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Joana Mendonça

arts education

PhD Advisors
For Teresa

Abstract & Key Words


Writing as a way of finding a method
07 The author, the work, a statement
◆ introduction
13 The inevitable storytelling
◆ autobiography
23 Why I’m talking about writing, and using it to get to the world
◆ the shadow researcher
29 A good conversation will always help you deal with things
◆ silence at the museum
37 Methodological grasp
◆ depleting the choices
43 Notes from a (non) conducted experience
◆ the sources

The beginning - Multiple Contexts
57 The first guided tour
◆ how do you feel?
67 How to arrive (and return) to the contact zone
◆ another beginning
85 Identity and the individual freedom
◆ this is not about me
95 Hands-on or why mediating art will never be enough
◆ mediator vs educator
117 Truth and order
◆ why to they matter?
123 Lucien’s library
◆ the first raven

Looking at (curating) contemporary art museums
129 What do you think when you think of a museum?
◆ the museum effect
149 Curating
◆ mannerisms over time
167 All of this is about people and love
◆ like time passing
177 When artists become museums
◆ and vice versa
191 Why are we all trying so hard to be someone else?
◆ the crisis of shifts

Archive and memory (imagination, immateriality, objects and ourselves)
203 Imagination meets memory
◆ the dream space in museums
215 Living a life that is never only our
◆ on cultural memory
227 Collaborative tools and sentimental objects
◆ is this mine or yours?
243 Are we collecting ourselves?
◆ objects of desire
259 Unsettling archive and the truth effect
◆ archiving immateriality
271 When the museum becomes your own
◆ new modes of making meanings

When power and utopia meet the arts
297 When power and utopia meet the arts
◆ about nostalgia
309 (New) models of being together
◆ change the focus
329 The social work of museums
◆ art as a social laboratory
341 If one day museums fall
◆ in the wrong hands
349 Art education, art academies, artistic research & the new schools
◆ why so much (talk on) education?
377 The blind spot in art education
◆ little things
383 (Always) aiming for transformation
◆ and its (inner) contradictions

How much longer? Life beyond art
411 “The objective of this work is to become the object of a discussion”
◆ by tino sehgal
417 A museum of all things
◆ for all people
423 Me & shadow researcher (in the format of a self-interview)
◆ towards the future

439 Appendix A - glossary
451 Appendix B - visual summary
473 Appendix C - #this is not an inquiry (questions)
477 Appendix D - profiles

483 References

Here are presented the results from a combination

of factors that are interconnected and have mutually
influenced themselves, stemming as a sort of
choreography from which I systematize and conduct all
the steps.
keywords: As an initial proposal of analysing the everyday life of
memory an art mediator in contemporary art museums, the raw
art mediation data that are here considered as references and sources
contemporary art are allocated with the same degree of importance of a
single conversation I might have had with a specific
archival impulse
visitor in a specific date.
contact zone Historical and theoretical international references from
objects museum strategies and curatorial discourses, such as
identity artists whose practices have created great influence to
shadow researcher me, are evoked and illustrated in order to become a part
of the choreography.
The narratives inside the museum are here presented as
being equally in place together with other roles such as
the curator, the producer, the librarian and the like.
The outcome of this research is here regarded as
opposite as it can be of a manual of how become an
art mediator/educator. Instead, it is presented as an
honest self-reflection in which the impetus to reach a
goal of comprehension and systematization is the same
that allows me to continue doing the work of an art
This dissertation anticipates the future of contemporary
art museums practices, but holds both feet in a
present that is a constant process of self-discovery and
assessment of the individual.

This work grew out of countless moments and

experiences that were vital for both inspiration
and continuity.
The instruction and guidance of nora
sternfeld and catarina martins, my PhD
advisors, was essential. They both have given me
a deep appreciation and love for the detail of the
I would also like to acknowledge the support
and assistance given to me by josé paiva, the
Program Director.
I am grateful to the serralves museum of
contemporary art for the generosity and trust
in my insights to the practices of the Educational
Service, and specially to joão fernandes who
immediately approved my project after reading it.
Many of my colleagues in the museum have
contributed with ideas, feedback and advice,
encouraging and supporting my habits of
questioning and discussing everything. That
allowed me to continue my academic pursuits.
To all the visitors of the Museum which have
given me their time and shared their ideas and
unsettlements I owe the greatest debt: I would
have asked no questions if it wasn’t for them.
Finally, I would like to thank my husband pedro
brochado, for his support and the beautiful
design of this book. I could not have completed
this effort without his enthusiasm.
writing as
a way of finding
a method

i n tro d uc t i o n

I am, as most of my fellow graduates in the Fine arts

academy, one from a generation of job inventors: most
of the time in my life since I have started working,
I’ve spent it moving from city to city, and from job
to job – actually most of the time I was in more than
one city and more than one job at the same time,
and sometimes in the same day. I am not rare, not
even uncommon. The arrival of a temporariness
affecting the idea one has (or had) of a job seems to
have come here to stay (in what it appears to be only
growing more and more each day, at least in Portugal),
a lot of core errors, both in the conception and in the implementation, which lead

2 Being the death of my mother, and the birth of my daughter the two main events that

attached to the neoliberal ideals that we all somehow

embrace. The fact that my identity, as an adult, has
matured along with the working skills I developed
within, is probably related to the fact that my core
graduation was in painting, an area that my parents
have also granted a great importance in my growth as a human being.

have prevented me about, for its obvious uselessness

in the world: “there will never be a job for you, unless
gradually to its abandon in most schools by now. (2007-2016)

you teach”, they used to tell me. And I did. I worked

as a teacher until very recently: first as a teacher in
primary schools, responsible for the implementation
of a program that intended to take plastic arts to all
public schools.1
After that I went to teach in a Polytechnic School, in a
three-year graduation in Plastic Arts and Multimedia
(as a part-time teacher) but by that time I had already
started working in the contemporary art museum
of serralves (it’s not a minor thing to mention that
the first was in Viseu, my hometown, and the second
in Porto, where I live now, and both one hour and a
half apart by car). This was my reality when I enrolled
the PhD that is now coming to an end.
A lot has happened in the meantime2, and if somehow
1 With

7 writing as a way of finding a method

this confessional tone might sound inappropriate,
hopefully it will all make sense, as we reach to a
clarification of how this work was conceived: it comes
out of me, – not as moment of reflection for which I
prepare, and somehow escape in order to reflect on –
the work is actually an extension of myself.
And, if I was raised, (as an adult), in the construction
of a multidirectional reality, I now deliver a
multidirectional thesis in which I place a great deal

use the term “artistic framework”, because this idea is not about an artistic fullness, but it
regards only to the shell or the container: since I don’t care about a validation of the artistic “ambitions”
of energy in order to make things come together as a
whole – being that this whole is actually me.

I have never suffered from the disappointment of

having my artistic work rejected for an art Fair, or a
Biennial – like a good part of my friends did – but
this was only because I never submitted them. I also
never experienced the thrill of being invited for a
new commission, reading a positive review on an
exhibition, or a new proposal from an influential

of this Project, the outcome is free for interpretation and identity.

Because of that, my artistic ambitions remained
untouched, full of an innocence we find common in
a child (and not that much in an adult), which makes
this decision of crafting a PhD thesis with an artistic
framework, a radical decision for me, as well as
A possible explanation for my abandon of the artistic
life – before it even had the chance to begin – can be
fear: fear of rejection, fear of discovering that I was no
good, and fear of having to end up doing something
else anyway. So, I guess I might even have some
(hidden) desire about artistic achievements, but my
analytical character always seems to have taken the
best of me – and it has been driving a good part of my
3 Intentionally

decisions until today.4

I have always considered that I did not give up on the

8 writing as a way of finding a method

arts. My fascination was always latent, and that only
led me to look up for more – as a way of understanding
– but, from another point of view, like the child that
wants to comprehend a toy better, by dismantling it
into its components.
I went to study Cultural Management and then
Curatorial Studies. Both of these moments were
in a context of post-graduation (in Lisbon), which
had put me face to face with relevant exhibitions,
artists, curators, researchers, teachers and my fellow
of course, for the part of falling in love with my husband, Pedro, and my daughter, Teresa:

colleagues. During this process, what I remember best

(about myself) was that I remained mostly quiet and
vigilant, and by observing these agents, tried to grasp
on what it regards to them, I’m no analytical at all, I am sensitive, emotional and visceral.

some kind of understanding for my interpretation

of this reality. Some of the contradictions in the
curatorial/artistic processes are as disturbing for
me now, as they were back then, when I was just
discovering things for the first time (and how
fascinated I could be). Yes, my fascination with the art
world persisted to exist and it remains as a good part
of me until today. And that’s probably why so many
questions are always going to remain unanswered: it’s
because I believe that this process of building some
kind of meaning (for as personal as it might be), will
eventually lead me to a wider understanding of this
world, and if not to accept it, may at least become a
way to purge it.
4 Except,

9 writing as a way of finding a method

Figure 1
Jacket being eaten by a tree.

10 writing as a way of finding a method

The work developed here intents to assume an overall
approach on a practice that is common and well
known, but does not have a unanimous way of being
conceived or set to practice. Starting from the name
that varies immensely – gallery education, guided
tour, museum education, museum pedagogy or art
mediation5 – to the institutional integration, the
procedures, and the best practices.

This does not aim to become a manual of how to

become an art mediator, not even how to become a
better one (in case you already are), but it is rather
an attempt to map these practices, under a few
(un)certainties, some contradictions, an implicit
fragility, and the real life experiences.
All the contexts here described as a source of
information (for interested readers) result from
the combination of a personal experience as an art
mediator (for six years now) to the confluence of
other voices who feel the same, and the contrast of
those who work on the other extreme of this narrow
line. The results6 are not charts, schemes or statistics,
neither a number of helpful frameworks, or even
manifestos of whatever to do (or not to do), but
rather a compilation of thoughts on how this area is
as chaotic as it can be fruitful. And in this aspect, this
work could be continued for years (as long as I kept
working as a mediator), and I would still find new
ideas, new approaches and new perspectives to a very
same problem. And yet remain with an unsolved one.
we can even call it that.
to mention a few.
5 Just

6 If

11 writing as a way of finding a method

a u t o b i o g r a p h y

An autobiographical method of research normally

allows an author to conduct a research with two
different fronts at the same time. Partly personal and
partly collective, the generated problems are to be
resolved at the same time that the path is being chased.
Thanks to the characteristics of narrative (also
a method, but here performing more as a way of
thinking, take this example: I can be thinking of
something right now, that you don’t know about,
which will not necessarily be reflected in this text,
even though it was right here) this method allows me,
- the author - to be reflecting/researching and learning
at the same time. Which will immediately allow the
impact of learning to be reflected on the mediation
actions conducted by me (in a constantly and cyclical
By looking back I’m studying, and by moving forward
I’m improving and producing some kind of new
knowledge based on a specific topic. I obviously
am aware of the ambiguous role of this kind of
production, because even though it is based on real
life events – meaning that they actually happened –
and incorporating the character of truth, which is
something very important to me, at the same time
this truth is adjacent to the way I remember it.
Fundamental for me was also to find out that I’m not
alone on this type of writing, and more than that is to
connect to people that are also trying to find a kind
of language in which their practice can breathe on its

13 writing as a way of finding a method

“How can I find (invent) a language suitable to the phenomena
of the exhibition that doesn’t identify and fixate on specific
interpretations, but is more a matter of describing and
discussing so that the work is made more sensible for others
and that these viewers are brought into the process of making

from Anna Schurch “Productive Speech Moments – Reflections on Manners of Speech in Gallery Education and
sense? In searching for and finding (inventing) formulations in
discussing art, I’m always interested in expanding upon and
going beyond what is already known about the work being
viewed and encouraging and enticing others to reflect upon the
work and to take part in the discussion.” 7

on What Makes Sense”, included in “Documenta 12 – Education 2” ed. by Carmen Morsch (2008), p. 106.
My research has been conducted by me for years –
while, at the same time, I was also doing something
else, aka living. For all this time, I never intended
to map historically a way of working (specifically in
EDUCATIONAL SERVICES or whatever) or to just
jump to propose a critical perspective from it. Any
critical work is inevitably conditioned to the number
of circumstances in which it is being conducted, and
(that is obviously important) but it will always work as
a fragility from an academic point of view. Ideally, one
should aim to the production of a form of knowledge
that can be reproduced, re-enacted or experimented
in different placements, with different groups and
different resources. Maybe by then it might be
considered to be reliable and trustworthy material.
However, not aiming for that (for an obvious lack of
resources) during this time it became clear for me that
the research – as well as the writings produced from
it – could get closer to a way to think through the
relations between art, arts education, arts mediation
and curating. And in that sense, instead of trying to
formulate functional processes or ideal methodologies,
I looked instead for ways to think, to live, to
7 Excerpt

experience, and to reflect on it, to acknowledge from

14 writing as a way of finding a method

it, to transform a real life (experience) in the source of
all that somehow would come out of it.
The way in which all these different areas of expertise
come together can be explained by a metaphor that
puts all these relations in the same level – just like any
person lives his/her life: we sometimes are caught up
thinking of grocery’s list when attending a conference,
or planning on the next day’s outfit while having a
glass of wine with friends (and there’s nothing wrong
about that).
As the result of my own decision, these relations
appear sometimes (here) in a clear and descriptive
way: and therefore, able to be interpreted and
comprehended by others (readers), but quite often they
appear also as just individual readings proposed by an
insider view (but inevitably critical) making it harder
to be read and understood by others. The individual

Figure 2 “A guided tour.”

15 writing as a way of finding a method

characteristics of the researcher are always linked to
the results he provides, no matter how much effort was
done in order to avoid it.
Because I was the one to experience a certain moment
(according to the development of a specific task for the
course of the PhD or even something else completely
unrelated, but that for some reason comes to mind)
this (that) moment will have to be real, based on my
own memory of it, and not based on testimonies of
others. Because we know how memory can become
If I comprehended and accepted that it is inevitable
to fall in this possible “trap” of storytelling, when I
decided to use this method of writing, it became quite
surprising to find myself questioning the value of it
now (after so long), almost as if I regret it. This may
seam like an attempt to run away from the problems,
but I prefer to claim it as a need to clear it now, so I
won’t give a wrong impression to (you) readers.
The biggest fear is obviously the decline of seriousness,
or reliability in the text, in the words. But these
fragilities are the same that make it more valuable
for me, as researcher and as an observable subject
I believe that the fear of finding some lack of scientific
truth is probably related to a Christian education’s
old habit – learning religion from a young age taught
me to create (and absorb) an interior voice, that has
allowed me to speak to myself in the most unexpected
situations (especially the hard ones).
I learned to comprehend that my inner voice, being
something that grew in me out of this religious
education (that I doubt a lot today), was strongly
cultivated by my mother through the years, in a way
that allowed me to find my own faith, beyond the
religious passages taught in school.

16 writing as a way of finding a method

This idea of believing in something (anything) beyond
ourselves was finally embraced by me, in the search
of some kind of redemption: all the times that I did
something wrong and hid it away, I kept telling myself
it was okay because I meant no harm (everybody needs
something to hold on to).
The inner voice works in two stages: first, as a self-
supervision, by trying to quiet it down, and reducing
the level of stress caused by a specific situation, and
acting also on the self-esteem that is an increasingly
bigger problem in today’s children and adolescents;
second, as an outer-supervision, meaning that the
moment when our inner voice encounters the voice of
God everything will be okay (in the end).
Not trying to be cynical about this, but if we look
at our recent history we will keep finding examples
of wrong made right through the language of faith
and belief. This is not a spiritual deviation from
the narrative, but rather a strong self-awareness,
transformed into some kind of private manifesto,
which seemed quite okay to share at this moment.

What is brought here is a composition made out of

research throughout the ideas of individual narratives
and the encounter with the need to give it a form.
This said, we explain why the methodologies followed
(instead of others) were designed along the way (and
many times were also destroyed) and that the clothes
our work is wearing today can easily be named under
the label of an ARTIST’S BOOK or a GRAPHIC
NOVEL. Not only because a good part of it comes
as images, but because the narrative is very fictional
(based on biographical events though). By images
I refer to the ones included here, along with the
discourse, and also to the ones that are formulated in
any of the reader’s minds, during the reading (or after).

17 writing as a way of finding a method

When I read rubem alves’s “Livro sem fim” for the
first time, I thought how crazy it was to write like this,
as if one could include some inner thoughts in the

páginas cheias de anotações. Mas não consigo colocá-las em ordem. São peças de um quebra-cabeças espalhadas pela mesa. Tento
translation from the original: “As ideias não me faltam. Ao contrário, elas brotam a todo o momento. Já tenho centenas de
investigative form we are undertaking. Those thoughts

encaixá-las umas nas outras para formar um padrão único. Mas elas se rebelam.” - Livro sem Fim, Rubem Alves, n.d. p. 17.
would sometimes overlap the main text (as something
so urgent that had to be said in that specific moment),
and be placed with the same importance as suggestions
for future readings, or the footnotes containing
further information. He claimed to have developed the
centipede’s syndrome:

“I do not lack ideas. Instead, they spring up all the time. I

already have hundreds of pages full of notes. But I can not put
them in order. They are pieces of a puzzle scattered around the
table. I try to make them fit into each other in order to form a
unique pattern. But they rebel.” 8

Is it really something so strange? Not for me, really,

because I was already in the middle of a certain kind
of ascending step to this strange method claimed by
alves: My working desk was crowded with different
notebooks with dates and records, in different levels
of reflexion, different languages (sometimes English,
sometimes Portuguese, sometimes drawings) and
forms of expression. And yes, sometimes they did
contradict themselves. Sometimes I wish I could take
all that with me and submit it as my possible (honest)
Sometimes in my notebooks I could almost see the
“balloon of thought” very commonly used in Comics
language or in a graphic novel writing style. And the
truth is that since that very beginning, when I started
introducing images in my project of research (the one
that was initially submitted and approved by a jury in
the first steps of the PhD), I realised that some of those
images were not really explained in the text, or maybe
8 My

18 writing as a way of finding a method

they were (not really in a very comprehensive way) but
they made sense only for me. Later, in conferences and
public presentations of my research, I stopped using

Figure 3
Personal Notebooks

But I could not stop using images. How could that be,
if images were everywhere around me? I Think, read,
work, teach, orientate, and ultimately breathe with
images. Truth is I’m an image addict (as we all are in
a completely visually dependent world). Probably my
situation can be adjusted to a generational problem,
but is that all too bad?
I grew to believe that my accurate sensitivity for
viewing images is what made me start enjoying the
work of orienting GUIDED TOURS in the first place.
And that sense was also what made me concern about
what other people had to say about them.
Could we experience the same feelings and sensations
about the same images?

Did they experience what the artist desired them to? Or

was it completely different?

Did they ever manage to peek a bit outside of that room

19 writing as a way of finding a method

(that moment, even if just for a second) caused by the
experience of the artwork? If so, how did it happen?

Was it because it was a good image (a good work of art)

or because the visitor was an exceptionally sensitive
person too?

Why was/am I so interested about this kind of question?

Why is this so unsettling for me?

Many times I considered the overlapping of other

practices (that I had apart from art mediation) and
about how much of what we do in both places is
different (it would be terrifying to admit that it was
all the same thing). The role of the museum lives in
an institutionalized bubble, but does not fit inside
a classroom where the teacher has more time and
reaches the students through one window only: himself
and his topics (and/or the multimedia presentations).

Figure 4 Kids sitting on the floor of the museum

20 writing as a way of finding a method

I like to think of an image in which a contemporary
art museum is a link, and compared to the metaphor
of the internet, if we open one link, we find others and
we can escape for hours until we finally get lost. (for
what it may concern, I believe the different levels of
straight to the Glossary in the end and look up for the definition of the word “art” before getting back to the main text.

distraction of a Museum space are also bigger than the

ends the introduction of his book “Relational Aesthetics” (1998), p. 10. by suggesting the reader to go

ones in the class room).

For me, one work of art can be as amazing as that link.
And if we multiply that effect by the total number
of works of art we can visit in a museum, then the
museum is an amazing ground for experiences, just
waiting to be lived.

As a suggestion for a more enthusiastic reading, I took

an idea given by nicolas bourriaud in his acclaimed
“Relational Aesthetics” book, to provide intertextual
connections between pages and chapters9, and invite
the readers to go to the Glossary in the annexes
– in their own pleasure – anytime a word appears
highlighted in the text. As far as the words can be
repeated, connecting a “definition” from the glossary
might not necessarily have the same significance
depending on the context.
9 Bourriaud

21 writing as a way of finding a method

t h e s h a d ow r e s e a rc h e r

This is probably not the type of writing one expects

to find when opening a thesis or a dissertation.
We are hoping that this hypothetical author has
dedicated so much of him/herself to the research/
writing/production of this book that, at least, it
should be enough to grant him/her a valorisation
from the academia (but academia doesn’t get used to
read autobiographies). Let’s just think about it for a
moment: when I’m writing this (not at this moment)
I am expecting to have some sort of validation (the
“post-something” effect) and I want to show my
colleagues that I possess the capacity of finding novel
results on some subject or to connect ideas in a rather
innovative way. That being the most important goal on
pursuing a doctorate.
While I was digging on readings and talks, – and more
readings and conference attendances and research
I was faced with tutoring students in their Final Project

encounters – I was reading to focus my attention and

reject the urge to start writing: this is said to be a good
of the degree in Plastic Arts and Multimedia, ESEV, Viseu.

urge, I used to tell my students that: “Once you’re

reading a text always keep a notebook next to you -
you might be surprised with what you highlighted
there after a day or so”10.
So I did that. Not exactly from day one, neither in a
daily basis but quite close. I would write about my
ideas on something I was reading (in the moment),
reflected on those ideas and used them into the
reflection on my own work.
I realised that the readings and the notes were
doing more than just keeping me focused: they were
becoming important for my own everyday work at
the museum.
I started the writings in the form of a journal – a
10 When

23 writing as a way of finding a method

graphic journal because I felt it interesting to connect
what I was writing with some momentary doodles or
instead with photographs that could have been taken
with that intention (or not) – also I started to re-read
those reflections later and quite often found some
amazing links between events from different days or
other readings, other pictures and so on.
This idea of getting a graphic journal as a parallel
form of (visual) writing revealed to be an excellent
idea: so good that in fact I got stuck to it. Sometimes I
would take these notes and try to turn them into more
academic texts, but they would lose the flame or the
urge or the genuine feeling that my writings could
transpire (when realised in a self reflexive way). So, I
would stop and look for something else.
In the dissertation project submitted during the first
academic year of this PhD, I decided to include this
self-reflectiveness in the text but not incorporated
in it: I decided to use a SECONDARY VOICE in the
discourse, my own personal inner voice (think of it
as a whisper in the ear). This turned out to be very
satisfactory for that context although I realised that,
for some of my readers that writing mode would
sometimes become quite confusing (because this
second text would also share its space with some
previously chosen images).
When this writing began, I made the decision that the
META VOICE would have to disappear and leave the
space for a (possible) self-exploitation of the author in
the layout of an AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
Granting some connections between fiction and
reality, this became the solution (the decision). And
that’s why you’re reading this self-explanatory text
right now.
I am utterly aware of the traps I’m planting for myself,
though the lineage of the discourse would always have

24 writing as a way of finding a method

found this direction of allowing a possible creativeness
take over the space of an academic discourse – which
is the reason for all the methodological choices.
There is an inevitable trick in this type of writing –
which becomes closer to a self-reflexive book more
than anything else – as long as I experience things
and write about them after, I have a guarantee that
they existed and can be verified by me (and others).
Anytime now or in the future, I can also add or change
things, in order to make them (happen) closer to a
certain descriptive perfection, or that the presumable
errors are the ones that had to be then, and in that
encounter finding the solutions I always expected (and
I was always suppose to find).
There is an active (ironic) role in autobiography in this
thesis: to remind the author (and the readers) what
it means to write in the first tense, what it means to
share the insecurities and possible failures when in the
end all of this is about the pursuit for validation and

Writing became a good part of my method long before

I realised it.
Often I wondered if creative work could be considered
critical explanation or interpretation of a text.

as valid research material, as long as it was somehow

the result of reflections undergone within the
attributes of the Museum work. Could I write in the
form of costant exegesis11? Which processes could I
use for that writing? If I did studio writing could it
resemble like a novel in the end? Or should I have to
proceed with a rigorous format of writing in order for
it to be systematized and processed?
From my (method of) regular writings and readings,
I learned that acquired conceptions can often be
questioned, no matter how certain we are about them.
And also that there might be differences in the way we
11 A

25 writing as a way of finding a method

feel about things. Differences that are not in the shape,
the aesthetic or the conceptual components, but they
can exist in our own perception of things (depending

“MIND MAP” was the only way that I encountered to manage all the things I wanted to intertwine during the writing of
on the day we had for example). So, this will lead me to
(again) a personal type of writing, but also to the idea
of multiplicity that I’ve always been interested in – like

the thesis: but soon it turned much bigger than I had expected, becoming also a part of this methodological process.
the meta voice that was present in my early writings.
I find it fascinating to perceive the instability of
boundaries between the reported information
collected at work and the biographical accumulation
of novels, stories and tales (and sometimes the mess
between fiction and reality). Imagination meets these
boundaries when they’re not exactly sure where to
belong, and turns them into a unique experience.

Lately, the physical act of writing (in the notebooks)

became a part of the writing (or it always has been but
only now I became aware of it). I did realise how that
truly affected me. How the writing in the computer
(directly) would later force me to print it to make it
able to be read, so that I could re-write (and correct
the text by hand in the beautifully printed pages).
Through the act of writing I could control and enact
change, contribute to create (my) solutions to the
evident faults and problems.
Writing as a powerful act.
Writing is always a process of looking for something,
driven by an impulse that we’re not always aware
of – as I understood that the physical act of writing
represented an effort very different from the one I
would use if typing directly into the computer.
And because I was also writing in the wall, drawing
the MIND MAP12 that would outline the design of my
work, some days I would go to bed with my (right)
arm sore from the effort (of that physical and vertical
writing), as if that exhaustion was an extension of my
12 The

26 writing as a way of finding a method

Figure 5 Map on the wall

own state of mind .

However, there was something about my work I
hadn’t realised until very recently while reading about
the Shadow Curator’s concept in the handbook
Art, Informal Space, and Social Consequence: A

“ARTocracy” (edited by nuno sacramento and

nuno sacramento and claudia zeiske, 2010, pp.188.

claudia zeiske). According to the authors:

Curatorial Handbook in Collaborative Practice”,

“Shadow Curator is a methodology based in the appropriation

of the term Shadow Minister from the Anglo-Saxon political
system, and of agonism described by Chantal Mouffe. The
Shadow Minister has the role in parliament of scrutinising the
appointed minister on every aspect of governmental decision-
making” 13

which means that the shadow figure could represent

precisely a shadow: something that we always bring
attached to us, but only see it if we actually look for
13 ”ARTocracy:

it. Considering that this concept is appropriated from

a political figure (with a specific role in the Saxon

27 writing as a way of finding a method

political life) by chantal mouffe in the development
of her agonistic writings, this leads us to the possibility
to spawn a real figure: I could find my own shadow
self somewhere outside of me (with someone I trust),
and wait for the exterior reasoning or cautions to
come naturally (like a conversation). Or I could just
let my own self (trapped) inside me, and the un-

Art, Informal Space, and Social Consequence: A Curatorial Handbook in Collaborative Practice”,
predictableness of a shadow self to be constrained
by me.
This would be the final heir to my meta voice, and if I
could do this just imagine the possibilities that could
derive from here:

“This constant questioning is intended to become second nature

to the process of thinking.” 14

Me writing about myself, being read by myself (at

the same time) and probably to myself – here is my

nuno sacramento and claudia zeiske (2010), p. 11.

14 ”ARTocracy:

28 writing as a way of finding a method

s i l e n c e at t h e m u s e u m

The act of writing is in itself a selection, and this

happens in all the exercises we make (because one can
not write as fast as he/she thinks). Sometimes ideas
run away while we are trying to write them in paper.
This sort of situation is quite similar to what happens
during a GUIDED TOUR in the Museum, like when a
blank space or a void appears in the place of any other
idea being articulated. Inevitably we have to start all
over again.
Striking the idea of an ideal conversation, there are
some days into which our work gets close to perfection
nervous tingle in my stomach, that gradually fades away during the day. But it’s been so
must reveal that (almost every day) in the beginning of a new day at work, I feel a

and not necessarily the easy ones. I guess I’m trying to

say that the good days are the ones that make us grow
in some point, or that at least allowed us to stop time
during long enough to see ourselves from above: It’s
those days we arrive home wondering: “Did I do my
work as I intended to? Did I involve myself enough? Did
I give the enough space to the viewers? Should I have
turned in another direction in that (exact) moment?”
many years doing this kind of work, and I still get nervous.

Earth spins slower when we’re stuck.

What I propose to myself everyday is to wait and
listen more often. I have difficulties dealing with
the SILENCE in front of a group. I imagine to hear
feedback, but always considering (in my mind) the
possibility for it to be a negative one15.
Of course it’s not an easy challenge: try to comprehend
the difference between a life-changing experience in an
exhibition (and these are so rare) with any other sort of
innocuous attempt. Try to predict, try to comprehend
the individuals by their look, their moves, their
body language, and so on. Look for an affectionate
connection towards the works exhibited there, and
experiment. Choose something new every day.
15 I

29 writing as a way of finding a method

Experiment the confrontation space that can be
aroused in a museum gallery within a visitor and the
artwork. Narratives that are entangled immediately
(and naturally) and are empowered by external
mediation (these narratives usually happen in silence;
we just have to pay attention).
It is this space IN BETWEEN that I’ve become
interested in: the subjects of investigation are merged
into themselves in order to become a unique reality, or
one torso with distinctive branches. This image

Figure 6 Tree branches

30 writing as a way of finding a method

can be the illustration of a moment of confrontation
between the individuals: the confrontation generates
a new kind of knowledge, an awareness of our own
implication in what is in front of us. This idea of
creation that may lead us to a kind of fresh knowledge
is exactly what a great number of contemporary artists
are pursuing nowadays (and have been doing, at least
since the 1960’s in different locations in Europe and
North America): art to be interconnected to something
“Incidental People: APG and Community Arts” included in “Artificial Hells – Participatory Art and

else, but in order to become an object of discussion

it should be socially interventional, politically active
and provide an arrangement of possibilities that were
not considered by other actors in order to incentivize
the emancipation of individuals. Taking the example
of artist placement group (APG) that functioned
in the UK between 1966 and 1989, as an original
idea by a group of artists that aimed for that social
bond, but were getting weary to fake it or force it.
Instead they decided to propose a real connection by
approaching the decision makers in local society, like
private corporations and public institutions, and tried
the Politics of Spectatorship” by Claire Bishop (2012), p. 164.

to create a connection between artists and working

contexts, in which both parties gain by sharing each
other’s experiences and inputs:

“Barbara Steveni would write to a selection of host

organizations outlining the goals of APG; these organisations
were invited to pay a fee to the artist, who would undertake
a residency on site; in return, companies were advised not to
anticipate the production of a work of art, but rather to think
of themselves having the benefit of a creative outsider in their
midst (an “incidental person”, in APG’s terminology). Steveni
frames APG’s purpose as a new form of patronage bringing
together two disparate domains, industry and the arts.” 16

For APG, the connections were mediated through

16 From

31 writing as a way of finding a method

working conditions, the artist was placed in a situation
that would look “just like real life”. But why not look
for that real life instead?
Something so kind and unique like someone’s hug
or the sound of a bonfire in the warmth of our living
room. Verify the interest of new things and check the
impact that art actually has in people’s lives. Because
the new doesn’t necessarily have to be in the object or
in its concept and meaning but it can reside precisely
in the outcome: in its reception by an everyday
renewed audience.

Figure 7 Artist Placement Group

I feel very lucky to have comprehended that

methodology can be a strategy in which all the

32 writing as a way of finding a method

information, all the experience, and all the life can be
grasped from it.
In a way, I believe I can resume that everything
that came to me, happened to be in the form of
conversations (and who doesn’t appreciate a good
Conversations with my work colleagues (on a daily
basis); conversations with my super-husband pedro
about the importance of certain aspects in the
current state of things; conversations with my baby
girl that started when she was still inside my womb;
conversations with my advisors and professors (even
when most of the times they were not really about this
work); conversations with the most incredible authors
that have assured me that I was not alone in this
quest (although most of these conversations actually
happened between me and their published books and
articles); conversations with the artists and curators –
that were held in the context of the exhibitions I was
working in (sometimes there were specific questions
to be addressed but most of the times it was the
artist or the curator talking about his/her work, and
his main concerns towards the work of the museum
mediators); and most of all and the most obvious
of the conversations were the ones between me and
my publics, my groups, my visitors: every single one
of them (even if I can’t remember a lot of them) has
contributed to the construction of my discourse in a
way that they informed the construction of my doubts.
It is towards them that I hold the greatest debt and
it’s because of them that I believe my work will reach
some importance: even if it’s only to make me a little
bit better.
The structure to this work is therefore based upon the
self-reflexivity of all the characteristics that define the
author. And based on those characteristics, making

33 writing as a way of finding a method

ourselves aware of how intricate they are to what the
work could become, there was no other way I could
have found to lead my words to. I had to make my
writings more personal: I needed to connect my own
life experience to the others I was referring to. This
was the only way that I found to be true to myself and
all the others that I used as my influence and reference.
When I started the PhD, I had some decisions already
made about how to deal with possible anxieties like:
What is the best research topic?

What methods should I use?

How to make my ideas make sense in a PhD context?

I knew I would not allow myself to let go completely

of all methodological structures or guidelines, and that
would keep me connected to reality.
Or so I thought.
I did not start this chapter to explain the methods I
used or to quote my sources and references because
they are everywhere really. I read about a lot of
possible approaches, some of them with attractive
names and conceptual frameworks, others completely
outside of the box (as I expected and desired).
But none of them made sense for what I needed:
especially because I wasn’t sure yet what that would
be. My method started actually when I met nora and
asked her to be my advisor: she brought the order to
the chaos and found (from a pile of information) a
path to begin creating my own narratives. To look at
my work as I look at a work of art: with questions,
certainties, thoughts, connections and images, and
not so much with the main concern to answer a final
question. Not to get trapped into a summary or a plot.
I realized that what I needed to do was to look at the

34 writing as a way of finding a method

thesis the same way I would look at an artwork in a
Museum: giving it time and space, letting it breathe,
and it reveals its own distinctive story.
Of course the method was already here: the method
is in the author as the author is the method. Intricate
ideas and thoughts should emerge at the same time as
images, actions and experiences (and life).
Family and friends are also a part of this, because the
method is in me. I knew this already, but nora found
it first.

35 writing as a way of finding a method

d e p l e t i n g t h e c h o i c e s

In order to find a research question, the investigator

must identify something that is unsettling enough,
something that can be grasped from observations, and
inevitably better understood through research. This
seems quite too obvious, but for the research to make
sense, it is necessary to identify something concrete
enough in order to be observable in a participatory
level, through an engaged form of action research.
the book “Action Research: A Handbook for Practitioners” (1996), by E. Stringer, p. 15.

“Community-based action research is a collaborative approach

to inquiry or investigation that provides people with the means
to take systematic action to resolve specific problems. This
approach to research favors consensual and participatory
procedures that enable people (a) to investigate systematically
their problems and issues, (b) to formulate powerful and
sophisticated accounts of their situations, and (c) to devise
plans to deal with the problems at hand.” 17

It seemed to me that methodology would not be an

issue anymore, because community-based action
research appeared to be an interesting way to deal with
the problems I was raising, even if I was not yet sure
what shape they would have. A traditional approach
of inquiry indeed seemed to be unfit, because of the
encouraged processes of evaluation that (from what I
understood) would not allow me “to live” and research
at the same time.
From most of the frameworks presented, even if the
researcher was not quite sure about how to proceed,
the question (or the problem) he/she identified should
find its way to fit in some rigid rules.
This kept forcing me to formulate (and work) from an
ideal context: the right laboratory, the right timing, the
17 From

37 writing as a way of finding a method

right group of people, and the right topic to
derive from.
After spending too long struggling to fit inside these
tight jeans, I realised that I was contradicting my own
way of working18. Even if I wanted to resolve concrete
problems, I could (in fact) put them in many different
ways, and still they managed to make sense to me. So,

am I fooling? I am that person that, even a few days away from the deadline, is still writing things in a
how could I expect to come up with just one question?
This eventually became a problem for me, so I stopped
thinking about (participatory) action research.
Also, there was another thing that bothered me. As I

19 From the book “Action Research: A Handbook for Practitioners” (1996), by E. Stringer, pp. 19-20.
continued to dig up on methodologies one could use
(for artistic purposes), I found that the researches
focused (always) in very specific recipients. Privileged

notebook first to just write it in the computer after (sometimes even in the same day).
people: my fellow researchers, art students, museum
curators and eventually artists. Of course there is
always a primary group of people who will read our
thesis when they come out but, to be honest, I never
considered that to be my targeted reader.
I always sought to write (to myself) in order to allow
myself the independence to write to anyone else:
I expected my visitors (in the museum) to be my
readers, as well as my family and my friends and my

“We have come to accept the impersonal, mechanistic, and

allegedly objective procedures common to many health,
education, and welfare services and business corporations as
a necessary evil. We endure hierarchical and authoritarian
models of organisation and control despite the sense of
frustration, powerlessness, and stress frequently left by both
practitioners and the client groups they serve.
It is not difficult to understand the source of these frustrations.
Centrally devised and controlled programs and services cannot
take into account the multitude of factors that impinge on
people’s lives.” 19
18 Who

38 writing as a way of finding a method

So, if the research question seemed to have always
been presented to me as a safety net, or a balustrade
where I could slightly lean and quietly descend the
stairs (I heard this idea once in a class, don’t remember
who said it though), I always see in my head this
outros cientistas é-o ainda mais para um antropólogo que não passa simplesmente uma parte da sua vida a estudar uma

strong image of myself going down the stairs, sliding

dos seus elementos. O que o obriga no fundo a aprender de novo como comportar-se, como viver” quoted and retrieved
comunidade, mas tal estudo implica-o ao ponto de para o poder efectuar ter de integrar-se nessa comunidade como um

through the balustrade instead of (just) leaning over.

translation from the original “Un Pueblo de la Sierra” by H. M. Velasco Maillo: “O que é certo para muitos

When offered this possibility of taking a safety net -

and after a long journey trying to pursue it - I decided
to let it go. Not sure really what image I could use now
in order to replace this one, maybe the staircase with
from “Mapeamento e Estratégias de Investigação Social” (1994), by Carlos Diogo Moreira, p. 108.

a few broken steps, or maybe a rope (instead of the

stairs). Anyway, whatever it was I definitely chose it,
probably unaware of it at the time but I don’t really
regret from having done it.

As an ethnographer, one aims for the contact with a

culture to be so highly achieved, that in order to do
that, it is as if one was born in that culture. In order
to recognise the behaviours, the gestures, the moves,
the researcher is expected to absorb the culture
which is normally achieved through PARTICIPANT
OBSERVATION. For years, this methodology was
incredibly attractive for artistic driven projects mainly
because of lack of appealing alternatives, but also
because this methodology (when used in an ideal
context) is possible to lead to interesting results.

“What is certain for many other scientists is even more for an

anthropologist that doesn’t simply spend one part of his life
studying a community, but that study implies him at a point
that, in order to conduct it, he has to integrate the community
as one of its elements. Which eventually forces him to relearn
how to behave, how to live.” 20
20 My

39 writing as a way of finding a method

Normally, for this to have successful results, it is
suggested to be conducted over a long period of time
and with an absence of exterior contact. Of course this
method finds its own traps in the development, and at
some point it also becomes unclear (if it even makes
sense) to consider it.

This text - instead of becoming a methodological

explanation of the thesis - took an opposite direction,
as to explain what methods I am not using.

Figure 8 Documents displayed on the floor

40 writing as a way of finding a method

In fact, the methods that were persistent enough and
became preponderant are the ones already introduced,
RESEARCHER, even though they arrived here with
different levels of potency: the autobiography being a
constant and the shadow researcher a shy cousin who
is still afraid of stepping in.
22 “ARTocracy: Art, Informal Space, and Social Consequence: A Curatorial Handbook in Collaborative Practice”,

However, the further I looked for this idea, the

more interesting and adjustable it seemed to me as
Nuno was invited by Deveron Arts to go to Huntly for a three-month shadow-curator residency (2006).

something that would complement the work in the

form of an evaluation (or self-evaluation).
So, if the researcher (me) is a single author, this
completing a PhD in Curatorial Practice titled “Shadow Curating: A Critical Portfolio”,

means he/she will be attached to all the stages of

the developing project: which means that it won’t be
possible for the researcher to look at it in a distanced
view (or gaze). To become able to do that, it would
be necessary to take some risks and deviate from
the research: to take a break and be willing to start
it all over again (if necessary). But, instead, and as I
read the explanation of claudia zeiske and nuno
sacramento21 in their complementary roles as curator
and shadow curator for “The Town is the Venue”
(previously mentioned), I realised how prolific this
nuno sacramento and claudia zeiske (2010), p. 16.

could be if I borrowed the methodology and used it

to resolve my necessity to undertake a critical self-
evaluation (that would not induce to any predictable

“The shadow curator’s role isn’t to assist or to mentor a curator

in regard to a particular project or programme. Their role is,
through the use of dialogue and discussion, to challenge the
proposals and actions of the curator in order to consolidate
his/her methodology.” 22

So, apart from the fact that technically I couldn’t

resolve this detail (yet) of becoming both the
21 After

41 writing as a way of finding a method

researcher and the shadow researcher, this barometer’s
promise seemed to be too attractive to be rejected.
The authors themselves claimed (in their book) that
this methodology could be easily appropriated and
adjusted to other contexts and aims:

“It is not the shadow of the curator, as one would expect it,

Art, Informal Space, and Social Consequence: A Curatorial Handbook in Collaborative Practice”,
like for example an intern shadowing a curator which means
more like being at the curator’s side like someone’s shadow
cast by the sun. Shadow Curator comes more from the Shadow
Minister in Westminster politics, who, yes, is constantly at their
counterpart’s side, but also has another dimension of friendly
opposition, which you call agonism. Given where I am based in
a small town in the north of Scotland, I found Shadow Curator
a very attractive proposition. When there is no constant peer
competition looking over your shoulder, it is easy to become
complacent. (…)
I have had mentors in the past, and that is different, their role
is to make you feel good and support you. Shadow curator also
supports, but in a nudging way rather than a backscratching
way. Your concept of “agonism” is always a kind of wrestling
with words and concepts. Shadow curator is something that

nuno sacramento and claudia zeiske (2010), pp. 131-132.

will stay with me in my professional life.” 23

I have decided to take my chances with this method,

and the outcome for this decision will somehow be
revealed in the last chapter of this work, where the
shadow researcher will finally come forward.
23 “ARTocracy:

42 writing as a way of finding a method

t h e s o u rc e s

From the early beginning of this project, I had

idealized a number of circumstances that could
possibly make this become the perfect work with some
awesome conclusions about how mediation practices
today could assist the contemporary museums in
ascending a place of comprehension (or healing) of
society. This would somehow justify (to me) why I’ve
been working on mediation for all these years.

