João Modé. Artist in residency program – The Artist is Available. Santana de Livramento (Brazil/Uruguay Border). 7th Mercoscul Biennial.

Publicness in Art

Jessica Gogan
Luiz Guilherme Vergara

I am not here. Yet, I am here.”

Cordel literatura, “Saint Maria de Araújo”
Rosário Lustosa, 20141

The 3rd issue of Revista MESA is what one might call a magazine-as-process, a “conceptacle” invoking the poet Frances Ponge2, comprising many synergies, discoveries, and as yet unknowns – an ecosystem of voices and writings, words and images, practices and politics that call out for global alternatives and new forms of publicness.3

Peter Pál Pelbart initiates this web, associating the contemporary human being with the spider, in turn, intersecting with Rodrigo Nunes’ political practice of “counterpimping” and Danilo Streck’s reconfiguration of the public, then crisscrossing with the moving and poignant embodiments of the Brazilian 2013 protests captured in the film by the collective ¡NoPasaran! The magazine is, as it were, an extended dinner party with multiple courses, encounters, discoveries, conversations, and life stories. Between lines and pages emerges a vital web of generative possibilities of publicness.

A specially expanded volume of the magazine, this issue highlights three national case studies with essays, videos, reflections, and testimonials resulting from the traveling project Publicness in Art, made possible by a grant award from the 10th edition of Redes de Encontros nas Artes Visuais (Networks of Encounters in the Visual Arts) of Brazil’s national art foundation, Funarte.4

The project held encounters in three distinct regions and cultural ecosystems of Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, and Juazeiro do Norte, Cariri, in the north eastern state of Ceará. Cultural imaginaries and sensibilities were interwoven with geopoetic and regional singularities. There was no way to discuss publicness in art without exploring the diversity of contemporary Brazilian culture.

This web of insights is also cross-cultural with the inclusion of two international case studies. Four cardinal points of continental distance, yet also of ethical proximity, come together in this issue. Adversity and poetic resistance are threads that interweave practices from Cariri in Brazil’s northeast to the country’s extreme south in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and from Johannesburg in South Africa to Glasgow in Scotland.


“We do not descend from the ape but the spider”, Pelbart provocatively suggests. Drawing on the work of the educator of autistic children, Fernand Deligny, the author’s poetic think piece underlines the eco-systemic dimension of the human condition. We are born and live to weave and are woven by webs and networks incessantly. It is in the network that we find our humanity “as a vital necessity, as an escape, as interval, desertion, dissent, guerrilla, common”.5

This vitality is richly present in the essays of Mônica Hoff, Rafa Éis and Diana Kolker. Each one played an integral part of a foundational and constitutive history of the Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, and their interwoven lives and writings offer us a potent “conceptacle” of what a contemporary art biennial could be – the biennial-network. Deeply informed by experience, their essays reflect on the public meanings of social bonds, affections and the local potentialities created in the form of a biennial-nomadic school without walls – gaseous, mobile, built from an understanding of “minor” education.6 Their testimonies show the vitality of a thinking-practice-network intertwining relations, people and contexts, promoting autonomous pedagogic zones that in turn multiply new webs.

Cariri opens up an experience of another “conceptacle”. The cosmic, sacred and popular universe of the sertão (northeast backcountry) brings together the meanings of publicness in art in a fluency of embodied and embedded languages of another deep Brazil. Ladies and Gentlemen – masters of the Reisado (popular folk rituals) – sing and dance without being able to read the written word, instead they read the inventiveness of the world. José Rufino and Daniel Leão dove into the flow and phenomenology of Cariri weaving their own existential threads and geopoetic connections. Generated by and generators of images, their two essays are, at once, written and filmed webs. Both “compartrilham”, they simultaneously share (compartilhar) their process and tread (trilhar) paths as writings and inscriptions in the landscape.

“Compartrilhar” was a gift word and poetic neologism offered by Gleison Amorim da Silva in Cariri.7 It is an act of generosity that manifests itself in the opening up of the creative process to and with the other. When taken on as a network practice it becomes a form of political positioning that gives substance to the collective, resisting and subverting the dominance of individual authorship. These emergent forms of ethical collective action are richly demonstrated in Vinegar Syndrome, the film manifesto by ¡NoPasaran! on the media war surrounding the 2013 protests. Sharing of authorship is constitutive of the very form and process of creation reflecting the shifting paradigms of contemporary socio political conditions.

