Do Things Exist Unseen?* Creation and Experimentation in Continuing Education with Educators at Rio Art Museum
Gleyce Kelly Heitor and Maria Clara Boing
The Rio Art Museum (MAR) – the integration between art and education
The Rio Art Museum - MAR (Museu de Arte do Rio in Portuguese) is a museum of art and visual culture, that was founded on March 1st, 2013, being part of an urban reform project in Rio de Janeiro driven by the great upcoming events that would be held in Brazil in the following years – the Football World Cup (2014) and The Olympic and Paralympic Games (2016) – a museum that is part of the mechanisms of exclusion and violence common to the processes of gentrification that are usually experienced by cities in similar conditions.
From its very beginning, MAR was an institution in which the process was valued to the detriment of the event, accepting and questioning the processes as it was conceived. The rewriting of history as a counterpoint to the great narratives, the collective construction, the listening and the porosity experienced are values that replace the arguments of authority.
Located in Rio de Janeiro’s harbour area, the museum is anchored in a triple combination: collection, exhibition and education in order to promote a transversal reading of the city and its cultural production. It focuses on the processes of formation, transformations and continuity that conform its history as a museum that concentrates its efforts acting and intervening in the symbolic life and context where it exists.
It is a museum conceived with the particularity of a construction formed by two buildings, meant for different and complementary activities – a continuing education school and an exhibition pavilion, under an architectural conformation that delineates MAR’s clear mission: to be a space of convergence between art and education, in which these two fields of knowledge can dialogue and act in synergy.
The architectural imperatives do not suffice to breaking the dynamics already naturalized in the field of art. Especially those linked to the social division of labor that are responsible for prioritizing knowledge and ways of acting. In this sense, the main challenge of some projects that wish to promote integration between art and education is to break with the classical understanding of education as solely the practice of knowledge transmission, content facilitation, social counterpart and at times, conflicts’ neutralization.
The Escola do Olhar (School of the Gaze in English) is the building’s poetic name and the educational program of the museum as well, organized to develop a dialogue with the exhibitions, without being restricted to them, recurring to art formation, education, visual culture and also Rio de Janeiro’s history. Priority audiences include teachers from all segments, residents of the port region, artists, students, researchers and professionals of the cultural area, in a relationship based on collaboration and participation.
The museum's activities stem from the understanding of education as creation and experimentation, in order to implement multiple ways of learning and thus generating and sharing knowledge. Their conceptual projects are educational visits, teachers' training, the MAR’s neighbours, the Academy projects, arts and visual culture, the library and the documentation center. These actions seek to deal with the multiple museum audiences, through activities that have as a principle to recognize and disseminate academic, traditional or local knowledge; as well as stimulating collective learning, developing spaces for discovery and contemporary culture, creating opportunities for prominence, inclusion and encounter of different cultures, languages and forms of communication.
Countless projects, practices and actions make up the daily life of an interdisciplinary education team composed by 41 people – students and professionals –, distributed in a range of positions and projects. People who in their daily practices use an amount of knowledge and methods that shape what is conventionally called the pedagogical project of MAR.
The particularities of this project and the role of educator training: its consistency and identity
When it comes to cultural mediation in the Brazilian context, we are referring to the processes sometimes named as educational or pedagogical projects, practiced in the circuit of art – museums, biennials, exhibitions, among others. Such processes are what, generally, Hoff points out as:
«[as] a supporting place (still) or not fully incorporated, of secondary interest by the art’s field (or would it be the system’s?). If this is good on the one hand, because it avoids impositions and mercantilist maneuvers to the educational experience; on the other, it easily becomes an institutional counterpart, as a luxury article, relegated to a secondary place. Thus, with a limited autonomy, cultural mediation, in the institutional politics’ point of view and in what the Brazilian context is concerned, is at the same time a matter of resistance and an object of manipulation – a field of experimentation, creation and transformation par excellence and the best product in the institutional market» (Hoff, 2013, p. 70)
According to Hoff, it is common for mediation to be perceived and conceived as an illustration of art which unfolds in the conception of education as translation or content facilitation. Such perception has strong ramifications in the place of subalternity delegated to educational practice in museums, which is rarely thought of as a poetic process of research, as an instituting and discursive practice – such as curatorship and artistic practice.