From the decision of organizing a group of research,

with whom I would share the authorship (by
conducting an action research participated laboratory),
until the total abandon of that idea (after continuously
postponing it to myself and others), a long time
has passed. And during that time, the research had
occurred anyway: I just had not noticed it myself.
During these years, I went through a huge number
of researches held in museum context – oriented by
mediators, artists, curators, and other agents involved
in the community – that would always have a specific
context to work from: migrants, socially marginalized
citizens, disabled people, children, teenagers, elders,
either case, they would always derive from a specific
social target that I strongly wanted to avoid.
When I came up with my laboratory idea, I intended
to persuade everyday individual visitors, with no
specific characteristics whatsoever, to engage with
the project. They would only have to share a desire to
see themselves as consultants, with their own insights
about the concerns that were raised by me (from the
There was always a very specific starting point,
whether it was a subject, a question, or a problem

43 writing as a way of finding a method

identified by the community – and I didn’t have that
either. So, I kept waiting.

Figure 9 Boy with his pockets out, while looking at the river.

What I came to understand over these years was that

the decision of a specific context, or a point to start
from was, in fact, what was holding me back.
I did not want to study how people would engage
more with the museum, by giving them the tools to
do it from the beginning. And even if they learned,
through time, how to actually use those tools into a
more emancipatory behaviour towards the museum,
still that would have come from a more susceptible
museum: with more time, with less people, with a
closer connection (established through a mediator),
and with more predisposition from all the involved.
Whatever the outcome would be, I would always end
up with controlled results that, in a larger scale, would
matter only to comprehend those results in a total
percentage of what those visitors could represent. I

44 writing as a way of finding a method

could eventually start a kind of familiarity with that
specific group of people that, if influential to others,
could come to have a closer connection in long term,
and maybe an approximation towards other sort of
activities proposed by the museum.
But every time I considered that (again), I always
ended up writing another text about it: about the pros
and cons, about who would “my people” be, and about
the right moment to start something that I had no idea
how to end.
So, instead of actually doing it, I decided to write about
it, and comprehend the reasons why not doing it was
beginning to make more and more sense to me.
If I wrote about my everyday activities, I would
embrace a bigger number of proposals and visitors,
and my results could become accessible to anyone who
would want to get closer to the museum. And specially
from within the museum: finally, this type of research
could actually have an interesting impact to the
educational department, the curating department, the
production department, and all the like. But for that to
make sense, I would have to conduct the work myself,
without any external interference or institutional
influence. I would have to become more of a spy of
my own work and reflect on that, as if referring to
someone else (instead of me).

Trying to make a clear statement about the sources

that were used to inform this work, since the moment
it started (and until now) it should be something like
this. Just have in mind that this is not an exhaustive

Conversations with peers: “Early on, in one of my

first interviews, Christian Boltanski pointed out to me
that the danger of interviews is that we always say the

45 writing as a way of finding a method

same thing. Often new rules of the game trigger new
conversation and new content.”24
I have to say that I was not sure about this “category”
because it somehow overlaps some of the following.
However, I am including here for example the
conversations that happened in the museum corridors
(with me, other educators, curators, producers and
assistants) in some dead moments of the
museum rush.
Often these conversations did not appear to perform
towards moving forward, sometimes they would just
seem casual conversations. But even so, maybe all that
was necessary in order to take some time and listen.
My favourite are the conversations I have (every now
and then) with the exhibition assistants: they always
have such delightful details about the visitor’s habits,
and in what ways they interact with a specific work
of art; “Can you believe that they actually sit on that
work of art?” is a funny example. They seem to hear

Ulrich Obrist, “Everything you Always wanted to know about

whispers sometimes, they know what are the directions
people take in which specific exhibition, and they
also have their own preferences. They do reveal those

curating – But were too afraid to ask” (2007), pp. 86-87.

preferences to us (the educators) if we’re nice to them,
but they maintain a great distance from the curators of
the Museum. I did consider to put together a number 25 I still consider the possibility to do it though.
of questions specific to them, but haven’t been able to
keep track on it;25

Conversations with advisors: These conversations

were to me as inspirational as contradictory. Ever since
I can remember, I’ve never been good at looking for
feedback, it was always something that didn’t seem
to come naturally from me: I remember one episode
(during my painting degree in the Fine Arts) in which
I was very frustrated with the final classification, and
by confronting the tutor, he answered that he could
24 Hans

46 writing as a way of finding a method

hardly remember talking to me during the process. So,
how could I complain from a grade that was basically
upon my finished work (and not my process)?
Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have mastered this area
yet, but I am looking for some progress. In the time
that occurred since the first academic year of this PhD
was the case of José Maia, an independent curator, teacher and artist who’s also a member of the Educational
Service of the Serralves Museum since 2000. The questions included in these inquiries are detailed in Appendix C.

(2011/2012), I chose an advisor (catarina), talked

to many other interesting people and then found my
other advisor in a Conference in Helsinki. Since that
moment until today, nora and I didn’t meet many
times, and those encounters were all very different,
both from expectations and from information
I remember one in particular, when nora and I met
on the rooftop of a hotel in Istanbul (in September
2013). We had travelled there for different reasons, but
we understood to have an opened possibility to a date:
nora was on holidays, but I wanted to take notes and
to be as responsible as I could (or so I thought).
I remember thinking how lucky I was to be on that

Collecting notes: First impressions from students

inserted in school guided tours, summing up a total of
20 schools. This experience is further developed in the
thesis, and it consisted in an immediate response from
school students to the question: “what do you think
when you think of this museum?”
The variety in the answers, also as the repetitions
turned out to be very exciting source material;

Interviews (and inquiries) to colleagues: These

interviews happened mostly in the writing form,
through the submission of the answers of a previously
designed “package” of questions I wanted to know
about (from them). In one exception26 (so far)
26 This

47 writing as a way of finding a method

the responses happened in the form of a recorded
interview, which resulted in a bigger amount of
information that was provided from my colleague. I
believe there is a worth mentioning difference in the
sort of material that derives from a written format,
because of the levels of reflection that are embedded
in that process: in the case of a face to face interview,
there is a lot more of unpredictability, and (if the
interviewer allows it) the interlocutor is sometimes
faced with a memory trip that he/she can’t completely
control. Most likely he/she will end up answering
completely different things.
The interviews (inquiries) happed in the months of
June/July 2016 and sum up to a total of five completed
documents. This inquiry was not exclusive to the
people working in serralves, I also sent it other
mediators I met through the years;

Interviews to artists, researchers and authors: In

the context of the preparation of new exhibitions
in the serralves museum, often the Educational
Department has the possibility to have a conversation
with the artists and/or the curators. It is also common
for these conversations to be specific to “us”, and for
that reason a lot of the unpredictability of the artist’s
responses don’t take place. I remember in one of the
conversations that the team had with liam gillick
this year, he mentioned that he had no interest on the
feedback from the audience. Because I did not record
that talk – I don’t have in mind his precise words, but
this gave me a certain discomfort – that drove me
to look up for anything I could have read about his
work, or any of his texts. And I found out that he does
care about feedback, but he’s more interested in the
processes of monitoring it.
Sometimes, the possibility to ask something we really

48 writing as a way of finding a method

want to know (from someone we admire) might not
give us the answer we want to hear, but it will quite
sure lead us somewhere;

Selection of images: This process was not parallel or

imediately before the drawing/illustration moment:
normally I collected the images before while I was
researching on some topic or during readings and
moved them to a folder to return to them later.
It was quite rare to go on looking for a specific image
to refer to some situation, it was more the opposite.
During the process of gathering the images, I collected
hundreds of them which forced me to make a selection
of the ones who would be illustrated: a) most of the
images are photographs that I captured27 (some more
recent then others); b) others refer to institutional
photography: museums and other institutions (or
activities) that I did not have the chance to photograph
only related to Museum activities, some of these images are from

(so they are downloaded), c) there are also a few

images I do not know the authorship – they’re just
random images that have arrived to me through a
process of browsing the infinite (web); d) In the case
of the images that refer to artworks, they can be the
result of a (image) research or they can be photographs
I captured on the location.
By illustrating these images, no matter where they
come from, I claimed them and often gave them a
holiday trips or from family gatherings.


Illustrations from photographs (and sometimes by

memory): The illustrations that are presented in the
final version of this document were not performed in
a graphic journal style, so to speak. The decision to
introduce illustration did not come from an impetus of
drawing or collecting images as inspirations, because
that was already achieved with the photographs. The
27 Not

49 writing as a way of finding a method

act of illustrating makes a statement in which I start
owning something from that moment on: illustrating
is like making a reality show up in the form of a visual
scheme. The author (the researcher) illustrates to
highlight some moments, but also to allow them the
beginning of a forgetting process, a process that has
always been independent from the others;

Writing in the journal: At some point, this began to

happen almost every day as returning home after one
day of work. It also occurred in the most unexpected
places like on the waiting room for a doctor’s
appointment, or in the metro for example. The fact
that this was a very natural process (to which I tried
to make myself always available), made some of the
texts become too personal like intimate confessions. I
did not obliterate that register whenever I encountered
it, I assumed it to the fragility of the information, and
assuring its authenticity.
What drove me to write simultaneously in several
journals was always a strong memory saved from a
specific moment: some of them appear to have been
frozen in time (for me);

50 writing as a way of finding a method

Figure 10 Things I liked and disliked...

51 writing as a way of finding a method

GUIDED TOURS and workshops: This is probably the
most important source because it’s the essence of my
work in the museum: the guided tour is the one that
happens more often in the museum, and it is also the
one in which I get closer to a lecture (or a unilateral
form of knowledge transmission). Therefore, becoming
one source of information but also one of the strongest
motivation for the work to be done.
Because it is hard to quantify the number of guided
tours that I have conducted in order to inform this
work, I have tried to calculate a number, considering
the time-lapse 2012-2016: I didn’t find a final number
but instead an average of 150 to 200 activities per year
(oriented by me);

Lectures assisted: Every time that I find time I like

to assist lectures from the most varied topics. I have
assisted mostly artists or art directed lectures, but also
look for more pragmatic stuff, like “how to become
an entrepreneur” and more recently things related
to motherhood and baby care. I enjoy watching the
different nuances in communication between different
areas of expertise, but mostly I enjoy the details:
people are all so different from each other and we can
learn so much only from observing each other.
The weirdest thing is that (sometimes) I would make
use of the time spent in these lectures to write in
my journal (instead of listening): the ambience of
an auditorium would always act as a sort of trigger
to my organizational skills. I would sometimes take
notes (and lose them forever, because I would never
remember to look on “that” notebook), just for the
thrill of the moment. I still go to lectures every time I

52 writing as a way of finding a method

Putting all things together: Images and words are
combined within: I draw as long as I write, and all
images are my own, produced at the same time.
This idea is quite important because it is related with
the constant and increasing usage of appropriated
images (for everything really). This becomes naturally
another piece of interpretation. This way, the act
of drawing turns the images from different sources
into original images. Because I drew them, instead
of making copy-paste of a previous existing image, I
perform some sort of purification of the images.

53 writing as a way of finding a method

the beginning
multiple contexts

h ow d o y o u f e e l ?

This text that I write tells us a story. It´s just a story,

The story begins the first time I went to a Museum and
experienced a guided tour.
I remember vividly about both the fascination and
respect I felt by that individual there, exposed, and
generous. This was a very long time ago. So much
has changed since then. Not just me (that’s quite
obvious unfortunately) but the museum has changed
further developed by Kaija Kaitavuori in the introduction of “It’s all Mediating: Outlining
and Incorporating the Roles of Curating and Education in the Exhibition Context”, (2013), p. 1.

too. A contemporary art museum holds to a great

responsibility these days: and that is to exist between
the respect for the artwork, the education of the
audiences, an entertaining role (through inviting
actions) and finally to continue with commercial
actions, that allow the previous to have conditions
to exist.1
And as long as I mention Museum here, I’m referring
to contemporary art museums based in western world,
to be more precise. I will get closer to some examples
soon, but for now I would like to start by imagining
these Museums as a clan, like they all belong to some
kind of network or union and sometimes they get
together in meetings to discuss their role: their present
and especially the future.
These museums are not easy fellows to chat with: they
all want to speak at the same time, and when they
don’t, they create rules of participation that make
it really hard for anyone (that is not a museum) to
understand or to jump in.
When asked about the first impression of the space of
the Museum, the girl jumps in to the speech, to make
sure she would be heard right in that moment: “It looks
like there’s been a robbery, everything is soooo empty!”
1 Idea

57 the beginning - multiple contexts

– she was twelve years old, very small features when
compared to her fellow colleagues, added to pointy
ears and two huge eyes, and I had the impression that
she was not exactly the most participatory student in
the classes, given the surprised looks from the teachers
after her interpelation.

Figure 11 Little girl in the museum

Not only because I took use of her words to keep

her colleagues speaking for a while longer (and also
because I complemented her bravery) but also because
she kept making connections and kept close attention
to everything that happened after.
It’s amazing how sometimes the perception of time
can shift, depending on how involved we are with our

58 the beginning - multiple contexts

public, with our discourse and especially with the level
of engagement that our talk managed to achieve: one
hour can run in a glimpse, as I remember happening
with this little girl and her group. I regret not writing
down her name when I got home from work that day…

Truth be told – the museums as living creatures may

not be actually doing this but never as before have we
experienced such number of discussions surrounding
museums: their premises, their possible “turns” to
entertaining, social skills, ability to enable public
debate and engage in people’s lives, or their rates of
success. In sum, a Museum today is as successful
as it can breed energy and dialogue: in a healthy,
participatory and creative way.
Of course there will always exist museums with the
imminence of “hands behind our back” syndrome, but
that’s not what I’m interested in.

When this work started, I had the purpose of pursuing

all interesting examples I could find. Somehow, I was
afraid they could instantly disappear or fade away, and
so I wanted to track them all. Managed to visit a few,
but most of my access was achieved virtually through
academic research (I know that the absence of the
experience may be one fragility to the work itself).
But my research kept taking me to new findings, new
reasons to believe that I’m not alone in these anxieties,
and that the contemporary art museum has a lot to
offer the future generations.
But this was not an easy and smooth task. I was
(and still am) constantly changing my mind, and
questioning my own research methods, results, and
even my starting point. I keep questioning myself.

59 the beginning - multiple contexts

How many parts in a guided tour?
Are there really different specific parts? Is that relevant?

First, we have to meet and host the group. Introduce

ourselves calmly to the teacher that leads them to
the museum. We do this (and trust it) for practical
reasons, because this way the teacher will recognise us
and follow us immediately inside the museum (and the
group will naturally follow the teacher).
But there are other reasons: the teacher is a volatile
and fragile character in actual Portugal, and it is really
important to achieve his/her trust and empathy. The
teachers coming out of the school’s environment for a
trip outside (wherever it is) are responsible for all the
students. Even if the parents sign the consent form,
authorising their children to go outside the school,
(and assuming that decision) the truth is that most
of the teachers in normal circumstances arrive in the
Museum under a high level of stress.

Along the years I have focused some of my energy on

defending that there’s a lot to consider about a first
guided tour, about the impact and about how it grows
in you. Maybe it doesn’t have to be necessarily the
first time, but there has to be something about one
museum experience that makes it memorable. If it’s
a bad memory, then that group is probably already
lost, disappointed about what museums have to offer.
Together with everything that was in his power (the
group) to bring out to the museum, added in meaning,
experience, individuality. Also the fact that statistically
we can relate to the satisfied client that will return and
spread the word in order to share the good experience
he/she had. Unlike the unsatisfied one who will not
only dodge from museums, but will also share the bad
experience with a widest network: it’s pretty much

60 the beginning - multiple contexts

common sense, negative experiences grow stronger
and spread faster when compared to positive ones.
Growing more and more certain about the need to
adopt an affirmative discourse in the first tense (or as
an autobiographical discourse), because I keep giving
my opinion about things, and at the same time trying
to validate my own discourse, I seemed to find just the
right authors, like sara hossein, which proposes for
documenta 12 an approach to the use of a playable
game instead of a guided tour, in order to make the
from Sara Hossein “This Could Get Nasty...Playfull Gallery Education for School and Groups
at documenta 12”, included in “Documenta 12 – Education 2” ed. by Carmen Morsch (2008), pp. 78.

experience more pleasant and vivid. And sara starts

her text precisely by remembering the early impact of
mediation in her own life:

“Two quite different memories stand out when I recall the

museum visits of my teenage years. In the first, I see myself
among my fellow pupils. We are standing in front of a painting,
and our gaze shifts back and forth between forms and colours
and a person who is explaining them to us. This person is
extremely clever and talks a great deal … my concentration
lasts for ten minutes at the most; the tour, however, lasts fifty
minutes. I am quickly getting bored. What’s more, my legs are
aching. An hour in a museum is definitely more demanding
than an hour in the classroom – at least at school they let you
sit down.” 2

This excerpt of text makes it clear that, for sara, this

experience comes with a negative impact and probably
would have led her to deny future engagements with
museums, if it was up to her to decide. It wasn’t
(probably) her decision to go back to a museum, but
because the methodology to her next experience was
totally different, that might have contributed to light
up some curiosity towards it (which could have stayed
numb inside her for years):
2 Excerpt

61 the beginning - multiple contexts

“In the second memory I’ve travelled to the United States to
spend a month with my aunt during the summer holidays. My
aunt is an art freak and has – or at least so it seemed to me –
a season ticket to all of Manhattan’s museums. (…) I can see
myself at a Picasso exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of
Art: I’m sitting with other kids of the same age (we’re actually
allowed to sit!), and though the program is being conducted
by an adult, it’s mainly the young people who are doing the
talking. My English is still pretty bad, and though I can’t
understand most of what’s being said, I’m impressed: what are

http://www.serralves.pt/pt/actividades/fischli-weiss-mundo-visivel/?menu=249, accessed in July 2016;

they talking about? Why are they able to say so much about

information regarding this exhibition is still available in the Museum’s web page, in Portuguese:
Picasso? Along with the discussions, we watch videos, and at
the end we make drawings of our favourite paintings by Picasso
in the exhibition galleries.” 3

My memory is as clear as the ones sara mentions here,

but I wasn’t that lucky to start so soon (or so young).
I can still remember about my first visit to a Museum
that was conducted by a mediator, a guided tour. Like
the author, I also felt a strong impact, probably so big
that I can remember thinking that this was something
I would like to do myself.
I was eighteen years old, and it was during my first
year in Porto studying in the fine arts faculty. The
Museum was the contemporary art museum of
serralves in its second (maybe) year of existence
and the exhibition was a retrospective of fischl &
weiss4 (these artists have one of the most interesting
projects related with archive and the obsession with
remembrance, taxonomy, archiving and storage, and
specially the display methods – I will go a bit further
about this on the chapter dedicated on memory and
3 Ibid,pp. 78.
4 The

62 the beginning - multiple contexts

Figure 12 “Visible World”, Fischl & Weiss

In the particular case of fischl & weiss (I remember

that) for many years I did not recognize their work,
and only by a stroke of luck I acknowledged it from a
book, and that led me to the place, the time and the
situation in which it happened.
The work that I can remember best (as if it was today)
was the one that named also the exhibition “Visible
World” (this version is dated from 2001) and it was
referent to a set of fourteen light tables containing
a total of 2800 slides – there are other versions of
this work, one consisting of three video monitors,
showing thousands of images moving in real time.
This piece was so powerful as it trespassed different
media, such as the archive, installation, photography

63 the beginning - multiple contexts

or even narrative. Making their own interpretation of
a VISUAL ATLAS, fischl & weiss rejected the idea
of capturing relevant images (and memorable stories),
and showed us how their archive of pictures was full
of life experience: from traveling around the world,
they photographed flying birds and lighting skies to

a small group that was selected (before the opening of the Siza Vieira’s building) from the Faculty of Architecture
harmonious photographs of interiors and everyday

Caetano is also a mediator in the Museum of Serralves. She is about our age, but she started very young, in

in Oporto, to conduct tours centered on architecture. Some of these mediators later integrated the Educational
objects. “Visible World” is a piece about life on this

During this process of information gathering, I had the

chance to distribute a series of questions (previously
mentioned) to my colleagues in the museum. One of
the questions that was posed (right in the end) was
about the memory of a first guided tour, to which
sónia borges replied:

“I think so (I remember): I know I was a kid, but I have no

idea about the age I was. I came to the customs building and
we visited a caravel. I remember becoming fascinated to see the
inside and the outside of the caravel and to hear the monitor
tell us things that I have never imagined. I also remember the

Department in arts and a few of them are still there today.

first visit I assisted in Serralves. I went with the University class
to do an architectural visit with Inês Caetano 5 . I remember
very well the whole visit, the movements she made with her
arms, the way she spoke, and then showed us the fascination on
discovering the museum’s architectural curiosities. I remember
that, what struck me the most was the photo she showed us in
the library, when looking at the large window, the design of the
inverted right side equals the left side and vice versa. Of course
I already had the opportunity to disclose this to Inês.” 6

It’s a fact that the simplest things sometimes have

the power to trigger memories in us. Not only I have
become quite obsessed with memory (and even more
since I dedicated to this writing) along the years, but I
realized something that I always knew, but just didn’t
5 Inês

64 the beginning - multiple contexts

have the need to accept: some of my memories are
fake, or I just subverted them to mean what I want/
7 Melissa Rodrigues came from Lisbon to Porto, to work in Serralves: she’s one of the most recent members of the educational staff.

expect them to mean.

Borges works as a mediator in the Museum of Serralves since 2004, involved in several different projects, with a special
attention to young children. She also works as an illustrator, and a storyteller, a practice that she tries to interconnect with her

It was only after I read the responses from my fellow

mediators that I realized I must have engaged in a
guided tour before the one I mention here: I was
studying in Viseu (my hometown), and I went a few
times in that famous end-of-the-school-year-get-away.
Often the plan was simple: to go to some other city and
see their museums and heritage sites. So, why can’t I
remember any of these trips?
melissa rodrigues, from her side, claims to
remember very well a first visit though she is aware
that it wasn’t the very first, but only the one she really
mediator work every time she has the chance. More information on Sónia in her bio.

“I don’t remember the first time I assisted a guided tour, but
I do remember the first one that got me so thrilled that I got
home with the urge to find out more. I was a teenager, about
fifteen, sixteen years old, I’m not quite sure. I went with my
school class to the Ancient Art Museum in Lisbon, and I
enjoyed so much the explanations of the guide, the works, the
exhibition rooms that I became a regular visitor of museums.” 7

So, it is a fact that I remember this guided tour in

serralves as being my first, but I know to myself that
it isn’t true. I wonder why do I make it to myself as
being true (something that is not) or if I just prefer this
experience to have actually been the first, because it
was a good one.
Is it true that during the process of understanding
my reality, I want/wish to manipulate my narrative
in order to sound a bit like this: from a good first
experience, I (internally) have the desire to become a
mediator, until I succeed to do it?
But, if the starting point isn’t true, is the rest of this
6 Sónia

65 the beginning - multiple contexts

the beginning - multiple contexts
8 JamesClifford’s “Museums as Contact Zones” included in “Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth
Century” (1997). Here quoted from the book “Negotiations in the Contact Zone” ed. by Renée Green (2003).
a n o t h e r b e g i n n i n g

The work (considered) here had numerous beginnings:

in many different moments (and for different reasons)
I thought I had found the fairest way to lead the
investigation and therefore adapted myself and the
work to those changes. Multiple times I ended up
discovering that what I had felt was simply the need to
begin again in order to regain the trust and strength
to continue. Most of those times, the new ideas could
fit in perfectly with the previous, so it was never a new
beginning so to say, but just a refreshed look from a
new perspective or point of view.
Other things though have never really changed, and
the contact zone was one of them. First acquainted
through the james clifford’s text8 where he
elaborates on the reconfiguration of the rasmussen
Director of the Museum in that period, Dan Monroe, had worked

collection9 in the portland art museum10, Oregon

(1989), in which he acted as an external consultant.
along native Alaska tribes, and was the one to make this decision.

From that privileged point of view he reflected on

what it meant to attribute the original framework (of
production) to objects already included in Collections
or in display in Museums realizing how important
it is to grant context to ethnographic objects,
considered often to be “works of art” and by whom,
or how important it is to discuss reciprocity between
people from “different cultures in asymmetrical power
The contact zone became one of the most fascinating
concepts for the configuration of this research from
the first moment I read about it. And the more I
connected it to my other readings and consultations,
the more it made sense to take it into a wider level
of integration. Further ahead I found other sources
in which it is proposed a connection of contact zone
9 The

67 the beginning - multiple contexts

to wider perspectives: from museums to schools,
to migration movements, refugee camps and other
activist related struggles in which art can activate the
idea of being together.
The ambitious task that the portland art museum
desired to endeavour revealed to be full of unexpected
outcomes by approximating the individual revelations

past of this museum, here described by James Clifford already frames it in the course of emancipatory practices.
practices of engagement from the museum with its audiences, with the project “Object Stories”. Somehow, the
– provided by the native representatives of the Tlingit

Portland Art Museum is the same Museum that I will use further ahead when discussing exemplary
elders – to facts debited by history and local culture.

“The experience of “consultation” left the Portland Art Museum

staff with difficult dilemmas. It was clear that from the elders’
viewpoint the collected objects are not primarily “art”. They
were referred to as “records”, “history”, and “law”, inseparable
from myths and stories expressing ongoing moral lessons with
current political force. The museum was clearly informed that
the elders’ voices should be presented to the public when the
objects were displayed.” (clifford, 1997, p. 259)

Some of these facts were actually at stake, when put

side by side with the chants or songs that were being
performed by those participants: every song was about
a reality, a person, a situation, and every element to
the song was about something that iron-branded those
communities (like an octopus that metamorphosed
into the coast guard by the end of the story):

“But could they reconcile the kinds of meanings evoked by the

Tlingit elders with those imposed in the context of a museum of
“art”? How much could they decenter the physical objects in favour
of narrative, history, and politics?” (clifford, 1997, p. 259)

And how could the museum staff act now and assume
their work accordingly to the trust that these elders
had deposited in them? How could they ever resolve
situations that would clearly involve political decision
makers and/or social power agents? More then the
10 The

68 the beginning - multiple contexts

resolutions that would (or not) be achieved by this
encounter and others that followed, what mattered
the most was the number of questions that were
posed, and that no curator, educator or conservation
staff could have considered on their own, no matter
how much effort was put on research, no matter how
specialized they could be in the investigation of native
American tribes.

“As the meeting progressed, the basement of the Portland Art

Museum became something more than a place of consultation
or research; it became a contact zone. I borrow the term
from Mary Louise Pratt. In her book Imperial Eyes: Travel
and Transculturation (6-7), she defines “contact zone” as
the space of colonial encounters, the space in which peoples
geographically and historically separated come into contact
with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually
involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and
intractable conflict.” (clifford, 1997, p. 260)

A contact zone is – in its definition by pratt – a

ground for a struggle based on the assumption that
a conflict will eventually be resolved and originate
something utterly different – for better or for worse.
In the context of art and museums, the contact
zone became something creatively desirable, for its
necessarily leading to unpredictable results. When it
comes to the internal organization of a Museum (based
in any location subjacent to colonialist past or any
other situation of asymmetrical power relations), the
outcome is as ground breaking as confusing, and in
its immediacy, or short time period, it will most likely
lead to nowhere:

“When Museums are seen as contact zones, their organizing

p. 261.

structure as a collection becomes an ongoing historical,

political, moral relationship – a power-charged set of
11 Ibid,

exchanges, of push and pull.” (clifford, 1997, p. 260)

69 the beginning - multiple contexts

But if we want to push this into museum
circumstances, we can accept that the concept of
contact zone is in itself immediately connected to any
museum who incorporates/collects any objects with a
past or any objects with a non-identity authorship, and
that remains yet to be assumed. Meaning that these
are artefacts that were gathered not by the authorship
or even by the symbolic meaning for a community,
but by the curiosity adjacent to the object in itself and
most likely because they were taken away from their
original community without that context (which is
belatedly being added by curators in museums like the
portland art museum), for colonial or exploratory
purposes. It is a fetischization of an exotic object
perpetrated by a western world.
What the people that were reunited in that basement
in the early 1990’s in Portland did not expect was that
the right context they wanted to provide (their) objects
could never be achieved without unprecedented
compromises, nor without disrupting the whole
western civilization side of the story, making it clean to
its intentions:

“What transpired in the Portland Museum’s basement was not

reducible to a process of collecting advice or information. And
something in excess of consultation was going on. A message
was delivered, performed, within an ongoing contact history.”
(clifford, 1997, p. 261)

No matter how strong or good the initial intentions

from the museum staff were, they could never ease the
urges of the native tribes, who (in their recent past)
have seen their way of living forever changed. Apart
from the fact that these were just representative of
a smallnumber of tribes - they could not achieve to
speak in the name of others - still this was a start and

70 the beginning - multiple contexts

a set stone: the circumstance in which they accepted
the encounter with the museum to try to help them
reconfigure the exhibited objects was in itself an
acceptance of a new form of communication with the
representatives of their (past) invaders:

“A kind of reciprocity was claimed, but not a give-and-take that

could lead to a final meeting of minds, a coming together that
would erase the discrepancies, the ongoing power imbalances of
contact relations.” (clifford, 1997, p. 261)

No reciprocity could be enough to neutralise all the

past events. Even though moving forward to finding
a way to transform an interdependent situation
(with no exit) into a process of initiation of a mutual
conversation, (or mutual learning) could eventually
lead to an endless debate. For this debate even the
vocabulary would have to be neutralised (because if
I look at an image in a different way than you, I also
appeal to an object differently).

“The objects of the Rasmussen Collection, however fairly or

freely bought and sold, could never be entirely possessed by the
museum. They were sites of a historical negotiation, occasions
for an ongoing contact.” (clifford, 1997, p. 262)

The contact zone however, is a wide and organic

concept. It becomes dormant in contexts, even when
it was not noticed yet, and it can be relatively distant
from us or it can be activated right here in our street,
our neighbourhood or our city.

“In contact zones, Pratt tells us, geographically and historically

separated groups establish ongoing relations.”
(clifford, 1997, p. 262)

71 the beginning - multiple contexts

Further ahead in the development of the contact zone
and its approximation to cultural politics related to
museums, clifford added another aspect to what
mary louise pratt had initiated in her investigation:

“The notion of a contact zone, articulated by Pratt in contexts

of European expansion and transculturation, can be extended to
include cultural relations within the same state, region, or city – in
the centers rather than the frontiers of nations and empires. The
distances at issue here are more social than geographic. For most
inhabitants of a poor neighbourhood, located perhaps just blocks or
a short bus ride from a fine arts museum, the museum might as well
be on another continent.” (clifford, 1997, p. 270)

http://www.serralves.pt/en/foundation/serralves-villa/history/, accessed in July 2016.

I know very well what this means to me, as
it turns out that I have once experienced an
extraordinary possibility of opening a contact zone
in the confrontational space between the serralves

more information on the Comte, look up on the Museum’s website

museum and its closest neighbours, a social housing
neighbourhood known as Pasteleira. Past the fact that
this neighbourhood has the closest proximity possible
to the south entrance of the museum’s park, this
closeness has never been of an easy conviviality (which
is only to be expected). Until the 1980’s serralves’s
real estate used to be of a private owning, belonging
to a powerful textile industrial man from the north
of the country12, who, facing a massive crisis in the
post-second world war period, was forced to sell it to
another industrial, who ended up selling the property
to the Portuguese government representatives (in the
1980’s). This relationship of proximity to a high-class
society contrasted with the neighbourhoods that were
growing along the south part of the museum quarters,
and mostly because even though the big bourgeois’
houses were being abandoned by their inhabitants and
descendants (we can see it even more clearly today),
12 For

72 the beginning - multiple contexts

serralves’s area was never meant to be nothing
less then a selected neighbourhood (with individual
houses and their private gardens and swimming pools)
positioned half the way between the city’s downtown
and the beach. Who, if not those who could choose,
should live in such a remarkable location? By the time
the serralves museum reopened as a contemporary
art Museum in 199913, the social housing blocks were
more than established and had created their own
habits and movements: the museum was the “new
kid on the block”, not them. This, on itself would
http://www.serralves.pt/en/foundation/the-museum/visiting-the-museum/, accessed in July 2016.

not have become a problem, but over the years the

security issues in the surrounding areas have increased
exponentially, raising the tension levels between the
“two neighbours”.
For consecutive times, and with the use of different
approaches, the EDUCATIONAL SERVICE in the
Museum has tried to reach to these neighbours: I
have participated in more then one team discussion
concerning which possibilities could be debated to
approach these local inhabitants without falling under
the traps of condescending behaviour (art as a “social
salvation”, which is further ahead developed in this
thesis), or as being something offered from the one
on visiting the Serralves Museum, look up:

who holds the position of power as a gift, even if it is

by opening the doors to the “others” to invite them in.
In regular programs that have been implemented, the
results are quite satisfactory: the closest kindergarten
has (through the years) their children participating
in the cropping teaching program proposed by
the environment educational department, also as
the children in pre-scholar ages are usual visitors
to specific age directed programs (and also other
activities of engagement with farm animals).
However, apart from the fact that a lot of collaborators
from the museum leave their cars parked inside the
13 More

73 the beginning - multiple contexts

neighbourhood’s whereabouts (taking their own
parking spaces – and I have done it myself multiple
times), the contact with these neighbours pretty much
ends here. There is no interaction to the adults who
live there (and who got used to see us come and go
from our cars), either then an occasional “hello” or
“good afternoon”.
But one day14, a workshop that was being initially
conducted inside the museum, turned out to
become an exception in the communication with
these neighbours, and I’m quite sure that those who
participated in it most likely still remember it (as I do).
During this workshop organized by the Educational

Potrony, Spanish artist, art mediator, producer, lives in London and collaborates
Department of the Museum (but opened to the
public), conducted by albert potrony15, he organized
a series of actions under the topic “Get Down and
Party – together”(2011). For a total of four days, the
group got together and came up with ideas about how
we “divide” the public space among us, how should we
propose to creatively outline ideas of being together,
and how contemporary art can become a trigger

with institutions like Gasworks and the Whitechapel Gallery.

to a more radical approach, instead of reserving an
educational one.
If, during a good part of the workshop’s duration
the focus was inside the museum space, and the
propositions of the group were around the disruption
September of 2011, to be more precise.

of the museum itself, the intention was always to come

out to the public space. Either from its mission or from
what it is expected to be an artwork, small organized
performances (proposed by the participants in which I
was included), “forced” an interaction with the existing
visitors that did not feel unsettled (generally) because
an event happening there would be protected by the
museum “shell effect”.
The results in the museum were wide-ranging and
challenging but it was necessary to decide the next
15 Albert
14 In

74 the beginning - multiple contexts

step – the public space: and every time the group got
together to discuss what to do next, the conversation
revolved around the neighbours and how to come
up with a way to address them. So, we agreed that
the neighbours were important for us and – with the
compromise of albert – the group started to discuss
and conceive a specific action or performance that
would be completely relevant for them and we would
only go there once we had found it. No doubts about
crossing the web from all the participants, while holding it at the same time (in the style of Lygia Clark)

that and head on the work. But the time passed and
eventually we came up with nothing. All the ideas
materials for making paper rolls, a rope to make a spider web, a collective grid to instigate

seemed patronising or silly or too elaborate for the

time we had available: The group was surprised and
disappointed at the same time. And suddenly (and
I don’t remember who decided to do that) we just
grabbed what we had with us in the room16, took each
one of us a stool and moved across the road to the
neighbours’ parking lot and sat there in the space that
remained available to continue our meeting (each
one doing different things with diverse materials).
We got there and we were immediately spotted, by a
couple of locals (adults) who were wondering around.
They approached us, unaware that this response
from them was an immediate connection we so much
desired from the beginning and had no idea how to
provoke. Clearly curious about us and what we were
doing, other adults subtly joined and took some of the
materials as well, pairing up with us (asking questions
about who, what and for whom), undecided if they
enjoyed this situation or not, until one woman decided
to go to her house (just there), made some coffee and
brought it to us in a thermos bottle. From that moment
on, we realised that we had been accepted, and we
could ask them or propose them what we wanted,
and they would go for it. They sometimes asked if we
were from the museum and if there was any intention
16 Some

75 the beginning - multiple contexts

to what we were doing, but generally they were not
so interested in understanding the reasons: they were
particularly curious, and that’s what drove them to

Figure 13 The gipsy neighbours

In that moment a contact zone happened, just from

crossing the road, and with the least preparation as
possible. Not that we didn’t discuss it (we did that
exhaustively) but we always came up with reasons
for being dispatched by the neighbours, either for
security reasons (towards us or the materials), either
for being considered trespassers, no matter where we
were coming from. We all thought of a million reasons
why that proposal could go wrong, and I’m sure that
if it wasn’t for albert’s experience and guidance, we
wouldn’t have taken that chance: we wanted to do it all

76 the beginning - multiple contexts

by the book (I did!).
And the outcome amplified all of our best expectations
to the maximum levels. Of course that this should
not be the end of our adventure, for the justice of the
concept here developed:

“(…) contact zones are constituted through reciprocal

movements of people, not just of objects, messages,
commodities, and money.” (clifford, 1997, p. 262)

The relations that were established on that moment

were not relations of equality (not entirely), because we
were still in the position of having had the idea. What
we truly shared was the unawareness of the result. In
that context, the reciprocity would have been necessary
for the continuity of the proposal, if we were to have
some kind of results. And by results, I mean to come
up with a number of ideas that, with time, and together
with our interlocutors, would please us to work on: 1)
how to bring them regularly to the museum; 2) what to
specifically do with them, once they’ve decided to go;
3) what to “give” them to make them feel the sentiment
of belonging; and so on.
We did start a contact that day. After the workshop
we printed a couple of photographs where our
neighbours appeared (and that were used to elaborate
these illustrations) and went back to look for them:
of course we didn’t know which were their houses,
so we went to the local coffee shop and showed the
photographs and asked for them. The performativity
attached to the action of looking for those people – at
the same time that others were asking what it was,
who we were, and why we had those photos of their
people – made me consider how powerful this could
be if turned into a tool of engaging with others. If,
instead of teaching what we know, most of the times

77 the beginning - multiple contexts

(during art mediation) we just stood there with our
stool and waited for people to approach us, instead of
the opposite.
If the contact zone can be/happen anywhere, as
clifford kept repeating, if it’s a series of actions
undertaken accordingly to a proposal of gathering
different ideas, different people focused in specific
objectives, then we might have experienced that back
in 2011.

What I want to import from the contact zone for

my work is that need of energizing the connections
between things, through actions that are not always
pacific or unquestioned – which is the most expected
behaviour to your group of visitors, if they come in
a guided tour. How can we ask them to disrupt the
museum space or to bring their needs to encounter us
in the galleries, when we are not prepared (specially
the museum) for those possibilities? In order for these
trades to happen in honest ways, would we have to
base it on a co-presence of subjects, reflect and rethink
(afterwards), and only then would the audience
be called upon their participation again? In what
manner wouldn’t we replicate (again) the conditions
of hegemony or domination (of one over the other) in
the museum sphere? Can those communication (and
mission) barriers be torn down in order to activate a
concrete levelling of the discussion?

“To the extent that museums understand themselves to be

interacting with specific communities across such borders,
rather than simply educating or edifying a public, they begin
to operate – consciously and at times self-critically – in contact
histories.” (clifford, 1997, p. 270)

Today, as it becomes more and more visible, there’s a

78 the beginning - multiple contexts

growing discussion about change and about looking at
the future by focusing on the past (and understanding
it) and its practices. But this has begun quite some
time ago.

In the history of art exhibitions that have contributed

to challenge the discourse of the Western centred
authoritarian structures (over others) or in which the
dialogues written by the objects were becoming more
and more visible than those written by the curator,
there is to mention “Magiciens de la Terre” as one
of the first outbreaks, and probably one of the most
Histories of Exhibitions” included in the volume “Making Art Global (Part 2) Magiciens de la

discussed exhibitions ever. Hosted in 1989 by the

Lafuente, in “Introduction: From the Outside in – “Magiciens de la Terre” and Two

centre georges pompidou, in Paris, “Magiciens de

la Terre” aimed to be the first exhibition to introduce
artworks from both western and non western artists,
with similar importance, from the attribution of an
exhibition space, to the articulation of works within
others, to the catalogue space, and also the geographic
provenance (individually signalled).

“Magiciens de la Terre was perhaps the first exhibition of the

self that refused to accept the existence of an other who could
not have a place within it: no longer an exhibition of “us”,
but an exhibition in which everything (or rather, everyone)
Terre” (1989), ed. By Lucy Steeds (2013), p. 22.

belonged. By working towards this goal, it suggested the

possibility of another exhibition, the show in which nothing
actually belongs. And this is perhaps what the exhibition form
is: a place where nothing belongs, but where, because of this,
objects and people (artists, curators and others) enter into
relations, according to and against their will.” 17

The rise of visibility given to exhibitions that included

artists (and practices) from non western countries has
always been controversial, whatever the positioning
of the curators or the museums. The most common
position is the obvious absence and whatever the
17 Pablo

79 the beginning - multiple contexts

reasons, this goes beyond any kind of justification.
But when the decision is made to put together artists
from other continents and from completely different
frameworks in what it comes to the comprehension
of the visual arts, the most common attitude (from
museums) is to look at non European artists as exotic.
And even if they might share the same exhibition
space, they are sometimes collectivized, grouped,
or seen as if they’re teaching or demonstrating their
method (to us).

Figure 14 “Magiciens de la Terre”

Sometimes the most surprising proposals arrive to us

from the most unexpected sources. On a recent trip
to Lisboa, I decided to spend a short time (the time
I had available) looking for interesting exhibitions.
So, I went with a friend to see an exhibition I had

80 the beginning - multiple contexts

briefly heard about. I liked the title: “Four Variations
on nothing or talk about that which has no name” and
it was in berardo museum, a temporary individual
show from nicolas páris, a Colombian artist. I had
heard about him before but I must confess I was not
particularly curious, probably because what I had
heard was that he was questioning the gallery space
(in relation to the viewer) but as much as this might
sound exciting I believed he was exploring (only) the
architectural point of view – and that didn’t interest
me much, really. By the time we got there, we had no
information either than the one in the brochure, with
a very interesting design, but not that much context to
people, people with some free time, and/or people who don’t feel embarrassed

the objects we had there in front of us.

The aspect of the exhibition rooms was on a first
impression, very clean and very accurate in an
aesthetic level: all the objects seemed to have been
placed there on a millimetric scale (it was like
a heavenly space for little children, in terms of
attraction, and will to touch and understand). Very
attractive though, they could not be snatched by more
then our attention or visual accuracy, except for the
about asking questions (in museums or any other place).

one room that was supposed to be an experimental

and sensorial room (where we could actually touch the
objects). Almost like a playground especially designed
for adults, full of tricks of the mind and the senses, I
immediately formulated a series of questions in my
mind. I went to ask a museum staff member (I saw
there) some more information about that particular
show, and he pointed out at a girl from the Educational
Service, which apparently was there because of people
like me.18
During the residence period in Lisboa for the
development of the exhibition, together with the
Curator filipa oliveira, páris had requested to work
18 Curious

in a directly involved way with the Educational Team.

81 the beginning - multiple contexts

Meaning that he requested for the possibility to work
together (from the beginning of the show’s production)
with all the members of the Educational Service of that
Museum, perhaps even more than with the curators.
Apparently, he was interested in the mediation of his
work towards the audiences, and if he was not going
to be there during the whole exhibition, he wanted
to make sure that the people who would do this
mediation would do it the way he imagined it. I could

of text from Berardo Museum’s brochure dedicated to Páris’s exhibition: this brochure had a
not believe how close this approach was to things I was

small introduction and also an explanation of the “method” followed by drawings and instructions.
trying to apply in my own practices, and I obviously
wanted to know more. During our talk to the mediator
in the room, I also understood that she wasn’t just
there because of any guided tour, she was actually
waiting for any visitors to approach her, or she would
approach them instead, in case they wanted (or were
not sure) to manipulate the objects in “that room”.
The exhibition resulted as an exercise with a number
of interventions where the building is learning how to
become a museum, and the spectator chooses what he
wants to learn, how he wants to start on different ways
of being together (in the museum).

