Dialogue with bones – Pia Lindman at the São Paulo Biennial

Nose Eyes Ears (2016) is a performative, multisensory piece presented by Finnish artist Pia Lindman at the 32nd São Paulo Biennial from September 7 to December 11 in Brazil. For her piece, Lindman will perform bone and joint treatments on biennial visitors using methods described in The Kalevala, a work of epic poetry based on oral folklore and mythology compiled by Elias Lönnrot in the nineteenth century. The treatments take place in a mud hut constructed according to a traditional Brazilian technique inside the biennial pavilion.


In her projects, Pia Lindman utilises native methodologies and traditional lore. Her artistic practice is also directly informed by research and science. The work presented in the biennial addresses the themes of healing, physical and imaginary circulation as well as diverse dialogues with nature and all its beings.

“During the last ten years, I have been exploring different toxic states and spaces as well as healing processes. I’ve been studying Kalevala-based bone-setting methods along with Finnish spells, clay buildings, eco-villages, microbiology and environment psychology,” Lindman describes.

The 32nd São Paulo Biennial, Inzerteza Viva (Live Uncertainty) runs until December 11. The title refers to the instability of our time, an era of economic, political and climatic uncertainty. Lindman met Lars Bang Larsen, one of the biennial’s curators, in Kassel a few years ago. The two quickly identified common interests in their practices.

“We shared an interest in the concept of toxicity. Later on when Lars Bang Larsen was visiting Finland, he also visited our eco-village in Solbacka, Inkoo. He asked me write about my experiences on toxic spaces and mould exposures for his book Networks (Whitechapel London, 2014). I was eventually invited to the São Paulo biennial because the curators were interested in my way of combining traditional Kalevala-based bone-setting with new ways of making art.”


Dialogue with bones

The Kalevala is based on ongoing oral tradition, bringing together myths, songs as well knowledge of centuries-old practices of rural communities, including different healing techniques such as bone-setting. The treatment is based on seeing the human body as a holistic entity, seeking ways to improve its overall balance.

“The treatments are all about reading the language of the bones, which draws on age-old knowledge. The human body has evolved over thousands of years so nowadays when people have pains or injuries, it’s usually because of a conflict between the modern ways we use our bodies and the original purposed for which our bones evolved.”

Lindman’s biennial project required a suitable setting, which led her to study a traditional Brazilian construction technique called Pau a Pique. Her aim was to create a healing, healthy space for the treatments, using ecological materials that contain health-enhancing microbes.

“Because I knew I wanted to perform these treatments as part of my piece, I needed to create a suitable space. I learned about Pau a Pique and met local architects, builders and microbiologists. Pau a Pique mainly uses mud and bamboo, which are regarded as microbially healthy building materials.”

The mud hut built for the biennial pavilion was designed to enhance the beneficial health impacts of the microbes, materials and air quality of the space.

“Mud as a construction material contains organic materials and good bacteria, such as mycobacterium vaccae. This bacterium has been found to positively affect our well-being and immune system – it even acts as an antidepressant.”

In the hut, visitors are constantly in dialogue with these microbes, organisms and age-old healing processes without even noticing. The mud hut is designed to be in constant interaction with a tree outside the pavilion, with three bamboo tubes constantly pumping healthy microbes and oxygen into the hut. The concept of circulation is thus expressed in real, imaginary and conceptual ways in this interactive relationship.


Residency as a stronghold for artistic work

During the biennial, Lindman has been working at the FAAP – Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado artist residency. The residency has given her a valuable base from which to focus on the ongoing process of performing and developing the treatments. Besides enjoying the artistic process and the record-breaking number of biennale visitors, Lindman has been delighted to have received acknowledgment from other professionals.

“It has been very rewarding to notice and experience that even though I feel that my own practice has moved beyond the bounds of traditional art genres, more in the direction of modern shaman or healer, there are curators who recognize and understand the meanings and potentials of my practice. There are several other artists participating in the biennale who seek to engage in dialogue with nature and our environment, for instance with indigenous peoples, astral planes and futuristic technologies.”

Lindman praises both the selected artists and also the biennial organisation and the curators in charge.

“The staff at the São Paulo biennial is highly professional and dedicated. The curator in charge, Jochen Volz, is a charming, fantastic personality, who makes everybody here feel important and irreplaceable. Everybody is thrilled to have the opportunity to work in the biennial – and that clearly shows in the quality of the work,” says the artist.

“There are more female that male artists participating in this year’s biennial. Considering their ages, ethnicities and races, it is an exceptionally diverse biennial exhibition. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the biennial as an empowering, notable platform for all these new and genuinely diverse voices and practices.”