Knowing To Not Know

What emerges in this MESA of geographic synergies are artistic and pedagogic practices that assume a care with public agency as part of a horizontal creative process open to the indefinite and constitutive of local vitalities and needs. Key to this process is “not knowing”, or rather a constructive kind of knowing to not know. Inspired by African Freedom Station director, Steve Kwena Mokwena’s notion of “angazi” (I don’t know), Rangoato Hlasane underlines this open-ended not-knowing as key to imbuing an unwavering spirit of creation in the practices of Keleketla library in Johannesburg.8

Similarly tied with this “not knowing” is the powerful possibility of enigma and metaphor, not only for art, but also, for critical pedagogy. Such a poetics of the indeterminate is pervasively present in the small texts used as catalysts for the laboratories of mediation during the 9th Mercosul Biennial. 9 This indeterminacy is also inherent to the creative potential of paradox, as Eugenio Valdés suggests, reflecting on the enigmatic image of a crab holding a butterfly imprinted on an ancient Roman coin. This improbable image-coin was used as a catalyst for the Publicness in Art encounter in Rio de Janeiro, inspiring new possibilities to question, re-imagine and re-configure staid dichotomies of art and public, art and market, street and institution.10


The image of the crab and butterfly became a potent “conceptacle” of juxtapositions, clashes of opposites, and unusual metamorphoses. Barbara Szaniecki weaves the threads of these tense paradoxes transformed into the animal combination of a “Borborejo” (neologism of caranguejo [crab] and borboleta [butterfly]).11 A child’s drawing of this strange animal offers a poetics of becoming that seems better able to translate the critical impasse between the indignation of the multitude on the streets in 2013 and the “polymorphous” workings of “monstrous museums” led by global business. Barbara also emphasizes the potency of metaphor-enigmas recalling Deleuze’s animal-vegetal desires of metamorphoses in the “becoming-wasp of the orchid” and “the becoming-orchid of the wasp.”12 These oppositions and differences hold out possibilities for transformation and as Rodrigo Nunes notes transduction – encounters that (re) constitute the people, elements, contexts, and networks involved.13 Rafa Éis adds a becoming-tide metaphor to those of becoming-animal and -vegetal. He puts forth the movement of resurgence – a tidal phenomenon that renews the maritime food chain by drawing on oceanic depths – as both symbolic metaphor and on-the-ground practice for the interaction of art, pedagogy and “extradisciplinary”14 territories, places “in the shadow of institutional spectacle”, and the art world.15

The 2013 protests and the themes of the 9th Mercosul Biennial, Weather Permitting, equally nurtured the biennial-network “conceptacle” toward a radical understanding of the meaning of publicness in art: practices and politics that operate within, nourish and (re) constitute themselves from social, political and environmental conditions. Like Rafa, Diana Kolker appropriates the ebbs and flows of climate change as metaphors for poetic-pedagogic activism. Drawing on the cause and effect phenomenon of El Niño and La Niña, the shock of estrangement between different air masses and temperatures on the surface of the Pacific Ocean, she similarly points to the potency of paradox. Where knowing to not know comes into play with “the unforeseen possible and the foreseen improbable”.16


To travel amidst the possible and the improbable, different corners and worlds, borders and peripheries, hinterlands and cities, imaginaries and basements, the unknown and the risky, is taken on as a powerful practice of art and pedagogy: whether by the Tides program in Rio Grande do Sul visiting 15 different cities throughout the state; or by experiences reflected upon by Franklin Roosewelt Menezes de Lacerda in Cariri.17 Both adopt nomadic practices of dislocation as an ethical and creative act of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. Similarly, the young collective Mysterious Creatures Dance Fusion in South Africa, connects the streets and communities of Johannesburg bringing dance as a form of knowledge and as a “spirit that speaks”.18


United by “a total disregard for the hierarchy of various forms of culture” Nuno Sacramento and Leonardo Guelman are passionate for the dialogue between things that are usually seen as irreconcilable.19 In recent years, Guelman has developed and reflected on what he calls the “Phenomenology of the Encounter”, exploring the more porous, affective, contagious aspects of the encounter between people, landscapes, cultures, and language. Sacramento is engaged in the pursuit of the “common” and creating new forms and formats to facilitate the horizontal sharing of competencies between art and craftsmanship. Their collaborative writing is a phenomenological collage of texts, interventions, memories, approaches, and poetic forms.