“In a small architectural installation, an object suggests that

an idea is something that is always being constructed and
developed. It is something transformative that we cannot fully
access. Something that can grow in a number of possible ways,
that emerges in time, and that lies in the hands of each viewer.”

The work introduced by nicolas páris presented

itself as a challenge for all the people involved. In
Lisboa, he claimed for a stronger engagement with the
Educational team of the Museum because he wanted to
make sure they would continue to activate his pieces
during the time the exhibition lasted and that this
19 Excerpt

would happen together with the visitors.

82 the beginning - multiple contexts

“By rethinking and playing with the concept of the classroom,
the architecture is devised in such a way that it is transformed
into a working process itself, as well as a set of routines that
give to spaces of exchange in which social skills and learning
habits are developed. Each classroom, where the viewer decides
what he or she wants to learn or unlearn, is a structure in
which the artist’s interests cross with visitor’s experience. Every
model offers a space to discover relationships, an architecture
that serves as a trigger for thinking about different ways of
socializing, in a process of learning and failure combined.” 20

Figure 15
Me experimenting Páris’s chair to wear

The activation of the public was in this case intensified

by the physical contact with the artworks: from the
moment a person holds a supposed artwork, there’s an
imediate connection that was not there before. From
that moment on, the visitor is given a certain power
that makes it feel like he/she actually understands the
artist, that they connect (through that touch). And,
although it may come as a poisoned gift (because one
might not really understand it, and end up frustrated
by it), that glitter will eventually come with some
positive effects.
20 Ibid.

83 the beginning - multiple contexts

t h i s i s n o t a b o u t m e

Based on an essentially Portuguese context –

and in an individual method – I wrapped some
interesting practices that have been implemented by
Contemporary Art Museums and some alternative
institutions, and organized them by the different
degrees of interest (for me). The purpose of this was
justified as a way to draw a sphere of comprehension to
practices being lead by these institutions: and to focus
on the ones I connect with and which ones I don’t.
Also in some cases, I confess to have found inspiration
for designing something new.
By doing so, I discovered (about myself) that I lacked
the neutrality on what it concerned to art mediation
in the museum space, and also because I tended to
overlap the visitor’s personality with the one of the
mediator (even if I struggled not to). I had difficulties
on stepping back to see the whole picture: instead of
trying to collect a number of different practices and
ideas, I was (unware) looking for getting closer to
the audiences, to connecting to an individual type of
In that sense, I was too worried about getting closer to
my own perspective of what should be happening in
art mediation practices. Most of the examples I found
ended up failing (for different reasons) to fulfil my
deed: either they were too close to me, or they were too
utopian and difficult to put to practice.
I understood that the issue of my own IDENTITY was
being brought up to address a problem that should
not be about me. I asked myself what could be the
right way to deal with identity issues in the context
of the guided tours: how can one promote an idea of
togetherness if I could not allow myself to let go of

85 the beginning - multiple contexts

my own beliefs – the need to fight for granting more
power to the educational team was sometimes blurring
my capacity to overcome that struggle.

Figure 16 Girl drawing a cloud on someone’s back

Instead of trying to fix what I thought was not okay I

decided to turn the focus to a new matter of identity:
the identity of the visitors, the artworks, the artists and
ultimately the museum. By claiming that the museum
is a living organism, we could prevent the visitors
from feeling too stiff. By claiming that the artwork has
feelings, we could allow the visitors to invent stories
about the artwork, and by claiming that the visitors
are their own decision-makers inside the museum, we
could allow these people (in that moment) to become a
part of that reality, even if just for one moment.
If art mediation works with a ground in collective
ideas but aims for the reach of an individual
contentment, the trick lies in finding a common

86 the beginning - multiple contexts

ground, where everyone is invited to see themselves
represented (an individual feature included in a
common speech).

The importance of an individual opinion inside a

Museum discourse doesn’t allegedly matter, because it
contradicts its birth or its origins: a museum is a place
for common knowledge, for shared experiences and
achievements to prevail and be taught to others (think
of the future generations).
So, the concerns that are arising today from art
mediation are concerns based and originated by art
mediation: they can not be raised by decision makers
and not even curators, because that’s not their career
anyway (I mean they do not experience the same
things that mediators experience). We can arguably
say that the power issues regarding art mediation are
somehow justified here, but this seems to me quite a
longer debate.
So, if (assumingly) the public does not feel valued (by
their own experiences) what kind of guarantee do we
have that over the years museums will maintain their
visitors, when there are so many new opportunities
to feel special by visiting any other kind of spaces?
If the museum is not involved and is not interested
in the individual feedback of its visitors, then it’s
probably the mission of the mediator to keep track on
that. It is important to create a relationship with the
visitors that comes based on mutual trust, and once
that is achieved, have them coming back and bring
their friends and family members. But in my opinion,
it is important that art mediation opens a space for
visitors to feel equals to those (abstract) entities
they’re looking at (the artworks). No matter how alive
a contemporary artist may be, from the moment we
perceive it from his/her work inside the museum, he/

87 the beginning - multiple contexts

she could as well be dead that we would not feel any
closer to him/her (either way).
The effect of placing objects inside the museum space
is something similar to the creation of a time capsule:
everything put there will not age, and one day it will
be seen in the eyes of a past (that it represents). But
we don’t want that to happen to contemporary art. We
are terrifyed by it. And one thing that I was inclined

will develop this idea further ahead in the document, when appealing to real objects inside the museums.
to believe over my years of experience in a Museum
is that, once a connection is established, that freezing
effect is blurred and sometimes it becomes surprising
to see how much the visitors actually got from their
own impressions of the works. If the visitors become
comfortable enough to participate and to engage with
the artworks, the space and the mediator himself, it’s
because that initial distance is beginning to dissipate,
and the work of the mediator is actually having some
positive outcome.
Well, we might never be able to blur that distance
enough to counterbalance the cold effect of the white
cube rooms, but maybe we can get people to stop being
afraid of contemporary art museum.

Maybe if I (mediator) carry some objects21 with

me, those objects can make my discourse turn into
something more rich (or clear), have more impact, and
therefore, become empowering. Not to empower the
mediator (or the museum) but the individual visitor
(anonymous) among the audience. This results in the
increase of a possible emancipation of the individual,
which, in return will originate a sensation of pleasure
associated to the museum - which is what the museum
wanted anyway.

But what does it mean to be together in a Museum

today? What does it mean to engage audiences, and
21 I

88 the beginning - multiple contexts

make them feel encouraged in the contemporary art
Museum, instead of (the usually) excluded?
In a text I read about a hypothetical future museum,
the authors rika burnham and elliott kai-kee
from the text “The Future of Teaching in Art Museums” included in the publication “Teaching in the Art Museum:

mentioned their own ambitions:

“Educator and visitor both realize that understandings of

works of art are never complete. They know that every dialogue
opens the artworks to the possibility of new meanings and new
interpretations” 22

If I managed to magically conceive a tool to be

provided to the Museum’s visitors together with the
power to (hypothetically) change it based on their
Interpretation as experience”, ed. By Rika Burnham and Elliott Kai-Kee (2011), p. 151.

desires, what kind of results would that surrealistic

experience have? What could we expect from what
people really want? Would that be an ideal Museum?

“The deepest and most affecting experiences visitors have in

art museums are those in which they share the unfolding,
unravelling, and translation of the meaning of artworks. In the
museum of the future, everyone is invited into such dialogues.” 23

I must say that this sounded like heaven when I read

it, but couldn’t this eventually turn out to have some
weird results? I mean, the idea of a museum (of me)
based on internet searches is today a verifiable tool:
by “googling” a key word in the context of a search,
the data builder adds immediate responses, based on
the highest rates of research. I did not look for any
statistics to sustain my ideas, but we can exemplify
this with a simple search: so, searching for the word
“Museum” turned up the immediate add of the word
“death”, and I went and searched for it just to find out
that there is a museum of death in the USA, and it’s
a (creepy) one of a kind museum in the world. I didn’t
22 Taken

23 Ibid.

89 the beginning - multiple contexts

go any further to sustain an idea that if all people
could contribute to put in the museum’s walls what
they would like to see there, then maybe that wouldn’t
turn out as the most really interesting way to subvert
the museum. This was actually a suggestion given to
me by claire bishop, during our conversation, when
I asked her about the need to include the desires of the
public in the museum’s future focus:

“I don’t necessarily want the desires of the public, they’re not

in http://deappel.nl/dox/exhibition_docs/380/the_fellow_reader_1_digital.pdf, accessed in June 2016.

always the things that we want to focus on, cause they can also
produce undesired ideas, I mean, the internet is largely the

25 “The Fellow Reader # 1 – On Boycott, Censorship and Educational Practices” (2015) available
desires of the public, and if we were to organise something by
the number of hits on the Youtube, maybe this would be awful,
so I guess it depends on what desires of the public there are.
And I think it doesn’t need to be some intelligent mediation

of my interview to Claire Bishop during her recent visit to Porto,

between what is potentially very interesting to the public (I
mean, important for the public to think about and to see), but
that must be instigated by the institution.” 24

in the context of the Masterclass “Radical Museology”, June 16, 2016.

“The Fellow Reader #1” (2015) is a recent publication
organized as the result of research project of renata
cervetto in the context of her Curatorial Fellowship
in appel arts centre in Amsterdam. Under the
topic of freedom of speech and the boundaries within
art making, curating and educational practices in
Museums, renata proposed a series of seminars and
panels where conversations functioned as the starting
point, and resulting in the production of collective
thought under the ideas of “Boycott, Censorship and
Educational Practices”25. Worried that this publication
represents a too contemporary approach, because the
main authors that collaborate in the issue are very
young and highly engaged in curating, education
24 Transcription

and critic in different parts of the world, I confirmed

to be also a number of texts based on a more
reflexive approach in which some past exemplary

90 the beginning - multiple contexts

methodologies are still the same as state-of-the-art.
From the director of the program lorenzo
benedetti, it is essential to approach to some of these
issues, in the moment we are living right now:

“From an economical point of view, the globalized art

world is characterized by an incredible diffusion of capital.
From a cultural point of view, however, the globalized art
world shows radical differences in geographies and cultural
backgrounds, which also imply different perspectives on
notions such as (artistic) freedom. As such, it seems there are
forms of restrictions and borders that complicate the flow of
information and data. In recent years the instances of boycotts
and censorship in the art world have increased. The diffusion
of contemporary art on a global scale is more and more
confronted by the limits and differences of social, political and
economical conditions that surround exhibition activities.” 26

From the round table “Before and After Censorship”

organized by renata cervetto and lorenzo
benedetti in May 2015 in Amsterdam, a group of
participants discussed the topic of individual freedom
and CENSORSHIP inside the Museums. But in this
case, galit eilat, etcétera and the wh&w started
from a topic launched by manuel borja villel (not
in person, but in a read transcription by cervetto):

“Is there an authentic freedom of speech in museums and art

institutions? As cultural agents we occupy and use museums
as spaces for transformation, to produce displacements and
generate new ways of imagining reality. But do museums
correspond with the more progressive aspects of contemporary
art or have they adapted to market pressures?” 27

We can imagine (if we were in that round table) what

p. 24.

would be the immediate response by some agents

p. 5.

to this (interesting) question brought precisely by

26 Ibid,

27 Ibid,

91 the beginning - multiple contexts

the publicly appointed director of one of the most
important Spanish museums. Controversy or not,
it is well known to us that borja villel is not the
typical passive director, and this can be confirmed by
the examples “the steering question for the museum
is not whether people will visit the museum but how
they will view the works”28 raised by claire bishop
in her publication “Radical Museology” (2013). reina
sofia is definitely deciding on following a path that
does not make it any easier for the public nor the
curators, but specially not for the decision makers in
a first impression: what it does in some exhibitions is

the text “Archive of the Commons: The Reina Sofia”, included in “Radical Museology,
to open the display’s discourse to some issues that are

or What’s Contemporary in Museums of Contemporary Art?” by Claire Bishop (2013), p. 37.

not in peace with each other (like the civil Spanish
war for example), and hope that in time this discourse
will have fruitful outcomes. The intentions of the
curators are not to create explanatory (or historical)
exhibitions, but rather to create juxtapositions of
artworks, publications and films that do not have
an easy conviviality: naturally, and with time, these
connections will raise some doubts, even if it is only in
the form of little seeds in visitor’s minds.

29 For further information on this: http://deappel.nl/help

Renata goes on with some more questions:

“What does artistic freedom imply under a predetermined

institutional context? How does this framework affect the
artwork communication/message towards the public? How do
external social groups condition the way artworks are presented
to the public? What is the role of the audience in a censorship
case? May censorship offer a space for negotiation? If so, how?”
(cervetto, 2015, p. 24)

The example of this publication contrasts with the

actual state of things in de appel arts centre29 in
Amsterdam. Known as a groundbreaking institution
for promoting a Masters Degree or by organizing and
editing exciting publications, the Centre is facing a
28 From

92 the beginning - multiple contexts

recent measure of financial cut from the government
which might lead to an unknown future.
Not interested in focusing the development of this
work regarding what big or small cultural institutions
have (and will have) done in order to fund themselves,
but it is a matter of concern when some of the most
creative producers (and also creative as to where they
find their funds) are not sure if the current economical
situation (of a European sort of crisis) will in long term
have definitive effects throughout cultural politics.
And to which terms that transformation will alter
the perspectives we now have towards a much more
unpredictable situation.
However, this does not mean that one person can
implement a certain number of measures, whoever he/
she is, even if it happens to hold a position of power.
It is important (for me) to continue producing the
conception of a space for imagination, because the
relationships between Museums and the visitors are
not neutral, and that lack of neutrality might as well be
used as a powerful tool for giving control to the people
(and to switch the chain of command for a while).
So, hypothetically, if that power tool was to be given,
what would I like to understand better and/or to fix?

What do I want to do in the Museum that I’m not allowed

to? (why do I even consider that I’m not allowed to?)

Do I feel comfortable inside the Museum?

Do I feel wanted?

Does my behaviour connects to the Institution’s

expectations or does it deviates from it?

Does my opinion matter to the directors and curators?

Either about the contents, the ways of display or the
programs? Do I care that they don’t want to hear

93 the beginning - multiple contexts

from me?

Do “they” care that I like to sit inside the

Museum’s rooms?

How do I reach them in order to transmit my opinion?

How do I pass the first boundaries of feeling that this

place does not belong to me?

Can I make sure that my opinion matters? How?

Do I even care about any of this?

Don’t I prefer to go somewhere else instead (maybe some

shopping)? I mean, clearly contemporary art museums
don’t exist just for the sake of the visitors, right?

What kind of contributions can be given (to museum) from

the everyday visitors?

How will the museum deal with it? Does the

museum care?

If the mediator is the only one who cares, what power

does he/she have to do something about it?

Do the mediators actually want something to be changed?

Why are there still so many questions yet unanswered?

94 the beginning - multiple contexts

m e d i at o r v s e d uc at o r

There is a great deal of power in a possibility of

education through art, which is today a very strong
claim in contemporary art museums. There seems to
be an increasing popularity goal and in some cases
communication and marketing teams pair up with
educators in order to find an appealing approach to all
more information on this campaign, see the interview: https://artmuseumteaching.com/2016/05/23/

the publics the Museum is interested in calling in.

design-thinking-for-museums-how-phoenix-art-museum-ran-a-design-sprint/ accessed in June 2016.

See the example of the recent campaign “I’m Here”30

created by the phoenix museum, combining ideas
from the Educational and Marketing Departments,
becoming a huge success (in social media). For
this campaign, creating an out-of-the-box content-
development for the Educational Department was an
idea that paired up with the rebrand of the Museum’s
look and feel, that was already on the move. They
wanted to connect to the visitor’s intentions/emotions
regarding the phoenix art museum: by sharing
their photos online, telling friends and acquaintances
where they were going to, when, with who and for
which purpose, the visitors were already providing a
very great deal of information that was then used to
build this raid campaign. The sentence “I’m Here” was
used with different combinations and, with the use
of attractive colours it revealed to be in tune with the
visitor’s expectations.

For as much as this seems new and innovative,

educating through the use of visual arts and referential
objects is something that mankind has always done,
and quite similar to the first Cabinets of Curiosities
that opened to public visits. In a way, we can say that
this popularization of arts education in Museums is
not completely new, it just reaches us in a different
30 For

95 the beginning - multiple contexts

format now.
Yet, there’s obvious different approaches being
performed from museum to museum: the regular
guided tour remains as the strongest on “market”
for most museums and events; performative tours
are proposed with the use of engagement techniques,
recurring to the mediator and the visitor’s body and
some basic materials; workshops “hands-on” being
held inside the galleries or outside in a parallel room;
first experiences, like the baby’s weekend, or baby
yoga (in the museum) are also very trendy in some
museums; courses, conferences and round tables with

32 From “Museums, Places of Learning” by George H. Hein and Mary Alexander (1998), p. 10.
essentially by people directly involved in cultural production and researchers.
the presence of curators, artists or other significant
guests, in order to debate a certain subject, usually

Generally, museums don’t make a very strong effort on publicizing this sort of events.
conceived for adults31; special tours oriented by artists,
curators, or others, and so many more examples.
All of these examples have in common the fact that
they’re conceived in parallel to the exhibition calendar
of contemporary art museums. Considering that most
of these museums (the ones I’m familiar with) also
have their own collection, there may be a difference
between the programs dedicated to the collection and
the ones dedicated to the temporary exhibitions.
Regarding education as something that has been
happening largely since the beginning of the last
century, in some countries like USA and the UK, it is
easy to find visitor’s studies and academic references
to the so called “field trips”. They were considered
as extensions of the classroom, and so the core of
the studies was to comprehend to which extent the
educational experience succeeded or not.

“Yet, despite much convincing testimony, the nature of learning

in museums has long proved hard to measure, and, lacking
31 Popularized

coherent theory, it has continued to be difficult to describe, let

alone defend.” 32

96 the beginning - multiple contexts

Figure 17 Teenager exploring concepts in art recurring to a wall map

In the past, mediation was a familiar concept to those

who used to travel from village to village telling
stories of epic heroes and collective imagination, as
the handlers of the MAGIC LANTERN. Commonly
known as magic because when lit, it seemed to bring
to life all the creatures that one could ever desire.
For decades, entire uneducated populations were
frightened with those phantom images coming
from nowhere, and fascinated by their proximity to
the imaginary creatures of our boring lives. People
generally believed that they were watching some
sort of magical spell, and even those who knew the
mechanism, couldn’t help it but feeling drawn to the
light and its alleged movement. The magic lantern as
a mechanical predecessor will most likely be closer to
Cinema (which academically is the most accurate),
and Theatre, but I also like to claim it to the Arts

97 the beginning - multiple contexts

Mediation world. And this is really an idea i am very
fond of.
A magic lantern appeared to me to be a way of
seducing to culture events, even those who shared
no interest for it: it appeared as the creator of a path
to something that could come next (by opening a
space). Most of all, the Magic Lantern was a clear
manifestation of a certain status-quo (some bourgeois
families had their own magic lanterns as toys for their
children) being taken from it and shared with the
peasants, in a time when this distinction (between
the ones who have the most and those who have the
least) mattered the most. The magic lantern was in my
opinion a tool used in search for a democratization of
culture in industrialized societies. And I believe this is
a genuine predecessor for what I do today.

In a simple manner, Educational Services got their

popularity increasing over the past two decades,
during a period of both validation and establishment
inside the Museum’s structures and for most newly
opened museums, also by assuming a standardization
of that name: in most cases, questioning the name
wasn’t even an issue, because it just sounded right and
it was immediately recognizable by those who were
interested in it.
So, no matter how free minded and out of the box
your museum could be, you should still come to the
press conference with the guarantee that there would
be an Educational Service, and that people could look
for it later on the website. The teams would be built
by people from the most variable areas of expertise,
but they would share some characteristics: interest
and training in contemporary art; strong academic
curricula (maybe master degrees or on ongoing PhD
programs); powerful in social and communication’s

98 the beginning - multiple contexts

skills; a drive for the dedication to others; knowledge
in the use of artistic materials and safety handling. It’s
always been a plus to have a background in the plastic
arts, because the skills used in the comprehension of
how something is conceived lies in a very different
level from a theoretical one: if we want to make
an absurd comparison, it would be like asking the
explanation about the mechanics of a car to someone
who has never seen one opened (or dismantled). But
this is obviously a very radical position towards the
roles each one has, and that’s not what I’m aiming for

Quite sure that the main task for these

multidisciplinary teams is to consider new proposals,
new ways to engage the audiences, and to cause
a strong positive impact on them: to think about
that empty space that exists between the work of
art hanging in the museum’s walls and the visitor’s
everyday life, their needs, their expectations. In most
of the programs newly conceived for new museums,
the guided tour is still existing but it is not the most
popular, it’s just a traditional format for those who are
not comfortable enough to try something different.
And the bigger the team is, more likely it is to have
people questioning what they’re doing (from within
the team itself). The most remarkable aspect is that
wherever you stand from, most of these State-of-the-
art contemporary art museums are still stuck to their
traditional “Educational Service” label, when it seems
more and more dystopian to me that we still grant an
educational space of encounter (at least we name it
that way) to a practice that wants to open to debate, to
induce discussion and to subvert the power relations,
for so long taken for granted. Quite surprising that the
name doesn’t seem to open that much space, as the

99 the beginning - multiple contexts

practices themselves appear to have been trying
to do so.
The role of an Educational Service inside a Museum
of Contemporary art is not to replicate the format of
a class (here in a different space), the role for these
people who come in front of you – to share and debate
what they know and what they believe about a specific
work of art (or exhibition) – is to facilitate the tools of
empowerment of the visitors, in order to contribute to
an individual construction of meaning. And to foresee
individual strong impact and memory creation.

“Ten Fundamental Questions of Curating” (2013), by Jens Hoffmann, Mousse Magazine, p. 99.
So, why do we insist on an idea of education happening
inside the museum? Why are the educational services
so comfortable with a label that gets them closer to
the scholar model, instead of the curatorial model of
contemporary art? Why are we not fighting to find a

Maria Lind’s “4/10 – Why Mediate Art?”, included in the publication:

space of “our own”?

“Although there is an abundance, even an overproduction, of

traditionally didactic activities within art institutions today,
I believe that now is the time to think more and harder about
the mediation of contemporary art. About whom we as artists
and curators want to communicate with, and the associated
questions of how art actually functions in contemporary
culture. It is a seeming paradox: an excess of didacticism and
simultaneously a renewed need for mediation.” 33

This was the first text that I read about mediation/

education that gave me some clear arguments about
why – for the last couple of years – I had been
preferring to call myself a mediator instead of an
educator (even if that contrasts with the museum
tag where I work). Most of the time I thought it was
the connection to the teacher’s figure that bothered
me – because I used to teach, so I like to separate
33 From

100 the beginning - multiple contexts

these two sides – but I realised it wasn’t that. It is,
as maria lind said, the connection to curating:
the thing is, I do not see myself as someone who
teaches inside the Museum, but I do see myself as a
creative person who manages to deal with conceptual,
narrative, methodological, logistic and so many other
aspects of a work of art, while dealing with a group
of (unpredictable) human beings in front of me. And
yet, we’re institutionally (almost) invisible to the other
agents: the ones I consider as my peers.
We are kind of rock stars of the Museum, if you ask
me. But still, invisible ones.

Why are the Educational Services in general confined

to a very secondary role, no matter how contemporary
the institution might be? And no matter how much the
educational teams are organized in interesting groups
of people: highly educated, multilingual, reflexive,
artistic, socially and politically engaged, and so on,
they still don’t seem to be able to touch any other
spheres besides the one they’re inserted in (in the
Why is it still a common practice to add the
educational program right at the end, just before the
opening of the gallery? Something must have gone
wrong along the way, since according to maria lind,
there has been the practice of integrating art pedagogy
in the exhibition programs of moma since alfred
barr’s instigation in the 1930’s to:

“(...) not add pedagogy at the end of the exhibition-making

process, as icing on the cake, but rather integrated it into every
exhibition. (...) His main purpose was to refine the aestethic
sensibility of visitors.” 34
p. 100.
34 Ibid,

101 the beginning - multiple contexts

We are only aware of moma’s popularity as maria
lind continues to explain that the model chosen
by barr was followed by others long before the
understanding of what it could (eventually) mean:
persuading people to come to the Museum had
become more than a mission rather a powerful action
of incentive to participation, to consumerism and of
course to becoming culturally active.

“Within this largely commercial scheme, unconventional

and “innovative” art was accepted as long as the innovations
remained on a formal level and did not allude to, let alone
provoke, any practical overlap between the sphere of art and
the sphere of social and political action.” 35

What apparently was a decision that did not

resonate to what we are looking at today (the state
of art mediation), had yet another twist when the
educational department was finally detached from the
curating and baptized:

“Despite the fact that its particular brand of curating was

based primarily on integrated didacticism, in 1937 a separate
education department was started at MoMA. Under the
leadership of Victor E. D’Amico, it deviated from Barr’s ideas
about a more or less detached spectator and promoted visitor
participation. Instead of emphasising enjoyment or judgement
of the art on the wall, it encouraged visitors to explore their
own creativity.” 36

Art education bites its own tail, by pairing up with

the curators in the genesis of the programs in 1930’s
moma, but from the moment of the separation of
Curating from Education, a path was started to which
p. 101.
p. 101.

no one could have predicted how far these two sides

(of the same coin) could have gone apart from each
35 Ibid,

36 Ibid,

102 the beginning - multiple contexts

Figure 18
Teenagers leaning on the wall, playing in the museum

other (today).
In 2007, as a part of the Program for the 6th mercosul
biennial, a new way to bond curating and education
was introduced. By claiming the same importance
for the educational department that existed in the
curatorial department, and for both to be designed
together since the beginning, pedagogical Curator (as
it was designated from that moment on) and author
of this change was luis camnitzer. As renata
cervetto predicted in her “The Fellow Reader #1”
introduction: In that context,

“(…) mediators suddenly were assigned new responsibilities,

as they would become part of the thinking process and setting
of the Biennial, speaking with the artists and curators and
conducting self-proposed activities.” (cervetto, 2015, p.11)

103 the beginning - multiple contexts

This was more than ground-breaking behaviour for
that moment, or we wouldn’t still appreciate it as a
radical approach ten years passed. This remains today
as a non-desired or non-applied posture by most of the
curatorial teams in Biennials or other big events, but it
is even more intensely felt in Museums.
mercosul biennial is somehow maintaining
its narrative to grant the pedagogical project the
action of a primary activity in the biennial, as it
continued in the 8th edition (2011) a project leaded
by pablo helguera as the pedagogical curator. Just
like it was already mentioned here, the adding of
the suffix “curator” to any of the possibilities of the
mediation tasks, whether it is educational curator,
pedagogical curator, curator-mediator or the like,
makes a statement that is more about the moment
(and specially to change of the power status) then to
change the practices themselves. For these situations,
they all claim for a space that is already shared, and yet
uncommon to be institutionally considered that way
(apart for some mentioned exceptions).
For example, I remember going to Liverpool in 2009,
during the year I was attending Curatorial Studies in
Lisbon, and meeting with the Educational Curator
that was at that time preparing something new in the
relation to the public. (and tate liverpool managed
to get us used to that). Even though I keep referring
to tate liverpool as being more ground breaking
(and exciting in terms of programs) when compared
to tate modern, I recently looked for the Educational
Curator on the website, jut to find out that it was no
longer named that way (or apparently not to be made
visible): which made me wonder what could have been
motivating this regression from an institution like
this one. Maybe they’re also struggling with
terminology’s decisions.

104 the beginning - multiple contexts

In a standard approach, we can say that there seems
to be a kind of evolution (which is not unanimous as
we already had the chance to find proof), from the
museology framework, from the traditional guide to
the museum educator, until the mediator (today), that

I prefer to claim as what I do for a living.

Professionalism in the Art Museum: An Exploration of Key Characteristics of the Working Lives of
Education Curators at Tate Modern”, (2005), by Helen Charman, available in http://www.tate.org.uk/research/

Which can somehow be validated with the increasing

role of education, that not only allowed museums to
be seen as more transdisciplinary cultural venues,
but also allowed museums to submit applications to
different funds and, in a way, invent new “professions”:
this all seems quite positive, but we can find some
references that would probably remind us about the
question of the independence of the educator and his/
her curtsy towards the curator. Because it was not only
the-working-lives-of-education-curators-at-tate-modern, accessed in July 2016.

the museum educator that was raised during this past

century and claimed adulthood only in the twenty-first
century, Curating had actually a similar path, being a
relatively quick evolution from the museum historian
and/or the museum director.

“Museum education as a distinctive endeavor emerged

amid the mid-nineteenth-century social history context of
philanthropy and self-improvement. In 1845 the Museums Act
allocated public money to national museums for the first time.
This indicated recognition by the state that museums could
play a significant role in the life of the nation. The Act enabled
local authorities to levy rates to build museums, and for those
museums to charge for admission. Significantly, education
and curating were seen as part of the same task. In 1870 the
Education Act, which heightened the profile of education
nationally by making provision for children up to the age of
fourteen to attend school, also raised the profile of museum
education and in doing so raised some key questions about the
37 “Uncovering

relationship between education and care of collections” 37

105 the beginning - multiple contexts

According to helen charman in this published
article (available through Tate Papers) we would
have to go a lot further if we were to dig in History
as to comprehend what really is – and was – museum
There is a number of reflections and publications
regarding the educational role of museums and how
pedagogical experiences happen within the museum
context. So, strangely enough maybe we can address
the question from the opposite position:
Does art mediation want to become education instead of
the opposite? Or is it the other way around?

Figure 19 Illustration of book covers referring to education in museums

The team that organized and performed Gallery

Education for the documenta 12, became one of the

106 the beginning - multiple contexts

most influential practices of the last few years (also
as the two books resulted from there). They regard
to Gallery Education as being undoubtedly their
preferred terminology, and even if I do agree and
frequently regard to their practices as something to
aim for, the truth is that I still prefer to stand for Art
Mediation instead of Gallery Education (as I already
mentioned here). On alexander henschnel’s
text “The – Impossible – Wish for Immediate Gallery
Education” (p. 150-157), he even connects both
these concepts as referring to “Gallery education as
mediation process”:
in “Documenta 12 - Education”, ed. by Carmen Morsch (2008), p.p. 150-157.

“Immediate communication/mediation in gallery education:

This formulation reveals an underlying paradox. Any process
of gallery education is constituted by a medium that inscribes
a given situation and positions itself between two parts – such
as between artwork and viewer. Both parts are in relation to
each other, yet simultaneously marked as different, Thus, any
form of gallery education generates distinction. The point of
mediation between artworks and visitors is not to produce
an identity that dissolves both extremes in a tautology, or, for
instance, to replicate a discourse about a given artwork by
delivering it before the visitors in a literal (immediate) way.
Rather, the issue under consideration here is how to build a
relation that implies difference, confrontation, and distinction,
in the mode of second-order observation that interstices and
rooms for agency become evident at all possible levels of gallery
education within an exhibition.” 38

It is an interesting observable fact that, aiming for

gallery education’s differential approach, the path
traced by the documenta 12 team was very distant
from “education” in the galleries per se. Even though
using this terminology during the procedures – and
for the publications that resulted from it – what
38 “Included

is proposed is mostly a number of challenges that

107 the beginning - multiple contexts

educational curator nora landkammer assumed an unsure status (or something under construction) and definitely worth discussing.
turn upside down the educational practices, instead
of going on for something that works in a (too)

educational program of Documenta 13, the proposals were discussed and introduced under a category of “Maybe Education”. The
comfortable way.39

likely one of the reasons that led to the questioning of that terminology on the following edition of Documenta. For the
One could ask what is the most important mission
of the arts mediator? And try to answer that in order
to define it. Mediating contemporary art is not a tool
to transmit information from point A to point B:
generally, that sort of information can be found in
the Museum’s brochures, and therefore a repetition of
those ideas could be easily accessible through audio
guides for example. It’s rather a tool to teach how to
look, how to feel, how to experience, and most of all
a way of providing tools for how to spend time with a
work of art and get the best of it. Whether the resulting
impact is positive or negative (visitors might enjoy the
exhibition or not), the mission of the mediator is to
enable that encounter but at all cost should be avoided
the transmission of bias.

And according to renata cervetto, this has a quite

simple explanation:

“(...) I would like to pause on the term mediation. If we

consider how words evolve in the artistic medium, the person
that develops this task was first known as a guide, turning into
an educator, and finally, as its commonly expressed nowadays,
an art mediator.” 40
If we have a closer look, we may notice that the main two
verbs in these “pedagogical” actions – to guide/educate on
one side and to mediate, on the other – are almost opposite.
The act of “guiding” could be understood as a demagogic
way of transmitting knowledge, implying an unequal point
of departure, where there is one person who knows (about
art in this case) and the other who doesn’t. This idea is still
prevalent; some audience members consider themselves
“ignorant” regarding artistic matters. On the other hand,
39 Most

108 the beginning - multiple contexts

“mediation” seems to pursue an equal relation between the
viewer and this easy-going person wondering in the museum’s
agora; who, rather than guide the visitor into certain spatial/
conceptual directions, will look for an informal conversation
whilst having, as a point of departure, the artwork in front
of them. Guides usually have a background in Art History or
Museum studies, while mediators might also be philosophers,
architects, scientists, historians, or any other discipline that
may expand the frame of this exchange between the visitors
and the artwork.” 41

This is probably one of the simplest ways to address to

the mentioned “The Fellow Reader #1”, in the text “When artwork resist mediation - Some

the problem that I have read, however none of this is

of course is not a unanimous terminology, as we have been discussing so far (my note).

stagnant, because from museum to museum there are

many significant variables to be considered. We can
actually see in the casual tone of renata’s words that
she does not try to write a syllabus, she writes it the
way she feels it.42
I do prefer to assume my decision of the use of the
term art mediation when referring to the actions
approaches from performance to the educational field.” (2015), p.72

of going through an artwork in a contemporary art

museum from now on.
In some situations, I might intentionally switch to the
use of the word Education (or educator), in order to
contextualize it better, or to disconnect it from other

More important than assuring the right information

– from the position of the curator, the method and
manners of the artist(s), the respect for the materials
and the contextualization of the artwork in the world
we live – the hardest task of the mediator is to avoid
influencing the outcome. No matter how negative a
final impact can be (and this happens sometimes),
we can not change the scope of the artwork to make
it more pleasant, more affable. That would be a
destruction of the whole idea of mediating
41 From
40 This,

109 the beginning - multiple contexts

the artwork.
And this is the hardest part of our work, because no
matter how much we study, practice and learn about
the methodologies (of mediation) of the artist, there

honestly enjoy this way that Renata Cervetto used to confirm her suspicious. I do agree with her, but still wonder if she
arrived to these conclusions, focusing on the contexts she is more familiar with: it makes sense that the museums that are
is no way of predicting the reactions of visitors. And

more “opened” to mediation (as a way to induce a conversation rather than teaching things about art) are the same that
choose as their mediators, people with various backgrounds and curriculums (instead of the artist or the art historian).
because most of the times we host visitors inserted in
a group, it is impossible to predict the reactions of all
of them at the same time, and to converse with them
in the end – to understand their perspective better – is
not always possible, because of tight schedules.
If a work of art is created by an artist, surrounding
any hot subject on the media – whether it is on the
news now, or if it’s generally a popular subject – this
can make the mediator task even more tricky. When
it comes to politics, religion or popular social subjects
(like football for example) all bias insertion of meaning
can be vilified by the interlocutors of the tour. And if
a museum experience is desirably a healthy mixture
between knowledge and pleasure, when a discussion
like this (without a controlled outcome) starts,
there is no way the mediator can predict a way to
assure everyone’s caprices, without being considered
unprofessional or unfit (and sometimes we might even
consider it a risky job).

Institutionally, the mediators are called (and chosen

from a big number of applicants) by the museum’s
representatives to work in the pursue of specific
objectives: to engage with the visitors of that museum
in the context of an exhibition or a collection,
according to a specific framework (or key concepts).
From the perspective of the mediator, it is common
to consider that the role he/she will be playing might
create some kind of friction, opening spaces for debate,
engaging in discussions and so on. And he/she will
think of this job as an opportunity to invite people
42 I

110 the beginning - multiple contexts

to think about topics from our daily life, through the
framework of contemporary art, which is awesome.
To discuss things like time, imagination, archives,
democracy, participation, identity, global and local
changes are such rich subjects, that looking at them
from the temporary exhibitions (like in serralves)
allows mediators to keep finding new challenges or
to reframe the previous challenges, always provoking
debates and an individualization of the interpretation
by the viewers.

Figure 20 Woman making music with her hands in a swimming pool.

But from the perspective of the museum, the dominant

idea is still that the mediator is there to transmit
information, to convince people about art’s importance
and impact, to control visitor’s behaviours and

111 the beginning - multiple contexts

actions, and to persuade them to return (and bring
others). Normally, from the museum’s perspective,
the mediators are needed because: a) the curators
already have a lot of work; b) it’s necessary to offer
more information than the one shown in wall texts and
brochures; c) there’s a lot of visitors that won’t know
how to behave in the museum without some “help”;
d) some visitors who are actually eager to have more
information; e) most visitors don’t buy the catalogues
to the exhibitions.
We may find variations from place to place or from
museum to museum, but we know that there will
always exist a space between the mediator and the
museum he/she works for, and that this space is being
filled with different contents (at the same time) from
each of the sides. In some cases (and timings) that
space can become the beginning of a flexible debate,
but in other cases it can grow into a huge void and
increase the distance between expectations and results,
and inevitably lead to a disbelief towards the practice,
which may drive to its abandoning (normally when
leaving art mediation, the former mediators go to work
on something completely different, it’s not common to
change to another museum, for example).
Even though the theoretical depiction of the mediator
is looked upon with respect (because of its integration
in the museum space) from the visitors, there is still a
certain suspicious about what exactly is the reliability
of those stories that are often told in a “guided tour”.
Sometimes because the mediator engages in a more
exploratory methodology reflecting together with the
visitors, or acting more as a performer (rather than
as a teacher), or maybe even approaching to a more
artistic methodology, this variety and flexibility of
outcomes might let the audience uncomfortable and
react with doubt, dissatisfaction, or at least unsettled

112 the beginning - multiple contexts

from what they were expecting.
And maybe also because art mediation is not really
recognized as an area of knowledge production or
even as a discipline to be taught. Maybe because art
mediation is an area that is doomed to an eternal
search of its right place among the scholars, the
curators, the artists, the students, and so on (probably
it belongs to all of them, and to none at the same time).
To consider a method for art mediation would be
to consider a method of questioning per se, without
the reach of specific goals in the chart of wholeness:
so, a method would be like trying to create the ten
commandments or some perfect idealistic behaviours
that we are quite sure mankind will always fail to

So, I would say that the level of risk and exposure

that art mediators are put to a daily basis is not in
accordance to what most agents (involved) are
aware of.
claire bishop, (during our already mentioned
recent conversation) explained to me a bit about her
thoughts on this. bishop has written some of the most
influential books under the topic of participatory art
and the methods of curating contemporary art, and she
is acutely focused on finding more debatable ideas by
turning them into possible research.
When asked if she had ever oriented a guided tour by
herself, claire’s body language immediately revealed
to me that she was quite uncomfortable with this
subject of mediation. Not for being a hard topic, but
because she didn’t seem to have sustained an assertive
position about it: or rather, she is interested on what
comes from there, but mediation itself is not at the
core of her concerns:

113 the beginning - multiple contexts

“Have I ever made a guided tour? No, I’ve done a talk in
the gallery about a piece, a Thomas Hirschorn piece at Tate
Modern. It was a horrible experience because the acoustics
were really bad, I had a lot of people, I didn’t know what level
I was speaking to, I felt very exposed, and it was everything
I hate, and after that I said no. I prefer a context where you
can sit and think and you have a table, having said that but
teaching in the gallery, like with your class, where you can
go and look at things, that could do okay (…) it’s kind of
unpredictable: if you’re doing a general talk in the gallery you
don’t know who your audience is, which level you’re speaking
to, you don’t have a sense of who they are. The public is very
open and very random.” 43

Further ahead during our talk I found it quite amusing

that claire was always focused on describing a quite

visit to Porto, in the context of the Masterclass “Radical Museology”, June 16, 2016.
traditional kind of guided tour, instead of what for me
is art mediation (and when I mentioned art mediation,
she seemed to prefer the term art education). claire
didn’t want to give me her input on this topic, mostly

of my interview to Claire Bishop during her recent

because she was not interested in it:

“A guided tour also presupposes that you have the knowledge

about something and you’re just standing there talking, and I
am not interested in doing that kind of monologue in front of a
work of art, I’d rather have a dialogue.” 44

All of this makes even more sense when mentioning

that the word mediation, in German language.

“Vermittlung”, means “a transfer from one party to another, the

pragmatic transmission of a message. It also stands for attempts
at reconciling parties who disagree on something.” 45
43 Transcription

It can also mean both “mediation” as “un-mediation”,

proposing a beginning (and an end) of a great form of
44 Ibid.

114 the beginning - multiple contexts

Actually if we put it together with the term “culture”,
the result of cultural mediation or from the german
concept kulturvermittlung is considered a wide and
opened idea regarding situations in which people
are exposed to art. This definitely opens a space for
a long definition of kulturvermittlung in http://www.kultur-
45 There’s

115 the beginning - multiple contexts

w h y d o t h e y m at t e r ?

One of the most fascinating points of this research

is to read and discover new ideas (or past ones) and
ultimately be able to contradict some of them.
Something I have learned about Museum Critique
is that one of the most undisputed criticisms to the
museum re-enactments – of past events or historical
episodes or artifacts – is the manipulation of truth in
order to turn it into a truth that we (society?) want to
tell others. The Museum as a venue for transmission
of knowledge to large groups of people (the visitors)
has always had a reproductive mission hand-in-hand
with a cynical perspective too. One can never tell the
whole truth about something without being inevitably
trapped by it: all exhibitions result ultimately as a mise-
en-scène in which what we see and experience is always
brought to us through the lens of someone else – or
many, if we consider all the agents involved in the time
line defined by the birth of the work of art until the
opening night of “that” exhibition.
This said, it remains quite important to the awareness
of a reality that makes these contradictions even
more interesting: regarding the museum’s role of
reproducing one kind of universalized knowledge,
the experienced provided to the individual visitor
will (should) always be quite controlled or perhaps
predicted – and therefore, not really unique for that
specific visitor.
But this happens if we are considering that works
of art are always “performed” with some sort of
unquestionable knowledge that is somehow commonly
accepted. But if we are about to discuss contemporary
art, how do we perform a discourse that can grant the
viewers this promised knowledge? And specially the

117 the beginning - multiple contexts

promised freedom?
It is precisely here, the point where the art mediator
if faced with a dead end: from the one side there is
the truth he owes to an object and its creator (and/or
curator) and all that lies within, but on the other side
there is a visitor eager to experience something that
will change forever the ways he/she doesn’t comprehend
art so far and we know that providing the whole
truth sometimes is not the best way to achieve that
This is not just a fascinating contradiction but it is an

floor: divided by a ramp the room’s floor suggesting the swimming pool normally designed with
unsettling one, and as this text might try to enlighten

10 has owned this affectionate name, given to it through time due to the two levelled
this a bit, it also leads up to a more complex view of it.
It is not simple to tell a story about something that
we did not experience ourselves (unless we are
storytellers) with our own sensitive body, and it is
definitely not easy to repeat that story dozens or
hundreds of times - even when we know that a lie

a variety of depths (one for beginners and another for the swimmers).
million times told, may end up becoming a truth. It is
also not simple to express the same thoughts to every
new group of visitors considering all the things that
can – in that moment – go wrong. But ultimately it is
really not easy when the thing that goes wrong is the
last thing we could have expected. During the month
of March 2016, guided tours in serralves oscillated
between a selection of the sonnabend collection
on the left wing of the Museum, wolfgang tillmans
on the right wing, and liam gillick’s installation
“Factories in the snow” in the central room (the
swimming pool room)46. According to the daily
activities appointed to the educational service, the
month of March suffered a bigger afflux of school’s
apointments, when compared to the same period on
the previous year.
46 Room

118 the beginning - multiple contexts

Figure 21 Factories in the snow.

