion of natural resources and the degradation of life. He focuses on the technology-craft relationship, creating connections between ancestral knowledge, innovation, tradition, and high and low technologies.
Rosella Biscotti - Italia
Mantas, 2021

Sculpture of traditional Ecuadorian blankets, 190 x 190 cm

Biscotti has chosen a very particular space: a room whose walls are covered with paintings that portray all the presidents throughout the history of the House of Culture in the Nucleus of Azuay, among whom we only find two women located in the background , on the bottom.
Juana Córdova - Ecuador
Vuelo de rutina, 2016-2021

White sand and feathers installation

This work is born from contemplation and curiosity when verifying every day, at certain times, the continuous flight of frigatebirds and pelicans. These observations led the artist to consult a biologist who lives in the area, who informed her about the feeding, resting and nesting habits of seabirds, activities that take place in specific sites on the coastal profile of the continent, islets and nearby islands.
Marie Velardi - Swiss-
Future perfects, 21st century, 2006-2021

Edition with handwritten texts on paper
Book of Possible Futures, 2016
Watercolor and ink on paper

The artist presents Book of Possible Futures, pages of a hypothetical book created during a residency in India. The work contains watercolor drawings called Temporal Maps, along with texts in English and Marathi (local Indian language in Mumbai, translation by Prachi Gurjarpadhye-Khandeparkar) about conversations with women and their different hopes for the future.
Karina Aguilera Skvirsky – Ecuador
How to build a wall and other ruins?, 2021

Multi-screen installation of video and seats-sculpture of recycled materials

The artist proposes a work of parafiction —a genre that navigates between reality and fiction— based on the achievements of Inca engineering and architecture in Ingapirca, Ecuador.
Augusto Ballardo – Perú
Panamazonia – living archaeology, 2021

Construction of endemic wood and toquilla straw, guayusa, chestnuts,
aeronautical fragments and cover materials (galoneras, lamps and radio transmitters) Audiovisual record Tawna – Cinema from the territory. The project is based on the community rebuilding of a maloka, which uses the model of the Pan-Amazon worldview circumscribed in a contemporary habitat that connects living beings with the dead in the airspace, Hanan Pacha or the world above, where they would meet again. all the gods.
Ursula Biemann- Suiza
Forest Mind, 2021

Installation of two channels and Amazonian jungle DNA

Ursula Biemann shows here her latest work within the long-term project of the co-creation of an indigenous University in the Amazon region of southern Colombia: Becoming University. Located in the Inga territory of the Amazon jungle, the video combines various currents of knowledge about the intelligence of plants, interspecies relationships, the codification of life and its way of storing and releasing information.
Tania Candiani - México
Water harps, 2021

Four Scott & Williams machines, charango strings, soundboard
made of wood, support for metal and wood strings, timer, motor and switch.
Four hand embroideries on cotton fabric.

Tania Candiani's work revolves around artisanal and industrial processes, the rescue of ancient techniques and the materiality and visualization of sound. This work combines her interests and reflects on two old tasks relating them to the geography of Cuenca.
Carolina Caycedo- Estados Unidos-
Water Portraits Series : Simulacrum, Another Simulacrum, Maligna II, Yacumama, 2015-2016

Photocollage printed on cotton canvas

Water is one of the axes on which Caycedo's work is often based, based on extensive research on the privatization of resources, hydroelectric projects, dams, and, in general, the impact of action anthropogenic derived from industrialization and exploitation of the environment in the communities.
Nohemí Pérez - Colombia
Resurrection, 2017-2021

Installation composed of a mural made with archive photographs and drawings

Nohemí Pérez's practice has been transversally crossed by a constant: the need to preserve the memory of the landscape affected by the war.
The epicenter of the artist's aesthetic universe is Catatumbo, Colombia, a bordering region, protected and at the same time invisible to development, whose physical characteristics have allowed the exploitation of its resources and its people.
Marjetica Potrč – Eslovenia
The House of Environmental Justice, 2021

Local wooden structure joined with wooden dowels and rope fiber ties wall painting of a drawing by Topher Man based on a concept by Marjetica Potrč.