It is precisely this porosity between forms of language and different geographies to which Danilo Streck points as a rich site for new reconfigurations of the public. The potency of the meaning of the public is also the meaning of the popular, understood not as the masses or as entertainment, but rather by the encounter “between” different forms of knowledge, know-hows and languages that gain potency with “the radicality of the affirmation of the place from which one speaks”.20

It is this understanding of a place embodied with voice that energized the first World Social Forums, held in Porto Alegre in 2001-2003. Streck cites these as attempts to usher in new forms of debate and political spaces that are both local and cosmopolitan.21 Seeking to mobilize regional and global forces in the struggle against neoliberalism and emphasize the social rather than economic, the forums gambled that “another world is possible”.22


However, the force of the possible is equally met by the impossible. Constantly oscillating between the two, as Pelbart eloquently places us, seems to be our very contemporary fate. While on one hand creative and immaterial labor can offer a path of resistance, on the other it is also the place where the danger and attraction of the neoliberal pull is at its strongest. We cannot escape, just navigate, its insidiousness. Here Rodrigo Nunes’ incisive article offers us possible strategies to detract and divert this undertow with his proposal of a political practice of “counterpimping”, not understood as “anti-pimping” but very specifically as a form of counter’ing in the sense of “counterintelligence” or “contraband”. This is an art of “measures” or “dosages” that seeks to find solutions that strengthen possibilities of “transformation over reproduction”.23

Being Minor

How might this practice play itself out within institutional contexts that set their sights on the scale of ocean liners rather than the fishing boats? Mônica Hoff weaves a history of almost two decades of a “minor” biennial operating in the shadows of the well-known large-scale exhibition that “gradually disengaged itself, transforming the exhibition format and temporary modus operandi into a critical platform of permanency with definitively public dimensions”. 24

Use the Institution25

At GoMA in Scotland, the neoclassical columns of Greco-Roman inspiration are disturbed by “minor” activations and irradiations of the Atelier Public project proposed by Katie Bruce in collaboration with different artists. A climate shock of zero distance between the creation and social reception of art is provoked by and within the institution: Brian Hartley brought his street performances into the white cube; ts beall subtly introduced voices of museum staff in the exhibition-studio space;26 Anthony Schrag’s studio-institution destruction exercises in turn prompted his conversation with the researcher Emma Balkind on the key questions of changing up and playing with the roles of artist-creator, public-viewer and curator-institution;27 and Alex Hetherington via his “artistic persona” of the school and the collective known as Modern Edinburgh Film School opened up his process for dialogue, while simultaneously keeping it in check, creating a “prism where one thing can be seen through another”.28 In this sense, the institution is to be used, transformed and reconfigured as “material” for critical and creative inquiry. This useful materiality or institution-as-toolbox is also a moveable concept, as Atelier Public’s dislocation to another institutional context suggests – the Royal York Hospital for Sick Children led by Hans Clausen in collaboration with Katie at GoMA and Sarah Barr, the coordinator of youth services for the hospital.29

Places of Encounter: Terreiros and Terreradas30

From Scotland we travel below the equator to Keleketla in Johannesburg to a collective action and reinvented library built on the ruins of a 1904 prison. The critical focus shifts to collective emancipation strategies from imprisoning legacies that still dominate questions of literacy and the aftermath of colonialism today, as much in South Africa, as in Brazil. The book-library is simultaneously recognized as a territorial and civilizatory trap of domination and as a beacon of real hope. From here, collaborative networks are woven and an activist library developed that energizes knowledge production and the transmission of cultural wealth not solely focused on the written word. Rescuing unwritten histories, encouraging reading as well as practices that nurture the production of creative forms of expression, Keleketla invents itself as a multiple extracurricular platform. In addition they also promote innovative fund-raising dinners for independent projects and the performances of young collectives, amongst many other initiatives. Here the library becomes a living public square and place of encounter – a one for one in network – that nourishes itself on making links amidst cultural diversity as a way of being together, of singing and telling stories, far from hegemonic narratives and values.

Here this trans-cultural and continental magazine-web connects South Africa to Brazil and the terreradas (popular folk festivals) of the northeast remembering the “feast” of the common suggested by the words of José Rufino, of the potential of the encounter as a place of connections, possibilities, languages, creativity, and affections.