The natural distribution of a tour (the circuit designed

by each mediator) necessarily depends on the number
of groups visiting the Museum at the same time, but
if I had the chance of choosing I would always start
from gillick’s room for a series of reasons that were
immediately presented to me:
The empty space: consider all the possibilities offered
to a group if the room is provided with a lot of space to
sit on the floor, enabling the first impression with the
students to be done sitting and by calmly getting to know
each other for a bit;

Proximity and the impact right from the start: the

connection between the light entering from the window,
dramatizing the stage character of the piano, promoting a
warmer togetherness;

119 the beginning - multiple contexts

Identification of the object happens immediately (piano)
and the activation of imagination is empowered by the
piano keys that are apparently phantomly playing. Quite
often (during conversations), a ghost was suggested, or
rather an invisible man;

that they frequented the 9th grade here, this means that their ages varied between 14 and 16 years old.
Facility to conduct an interpretative exercise as a first

educational team had the chance to discuss the work with the artist, during the preparation of the installation
impression to the artworks in the Museum: permitting that
the next art pieces shown in other exhibitions won’t seem
“that hard” to understand, now that the group already
knows what they can actually experience in the Museum;

However, it was during one of these recent guided

tours - in which I had to switch this ideal order,
leaving gillick to the end of the tour – that I was
truly surprised by the outcome. After visiting the
exhibitions, the group of teenagers arriving from
Amarante’s high school47– a beautiful small sized city

in the Museum, in the same day he conducted a Press Conference to the media.
located in the north region of Portugal – enters the
swimming pool room: depending on my own mood,
I often suggested some key words revolving around
the ideas of memory and past life, music and/or time.
According to gillick himself48, the work “Factories in
the snow” is about transformation and the revolutions
that, beginning from inside each of us, might evolve
into a contagious transformation.
That day, the group of teenagers was quietly listening
as I mentioned the idea of change in each of us, the
importance it can have in our narrative, and how
it can be used to polarize and motivate others: the
conversation had lots of interventions from the group,
and it became good and intense. A few moments
before the end of the tour, and as I was getting
prepared to lead the group out of the room (and the
museum), one girl from the group started crying and
left abruptly from near the others (to cry alone, I
47 Considering

assumed). It was a chock and a surprise for me, as I

had no time or chance to have an assertive reaction.
48 The

120 the beginning - multiple contexts

The rest of the students initiated their way back to the
museum’s entrance, while they understood that their
colleague would have probably gone to the restrooms.
Another girl from the group – probably thoughtful
about the surprise I was feeling – came to talk to me
and told me that this girl was quite a sensitive person,
and I shouldn’t be worried about her. Of course there
was an odd development of the actions, but in the end
I only felt sorry for not being able to introduce some
of the energy of that spontaneous reaction to make
it a stronger memory to all of the involved. I believe
that this episode from the crying colleague might have
caused a (too) strong impact in the other students
as a residual memory of what happened, specially
considering that it happened in the end of the activity.
Also I would very much have appreciated to be able
to have a conversation with this girl, but I lost her on
the way out (to the toilet) and as she moved back to
the bus, I was already welcoming another group of
students for another tour.

Not just the episode itself, but inevitably I found

myself reflecting on the next tour: when we experience
something so strong, how can we still give our best to
the group that arrives next? I remember that I wrote
immediately some notes about this episode as I arrived
home that day, but I have absolutely no memory at all
about the afterwards group (where they came from,
how the tour went, if they liked it or not). This is not
fair for them and neither for me.
In an ideal point of view, I would say that when
a mediator experiences something so powerful,
he should be able to take the rest of the day off to
reflect and create new meanings from this kind of

121 the beginning - multiple contexts

liam gillick is fascinated with the connections
between things, sometimes by things he never
considered before. He is interested in pushing into the
limits, even if they’re conceptual limits, as he’s always
in control of the outcome. What is surprising to see in
this work is that there seems to be a concern in a kind
of cosmic balance between all the elements but that
he’s not always willing to take the necessary risks to see
the work of art gaining its own identity. Or at least it
doesn’t seem like he’s interested in this: conceptually
speaking, he pushes it quite far, but most of the times
the audience doesn’t get to realise the manipulation
that is being operated through the artwork. Which
only makes it harder to apprehend the truth effect
of gillick’s work (maybe only if we could hear his

122 the beginning - multiple contexts

t h e f i r s t r av e n

lucien is the chief librarian in The Dreaming, the

realm of morpheus/dream of the acclaimed graphic
novel created by neil gaiman, “The Sandman”. This
realm is a fictional place, as the library, and it goes
beyond any library we ever imagined.

“Every book that’s ever been dreamed, every book that’s ever
been imagined, every book that’s ever been lost, it’s here. If one
of the dreamed books were actually written, the copy in my
library would burst into flames and be destroyed.” 49

Libraries are the ultimate materialization of knowledge

– if we’re aware that its imminent replacement, the
“The Kindly Ones, Vol. IX - The Sandman” by Neil Gaiman (1996), p. 12.

internet, is not tangible anymore. A Museum is a

Figure 22 A beautiful and utopian private library.

49 From

123 the beginning - multiple contexts

space full of objects and a library is quite a similar
type of space, yet full of books. They’re both capsules
containing the remains of what we are (were) as a
whole. Both of these places share their assets with
the community they’re in, they exist to them (and
because of them), their common wealth is to proclaim
a form of life dedicated to the pursue of knowledge.
Both museums and libraries seek for an emancipatory
behaviour through the empowerment of individuals –
which would appear as something simple, if it wasn’t
for all the contradictions already embedded in this
short affirmation.
Museums exhibiting objects (any kind of objects)
are added the value that might be attributed by the
experience of those who “lived” them. This idea of
ACCUMULATION is in itself the whole point of
signification of a Museum, any kind of Museum. A
piece of furniture taken from a house with a specific
history will always be associated to the narrative that
was held in that house, and by carrying the weight of
it (in a lot of different levels), the object transcends
its original purpose: picture for example the furniture
inside a house where a mass murder happened, it will
necessarily become an evidence – that will eventually
become preserved for historic purposes. Imagine,
for example, that this house will become a memorial
museum – in the style of Victorian England – and
will exhibit a recreation of the scenes of the murder,
sculpted in wax, in real scale. Not only the original
objects (the chairs and the tables) gain a new life, but
they preserve their identity by freezing the sense of
time: Museums are quite often the combination of a
need to memorize (and re-live) to this ability, that man
has mastered, of preventing time from continuously
running. A book on the contrary is always fresh and
new every time a new reader opens it. That’s why

124 the beginning - multiple contexts

libraries can still be considered places to discover
ourselves. We can take any book from the shelf and
it will disclose us all the details of the stories written
in the pages – black ink on white sheets of paper
– that are eventually branded with fingertips from
voracious readers, and some of them underlined or
even highlighted by the most audacious readers (and
probably the ones that fell most deeply in love with
the narrative). I’ve always had a strange preference for
Museums over Libraries: both of them being equally
full of possibilities of knowledge, and both awkwardly
silent (most of the time), I have preferred the one
place where I know I cannot touch anything, over the
library where I could even underline the books (if no
one was watching). The Museum seemed to appraise
me more probably because of the artworks: because of
the possibilities I could create to myself when thinking
inside the museum (so many questions unanswered,
if only I could deliver them to someone who could
answer me). And my confession goes to the fact that
I can’t hold a book for a long time and resist to make
it my own (by underlining it, or writing notes on
the margins of the pages). So eventually the library
would become to me of good use to spark the passion
for a book: later, I would end up tracking down that
very same book to somewhere I could actually buy
it, and make it mine (and have the pleasure to read it
again, specially the parts I intended to underline in
the library before). I basically see this as a powerful
combination of both infatuations: I buy the books and
keep them in shelves in my house, as if they were my
own artistic objects, thus my library is my own private
museum. Libraries are definitely like museums – some
of them even contemplate similar activities – and
they’re somehow trapped on an incapacity to refresh
and update contents, unlike the internet which seem

125 the beginning - multiple contexts

to do it so easily. But somehow they’re also a possible
explanation to why so many artists are engaging in
ARTIST’S BOOKS creation, and also why some of
them also dedicate to crafting themselves their own
private library. I am now towards a new step in the
creation of my own library. I recently read an article

“BARBARa: On expanded library/ BARBARa Index/ The story of a fall” by Sophie Cherót, Romain Hamard
that had a remarkable impression on me. A text written
in three hands about the idea of making an expanded
library, which is precisely as wide as it might sound:
a library that goes beyond its initial constitution, and
does so with the use of displacement. Based on emilie
ibanez’s artistic practice, the displaced library is about

and Emilie Ibanez, included in “The Archive as a Productive Space of Conflict” (2016), p. 145.
is about a process of dislocating what she learned from
her books, by sending them away.

“My library was born of displacements. A geographic and

disciplinary displacement but also a displacement of how I
understood my books. Before this displacement, the books were
mostly on my shelves.” 50

But what may seem an ingenuous idea is actually

the beginning of a complex and experimental

“In principal it already existed. The books were there. There

was my relationship with the books, which necessarily implied
the other. Read the book, take notes while reading, the passage
which made me think of such and such person. Close the book,
and lend it to whom? To read creates resonance. The library as
a resonating chamber, the books among themselves, from the
book to the reader, from reader to reader, from the activated to
the activator. Reading as a relationship, an interaction.” 51

I must say that reaching now a moment of closure in

this process of writing, I do believe some of my books
might encounter new meanings if found in different
hands. I am looking forward to put this experience to
a test.
50 From

51 Ibid.

126 the beginning - multiple contexts

looking at (curating)
contemporary art

t h e m u s e u m e f f e c t

“From the swamps where the waters’ entangle, I see the upper
part of the hill, vacationers who inhabit the museum. Their
inexplicable appearance could make me assume that they are
only an effect on my brain from last night’s heat; but it’s not
hallucinations or images: these are real men like myself.” 1
A sua aparição inexplicável poderia fazer-me supor que são apenas um efeito no meu cérebro do calor de ontem
“Dos pântanos onde as águas se misturavam, vejo a parte alta da colina, os veraneantes que habitam o museu.
translation from the book “A Invenção de Morel”, Adolfo Bioy Casares, (2003), originally from 1940;

A Museum can be a place full of beginnings, though

there’s always a mission leading somewhere towards
à noite; mas não se trata de alucinações nem de imagens: são homens verdadeiros como eu próprio.”

the expectation of fulfilment: the museum of bioy

casares in his exile island was an empty museum full
of dead fish, and still there was hope inside of it and
there was a man living there.

Figure 23 Dead fish inside glass tank.

Museums have always been places for fantasy driven

by the desires of men.

I often wonder why did I start investigating the Museum?

1 My

129 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Or for example what is the reason from such fascination
that contemporary societies reveal to have towards
museums. Why the multiplication and almost obsessive
opening of so many new Museums everywhere?

in consideration the Portuguese case, just this past month (June 2016) two different contemporary art museums
Why do we even need more Museums?
Why do we go to Museums in the first place?

opened to public in the north of the country, designed by two Pritzker Awards: Souto Moura for the Contemporary
What is it that we can get from a contemporary art
museum that we can’t get from anywhere else?

A museum is aimed for the construction of a collective

history – through the gathering of mankind’s marks in
the world.

Sculpture Museum in Santo Tirso, and Siza Vieira for the Nadir Afonso Museum in Chaves.
But a Museum space is already naturally conditioned
by a number of characteristics (that established it)
that will merge with its identity after a couple of years:
some museums are known by its architecture, others
by a great location, others by its activities or by the
famous art collection they hold inside, but some others
manage to create their own narrative, towards what
they want to become distinguishable.
The most common (and state-of-the-art) world-wide
blockbuster Museum that is opening everywhere
nowadays is generally based on a combination of a
number of relevant works of art in the Collection or
Programme – with some very hype contemporary
artists – to an outstanding architectural project,
preferably the winner of some acclaimed architectural
All of this is obviously wrapped by a Communication
Department that can gather the right team to turn this
Museum into a popularity achievement, sometimes
even before it opens its doors.3

From the point of view of the architecture of the

Museum, I would like to point out to three main areas
2 Taking

130 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

to be considered in the construction of a particular
identity: a) an importance given to the construction
materials; b) Importance of the shape; c) Importance
of the narrative.
From the materials perspective, we can mention a

predominance in the use of concrete based museum

being a new Museum in itself, but look for example for some press coverage about the amplification of the Tate

buildings. This malleable, adjustable material adapts

to the ideal shape, no matter how crazy it might be
(just think of rem koolhaas’ Casa da Música right
Modern this year, and we can see how we are regarding at real massive events (with massive investments):

here in Porto). Even if this material is possible to

paint once its drying process is finished, it is today
more commonly used in museum architecture with
its greyish and raw original aspect. Perhaps because it
helps to maintain the idea of a work in progress, which
comes very in tune with contemporary art. Another
very popular material in contemporary art Museums
is glass. It’s a material that fundamentally absorbs
and reflects (ideas), and generates dynamics in spaces
that are enlarged by the mirror like aspect produced
by the use of glass in the walls (and in the windows).
Marble and wood are two materials that, even though
might be very common, are not such strong stars when

compared to the previous two. Both have the great

advantage to provide us a connection to our origins:
marble makes us feel like it’s home, and wood suggests
comfort, as it invites us to sit on the floor. This can be
viewed as a plus for a good number of contemporary
art museums, but when we consider that (really) if
our main goal is aiming for a big number of visitors,
most likely our main programs will not be targeted for
the families (or groups) who sit on the museum floor
(possibly taking the space of the other visitors around
them). So we might prefer to use the concrete (and
steel or iron) based museum space instead.

From the point of view of the Museum’s shape, and its

3 Not

131 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

relevance, it comes rather difficult to separate it from
other characteristics, but as an experimental exercise4,
I would divide the new contemporary art museums in
three main groups: the white cube, the warehouse and
the cocoon.
The white cube grew predominantly over the years
1990’s and 2000’s in Europe (not sure about it in the
USA) and is still very popular today5. This type of
exemplary space legitimates an artwork on its own
from the moment it is installed inside. A white cube
museum also dictates one’s behaviour: there is a certain
daintiness in this type of space that tends to bring out
our best: the light makes us want to wear some great

am aware of the vast bibliography that was written by so many authors about this, but
clothes and take photos (for the social networks) with

as making this list, I intentionally tried to obliterate the information that I could have
our friends (just chatting there during an opening).
Inside a white cube the rules are strict, we can not
touch the works of art; we can not touch the walls;

remembered from before: I did add some references further ahead, though.
we can not get too close; and if there’s exceptionally
something we can actually touch we will be notified
by the assistants (or by written information) but most
likely we will feel strained.
The warehouse is a Museum-type that was mostly
built from the reconstruction of an industrial
(abandoned) facility like a factory, a slaughterhouse
or a depot. The fact that it is based on a pre-existing
structure makes the materials quite variable, also as
the structures for the exhibition rooms, which can vary
from the white walls to the use of the original derelict
materials. This gives these museums an impact on
itself quite different from the white cube. Museums
like this are usually open spaces that can be adapted to
the characteristics of temporary exhibitions that they
host and are therefore occupied. Warehouse museums
are commonly used as laboratory spaces, because it
is also common that they appear in cities that already
have other contemporary art museums, so they don’t

132 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

have the urgency of being leaders in numbers of
visitors (or to be the best museum anyway).

Figure 24 One type of museum

referring here to the phenomena of its proliferation and multiplication,

The cocoon is the most difficult to define, because

there’s not really a shape or a feature for this museum.
course we know that the origins take us to the 1960’s, but I’m

It’s usually built from the scraps of something that

existed before but it doesn’t necessarily try to hide
and that takes place essentially in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

it, rather it includes the past history in the space. A

cocoon-type museum is my affectionate name for an
archival museum, one that is normally derived from
something that existed before, and if it wasn’t turned
into a museum it would probably disappear. The
predominance of archive and memory are normally
hand in hand with the unimportant collections they
host and most likely a marginal location (regarding
other big museums and art galleries). The cocoon is a
museum that makes visitors feel comfortable and is not
worried about their behaviour all the time: it provides
comfort and embrace, and it normally hosts events
that engage with some kind of bond, in order to attract
visitors that can eventually become usual visitors.
5 Of

133 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

In the conversation book “Everything you always
wanted to know about curating, but were afraid to ask”,
hans ulrich obrist answers gavin wade about an
alignment of thoughts surrounding the museum and
its relations, and in a simple manner resumed what I
was trying to draw just above:

“Everything you always wanted to know about curating, but were afraid to ask”, ed. Hans Ulrich Obrist (2006), p. 129.
the text “A Protest Against Forgetting”, Hans Ulrich Obrist interviewed by Gavin Wade (1999) included in
“There’s the Whitney-type of museum, there’s the Guggenheim-
type, and there’s the Soane-type of museum: let’s put them all
in the same building. A museum shouldn’t be reductive; there
should be different forms of museum conditions, different forms
of experiences, if possible, to enable the freedom to move.” 6

By whitney I refer to the white cube, by

guggenheim I mean the warehouse (which fits more
in Bilbao’s example though), and the cocoon is the
Soane-type. This “division” is in fact very simple, and
it contrasts with many other interesting writings on
architecture of Museums, but actually what I got more
interested about when reading this small interview was
the tiny museum he mentions, the sir john soane’s
museum in London. As he describes in this Museum
(for a number of reasons), it is possible to engage in an
individual connection towards the visitor: because of
the historical context of the house and also the objects
displayed (that belonged to someone before) that
suggest a domestic scale, this makes the visitors feel
immediately connected. They also have to sign a book
upon entrance, as a way to remember their presence,
but also as a way to make them part of it too.
6 From

134 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

There are also some tricks:

“For example, take the picture room where Richard Hamilton’s

painting is hidden behind other paintings on hinged doors
behind walls: one has to wait usually until maybe seven,
eight, nine people gather there before the thing is opened. So
often you have four or five people waiting for other visitors to
arrive, engaging in a discussion. And I think again, this idea of
exhibition display triggering a conversation is very important,
and I think in this sense we can really learn from the Soane
conditions.” 7

So, apart from this idea of conversation (already

mentioned in this work) which I absolutely connect
with, I find it interesting to highlight the fact that
obrist is not trying to explain which of the models
is the best, but he’s actually suggesting the possibility
to put them all together as one: from the best of each
model, making a new perfect (future) museum.
This alignment of ideas completes itself with a
reference of the narrative: in contemporary art
museums, narrative is the ultimate flair that can
complement the architectural shape and the main
materials, but in case it deviates from it, it will claim
for a specific statement for the museological project.

Are museums comfortable?

Something that always unsettled me was the fact that
I could always see great perspectives for experiences
in museums ever since I started working in this (in
fact I think I already felt it from before, when I was an
occasional visitor to some museums).
I often thought that, if this seemed so clear and
obvious to me, why was it not the same for some of my
p. 126.

family members or close friends? Having the chance

to make a family program, why wasn’t the museum
7 Ibid,

135 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

an obvious choice? Apart from the possible monetary
justifications (which are impactful), I believe the
number one reason that managed to make sense to me

the context of a Conference I attended in Porto, in November 2013: “In the Name of the Arts, In the Name of the Audiences:
was a factor related to comfort. I’m not referring to the

Provisional Certainties”, a Four Year Edition Conference organized by the Educational Department of Culturgest, Lisboa, in
comfort (or empathy) that makes us feel desired, in
order to be able to give our contribution, no, I’m just
mentioning simple, plain, physical comfort. To be able
to sit on a comfortable chair inside a museum (or in
the bar), to find provided for me a place where I can

2013 hosted by the Serralves Museum, in Porto: http://www.culturgest.pt/se/2013/03/01-enda-cfa.html

relax enough to gain relevant knowledge, but also have
some fun with my friends or family.

the book “Museums: Places of Learning” by George Hein and Mary Alexander (1998), p. 11.
george hein, American professor and coordinator for
a number of educational researches instigated in the
USA, was one of the first persons I heard mention this
idea of comfort:

“If learning can be accidental and suffuses every moment of

our lives, then all aspects of an experience can contribute to
learning. In museums, visitor comfort makes learning possible,
and all aspects of exhibition design and programming can
support the opportunity for children and adults, families, and
school groups to learn.” 8

For hein, the idea of comfort was not only applicable

regarding to physicality of the spaces but also to social
comfort, in terms of what it can be provided as a
claim for cultural participation and engagement. In
the United States, and according to hein, even if the
proliferation of museums in the 1990’s was as relevant
as it appears to be today (for Europe), the significance
of its active role in society was not that clear and it
took research and statistics to open path to it. hein
also mentioned on occasion9, following an idea from
john cotton dana10, that museums have or should
have an implicit mission of contributing for raising
quality of life: physical comfort is hand-in-hand
8 From

9 In

136 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

with wellbeing, and this is empathised by positive
experiences (that one can pursue in order to find self-
improvement), and Museums can be one place to look
librarian and Museum Director (b.1856, d. 1929), his ideas became relevant by defending that Museum’s evolution

for that.
11 This idea is further developed in the book “Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience” (2009), by John Falk, p. 118.
should be lead towards people instead of items. His ideas have influenced authors and museum practices until today.

Figure 25 Informal learning space

Actually, reminding the work of john falk, in his

prolific research on museum visitor experiences,
he also includes physical factors into the number of
aspects that are taken into account when visitors create
an “identity-related” need from a museum experience
(falk, 2009, p.10)

“Leisure researchers have defined the dynamic leisure

experience as a balance between a participant’s entering
expectations for a leisure experience and the set of interactions
that the leisure participant has during a leisure experience,
including all the social and physical context interactions in
which he or she participates.” 11
10 American

And if these connections that can be established

137 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

(and verified) in the characteristics attributed to the
construction of a learning space (like a school for
example) are to be taken into consideration for longer
periods of time, it can also impact on our capacity to
engage with those spaces and with the people around
us. If this is so, then maybe the popping up of white
cubes in “every corner” might not be the smartest
choice when it comes to predict a sustainability or a
museum’s future.
In essence, if these were ought to be simple topics or
mere physical concerns, there wouldn’t probably be so
many people (and to mention so many others) looking
to understand it, and claiming for museums to include
this in the list of their concerns towards the visitor’s

Why Contemporary Art Museums?

In my specific situation, I began my work from within
the museum – as a starting point – because I was
already there. In alternative, I could have instead
wondered why I work there (and no other place) but
this would have been a completely different research
(we might eventually get back to it).
I was working in the Museum orienting guided tours,
and I couldn’t help it everyday to rewind everything
I was doing (all the time) in a constant search for
the gratification that I could not achieve during the
guided tour itself. I was sure that I had not lost the
flame for art mediation, I just developed an interest in
getting to understand it better: how it’s triggered, its
mechanisms, its interdependencies, and so on.
Every time I started a new guided tour, I could hear
the words coming out of my mouth automatically
(almost as if I had no control over them), welcoming
the group in this beautiful “contemporary art museum”,
after which I articulated a very short summary of what

138 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

that is, as we moved towards the museum’s galleries.
In the days of higher volume of work, when we
sometimes conduct three or more tours on a row (one
hour each) in the morning and three (or four) more
in the afternoon, it becomes somewhat crazy to play
the words in our head, and, after some time, we might
lose something along the way, like “Did I remember to
say my name out loud?” That has happened to me more
than once.
Always in my thoughts was the interrogation: I
wondered if I was using the right approach, and if
there could be others?
Over the course of several years of work, I managed to
question, test, prove, reset and restart as many times as
I could possibly want: from a) sitting with the group in
the hall, and have a nice chat before start; b) entering
the museum without any contextualization and wait
for the interpellations of the students; c) come up
with a number of questions about expectations; d)
guarantee a contextualisation on the museum and
artists just before start; e) none of the above.
At some point I realised it could be interesting to
have some evidence about those expectations, and
most important, to understand the impact that they
(expectations) could have in the course of the tour
along the museum:

Could that prevent the students from engaging with the

works of art? Could that incite them to engage? Would
that let them quiet and still, for fear of saying something
wrong? Or would it allow them to show their previous
preparation – quite likely from the incentive of teachers?
Or would they be afraid of saying something wrong
(precisely for fearing the teacher’s presence)? Could they
interact with me after an immediate empathetic approach?
Could I scare them by trying to get too close?

139 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

There were so many variables that could be addressed
here that I kept thinking how I would be able to “grab”
this information and use it for my work’s improvement.
And maybe to share it with others.

Figure 26 Papers hanging on the shelf.

starting point:
Initiate a “survey”, to collect some information from
the first impact that the groups would have in that
museum. I would then share it and (discuss) with the
students in the end of the tour.

targeted audience:
Teenagers and young adults from schools mainly from
the north of the country, others from the interior and
a few other exceptions (like one school from Lisboa

140 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

and another from Évora). The ages are around 12 and
20 years old (the latest in the case of Évora that was
regarding a group of students just starting University).
Putting in numbers, I completed this “questionnaire”
to twenty different schools, summing up an average
of 350 to 400 students (if school groups would be
composed between 15 to 20 students each).

the experience:
“What do you think when you think of this Museum?”
Taking with me a black cloth bag, I would distribute
some little brown papers and markers by all the
participants (teachers included) in the immediate
beginning. No introductions or any preparation
necessary. The intention was for the students to take
one piece of paper and one marker to write the first
immediate word that would come to their minds: just
for being there in the contemporary art museum
of serralves. Or, in other words, what should be the
word that they immediately connected to serralves
specifically (in that moment).
This should take a couple of minutes between writing,
folding the papers and introducing them back in the
bag (just as if they were performing a vote).
After that I would then lead the group through the
museum like any other time, addressing them in one
of the ways described above – depending on how many
other groups are in the museum at the same time, on
the number of exhibitions or the number of students
composing that group.
In the last minutes of the tour, I would ask the
participants to help me unfold the papers and lay
them in the floor as opening them: after a few papers,
some similarities begin to be spotted, and the students
naturally organise the words by repetition, proximity,
and they immediately separate the crazy ones, or the

141 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

ones they don’t understand.
There’s usually a mixed feeling of the two most
common attitudes: a) “I was the one who did that and
I’m proud of it!” and b) “I just did something stupid
because I didn’t understand the idea.”
But as fun or non-reliable as this information might
seem, it tells us a lot of what we need to know like
for example about the prevalence of the word art in
the results, or for the number of students that are
completely not there and therefore unavailable for the
experience in the museum (for example, if they get to
the museum feeling hungry they will eventually write
about food).
After that, I would take the papers, put them in a
small hermetic bag and write the name of the school,
location and date of event. I started an organization
system and a visual archive with all the little bags,
putting them side by side as they happened in time.
I did experience many different feelings about this
proposal during the time it was developed: surprise,
empathy, trust, enlightenment, and doubt, just to name
a few.
It became a clear image of what these kids think about
that particular museum, and in some cases – because
they claimed not to have had time to think – what first
impression was engraved within them.
Some most obvious responses I was already expecting,
and the word “Art” was not disappointing. There was
also a wide choice of the word “Museum”, “Culture”,
“Exhibitions” and “Painting”. Also, because the
serralves museum is placed inside a garden, other
words appeared in superior number like “Garden” or
There were other words quite surprising and I
would detach two cases (apart from “Dinosaur”, of
course): one is the word “History” and the other is

142 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

the word “Serra(lves)”. From the first one, it wouldn’t
immediately result for me as a concern if it wasn’t for
the fact that serralves is exclusively a contemporary
art museum. So, having accepted this, there are
two most possible reasons: either the students don’t
have any idea what type of museum they are going
to visit, and this means that there was no previous
preparation from school; or they do know what they’re
going to see, but a museum (for them) still suggests
historicity. In the second possibility, it becomes clear
that historical background of museums has probably
played an important role in these kid’s preconception
of museum, even if they’re so young. Maybe we could
consider a wider research on this.
And the word “Serra(lves)” is not necessarily a word: I
summed up the two possibilities (serra and serralves),
being that the second is the name of the museum,
but the first is the sound that resonates after we spell
its name. So, here’s what happened: When I asked
“What do you think when you think of this Museum?”,
it wouldn’t always come out the same way, sometimes
I would have to rephrase it, or repeat, or I would just
Portuguese language, Serra means “mountain range”.

say: “What do you think when you think of Serralves?”

And it wasn’t until this word started to appear in
the answers that I realised there was some degree
of (unnoticed) influence from me. When the word
“Serralves” appeared, it would mean they were writing
the name of the museum, or simply the last word they
heard. When “Serra” appeared instead, I had to see
it more than once to realise what they really meant12,
and understand the phenomena: by rushing to answer,
they would memorise just a glimpse of the information
(or they would copy from a colleague because they
wouldn’t know how to answer).
The results that I highlighted as more interesting
though were the ones who would be obliterated from
12 In

143 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

a paper survey (if it would be accountable by the
number of replies): “Explore”, “Silence”, “Friendship”,
Multipurpose”, “Unknown”, “Fantasy” or “Silly” are
just a few examples of the incredible variety that can
arise from such a small universe of observation (our
teenagers). And in all these examples, number of
replies are just one or two (at the most) but this doesn’t
make them less interesting or less important. In fact,
it was because of them that I decided to introduce the
results (here) as a visual graphic scheme that allows
us to see the number of hits a specific word had, and
it doesn’t leave anything behind (not even the most
bizarre choices like “Motorbikes” or “No Classes”).

It also allows us to see to which area of interest these

students lean towards: a) Conceptual Framework and
Art Related; b) The contrast Past/Present; c) Formal
characteristics and descriptions; d) The outside space;
e) Sensations and impressions; f) Possibilities, and g)
Actions and Questions.
Some of these categories are overlapped, and they even
contradict each other so instead of creating a table and
insert the numbers to make a chart (or consider not to
use the words after all), by putting them all separated
and visible, I wrote them in a paper sheet as I was
reading them from the transparent bags.
I was looking for ways to put them side by side (or
close to each other), and by doing that proximity
claim, it resulted on this visual map:

144 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Figure 27 Map with results

145 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Only after this organisation was distributed along the
empty space (like my wall was, before I drew a map on
it), I created the distinctions (or thematic categories)
mentioned above.

I believe there is a number of reasons that might

validate this process of researching when compared to
other forms of study.
I had previously struggled a lot about the constituting
of a real inquiry for survey, to be handed to the
students after the tour. I am sure that this would
very easily result in undesired outcomes: the fact of
providing an A4 printed sheet (instead of the tiny
brown paper) to the students would give them the
immediate notion of proximity to a school’s test.
And this convention would probably force some
exaggerated seriousness in the responses: if they knew
they were going to be evaluated from that paper,
they would force themselves to write smart answers
or to make themselves look good. And that would
undoubtedly interfere in what I intended to collect: the
most immediate sensations, automatic feelings and
fast writings.
The thing about the automated writing in a moment
that is ludic - and most of all that is being shared with
all the colleagues at that specific moment - is that it
doesn’t lead the students to invent the right answers.
First because they don’t have enough time for that,
and second because they don’t see any relevance in
that small piece of paper. Additionally this also makes
some of them write nonsense without fear of being
Besides, when we think about something we did in
the past (a visit to a museum for example), we tend
to imagine things that didn’t really happened, only
we prefer to remember them that way: if I gave time

146 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

to provide answers, most likely the students would
tell me what they thought I wanted to hear, and that
would have no meaning in terms of authenticity of the

Most of the surveys are actually responded by multiple

choice, which is a very common method to gather
information (because it simplifies its handling), but
it is also a method used by teachers in the moment of
collecting information to provide an evaluation of the
students, or to find out what they know about a certain
subject. So, if you’re a high school student, you can
take the survey and respond it really quick, but you
can easily meet up with a school test (in your mind),
and you will just get on with it, instead of looking at
it as a possibility of having fun: by thinking of the
museum, the visit you just did, the works of art, the
gardens, and so on.
According to falk, there is no ideal form of collecting
this type of information from the visitors without
losing track of the intention the information is being
gathered for.

“(…) viewing the museum exclusively through the lens of the

museum, whether it’s the content or exhibitions and programs,
provides a surprisingly small measure of understanding about
the museum visitor experience. In large part this is because
these variables are passive, they are only made active when they
are responded to, interpreted and processed by visitors. Given
how diverse the individuals are who visit museums, it should
be no surprise that the responses, interpretations, and resulting
mental processing are also diverse.” (falk, 2009, p.27)

Right there in the museum hall was the right place and
moment for what turned out to be my data collection.
And full of rich results it revealed to be.

147 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

I understood that this type of methodology could
probably be re-used, and still be able to fulfil the
gathering of valid information: a) by asking different
questions to the same type of group; b) by asking
questions to new groups (it’s always a new day at the
museum); c) by asking questions to groups of adults
instead of teenagers; d) by asking the questions in the
end of the tour, instead of the beginning, and so many
So, if by slightly changing the tools I am already
using, I would manage to continue the pursue to
understanding the visitor’s needs and the visitor’s
expectations (and achievements), then I believe I
would have enough reasons to carry on with it.

Figure 28
Papers on the ground

148 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

m a n n e r i s m s ov e r t i m e

“The twenty-first century curator is a catalyst – a bridge

between the local and the global. A bridge has two points, two
ends. This is a metaphor for how one crosses the border of the
self. One position, that of the original personality, will always
be more stable, but on the other, which is floating, is less stable;
therefore, the bridge can be dangerous.” 13

Consider a few little boxes, but instead of cardboard

boxes imagine that they are made from a very flexible
material that allows a constant adjustment to the
content inside, which happens everyday, since the
beginning of time. Now, imagine that these boxes are
words: the ones we use in our personal life, at work,
or buying the newspaper. My words are different from
yours, even if they sound the same and have the same
Interviews with Ten International Curators” by Carolee Thea (2009), p. 4.

graphic configuration.
Ulrich Obrist, for the foreword of the book “On Curating –

Figure 29
Cardboard boxes
13 Hans

149 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Some words make more sense to this imagined shape
than others. Curating is one of these words: it has
been loved and contested, assumed and forgotten, all
depending on contexts, countries and/or translations.

the Introduction of “Rethinking Curating – Art After New Media”, Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook (2010), p. 10.
“As traditionally used, it referred to the act of caring for a
collection, and the Latin root “curare” (to care) is reflected
in the usage of the noun “curate” in the United Kingdom
for someone who assists a priest in caring for the needs of a
congregation. So the basic definition is “caring for objects”, but
a curator of contemporary art is just as likely to be selecting
artworks; directing how they are displayed in an exhibition;
and writing labels, interpretational material, catalogues, and
press releases.” 14

his pocket sized book “(Curating) From A to Z”, Jens Hoffmann (2014), pp. 10-11.
16 https://www.nodecenter.net/course/history-of-curating-0616, accessed in May 2016
This is far from being one simple definition. From this
same book, the authors continue in what it is for them
an attempt on defining

“(…) curating loosely, leaving room for change and

improvement.” (graham & cook, 2010, p. 11).

jens hoffmann’s ability to create definitions (or to

complete the existing ones) made me look up for his
own definition of curating/curator15. He starts from
the 18th century characterizing a background related
to the intellectual role of museums, and he moves to
a “radical shift” when mentioning today’s curatorial
characteristics and achievements.

“Though the role has grown, not everything has changed.

Curators have for works today by providing context in order
to allow meanings to proliferate and have resonance with a
public. Alongside an apparent deskilling runs a reinvestment in
training.” (hoffmann, 2014, p. 11)

And this comes as form of critique, though he doesn’t

14 From

15 In

150 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

consider the training not important, he claims that

“this expertise might not show itself in the shape of a Ph.D.”

(hoffmann, 2014, p. 11) (smile implied).

Grounding his main arguments in the idea of change,

subject of many. Every student who studies contemporary art or curatorial practice has encountered documentation of
dictionary, and defines him as “devoted to the form even as he practiced complete immersion in the subject at hand.”,

hoffmann continues:
and justifies the never-ending reflections based on his work: “A creator of myths, Szeemann has also become the
the same book “(Curating) From A to Z” Jens Hoffmann chooses Zeemann as one entry to this pocket

“As part of this change, curators have been charged with

putting forth original arguments through the display of
objects and artworks. As many have noted before, they have
become authors. The skills required for this task are those of a
storyteller, but these skills are also becoming increasingly rare
even as voices and stories multiply” (hoffmann, 2014, pp. 12)

According to lauren reid (lecturer in the node

center, Berlin – curatorial studies online)16, we
can consider a number of moments in the history of
exhibition making that leads us to the moment we are
living today. It is possible to outline and address them
his work, and has heard anecdotes and read accounts.” (pp. 75-77).

by different categories, but most critics and historians

end up agreeing on some names that have altered
languages, positioning’s methods (szeemann being
one of the most unanimous17) that have somehow
branded their own time. No matter how controversial
our opinion might be, or from which perspective
(of curating procedures) we focus ourselves in, it
is a fact that curating has never been as popular as
it is currently (and by popular, I’m not suggesting
populist). It’s important not only to acknowledge
what was documented to have strong impact in the
practices (and in their future) but also to comprehend
who were the main actors of that development, when
and where these events took place. And if one needs to
acknowledge a history for curating, where should we
actually start from?
17 From

151 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Turning points, shifting positions or process-based
researches are examples in recent terminology. The
idea of change is emerging in all the publications in
the curator-critique area, and these are more than
just mere combinations of fancy words or trendy
significations: we are living a specific moment
(probably in history) in which change will eventually
became a way of living, a type of fuel for the motors
of our everyday-life engines (and if that’s the case,
all of us who can get easily seasick will have to adapt
really quick). Metaphorically speaking or not, turning
points in exhibition making have been extensively
studied in thesis, interviews, essays and articles in

seems to have become an outdated way of curating. It appears to be quite global that
aesthetic contemplation is today regarded as an elitist positioning towards the world, and if
order to concentrate in finding reasons why mappings

it might have been regarded as glamorous in the past, it is now mouldy and undesired.
and framings and conceptualizing methods of telling
stories with art – which contemporary curating has
become – has more to it than juxtaposing objects
through the use of aesthetic values.18
If so much is changing, it is fair to say that this change
is not being operated by chance or faith but it might be

19 More developments on this, when we discuss the idea of “shift”.

regarded as an answer to some suspicion raised by the
art world during the last decades. Institutions seem to
have acknowledged the need for that change: in order
to bring people in, to make them connect and bond.19
claire bishop brings our attention at this during
the elaboration of the concept of dialectical
contemporaneity for “Radical Museology” (2013):

“Time and value turn out to be crucial categories at stake

in formulating a notion of what I will call a “dialectical
contemporaneity”, because it does not designate a style or
period of the works themselves so much as an approach to
them. One of the consequences of approaching institutions
through this category is a rethinking of the museum, the
category of art that it enshrines, and the modalities of
spectatorship it produces.” 20
18 This

152 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

time and value became dear categories to me, since
the beginning of this research – time did not expand
itself when I most needed – and from this familiar
sensation, that becomes clear: on the one hand, the
idea of value is the one that immediately links us to
the real world (the desire of valuing ourselves through
tangible achievements, all return to money earning,
therefore, how much are we worth?); on the other
hand, value is what we have been defending with our
honour that art and culture are worthy of. If we do
not question the importance (hence, value) that an
artwork holds for its period and culture once we find it
inside a Museum, then why are the critics and curators
so obsessed with assuring that legitimization of art –
through some sort of peer’s validation – will keep us
safe, and far from all the possible crisis in the future of
art (and its value).
It is possible that, once we guarantee this idea of value
to the artwork and the artistic process, we fear that we
will end up being caught by the claws of consumption
as if we were all fragments of a giant economic wheel
which is on the move, and won’t stop (but, are we
Museology” (2013), Claire Bishop, pp. 8-9.

not?). The fundamental mistake we may certainly be

committing in our time in a transversal way, is related
to the capacity that we own of forgetting about things:
and thus, repeating the same mistakes over and over
again. If not, then we would at least acknowledge the
analysis walter benjamin has proposed in 1935/36,
in his “The work of art in the age of its technological
reproducibility”, by calling our attention to a possible
dependence of art (in a future) towards its political
conditions of thriving:
20 “Radical

153 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

“Theses defining the developmental tendencies of art can
therefore contribute to the political struggle in ways that
it would be a mistake to underestimate. They neutralize a
number of traditional concepts – such as creativity and genius,
eternal value and mystery – which, used in an uncontrolled
way (and controlling them is difficult today), allow factual
material to be manipulated in the interests of fascism.” 21

22 Deleuze’s original idea of disciplinary societies – which were developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth
21 https://monoskop.org/images/6/6d/Benjamin_Walter_1936_2008_The_Work_of_Art_in_the_Age_of_Its_

centuries, with the high point in the twentieth in the diverse dictatorships that Europe had – from the text
I did read this work during my painting degree (more
than ten years ago) but it seems that these words have

“Postscript on the societies of control” (1990), published on “October – The second decade, 1986-1996”
echoed differently in me now, as it is so obvious and
unreal at the same time.
We are not just talking about the surprise that comes
from this dependence from the valuable items in our

Technological_Reproducibility_Second_Version.pdf (pp. 19-20) accessed in June 2016.

contemporary societies and in our own lives: surprise
comes as deep as we dig, by finding out that we are
a whole lot more trapped then we though we were.
We’re not just depending on a power structure on
its own, we are embedded to it and we are not even
aware of that, since – in the Portuguese case – the
moment in which liberty of thought and speech was
re-conquered in 1974 through a revolutionary action.
Powerful relations can now be established through the
slightest details, in an assertion that our self-controlled
(and surveyed) way of life is something that modern
societies have decided to embrace: in the search for a
better way of life, assuming that, if the disciplinary
societies22 have ended after the second world war, then
we are not in danger of allowing a totalitarian tyranny
to be entrenched in our homes again. But again, are we

154 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

“We are in a generalized crisis in relation to all the
environments of enclosure – prison, hospital, factory, school,
family. The family is an “interior” in crisis like all other
interiors – scholarly, professional, etc. The administrations in
charge never cease announcing supposedly necessary reforms:
to reform schools, to reform industries, hospitals, the armed
forces, prisons. But everyone knows that these institutions are
finished, whatever the length of their expiration periods. It’s
only a matter of administering their last rites and of keeping
people employed until the installation of new forces knocking at
the door. These are the societies of control, which are in process
of replacing the disciplinary societies.” 23

Going back to lauren reid’s alignment (2016), we are

ought to divide these curatorial shifts in four grand
moments (or ideas): - the curator as author, starring
harald szeemann as the main performer; - the big
Deleuze, in “Postscript on the societies of control” (1990), pp. 443-444.

stage, meaning large scale exhibitions; - thinking

globally, or decentralize the art world from western
Europe and North America; - and transforming
the viewer, meaning RELATIONAL AESTHETICS,
engaging audiences, inciting participation, with
nicolas bourriaud as the main actor. This (possible)
published on “October – The second decade, 1986-1996”

organization was based on lauren reid’s program of

the online course provided by node centre24 in Berlin
to be held this summer of 2016 (a Curatorial Studies
24 https://www.nodecenter.net/courses#courses

Centre). The reason I opted for quoting this alignment

instead of picking another more academically validated
source is related to my own process of questioning the
sources – which I have been doing all through this
work. The single fact that node centre even proposed
a course like this (and offers many others on curating,
art criticism and education in museums related) to be
provided now, reflects on the needs and demands of
people from all different places that somehow expect
to learn something from the art world.
This allows us to transcend from the information
23 Gilles

155 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

collected from the books (and online articles, of
course) for as updated as they may be, they are not
performed in the moment. For the kind of experience
that an online course can provide, we can learn (and
share) something at the same time as we live and
actually experience it. And by this, I aim to create a
parallel trace to the way this thesis was conducted:
never really had the time to run away and reflect
with fear of losing the (authentic) experience action/
reaction in real time.
Probably the only way to design an accurate path for
contemporary Curating (and all its derivatives) will be
by intertwining a connection to each other: collecting
and sharing ideas will allow us to get closer to a more
accurate history of curating one day (or so we hope).