This subalternity place pervades a great deal of the formative processes of educators who aspire to act in museums and art exhibitions. In this sense, however, at least in the Brazilian context, periods of formation usually precede the opening of a temporary, biennial exhibition or even the creation of a museum as an institution. Such processes are usually marked by a strong focus on content transmission and one of its main objectives is to provide the teams with repertoires, data and thoughts aimed for better equipping educators/mediators in their roles of transmitting information to different audiences. If the knowledge and practices that are specific to educational activity in museums are rare, the propositions in which educators appear as capable professionals in creating, reflecting, analyzing and producing knowledge (in art, education and culture) are even rarer.
In this context the First MAR's Mediators Training Course was thought as a course focusing on existing practices, promoting ruptures as well as seeking to promote breakthroughs, like the first programming of the Escola do Olhar, a course that had two objectives: being part of the dynamics of a continuing formation in mediation in the city of Rio de Janeiro; and also being a part of the Rio Art Museum’s agenda and guidelines of the pedagogical program that was selecting and composing, from a formative and collective process, the first team of educators of this new museum.
Such training merged conventional processes like text readings, lectures with curators, artists, teachers and other experts and technical visits with poetic actions such as walks around the city, cartography, performances, video creations and sensitive reports. Its ethical starting point was to reflect the contradictions inherent to the project of this museum which, in an innovative way, proposed to devote equal space to art and education, and to politically ensure that its exhibition program was committed to some of the problems that the creation of a new museum in that region had provoked – mainly removals and territory struggle. This positioning did not exempt it, therefore, from facing constant boycotts and questionings about the need of another art museum amidst the political, economic and social crises in Brazil.
In this sense people involved in MAR’s education program took on as a challenge neither to minimize nor to stifle this debate, which demanded a constant political, critical, artistic, pedagogical and cultural formation, so that we would not fall into the trap of affirmative and reproductive museum pedagogy. By contrast, what Morsch (2011) proposes as self-reflexive mediation, inasmuch as recognizing their complicity in these processes, questions the possibilities of action, that is, a mediation based on criticism, among other things, not leveling or hiding the indissoluble contradictions, but rather turning such contradictions into an object of revision and debate.
Based on the premises of critical pedagogy, we anchor ourselves in the possibility of a propositional mediation able to, in a constructive way, criticize the institution generating a capable process, questioning not solely the status of art of the museum and conventional education, but also generating multiple forms to relate to all these sectors and agents. The multiplicity, collective learning, critical look at our own context, practices and statements, are the daily research to be undertaken by the future educators of this museum.
This perspective, in addition, expands the place of education and educators, who besides producing a set of educational actions for groups of visitors, set up a platform for generating knowledge and relationships. Such education aims not only at relationships with different audiences, but on research of the museum's role as well; art and education themselves as parts of the society, considering the context of production and distribution of knowledge and questioning, when necessary, the idea of culture, museum and society. This perspective guided the continuity of our formative processes, which were later systematized, reaching the format we will soon describe.
The continuing educators formation as a critical, reflexive and everyday practice
The assumptions of a critical mediation, as proposed by Morsch, bring the dialogue possibility with, and against, the museum’s discourses. Thus we understand mediation as a political action, generating other points of view and revealing devices and power relations that cross cultural institutions. In a dialogue with these tensions between critical mediation and the institution, we bring Michel de Certeau (2014) in order to think how the practitioners of museums, by their operative logics, can make this institution conformed by rules and standards of use, an inhabitable space of its public interests and desires, generating networks of knowledge and senses which are not only those imposed by the administrators of culture, politics and markets.
When we talk about the policies and institutional programs of museums, in the foreground emerges whatever is easily addressed to different audiences: exhibitions, training, shows and publications among others. The educators formation was part of the MAR agendas even before its creation. However, what's most interesting is to bring here as a research point a part of this activity that shapes the daily life of the team and that here we named MAR’s Educators Continuous Training Program.