Being for network, a poetics of indeterminacy, counterpimping, resurgence, transduction, dislocation, porosity… Emerging in these (re) configurations is an understanding of publicness that goes beyond the public as building-bureaucracy-institution pointing to an ecosystem of forms of making and creating that resist “fixity” between concepts, words and things.31 As Pelbart reflects “all men are beings of network”.32 This MESA issue seeks to set an unfinished dinner-network-conversation – a conceptacle of the common – of the production of another possible and of ourselves, that nourishes inventions of publicness in art.

1 Rosário Lustosa. Saint Maria de Araújo. “Eu não estou aqui. Aliás, eu estou aqui” (I am not here. Yet I am here), Juazeiro, 2014. The tradition of Cordel literature, a mix of rhyming verse and folk imagery, is common to the Brazilian northeast and here draws its title from a phrase used to describe the Saint Maria de Araújo whose miracle in the church of Padre Cícero, a key religious figure and presence in Juazeiro do Norte and Cariri region, resulted in the priest’s ex-communication and in turn, the emergence of a particular folk Catholicism, still vital in the city today. The saint’s tomb does not hold her remains, but rather symbolically registers her presence, hence the poetic paradox. For general information on Cordel literature: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordel_literature

2 Francis Ponge. “A MESA – 21 de novembro de 1967 – 16 de outubro de 1973: 4 de janeiro 1968.” A MESA. São Paulo: Editora Iliminuras ltda, 2002, p. 191

3 The term publicness has increasingly been employed by various critics/practitioners engaged in reconfiguring and reimagining prevailing understandings of the public and related art practices to describe the ongoing construction of a public, that is its contingent and temporal character rather than its a priori existence as a space, a demographic, a thing. For example see Alex Farquharson, “Publicness”, Frieze magazine, May, 2003 http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/publicness/ and the lecture by artist and educator Mick Wilson, “Artists, Institutions & the Public Sphere”, Reconfiguring the Public: Art, Pedagogy and Participation, Seminar, Experimental Nucleus of Education and Art, Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, November 2011: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuXlIkUUyhs&list=PLO-GRBBoQZrjDOO0B7xSTsSu40BYBE48m&index=4

4 For more information on the Publicness in Art project see the case study introductions in this issue.

5 Peter Pál Pelbart. “Notes on the Contemporary.” Thinkpiece. Revista MESA, no. 3, May, 2015

6 The three case study essays on the 9th Mercosul Biennial by Diana Kolker, Mônica Hoff, and Rafa Éis explore diverse aspects of this “biennial-network” history. The reference to “minor” education is explored in Mônica Hoff’s essay where she draws on ideas proposed by the educator and researcher Silvio Gallo on the meaning and place of education. “The author proposes, based on the thoughts of Kafka, Deleuze and Guattari, that we think about a minor education, one which is guided by everyday life, not only in the school context, but the social, cultural, and economic life of its educators and students. An education that goes beyond education policies, offices and departments. An education as a practice of freedom, as Paulo Freire proposed. An education as “a militant enterprise”. Silvio Gallo. “Em torno de uma educação menor”. Educação & Realidade. jul/dez, 2002. p. 169-178.(Accessed February 2015)
In Mônica Hoff.“The meaning of publicness in the Mercosul Biennial: Biennial as School, City as Curriculum.Revista MESA, no. 3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

7 The young actor and student Gleison Amorim da Silva participated in the encounter “Multiple Forms of Making and Knowledge” in Juazeiro do Norte in Brazil’s northeastern state of Ceará. This encounter was part of the three-part regional traveling seminar series Publicness in Art and is presented as one of the three national case studies in this issue. See the introduction and videos: “Multiple Forms of Making and Knowledge” (videos in Portuguese only). Revista MESA. no. 3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

8 k!kollage (excerpts, revisions and citations from texts written by/about/for Keleketla!) “Keleketla! After School Program (2008-present): Access to the use of literature, arts and media tools for education & life.Revista MESA, no. 3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

9 Diana Kolker Carneiro da Cunha. “A Web Full of Knots and Us: The Sense of Public in the Forming of Mediators at the Mercosul Biennial.” Revista MESA, no. 3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

10 For information on the roman coin and the encounter “Crabs & Butterflies” see the introduction to the case study: “Introduction: Crabs & Butterflies”, Revista MESA, no. 3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015. On the importance of enigma see “Crabs, Butterflies, Enigmas and Banquets: A Conversation with Eugenio Valdés FigueroaRevista MESA, no. 3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