Trying to grasp from a recent past in order to

understand the present, I would go back to
INSTITUTIONAL CRITIQUE, an artistic movement
(or shared concern) that begun in the 1960’s and
from which we can say it lives until today (with some
derivatives). There are some different moments in
institutional critique but, as an essence, it regards to
a form of politicized art organized mostly by actions
and/or practices of artists that fight against art’s
instrumentalisation and dependence on hegemonic

156 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Figure 30 Baby carriage

From the American artist fred wilson, I learned

that it is possible to work from the heart into
something you strongly believe (and fight for) and
eventually become successful and culturally engaged.
He developed an original idea along the 1990’s that
holds through time and beyond political, social and
curatorial shifts.
Looking for a more extensive comprehension of
his methodology I came up with something better
explained by him:

“As an artist living and working in New York, I had to support

myself one way or another, and I found I enjoyed working
with artists, so I worked in several alternative spaces in
downtown Manhattan. Prior to that I had been working with
several museums—I worked at the Metropolitan Museum
of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the
American Crafts Museum, and this experience, I realized
later, was the basis for my way of making artwork. Working
in the educational department of these three institutions

157 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

simultaneously made me wonder about how the environment
in which cultural production is placed affects the way the
viewer feels about the artwork and the artist who made these
things. Being an artist and being African-American and Native
American and actually working in the museum at that time,
I was in a position to notice some of the incongruities in these
spaces. So with that background I worked in alternative spaces
and then was offered the directorship of Longwood in the
Bronx.” 25

Actually, wilson developed his method by juxtaposing

ideas he brought from his previous work as staff
member inside the museum, to curating his own

sponsored in the Fall of 1992 by the Atlanta College of Art Gallery and Continuing Education
exhibitions with the incorporation of the certainty that
all objects have a historical background.

text is drawn from the lecture series “Art in context: rethinking the New World”,

Department. It was originally published in Artpapers, 17:3 (May–June 1993), pp. 2–9
In “Mining the Museum” (1992), fred wilson creates
a reflection on (and from) maryland historical
society, for its sobriety and conservative approach. At
that time, he had been invited to propose a long-term
project in any Baltimore museum, and so he staged

26 Excerpt from “Art and Artifact”, by James Putnam (2009), p. 168.

his studio in the president’s office for a period of six
months to one year:

“In an exiting museum display, showing Models of transport

(1770-1910), Wilson placed a Ku Klux Clan hood (taken from
the reserves collection) in a perambulator. This suggested a
potentially disturbing association between the white baby it
once carried and a black servant who may have pushed it. This
idea was reinforced by displaying a photograph showing two
black nannies with a similar baby carriage” 26

The project “Mining the Museum” had some amazing

repercussions, and it is still an interesting example
today because of its innovative approach to the
collection of a historic museum through the eyes
of a contemporary artist in the form of what would
immediately be considered to be curating instead of
art production:
25 This

158 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

“They would keep walking by the studio and ask, “Is it art
yet?” I didn’t curate the show—this is my artwork. I make that
distinction. Although people looked at the exhibition and saw it
as a curated exhibition, which is fine, for me it’s something else
entirely, it’s my work.” 27

His process was important for what we apparently

understand of what a museum’s mission should be,
Fall of 1992 by the Atlanta College of Art Gallery and Continuing Education Department. It was originally

and today especially. The background of an institution

text is drawn from the lecture series “Art in context: rethinking the New World”, sponsored in the

(like that) is obscure, and most of the people (not

even the staff) are not aware of some of the objects
incorporated in the collections that (for a number of
reasons) are not on display:

“I looked at every object in the Historical Society collection,

which is a vast one. They’ve been collecting since 1840, and it
was a men’s club in the early days, so they really have some odd
objects in the collection. But those things aren’t on view. And
those are many of the things that I have put on view, because
what they put on view says a lot about the museum, but what
they don’t put on view says even more. I didn’t know what I
was going to do, but I really wanted the objects to speak to me,
and I called the installation Mining the Museum because it
published in Artpapers, 17:3 (May–June 1993), pp. 2–9

could mean “mining” as in goldmine, digging up something, or

it could mean blowing up something, or it could mean making
it mine. So I just looked at every object, and tried to pull from
the objects what they were about, what they told me about the
institution and about the museum. They gave me the entire
third floor to do this. One thing they were told was that I had
to have complete autonomy to do whatever I wanted, or else I
would walk. That was exactly what I got, and I’m still amazed
that they allowed me to do it.” 28

So the choices wilson was making were based on

his assertion that the way we see the objects inside
a museum influences the idea we make of them: the
number of objects in one room, the size of the room,
28 Ibid.
27 This

159 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

the color on the walls, the typical form of display
(contemporary, modern or ethnographic) and the kind
of existing labels. For example, it is a common practice
in contemporary museums not to have any labels on
the walls (but only a handout with the information), or
to have very small labels with minimum information,
but sometimes when there are wall texts, most likely
they have very tiny words, in order not to create
distracting information (from the artwork). So, if we
took an existing room from a museum, and wilson
would only change the labels, we could guess that it
would not produce much of a difference. Unless if
those changes would lead us to look at what was, until
that moment, invisible to us.
We may consider another provocation from an artist
(about institutional power), and refer to joseph

the text “Artists as Curators/Curators as Artists” included in the book

kosuth’s “The Brooklyn Museum Collection: The Play
of the Unmentionable” (1990), in which the narratives
of the existing works of art were questioned by its
repositioning, removing and re-hanging, as well as the

“Thinking Contemporary Curating” by Kerry Smith (2012), p. 114.

texts that usually accompanied them:

“Treating statements like pictures and pictures as statements,

it was a searching, subtle, and confrontational exploration of
censorship of the visual arts, juxtaposing works of art from
many periods and places (…)” 29

The works could gain a totally different reading if

put next to a different neighbor, as the wall texts
got different attention by occupying previous spaces
devoted to artworks. This need to be reviewed by the
eyes of the artist is something that many museums
have been reflecting on (more and more today), and
commissioning new works with a clear intention to
call for new visitors. If some institutions – represented
by their directors or curators – understand the
29 From

160 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

importance of a refreshed look and consider
contemporary artists as their allies, it is possible (as
kosuth did) to engage in a two-way collaboration, and
to result into something dedicated to the visitor’s well
I have received dozens of complaints from visitors
about the size of the wall texts typos, specially from
older visitors who find it an impossible challenge to
stand during long enough to read and comprehend
the text that, in their opinion, seems like it was not
meant to be understood. It seems that, in a general
way, the wall texts have to compromise to the so-called
artistic and curatorial discourse, that is the same as to
say that the curator writes for himself and his peers.
And this often makes visitors feel excluded from the
institutional discourse.
fred wilson, as the popular artist he is today30, plays
an important role by dedicating some time speaking
about his work to the most unexpected audiences
(like schools for example), and about how art can and
seen him participating in one recent video (as well as the
making of) of pop singer Jay-Z “Picasso Baby”, released in 2013.

should have a political and socially engaged role.

It is quite easy to elaborate on the reasons why we don’t

go to museums.
We don’t believe a museum is a comfortable place
(check), and quite frankly most of us have had reasons
to believe that: through the years, we accumulated
specific moments in which we felt embarrassed
because the security guard approached us (because we
did something wrong), or when our information about
some exhibition or museum proved to be mistaken
(opening hours, opening days, fees to be paid as so
many other examples). Now consider this: imagine that
a security guard approaches you in a shopping centre,
because you did something there that you shouldn’t
have done. In your mind, whatever it was,
30 We’ve

161 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

would you consider returning to that shopping? No, I
didn’t think so either.

Figure 31 Fred Wilson with school children

We can go on for hours on the number of examples of

recent decisions conducted by programmers, curators
and museum directors in order to transform their

162 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

institutions in places where the connections the public
is allowed to have, are becoming shorter and shorter.
Probably the most popular and widely discussed
in the social media was the recent prohibition of
drawing or sketching inside the Gallery announced
by the victoria & albert museum in London, but
voice of the public did not silence itself towards this:
it was viewed as a major contradiction of the whole
mission the museum had since its early beginning,
and manifestations of loathing came from the most
varied cultural intervenient.31 And the museum replied
quickly enough with a satisfying response – something
like a specific place to draw, or something like that.
But probably the most important one and the hardest
31 https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/apr/22/va-museum-no-sketching-

to overcome is the tradition, the history. No one,

for as strong as their will can be, can actually erase
historically the role of the Museums in modern
societies, and that’s why arts mediation today is such a
hard discipline. It’s not because of its contents, and not
even because of visitors, nor the curators or directors:
it’s because what we all carry inside us, our previously
obtained knowledge, of what we should do, how we
should behave, and what kind of engagement are we
allowed to have, to become productive, instead of

being playful (of course we can still derive on what’s

the real problem about “playing” inside a museum, but
we will come to that soon).

Recently, as part of my work in the serralves

museum, I had the chance to talk to silvestre
pestana, a Portuguese artist which had a retrospective
individual exhibition there (from may to sept 2016).
During that conversation, pestana mentioned several
times about the importance of his inner child in his
creations: not only he would refer to today’s kids as
fascinating creatures, as he mentioned that he was

163 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

never in peace with his eight-year-old child (himself),
because all those questions he had at the time, were
never really answered. Not from an adult, not from
himself growing up, not even from life itself. All those
questions are still there, and are in the core of his art
production today.
So, for pestana, the child was educated to be able to
live in this world allowing himself to feel, to absorb,
and to learn from experiences that could be completely
fulfilling, but could not be too involved. As he said

“I had to be able to talk about the object, without touching it,

without even pointing at it, never I could point at something,
that would be considered rude.” (pestana, 2016)

He learned about life that, in order to be correctly

enjoyed, things need not be touched. How fascinating
it is that this man decided to become an artist. He also
said that his child never grew completely, and many
times, when he’s trying to understand something (from
the world) he knows it’s the inner child that wants to
know – I believe he is thankful for still managing to
hear that voice from within.

Most of the works of pestana are somehow playable:

they sum up to a generation of artists that began to
show works in public from a very young age, when
compared to others. At the same time, none of them
wants to be associated to that idea of play, because it
is not considered smart or intellectual enough (or may
suggest that there is no concept or previous research):
but silvestre pestana has always had some traces
that would not make him exactly representative of the
generation of artists he belongs.
And that sense of being able to be in this world
without being touched by it, is as passionate as it can

164 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

get. And if we consider it, it is a perfect match to arts
mediation, as we know it: what else is closer to this
pestana’s sentence?
We can feel and we can reach, but never touch it? I
have that feeling myself often when I’m at work in the
Museum. It can be so frustrating sometimes to ensure
the strict rules of non touching, and keeping one meter
distance from all the works, when I don’t want to do
it myself ! We almost tell the kids today to keep their
hands behind their back in all matters, considering
how obsessed (and afraid) we are with the preservation
of the artwork. Even the ones that were idealized and
created to be destroyed, museums preserve them at all
costs. I wonder what szeemann would have thought of

Figure 32 Silvestre Pestana

165 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

l i k e t i m e p a s s i n g

Time is one of the most undecipherable concepts ever.

Since the beginning of times, undertaking the mission
of comprehension of time (from Sciences perspectives
to Physics, Art History, Philosophy among others), has
revealed doomed in itself. By looking at the past, time
will always become something that no longer is, and
Didi-Huberman, quoted from “Time: Documents of Contemporary Art” (2013), ed. By Amelia

as for the future vision of time, we only know that it

Groom, included in the essay “Before the Image, Before time: The Sovereignty of Anachronism” (2000);

gets blurred by the speed of uncertainty. Time remains

as something that draws us in, forcing us to dedicate
ourselves to something (attached to life), otherwise
we’re wasting time.
We are running out of time, and we are becoming
aware of that now.

Most of the examples of works I’m interested in,

whether they are artistic/social/human interaction,
they always use time in a counter movement: today
our world and our everyday life is based in the excess
of information considering the time we have to spend.
This happens with information, image, distance and so
on. All of this is somehow reduced to an idea of having
more time: to spend reading, relaxing or having a tea
(or maybe just spending time with our family). Being
accountable for the timeline upon us might lead into a
more astute perspective in life. Art has always found its
way to show us that:

“Before an image, finally, we have humbly to recognize this

fact: that it will probably outlive us, that before it we are the
fragile element, the transient element, and that before us it
is the element of the future, the element of permanence. The
image often has more memory and more future than the being
32 Georges

who contemplates it.” 32

167 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

We get used to say “If I had more time, I would do this
or that” and keep finding excuses on ourselves and we
blame time for our poor choices in life, which assures
us some kind of comfort. But we know better. What
changes is our perception of the world around us, and

Nagel and Christopher Wood, quoted from “Time: Documents of Contemporary Art” (2013) ed. by Amelia
especially of the world with us in it.

34 Pablo Helguera, from “Education for Socially Engaged Art – A Materials and Techniques Handbook” (2011), p. 19.
“No device more effectively generates the effect of a doubling
or bending of time than the work of art, a strange kind of
event whose relation in time is plural. The artwork is made or
designed by an individual or by a group of individuals at some

Groom, included in “The Plural Temporality of the Work of Art”, Anachronic Renaissance (2010);
moment, but it also points away from that moment, backward
to a remote ancestral origin, perhaps, or to a prior artefact,
or to an origin outside of time, in divinity. At that same time
it points forward to all its future recipients who will activate
and reactivate it as a meaningful event. The work of art is a
message whose sender and destination are constantly shifting.” 33

Time is directly related to effort, when it comes to

education practices for example, or to a personal
investment made in another area: if I want to learn
something, I must dedicate time to achieve it and not
expect it to happen naturally:

“You can’t learn a language in a day; you can’ become an

expert in martial arts at a weekend workshop” 34

Yet, in the course of mediating art in the Museum, the

notion of time often becomes blurred by the notion
of its impact in us (when we’re involved, seems that
time moves faster). According to pablo helguera
(2011), instead of taking use of it (time) in order to
teach as much information as possible (about a specific
exhibition) to the visitors, if an action manages to
generate a strong public involvement, the available
33 Alexander

time widens up and allows us to expand it:

168 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

“a one-hour gallery conversation at a museum for a non-
specialized audience can’t turn visitors into art specialists, but
it can be effective in inspiring interest in a subject and making
a focused point about a particular kind of art or artist.” 35

Time is important to understand how things work –

regarding any area whatsoever related to museums
– and it is connected to other fundamental issues.
Considering that the most obvious are also shared
by many other professionals, let’s turn towards what
it is that makes time feel different, when we’re inside
Museums are like (real) boxes, which contain what
one wants to preserve of an identity as a culturally
engaged individual; by this, I don’t mean that all of
the museums hold on to it, but there’s a great tradition
regarding that (and humankind has difficulties on
letting things go).
However, contemporary art is not about preservation
nor creating collective history; most contemporary
artists are subverting all the certainties and comfort
that modernism had offered us for so long. But maybe
there is some kind of connection to the fact that there
is an increasingly bigger number of contemporary
artists focusing their production on the ideas
surrounding time and trying to maintain a certain type
of preservation.
35 Ibid.

169 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Figure 33 Mark Dion handling his objects

One of the most fascinating artistic methods that I

have encountered over the last years was through the
observation of mark dion’s work. I can still remember
the first time I saw one of his artworks: it was a big
furniture piece that occupied almost the length of the
room where it was installed. This was the first time I
went to tate modern (I believe it was in 2005) and I
guess it made a great impression on me (I remember
two or three art pieces from that visit, to be true).
Inside the mahogany cabinet were revealed the
tiniest objects organized and conserved by some
sort of similarity: colour, shape, apparent state of
decomposition, and others. The piece’s name was “Tate
Thames Dig” (1999), and I remember thinking that this
should have some connection to the idea of time, of
the passage of time. I did not know his work back then,
so I had no idea if the objects had been fabricated, or
in this case that they were real remnants, but that they

170 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

had absolutely no meaning whatsoever (they were just
trash collected from the river’s margins).
The meaning of the recollection of the objects
however, was related to geography: they were
recovered from the shores in front of both tate
modern and tate britain, on occasion to the tate
modern’s opening.

“Mark Dion is fascinated by the processes and methods by

which knowledge is created. In his work he often breaks
down the barriers between disciplines – variously referencing
archeology, history and natural history. Dion’s Tate Thames Dig
put the activities of the archeologist, the act of collecting and
analysing, at the centre of the work. But Dion calls himself an
artist, and the end product has been acquired by Tate and is
the learning resource regarding “Tate Thames Dig” (1999), retrieved from:

now in Tate’s collection of artworks.” 36


The rediscovery of dion’s work revealed to me as an

immense source of material for my own workshops
from that moment on: I searched for more of his work,
and comprehended his connection with objecthood,
from the origin of his Cabinets of Curiosities – made
up from elements of banality, just composed with care
– till his most recent aged and decomposed (faked)
immersed objects.
My fascination continued by getting to know about
his careful composition skills through the preparatory
drawings that eventually (always) led to a powerful
installation, but there was something about his work
that didn’t seem quite right. I mean, what makes an
artist find himself so drawn by the passage of time,
and our inevitable disappearance (like the objects)
that makes him forge that passage by making his own
relics, and forcing us to doubt our own capacity of
Like an ethnographer, Dion seems to try to grasp
36 From

171 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

through the world’s illusory idea of life, and yet he
just adds one more element to this whole charade: one
artist that crafts his vision of the world just to make us
doubt our own.

Figure 34 The objects in the cabinet

The archival impulse in the work of Mark Dion

This work, the archival impulse – a concept developed
by hal foster – is revealed by the composition
of objects collected from the river, all dried and
aesthetically assembled to look like artistic objects
created by dion or his assistants. These objects
simulate the passage of time (objects who were under
water and came back to surface to start a new life), or
they can represent time, but the story they tell us

172 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

is fake.
mark dion is telling us a strong story through the
use of another one (a fictional story). He is also
sending a message about the excessive care regarding
contemporary art, specially in the preservation of the
As mentioned, we know that many times the
conservation departments of the Museums are
operating strong interventions on works of art that
were supposed to be ephemeral, and disappear through
time (from the original intentions of the artists who
created them).
There is an absolute conscience that we are (right now)
living a period of constant remembrance, attached
to a certain melancholy of something that we lived
before, - or that we did not live at all – that may come
to us through cinema, literature or the internet. This
preoccupation with the past has become so serious
that we organize debates about art that relates to this,
we call for papers and we make conferences to discuss
what we will do with time, in order to have more time.
Maybe if we were not so worried trying to preserve
the objects from the past (that in some cases, are
themselves evocations of the past) we might be able to
live a little more of our present time. And we wouldn’t
have to spend the rest of our time chasing after (time).

Time in art - art in time

Why are we (the mediators and/or museum educators)
so obsessed with trying to explain contemporary
artworks as if it were simple (and yet all the curators
and critics are quite pleased with a complicated
discourse as long as that hands them the expertise)?
What is the problem here? Are we looking at this
through a wrong perspective? Contemporary art
can be so interesting so why do we feel the need to

173 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

captivate people all the time –is that not concern of
the educators in the louvre for example? Is there
something wrong with contemporary art? Or is it a
problem that only we can see because we are looking
through very specific glasses?
What would be the future for artworks if tomorrow
all the art mediators disappeared for no reason? (like
in the HBO television series LEFTOVERS, where
a specific percentage of world population vanishes
without trace) Would it make any difference for the
museum visitors? Probably most of them wouldn’t
even notice the difference.

Sometimes (or most of the times) we forget to consider

that a group that requests a paid guided tour in a
contemporary art museum - if it’s not integrated in a
school group - is indeed an exception. Not only should
we be aware of the exceptional characteristics of this
group (an abstract example) but consider also the fact
that a great number of museums doesn’t even have the
necessary logistic for the appointment and delivery of
non-scholar oriented tours.
In theory, when mentioning gallery education, we
are immediately referring to schools (independently
from the student’s age), and not considering the
characteristics of the individuals integrated in any
other kind of group: if they feel part of that group,
that’s because they share something, and that
something isn’t always to be proud of (from the
perspective of the visitor).
Take for example, a seventy years old senior that
is going to a support house (an elderly residence)
during the afternoon on week days: that group is
probably contributing for a positive experience of the
individual, by sharing experiences, spending time with
people with the same age, learning new things and

174 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

maybe even just watching TV with company. I would
dare say that if this group organizes a tour to the
serralves museum, a few of those participants (that
are taking advantage of this experience) will probably
find an excuse not to join, just to avoid being seen as
an old person that spends time in a nursery home.
The time we dedicate and the sharing we receive in
return will have to be enough for now (to just keep

I do remember very vividly about a group I hosted in

serralves some years ago: The group was intended
to visit the Museum and gardens, in an institutional
perspective, which consists on introducing some basic
knowledge about the museum and the exhibitions, but
also about the history of the buildings and the park in
which it is inserted.
The fact that I can remember this group so well is
not because I didn’t have other elders groups, on the
contrary (I always ask to host these groups, as much as
possible), but my strong memory derives from other
reasons. This group was very special, I felt it from
the first moment I saw them: a group of women, all
interns in a facility located in a city north from Porto.
These women ended up there not just for their age, but
because they had some mental issues during their lives.
In some cases, I understood that these ladies spent a
good part of their lives in that same place.
I was surprised when I understood how warm and
caring the team that travelled with them was, these
ladies were treated like family. And during that sunny
afternoon, their psychologist thought it would be a
good idea to take them to the Museum. So did I. But
it was during my introduction that I immediately
felt it like a punch in the stomach: as I asked what
were their expectations, what did they wish to see

175 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

and feel during their visit, one lady interrupted me to
ask “We’re going to the doctor, right, this is a hospital
hallway, isn’t it?” She was very clear in the articulation
of her appreciation, and during the rest of the visit, I
couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew that her health
condition was frail and that she could be obsessed (or
interested) in hospitals, but I also began to consider all
the structural aspects of the architecture, and answered
to myself that she could be so right about that simple

Figure 35 Old hands.

If we’re watching time pass by us, why not wait inside

a Museum instead of somewhere else, certainly not so

176 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

a n d v i c e v e r s a

This text is not about curating. It is more about a

claim that museums have – ever since – exerted some
influence in the kind of artistic production (from
different places and moments). This can be instead
about an interwoven reality between artist and
museum, which concrete effects can be verified in
some details of artistic curation over the last decades.
the book “Art and Artifact”, ed. By James Putnam (2009). All the following exhibitions are referenced
there is a bibliographical reference that has become too important in this phase, and that was

These relations have always been problematic, with

clear differences of power assertion from both sides,
in this book, as well as many other interesting examples that were not possible to include here.

from which the curator is sometimes a mediator that

manages a language flow: the artist has always been
considered to be a problematic correspondent, or
someone who appears (to the institution) not to know
his/her place, or how to communicate. However, I
would prefer to look at this through a more optimistic
perspective towards a relationship, even when
occurring under straining conditions: something
worthy can always come out of poor circunstances.
There is a clear association between the cases
presented here and the language of INSTITUTIONAL
CRITIQUE, from which some of these artists identify
their work with: in any case, this selection was not
driven from there, but instead they claim to be the
result of personal preferences (mine)37. And another
inevitable reference goes to duchamp’s portable
museums, which focused energy on the urge for an
artistic autonomy, looking for individual discourses
and grounding a base to artist-run spaces that popped
out everywhere during the decades to come.
I’ve gathered some paradigmatic examples focused
on the decade of 1970 and 1980, from which (today)
we can somehow claim that it wasn’t just the museum
that exerted a strong impact over the artistic practice,
37 Still,

177 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

but also claim for the fact that some museums also
changed (themselves) towards those practices: in a
manner of displaying the objects, in the discourse
that they dedicate to the exterior, but also in the
comprehension of the importance at incorporating
critical discourses in their own space (specially when
they come in the shape of an artwork).
We can (maybe) say that this is the better of two

This list does not include the most obvious choices

(for me), for having been already referenced in other
moments of this work (and also for being too recent)
like the case of “Tate Thames Dig” of mark dion, the
“Mining the Museum” project developed by the artist
fred wilson, or the fischl & weiss “Visible World”
(1997-2003), an archive constituted of thousands of
slides of everything that exists in the world.
Most of the works actually presented here are
considered their predecessors, and are a possible
representation of the impact towards the binomial
relationship artist/museum.
There is a clear relation towards what can also
be considered as collector impulse (to be further
developed). Directly inspired in the wunderkammer,
as the predecessor of contemporary museums, some of
the works presented here are a combination of the fore
mentioned relations with the desire and pleasure for
object owning (by artists) as a direct wunderkammer

178 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

from MACBA’s website ttp://www.macba.es/global/exposiciones/docs/filliou/filliou%20angl.pdf

Figure 36 Display version of “The Frozen Exhibition”

Robert Filliou “The Frozen Exhibition” (1972)

Member of the fluxus group, filliou has devoted his
practice surrounding the idea of a flow: a flow of ideas,
of materials, of correspondences. filliou believed
that art did not have to manifest itself through the
creation of objects, but could instead be happening just
about everywhere, without us even realising it. Making
claims that art was just another manifestation of a
society in its full potential, it could be used as a way of
connecting to the real world.

“Filliou’s works are endowed with an extremely subtle sense

of humour; they abound in wordplay and are characterised
38 hRetrieved

by their extreme formal simplicity and the poverty of their

materials. They are nomadic, portable and precarious.” 38

179 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

He came up with a number of series intended to
preserve stories that must be told.
filliou created “The Frozen Exhibition” as a
response to the need to do things quick, in the
available circumstances. With a number of actions
where postcards and poems are made with a specific
intention of resisting the exhibition circuit (and/or
market), he proposes an alternative market, through
the use of his own hat (as a venue). This way, in a
symbolic act, he is the artist, the display space and the
gallerist all in one: the artist’s body as an exhibition
In this context, and for the frozen exhibition to be
done, filliou would wear a real hat and offer the
contents to anyone who would pass in by (in the
street), and this would be a response for the extremely
stable nature of the museum (meaning that it doesn’t
seem to be affected for the subversive proposals of so
many artists). The display version of this work has a
paper hat instead of a real one, and is connected to the
kind of paper hat he provided the audience to make
themselves (during the performances).

“Creativity, a term he preferred to art, has the ability to

emancipate the innate faculties of the individual by means of
innocence and imagination. His notion of creativity posited the
invention, the idea, along with its implementation, although
Filliou paid more attention to the experience, to the act, than
to the formal artistic quality arrived at.” 39
39 Ibid.

180 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Figure 37 “A Museum for Myself ” shown in the Holburne Museum.

Peter Blake “A Museum for Myself” (1977)

“A Museum for Myself” is a project that blake has
dedicated a good part of his life to: a collection made
from the most varied types of objects, based on his
own preferences and the idea of making a one-of-a-
kind private museum.
Considering the beginning having been in 1977, the
latest date would probably be 2010, when a museum
in Bath reopened to the public, after having been
subjected to a renovation: “A Museum for Myself”
was chosen to be the opening show of the holburne
museum, which served as a good opportunity for
visitors, critics, curators and the artist himself to look
at the objects assembled together in the pursue for
a narrative that made sense for the display. This was
the only time (exhibiting this project) that blake also
decided to include some bigger items, and include
other exhibitions (elements that were not originally

181 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

part of the “museum for myself ”), turning the show
into a “museum of everything”, to make use of his own

“Arranged around him in his West London studio Blake’s

from the Holburne Museum’s website http://www.holburne.org/events/peter-blake-a-museum-for-myself/

collection offers a wonderful kaleidoscopic mirror of his mind
and obsessions which have been reflected in his work for
decades. There you find stuffed animals in tableau from Mr.
Potter’s Museum of Curiosities; Punch and Judy Puppets; the
paraphernalia of the fairground and souvenirs of the wrestlers
and pop-stars who feature in his art. At the studio door stands
the waxwork of Sonny Liston which features on the cover of the
Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album, Blake’s most famous work.” 40

Being possibly identified as an artist (of his time) that

is interested in a process of collecting objects, whether
they are everyday objects, art objects, relics or the
like – meaning that he might have some attachment
or nostalgia towards the past – peter blake and

from “Art and Artifact”, ed. By James Putnam (2009), p. 68.

his museum have become a source of inspiration for
many to follow, naming for example the popular artist
damien hirst. However, for blake this “museum”
is more than a mirror that reflects on someone’s
preferences (no matter how interesting they might be),
it is more about revealing how he thinks in terms of
objects, how he relates with them, and to understand
why his processes of collecting are connected to
making art.

“The collecting process often governs the direction adopted

by Blake in his works; this may be triggered by things he has
already accumulated or he may acquire objects specially in
order to fulfil a creative urge. His working environment is
surrounded by so many objects that he has come to regard his
studio as a form of museum in itself.” 41
40 Retrieved

41 Excerpt

182 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Figure 38 “Musée Sentimental” displayed in Kunstverein, Cologne.

Daniel Spoerri “Musée Sentimental” (1977-1989)

daniel spoerri’s project of a Museum that claims
for a provocative position towards the museum as
an institution was started in 1977 and had different
placements that functioned as variations of the same
idea which included the centre georges pompidou
(1977) in Paris and in the kunstverein in Cologne
in 1979.
spoerri, as a nouveau realiste, claimed for a distanced
relationship towards the abstract expressionism,
and appealed for a tangible sensation of things: his
process includes the collecting and gathering of
objects, in order to re-assemble them in prepared
structures (or containers). His most appealing objects
are the re-positioning of table-like elements, that were
then set vertically, as if we were observing a time-lapse,
an essence of an everyday scene attached to the wall
(and trapped in there).

183 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

“Today, “Le Musée Sentimental” appears to have anticipated
the interest in not only popular culture but also humble
everyday objects: kitsch, family memorabilia, flea market
fare, which show up in so many contemporary art works, from
paintings to sculptures. Le Musée Sentimental referes other
currents: a fascination with the past, from the re-enactment to
what Simon Reynolds calls pop cultural “retromania”; a desire
to tell stories; and a reconsideration of emotions, whether
sadness, joy or revulsion, in aesthetic experience. Above all,
“Le Musée Sentimental” represents a volte-face on Duchamp’s
ready-made: the useful found object presented as art. Our
project was not about the ready-made, which was an object

Allen’s article (2011), retrieved from https://frieze.com/article/remaking-ready-made

taken out of context, says Spoerri, who links his concept to
his tableaux pièges (snare pictures), which capture a chance
assemblage of objects, like the remains of a meal on a table. “Le
Musée Sentimental” enlarged the territory from a table to a
city. The objects have a connection to each other and get a new
meaning together, sometimes a meaning that we didn’t even
suspect.” 42

Following his own quoted reflection, the idea of a

sentimental museum comes from getting to a number
of key words that will be conditioning everything else.
The fact that this became a travelling exhibition made
it more clear to understand what, for spoerri, was
just becoming evident: words are extremely powerful,
and from place to place, the exhibition was to become
something completely different.
The method consisted in trying to grasp from the
words, and find existing objects to fit in those words:
and the outcome would become surprising even for
42 Jennifer

184 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

“Key words were matched up to exhibits and the display was
then arranged alphabetically using these words as the basic
point of departure. The correspondences and relationships thus
built up resemble the interconnecting networks of the city. Like
so much of significance, these items displayed aspects of the
everyday or have a particular resonance by association.” 43

The work of spoerri as an association to a certain

type of object-like artwork, appeals to the way of
looking at things, and to how this can be different
from scenario to scenario: the individuals who donated
the pieces for the shows or who might have lost them
in the city (because often the exhibited objects were
found objects), will necessarily look at them in a
different way if it’s placed inside a glass chamber in a
museum. This act of framing normal objects making
them resemble like artworks is at the core of what I’ve
come to believe to be in my preference for mediation’s
strategies, making this an important moment to
from “Art and Artifact”, ed. By James Putnam (2009), p. 25.

comprehend the relation between this artist(s) and the

following research.
43 Excerpt

185 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Figure 39 The found cabinet featuring the works of 500 artists

Herbert Distel “Museum of Drawers” (1970-1977)

distel created a miniature museum, set on an
impressive (found) vertical cabinet with a total of
twenty drawers; each drawer containing twenty-five
tiny compartments, with an individual contribution
apiece from artists like paul thek, larry rivers,
on kawara, annette messager, giuseppe penone,
dieter roth, nam june paik, just to name a few.
The display’s idea is quite similar to that used in
haberdashery old shops, in which a whole world seems
to be hidden behind those drawers (increasing the
fascination) but we can still see a glimpse of it because

186 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

of the glass front – resulting to us with the same power
of attraction just like a storefront.

“For his “Museum of Drawers” Herbert Distel conceived

the idea of creating an entire museum of modern art in a
multi-drawer cabinet. He invited artists to contribute works
in miniature scale mostly dating from the 1960s and 1970s.
Each work was contained in one of the 500 compartments of
a cotton-reel cabinet, in which compartment represented a
“room” of the museum. In 1972, the “Museum of Drawers” was
included in the exhibition Documenta V in Kassel, an event
which represented a watershed in the relationship between the
institution of the museum and contemporary art.” 44

As the object of a certain fetishist desire, this work

has been shown multiple times in different venues,
assuming different forms, from the closed cabinet to a
few drawers opened to the dismantling of the drawers
into individual plinths, where behind another set of
from “Art and Artifact”, ed. By James Putnam (2009), p. 20.

glass, the work regains the idea of a collection made

of valuable items (which was not the artist’s original
By originally assembling this collection, distel
was aware of an achievement that was in itself the
preservation of a collective and collaborative piece,
gathering such individualisms in the need to fit
the norms of a given size. In a way, it makes us also
consider this piece to be a precursor to the number of
contemporary artists that call today for participation
(from multiple people) by following simple tasks or
sets of rules.
44 Excerpt

187 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

“Museums, especially museums of fine art, are places where we
become conscious of time. Like a preserving jar, they have the
task of conserving and presenting a subject curdled with time
– the artwork. But through and behind these works the artists
appear, falling out of the screen of time, as it were, and become
immortal.” 45

from http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/1999/muse/artist_pages/distel_drawers.html
Functioning as an object of desire (first) for himself,
Distel acted as a curator that puts together a specific
number of artist’s work inside one space, following a
certain narrative: in this case a preservation effect is
highlighted by the miniature size of the items, and by
the immediate connection we make with an idea
of time.
An interesting approach to this work could be to re-
connect (today) these miniatures to the practices of
these well known artists, but in the other cases, to the
artists who have disappeared from the surface of the
visible art world.
For the exhibition “The Museum as Muse: Artists
Reflect” organized in the moma in 1999, mark dion
assembled a piece quite similar to this one with the
vertical drawers. “The great chain of being” (1998) is
one of the pieces included in this collective exhibition
curated by kynaston mcshine, where the museum’s
role is put to question: by the way it embraces the
artwork and fosters the relationships towards artists, as
the artists do the same through institutional critique.
45 Retrieved

188 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

Figure 40 Visiting the “Imaginary Museum”

Hans Hollein “The Imaginary Museum” (1987)

“The Imaginary Museum” is probably the most
provocative of the projects in this list. Elaborated in
a way that we would believe to be observing a recent
work of art by any international (good looking and
in-his-forty’s) artist. The idea is almost as old as I, but
still it wonders us.
Not only because of the title – I’ve (somehow) quoted
it myself in my very own title – but by the way in
which this architect/artist turns upside down the
whole idea of looking at art: and not just literally.
The use of the imaginary is present in the depictions
as they have to result from a great effort from the
audience: there’s this subversion of content that make
us all wonder if the size of the text is not the result of
what our over-institionalization of art might have lead
us to.

189 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

t h e c r i s i s o f s h i f t s

The space is presented wide and opened, and the

organic shapes formed by the orange tree roots suggest
a strong continuity to the forest outside (from siza’s
window). The window frames the outer world: the
wind originates a soft movement among the trees as
they seem to be moving in slow-motion. “There are
so many trees, I suppose he cares about life, isn’t that
so?” says a young girl staring at the works of art. She
claims that the mirrors are supposed to be part of the
trees (as the fruits) and the bamboos are like shelters
that needed to be built. It didn’t take long for the rest
of the group to realise that a spider web had been
brought to life right there, rising from the roots of
those dead trees inside the cold and inhabited space of
the museum.
How did a spider draw itself to such impossible
mission? Was she aware of being undesired that it’s
not suppose to exist life inside a contemporary art
Energias e Movimentos da Matéria” was an exhibition displayed

museum? I wonder how tomorrow will be for this

from April 19 to June 24, 2013 in the Museum of Serralves.
Carneiro: Arte Vida/Vida Arte – Revelações de

spider. And how did my audience composed of young

children managed to pay attention during enough time
(and dedication) to find such small and delicate thing
as a spider-web? The mentioned exhibition was an
individual retrospective of alberto carneiro in the
serralves museum46.
Subverting power can be something so simple as what
this spider did: making something small throughout
enough time to finally become visible, even if just for a

We can say for a fact that a time of crisis is good for

creativity, and for the uprise of new ideas, solutions,
46 “Alberto

tools and others. Artists have (since always) been

191 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

taking advantage of such moments, calling upon
themselves the focus, and either offering to guide or to
misguide us all.
There are many different kinds of crisis we can
exemplify this with. But the 21st century and in
particular the years of 2015/16 have been quite prolific
in one particular crisis: I would call it the crisis of
This is a temporary category I am indicating to
refer to an idea of adjustability, experimentalism
and flexibility attributed to art practitioners (not
exclusive to artists) that has increasingly evolved to
something that we all are expecting and counting
on. If these characteristics were initially a possible
part of the description of contemporary artworks,
and easily attributed to the artist who creates it, the
transformation operates now in the whole structure of
display and legitimization.

Fraser, “An Artist’s Statement” (1992), inserted in “Museum

“I am an artist. As an artist I have the double role of engaging
in the specialized production of domestic culture on the one
hand and, on the other, the relatively autonomous reproduction
of my own professional subculture.” 47

It is (by all of us) expected that the artist doesn’t get Highlights – The writings of Andrea Fraser” (2005), p. 5.
seduced by the lures of the institution – where he/
she will be validated by peers, invited for dinner
parties, and integrated in the collection (his/her work,
obviously). The artist has always been in crisis, and

“Although the fact that the culture I produce functions as

bourgeois domestic culture is a historical fact of economic
patronage, it does not depend of this patronage.”
(fraser, 1992, p. 5)
47 Andrea

By saying this, andrea fraser seems to be trying

192 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

to remove some labels that were attributed to her
along the years, as well as to her co-operands from
institutional critique.

If an identity crisis has assailed all the different sectors

of artistic production, exhibition and distribution and
is continuously growing, this has now been causing
an evolutionary confusion in the positioning of all
agents involved within art fields – and in becoming
impossible to predict where it may be leading us to,
say, in fifty years.
Of course this is not involving the 100% of
professionals in the art world, some of them are
immune (similarly to a virus attack). But if we
observe closely the phenomena, we can verify that the
immunity spreads better among those that are either
on top or on the bottom of the so-called “food chain”.

Sharing a common space with my colleagues in the

serralves museum, I’m fully aware of their (our)
profiles as museum workers: high degrees, years of
experience and yet no work stability to come within.
If I continue to dig in individual conversations, I find
out that quite often these mediators are accumulating
different roles in the museum sphere, with different
categories in the hierarchy of contemporary art
display/legitimate art venues. However, this does not
overlap in terms of the space, just the concept.
Quite often some of us happen to be artists, but we do
not exhibit in the museum where we work. Some of us
are curators, but we’re also not curating in the Museum
where we are occupying our time educating audiences.
Some of us are also entrepreneurs and have our own
small business. Culturally related, of course, but the
Museum is not our client or partner.

193 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

“The aesthetic strategies if the counterculture: the search for
authenticity, the ideal of self-management, the anti-hierarchical
exigency, are now used in order to promote the conditions
required by the current mode of capitalist regulation, replacing
the disciplinary framework characteristic of the Fordist period.” 48

No, we are not creating any friction or trying to go

against the institution we work for: the museum would
even prefer if we could all be small business instead of
different people, because all taxes would be accounted
for (and it’s a lot easier to financially justify than a
receipt in return to a highly skilled museum educator
with low conditions of work).
Some of us are also teachers, and in these situations
we are likely to meet some empathy from the (visitor)
teachers (or not). There are many other possible
accumulations, like to the producers, photographers,

by Chantal Mouffe, included in “Open 2008/Nº14/Art as a Public Issue”, p. 7.

“Art and Democracy – Art as an Agonistic Intervention in Public Space”,
critics and more. And there is another role yet to
mention, only this one does not represent a labor task
but instead a voluntary action within a museum: the
volunteers would not fit into this framing if it wasn’t
for the increasing presence of unpaid positions that are
actually replacing existing jobs.
This is verifiable in multiple lines of work, but I find
it more controversial for the relation that a museum
has towards the state of things in our actual culture:
if our own cultural producers and decision makers
are assuming that there’s a part of cultural activities
which do not need remuneration whatsoever, I believe
in time, this will contribute to a depreciation of this
specific cultural moment (and that can’t be good to
anyone) which history will account for.

We’ve already mentioned the virus and its immunity,

but that immunity shapes itself like a pyramid: the
further we rise, the more it is possible to find these
48 In

194 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

categories isolated, and not willing to be accumulated
The categories (that are not attacked by the virus) are
in most cases occupying the same position in the labor
relationship towards the museums. Meaning that a
volunteer has no decision power (and not even a voice
inside the museum) and that is justified because he/she
doesn’t have a role/job/task to allow that to happen,
becoming quite invisible. But, even if that’s true, then
(taking an idea also developed by fraser), why are
we taking in consideration what the other volunteer
members in our museum say?

“The struggle between domestic and scholastic relations

to culture and the modes of appropriation they privilege is
continuously waged in art museums in the United States.
It’s played out between the voluntary sector of a museum
(its patrons and board of trustees) and its professional staff.
Although the former group is clearly the locus of economic
power in museums, I would say that it is the struggle between
these two sectors that constitutes the museum’s discourse, the
conditions of its reproduction, and the mechanism of its power.”
(fraser, 1992, p. 6)

I find this fascinating, and would like to speculate

about why and how it works: is it because this demands
more responsibility? Is it because they give more of
themselves to the cause? Or is it a power relation (so
evident) that with too much luminousness we can
become blind?
What are the other factors that lead us to this idea of a
crisis of shift: when everyone is so busy doing all the
things they’re doing, nobody stops to consider why
they’re doing them at all. Therefore, where will this
constant shift ultimately guide us to?
This might even be controversial, but considering

195 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

that my main source of information happens to be my
own life and what I observe from my practice, let’s just
consider it for a second.

