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Political-imaginary Dimensions of Public Engagements

July 4, 2016 3:00 , by Regina Vogel - 0no comments yet | No one following this article yet.
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This project intends to identify, describe, frame and share in which ways the different audiences make ‘use’ of art museums and exhibitions, focus-ing on the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP) and the Museu Nacional de Brasilia (MuN), both in Brazil. Special attention will be given to the ‘uses’ that––in their gestures, expressions and narratives––demonstrate what we call a ‘political-imaginary dimension’, since they can suggest other uses and meanings for those spaces. Moreover, it will question in which way the investigations are influenced by the fact that the investigators are situated inside (in the case of MASP) or outside (in the case of MuN) the museums. A variety of methodological strategies can be used as tools (observation, interviews, ethnographies, etc.), according to various theoretical references: studies of everyday life (Certeau, 2014), the sociology of the rejections to contemporary art (Heinich, 2010), studies in culture and communication (Martin-Barbero, 2009), concepts of counternarratives (Giroux et al., 1996), counterpublics (Warner, 2010) and perspectivism (Viveiros de Castros, 2015), amongst the researches in the field of post-critical museology (Dewdney, Dibosa & Walsh, 2013), considering its approach to the conflicts between cultural authorities and distributed cultures in the setting of cultural institutions.

The ethnographic case study––including the contemporary critical revisions of this methodology–– will be taken as a first tool, for its capacity to work with non-structured data and for its interest in the form of describing such cases. A variety of strategies will be employed in the data collection: non-participant observation (secret, flexible, in natural situations); participant observation (public, selective, schematized); and semistructured interviews (aiming to correct any self-referred observations and to incorporate internal perspectives of the field); as well as various forms of records and documentations with different media. A first phase will be directed toward the creation of an archive of the practices and appropriations by the different audiences in their own dynamics of production, in relation to the museum programmes and the contents of exhibitions.

The aim is to intervene in a particular state of the art in relation to cultural mediation in Brazil. In the setting of relations between art and education, cultural mediation has emancipated itself from the denomination of ‘monitoria’ [tutoring], questioning the strictly unidirectional orientation attributed by the term to that activity, in a way that the audiences supposedly would no longer be considered as a mere receptacle of institutional offers. Although its purpose as instruction has been replaced by dialogue, a unidirectionality seems to persist. Its current functions invariably assert the directive of cultural democratization (which prioritizes the distribution to many of what has been produced by a few) instead of fostering cultural democracy (which implies the articulation among many of what has been also produced by many). The limits of such unidirectionality have already been pointed out (Donnat, 2011). However, it is not enough to confront the problem of “symbolic barriers” and obstacles to access. It is also necessary to consider the “prominence of consumption”, as a structural change of cultural dynamics; the questions that such a phenomenon poses for the typically self-identitarian constitution of institutions; and even the meanings of “democracy” nowadays and in each context.

Particularly in Brazil, the socioeconomic changes in the last 15 years that have allowed a new social position––if not an unprecedented self-confidence––for at least 30 million people (Souza, 2012), associated to the recent popularization of certain media technologies, have allowed not only access to certain consumer goods, but also the emergence and circulation of myriad practices and productions, ranging from memes to manifestations, including gifs, hashtags, “occupy” movements, etc. It is a very heterogeneous phenomenon, but also a context in which situations of “lo-cal deficiency” (with which the cultural action is traditionally committed) begin to coexist with the politicisation of peripheral communities, associated to the emergence of increasingly open and interdependent creative processes that can no longer be ignored.

In face of such a context––which simultaneously circumscribes (critically and reflexively) a persistent unidirectionality of institutional mediations and acknowledges a recent complexity of cultural dynamics––mediation should no longer be exclusively conceived as a cause of democratization, but also as an specific cultural practice, interested in the effects of a possible ‘cultural democracy’. In order to assess the limits and possibilities of this idea, the project intends to investigate the “contact zones” (Clifford, 1997) between cultural authorities and distributed cultures in the setting of art museums, giving special attention to the events and processes in which not only are the audiences learners, but the educators, curators, artists and institutions are as well.

The project will be guided by the following questions:

(1) What readings do the visitors make of the works on display, the exhibitions and the museum itself? What are their reactions, attitudes, opinions and appropriations? What references and meanings do they mobilize or produce, whether they be well-informed or ordinary?

(2) What points of contact (or distance), what counternarratives do they establish in relation to the art-specialized discourses?

(3) How can the knowledge, experience or response of the museum’s audiences return to the institutions, transforming their programmes and con-tents?

In the process it is expected:

(1) to test and develop educational, methodological and eventually techno-logical tools, considering the chain of actions extending from observation to communication;

(2) to advance the studies on public engagements, considering the description of gaps, articulations and interlockings between cultural authorities and distributed cultures; between the concept of visitors and the concept of counterpublics (Warner, 2010);

(3) to question the persistence of a ‘unidirectionality’, in the way mediation refers to the audiences, considering that the transformative purpose of that activity, invariably, takes the various audiences as the media for its actions, but not the institutions or the cultural policies for instance;

(4) to identify and question, in the so-called visitors studies, the consequences of conceptualizing visitors as measurable empirical data through categories such as “spontaneous audiences” and “scheduled audiences”, or “layman audiences” and “specialized audiences”.

Coordinators: Cayo Honorato and Luiza Proença

Contributors: André Mesquita, Danilo Piermatei, Lucas Oliveira, Narla Skeff, Pedro Andrada, Thais Olmos, Wandré Silva and Yuri Farias.

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