The ideas of experimentation and radicalism live under a worldwide umbrella of cultural institutions. Social practice, community engagement, and the very meaning of the act of teaching are often part of the research pool we use to consider the responsibilities of cultural institutions in their attempts to provide aesthetic experiences. When we talk about experimentation, are we all operating by the same definition?
I went to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo to look at a range of large- and small-scale modern and contemporary art spaces in order to get a glance of their cultural landscapes and means of experimentation. The sites I visited ranged from the most popular museums to young organizations that seek to be sustainable.
I started in Rio de Janeiro, where I met artist Lygia Clark’s assistants, Gina Ferreira and Lula Vaderlei. We tested some of Clark’s “therapeutic objects” and talked about her emphasis on the exploration and production of movement, space, and the construction of the self. Next, I joined Geo Britto at the Centro do Teatro Oprimido—an organization of which he is the director—where he engages with different favela communities using the methodology of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. The goal is to democratize the means of cultural production, empower people through the aesthetic, and discuss highly complex problems related to gender, racism, public transportation, housing, and violence. This was followed by a visit to Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio (MAM) and its wonderful exhibitions that touched upon Brazilian art, strategies of resistance, and identities in transit, after which I went to Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói (MAC) and Casa Daros.
At MAC I had a four-hour exchange with well-known educators and cultural activists Luiz Ghillerme Vergara and Jessica Gogan, along with members of their staff. To highlight a lesson learned, we thought about the museum as a social school that explores the practice of art and social engagement. Museums are meant to give a voice to the visitor, to construct interaction, and to ask the artist to rethink exhibiting in terms of experience and activating space. We both are convinced that the museum creates a collection of experiences.Bia Jabor welcomed me to Casa Daros, an institution committed to education in coexistence with curatorial aims from the start of—and at all times during—the process of art production. Casa Daros functions as a meeting place for encounters between Latin American artists and the public. The goal is to integrate art and education where art is education.
In São Paulo I met the independent curator Valquiria Prates, educator Paulo Portella Filho, artist Graziela Kunsch; and connected with staff at Casa do Povo, Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, SESC Pompéia, Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), Estúdio Lâmina, PIVÔ, and Phosphorus. In an effort to sum up my experience in São Paulo, Prates talked about the importance of the existence of big and small institutions that nurture each other, produce knowledge, question our reality, and participate in history. Portella Filho shared his experience of creating the education departments at both Pinacoteca and MASP, and Kunsch showed me her project Urbânia, a magazine that in its fifth edition was dedicated to current practices related to philosopher and educator Paulo Freire.
Casa do Povo is a place of resistance, where artistic groups are encouraged to occupy the building in dialogue with the street. The independent spaces PIVÔ and Phosphorus serve as platforms for critical thinking. By programing free cultural activities—workshops, residencies, exhibitions—both foster an experimental approach to organizing collaborative projects that revitalize neighborhoods and engage with communities. However, they also have unique goals: PIVÔ foresees programs that engage with different audiences, whereas Phosphorus attempts to serve as a production space to promote talented young Brazilian artists.
Going to Brazil made me realize that, maybe, being radical means embracing experimentation. I cannot answer whether radicalism is even possible in 2015, but after my trip I am certain that experimentation is research—some of these projects are experimenting and researching with radicalism. As curators and educators, we have to think in a revolutionary way and challenge our current systems to create alternative economies, instigate debate, find new ways of learning, and keep art relevant. I believe this is our goal, to be helpful to artists and explore together what is necessary in art.