Figure 41 Possible chain of command represented by books.

Now, ideally, one should not even have to consider the

possibility of losing income for the sake of freedom of
speech or even creativity, but in this crisis of shifts,
that’s actually been happening. There is no space for
idealistic discussions inside the museum space, as
there isn’t in most cultural spheres, because the trap
is that there’s always someone else ready to fill in the
space (you leave behind). Portugal is a chaos right now
– on this need to find a better job obsession – according
to the numbers of (my generation) people who have
spent half their lives investing in learning to become
better in what they do, or desire to do. And that has

196 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

been leading to a dysfunctional structure, that over
the years has been placing the Ph.D. holder in a low
income position for the lack of professional experience
(which he/she will never get anyway). If only there was
a way to make this more fair: I would like to hear what
luis camnitzer has to say about it.

“I do believe that a good society can only function if

equalization is achieved through a redistribution of power. And
50 From “Irene ist Viele! Or what we call “productive” forces” by Marion Von Osten published for the e-flux

this can only work within an environment of shared and non-

competitive creativity.” 49
journal “Are You Working too Much? Post-Fordism, Precarity and the Labor of Art.” (2011), p. 42.

If the art producer or the art mediator both have

PhD’s, speak several languages, and are creative and
highly skilled individuals (this is a common caricature
of these roles in most museums I’ve been), why is
the relation with the curating departments always
dependent on a previous validation (or request to
from “Thinking about art thinking”, Luis Camnitzer (2015)

access), and most of the times the communication is

exclusively limited to what may be of interest to the

“But how does a life look when it doesn’t define itself in relation
to the status of wage labor, but rather through the desire to
freely decide one’s own conditions for living and working,
effectively comprising a demand for a flexible labor market?
What does it mean for our work and life when the social, the
cultural, and the economic cease to be clearly distinguishable
categories and instead condition and permeate each other?
Beyond this, what does it mean when people come to terms
with these new forms of work as isolated individuals? What can
forms of collectivity look like?” 50

From the most recent compilation of liam gillick’s

texts, he analyses the figure of a contemporary curator,
as an expression of desire, and as a form that is aimed
49 Retrieved

by all of those who are entitled to be curators:

197 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

“The complete curator desires a world expressed and realized
by art, artists and themselves, a world that expels the present
domination of capital via the machinations of neoliberalism.
The use of the word “complete” here does not imply finished
but rather full or having all the necessary parts. The complete
curator exists as an expression of art’s lack. The complete
curator defines itself by expressing disappointment with art’s
weakness and by describing heightened ideas and potentials
hampered by the deployment of fundamentally diminished and
limited art. This takes place within frameworks that reach out
into the social and political sphere in order to describe art’s

52 From the text “Artists as Curators/Curators as Artists” included in the book “Thinking Contemporary
failure to escape from the rapacious drive of capital’s reach.

the ninth text “The Complete Curator”, included in the book “Industry and Intelligence –
The complete curator is fully aware that cultural workers are
part of a precarious class terminally alienated from the parallel
insecurity of zero-hour casual workers.” 51

gillick is using his skills of a multi-layered (and

ironic) artist to lead us to a discussion that is all but
new: the artist becoming curator and the curator
becoming artist – in what concerns to positions of
power. This idea of crisis that I’m somehow trying
to evoke from the beginning of this text is here
summarized by gillick, on what comes to the curator/
contemporary art since 1820”, Liam Gillick, (2016), p. 71.
artist’s relationship without any fear of being called
upon to explain: if it is clearly recognized that most of
the agents that are not on the top of the pyramid are
depending on economic uncertainties then how can we
trust them to lead us? (ironic pun)
Curating” by Kerry Smith (2012), p. 104.

Generally, artists seem to have been worried about this

since quite a long time (as it can be understood from
the previous text), leading them to do something about
the position of questioning by proposing

“Anti-exhibitions, substitutions of one kind of public display

space for another, including transpositions of nonmuseum
spaces into the museum and vice versa.” 52
51 From

198 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

And this role of switching perspectives, of looking to
a different place for something that might enlighten
us – even if it is to decide that we don’t agree – has
always been somehow expected to be assumed to
artists. Of course gillick here is trying to empathise
the duality between curator and artist, and continues
to explain that one has left space for the other for lack
of competence.

“The complete curator is met by the incomplete artist, who

both resists and aids the curator in the latter’s attempt to
load expectations upon art, artworks, and art contexts –
expectations that art can provide new worlds and demonstrate
in articulate form the failure of the varied constructions of
um mediador-etc ou a experiência da Bienal do Mercosul”, by Monica Hoff, 2009.

society that surround us today.” (gillick, 2016, pp. 71-72)

But I would like to imagine here that the complete

curator is instead the complete mediator. Just
imagine if we were to give the contemporary art
museum’s mediators the same freedom of expression
towards (anything at all) what the artist’s normally do:
make critical statements about the state of things?
Would they (us) be able to lead us all to a better place?
In what turned out as a publication on the occasion of
the 7th mercosul biennial, monica hoff refers to a
concept I would like to use, as a way to give form to
this utopian idea: the mediator-etcetera.

“The mediator (still) exists towards the work, we can’t forget.

But in a time in which the work of art of relativized and the
human connections became a good part of some projects, the
role for the mediator, as traditionally understood, need to be
reassessed. It seems to be the time to powerfully activate the
role of the mediator-etcetera, that multi and uneven figure that
shows presence in the school, in the shows, in the street and in
between lines.” 53
53 “Por

199 looking at (curating) contemporary art museums

and memory
(imagination, immateriality, objects and ourselves)

t h e d r e a m s p a c e i n m u s e u m s

Childhood memories are my favourite, they’re

coloured, full of glitter, they take time to be told, and
they always make me wander for a while. Sometimes
when we are telling someone about a childhood
memory (of something we lived) we tend to tell a very
complex story, with far more details than the ones we
could have possibly remembered if that was not a story
(about us) later told us by our parents. In this moment
we mistake memory for imagination: and this is far
more frequent than one would consider.
The best part is that along the years, we keep telling
the same story over and over again on family
gatherings and other sort of occasions: and it doesn’t
come as a surprise to find ourselves spicing it up a bit
by adding a little detail here or a bigger detail there. A
few years later we might realise that it’s not the same
story anymore: it became a fiction in which the main
character is only inspired on us.
But not all of us have the power of imagination that it
takes to add colour to our own memories.
Most of (us) adults have reached a peak in intellectual
development (and through seriousness in life) from
which it is hard to imagine the existence of a parallel
world, or in which that parallel world is not inspired in
our everyday issues, and equally boring and/or trivial.
Some of us (adults) apparently remain capable of using
imagination power, because: a) we didn’t grow up, not
entirely; b) we work with children so we have a good
training; c) we are artists (and I’m pretty sure we can
find other possibilities besides these three).
Seriousness is something we normally take for granted:
we grow up, became adults, and we get to work in art
related jobs. And in most everyday life situations, we

203 archive and memory

simply expect to be considered serious persons, we
don’t expect to have to prove ourselves all the time.
At some point of her life, irit rogoff considered
this to be an interesting topic for a book, in which
she reveals an episode of seriousness that have gone
wrong: proposing herself to work as the director of a
cultural London venue (responding a call), she was
surprised for what apparently was, from her, an excess
of seriousness.

“In the world I come from, seriousness has been perceived

as an accolade; together with “interesting” it is the most

the text “On being serious in the art world”, by Irit Rogoff, included in the book “Visual
complimentary thing we can say about someone. So you can
imagine my surprise that what I always saw as a positive
attribute was seen as undesirable in another context.” 1

Following up the suggestion reinforced by rogoff

in her book, we can easily claim how the practice of
researching or simply the practice of thinking (as
a main activity in life) has induced all of us from
the cultural field to consider ourselves very serious.
Without ever questioning if that was ought to be a
good thing or not.

“If seriousness was unwelcome in the art world, I was not so

much interested in the why as in the by whom, the to what
ends, and the being replaced by what. I would like to know
Culture as Seriousness”, (2013), pp. 63-64.

if we can have a seriousness that is not constituted out of

pomposity, earnestness, or “performances of expertise”. And if
so, if we can have it without these tedious characteristics, then
what would it be?” 2

But rogoff wants to separate seriousness as a result of

a number of characteristics that, at the most, might be
considered behavioural instead of defining models:
2 Ibid, p. 64.
1 From

204 archive and memory

“(…) the fact that people might turn up to conferences
unprepared, not having done any work in advance (…) These
are all annoying but they have little to do with with seriousness
in the way in which I am struggling with it here.”
(rogoff, 2013, p.64)
hasn’t been enough time to reflect on this phenomena, this note is here as a reminder to look up for it, say for example,
must mention here the example of Pokémon Go, which has just been released world wide (July 2016), and has been
subject to bizarre manifestations of passion and hatred, from the most varied proveniences: Considering that there

So, if we are looking for seriousness in our practices,

we might have been looking for it in the wrong places,
since the very beginning. The demand for imagination
to find its own space to thrive, does not necessarily
take us to a form of alienated life3, not it grants us the
segregation from a normal way of life. Even if we’re not
interested in becoming artists, these are not the only
seats (in the room) where it is allowed to daydream, or
to allocate our urges into non predictable ways.
There is an intentional provocation here, if we are
ought to defend that our imagination, by definition, is
the ability to formulate images in your mind, pictures
that are not there (and never were). And that in order
for someone to imagine, he/she only has to be willing
to let the mind flow to places that don’t need (or want)
an explanation.
The surrealists (for example) knew about the creative
power that resided in dreams, as a way to create
impossible realities, and from there, forge impossible
images. From a dream the surrealists created a
language, in which they connected to viewers – from
an art world centred in a mostly aesthetic experience –
in ways that have never been experienced before.4
However, these paintings have been lying to us,
like many other artworks lied (before and after the
surrealists), because they aimed for something we
constantly struggle against: a manipulation of reality in
in a year from now.

order to allow us to escape the present.

No matter how far we’ve gone for the comprehension
of a single display, from the moment it entered a

205 archive and memory

Museum, this display became a form of manipulation
of meanings, signed by (most of the times) a single
author, hence, a single curator.
Maybe the curator has the seriousness we have always
been struggling for, and maybe that’s why the curator
has been rising ever since (szeemann) the idea of
placing paintings next to each other, was no longer
enough to fulfil and entertain our desires.

We all know that it’s true how (and why) museums

manipulate and change history, just as our parents
changed the stories about our childhood. This way
they could make them socially more attractive and
Museums that host real life objects are not such big
liars, but most of the times they’re also missing a good

never really liked them, but I guess maybe that’s because I lacked imagination.
part of the context. So, even if we contemplate an
object that someone else has used, if we don’t know

School) why most people seem to really enjoy the Surrealistic paintings: I
has always been surprising for me (since I was studying in the High
anything about that someone, we might as well be
looking at a conceptualist work or an abstract painting,
that the perception of the realness of the thing will
pretty much be the same.
Although our focus here is on contemporary art, if we
look for the moment where it seemed that museums
started to care about the nature of the narrative – and
the confirmation of that narrative – we will find it very
embedded in processes of anthropological museums,
city museums, or museums based on modes of living,
like a museum of garment, a museum of toy, a museum
of industry, as many others.
4 It

206 archive and memory

“Traditionally, museums were places which housed and
exhibited selected objects; curators tended the inanimate. But
once the emphasis shifted in the post war years from antiquities
to social, cultural and industrial histories, understanding the
recent past through objects alone became impossible to sustain
or indeed justify. As soon as museums moved from antiquities
to histories, they were committed to embracing a wide range
of source materials. They had to develop “archives” which were
integrated; that is, they include not just objects but images, the
spoken word and references to many forms of primary material
from landscape to local governmental records. This required
considerable adjustment in both museum theory and practice.” 5
the book “Dream Spaces – Memory and the Museum”, by Gaynor Kavanagh (2000), p. 7.

Adding to this comes the need to converge both

the formally acquired knowledge to our own life
experience, and the capacity to extrapolate from it: to
be able to use our rational sense of being and combine
it with our irrational self. This way, we will be able to
stay in front of an object exhibited in a museum, and
be able to remember about a song we once heard, feel
the taste of a cherry pie, or make plans for that night’s
5 From

207 archive and memory

Figure 42 Me and the kids watching Tillman’s sea from a different perspective

From a paper by sheldon annis, “Dream Space”

(1987), here referred by gaynor kavanagh, he defines
the prominence of three symbolic spaces of Museums,
that coexist overlapped on each other: a) cognitive
space that “lies at the centre of the educational purpose
of museums and gives rise to the order and rationality
which the museum seeks to impose on everything in
its charge”6 ; b) pragmatic or social space that “takes
place in personal time, through choice, and has a goal
of promoting some form of social union through role
enhancement by the sharing of an experience”7 ; and c)
dream space, which “energizes both our imaginations
and our memories. It illuminates feelings. Anarchic and
unpredictable, through the dream space we can arrive at
pp. 2-3.

all sort of possibilities not considered by those who make

p. 3.

museum exhibitions”8.
6 Ibid,

7 Ibid,

8 Ibid.

208 archive and memory

This last one opens a space for a language that is not
included or predicted in the previous two, but that
when attached to another symbolic space (in pairs),
can achieve amazing things. The dream space can
also be said to live in between the two others: like
other realities in museums, the most interesting
characteristics are not usually expressed in the main
actions, but they live in the margins, “in between”

“Therefore in accepting Annis’s idea of the dream space, we

have to accept more fully the imagination, emotions, senses and
memories as vital components of the experience of museums.” 9

Contemporary art museums have for so long been

focused predominantly in the quality of the exhibitions
and on the possibility of commissioning exciting
artists from our time, that often have been missed
possibilities of exchange, that arise in the middle of
the day (an ordinary day). Contemporary art museums
focus their agenda on the present, in order to propose
interesting approaches to (and about) the future.
This doesn’t mean that they are oblivious at the past,
but there is a general tendency to force museum’s
narrative in that direction, in order to maintain a
connection with contemporary concerns in different
parts of the world: the museum has a mission to
provide fields of discussion, often blurred by the
society or turned to secondary roles, like the questions
of equality, democracy, migration and activism. This
mission is vital, and if museums maintain this sort of
discussions inside their sphere of concerns, they will
always be entangled with society matters, even when
these discussions happen in a culturally engaged level
(with artists, curators, scholars and critics).
However, an ideal space of discussion would be to
9 Ibid.

209 archive and memory

bring these debates to the public ground instead, and
by opening the museum’s space to the community and
to the neighbours, provide an environment for these
important discussions to happen in a place that is
more than the social media or the (growingly poorer)
media coverage.
This has been provided by multiple international and
popular museums, but it is specially in the public
programmes proposed by Biennials across the globe
that have appeared and provided the conditions for the
most exciting discussions, and in many cases leading
also to others (as well as reflections published in books
and papers).
The discussions are happening and although in some
cases the public is invited to the debate, the majority
of the cases focuses on a narrative for those who are
considered the interested parties. The unsolved matters
for curators, founders and museum directors can
often be the same objects for discussion in (mainly)
temporary events, but it is wise to predict that what
happens in the sphere of the museum (or the biennial)
rarely has resonances in the public sphere, and when it
does, it is normally through a timely distance that (by
the time it is evaluated) doesn’t stand a difference.
Most of the reflexive projects have an observation
timeline, but by the moment the results are published
and shared, a lot of time has passed and that
information is ponderable for the next editions (or
exhibitions) which might not always be adaptable (or

210 archive and memory

“Given that much of my interest in recent years has been
in moving between intellectual work as such, practices of
curating, and thinking about audiences, institutions of display,
and public gatherings, the question emerges of how to move
that intensity across these realms of inquiry. But while I
was preoccupied with this question, the art world became
increasingly spectacular. So intensity in the art world came
to mean spectacle, and that didn’t have any deconstructive
power – any of the holding of stakes, any of the self-reflection
about why you are doing what you are doing, why you think
the text “Seriousness in Neoliberal Culture – A Conversation between Gavin Butt and Irit Rogoff”

it is important – that I value most about our field. It was

the realization of this divergence that it became increasingly
attractive to think about seriousness in relation to a possible
reinfusing of the art sphere with a form of intensity.” 10

About this process of thinking about the future,

I would like to mention a two-day project (20-21
February 2016) recently developed by the tate
included in the book “Visual Culture as Seriousness” (2013), pp. 13-14.

liverpool, under the name of “2053, A Living

Liverpool is for me a city of memories. Having been
there only one time in my adult life – when I was
still discovering a lot of things about myself – I had
a strong experience of the liverpool biennial
2008. That year, the biennial had proposed itself to
conduct processes of recuperating multiple spaces in
the post-industrial (depressed) city. Most of the spaces
were mainly abandoned stores, warehouses, factories
and other vacant spaces, but there was also a cinema
and a roofless church included in the program (apart
from the regular venues). The idea was to coordinate
the integration of these disheartened spaces in the
narrative of an increasingly popular biennial. The city
has been developing a new identity in the past decade
(and also an increase in employment as well as the
valorisation of real estate) and this is in good part due
10 From

211 archive and memory

to the cultural and artistic manifestations that have
been kept as regular, combined with the musical spirit
(and history) that drives tourism to see the yellow
submarine and the like.
The tate in Liverpool has been an interesting
discovery for me (at that time) and I have kept a close
eye on the program proposed by the Educational
Curator, and the educational teams.
The outlook for this year was to organize a single event
as the idea of closure to an exhibition proposal. By
looking at an art collection as if it were our last gaze,
participants were invited to submit a contribution
(through any sort of manifestation) about their unique
vision of a previously installed specific work of art.

Figure 43 People
transforming into
art pieces at Tate

The dystopian idea of living in a future where the

works of art no longer exist (because they were
destroyed or for any other insane reason) is the

212 archive and memory

pre-condition for remembering as if our own lives
depended on it. Or as if we are aware that the only
access our children (and loved ones) will ever have to
the art world is going to be through our recollection
of it.
“I decided to harness myself to the project that’s been close to
my heart for a long time: preserving oneself whole, keeping a
trace of all the moments of our lives, all the objects that have
surrounded us, everything we’ve said and what’s been said
“Research and Presentation of all that Remains of my Childhood (1944-1950/1969)”, included in

around us, that’s my goal. The task is vast, and my means are
frail. Why didn’t I start before?” 11

A bit like christian boltanski’s realisation of not

having enough time to dedicate to his ideal life project,
we might find ourselves to be un-extraordinary
“The Archive – Documents in Contemporary Art”, Christian Boltanski (2006), p. 25.

people, and therefore not good enough to memorize

and consequently share our experiences with the ones
we love the most. If we fail to succeed our mission,
memory of works of art will eventually cease, and in
its place, we will only find ashes (where the memories
once were).
From “An Imagined Museum”, an exhibition organized
from the idea of collection as an exemplary exhibition
(the last one we will ever see), leads to an event of
evoking those memories

“With the artworks removed, replaced by a person or group

remembering or performing each of the artworks that were
once on display. Visitors can expect to see a wide variety of
performances including dance, song and spoken word.” 12

Most of these people turned out to be performers,

artists, but there were also some anonymous
individuals that felt the urge to do it, and in some cases
composed by elements of one same family.
These events “draw on Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit
11 From

213 archive and memory

451 (1953), where characters become a living library
of banned books to preserve their content for future
If the only way of showing an artwork’s original
features (and nature) to our children is ought, in the
future, to be close to this proposal designed by the Tate
Liverpool this year, to which extent is this different
from the stories our parents kept repeating (and
constantly changing) on birthday parties and
Sunday meals?


the introduction text available on the website, retrieved in

For a better understanding of this event’s results, see the video:

12 From

13 Ibid.

214 archive and memory

o n c u lt u r a l m e m o ry

foucault suggests in his text “Film and Popular

Memory” (1975) that memory has a lot to do with
official versions of History. We can often see that
there is a space for contestation on what we are lead
to believe to be the official events, and the way people
really remember them.
In academia, we can address to a specific framework
for the study of memory, considering its importance
in historical validation. Many were the interested
perspectives throughout memory that arose recently,
because as far as we know, no one has invented time
travel yet.
We can verify very quickly just by googling the term
“Memory studies”. Coming from different areas of
expertise, many were those who found an interest in
the link between memory and art forms, especially the
ones of video art and cinema: if it was possible to dig
from a stock of all visual memory that moving images
have produced over time, it is almost certain that we
(anyone) would find the right footage for any type of
validation from any perspective (social, political
or artistic).
For foucault the importance given to memory in
institutionalized versions of history is vital, because
memory itself functions like a living organism, and
if it is possible to control that existence, it is also
possible to contain the life within it. Organically – and
following this fictional idea of memory like something
that is alive – we can easily imagine that the collective
memory of a specific event is probably the version that
following generations will know as the truth (which
might have been altered in order to provide a specific
point of view).

215 archive and memory

The memory of a sunset is always different, depending
on the context we are experiencing it: if we’re alone;
if we’re just driving somewhere and happen to see it
by chance; if we’re travelling with our beloved one
towards the beach with the specific goal of watching
the sunset together.
We might still be referring to the same sun and the
same scientific event that is manifested through
what we call sunset, and yet, our memory of it will
be completely contaminated with what were the
surroundings of the experience.
Now, consider that instead of using the example of a
personal context within a memory (love related) we
give it a social and/or political context, and change that
context (changing political sides for example) then we
can take a naive memory and transform it into a lethal

from the exhibition’s text included in the catalogue in Serralves,


published under the “Recent Acquisitions” for the Collection (2013).

When personal memory encounters a political
claim through art

“Letter to a Refusing Pilot (2013) has its origins in a story the

artist first heard when he was 16 years old. During the Israeli
invasion of Southern Lebanon in 1982, a rumour circulated
in Zaatari’s hometown, Saida, that an Israeli fighter pilot was
supposed to bomb a target on the outskirts of the city but,
aware the building was a school, refused to destroy it. Instead,
as the story went, the pilot veered off course and dropped the
bombs into the sea. This story of the pilot’s supposed refusal
was told over the years with different explanations, as the
artist’s own father was the director of the school for twenty
years.” 14
14 Retrieved

216 archive and memory

Figure 44
The refusing pilot

akram zaatari learned this was not just a story, nor

a legend, and that this pilot has actually existed. This
episode has not only shifted his direction (that day)
away from a target, but it has transformed the pilot’s
life from that moment on.
The work proposed by zaatari combines political
and archival information with individual memory, and
creates a dialogue with the processes of storage and
re-classification of evidence. The video installation
presented in serralves offers a dark and immersive
environment, in which he prepares a set for us to
see the montage he made out of footage from the
neighbourhoods near the mentioned school: with the
use of photographs and documents, he sometimes
suggests this to be the remembrance from a child that
studied in that school when it happened.
We do not have information about these people, and

217 archive and memory

how their lives (being spared in that moment) were
lived after the non dropped bomb, but this is a case
where contemporary art sometimes focuses on issues
that can become vehicles to messages sent out to the
More than finding a narrative that honours the past
of his family and his country, the work of zaatari
opens a path to a space that can be filled with other
contents brought by any visitor to the exhibition
space. Not trying to fix a conflict or giving the viewers
the instructions that might be necessary to make
interpretations of the history, zaatari’s work gets
closer to opening up a political space for debate inside
the museum, and to keep it open for as long as it gets
(or as long as people talk about that episode after they
The fact that he also describes a person instead of a
“soldier”, even if he has no name or face, and turned
him into a refusing fighter, brings us hope that an
enemy might come to terms with a conflict in a way
that doesn’t need to find out which of the adversaries is
strong enough to defeat the other.
Finding a way to make my own individual history
contribute to the empowerment of my own people,
and ultimately to anyone who can see the installation
by taking it home to discuss it and apply it to other
examples (probably with family and friends).
The core idea in this work of zaatari is how a soldier
(a real person) involved in a war, under extreme
conditions, decides to turn his back on the conflict,
putting his own life at risk, for the sake of not allowing
the darkness of the war to vanquish his heart and soul.

Memory and trauma in the work of Doris Salcedo

Individual memories are often trapped in places we
don’t know about: things that we have experienced

218 archive and memory

individually (because they were not shared with
others) are often discharged for not being vital
information to the preservation of our history (and our
Because we can’t have all of this information
immediately accessible, we do as collectors do, and put
what we need closer to us, as long as the rest of it can
be put away and arranged in an apparently clear way.
Exhibitions can be a privileged space for the re-
enactment of a memory or a trauma, because these are
controlled environments, and apart from that, there is
also the possibility to spread that information through
the view of education in the museums. If we are facing
collective memories instead of individual events, the
aim to remember and retell becomes wider, and it
often finds its way through mediation.
An exhibition or, in particular, an artwork can be the
trigger for something to be experienced and debated
together (without having to feel everything all alone).
In the case of doris salcedo, her work is very often
about the approach to something traumatic that was
experienced but didn’t heal; it can have both personal
and collective emotions involved.
If we are mentioning a collective trauma, most likely
it will be related with feelings of loss, of affliction
towards an escape from war territories, life threats, and
even mourning (in her work often referring to mass
Sometimes it is difficult to say what her work is
about. Take for example “Shibboleth”, her response
to the Unilever Commission in the Turbine Hall of
London’s tate modern in 2007, comprising the only
artistic response (to that venue) in which an artist has
removed things instead of adding them: given that her
work consisted of a crack on the floor, the room was
offered to the audience (the room that is considered

219 archive and memory

to be one of the biggest art rooms in the western art
world) in a disturbingly empty condition. Apart from
the implicit meanings of war, death and loss that can
be added to this piece, what she created was an event
that during the time it remained, opened up a void (or
a passage) to a world that is not the artistic world, nor
it will ever be.

Figure 45
Crack on the floor
of the Tate Modern.

salcedo offered us the back of the canvas or the tools

to make the sculpture, as she offered her process,
her thoughts and fragilities, instead of preparing a
mediated narrative of how an artist sees the world:
instead, she opened a part of herself to us, only to close
it up again.

220 archive and memory

This crack was effectively carved in the floor of the
Tate, leading the viewers to a space that goes beyond
the lower levels – into a hell-like entrance – by
positioning every visitor looking down while trying
to understand if the feeling that compelled them to
look (and to duck and sit) were driven by attraction,
repulse, or fear.
After it was over, the hole was closed but it remained
completely full by all the meanings that each visitor
had left inside. And the room never got to be the same
again: the marks on the concrete are the remains of
that memory, because the materials don’t usually lie.
Probably one of the most important characteristics
of salcedo’s work, meaning the idea of memory
“Introduction” included in “Of What One Cannot Speak”, by Mieke Bal, a book

and remembrance becomes also an irreconcilable

element to be perceived. To what it appears to be a
way to confront reality (in the case of Colombian
disappearances of guerrilleros and other youngsters
who were never to be found), sometimes it provides
only the reliving of the traumatic events, and not
necessarily leads to the process of healing them: and
this is often her purpose, for in salcedo’s opinion,
the monumental tradition of offering the dead a place
for their memory to find its peace, is no more than a
domestication of that memory leading significantly
about the work of Doris Salcedo (2010), p. 24.

more to its forgetting:

“This is the entangled and polemical relationship of her

sculpture to monumentality. Monuments are constructed to
aid collective memory and to honour the dead who fell in
service to their country. They are inextricably entangled with
nationalistic impulses. They also tend to become so normalized
that, instead of commemoration – their ostensive mission –
they encourage forgetting.” 15
15 From

221 archive and memory

So, if the activation (or celebration) of acts of
collective memory might become a strategy or an
aesthetic choice, as an individual (and sometimes
incomprehensible) repetition of the witnessing of
events that have turned her into who she is today,
in the case of salcedo we’re not trying to make
reconciliations, but precisely to keep the “wound
opened” as we can. Because as long as we can see the
blood, we don’t forget the dead.

“The impossibility of fully experiencing the horror, of letting

it penetrate one’s consciousness and so begin the process

“Introduction” included in “Of What One Cannot Speak”, by Mieke Bal, a book about
of working through it that eventually leads to healing, is
“translated” or “metaphored” in the gloom of the light,
reinforcing the noncolor of the material and the impossibility
of seeing the entire work that carries the burden of violence.
This metaphoring makes it possible to share, retrospectively and
belatedly, the grief of the event that occurred – hence, that had
the actuality of the classical conception of the event – but that
at the same time could not be fully experienced, if only because
it remained an occurrence behind walls.” 16

When there is a traumatic event taking place,

psychology says that we often need to re-create, re-live,
re-enact specific events, to experience the trauma
about what really happened: meaning that we tend
to use mechanisms to blur some elements that might
be elemental for the comprehension of the whole
the work of Doris Salcedo (2010), p. 187.

event. Normally we do it in order to protect ourselves,

to forget something that would hurt us deeply if
we actually remembered it. But how are we able to
understand our reality (our collective self) if we don’t
remember everything, or if we are only given a parcel
of the information to grasp from?
15 From

222 archive and memory

“The event of November 1985 went down in history books
as a blunder on the part of the oppositional urban guerrilla
movement called M-19. In the early 1980’s the movement
had some considerable successes, both material and symbolic,
embarrassing the Colombian army aid gaining concessions
from the government. But then Noviembre 6 y 7 happened.
(…) The event was a disturbing demonstration – a demonic
incarnation – of the principal features of civil war (…).
Precisely because a movement that allegedly stood for social
justice initiated the violence, and because it – the event,
rather than either party – killed both the guerrilleros and
the magistrates, the ambivalences and uncertainties of the
boundaries between “good and evil” as well as between friend
and foe become sharper than ever, harder to live down, yet
impossible to discard.” 17

Figure 46
Some of the 280
chairs hanging
from the building’s
p. 188.
17 Ibid,

223 archive and memory

As probably the most fundamental piece for the
comprehension of salcedo’s art, the series named
after “Noviembre 6 y 7’s” events all recall what the date
immediately appeals for.

As a description of time and space in this

performance/installation, we can say that salcedo
uses real-life and real scale objects to enact a timeless
and formless intention: to reveal that memory casts no
shadow as these chairs appear to be floating instead of
weighting from gravity’s attraction. The narrative goes
as from one chair to another, suddenly seems that the
chairs have gained control over the building and now
instead of oblivious of their (urban) surroundings,
they appear to be aware of their meaning in that place
and time. In 2002, in the anniversary of the traumatic
event, the performance took place in a total of fifty-
three hours.

“The increasing number of chairs is at odds with the light and

darkness. At this point we can no longer be certain whether
the chairs are being lowered or lifted. Nor can we count them.
There are too many of them, and shadows can no longer be
distinguished from solid matter.” 18

The chairs offer us a possibility of making our own

perception of a story that might take some time to be
told: in order to propose a debate, the artist convokes
a summit of chairs, in order to reclaim that space of
debate, the artist opens a crack on the floor.
What she does is show how the power of a work of art
can be explored in order to make its effect last longer:
I am sure that the experience of “being there” to one of
these mentioned art pieces (which unfortunately I did
p. 200.

not have the pleasure to do) is not taken lightly by the

visitors, nor by the critics and museum
18 Ibid,

224 archive and memory

decision makers.
The crack, carved in tate‘s floor was immensely
expensive, and it even cost them the intriguing news of
having three people injured in the opening (by falling
inside the hole). This was not ought to be done if there
hadn’t been a clear evaluation of (all) the risks from
the institution’s side, so there was an understanding of
the advantaged of having that discussion inside such a
big room (and gathering so many people at the
same time).
On the other hand, the use of objects in salcedo’s
work intends to mend things with the past, in a
way that each object – intentionally chosen from
used objects instead of new – has a clear mission of
representing a life (or a death), and by this appeal,
performing a state of remembrance that can be
continued through time. Each chair can hold within
it the memory of its owners, and as it can move
generations and inevitably survive us (for it has a
much bigger “life” expectancy than us, humans), it can
stem the narratives through many different processes.
This way, collecting and recuperating becomes an ideal
process of linking art with real life.

When considering archives in a broader aspect, there

are many aspects to consider: today, these aspects
are also changing into something more conscious,
as we tend to become closer to being international
individuals – or at least we aim towards that – this
trend is also implicating the sharing of some of the
so-called international historical background. This
background can be difficult to determine, because of
the multiple origins of sources, because of the truth
effect and especially because history has proved itself
wrong multiple times.
The responsibility for the reliability of information

225 archive and memory

becomes more transversal and interesting for different
medias and researchers, but artists have always been
close to these methodologies.
We might say that some of that research is being
conducted in order to comprehend

“how contemporary migratory movements come to reshape

the role of museums and archives as the privileged places of
national identity and cultural memory” 19

Perspective from the South”, Celeste Ianniciello and Michaela Quadraro, included in the online
In that sense, we might claim that the ultimate
responsibility is now held by the universally acclaimed
institutions of knowledge production, meaning the
Museums! But are we willing to trust them the distinct

publication “Collecting Geographies” Stedelijk Studies Journal Issue #1, retrieved from
power to tell the story all on their own?

19 “A

226 archive and memory

i s t h i s m i n e o r y o u r s ?

“Although everybody started his life by inserting himself into

the human world through action and speech, nobody is the
author or producer of his own life story” 20

Sometimes, we find ourselves looking at our lives

trying to understand how we got there, and by
analysing all the individual decisions and non-
decisions that we’ve made through the years, we may
come to a conclusion: no matter how grateful or
achieved we are, the feeling of detachment or even
otherness towards some aspects of our lives are a
common feeling, and probably have been experienced
by most of us.
There are certain aspects in one’s research that can’t
be very easily explained, and I have quite a few. I
remember during the preparation of a Workshop for
teachers in the serralves museum together with a
colleague (matilde), I brought some images of artists
I liked and wanted to use them as an influence for
“Chapter V – Action”, in “The Human Condition”

our preparation. The starting point to the workshop

was the idea of an Atlas, and we wanted to create a
wall map with our partakers, in order to expand that
initial atlas, in a very visual and very shared way. Of
course I had some artists immediately in my mind, like
mark dion for example, but it was only when matilde
addressed to the images like “Oh, yes, he’s one of your
by Hannah Arendt (1958), p. 184.

artists!” that I realised how much I was involved, not

particularly with his work, but most certainly with
the powerful impact that the images of this work had
in me. I felt a bit embarrassed as I thought I could be
minning (to borrow my other favourite fred wilson’s
terminology) the team work we were supposed to be
preparing, until I realised that we just do this all the
20 From

227 archive and memory

time. We have our own aesthetics that travels with us
anywhere we go, and even if we are receptive to new
appeals, given a situation in which we have to choose
we always hold on to what we already know. Consider
for instance that we travel to India or Japan in order
to meet some active artists to (hypothetically) choose
works to exhibit in an exhibition curated by us, it’s
clear for me that, given the opportunity, I would attach
some of my old habits to the choices of artworks, for as
appealing or exotic as other proposals could sound.
Yes, we are creatures of habits and we might as well
continue to be so, because it has been that persistence
that apparently has kept our (here, the use of the
word “our” does not have any intention to focus this
idea in western world museums, because I believe
the phenomenon is truly transversal to all regions)
museums growing and our artists to produce new
work, for the pleasure of experiencing new ideas for
the first time.
But it is precisely because of a certain melancholic
relationship towards the past, that so many
contemporary artists have driven themselves to
create collections, both composed from artworks by
other artists, and ordinary objects (see the example
of peter blake). And why some of them are proud
and important collectors, enough to justify the
organization of exhibitions, book’s publications and
massive vends (or transitions) of these collections to
public and private institutions.
The images that we have in our minds all report back
to the “Imaginary Museum” of andre malraux, in
which he articulates (and re-articulates) a history of
artistic forms through the conscience of them having
two separate (but parallel) existences: the physical one,
that derives from the birth by the hands of an artist,
and the virtual one(s), that in this case depend only on

228 archive and memory

the ones who contact with it, meaning the viewers
of art.
The thesis of malraux aspired to a meaningful
relationship towards art in a level that would come
near to some important characters of our history:
historians, travellers, the ones who had been privileged
enough to contact the artworks in their real context.
These will be the perpetrators of our society’s main
narratives, the stories we will hear about the gaze of a
renaissance sculpture will only feed the motivation that
we already have to meet her in real life (or death), but
these stories will eventually do more than that: they
will fill in the gaps in our own imaginary museum, and
add content to each individual narrative.

Figure 47 Fake polaroids

Maybe we will grow rich and famous and we will see

all these artworks for real; maybe we will become

229 archive and memory

art collectors and convert ourselves in one of the
privileged people who manage to have their own art
collection at home or maybe we already became art
collectors and we haven’t realised it yet.

“And in this world that metamorphosis simultaneously replaces

by the sacred, faith, the unreal or the real, the new domain
of reference for artists is the Imaginary Museum of each one;
the new art reference domain is the Imaginary Museum of
everyone.” 21

No wonder that the concept of malraux has been

so extensively used all over the years by all sorts of
reasons; from artists, critics and curators, all the
different levels of engagement towards the works
of art only have to gain with this unique vision: the
imaginary museum has in fact always existed, and it

Imaginário”, by André Malraux (2010), original edition from 1965, p. 250.

was only preparing itself for the birth of contemporary
art to find the perfect home.

translation from the Portuguese edition of the book “O Museu

All the artworks that ever existed desire only to be
loved: to be purchased by someone (a collector) that
will guarantee its preservation against the adversities
of time. When the time comes, this collector will
pass away the work of art for a public domain, a
Museum. Instead of being immediately displayed
and totally exposed to common wealth, a good part
of western artworks – meaning mostly painting,
sculpture and tapestry (or artifacts) – has grown
fond of itself by being nurtured by one or more
collector. This becoming very often the time-lapse
some artists needed to be acclaimed by the society,
instead of suffering the possibilities of public hate or
21 My

230 archive and memory

“All artists aspire to that, after a century or two, his paintings
have gone to museums. The respect that art instigates an ever
growing number of men away from the private ownership,
makes the collector a beneficial owner. Even for the old
works, the collection is the antechamber of the museum, and
in Europe, as for Japan and America, large collections, as
becoming less transmitted but increasingly inherited, will arrive
to the museum.” 22

Not very different from this approach are the cases

of the artists whose relationship towards collections
is so wide and close to their own artistic practices
that at some point they converge to one and the same
thing, making it hard to grasp when it is that we are
looking at an artwork, an artifact, or the result of a
curatorial choice (again the case of fred wilson who
curated his own exhibitions in Museums, and the staff
of the Museum didn’t really understand the difference
between wilson the curator and wilson the artist).
The process of framing an artwork sometimes
anticipates the transformation of something into the
artwork’s final outcome. The collection, archive and
recuperating of objects and images is (as seen here)
an increasingly valued system to both organization
and creation to a big number of artists, yet with very
distinct methodologies as well as final products.
Framing can be a sum of different things, and from a
Museum’s perspective it can be the need to provide an
institutional context to the artistic production, almost
as a justification of the Museum’s own existence, or as
a possibility for the expansion of the curator’s role in
p. 251.
22 Ibid,

231 archive and memory

“For example, going through piles of drawings and reels of
video documentation and huge amounts of contact sheets for
a retrospective, which suddenly empathises the curator as
detective, as investigator quite explicitly.” 23

Welcome to my home
hanne darboven is a case where the connections
between audience and memory arise through the
application of a minimal effort. The thin line between
random object and artistic creation is broken
and sewed back so many times when mentioning
darboven, that her work is still continuously re-
interpreted in the light of the contemporary (art,
music, museum studies and more). She unlocks

Adler on “Hanne Darboven – Cultural History 1880-1983”, from the Collection

different barriers between artistic fields, creating a
fusion between artwork and everyday objects and

“Outside the Frame”, Dan Cameron in “Still, the Museum”, (1997), p. 49.
artwork and memory (and obviously archive).

“As a non-hierarchical arrangement of personal effects,

artworks and documents, Cultural History may be also read
as a key contribution to a certain structure of monumental
twentieth-century works that function as both manifestos
and manifests: these pivotal works include Aby Warburg’s
Mnemosyne Atlas (1928-29), André Malraux’s Le Musée
Imaginaire (Imaginary Museum, 1947), Jasper Johns’s
According to What (1964) and Gerhard Richter’s Atlas Project “One Work”, Afterall Books (2009), pp. 3-4.
(begun 1964). Each of these works stands as a summation
of a particular moment of art history, cultural history and
the history of the artist or author’s own career. As such they
powerfully question the division between the personal and the
universal as it operates in the process of portraying history,
and, most importantly, refuse to answer the call for interpretive
synthesis.” 24

The clear connections between these fore mentioned

artists and darboven’s practice are, nevertheless
distinctive from the endeavour to which both Richter
23 From

24 Dan

232 archive and memory

and warburg dedicated themselves – the archive and
the creation of the juxtaposed images as if there was an
urgency to let the images gain this collective identity
– during a good part of their lives, as from hanne
darboven’s case becomes the fusion between the work
and the artist as a person.

Many were the interested in comprehending her

position towards art and its understanding, and its
inevitability to compare, reconsider towards others, the
way in which each of her objects (for example) repeats
itself in photographs on the wall, just to mention one
of the few remaining obsessions towards some of her
most relevant projects.

Figure 48 Hanne Darboven’s working space

233 archive and memory

hanne darboven has become well known as a
conceptualist artist since her early works, and probably
also for her proximity with artists like carl andre,
mel bochner or sol lewitt, since her studying
period in New York in the 1960’s.
After she went back to Hamburg, hanne lived in her
parent’s house that turned hers, after their death: the
process of what in the beginning seemed to be the
collection of objects for aesthetic contemplation, as
well as the preparation for a context (for a work of art),
turned out to be the construction of (probably) the

Obsessions – The Artist as Collector”, in the context of the exhibition with the same name, in the
most unsettling known methodology of artists working

the introduction text about Hanne Darboven, included in the catalogue “Magnificent
with collections and archives.

