35th Bienal de São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec 2023
Free Admission
35th Bienal de
São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec
Exhibition view of Highway Gothic, by Edgar Cleijne & Ellen Gallagher, during the 35th Bienal de São Paulo – choreographies of the impossible © Levi Fanan / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo

Edgar Cleijne & Ellen Gallagher

We are living in the Anthropocene – commonly understood as a new geological era overdetermined by human action. But it is important to reflect on this concept, which is uncertain and does not designate a single geological moment, nor does it refer to the generic human being. As such, it is essential to recognize the structures of white male supremacy as part of the predatory and accelerated transformations of the geobiosphere, to contest its essence, which keeps the figure of the human at the center of the scene to the detriment of interspecies relations. It is therefore essential to experience the these artists works that, in the midst of racial and environmental violence, intersect fictions and realities with swamps, oceans, and racialized icons and symbols, leading to the construction of other political and poetic landscapes for perceiving and narrating the multi-species world. 

For it is in water and sea that these artists are anchored. Gallagher was born in Rhode Island, USA, and lives between Brooklyn, New York, and Rotterdam, Holland – cities with a significant role in the transatlantic slave trade. She has been collaborating with the Dutch artist Cleijne since 2024. Together, they created the multimedia installation Highway Gothic (2017-19), followed by Gallagher’s pictorial works Watery Ecstatic (2007, 2017, and 2021), Morphia (2008 and 2012), and Ecstatic Draught of Fishes (2019 and 2021). These works tension questions such as the legacy of colonialism, ecological impact, black displacement, and the paradigms of Eurocentric art in a process that involves Afrofabulation ¹ and Afrofuturism combined with paintings, cyanotypes, film and sound installations (the music is mnemonic and countercultural), and theoretical works on the African diaspora, such as The Black Atlantic by writer Paul Gilroy. ² Through aquatic aesthetics, Gallagher and Cleijne propose an immersion into the depths of the oceans in a dialogue with the marine, biomorphic creatures, histories/stories, and myths that inhabit these depths. It is important to point out that, as a place of forgetting, the sea carries with it erasures that express expansionist colonial narratives. Thus, in their works, in becoming, the artists imagine life after the death of Atlantic traffic. 

barbara copque
translated from Portuguese by philip somervell 

1. This is a term-concept used by authors such as Saidiya Hartman and Tavia Nyong’o.
2. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Harvard University Press, 1993, reissue.

Edgar Cleijne (Eindhoven, Netherlands, 1963. Lives in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and New York, USA) works in photography, film and installations in which space, image, and sound are interwoven. He was part of various biennials such as the 14th Istanbul Biennial (Turkey), Whitney Biennial 2010 (New York, USA), Brussels Biennial 1 (Belgium). Cleijne has also been part of several exhibitions at institutions such as Centro Botín (Santander, Spain), The Edge (Bath, UK), Peninsula Arts Gallery (Plymouth, UK), WIELS (Brussels, Belgium), and Contemporary Arts Center (Cincinnati, OH, USA). He has also been part of a collective exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven, Netherlands) and his work is featured in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, USA) and the Tate Modern (London, UK).

Ellen Gallagher (Providence, RI, USA, 1965. Lives between Rotterdam, Netherlands, and New York, USA) is an artist working with a variety of media including painting, drawing, collage, and celluloid based projections. She creates works that pivot between the natural world, mythodology, and history. Gallagher has been part of several group exhibitions as well as solo exhibitions around the world. Her work is featured in various collections of institutions including MoMA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of Art (New York, USA), The Art Institute of Chicago, MCA Chicago (USA), MOCA (Los Angeles, USA), Philadelphia Museum of Art (USA), Tate Modern (London, UK), and Centre Pompidou (Paris, France).

This participation is supported by Mondriaan Fund.