We understand the continued formation of educators as «the open, institutionalized and remunerated space for studies, research, meetings during the work process» (Alencar, 2008, p. 59), that is «space for professional training in the workplace and this environment» (Fusari, 1997, p. 159).
We hope that these formations will have long-term effects and that they will nurture and be nurtured by the other public programs of the museum. It is in this sense that, even if it does not compose its open programming, the Continuing Education of MAR educators gives meaning to the pedagogical museum character insofar as it acts in the permanent formation of these professionals of culture. It is elementary for a museum which is also formed by a school, whose premise is to prioritize the formation of its own team.
Thus, this daily formation, although circumscribed behind the scenes of the institution, generates reflections, researches and methods that, besides directly affecting the expositions and relations with the public, generate networks of knowledge and meaning/senses with and by its practitioners. Therefore in this space are created the strategies and devices of mediation and investigation of multiple ways of learning and sharing knowledge. These understand museum education as a critical, institutional, dialogic, creative and dissensual practice in which «various agents and knowledges are involved, where the knowledge and disciplinary limits of the museum are put into play, opening up dialogues, debates and new knowledge» (Rodrigo, 2016, p. 8). For that matter such research moments are divided in daily, weekly and annual.
To better illustrate what we propose, we have chosen to share one of these platforms, called the Working Groups, identified as a fertile space where intersections between art and education are explored, based on four generating issues that, in addition to guide the exhibition program of the museum, are the core of its action in the city. These issues (territory, body and inclusion, contemporary artistic practices, history and narratives) nurture a research process that goes through its programming, unfolding and seeking to make sense of the idea of a process museum.
Each working group is composed by one senior educator, four junior educators and two trainee educators, guided by a project educator, whose attribution is to collaborate with the group’s studies. The division allows the equal distribution of people per group and the organization of daily tasks. All of them have autonomy of research and proposition. Thus, the thematic clipping is proposed and reviewed by the collective and its scope of interests and concepts can be changed annually, in dialogue with the other groups, the pedagogical coordination and education management.
Currently, the groups are as follows:
1) Accessibility is a group focused on the research on the body and ways of being in the world, taking its start from some synesthetic stimuli, and proposing an inclusive artistic and aesthetic experience to different publics of the museum, with special attention to disabled people.
2) I, the city and the other is a group that takes urban poetics and artistic practices as references while investigating and experimenting with intersections, transversality, tensions and negotiations between the different universes of sociability and their creation and practice on its relations of/in the city. This group dialogues directly with the MAR’s neighbours Program.
3) Fantastic Narratives is a group that allies itself to the multiple possibilities orbiting the discourses of Art, Education and Museum, valuing the deviations and fictions by creating poetic processes that engender gaps, twists and distortions in whatever is considered true. It focuses especially in the issues surrounding the relationship between school and museum.
4) Form/Image/Word is a group that investigates the artistic field from those three perspectives. It deals with issues such as materiality, signs, representativeness, memories, poetics, meaning and writing. Because of its interest in the theories about the viewer, the group dialogues deeply with projects aimed at spontaneous audiences.
What and how do the WGs research and how do they debate, reflect and dialogue with the idea of art education and museum
With weekly meetings, each working group has a responsibility to plan and manage its own schedules, filled by readings and text discussions, immersions in exhibitions, presentations of research on artists, contemporary issues or education, conception and conceptualization of activities, among other collective practices. In the face of multiple ways of researching, by which each working group differentiates itself from the other, the common goal is the commitment to share their processes, methods and experiences in two platforms: the weekly meetings and the annual journey, where all the groups dialogue, concerned with the accomplishment of educational actions for the museum public programming. Thus, it is the educator’s responsibility to program a part of the Escola do Olhar’s activities, those focused mainly on the spontaneous publics, namely the Educational Activities and the Gallery Talk, developed and performed from a continuous process of investigation and creation.
This space of the creation and sharing of knowledge, guaranteed by the WGs, encourages the educator to move more intensively through the discourses of a deconstructive and transformative pedagogy, as presented by Morsch (2009), in addition to merely affirming or reproducing discourses and established narratives.