If on the one hand, hanne preserves an early analytical

approach and systematized way of organizing ideas and
patterns, on the other hand she adds wooden carved
objects, pop-cultural symbols and family portraits to
her collages or “multi-layered” installations:

“The rigid seriality of Darboven’s work is often personalised

by the inclusion of photographs of her environment or of
individual objects from her collection.” 25

In some cases, she exhibited the projects in Museums

and Galleries, and the so-called “original objects”
Barbican Art Gallery, London, (2015), p. 61.

that had a specific place in the walls of her studio-

house were temporarily removed to be integrated in
the shows. In case the work got sold, she would either
make (or collect) another object to replace it, or she
would produce a replica (or a photograph) to make
proof of its existence. Everything seemed to make
sense to her, in a way that was not only unquestioned
but, as it turned out to be, became the origin with the
fascination she originated.
25 From

234 archive and memory

“Together, the collected objects somehow represent a
materialised cultural history of the 20th century, if mainly from
a Eurocentric point of view and founded on the tradition of
Western colonialism as well as on the cosmopolitan spirit and
the ideas of the Enlightenment.” 26

So, her analytical approach was not devoured by her

(apparent) hoarding problem, because she never lost
her sense of aesthetics, and she neither got isolated
from the art world.
However, this house as a living-form as well as her
ways to connect to others – she considered co-workers
all the people who collaborated with her in some way,
“Magnificent Obsessions – The Artist as Collector”, in the context of the exhibition with the
the text “Hanne Darboven’s Objects” by Miriam Schoffs, included in the catalogue

from the carpenter to the antique’s salesman – are just

a few of the things that turned hanne darboven into
one of the most fascinating (yet not so famous) artists
from her generation. Not to mention the impact that
her work still has over younger artists of today.
It might be because there is no apparent disturbance
in the way her connections are (were) made, nor in
same name, in the Barbican Art Gallery, London, (2015), p. 64.

her systematic way of dealing with the house as a

studio: her private objects often became part of her
art projects and vice versa, and that was just okay.
What could need some kind of theoretical framing or a
precious justification for such obsessive behaviour, in
darboven’s case appeared to be just her way of doing
things, or as she would claim it:“My secret is that I do
not have one.”27

The imaginary museum, belonging to most of the

artists that today include archival obsession in their
process of creation, is a coincidence: the objects
sometimes are exemplary of something that was
experienced by them; the same objects are preserved
in order to refer to those events (even if they were
traumatic); the object will also be exhibited in order
26 From

235 archive and memory

to spread the understanding that was achieved by
individual contemplation.

the exhibition with the same name, in the Barbican Art Gallery, London, (2015), p. 66.
the notes to the text “Hanne Darboven’s Objects” by Miriam Schoffs, included
in the catalogue “Magnificent Obsessions – The Artist as Collector”, in the context of
Figure 49 Richter’s archive

“Learning to love you more”

miranda july is a completely different case. We might
recognize her today from her more-or-less successful
fiction films surrounding the rise of an independent
artist28 (through the use of genuine innocence towards
legitimizing processes), or the postponed decision of
adopting a cat in order to save her crazy marriage29. No
matter how familiar we are with her creating processes,
or how we recognize as art what she makes out of
internet-appeals, music, cinema, acting, and visual
arts, all artistic manifestations are, in miranda july’s
case, embedded in one mesh up and unclassifiable
thing, and I don’t think we can ever manage to be
27 From

236 archive and memory

indifferent to it.
I believe miranda july is one of my favourite artists
since forever – probably since I first encountered her
work and dedicated a short essay about her for my
“Practicum I” class (in the Curatorial Studies Post-
graduation), oriented then by jurgen bock.
I was fascinated with her work, and had not yet
realised why that was: there was something strangely
chaotic and at the same time apparently honest in what
it seemed to be the combination of smart ideas with a
tremendous sense of humour.
Many times I thought (when looking at her work)
“Why can’t contemporary art be more like this?”. I mean,
if I had been given the possibility to explain my work
to a curator (as a young artist), maybe something
good could have come out of that. But, of course the
art world has a lot more to say about this (and if these
processes were ought to be that simple, maybe a lot of
people would end up losing their jobs).
My interest by miranda july was growing fonder from
something that I guess I learned from her: you can get
someone (or a lot of people) to do something with you,
and if you do it with generosity, you might call it your
artistic project. Yes, the so-called collaborative issue.
Having been raised in a creative environment,
and you and everyone we know” (2005).

conditioned by her (editors) parent’s job, July has

developed a sense of her own creative independence
that had led her to submit creative work to different
places from very young age, and to trust that her
own abilities in a lot of diverse disciplines like visual
arts, writing, cinema, music (and even singing)
would eventually lead her to succeed in quite a few.
Future” (2011).

Collaboration was something that she got used to

see as a pattern to what could be a “more interesting
project”. Today we can address to this type of project
as DIALOGICAL ART, by making use of the concept
29 “The
28 “Me

237 archive and memory

developed by grant kester, or under the category of
RELATIONAL AESTHETICS of nicolas bourriaud.
In the project “Learning to love you more”, that she
developed along with harrel fletcher (during the
period between 2002 and 2009), what could have been
a problem in the developing of the project, apparently
got simply resolved through the use of a filter (in
this case the web) that turned the artist into a kind of
“We’ve both tried to create alternatives to the art world by

the text “A Modest Collective: Many People doing simple things well” by Julia Bryan-Wilson,
suggesting other audiences and other spaces for art besides
museums and galleries.” 30

The participants that were willing to submit their

work were therefore invited to choose one or more
from a total of seventy assignments, which could vary
from the most affective like “#39: Take a picture of
your parents kissing”, or “#55: Photograph a significant
outfit”, or “#32: Draw a scene from a movie that made
you cry”, or they can be surprising and goofy, like “#50:
Take a flash photo under your bed”, and so on.

in the catalogue “Learning to Love You More” (2007), p. 144.

Figure 50
Assignment #5:
Recreate an object
from someone’s past
30 From

238 archive and memory

The idea embedded in the “Learning to Love you
more” project was that the participation was open to
everyone, only filtered through the use of the internet.
But the origins of this kind of artistic proposal could
be traced back to fluxus artists, conceptualists or

“Artists of this era, hoping to democratize the process of art-

making, wrote directions that viewers could perform. For
more in the website: http://www.learningtoloveyoumore.com/displays/olivers_bumbershoot.php

instance, Yoko Ono’s “instruction pieces” asked audiences to

enact gestures of both tangible (City Piece, 1961: “Walk all over
the city with an empty baby carriage”) and purely imaginative
(Fly Piece, 1963: “Fly”). (…) Instruction art’s annexation of
everyday life into the realm of art was of special interest to
artists who sought to demystify the role of the artist.” 31

This happened in the first part of the project, but by

the time it turned out to be too popular, it fit into pace
of leading itself for an almost autonomous authorship.
As an example, the Olivers, an American family
decided to submit replies to all the proposals, and in
return they had an exhibition happening with all their
items set up32. The online based project had finally
come out of the web, and turned to physical venues,
gaining a new existence into what it seemed to be the
exhibition world.
There could be a number of fragilities to be pointed
out into this development: a) how could miranda and
harrel deal with the fact that they had thousands of
submitted works? Where would they choose from? b)
Were these objects to be considered artistic objects? If
not, what were they then? c) what would be the best
way to deal with the quality of the works, and therefore
its selection? d) Did the work, after exhibited,
belong to miranda and harrel or the family which
submitted it?
31 Ibid.

32 See

239 archive and memory

In 2008, nicky peacock from Middlesbrough, UK:

“Got the opportunity to curate a programme of events for

local arts organization MAP. After being a fan of LTLYM
for a number of years I jumped at the chance to organise a
show in Middlesbrough. The interest and support from local
people was overwhelming, it was truly a collaborative effort.
A local business offered us the use of a gorgeous building
and free electricity; others donated materials and printed up
assignments for free. Assignments poured in from all over the
world and on the opening night of the show a number of local
artists performed Assignment #24 Cover the song ‘Don’t dream

from the website: http://www.learningtoloveyoumore.com/displays/middlesbrough.php

it’s over’ to a super enthusiastic crowd on a late July evening.” 33

There were so many issues that could have predicted

the self-destruction of the work from its early
beginning, but unexpectedly the popularity escalated
into what became an exemplary form of collaborative
art and also an individual appreciation.
The end of the project could have been predicted by
a number of impossibilities, but it is surprising to
know that the website was later acquired by the san
francisco museum of modern art, in order to
maintain the website working: even if there is no way
to submit the assignments anymore, it is resumed as
an archive that can be consulted from anywhere, and
at the same time as a source for the realisation of the
tasks, if we’re willing to do them on our own.
There has been something driving me to enjoy this
project since the beginning, and it was more than
its shared authorship, but more the composing of a
collection made of common items: I could not think of
many contemporary artists who might have achieved a
level of democratised behaviour as july did.
And yet, there was a time that I wondered what else
would she do next: if this plain discovery that her work
33 Also

240 archive and memory

would necessarily lead her towards a level of repetition
(or re-enactment) of something, for as popular as it
might have been.
Although the object-like connection is embedded in
the genesis of most miranda’s recent projects, there
has been a complete abandon of the object, or of any
other sort of tangibility.
from this link: https://vimeo.com/31283902

Figure 51 Miranda talking to Bob in The School of Life

A project like “Strangers” (2011) leads to a surprising

get together in which people go to attend a “lecture-
like” performance about a specific topic. From an
existing video34 registering one of these lectures in
London, miranda seems here to be performing a
scene from one of her films – by suggesting people
(from the audience) to intentionally grab a stranger’s
arm. The performance shifts to the invitation of
34 Retrieved

specific individuals from the audience to sit next to

241 archive and memory

her in the stage, chosen from the objects they donated
in the lobby, right before the beginning of the show.
This shift, which apparently maintains the entertaining
pun of the whole thing, begins to crack when miranda
herself seems to feel affected by the relationship
between father and daughter described by her guest
bob: “they say relationships are supposed to be up and
down”, says a surprised miranda by the confirmation
from her guest that, being a husband, a father and a
grandfather has always been a cheerful endeavour.
The following parts lead to an auction from the objects
initially donated by the strangers in the audience, that
are afterwards (blindly) given to someone (also from
the audience (someone that might be through rough
times, and is willing to share that with miranda only).
So, what started as an entertaining conversation
with miranda and her listeners lead to a surprised
audience, by a moving gesture of gratitude towards
what life has given us/them. Here, that gesture is
empathised by the possibility to make a difference in
someone’s life in that moment (even if it’s a stranger).
For me it is important to state that this is not just a
description of what could have been an interesting
performance to attend, but it is the subversion of the
whole market system (of an art world) that allows
miranda to do this. The people who are willingly
engaging in an auction are not giving away 100 pounds
for a handwritten postcard: instead they are using
that money to buy the envelope, that was signed by
the artist miranda july. No matter how many ways
has she been breeching the art system, the truth is
that she is sustained through it: by working closely
with Museums like the san francisco museum
of modern art, the moma in NY, the guggenheim
museum and the school of life (at the Conway Hall)
in London where this lecture was held.

242 archive and memory

o b j e c t s o f d e s i r e

“Collecting is a way of linking past, present and future.

Objects from the past get collected in the present to preserve
them for the future. Collecting processes presence, meanwhile
articulating the mysteries of desire. What people want and do
not want in anticipation of what future collectors will want or
will not want.” 35

claudia lopes is a friend of mine, we studied

together in the fine arts painting degree (from 2000
to 2005) and to be honest I never really saw her as a
painter, not because she lacked the skills but because
we got used to know her plastic work as something
(always) more narrative then visual. This seems easy
enough to deal with, if you think about how many
contemporary artists integrate (or are) these strategies
in their work. If you consider for example, one of the
fathers of conceptual art, john baldessari, and look
for the genesis of his most acclaimed work, you find
of nothing”, William Davies King (2008), p. 27.

it precisely in the idea of not considering the need to

create more images (actually more about resisting the
temptation to create more images) in a world already
full of images everywhere. So, baldessari stopped
producing images (except when really necessary).
Instead, he started collecting images previously made
by others: from the cinema industries, there were
already so many images he would have enough for a
whole life if he wanted to: images of kisses, images of
man and woman, images of horses, images of native
Americans riding horses, and so on. That was it. All
the genres had already been considered by someone
else, and captured too.
35 “Collections

If we look at claudia’s work today, we can easily

observe that she does not create one single image in

243 archive and memory

her body of work: she archives, collects, re-frames,
photographs, photocopies, re-prints, in a rather
conceptual repositioning of those images. Strangely
enough, claudia struggled during her painting

the text “Prologue: The way things go” included in the book “Ways of Curating”, by Hans Ulrich Obrist (2014), p. 2.
degree (that we coursed together) to convince some
of the teachers that this language made sense, and had
already been legitimized by all her predecessors36.
hans ulrich obrist wrote in the introduction of
his book “Ways of Curating” (2014), that everything
we live has an influence in what we are (and what
we have become), from the friends we made, the
experiences we lived, and even the country we were
born in. Portugal can be a very particular example of
this idea that obrist describes. He says Switzerland
(in his specific case) is a very comfortable but strange
country, influenced by the three others around it,
making it hard to accept all others. Small territory

is important to highlight that this was after the turn of the millennium.
though, obrist found that Switzerland provided him
with all the tools that empowered him to discover that
he needed to leave it “in order to expand my sense of
the world”37.
In order to become an artist, claudia would most
likely need to stop thinking as an artist, and discover
her own space in between. Graduating from a painting
degree had been able to provide her all the basic tools
she needed to discover that she would never actually
become a painter (and neither would I).
This idea of outness or exteriority is very popular
in contemporary art and has been feeding both sides
(theory-based reflections as well as artistic projects)
into the conquer of a space for the complementary.
Objects, ideas, depositions.
37 From
36 It

244 archive and memory

Figure 52 Claudia talking to Maria about her work

When I look at claudia’s work, I always think I’m

not regarding at something completely in the field
of contemporary art in a mostly visual or plastic or
experimental form of expression (or tradition). I
always feel like I’m being told a story, like a storyteller
I could take my daughter to hear: she tells about the
colours of the wall and how she wandered with the
colour samples for weeks (long before she realised
they would become the wall colours in her individual
exhibition in sput&nik gallery in Porto); she tells
about the idea of loss, and the cause effect it has on her
(and her family, in the ironic tale of how her mother
replaced each of the already independent grown
child, with a pet, either cat or dog); she explains the
excitement of finding old books and old photographs

245 archive and memory

in flea markets and how she needs to have them all
(like an authentic American hoarder we can watch on
depressing late night TV shows).
We could go on this for hours, and claudia would
never be able to explain why she doesn’t create her own
authentic images: the construction of those images
always happens in the spaces in between, or in the
margins. In this case, I find it appealing and attractive,
because I work the same way: many times during a
guided tour, I end up drifting along a parallel path,
from something coming out of an artwork or from
something a visitor said, or even from something that
might have happened to me before arriving in the
museum that day.

The only real images my fellow visitors are able

to reach are the ones hanging on the walls of the
museum, but they will never reach the completeness of
what I have in my mind in that moment. One can say
that this sort of action might lead into an undirected
guided tour, and in the end, all the students have a
different perception of what they saw (which in terms
of expectations for the tour is not necessarily a good
outcome). But we can also claim that all the students
that were there (in that moment) willing to engage in
the discourse of parallelizing many other events, ideas
and images to that artwork, can eventually compose
one or multiple images in their own mind, by creating
non existing images and narratives to fill in the gaps
(that are) often left by contemporary artists. That was
not probably the purpose of the artist, and most likely
not the intention of the curator neither. But I am very
fond of an idea of a balloon of images floating in the
head of every visitor (along with me) in a guided tour
inside the museum. In my particular case, my favourite
images regarding the work of my friend claudia

246 archive and memory

are the ones I let wander in my thoughts during our

When we were kids, we would end up collecting

images (stamps, postcards, photographs, tickets) of
something we liked, but that we didn’t necessarily own.
Collections from our past were connected to objects of
desire, and with some kind of dream-like wish.
We would somehow ease that desire (of an ideal toy,
an ideal trip or an ideal house) by replacing it with an
image that could represent it. Kids also resolve that
with drawing, by appealing to a reality where anything
can be possible. But probably the most disappointing
parallel we can create here is the way we are engaging
with these practices of replacing our desires with
images (today) framed by the social media.

What are we collecting everyday anyway? Objects and

images we love; Memories of things we accomplished;
Things that we have lost; and ideas (of things) that we
never accomplished.
the text “Collecting Knowledge”, included in the book
“Ways of Curating”, by Hans Ulrich Obrist, (2014), p. 39.

“To make a collection is to find, acquire, organize and store

items, whether in a room, a house, a library, a museum or a
warehouse. It is also, inevitably, a way of thinking about the
world – the connections and principles that produce a collection
contain assumptions, juxtapositions, findings, experimental
possibilities and associations. Collection-making, you could say,
is a method of producing knowledge.” 38

Making collections is ultimately what has given

birth to the museums as we know them today. The
urge of keeping a contact with the past, the need
to understand the functioning of the world goes
immediately attached to the desire of teaching what
we discovered: and this is not only related to the
38 From

247 archive and memory

past of the museums but it is naturally implied to the
museum’s present as well as future.
It is significant as surprising (to me) that what I was
trying to justify as an ideal (or correct) choice for the
museum’s positioning towards objects, is probably
the opposite of what museums have begun during
modernist expansions.
Paintings that were filling walls from top to bottom or
multiple objects fitting in the same vitrine resembling
historical or ethnographic museums were considered
to be ideal places for learning experiences, by the
number of narratives that could be told from there.
If we think about that, this museum context wouldn’t
differ much from a school environment, apart from
the physical difference. However, that difference
could be precisely one reason for the experience to
become more meaningful for the participants, given
the displacement of the learning space: it would be
almost like having a class in the garden and thus being
subjected to multiple sources of motivation (at the
same time).
This is not what we (me) are aiming for mediation
experience in museums, but it is probably one of the
strengths of this practice, and one that has kept it
enduring for (what, a century?) such long time.

Awakening of the senses

I was convinced that the road to theory would never be
completely fulfilling or satisfying for me. In different
situations, like during conferences or teaching in a
class, I have always comprehended that I feel much
more confident with my own speech if I can borrow
some relational items and use them somehow. During
this research, I kept wondering and considering how
to introduce a practical role, or an experimental one,
either from the creation of an exhibition, an object or

248 archive and memory

the like.
For different reasons, I organized and compared a
variety of approaches to how different senses can be
awaken (and explored) in a Museum like experience,
and if that can be linked to interiorizing of the
experience or enhance a stronger impact in the
Starting to develop a thesis that does not have a
definitive purpose is as challenging as it can be lonely.
Fortunately, it was gratifying to discover through time
that not only I was not alone in this crusade but that
was not either exclusive to artist’s projects or arts based
research. This was something quite transversal both as
a form of gathering information such as to expose it.
But it doesn’t come easy though.
Discussing the influence of art in a research may
become more complex that it initially sounds. An
artistic background is always an advantage for
someone who takes the leap into theory, but trying to
be kept in between the two worlds.
It is also possible that, institutionally speaking, there
are already places (university examples) that encourage
in their curricula the combination of languages in
Inquiry as a Research Methodology.” (1999), Lynn Fels.
the Wind Clothes Dance on a line: Performative

order to produce some more exciting results.

Hopefully, the desire that this dissertation will reflect

the unique characteristics of my research processes
will be more that a wish, and become an interior vision
of a process based on the multiplicity of gathering,
learning, applying, and legitimizing the contents.
As a drama educator and during the course of the
investigation that informed her thesis, lynn fels39
encountered a number of difficulties on the translation
of her processes of teaching into something clear: for
as much as she tried to write it in creative forms, it
always ended up explaining instead of performing. It
39 “In

249 archive and memory

was only after she understood a way of performative
writing that she allowed herself to conceptualize the
processes of education that are already embedded
within performance from its origin.

“Her difficulties with writing transformed into the challenge

of “writing a performative text that listens, interplays between
absence and presence, and welcomes the not yet known.” 40

It´s always hard to evaluate something that has its core

in the world of doubts: the problem is to understand if
these are the right doubts for that time and place (and
for that specific researcher).

Figure 53 Kid with buckets.

250 archive and memory

On memory and objects

“Objects are lumps of the material world. They share this

nature with all living things, including ourselves, and this
materiality distinguishes all that share it from insubstantial
creations like tunes, poems, or the idea of marriage. Like
ourselves, objects can only be in one place at any given time.
Objects are three-dimensional, and the quantity of space
they take up depends upon their height and breadth and the
“Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research: Perspectives, Methodologies, Examples and Issues –

air-displacing effect of their individual contours, together

with their density and the extent to which this allows them
to be compressed or to expand as circumstances dictate. The
materiality of objects means that they occupy their own space,
and this is how we experience them.” 41

The objects that someone possesses are sometimes like

a reflection of that person, as a sort of distorted mirror,
41 From Susan M. Pearce, “Museums, objects and collections”, (1992), pp. 15-16.
44 Using an Arts Methodology to Create a Thesis or Dissertation.” (2012) p. 11.

in which we see how much we attach to tangible items.

We may be considered materialists, and enjoy the
buying and owning of something that makes us feel
powerful or successful, things just as an expensive car,
or a pair of designer shoes: this can even become an
addictive habit, and in extreme cases, be associated
with the feeling of pleasure (leading people to engage
in credits to buy things that they don’t really need).
Alternatively, we may be the sort of person that can
move from one place to another with just a small bag,
and feel quite alright with that: the less we attach to
material items, the easier it is to travel, so this comes
with some good consequences too (but for others
we will always be considered easy going people, with
no real ambitions of settling down, buying a house
or the like). Or instead, we may be the ones that
gather everything, because even if we don’t need
these things right now, one day they might come in
handy: in this case, our house or car will probably
become the reflection of our habits (and in some case
40 From

251 archive and memory

we might even be considered hoarders). These three
characters are just (my) extreme examples of how we
connect to things in our lives: depending on this type
of connection, we may be an ordinary person, or we
may be considered problematic, with some kind of
psychological disorder.
The intention on mentioning these examples was
precisely to get until here, the point where we begin
to question, wonder, and think “are we materialist, or
hoarders?”, or instead: “I didn’t make myself this way,
society did!”. Which is not completely wrong.
The affective connection to objects exists probably
since mankind does, and it has always been drawn
with unexplainable contours. The first known objects
were impregnated with utilitarian functions (and also
religious) and worked as extensions of the human
limbs, as tools for what was necessary to be done. One
can also add to the utilitarian function an attribution
of power, because in many primitive societies, the one
who held the artifacts was usually the tribal leader.
Or if we consider the tools manufactured in order
to enable the processes of hunting, these eventually
helped man to overcome the power of nature, enough
to get fed and consequentially feel stronger towards
wildlife and its incredibly powerful animals.

252 archive and memory

Figure 54 Old key with all the papers attached

An object can still give us some sense of belonging,

make us connect to our ancestors, or just remind us
of someone we loved (and that is no longer here). I do
own objects that remind me of my two grandmothers,
but the strangest thing is that the rice powder box that
belonged to my father’s mother (who died when I was
14 years old) makes me imagine stories, create fictional
characters and wander through things (thanks to the
exoticism engraved in the wooden box) but it doesn’t
remind me of my grandmother. My grandmother died
of a prolonged disease, and she was unable to move or
stand for years: those are the years that I remember
best, probably because of my age at that time. But I
never saw her use the rice powder box, not even once:
I always imagined that it used to be for when she
would go on a dance, or to have dinner in some place
fancy (but I doubt if she ever did it). So, this beautiful
and exotic object probably does have a story, and that’s

253 archive and memory

another thing: the box came from Africa, as a gift to
her from my father, during the years he was away in
Angola42. She suffered badly from this separation,
because my uncle went there too: my grandmother got
detached from her two boys since young ages (around
16 years old when they went), staying behind, with the
girls. Every year, my father would come, and bring her
a lot of gifts: exotic artifacts, utilitarian’s, like linen and
sheets, and some things to make her look prettier (and
loved). When my grandmother died, my father took
the rice powder box from her house, together with a
lot of other items, but I remember that he came to me
and asked if I wanted to keep it to remember of my

former Portuguese colony that became independent after the 25 of April 1974. During
the seventies, an impressive number of Portuguese people lived in Angola, where the work
grandmother: I said yes, of course, but today when I
look at it, it’s not my grandmother I remember of, it’s
my father instead.

conditions were in many aspects, superior to the ones that existed in Portugal.
Objects can also have their own attached meanings, no
matter what they’re unique characteristic features say
about them. In Portuguese language, the translation
for coming out towards someone who wants to assume
homosexuality as a sexual choice is a direct translation
of coming out of the closet. The closet here has a
connection of importance, of attachment to a past that
wants to be left behind: so, no matter how important
that closet can be, it will eventually be abandoned
and forgotten. In English, the expression “skeletons
in the closet” also suggests another connotation: the
skeletons are usually a secret that should be kept that
way, and the cabinet’s doors are the ones keeping it
inside (of course that, if we imagine ourselves in an
ordinary house, full of kids trying to reach the cookies
inside the closet, pretty sure the door is not going to
be locked for a long time). Eventually the closet is
opened, and the secrets are revealed.
42 A

254 archive and memory

“The cabinet” is an exhibition project conducted by an
artistic group in Lisbon: they invite artists to make use of a
limited period of time to create an artistic intervention inside
a cabinet. The artistic direction and organization is from
Benedita Pestana and Raquel Melgue. They introduce us to the
project by assuring us that all freedom is provided to the artist,
as long as the cabinet is taken care of: “Free will is allowed to
the artist, being the latter able to use all means towards the
resolution of the challenge. The only condition is not to move
the glass cabinet from the room where it is located, at the same
time, its integrity should be always respected.” 43
from http://o-armario.a-montra.com/the-project.html

Figure 55 The cabinet and the work of Catarina Leitão

Memory and Photography

Photography is one of the mediums that has been more
favoured in contemporary artist’s works which are
interested in reflecting over time, memory and archive.
Looking at the past to comprehend humankind,
43 Retrieved

looking at the past to prevent the future, looking at

255 archive and memory

the past to create a sense of no temporality in order
to keep a sort of flow between the present and what’s
no longer here. But if this can be considered to be a
growingly popular type of work in contemporary art
practices, the interest on time overlapping with reality
is not at all exclusive to contemporary art: man has
always tried to control time, and art is only one more
way of accomplishing it.
The use of photography to create a memory is
something we do everyday.
I say to my young visitors in the museum all the time
that, if they use their mobile phones to capture an
image during their trip to the museum, they will be
performing a mechanical action through the use of
a devise, and ultimately they are pairing up with the
artist in the mode of using that devise (when it comes
to photography). There is a great difference though
between analogical photography and the digital rise:
an image captured and sealed in a black capsule would
always have a time-lapse between its creation (the
click) and its production (the print). Of course we also
need to print the digital images we produce through
digital technology, but the big difference is in the
negative image that the film conceals: the artist or the
photographer will only be fully aware of the image’s
quality and flaws after the photograph gets printed.
And if we’re talking about the rise of photography
for some artists during the 1960’s and 1970’s, that
time-lapse would often last some years, creating a
gap between those two moments, making a hole on
temporality, and letting us know how deceptive a
photograph can be as a document of its time.

256 archive and memory

(2008), extract from “Archive Fever: Photography between History and the Monument”,
Enwezor “Documents into Monuments: Archives as Meditations on Time”

included in the compilation Book under the subject of “Memory”, (2012), p. 134.

Figure 56 Craigie Hornsfield’s photograph

This produces a reflection on time, but also on archive,

and specially in the importance that archives seem to
have achieved in contemporaneity.
According to okwui enwezor, about the photographs
captured and printed by craigie horsfield in the
late 1970’s

“Hornsfield’s work is engaged with a conscious temporal delay

of the archive, illustrating both a slice of time and its slow
immensity” 44

Black and white photographs printed in large scale,

depicting the people who were actors and witnesses
44 Okwui

of the decay of a specific moment in time and space

257 archive and memory

(post-industrial Poland) were presented to us with
such intensity and sharp edge. The photographs
are a strong representation of an era. They bring a
comprehension of real time, showing to the viewers
what has happened, and at the same time, becoming
the archive of that time, through the memories of
those viewers (the secondary witnesses).

“They are often active meditations on the very nature of time

and how it acts on memory and experience, encompassing it
and slowing it down.” 45

45 Ibid.

258 archive and memory

a rc h i v i n g i m m at e r i a l i t y

“We walk above the rooftop of hell and look at the flowers.” 46

What image comes to your mind when you think of

Lang, taken from her workshop introductory text “Collecting oblivion: the archive as gesture” held in Zurich
Haiku quoted by Lourdes Castro, in the film about herself “Pelas Sombras”, by Catarina Mourão (2010).

an archive? A big building, a tower maybe, filled with

in 2013, together with Ana Bigotte Vieira and Pedro M. Lagoa; http://curating123.tumblr.com/post/45014002778/

thousands of paperwork unedited, unlisted (babel’s

tower visual references popping out in our mind),
or maybe a drawer cabinet, organized in
alphabetical order.
Either way, we can say that archive is a concept that
always comes intertwined with others: collection,
time, past, future, memory, knowledge, just to name
a few. Archive is a place where we put something that
we will not need in that moment (and probably not any
time soon), but that we are not ready to throw away
yet. We archive knowing that one day we will open that
drawer to find exactly what we need.
collecting-oblivion-the-archive-as-gesture accessed in May 9, 2016

“Archives, the often considered secure repositories of memory,

act along with the narratives that support and are supported
by them. In this sense, they can be regarded as practices or as
gestures. What should be archived? Why? By whom? For whom?
What are the political implications and choices of building or
working with an archive? And with which kind of questions and
choices is a researcher or artist confronted when working with a
preexisting archive, or when building his or her own archive?” 47

One can not archive something when it is not a real

object, can we? (I’m not including all the virtual junk
we accumulate of course) If we consider this choice of
words, we can begin by decomposing the pair in order
to comprehend the true meaning of it.
What does it mean to say that something is real or that
46 Japanese

47 Sandra

it is objectual? What does it mean to keep an objectual

259 archive and memory

archive? Why is contemporary art so connected
to this (almost fetishist) idea of archive and object
For something to become an objectual work, we
know from the tradition of conceptual arts (and what
they avoid) that there has to be identifiable physical
characteristics, and for that we must be able to identify
the object’s physical characteristics – size, shape,
colour, what it’s made of, temperature, sensation to the

49 From “Chapter V – Action”, in “The Human Condition” by Hannah Arendt, (first edition 1958), p. 186.
for example the methodology used by Peter Blake – in his artworks – mentioned on the previous
touch – but also the conceptual ones like the meaning,
the process of creation, and integrations of unique
characteristics from that artist’s own way of making48.
But for something to be real, we can be talking of
a completely different story: it has to be something
that happened, that existed, or that was alive, but not
necessarily an object we can touch or feel.
In the absence of proof of its existence, what we often
have is the experience of it.

“The distinction between a real and a fictional story is precisely

that the latter was “made up” and the former not made at all.
The real story in which we are engaged as long as we live has
no visible or invisible maker because it is not made.” 49
text “When artists become museums – and vice versa”.
We are ultimately the makers of our own experience,
and the writers of our own biographies; no matter how
invisible we are to the rest of the world, the story that
we will always know better than anyone else, is our
story. And that makes us experts from the beginning.
We don’t have to wait until we die to make sure we
became worthy heroes, and wait in the silence of our
death for someone to write our biographies, for he/she
will never have the experience first hand as we did. So,
each of us has a unique opportunity to reflect on and
reveal (through the use of words, images, actions and
others of sort) to the future what we considered about
48 See

260 archive and memory

the experience of the present. What it meant for us to
be (us) here and now.
As a way to recreate life experiences through art one
might suggest the idea of ARCHIVAL ACTIVISM:

“This is an attempt to highlight the ways in which aesthetic

practices reactivate political cases and histories that have been
relegated to the drawers of unsolved or forgotten files in the
socio-political imaginary.” 50
“Archival Activism: Living Anachronisms and Other Unfinished Histories”, by Mathias Danbolt,

Living the experience of a guided tour is engaging

in MJ#14 http://www.manifestajournal.org/issues/souvenirs-souvenirs/archival-activism-living-

in a real thing (a real event that took place) kept in

the memory of each intervenient: that will be shaped
individually by each of those participants, creating
a multiple (a living organism) in their memory,
instead of a strict and direct description of what it
is. Activating that memory (the way I’ve been doing
here, as I write my reflections) will always lead us to
something incomplete. Because I’m just one possible
reference for something that was witnessed and shared
by a group of people with distinct personalities, the
only way to preserve a more complete memory would
be to put the same people talking about this again.
anachronisms-and-other-unfinished-histories# (2012).

However, this would become something (predictably)

ridiculous for its redundancy. And it would also
remind us of the Borgian map of the kingdom, made
in real scale to reproduce with exactitude all the
details of the territory, and lacking usefulness, ending
up forgotten and rotting in time. It would be like a
simulacrum of reality: something that has everything
that real life has, except for real life.

In a similar way, the idea of heritage preservation has

always been associated to tangible objects, concrete
creations executed by mankind, that could eventually
be complemented by additional stories or preservation
50 From

261 archive and memory

information tools (that would be side by side), never
considered as collectibles themselves. In fact, the
archivists would be these people that spend their whole
day stuck in a space pilled up with papers, inevitably
full of information (that might be important or not)
that would help write our history. There’s always a very
careful methodology to manoeuvre these items, and
it normally includes a room with special conditions
on air thickness, humidity, dust bugs and the like. It
also suggests that everything preserved there should
always be handled with cotton gloves (like the works
of art) avoiding any kind of disease spreading, or the
consequences of the destruction through the
security breach.
This is not just a Victorian myth: many museums,
libraries and archives have these rooms, and most of
them don’t have the staff and the resources to tend
to it.

Figure 57 Gloves and archive items

262 archive and memory

However, things have been changing dramatically in
this context, and not only this pleases me when I think
of collecting (and preserving) an idea instead of an
object, but this is actually having a serious impact in
History and Anthropology Museums, but specially in
Contemporary Art Practices.
Many of the information that is considered important
resides today in people’s memories and we have come
to get more engaged in the pursuit of its preservation
since we begun to comprehend that our behaviours
will lead to the destruction of our planet as we know
it. Our obsession of losing track of history has also led
us (culture workers) to come look for those who are
not necessarily connected to cultural institutions, to
comprehend their own side of history and to integrate
(as much as possible) those unheard voices in the
main discourse (to be) written by members of our
Mankind has always tried to collect and preserve
objects from early times, long before the actual
function that archives turned to have today –
preservation existed, but was not yet conceptualized
by those who did collect. This obsession with objects
was one of the reasons we (man) turned sedentary
instead of nomadic as our predecessors, turning us
into powerful sources of knowledge which would
only make sense if they could be taught. Becoming
sedentary continuously turned primitive communities
into more peaceful, with more spare time to nurture
and dedicate to the youngsters (of course this comes
hand-in-hand with the evolution of defensive tactics,
developed by those communities to defend themselves
against rising enemies). Affection is one of the main
capacities that mankind has discovered within our
evolutionary path.
Teaching the younger generations how to comprehend

263 archive and memory

a specific experience through something they read in
the books has been keeping us busy (over time), but
it has been more and more clear to me (with many
references) that we were never completely confident
about the efficiency of this method or there wouldn’t
be so many thesis questioning the traditional formats
of teaching (yet in the 21st century), and so many
alternative methods popping out all the time.
Objectual is, in fact, not the most important
characteristic of what we aim to preserve here.
Instead, it’s probably the competence that humanity
always had of getting attached to objects (or artifacts):
attachments that are close to affection, which helps
develop survival skills.

Imagine if, right now we would be living in the future

– and it got complicated to get there, so we could only
take one thing from our time with us.
If the time had come to this, what would we choose?
No matter who we are, and what is our story and
expertise, we will always look for (in a time for
struggle for life) something to be real, to be worth
being taught, and something that has a true meaning
for us.
So, replying to my own quiz, I would take affection
and knowledge with me: and if possible, I would
take something that could synthetize these two
characteristics in one. A work of art would be a perfect
choice, yes.
Reality is (once again) a very open-ended
characteristic, if we consider that in this context
reality comes attached to a work of art. Is it a real
work of art? (how do we transport it with us?) Is it a
genuine reality? Is it a work of art made of reality? Or
a real life object, just like the spears collected by the
primitives and that we can see – through a glass – in

264 archive and memory

any ethnographic museum?

The archive is something that has interested artists

and culture workers, no matter how intricate they are
in the need of preservation. okwui ewenzor is one
of the most acclaimed curators that has became know
for the introduction of a certain archival obsession in
contemporary art’s main circuits, and regards to what
derrida had coined to Mal d’archive in his 1994’s
lecture with the same name.
Strangely translated and spread into the Anglo-Saxon
world as Archive Fever (as if it’s an obsession or a drive,
but not necessarily a bad one), the translation’s loss
goes onto making the words combination sound a little
the text “The Anarchive” by Tom McDonough (2008), included in “Memory -

lighter that what derrida most likely intended.

“For Derrida, the nature of that sickness is ambiguous, being

both a malady within the archive, affecting its ability to
construct social memory, and an affliction suffered by those
who are denied access to its store of information. Indeed,
Derrida usefully points to the wider social parameters of our
fascination with this domain: it could be seen as a response
to what he calls a trouble de l’archive, ‘the trouble of secrets,
of plots, of clandestineness, of half-private, half-public
conjurations, always at the unstable limit between public and
Documents of Contemporary Art” (2012), p. 188.

private, between the family, the society, and the State’.” 51

It wouldn’t come as anything more then a subject or

some urge to lead artistic production into a certain
direction, if it wasn’t for what it appears to be more
and more a claim for a certain restoration of the truth
(once the archival subject is about something that was
obliterated or changed). Over time, and with access
to technology that didn’t exist before, and also with
access to archives that had come overdue, some artists
have seemed to take as their mission in life (and art) to
51 From

265 archive and memory

track down the available sources in the world to stand
up for a most accurate version of the truth, or rather to
be gladly seduced by an archival beauty of the past.

Figure 58 Voluspa Jarpa in 31st Bienal de São Paulo.

266 archive and memory

“One of the defining characteristics of the modern era has been
the increasing significance given to the ARCHIVE as a means
by which historical knowledge and forms of remembrance are
accumulated, stored and recovered” 52
after the curators’ invitation to integrate the Bienal, and with the help of the team, Jarpa unveiled some more material on the
sources for the work are archives from the CIA about the Military Dictatorship in Brazil, after they turned public;

It is precisely in this process that Chilean artist

voluspa jarpa focuses herself to start her artistic
work. She creates pieces that provide us with valid
Merewether, in the introduction of “The Archive” - Documents of Contemporary Art (2006), p. 10.

archival information combined with an aesthetic

appeal to our senses, in order to make us more
awake and aware. Combining installation with object
making and archival materials, the development
and instalment in the gallery or museum is also an
important step of her artistic process.
From my observation of her work “Histories of
learning”53 (2014) included in the Portuguese assembly
of the 31st bienal de são paulo, it was the fact that
there was a space for the missing pieces to be inserted
same period in Brazil, only this time, provided from Brazilian Archives.

by those who visited it, that mostly pleased the

audience. There was also a dramatic role in the display
system, intensified by the light that caused the strong
shadows (of the hanging elements) projected over the
white-cube walls from the serralves museum.
Instead of looking for the information to associate
to the meaning of the work, I’ve observed dozens of
different people – from schools to general public,
alone or in groups – all having more or less the same
behaviour in front of jarpa’s piece. People tried to
“enter” the piece: to go to the middle of the hanging
documents, to feel involved by the intensity of the
words around them, and to make a connection,
probably by photographing themselves or others.
This photographic statement was a moment to seal
the deal with jarpa, and say “I understand” (and it
would probably come with the updating of that image
52 Charles

on social media). I did observe this behaviour a lot,

53 The

267 archive and memory

and in the case of the teenagers, there was something
about this piece that made it strongly appealing for
them, when compared with others (of the same topic)
included in the exhibition.
When we were younger, we used to write a diary or a
journal (at least my generation used to do that) and
this worked as a private space to just be ourselves (not
through our inner voice), and also as the creation of an
abstraction of our own – that would be out of premises
for whoever we intended to. Probably we didn’t really
have anything interesting to keep a secret from, but it
was the action itself that made it more dramatic: I had
my secrets hidden inside a drawer, just like any other
teenager, and it wasn’t suppose for anyone else to read
them (whether they were good secrets or not).
Countries tend to do the same, only most of the times
they don’t do it for any good reasons. The process of
hiding information escalates with importance by the
time we grow up, and what might seem to be a naive
secret at start might end up becoming a secret of state
(and the cute boy next door from our juvenile writings
might become the dead bodies buried away from the
In the work “Histories of learning”, voluspa jarpa
regards the past and its relation towards the need to
confront the truth, in order to conquer some kind of
The monumentality achieved here – by an intense
vertical structure designed by the suspension of the
archives - is pointed by the artist as one way of entering
the work.
This monumentality starts to fade away as you trespass
it, because all the details are somehow not available
(after all) for a number of reasons. On the one hand,
we realise that the documents are written in several
languages, so we are immediately banned from some

268 archive and memory

of the readings; and on the other hand, those messages
are both erased or covered by blemish blocks (to
keep information hidden), and even in the readable
information, the acrylic reveals itself as an unreliable
material. Both the transparency and opacity used
in this installation make the letters become visually
attractive, but as we may try to read them, we end up
letting ourselves become enchanted by the invisible
movement they make (from the hanging), and end up
moving our bodies in the same rhythm as the pieces
(and walking away).
This is a methodology and an aesthetic choice in the
case of voluspa jarpa: as she invites audiences to offer
some information we may think we need in order to
comprehend mankind better, she is already proposing
us a compensation by the activation of the senses, that
somehow functions as a way of blurring the initial
meaning of the piece. It might also mean a claim for a
kind of domestication of the prohibition.

269 archive and memory

n e w m o d e s o f m a k i n g m e a n i n g s

I’ve been writing a lot about claiming the museum as

our own space, of opening up for the integration of the
visitor’s voice, and about individualizing those choices.
But a real question now would be: What is my ideal
Museum? Do I have one?
As I couldn’t reach one single representation of that
dream museum, I began to make my own collection
of examples, which ended up becoming one of the
most important part of my work. I’m glad to have
started it just for the thrill of assembling some of the
cases developed along these next few pages: Museums,
galleries, collectives and families who created museum
projects that deviate from a triangular trajectory
that somehow holds in a tight corset most of our
institutions: creation/validation/continuity. From this
cyclical process, one is always entangled within a peer
validation in order to attract investment, in order to
pursue the work, in order to draw the press, that will
bring in the audiences, and so on (entering something
like a spinning wheel).
Some of the places mentioned here have become quite
famous and acclaimed cases of popularity, and have
also been validated by critics and curators only because
most of the strategies adopted here – in order to create
meaning – contrast with the primary function of
most museums, it does not mean that they have
abandoned the pursuit of a creative/critical/artistic
discourse in this moment we are currently living
(contemporary) art.
It is possible to state, through these examples, that an
international impact in the art field is possible – please
the funders and trustees that the museum will not lose
value and recognition – and at the same time, interact

271 archive and memory

and integrate the different audiences in projects
based in the acknowledgement of the individual
characteristics of each and every single visitor.
Fundamentally, I’ve come to believe that the hardest
part of all this is that the core of the work presented
here (as well as mine) is based in contradictions: in
order to remain authentic, one has to compromise to
content or to (low) resources; to have resources, we
might compromise on freedom of speech, and so on;
to present something new, we might not be validated.
Nevertheless, along the way I found some interesting
twists, brought by organisations that have bended
their structures to the limits, only not enough to
break them.
If breaking the narratives of power relationships
inside museums is so hard to put to practice, and even
harder to preserve into a certain authenticity, then
these findings have become one of the most important
achievement of this research: specially for the richness
and for the variety of ideas.

The most important factor of interest (for me) in

this kind of space is that the connection it aims with
the audiences does not assume the abandoning of a
Museum model, but (in most cases) it enhances that
model, by focusing both the introductory narrative
and the proposed activities in the objects that are
displayed. These cases do not overcome the museum,
but they seem to be looking towards it, making it
happen where it is least expected.
And there is also the preservation of a search for a
certain aesthetic compromise. This is most likely
the most valid and/or common factor to depreciate
the sort of actions led by alternative institutional
structures (or projects led by artists). In order to avoid
the fall on a hole (that many artists have experienced

272 archive and memory

through their careers) most institutions proceeded
their course by carrying socially-engaged projects as
side work, or through complementary programmes.
However, that’s not the case of the examples I bring
here: there is an affirmation, a certainty about this path
being something in the need of its reconnaissance, if
not by its aesthetic values, then by any other sort of
claim, as long as it’s in the sphere of the public/art/
community/social/activist work (and others of sort).

