o fazer existir
João de Albuquerque. O fazer existir (Making Things Exist). Art is Education Program, Casa Daros, 2014. Photo: João de Albuquerque

The Past as Blueprint: Hybrid Practices / Limit Zones and Archaeologies of Counterflows of the Future

Jessica Gogan and Luiz Guilherme Vergara

At a recent seminar on “What does it mean to be contemporary?” hosted by the 2014 São Paulo Biennial, its chief curator Charles Esche described the contemporary as “living in historical times” and noted that “rewriting the common sense of our historical understanding is the only way we can be contemporary.”1 Even a cursory review of current discourse points to this pervasive sense of revisiting: everything is being reworked, rethought and recuperated. More than 20 years ago writing in A educação na cidade (Education in the City) Paulo Freire struck a similar note when he said that the best way to engage with one’s present is to “understand history as a possibility.”2 It is with the idea of mining these “possibilities” that this edition of Revista MESA brings together contemporary reflections that draw on critical and inspirational histories as vital touchstones. The issue subtitle of “hybrid practices and limit zones” further hones our interest in exploring forms of social practices – artistic, pedagogic, activist, collective – that challenge art/life and elite/democratic divides, particularly liminal zones operative in critical cultural hinge moments such as the turn of the 20th century and more recently the 1960s/70s. In dialogue with these histories, the case studies, article, photo essay, and video interviews that comprise this edition can be read as both dynamic presents and as countermovements: archaeologies of counterflows of the future.

Counterflows, Vectors and Silenced Futures

In his recalling of Flavio Carvalho’s performance where the artist deliberately walks the wrong way against the procession of the masses and instituted social machines, Edson Sousa in this issue’s Think Piece points to the border zone – the littoral and liminal – to the place of risk where art inserts itself to “block our certainties.”3 Edson also invokes the recognition of the utopian phenomenon as potential eclosion of a linear sense of time, a movement that goes from the future to the past, a current against reality. That is, as much the past as the future are parts of the same thought form that moves the pulsations of artistic events and alternative social practices.

This counterflow of the future resonates with each narrative in this issue. In her photo essay Graciela Carnevale shares a selection from her archive of the radical experiments of the artistic and socio-political actions of the Argentine Artistic Vanguard Group and specifically the collective projects Tucumán Arde and Experimental Art Cycle, in Buenos Aires and Rosario in 1968.4 At the same time, she critically invokes these events as “silenced futures that reactivate these memories of past struggles as vectors crossing and recreating activists’ experiences of social transformation.”5 Here she clearly puts forth the idea of the archive as a thought form of an unfinished past-future.

Communicative Networks and Proximities of Consciousness

In the 1970s, during Brazil’s military dictatorship, the artist Rubens Gerchman, as director of Rio de Janeiro’s School of Visual Arts, Parque Lage (1975-1979) gathered together a cadre of talented teachers and collaborators “interested in de-academizing the school and transforming it into a laboratory.”6 As Clara Gerchman, the artist’s daughter and director of the Rubens Gerchman Institute, notes, Parque Lage was not “a traditional teaching school” but rather “an expanded communicative network.”7 In 2014 the Institute collaborated with Casa Daros to present an exhibition on this history and Rubens Gerchman: With the Resignation Letter in My Pocket was held from August 8th, 2014 to February 8th, 2015. As part of the project Daros presented a variety of accompanying programs including an experimental course aimed at young artists working with different artistic practices and languages – Contemporary Laboratory: Proposals and Discoveries of What Art Is (Or Can Be). The 17 artists involved formed their own vital communicative network of de-education.

A laboratory of futures can be one way of reading the contemporary resurgence of counterflows of art and social action or as “proximities of consciousness” as proposed by Mary Jane Jacob and Kate Zeller.8 The sense of commitment to a population suffering under the weight of capitalism was, and still is, the common cultural ground for the radical social practices that John Dewey (1859–1952) and Jane Addams (1869–1935) inaugurated in their schools and social organizations in turn-of-the-20th-century Chicago and continues to resonate in the contemporary interweaving of art and activism in the city. Dewey and Addams became historical touchstones for Jacob and Zeller and their project A Lived Practice, comprising a rich and multifaceted process of exhibitions, programs, publications, and art interventions that mined the legacy of these activist histories for a new generation of practitioners in Chicago.

The 34-year history of the Museo da la Solidaridad Salvador Allende has its origins in Operación Verdad (Truth Operation), when a few months into his government, in 1971, president Salvador Allende invited different International figures to observe the “Chilean road to socialism.”9 The current director, Claudia Zaldivar, relates this ebb and flow journey from social truth to museum and back again as a genealogy of hope and struggle. At the dawn of Allende’s leadership, the museum became a point of convergence for political exiles and gestures of international solidarity. Brazilian art critic, Mario Pedrosa, in exile in Chile at the time, played an important role in the formation of its collection, successfully encouraging donations by important international artists. It is noteworthy to observe the link between the synergies of this project and the charter approved in 1972 by the International Committee of Museums, also held in Santiago, Chile, that embraced a new or what is called social museology – a practice that aims to expand community interaction, social engagement and societal relevance.