If for the author «the deconstructive and transformative discourses incorporate a self-critical understanding of education» (Morsch, 2009), we understand that the WGs are fertile spaces for the development of reflections and criticisms, woven by the analysis of the power relations inscribed in the contents, addressing and methods of education of the museum and art. This criticism is incorporated into the educational actions proposed by educators in their relation with the public. It is important to note that acting with these two discourses, provides an opening of meanings in the created propositions and subjects involved, as seen in Morsch (2009, p. 12-13):
«In this working practice, those who teach and those who are taught exchange positions; the educational process is understood as a reciprocal act, although it is structured by the already noted power relations. While there are no predetermined addressees according to this logic, for they change according to context and situation, there is certainly an inquisitive mindset: for what is called for and expected is an openness to critically approach/ work with art and its institutions. A public who refuses to fulfill these expectations, thus insisting on the service-oriented imparting of information, evades the educational aims inherent in these discourses: the advancement of critical awareness, agency, and self-empowerment.»
The critical awareness, agency and self-empowerment, instigated by the research autonomy processes of each WG, engender not only self-training, but also the educator’s formation of the public, since the WG’s researches, the same ones which are responsible for the educational actions, are impregnated by the criticisms, creations, displacements and reflections proposed by the public in contact with these actions, leading the educators to review paths and trajectories of studies and propositions.
These flows of creation, sharing and reflection of knowledge and practices that emerge with/ in the spaces of the WGs are systematized by a method. Agreeing with Corazza (2015, p. 25), we understand method as a doctrine or technical process, «the mathematical model, the rules of formal logic, analytical and synthetic guarantees about the knowledge of Truth.» The method, still according to Corazza, is a way, «a direction that becomes research, not determined a priori, or regardless of its application, as a program of operations, started only after the formulation of rules. Method accomplished in effective operations, as creation and not as discovery».
Thus, the methods of research of the WGs at the same time make possible the accomplishment of the practices and are also constituted by them. If the practices are specific to the contexts and themes of each working group, then each one has its own research method.
Taking as an example the WG «Fantastic Narratives» which, as presented, is interested in the multiple invented, distorted and deviant narratives from the discourses of art, education and museums with their practices emerging from researches and references made by the educators of this WG, from concepts and keywords that are dear to the group’s theme, and appear in exhibitions and museum contents such as: narratives; fantastic; detour; fiction; inbetween; real; artifices; systems. From time to time, one of these concepts becomes the center of the WG and each educator collaborates with researchers and references, conducting collective debates, laboratories, conception of activities, evaluations, among other daily practices of the group.
This framework, which serves as the basis for the educational actions proposed by the group, is organized in four lines of action, which correspond to the principles of the Rio Art Museum, without being restricted by them; thus indicating that the educators’ practices are in synergy with the set of issues covered by the museum but go beyond them as well, in order to dialogue with other fields and contexts. The lines of action work as zones of interest and they are not an «one way road», thus enabling the creation of new relations between them: languages, art history, education and practices, with the latter being a space for filing the educators’ processes, such as reports of visits and experiences with the public that configure in a line of action, a legitimate research reference.
In this way we identify the research method of the WG «Fantastic Narratives»: from the museum exhibits a concept emerges as a keyword that relates to the group’s broad theme. With the keyword defined, each educator of the group searches for references, dialoguing with the four lines of action. It is important to note that the group broadens its research to multiple references, not only theory, incorporating also photographs, film, video, authors, artists, works (not necessarily at MAR exhibitions), music, literature, images. The educational actions and conversations are conceived from the sharing and reflections of this referential. Once done with the public, these actions return to the WG discussions as an evaluation, modulating the research and, possibly, giving rise to a new concept and keyword.
With other interests of action, that goes through an understanding of the city in its multiplicity becoming a place of comings and goings, narrative constructions, memories and meanings, in constant dialogue with artistic practices and the museum itself, the WG «The city, the other and I» shapes itself with a different dynamics and workflow. In order to conceive, execute and reflect on the public actions, the educators of this group organize their research by a cyclical method, with different stages that are related to each other.