Portland Art Museum, USA
Under the label of exhibitions, the website of
portland art museum holds a surprise for me.
Separated by current, upcoming and past – which is
quite the standard interface chosen by user friendly
websites – we can find a number of interesting
exhibition proposals which have in common the
attempt to preserve (or instigate) the impressions of
the audiences towards the exhibitions: the curatorial
discourse, the montage, the chosen works of art, the
content, among others. What I did not expect was to
find another label inside the exhibition drive, named
upon “Object Stories”.
Looking further, I found that this is much more than
an exhibition – and maybe that’s why there’s a whole
label for it in the website.
Object stories is an initiative that the portland
art museum has launched in 2011, and has been
undergoing since then. The idea began to be nursed
by a group of curators that were not comfortable
enough with the role that audiences had been keeping
inside this museum, but also because of the concept of
audience itself.

273 archive and memory

For considering that the word audience does not
have the power to include and integrate the multiple
perspectives that can arise from the contact with a
work of art, these curators were becoming aware of the
diversity of visitors (age, gender, education, religion,
origin, and so many more), and decided to turn the
museum’s program into a more inclusive approach.
So, in order to activate a possible exchange of
dialogues, absorb the array of information, feelings
and stories that every individual could contribute
to (after the contact with the work of art, all of this
travels back home in the minds of every visitor), assure
that this will generate a sensation of belonging to this
single individual (towards the museum), tina olsen
drew what became the object stories initiative. Mostly,
for olsen, what was important was the possibility of
creating a contagious process: if it could be possible
to preserve that information, and release it to be

from the website http://objectstories.org/about/index.html

viewed by anyone, then maybe that transmission could
become possible.

“Do you have an object you would never give up? Something
that lives on your wall, your mantle, or buried in the corner of
your dresser drawer? Something that evokes a time in your life,
a place you miss, or something you hope for?
These connections between people and their things are at the
heart of Object Stories.
Object Stories invites people and their objects into the Museum
to tell stories about things that matter to them—whether a
postcard, military medal, childhood toy, or an iPhone. These
objects and stories will be captured and published to an
onsite and online digital archive where they will comingle
with recorded personal stories about Museum objects. An
installation of Museum objects, selected and told by the public,
will accompany the digital archive.” 54
54 Retrieved

274 archive and memory

Developed over time (with a number of variations) the
project was launched with a main goal of integrating
the community voices inside the museum walls,
somehow pairing them with the specialized curatorial
knowledge of the exhibitions discourses.
Bottom-line was bring more people to the museum,
but most importantly, make them get along with
the art through an engaging perspective, actively
persuading visitors that the museum in their
community just wants to be petted by that specific

There are two different interfaces of the project: one

is a specific space inside the museum where we are
drawn to see a video piece, and after sitting there we
are invited to browse from the number of donations,
and to choose the one he/she wants to get to know
better. Alternatively, one can also bring a personal
item to speak about, record an audio statement of the
object’s importance, and make some photographs: this
way becoming a part of the object stories project.
The other interface is through the visualization online,
from which we can have access to all the existing
items, and listen to the audio just by clicking on the
image. I don’t know how many stories are held in the
website, but I’m quite sure we could spend hours going
through it, if we wanted to.

275 archive and memory

Figure 59 The girl and the cat

morgan knorr tells about her object:

“It’s a different kind of significance that a five-year-old holds

a stuffed animal and at the time of receiving her, I can at least
be certain that I didn’t know the extent of her significance, nor
how it would grow. She was simply a stuffed cat that reminded
me of my father and of my living cat. She was to become my
big best friend that would accompany me everywhere until I
no longer needed her companionship. Less than a year after my
father gave me Ebony, he passed away. She was not the only
toy he had given me, but she was to become the only one I kept
throughout the years. She was a companion and a reminder,
something to help me hold on to the past. Now she sits in a box
in my storage closet as something I don’t often think about but
will never leave behind.” 55
55 Ibid.

276 archive and memory

Zagreb, Croatia

“The Museum of Broken Relationships is an exhibit revolving

around the artifacts of broken relationships, it’s the kind of
things that you don’t want to throw away, you’re too attached
to to donate, not a lot of monetary value here, but like the type
of thing that you would probably save in a fire.” 56

There are no artworks in this Museum, only common

objects sent by people who have lived something so
Hyde, Director, Museum of Broken Relationships, Hollywood, California, USA. In

strong in their lives that they want to share it with

others. The objects have to be a relic of a great love
story that has come to an end: the exhibit symbolizes
the relationship. Here’s what you can find in the
website, in case you want to become a donor:
57 Retrieved from https://brokenships.com/en/join/send_your_exhibit

“Would you also like to become a donor? Recently ended a

relationship? Wish to unburden the emotional load by erasing
everything that reminds you of that painful experience? Don’t
do it – one day you will be sorry.” 57

There are different ways in which we can approach to

this symbolic gesture of sending away the “remains” of
her words, on a video published by Buzzfeed.

a dead love: it can be a way not to face what was lost,

it can be a way to re-live the end of the relationship, by
forcing that kind of purge (in the shape of the object).
The objects are a memory of love and affection, but
also the memory of pain and disappointment.
There is a great deal of melancholy in a room full of
broken hearts. If we can imagine it, it would be like
waiting outside the cabinet of a marital counsellor,
only full of couples who have already accepted the end
(and are just learning how to live with it).
56 Alexis

277 archive and memory

This Museum is a real case of success in Croatia,
having become last year the most visited museum in
the whole country, and having been the recipient of
the kenneth hudson award for the most innovative
Museum in Europe.
The museum’s popularity was gained very much
through word of mouth, and if initially it took some
time to get out there, today the communication
strategy of the museum is international, fresh,
appropriated for social media and to a wide range of
publics, so much that it has started to have a sort of
franchise model. The creators of the museum initially
thought it would be nice to have some temporary
shows in different locations, based on request
(normally from big fans with some institutional
insight). But in a quick look on the website58, we see
that they’ve travelled everywhere now – including
Belgium, Switzerland, USA, UK, Argentina, Mexico,
Taiwan, Philippines, and South Africa – and that

from https://brokenships.com/en/on_tour/past_exhibitions
they’ve turned into a ready to assemble kind of
exhibition. There’s also a brand new version of a
permanent museum of broken relationships, which
opened this year of 2016 in Hollywood, after such a
huge success of the touring around the United States.

However, if one could expect that this whole success

would remove the sensitive and unique (original)
characteristics from the experience of visiting this
Museum (whether in Zagreb or any other location),
it is a relief to understand that, for every temporary
location, the creators prepare everything from scratch
and assemble a new exhibition based on the remains of
that specific city. Months before the event, they appeal
to the participation (with a local partner), from all
citizens that might have interest: afterwards, there is a
selection, because normally they sum up much more
58 Check

278 archive and memory

Figure 60 Objects exhibited in plinths

items than they can exhibit. I believe the explanation

for such success derives from the combination of
an acute aesthetic sense – in assembling the pieces,
including the tables, the lighting, the design – with the
way the narrative just makes it easy for us to connect
with. Individuals with broken hearts also submit a
written letter where they explain why that object
represents the end of their relationship, and if that
can give us a sense of warm and comfort (specially
for those who just came out of a break-up), it can also
assure us that we can go through it, and even maintain
some sense of humour. In some of the objects, like
the example of the silicone implants that a girl got
removed (after breaking up with the boyfriend who
convinced her to do them), there is the embedded
history of getting back up, and saying “I’m here,
I’m good, I don’t need you.” But because the healing
process is anonymous, you don’t have the exposure
of having your name there. The only names that are
known are olinka vištica and dražen grubišić,
the two co-creators from Zagreb that came up with
this idea after their own break up: releasing the first

279 archive and memory

call for participants and putting up the first show in
2007. They were having difficulties in overcoming a
separation that both agreed it was long due: ironically,
from this process they inadvertently started a project
in which they became business associates. Today
they both have happy marriages and kids (with other

Santiago, Chile
This is a Museum that was opened in Chile to give
space to the comprehension of collective history
through micro narratives within private and personal
items. In Chile, families and individuals who wanted
to collaborate to the creation of the Museum donated
their own personal effects to the Collection of the
Museum, together with the narration of the episode
that makes that object be the representation or the
reflection on violations of human rights. In this
specific context of Chile, most of the objects are related
towards the period of the dictatorship (1973-1990),
and the massive efforts that for years were undertaken
in order to hide the dictatorship’s effects from coming
to public.
The objects incorporated in this collection can be
visited in exhibition context and can also be browsed
from the internet website that has been designed to
make the collection as accessible as possible to all of
us. The objects represent Human Rights (memory and
trauma) which can be taught through personal tales or
collective memories.

280 archive and memory

up at http://archivomuseodelamemoria.cl/index.php/;digitalobject/browse/page/9/mediatype/136/limit/10

Figure 61 Objects in the interface of the website

My fascination with the discovery of this Museum is in

the fact that everything seems to have been so carefully
considered: it does not appear to have been any abrupt
decision of showing objects or artifacts as the result of
already having them (for some institutional reason).
If we browse through the archive’s website, we can see
that a lot of resources were spent in the registration
of the objects, from its origin until the many different
ways we can access them: by keywords or relevant
subjects like political prisoner, concentration camps
and the like. Also we can trace any object, by starting a
research on the donor’s name or family integration.59
Not only we have the chance to get to know more
about a country’s historical background through the
impressions of the ones who testified it, but if we
happen to have been one of those individuals, we
also get to leave that mark, that impression. All the
59 Look

281 archive and memory

donors are identified in the website, as well as in the
place where the asset is exhibited. There is also the
recording of testimonies, walking side by side with
the object, which is a crucial element towards its

“The Museum of Memory and Human Rights increased

its assets from the acquisition or addition of objects or
documentary archives of institutions or individuals.
This donation process is carried out based on different
modalities. Each of these is properly regulated, establishing
conditions, rights and responsibilities through an agreement

from the original introduction, available in the website of the Museum, acessed in

61 From “Leftovers/Surplus Meaning” by George Scheer & Stephanie Scherman in “Cabinet - A

signed by the parties. The museum does not make acquisitions
through purchase.” 60


quarterly of art and culture.”, issue 57 - Catastrophe, pp. 13-17., (Spring 2015).
Greensboro NC, USA
elsewhere is a very trendy Museum located in
Greensboro, North Carolina, in a region that has seen
changes (through time, economy, real estate and war)
affect the turn-of-the-century buildings-three stories
high, from initially crowded and populated to mostly
vacant. joe gray bought his own building here in
1939, after he improved his father’s business into a
furniture repair shop that would be shipped and sold
to New Yorkers: he moved to North Carolina where he
met sylvia, and their kids were born in between the
second world war. joe and sylvia worked as a team as
they adapted to the different moments of their store:

“At first they sold furniture, and later work wear and Army-
Navy surplus, on the first floor; they kept a boarding house on
the second, and for a short time, lived on the third beside the
60 Translated

business office and repair shop.” 61

282 archive and memory

The couple adapted their store to the economic needs
of the country, and managed to succeed into the
purchase of leftovers blind lots and the transformation
of those lots into products for domestic market:

“The Surplus store developed in a period of economic transition

from the leftovers of post-Depression war production to the
1950’s boom of newness and domestic convenience.”
(scheer & scherman, 2015)

But joe died of a heart attack in 1955, and sylvia

continued to pursue their business as they had before
in the acquisition of lots of goods from different
resellers over the years, that without a business plan
mainly accumulated all over the space:

“When she died in 1997, her mountains of things filled the

three-story building, leaving only a small footpath. The
downtown store was locked up in the mostly abandoned
city center. There, the flotsam and jetsam of economic
overproduction and industrial excess – its materials, fantasies,
and fictions – remained.” (scheer & scherman, 2015)

“Sylvia was a child of the Depression, so everything had use,

reuse, or resale value.” (…) She preferred you didn’t browse.
Instead, she asked what you wanted and would scurry off to
find it. If Sylvia liked you, it would be cheap. If she didn’t, she
wouldn’t sell. If you tried to haggle, she would refuse. She knew
where everything was.” (scheer & scherman, 2015)

As the time passed, sylvia’s sons didn’t know what to

do with that living memory of their mother, and in the
early 2000’s the real estate was not a claimed good, so
they just waited, until sylvia’s grandson george and
his friend stephanie decided to open the store with
friends, artists and musicians, and discovered that

283 archive and memory

“the store was in fact a cultural treasure, an imperfect archive
of everyday materials from across the decades (...) this world
beyond words delivered an unfolding storybook written with
objects.” (scheer & scherman, 2015)

And as the time and their exploration passed, they

seemed to have found a meaning for all that pilled junk
that was just there.

“More and more people – artists, shoppers, neighbours and

visitors – passed by and through. As Greensboro began to
benefit from the national urban turn and from a developing
cultural economy in its downtown, the old store took on new
meaning as project space, anchor, and destination. The place,
which we named Elsewhere, is a living museum, endlessly
reinvesting its surplus in new ideas and formations built from
the sale old things.” (scheer & scherman, 2015)

Figure 62 The space inside Elsewhere.

284 archive and memory

Today, elsewhere is run as a Museum with an Art
Collection, only made out of objects accumulated for
• sylvia’s husband owned a big store, but he died and
she had small kids, no time and no idea how to run a
business: her 3 storage department store became the
headquarters for her hoardings;
• The place was turned into a museum by her
grandson: he loved his grandmother and also he was
very curious to get to know her better (after her death)
from observing her collections, her objects;
• This museum can be openly visited or through
oriented tours and other activities;
• Nothing that is visible is for sale, but everything can
be touched (and manipulated);
• There is a top floor with houses for artists to spend a
residence period (short term);
• The resident artists can use the existing objects and
materials to create their art projects: eventually they
“Archivo Caminante: Constellations and Performativity” by

will remain there and join the collection;

Teresa Riccardi, included in Afterall nº 30 (Summer 2012) p. 77.

• We can have a meal there if we want; join the artists

and even help them cook in the available kitchen;
• We pay what we want to visit the museum.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

“A ghostly image, one that foreshadows future constellations,

seems to say it all. A blind man walks with difficulty, looking
upward under a storm of newspaper clippings, an umbrella
covering his head. He has lost one shoe, but he keeps on walking,
protecting himself from both the past and the present.” 62
62 From

285 archive and memory

The walking archive is a project developed by
eduardo molinari as:

“an artistic/archival production of a performative nature that

he has been carrying out since 1999, and under its official title
since 2001.” 63

The archive was started with a principle quite similar

to the Warburgian Mnemosyne Atlas, meaning that
he makes use of the idea of juxtaposing images
associated to a specific topic. Most of the work consists
on researching from already existing archives and
finding out where there might be others. In specific
occasions the walking archive finds a place to show
some ideas and in these moments the archive becomes
a temporary museum or a gallery, offering access to a
number of documents that are usually not accessible.
The idea of walking (as in the walking archive) claims
for a nomadic existence: this is not a Museum, it’s
an idea in the heart of a man, as it also evokes the
Situationist’s AESTHETIC DRIFT.
In the terms of Molinari, walking must be perceived
as a way of critically thinking through the activation
of collective practices: this way leading to an
understanding of what it is that we can do together.

“Often working with research methodologies situated outside the

commercial sector, these practices create mobile cartographies
aimed at mapping the present. Molinari, the blind historian-
archivist, is one of them, and his meta-work Archivo Caminante,
is undoubtedly a type of performances that interrogates the
present, making “power memories” more agile by way of
visibility instead of accumulation and conservation.”
(riccardi, 2012)

The archive as a collective construction is opened to

the collaboration of all those who which to contribute.
63 Ibid.

286 archive and memory

“Archivo Caminante is an archive and a work-in-progress,
comprised of an extensive body of images, photographs,
newspaper clippings, flyers, magazines, travel observations,
notebooks, and drawings. It is an everyday life practice that
Molinari constructs in slow and constant increments, allowing
the footprints of his many movements and the experiences he
gathers to become visible.” 64

Figure 63 The walking archive

The greatest issue to research is the history of

Argentina and Latin America, from the media
resources, both local and international, in order to
achieve a form of collective identity.
The idea of the drift is also used as a way to delve
into the archive, for this practice is perceived by
each individual in distinctive ways: by walking and
p. 78.

observing, one holds more information than he would

if he was holding a photographic camera. In order not
64 Ibid,

287 archive and memory

to be distracted, the idea is to focus on life instead of
trying so desperately to preserve it.
Also through walking, the archive moves from place
to place, proposing new encounters and becoming
activated by different collaborators, who can also
add to the archive some challenges and different

the book “The innocence of objects”, the catalogue for the Museum of Innocence, Istanbul (2012), p.15.
Although not being an actual museum (with a specific
venue) the walking archive has a strong program in
order to fulfil the urges of comprehension on a sort
of topics. Because this is the life project of eduardo
molinari, and he overlays it with other activities,
like teaching for example, there are times in which
the archive seems to be suspended, holding for new

Istanbul, Turkey
The museum of innocence is a creation of ohran
pamuk, and it consists of an existing Museum opened
in 2012 in the city of Istanbul drawn from the narrative
of a novel he had written before, under the same name
(published in 2008).

“I wanted to collect and exhibit the “real” objects of a fictional

story in a museum and to write a novel based on these objects.” 65

When the idea first came to him, pamuk did not know
exactly what the narrative would be like: only that the
museum should have an aesthetic based on objects and
that the objects could be the excuse to tell a story. So,
we can say that the book did not start itself by drawing
the main character, nor by framing the city in its
never-ending life, but instead it started being written
65 From

288 archive and memory

from the objects (and their narratives) a bit like a
After some time, pamuk realised he was doing both
things at the same time and decided to let them take
independent ways.

“There is, of course, a strong bond that holds the novel and
the museum together: both are products of my imagination,
dreamed up word by word, object by object, and picture by
picture over a long period of time. This is perhaps also why the
novel and the museum each tell a story. The objects exhibited
in the museum are described in the novel. Still, words are one
thing, objects another. The images that words generate in our
minds are one thing; the memory of an old object used once
upon a time is another. But imagination and memory have a
strong affinity, and this is the basis of the affinity between the
novel and the museum.” 66
p. 18.

Figure 64 A visitor in the Museum of Innocence.

66 Ibid,

289 archive and memory

All of this story is real, because pamuk created it but it
is also fake, because the objects are not his objects and
kemal (his main character) is a real person, but not
the one in the book.
By the time the processes of writing begun to take
shape, the writer understood he needed more objects
to continue. And he also needed a manifesto for his
museum, because people kept asking him why he
wanted to make a museum, as if it was the most bizarre
idea ever.
From my own visit to this museum in 2013, I had
not realised that the museum had opened only the
year before. In order to find it, I felt a bit like kemal
exploring the narrow streets of some neighbourhoods
in Istanbul, going up and down stairs, following stray
cats and going after enchanted smells and scents.
There was no indication of the Museum’s location,
except from a tiny sign in the beginning of the
neighbourhood, and even when I was already there I
couldn’t immediately find it. The museum looked like
a house, just as it was supposed to be: kemal’s house.
The organization of the space though is not like a
house, so to say. Because there is the need to preserve
the exhibited objects, and instead of looking at a dress
inside a closet (and being able to reach it), pamuk
shows us a dress inside a vitrine, along with all the
other items that would have made sense to go along
with that dress (that is, according to the narrative
described in the novel).
Going through the museum of innocence is like
reading some moments of the book, and even if it’s
highly intense and powerful, we might find ourselves
sometimes a bit trapped, or with no place to go.
The desire to conduct a narrative through the use of
everyday life objects turns an obsession into a healthy
creation of a work that lies between fiction, archive,

290 archive and memory

and the response to the individual needs of museum’s
visitors. pamuk created a manifest with topics that
introduce his museum to the world, based on his own
life experience to justify the needs and the choices.
These are two:

“6. It is imperative that museums become smaller; more

individualistic, and cheaper. This is the only way that they will
ever tell stories on a human scale. Big museums with their wide
doors call upon us to forget our humanity and embrace the
state and its human masses. This is why millions outside the
western world are afraid of going to museums”;
“11. The future of museums is inside our own homes.” 67

Deveron Arts, Huntly, Scotland
Although most of the examples I decided to include in
this part of my research are actual museums – in what
concerns to the fact that they have, besides a regular
in the catalogue of “The innocence of objects” (2012), pp. 54-55.

program of activities, a physical place to stage the

the text “A modern manifesto for Museums”, included

exhibitions (or actions) they perform – The town is the

venue does not have a place, and the name itself reveals
that they’re probably not interested to have
one anyway.
Let’s imagine a small town with about 4500 local
inhabitants, with not many options on what it comes
to cultural offer, and a (too big) distance from the
main cities: Huntly, our location is a city located in the
east northern Scotland, four hours away (by car) from
Glasgow or Edinburg, the national beacons for culture
and arts. So, imagine that you went away to study,
and after some time back home, you realise that there
could be a possibility to contribute to the development
of that city, and at the same time, face a possible
impact in the everyday life of the city and their people.
67 From

291 archive and memory

deveron arts is an association started by locals who
wanted to do this: to continue living in that small town
and find a way to bring the big art venues to them. In
short time, they realised having no resources for the
rent of a headquarters building, but they insisted on
the idea, only from a different perspective. Discussing
topics that could become of interest for them

Art, Informal Space, and Social Consequence: A Curatorial Handbook in Collaborative Practice”,
(artistically and culturally challenging) as well as for
the remaining population, they addressed invitations
to some artists to come to Huntlly and spend a
residential period living and intervening there. This
idea turned to what today is a recognised program
of four visiting artists per year, accounting for about
three months each:

“Each one of them is clustered according to one of the

four main topical areas that structure the organisation’s
programme. These are environment, heritage, identity, and
intergenerational topics, which have been identified in relation
to Huntly and are by no means prescriptive.” 68

Nuno Sacramento and Claudia Zeiske (2010), p. 41.

Figure 65 Artistic project in Huntly

There are a few characteristics who have turned this

68 ”ARTocracy:

project into something quite unique in the art world69

and have prevented for an (upcoming) gentrification,

292 archive and memory

or the transformation of the city in a mini museum,
where the inhabitants would become like small pieces
transferability, to three other cities: Huntlosen in Germany, Sesimbra in Portugal, and Ribeek Kasteel in South Africa. The choices

in a visual puzzle. The team that assembled the

for these three possible locations were distinctive, but had in common the fact that people from the team were originally from

deveron arts started from the local characteristics

there, respectively claudia zeiske (curator) nuno sacramento (shadow curator) and jacques coetzer (resident artist).
the two curators who edited the book “ARTocracy” (2010) have come up with a strategic plan for the project’s

to come up with a number of topics (instead of issues,

because it has a more positive connotation) that could
interest the locals, and at the same time, enrich the
people’s lives (not claiming that art is more important
than anything else, but at least as important). As
explained by the curators in their published Handbook

“The artist and curator discuss the possibility of working on a

specific found space, one that is inhabited by people and actions
related to the topic, and that will provide an immediate and
interested audience. The projects range from a wide variety of
events, from performance to exhibitions, lecture, tours, drive-
ins, creation of logos, organisation of a parade, or the assembly
of a choir, depending on the artistic concept.”
(seiske & sacramento, 2010, p. 56)

And no matter how engaging a project can be, there

is always a simple way to make a first assessment of
the intervention: if people are talking about it in the
pubs or if the local newspaper has published anything
about it. If they’re not, it’s a way to understand that the
socially engaged ambition was not achieved (which
doesn’t necessarily turn the project into a bad one):

“An important point to make at this stage is the fact that

although the artists are temporary residents, all remaining staff
live in the place where we are curating the project. They are
part of the community and have the same social responsibilities
towards it as everyone else.”
69 Although

(seiske & sacramento, 2010, p. 57)

293 archive and memory

when power
and utopia
meet the arts

a b o u t n o s ta l g i a

Many times I wondered (and have been mentioning

here), from so many interesting examples of alternative
or creative museums I’ve been stumbling upon, if I
was given the chance to choose, which would be my
museum or which would be the perfect format of a
museum for the future.
Because that could never be a simple question
“Chapter V – Action”, in “The Human Condition” by Hannah Arendt (first edition 1958), p. 200.

to respond to, I preferred to require myself to

comprehend which characteristics could, individually,
lead to a (future) necessary museum.
A lot of things could immediately be designated as out
of my range of action, and therefore uncontrollable
from the position where I stand. These are
contingencies of the museum world which to have
access to, I would have to be looking at it from a
different point of view (but if that was to happen, this
work would eventually not make sense anymore). I’m
recognizably addressing to issues of power.

“Power is always, as we would say, a power potential and not

an unchangeable, measurable, and reliable entity like force or
strength. While strength is the natural quality of an individual
seen in isolation, power springs up between men when they act
together and vanishes the moment they disperse. Because of
this peculiarity, which power shares with all potentialities that
can only be actualized but never fully materialized, power is to
an astonishing degree independent of material factors, either of
numbers or means.” 1

The other set of things is related with utopia (as the

expression of a dream or a desire): the possibility of
addressing utopia as an opportunity to build from an
idealization of something, almost as if we could allow
1 From

297 when power and utopia meet the arts

the contents of our dreams to transform into tangible
objects or vivid experiences.

There have been some particular (identifiable)

moments in art practices, from the 1960’s onwards,
in which the merge between artwork and everyday
life has been so ambitious as the outcomes that have
reached something close to a utopian way of life. At
least from where I stand, and considering the aim to
this work, I believe that a lot has been explored and
that along the way, much of it was also lost.
Artistic proposals that predicted themselves to cause
dialogues and effective exchange among viewers, but
that, according to grant kester2, resulted not in the
type of dialogues that occurs towards a finished work,
because those are to be predicted and/or expected.
What is surprising in some projects with strong
social inbound is that the integration of dialogues

“Conversation Pieces – Community + Communication in Modern

and conversations happened within the duration of
the work, becoming a part of it. And in those cases
there was not the pressure for a satisfaction through
an aesthetic experience (or at least not only that), but
rather something more intense, more profound.

“The results are not surprising: dialogical works are criticized

for being un-aesthetic or are attacked for needlessly suppressing
visual gratification. Because the critic gains no sensory
stimulation or fails to find the work visually engaging, it is
Art” by Grant H. Kester, (2004), p. 9.

dismissed as failed art.” 3

In many situations, (along the years) an attempt

to provoke a true communitarian engagement was
perceived by artists and other cultural agents as
3 Ibid, pp. 10-11.

simply the differentiation of discourse: by lowering

the usual difficulties towards the reception of a
contemporary work of art or by simplifying the
2 From

298 when power and utopia meet the arts

message that was to be spread. The fact is that, in some
cases, the possibilities to a wider reach (of people)
were definitely bigger. This is though, a somewhat
condescending perspective and in many documented
experiences4, it lead to situations of disdain from the
audiences, or rather the basic reaction of “That’s very
nice” – like when an artist paints a wall to make an
area look nicer – which may even suggest a feeling of
certain tendency to insert works of art in roundabouts, which leads to a visually attractive result, but have

satisfaction, but it is a rather temporary one, and it

will have no effective impact (in the lives) in any of the
no other impacts. By this, the investment made becomes just a void attempt to do things with people.
situations of Public Art, for example, this reaction becomes more evident. In Portugal there is a

parties involved.
Despite some of the efforts made by artists working
with communities through the years, some of them
are still constantly perceived as decorative or as
something nice that only gets them to smile a bit: there
is probably a pattern in the procedures that did not
go towards the intended direction, or maybe this is
something that artists haven’t been able to master yet
(or maybe they never will).

“I concentrate on works that define dialogue itself as

fundamentally aesthetic (as opposed to works centred on
collaboratively producing paintings, sculptures, murals, etc).
Because conversational exchange is an important element
even in more object-centred modes of practice, the critical
framework outlined here will, I hope, be relevant to activist and
community-based art more generally.” 5

That’s not the case of what I’m trying to bring to this

discussion. I’m referring to some pieces held during
the decade of 1970 in different western countries,
which suzanne lacy6 denotes to as NEW GENRE
4 In

299 when power and utopia meet the arts

also by Grant Kester, in “Conversation Pieces – Community + Communication in Modern Art”, (2004), p. 9.
“Conversation Pieces – Community + Communication in Modern Art” by Grant H. Kester (2004) p. 13.
Figure 66 Working with a group of kids, sharing thoughts and materials.

For being in most cases the result of a number of

circumstances that did not attach to the art world
(or the art market), most of the projects were not
recognized outside the sphere in which they were held,
and we got to know them today through the manner of
investigations that have been carried through. There
is also in common the fact that these artists or artistic
groups have devoted some time and energy to the
construction of a documentation: the documentation
was generally mandatory (for the sake of the public
funding that would be guaranteed through the records
and reports delivered regularly), and usually included
photographs, video records, audio records, statements
and others of sort. The archives were generally
considered of good use, whether for the transmission
of a certain degree of history, or for some future
political claims (in the cases of dependency upon local
authorities), and most of them are still preserved in
Libraries, National Archives and other public facilities.
6 Referred

Although the intention and amount of energy

5 From

300 when power and utopia meet the arts

might have been big enough and even attributed
in the right direction, the truth is that most of the
positive outcome of such projects was in the form
of influence on younger generations of artists that
have been making their own statements and leaving
consequences in their actions, as exemplified by

“While this collaborative, consultative approach has deep and

complex roots in the history of art and cultural activism, it
“To take all that learning and put it together with all that art” by Carmen Morsch, included in

has also energized a younger generation of practitioners and

collectives, such as Ala Plastica in Buenos Aires, Superflex
in Denmark, Maurice O’Connell in Ireland, MuF in London,
Huit Facettes in Senegal, Ne pas Plier in Paris, Ultra Red in
Los Angeles, and Temporary Services in Chicago, among many
others. (kester, 2004, p. 9)
the book “Art for Change – Loraine Leeson: Works from 1975-2005” (2005), p. 110.

As the result of the confrontation with reality, dealing

with situations in which artists place themselves in
community projects in which they appear not to
depend upon commodity forms (like all other human
beings) and praise for a communal form of living
between art and people instead of waiting for the next
pay check, is an idea that is deemed to an end (since its
beginning). In the UK, the most common framework
for socially engaged art was for a long time driven

“within the frame of museum and gallery education

programmes, the educational art projects have occurred mostly
in the form of artist-in-resident project.” 7

This was the case for some of the projects that

loraine leeson has developed together with peter
dunn, since 1970’s onwards. The difficulties felt at
that time in the UK (and I’m not even mentioning
the Portuguese case, because there was none) for an
7 From

301 when power and utopia meet the arts

artist to work within the social sphere were the same
as in any other western country; however, in the UK,
gallery education had already been spotted by groups
of artists that had in themselves an urge to create
dialogues around their work (instead of waiting quietly
for those dialogues). Gallery education was seen as a
kind of alternative, as it enabled some partnerships to

“Conversation Pieces – Community + Communication in Modern Art” by Grant H. Kester, (2004), p. 22.
“To take all that learning and put it together with all that art” by Carmen Morsch, included in the book
be designed (between artist-educators and museums,
and in some cases involving also the schools), and
aided in the activation of available funds (European
funds, the lottery fund or private institutions for

“Leeson worked with Peter Dunn for nearly twenty years as

“the art of change”, developing collaborative projects with
community groups, schools, women’s organizations, and other
constituencies in the Docklands and East London. Their
projects emerged out of extended dialogue and personal

“Art for Change – Loraine Leeson: Works from 1975-2005” (2005), p. 110.
interactions with the groups and individuals involved.” 8

There were some issues though, that didn’t fit ideally

in the artist’s expectations, mainly regarding the fact
that residencies were not long-term. Upon reflection,
according to morsch9, leeson admitted that when
they started to feel some the impact of their work
actually have effect in the everyday behaviour of their
participants, the residency would come to an end.
In an attempt to resolve the identified issues, leeson
developed some tool-boxes. Objects designed to
remain as links to the communities she’d been working
with. The objects in their own particular way could
maintain a connection, but they could also be trapped
by a certain lack of aesthetic concern (without her
involvement, the students, teachers and others were
free to work according to their own aesthetic patterns):
this, in particular for leeson, did not seem a major
8 From

9 From

302 when power and utopia meet the arts

problem because she was willing to try to overcome
that great separation and give up on her artistic
framing (and valorisation), if that would in exchange
bring the possibility to change something in people’s

Figure 67 Indiscriminate objects in a pile

As a proximity to a utopian form of life, artists began

to fill in the path towards that utopia. Because utopia
exists in itself (and only) in the mind of the one who
claims it: if one is to preserve or look for an ideal
connection between human beings to depend on
artistic actions, that road will eventually lead to a
lonely utopia. And at the end of the day, there is always
the need of coping with the sense of community that
all neo-liberal societies somehow arrived to: one has
to actively participate in order to succeed, because the
truth is that no man/or woman is an island.

303 when power and utopia meet the arts

History Within Living Memory
Included in the artists placement group (apg)
actions – the group that from the 1960’s to the 1980’s
in Britain, organized their practice around the
integration of artists in different sectors of society,
leaded by barbara steveni10 in order to look for an
approximation of artists towards life – “History within
living memory – The Peterlee Project” was probably
one of the biggest achievements of this group, in what
regards to a long-lasting impact. Not only the idea
in itself was innovative and barrier breaking, but the
fact that it became an exemplary case and subject to
numerous researches today, might bring some light on
the subject.
barbara steveni is said today to have been very
successful in the implementation of artists in the APG
program in the UK, but only a residual part of the
letters that she submitted were effectively answered:
the new towns appeared to be a great opportunity
for the apg, since their development would necessarily
lead to a renegotiation of town-led actions, and
considering that these towns were being created
in order to proceed to a positive view towards the
recovery of economy - and regeneration of community
life - after the second world war, it would be expected
that the people involved would positively receive an
artist in their surroundings.

“New towns were designated areas developed across Britain

here on chapter 1.

between 1946 and 1970 to alleviate the housing shortage and

contribute to the reconstruction efforts after World War II. The
New Towns Committee was sponsored by the Post-war Labour
Government and was congruent with its commitment to major
reforms that would pave the way to a system of peacetime,
planning, nationalization and the welfare state.” 11
10 Mentioned

304 when power and utopia meet the arts

But it wasn’t the success of the project and specially
not to the (non) application of the program plan that
was proposed by the resident artist stuart brisley,
what led this to become an object of discussion and
such a reference today for those interested in art-based
community work.
“The Peterlee Project”, by stuart brisley was – in its
core, and in the beginning of its implementation – an
Bagcioglu, included in “Stedelijk Studies Issue #3 –The Place of Performance”, p.12, accessible from the link:

example of how realities could actually be built from


scratch, in order to alleviate the effect of a negative

the New Towns, according to Neylan Bagcioglu, Peterlee was the only one to reply the invoice

cloud over the life of general citizens, through a social,

from Barbara Steveni. “Delegating (Community) action: Stuart Brisley’s Peterlee Project” by Neylan

political and cultural point of view. Thus, a certain

form of utopia.
11 From

Figure 68 Families relocated in Peterlee

305 when power and utopia meet the arts

The project had its beginning in 1975 (officially led
from 1976-77) after a positive response from the city
of Peterlee to the apg representatives. The city was
founded as a New Town by the Labour Government
in 1948, aiming for the replacement of families
who were originally employed in the coal mining.
Considering that all these people had arrived (to
an empty town) from different origins, even if their
movement was dependent on their work (and the
movement was towards stability), there was in this
community, according to bagcioglou, a feeling
similar to a diaspora. This was exactly what brisley
had felt; that the lack of history and past was so strong
that it seemed to be something missing, and from this
absence he found the beginning for the project.
His preliminary analysis was that it was necessary
to reflect on the past (of these people) in order to
project a future for the city (instead of proposing an
artwork, even the most participatory one). Therefore,
the community would be called upon the activation
of their own personal stories and through public
engagement, prepare the ground for a final stage of the
project, in which the collected material would be used
by the local inhabitants to make their own archive of
collective memories. This would be finalized through
a workshop led by brisley and the community
representatives who would have been working with

“His aim was to empower individuals to build their own

community, and he emphasized the importance of the conscious
and active participation of individuals in this process.
Therefore, he defined his role as a consultant rather than a
leader or manager.” (bagcioglou, n.d, p. 3)

306 when power and utopia meet the arts

However, this didn’t happen as predicted, and in many
aspects it was a failed project. After the first stage got
completed, the collected materials were to be made
accessible to the public, as a transition for the final
stage of the workshop as a social tool.
The identification of the six members of the
community that would be the ambassadors of the
project was important as they should be the ones
passing the information to others, through a training
period with brisley. The problems started right there
when the six elements did not act accordingly the idea
of being equally important: there was immediately
one element that got out of the narrative, appealing
for leadership, and calling to himself the greatest
In the development of the process, the breach
initiated by the participants eventually led to an early
conclusion and renaming of the project as well as the
removal of stuart brisley’s authorship. What he had
predicted as a soft transition to the local authorities
was finally made in one single move, together with
the destruction of some of the collected materials
(the ones which did not have potential for archival

“Since Brisley specifically chose not to frame the direction of the

project, the course that the project would take essentially rested
on the community’s response to it.” (bagcioglou, n.d, p. 3)

It is hard to say what could have been made in order

to prevent this disclosure to the Peterlee Project,
because according to the reports and the reflection
regularly made by stuart brisley, his intention was
to allow this openness to be integrated in it. The open
end format would always determine that he would
not intervene as a leader facing the imminence of a

307 when power and utopia meet the arts

rupture: instead, the ruptures should be embraced and
accepted as something necessary, in whatever direction
the project were to make sense. The artist gave away all
the power he could have, by persisting in the idea that,
to fulfil a possible utopian cooperation, one can not
change the rules in the middle of the game.

“The attack on the institution of art is the condition for the

possible realization of a utopia in which art and life are united.”
(bagcioglou, n.d, p. 3)

Utopia is to wake up in a world where I have the

freedom to accept or to deny what I’m offered.
Utopian propositions have always been very satisfying
in artistic contexts, because in many cases they go
forth what has been identified as the urgencies of a
neighbourhood, a location or a town.
A utopian level of satisfaction in the contemporary art
world, would not be to provide for public debates on
this topic to be performed outside the museum, but
rather to take it inside, through commissions. Only
in the case of putting the Museum in a situation in
which the outcome (and whatever that means) is not
expected nor able to be controlled or silenced, maybe
we could be beginning to talk about utopian realities
inside the museum.
And maybe we would be ready to begin to change.

308 when power and utopia meet the arts

c h a n g e t h e f o c u s

There was a pier with a sea made out of books; from

any position in the pier we would be surrounded with
undistinguishable voices that were talking and singing
like a choir. Every time I would go up the pier with a
group, I feared someone could fall into the sea (like
many objects kept falling) which would be a mess for
me, and it would not be good for the work of art either.
That day, I asked the group to close their eyes and to
share with me and the others, what they could sense
only through the experience of carefully listening. The
most common responses would normally be directed
to the sea and the sound of the waves (suggested
maybe by the image achieved with all the opened
books). But there was one girl who mentioned a
mermaid. She was sure that the meaning the artist
wanted to suggest with that work of art was the

enchanted singing of the mermaid, only to attract

information on: ttp://www.serralves.pt/en/thinking/visit/

us to the forbidden and the unknown (we, as the

Brazilians, share this attraction with the sea). She was
the same girl that, since the beginning of the visit in
the museum, had showed a small interest by all she
was seeing (and discussing). Her body language kept
showing signs of exhaustion or nervous reactions: she
was not actively involved in the conversations but she
was not silent either.
The piece was “Marulho” (1991-1997), one of the works
included in the exhibition of cildo meireles in 2014
in the serralves museum12: I ended the talk with that
particular work and I remember that it was with a smile
that I received this girl’s participation. Even if it wasn’t
the most active or positive participation, she couldn’t
help it after having struggled the whole time not to get
involved. In the end she got involved, and that’s why I
12 More

309 when power and utopia meet the arts

Figure 69 From here we can see the ocean.

remember her.
If I put together a group of kids (from a school) in
the Museum, and lead them through it in a way that
they expect to learn something, then I’m not changing
anything from what is the role of the traditional

“Education Aesthetics”, by Andrea Philips, included in the book

educator (whether it is a teacher in a school or a
mediator in a museum). The course of action today
can be more experimental, if we consider that both
students and teachers are expecting (or desiring) to be
surprised. What normally is given to the groups via

“Curating and the Educational Turn”, (2010), pp. 83-96.

guided tour reaches their expectations but most of the
times it does not surprise them in truly remarkable
But if instead, we disarm the students (and the
teachers) and switch the focus to them instead, we are
likely to cause some kind of reaction cause-effect. If
the focus is altered, maybe a lot of things will change
too. This is suggested by andrea phillips13 (from
the curating and the educational turn book) as a
displacement of education – something like taking an
educative experience and remove it from its original
Paired with the displacement of art, the displacement
13 From

310 when power and utopia meet the arts

of education forms a perfect combination of two of
the most powerful forces that need to be unsettled
inside the cultural hierarchy of today: it is with
the combination of these two different concepts
(developed further in the same text by andrea
phillips) that we can provide some suggestions and
results based on the idea of the rearrangement of the
Of course this is a dangerous task for a lot of reasons,
and it doesn’t come any easy.
The first reason is related to the expectations held by
all of the involved – teachers and students. It takes
only one single manifestation of awkwardness or
unpleasantness and it will immediately turn the group
into a hostile listener (might eventually develop
further this idea of group thinking, and how it works
in our brain, when we are integrated in one). The effect
of resonance throughout the remaining elements of
the group can transform an experimental (and usual)
feeling into a negative one, causing a long-lasting
The second point is related to the fact that I’m
automatically introduced to the group in a quite safe
perspective (in the role of mediator). Because I’m
integrated in the institution (at least my listeners
do consider me that way) I’m supposed to be
trustworthy. The problem is that, if I break the chain
of what I’m expected to do, there may be issues to be
faced concerning the institution – regardless of the
consequences – that can induce some insecure feelings
to the group: if all of a sudden the experience is way
too different from the most, it might not necessarily
come out as a plus.
The third point is the most contradictory and probably
the most important: I have to manage my own ways
of regarding the institution. This means that, even if

311 when power and utopia meet the arts

I’m uprising myself against many options that I know
to disagree (and try to replace them for something
better, in my perspective), at the same time I feel like
I’m a part of it, and therefore I don’t really want to
break the chain (not in a way that cannot be fixed).
From my conflicted and reflexive position, I want to
be rebelled and institutional at the same time: the one
that teases and gives comfort afterwards. In my own
thoughts, I’m constantly struggling for doing a job that
I love, and at the same time, trying to show everyone
around me that instead of a job, I have created a way
of living: therefore, I don’t stop thinking about it when
I get home, and I keep trying to find ways to make
me connect again, to challenge myself into making a
difference with this or that group – or with this or
that individual.
This makes me – without a doubt – the right person
for this kind of research, because Multilanguage
(similar thoughts with the production of different
contents related to it) and complexity is something I’m
quite familiar with. But it is exhausting.
And again, I never said this would be easy.

How do I handle the flood of information that can be

distributed in a guided tour?

Do I have to tell everything I know about a certain work of

art or an exhibition? I am allowed to say “I don’t know” if
I’m asked something something that I really don’t know?
Is that really my job as a mediator? Do I have to take for
granted that this is the expectation of anyone who comes
looking for any mediated action inside the museum?
So, I just memorize a lot of information and present it to
the visitor, in the form of teaching in the art museum, as if
we were on a lecture? But isn’t this what is supposed to
happen in formal education?

If an experience in the contemporary art museum is an

approximation, or rather a reproduction of something that

312 when power and utopia meet the arts

the students already experience everyday (in school), how
do we expect that this experience will have extraordinary
impact? And if that is so, what alternatives do I have?

I have experienced very positive reactions when I tell

stories in a way as if that episode had happened to us,
or to a friend of ours. There’s an affection click, an
immediate reaction, and occasiona