Anarchism and Models

At the same time that John Dewey and Jane Addams sought to break traditional models of schools and social institutions, the People’s University of Free Education was created in Rio de Janeiro in 1904. Sergio Cohn briefly sketches the history of this anarchist-inspired university and other schools established throughout Brazil at the turn of the 20th century. “Strangely enough, the changes of centuries seem a period conducive to free initiatives in pedagogy in Brazil,” Cohn argues.10 Here the author explores contemporary projects such as Universidade Nomade that share rich parallels with these early “free” university ideals specifically in their desire to energize horizontal ways of working, to combine theory and practice, to mix forms of knowledge, and to make the university truly public and accessible. The contemporary resurgence of counterflows manifest themselves as diverse forms of alternative social practices from radical “free” education proposals to libertarian social protests in anachronistic forms of community anarchism.11

Synergies of thought-forms also resonate in the proposals for Domingos de Criação (Creation Sundays) at the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro in 1971 and The Model: A Model for a Qualitative Society at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1968. Domingos turned the museum toward the outside, creating participatory art happenings in MAM’s gardens. Across the Atlantic, The Model exploded white cube art by creating a playground inside the museum. The Model aimed to provoke critical debate about children, modernity, social reform, along with the role of art and the institution. The vital energy of this time and also the sense of a silenced utopia are evident in the project photos and interviews with The Model‘s key architects – artist Palle Nielsen and writer/editor Gunilla Lundahl. Similarly, the liminal state of creative possibilities between art and education was richly present in Domingos. An experimental museum, as organizer Frederico Morais says, critically projects beyond its walls the possibilities for a “future ludic city.”12

The Experimental Nucleus of Education and Art at MAM Rio (active between 2009–2013) dialogued with this history both intuitively and consciously not to remake it but to re-imagine new possibilities in a contemporary context. By no means aiming to equal the legendary Sunday happenings, the DouAções projects (collective events with artists and public) described here by Sabrina Curi explored similar themes and practices – direct contact with artists, open-ended participatory proposals and use of the outside. Mara Pereira and Gabriela Gusmão dialogue with the desire for horizontality so present in MAM’s experimental history and with the diverse ‘counterflows’ resonating in this issue. Their work and reflections whether assuming the micro criticalities of group discussions or the affective care of collaborative art interventions propose a minor education and a contagious empathy that operates on a 1:1 scale.

In another socio-cultural context, The New Model: An Enquiry, a research project initiated by Lars Bang Larsen and Maria Lind in 2011, investigates the legacy of The Model in a more specific and expansive manner with exhibitions, seminars and artist commissions. In her interview here, Lind suggest that the notion of a model is “extremely important” as something that can both document and project into the future, “something there for testing.”13

This edition is the result of a rich communicative network of generations, practices and counterflows. Reflected here are many timeless and transnational proximities of consciousness.

1 International Seminar. “What does it mean to be Contemporary?” São Paulo Biennial, September 4, 2014

2 Paulo Freire. A educação na cidade. São Paulo: Cortez, 1991, p.89

3 Edson Luiz André de Sousa. “Think Piece: Utopian (I)margins: Counterflows of the Future.” Revista MESA “Past as Blueprint: Hybrid Practices/Limit Zones,” No. 4, May 2015

4 For information on Tucman.

5 Graciela Carnevale. “Vectors.” Revista MESA “Past as Blueprint: Hybrid Practices/Limit Zones,” No. 4, May 2015

6 Eugenio Valdés Figueroa, co-curator of the exhibition Rubens Gerchman: With the Resignation in My Pocket and former art and education director, Casa Daros. Exhibition release. [Portuguese only]

7 Clara Gerchman. “Parque Lage – An Experimental Art School and its Contemporary Resonance.Revista MESA “Past as Blueprint: Hybrid Practices/Limit Zones,” No. 4, May 2015

8 Mary Jane Jacob. “Living Chicago Histories.” Revista MESA “Past as Blueprint: Hybrid Practices/Limit Zones,” No. 4, May 2015

9 Claudia Zaldivar. “A Story Without Precedent: Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende.” Revista MESA “Past as Blueprint: Hybrid Practices/Limit Zones,” No. 4, May 2015

10 Sergio Cohn. “Free Universities.” Revista MESA “Past as Blueprint: Hybrid Practices/Limit Zones,” No. 4, May 2015

11 Ibid. Cohn discusses the influence of anarchist Mikhail Bakunin relevant both at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries for free university movements and alternative social practices.

12 Frederico Morais. Artes plásticas: a crisa da hora atual. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1975, p. 60-62

13 Maria Lind. Video interview. May 2013. Revista MESA “Past as Blueprint: Hybrid Practices/Limit Zones,” No. 4, May 2015