The initial impulse of the research is by immersion in the exhibitions of the museum, the relations with artists, works of art, artistic practices, curatorship, city and territory. In this way, generating questions emerge, which will be worked by a division of individual research, conceptual mappings and references. These researches lead to a moment of conception, when the conceptual discussion of ideas are raised in the collective and methodologies for educational actions are developed.
They proceed then with the production, organizing and sharing tasks to elaborate the materials and devices necessary for action and the execution, developing the action with the public, attentive to the deviations from the meetings. After performing the action, the group turns inwards, again, in a moment of reflection, resuming the previous processes (research, conception, production and execution) and assessing conceptually and pedagogically what was developed, identifying potential improvements and possible unfolding.
Finally, the registration of this whole process is intended, mainly the moment of the actions with the public, recognizing the importance of the creation of memories as a process of investigation over its own practice.
In these two experiences, education and art work together as a creative power, but this is only because the educators’ training practiced by this museum is not based solely on the content of the exhibitions. These, as well as the general themes proposed by the museum, are elements that permeate and act in dialogue with educational practice, which is based on continuous research on themes of education, art, visual culture and the audiences.
The WGs «Fantastic Narratives» and «I, the city and the other», as well as those of the other two groups bring their singularities into the method and are not only a way of developing an agenda of public actions, but also a way of conceiving the pedagogical task in the museum.
If we understand museum education as a practice interspersed in knowledge and meaning networks, we know that this fabric is woven through the agencies operated by educators, public, architecture, curatorship, artists and management. Therefore, being based on this complexity of agents and demands, we believe that it is necessary a continuum playing on such program of formation of educators that, in its structure, does not reinforce places and relations of power historically constructed between fields – namely, education and art.
A formation which refuses to transmit knowledge and instead produces it in a relational way and surmounting edges, creates new places and ways of experiencing what exists and whatever can yet be collectively invented. It is in this sense, even when not seen;, a continuous formation of mediators that bet on the autonomy of the subjects, thus establishing a dialogue between expositions, public and artistic production, generating self-reflexive and poetic processes. It is, also, a way of practice, read, (re)negotiate and transform the notions of art, education and museum.
* Note: «Do Things Exist Unseen?», excerpt from the poem A suposta existência, de Carlos Drummond de Andrade.
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ANDRADE, Carlos Drummond de. (2002). A paixão medida. Poesia completa. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Aguilar.
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CORAZZA, Sandra Mara. (2015). Discurso do método biografemático. In: Biografemática na educação: Vidarbos. Organizado por Sandra Mara Corazza, Marcos da Rocha Oliveira e Máximo Daniel Lamela Adó. Porto Alegre-RS: UFRGS; Doisa.
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^ The Rio Art Museum is an initiative of the Rio de Janeiro City Hall in partnership with the Roberto Marinho Foundation. The museum introduced to Rio de Janeiro’s culture the experience of a public institution with private management and since 2012 it has been under the direction of the Odeon Institute, a social and cultural organization selected for this function through a public edict. Since its inauguration, programmes have merged historic and contemporary dimensions of art through national and international exhibitions of long and short duration. The museum also has a mission to promote intersections between art and education, through the Escola do Olhar (The School of the Gaze in English) – a museum program for education.
^ They are: thematic Working Groups (WG); the general meeting, which includes the substantiation and sharing of knowledge in art, education and visual culture, laboratories, conversations with guests, and other institutions’ visits, among others. Once a year, there is a Day of Art and Education when the Escola do Olhar educators join other MAR professionals to spread their practices, reflecting on the different ways of working in the museum and identifying the possible dialogues between education, curatorship, museology, communication and management.
^ We call educational activity a program of practical actions, involving games, performances, writings, poetry and experiences with different materials and themes of art and visual culture. Aimed at all ages, its main objective is to invite the public to a collective relationship with art.
^ The Gallery Talk is a proposal for reflection and discussion based on works of art and issues present in the exhibitions, from a contemporary themes perspective, that allow the creation of a dialogue network about art, culture and society.