35th Bienal de São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec 2023
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35th Bienal de
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6 Set to 10 Dec
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Detail view of Pulmão da mina [Lung of the Mine], by Luana Vitra, during the 35th Bienal de São Paulo – choreographies of the impossible Photo: Victor Galvão

Luana Vitra

The transmission of oral stories is one of the subjects of Luana Vitra’s research. Originally from Minas Gerais, she grew up listening to accounts from relatives involving everything from Afro-diasporic celebrations, knowledge, and technologies, to the traumas of the slave-owning past of the Ouro Preto region, where her family lives. A constant theme is the stories that involve the legacy of centuries of extractive economies that still promote the degradation of local ecosystems. Vitra remembers hearing about enslaved people who used to take canaries with them to work in gold mines. This bird, with its incessant singing and accelerated metabolism, was used as a sentinel. Its lungs reacted in an instant to the presence of toxic gasses emanating from mineral extraction, and its silence was the warning for miners to open paths to escape the galleries, avoiding the dangers of lethal intoxication. The survival of those people meant the death of the birds, evincing how the regime of slavery not only devastated human lives, but extended its terror over other species.

The above narrative is the starting point of Luana Vitra’s work for the 35th Bienal de São Paulo. The installation’s main element is a series of arrow-amulets intended for unblocking paths. Made of iron, a paradigmatic material and of recurrent use in her works, they act as conductors, pointing to places of prosperity where “possibility prevails.” At the center of the installation, one notices that some of them are grouped and positioned diagonally towards each other. For Vitra, this composition creates a path that spatializes the meanings and possibilities that each grouping carries. Added to the composition of the work are copper gourds, birds bathed in silver and copper, metals of a highly conductive nature, and indigo powder, a substance often used for energy cleansing.

thiago de paula souza
translated from Portuguese by philip somervell

Luana Vitra (Contagem, MG, Brazil, 1995) was born and raised in the state of Minas Gerais, in a region known for its monumental natural landscapes which is also profoundly marked by industrial mining activities. Therefore, she has always experienced the different possible manifestations of iron and soot. Gested between carpentry — on her father’s side — and handling words — on her mother’s side —, her practice stems from processes that recognize the physical qualities and subtle contours of matter, and investigate the psycho-emotional infusion of landscapes. From compositions made with a wide range of materials, her objects and installations reconfigure universal symbols and elaborate others, especially invested in the qualities of matter, evoking poetry, discussing subjectivities and raising political questions. Vitra’s works have been presented in spaces such as MAM-Rio (Brazil), South London Gallery (United Kingdom), MASP (Brazil), Javett Up (Pretoria, South Africa) and Framer Framed (Amsterdam, Netherlands).