This is a work inspired by the 2008 Constitution of Ecuador, by which the country became the first in the world to recognize rights to Nature. Since then, animate and non-animate entities have become subjects of law.
Cristina Lucas - Spain
The People that Is Missing, 2020-2021

Video-poem installation, water, charcoal, infrared and ultraviolet light 8'04''

The title of the work comes from an original quote by the Swiss artist Paul Klee and underlined by Deleuze and Guattari to state that the purpose of art is to create "the missing people, a future collectivity yet to come, endowed with genuine cohesion and functionality". Recorded in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway, this video installation challenges the viewer with some of the most urgent questions of the climate crisis.
Juan Zamora - Spain
Sometimes the ocean flows between the leaves, 2021

Installation composed of leaves of plants intervened with bioluminescence and ecological resin, drawings, sound and video

Zamora works through new and innovative bioengineering techniques, from an ecofeminist perspective based on ecodependence and intercultural learning. He focuses on the importance of making certain endemic or endangered species visible, in the exploitation to which they are subjected.
Pamela Cevallos - Ecuador
Return currents, 2021

Installation with ceramic replicas of archaeological pieces

This project investigates the practice of replicating as knowledge that builds the future and opens up possibilities for memory, knowledge and the appropriation of objects whose looting has been justified in narratives around heritage and the nation.
Natalia Espinoza - Ecuador
Archaeological corrugated, 2021

Clay and waste materials

Natalia Espinosa is set in the year 2120, when human beings have already destroyed the planet and few have survived the imbalances caused by the climate crisis. Trees are scarce, animals practically non-existent.
Fabiano Kueva - Ecuador
Alexander von Humboldt Archive. Basin, 2011-2021

Installation made up of diaries, herbariums, maps, ceramics, river water anDvideo-monitor

Fabiano Kueva presents an installation based on his research developed since 2011 around Alexander von Humboldt, who, together with the French botanist Aimé, were the protagonists —between 1799 and 1804, with special passports granted by King Carlos IV of Spain and the Council of Indies—one of the scientific trips through America with the greatest resonance.
Rosell Meseguer - Spain
Herbarium minerale. Tales, Extraction and Depth, 2021

Installation of intervened and hand-painted books, polyptych, tokens and minerals

Meseguer proposes the development of a kind of alternative encyclopedia of metallic and non-metallic resources of Ecuador, made up of a collection of accounting books, laws, botany, politics and good living.
"I believe that we have achieved a Biennial that manages to insinuate some guidelines for a paradigm shift, that speaks from the contents and from the praxis of environmental justice, of the construction of a more habitable world and suggests ways of approaching the transition to a new post-fossil era."
To have a complete vision of Bienal Cuenca we asked its curator - Blanca De La Torre - if she feels satisfied with the exhibition and if the goals outlined in the concept of Biennial are achieved?

First of all, I think the Biennial is now rooted in two of the main philosophies that lead my work and my life: Ecofeminisms and Degrowth. Both go through the entire project, not only from the discourse but in a systemic way.

I have to acknowledge that the Foundation and the executive director, Katya Cazar, supported the main decisions I took from the first day: decrease the number of participating artists (34 artists of which 67% are women), use fewer exhibition spaces and all close to each other, so the public could enjoy the walking without the need of any vehicle or transportation and invest more time with each project, understanding each artist's work behind it. We have also worked on many invisible processes, in terms of organization and production.

I am very happy with the sustainability plan, it took a lot of effort and it implies taking difficult decisions that I believe are crucial to start the path of the Transition towards a decarbonized economy. I always insist that it is not possible to make that path without getting out of the comfort zone. For instance, the reduction of the ecological footprint (we minimized water and energy resources, reduced shipping (international shipping was reduced to two works), we are committed to local production, local materials and the zero kilometers to reduce emissions and promote the productive fabric of the region, we have avoided polluting materials as much as possible and we are looking for a second life for those that are not biodegradable in order to get as close as possible to the zero-waste philosophy. For example, bags for catalogs are being made with banners and posters. Also, the 10 R's plan has worked quite well. As part of it we have repurposed all the museographic structures (plinths, vitrines, tables etc…), repaired old materials in order to create new ones like glass, wood, fabrics etc. We have valued small local crafts and small producers against large corporations

And we worked looking for the circular economy, designing a waste plan through donations to communities and reuse of other objects.

Having said that, I don't want to set myself an example of anything or convey that we have achieved a 100% sustainable Biennial or anything like that. If precisely with my work I seek to fight against greenwashing and the different forms of green capitalism that are emerging, it would not be honest to pretend to teach anything, when we work in a profession that involves constantly navigating contradiction.

Among other things, times are always too short, stress is there, the overexertion of the teams, and all kinds of last-minute complications and problems that become even more acute in times of pandemic. There are still many things that should be improved, and against which we must fight through collective effort, because let's not forget that all our cultural and artistic institutions are part of a patriarchal, colonial and capitalist system. Getting out of there is a multidimensional, multifactorial and systemic task, which cannot be achieved simply by applying a decalogue. What I do is point out other possible ways of producing and consuming culture.

I am also satisfied with the tone, the positive discourse that the Biennale transmits. We are at a time when it is useless to settle on criticism, we need alternatives, solutions, and encourage collective socioecological imagination.

In general terms, I believe that we have achieved a Biennial that manages to insinuate some guidelines for a paradigm shift, that speaks from the contents and from the praxis of environmental justice, of the construction of a more habitable world and suggests ways of approaching the transition to a new post-fossil era.