The 31st São Paulo Biennial, “How to (...) Things That Don’t Exist,” was a poetic call to the promise of art. The curatorial team—Charles Esche (Scotland), Galit Eilat (Israel), Nuria Enguita Mayo (Spain), Pablo Lafuente (Spain) and Oren Sagiv (Israel), with associate curators Benjamin Seroussi and Luiza Proença (Brazil)—worked horizontally, in a way that attempted to respond to the precarious balance between collectivity and conflict. The biennial included 70 projects by artists, architects, theater groups, choreographers, and sociologists. Seven projects were developed by artists and contributors from Israel: Yochai Avrahami, Yael Bartana, Michael Kessus Gedalyovich, Leigh Orpaz, and Nurit Sharett, as well as the New Jerusalem, a research based project curated by Eyal Danon & Benjamin Seroussi.
Small World (2014), Avrahami’s contribution to the biennial, was a monumental installation where the artist proposed a situation where there is no history: a museum for something that does not exist. Bartana showed Inferno (2013), depicting the inauguration of a grand temple, its destruction, and the worship of its debris. Michael Kessus Gedalyovich showed two works from 2014, The Name Giver, which takes the biblical story of creation as its starting point, and The Placebo Scroll, where Gedalyovich’s shares his journey from the Eden Hills in Israel to the Peruvian Amazon, by way of the Moroccan plains, in order to meet healers, shamans, rabbis, priests, and amulet-makers who might have knowledge unknown or unrecognized outside their communities. Leigh Orpaz exhibited her work Breakfast (2014), a video work of dancing crowds composed of black and white figures that resemble the living-dead, filmed using an infrared camera, a recording device sensitive to temperature and often used for military purposes. And Nurit Sharett showed Counting the Stars (2014), a documentary about the unsettled identities of Brazilian descendants of Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism by the Portuguese Inquisition in the fifteenth century.