11 Barbara Szaniecki. “Insertions: Multitudes in the Metropolises and… our Museums.Revista MESA no. 3, “Publicness in Art”, May 2015

12 DELEUZE, Gilles e PARNET, Claire. Dialogues. Paris: Champs/Flammarion, 1996, p. 9. In Ibid

13 Rodrigo Nunes explores the term transduction citing: Gilbert Simondon, L’Individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information (Grenoble: Jerôme Millon, 2005). In Rodrigo Nunes. “For a Politics of Counterpimping”. Revista MESA, no. 3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

14 Brian Holmes. “Extradisciplinary Investigations: Towards a New Critique of Institutions.” Transversal Texts. Eipcp (European Institute for Progressive Cultural Politics). January, 2007 and Rafa Éis. “Poetic Ressurgences: Tides Program and the City. Revista MESA, no. 3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

15 Ibid.

16 See text used as a catalyst for the mediation laboratory El Niño/La Niña: “El Niño and La Niña are opposite atmospheric phenomena. If the abnormal warming of the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean causes the first, the second is due to the reverse process, the abnormal cooling. The arrival of both does not require change or impact just one region of the planet, but as a whole, in distinct and simultaneous forms, occurring many times. Climate change and atmospheric phenomena are brought to this lab as a metaphor to discuss the field of unpredictability regarding the relationship between education and art through mediation. We are interested in dialogue about what is not obvious in mediation discourse – in the possible chance happening and the improbable occurrence that happens when diametrically opposed air masses (school/museum, educational and artistic methodologies) encounter one another, the kind of shocks produced there and how they behave and dialogue with one another.” In Kolker, op cit.

17 Éis op cit and also observed by the artist and art educator Franklin Roosewelt Menezes de Lacerda in the Publicness in Art encounter in Juazeiro do Norte. Noted in the video on the discussions (currently in Portuguese only) “Multiple Forms of Making and Knowledge.”

18 Dance is also a form of knowledge: Rangoato Hlasane in conversation with Mysterious Creatures Dance Fusion (MCDF: Nqobile Khumalo, Neo Doctor Ncube, Wesley Hlongwane, Andile Nzuza, and Invention Ramaisa). Revista MESA no. 3, “Publicness in Art, ”May, 2015

19 Leonardo Guelman and Nuno Sacramento. “From the Phenomenology of the Encoutner to Transnarration.Revista MESA no. 3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

20 Danilo Streck. A educação popular e a (re)construção do público: Há fogo sob as brasas? Revista Brasileira de Educação, v. 11. n. 32, p. 272 – 284, 2006.

21 For more information on the World Social Forums

22 The by-line of the first World Social Forum was “another world is possible”.

23 Nunes op cit.

24 Hoff op cit.

25 The notion of users rather than publics has been critically deployed in various analysis. David Carr draws a parallel between museums and libraries and invokes Umberto Eco when he says that museum is an “open work created only in the play of its users”. David Carr. The Promise of Cultural Institutions. Walnut Creek/Califórnia: Altamira Press, 2003, p.11. More recently, critic Stephen Wright has provocatively written about the “offline 3.0 museum” that would be like a kind of “walk-in toolbox for usership.” In Stephen Wright. “Museum 3.0”. Toward a Lexicon of Usership. Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum, 2013, pp. 39-40, p.40 www.museumarteutil.net (accessed August 2014)

26 Katie Bruce with Brian Hartley and t s Beall. “On Curating in Public: an Experiment”. Revista MESA no.3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

27The Negotiation is Not Over: The Institution as Artist (The public was only an artist for three months): A Discussion Between Emma Balkind and Anthony Schrag”. Revista MESA no.3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

28 Alex Hetherington. “Modern Edinburgh Film School: The Silver River”, Revista MESA no.3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

29 Katie Bruce with Hans Clausen and Sarah Barr. “Public Institution as Material – a project in process”. Revista MESA no.3, “Publicness in Art”, May, 2015

30 The term “terreiro” in Portuguese means a public square or gathering place and the site where the rituals of Candomblé and other Afro-Brazilian religions take place. Terreirada is the term for a popular folk gathering festival in the northeast of Brazil.

31 Ponge op cit. p.78

32 Pelbart op cit.