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Installation shot, Bienal São Paulo

In 1977, the French philosopher and critic Roland Barthes advocated what he called ‘idiorhythmy’ as the answer to the problem of living together. He developed this concept in a seminar series, whose title has been adopted by the 27th Bienal de São Paulo. Barthes defined idiorhythmy as an state in which every person would be able to find, impose and preserve his or her own rhythm of life.

The Bienal’s curatorial team, led by Brazilian Lisette Lagnado, has adopted this strategy by complementing the main exhibition with a number of events unfolding at different speeds. Thus, this edition of the Bienal, which does away with national representation for the first time in its history, officially opened in January 2006, with the launch of a seminar series, the first of which was dedicated to Marcel Broodthaers (1924–76). A fortnight of films and ten artistic residencies were also programmed as an official part of the Bienal.

The main exhibition, located in the Bienal hall, a massive modernist oblong with seemingly interminable floors, gathers together the work of more than 100 artists, with a majority from Latin America and Europe. With each artist represented by several works—or in some cases, a mini solo show—it would be difficult for visitors to see it all in one day. Such a plethora of works inevitably shores up numerous contradictions, but consistency is rarely the point of a biennial, and perhaps discord should be seen as a unique feature of the format, which continues to operate in a sphere that has yet to decide on its terms for success and failure.

How to Live Together has been assembled around two central themes, both inspired by the project of legendary Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica (1937–80). ‘Constructive Projects’, which addresses architecture and the influential legacy of Brazilian concrete and neo-concrete runs alongside ‘Programs for Life’, largely concerned with including the spectator in the work and transposing art into everyday life. A high point of the constructive strand is Florian Pumhösl’s ‘Programm’, 2006, a 16mm filmic ode to Gregori Warchavchik’s São Paulo Casa Modernista, built in 1927–8. The interactive side of the biennial includes crowd pleasers such as Tomas Saraceno’s spectacular three-storey-high stack of inhabitable crystal PVC bubble-rooms, and a room occupied by the Argentinean collective Taller Popular de Serigrafia, who have set up a fully-functioning silk-screening workshop in which visitors can participate.

The most intriguing section of the Bienal is the ‘Broodthaers Nucleus’, a show within a show by guest curator Jochen Volz, in which the ghost of the Belgian conceptualist lives on through works by Rirkrit Tiravanija, Tacita Dean and Goshka Macuga. Built around signature works by Broodthaers, including components of his Musée d’Art Moderne Département des Aigles, the nucleus questions standard modes of exhibition presentation and art production. Installed on a raised wooden platform that covers the central area of two floors, it has a more reflective feel than the rest of the show, which suffers from contamination by just a handful of blaring works. But noise pollution is just one of the many types of conflict, both formal and conceptual, that constitute the biennial genre, and on which mega-exhibitions such as How to Live Together thrive.

Ellen Mara De Wachter is a writer and curator