Galleries and museums have the potential to become educational spaces by activating conversations and engaging communities. For doing so, they need to recognise the transformative spirit of art, not only as something “visual” but including the conceptual, the performative and the post-conceptual. Besides painting, sculpture and installations, pedagogy can be also an artistic medium, one that can have an aesthetic and ethic effect. IN doing this, galleries need to go beyond anachronistic divisions between who is an artist (“educated”, “white”, “male”, “academic” vs. “practitioners”, “educators”, “foreign”, “female” artists), and what is art. In this way, those necessary conversations and engagement with audiences will be possible and art then can really change the world. In a similar manner, class-rooms can become artistic spaces… but that’s the topic of the next blog!
I have been busy writing projects, sending proposals and indeed, preparing our coming exhibition of RawTag in the Espacio Gallery in London. This is part of a collective exhibition, curated by the magnificent Renee Rilexie of the Artists Pool, on the topic of “Threads”, the threads of our lives. What does this mean? For RawTag, we thought about the threads of lives, emotions and affects woven into a piece of clothing.
RawTag is an innovative art AND education project, questioning narratives of production, consumption, and disposal, and we have chosen Fashion, as the centre of our inquiries. The innovative aspect is that it combines both the pedagogical aspects with the material/visual expressions of the enquiries. It has been almost two years since we first met with Carmen Lamberti at the Royal Opera House-Bridge program, and since then we have honed the elements of this new type of post-conceptual art. This is really something realtively new and unexplored, albeit the excellent book edited by Felicity Allen of the Whitechapel Gallery Documents of Contemporary ART on Education, has been illuminating in the sense of revealing that pedagogy can be a medium, as relevant as painting, sculpture or performance.
Notwithstanding it has been a diffcult proccess to convince galleries about the worth of this project. Most of the art is visual, and galleries don’t really understand that a pedagogical event can become artistic. This is a very traditional approach to art, and although I understand that there must be some sort of “aesthetic” output, our project is much more than some paintings or pictures on the wall.
This is because the opportunity at Espacio Gallery is really a daring bet of this gallery to expand the concept of art and education, and stop the division between who can be artist and who is not. As noted by many authors, galleries can be exclusive and discriminatory places (the space arrangements, the type of people who are “allowed” in the gallery, the way that bodies are disciplined to react in front of the art work -standing, circulating or simply contemplating in reverence-). On the other hand, galleries and cultural institutions try to open their doors to communities, engaging different audiences and becoming relevant for every day lives. Outstanding examples are presented by the Tate Exchange program, or opening the galleries for experiments in music (Wellcome Institute) or simply sessions of yoga in the midst of the Victorian sculptures of Victoria and Albert. Perhaps the most direct and efficient approach I have seen of engaging with people comes from galleries and museums in Latin American countries, for example, Mexican museums as places for the discussion of urgent social issues: there the gallery is alive, the museum deals with the present and the future, and children, artists, communities, neighborhoods mix with curators, commentators, therapists, community leaders and so on.
One of the most provokative and relevant philosophers of our time, the genial Alain de Botton, in his book about Art as Therapy, proposes a radical view of art as a context for being better and living and learning about oursevles and our most basic concerns: love, sorrow, empathy, solidarity, death, nostalgia… This idea seems to resonate with what we are doing: in our project, we try to come to terms to our own behaviour, our consumption habits and how they affect the invisible people as part of the lifecycle of clothes. It questions and it provokes reactions, and ultimately it seeks alternatives. And we are doing this in a radical and democratic way: In RawTag we are inviting people to be participants of the work of art, we believe we are all artists -as once said by Picasso!- in the sense of being able to transform our realities and express them aesthetically.
We have been working hard in connecting with the discussions of contemporary art, post-conceptual art and what Bourriaud has called about the role of artists. Carmen has been studying hard on her masters on arts and politics, finding interesting threads of thought and practice that inform our work. Personally, the experience of talking to artists in different scenarios (i.e. Art Residency, Art School courses) shows me that I have a huge knowledge of art from a sociological, and cultural theory approach, hence I never find myself as an “alien” just because I did not attend art school. On the opposite, this distance gives me an advantage in being able to interlink different disciplines. I have no doubt of my being an artist, because I do / live / breath art! It is not a case of living a double life of artist on one hand, and educator in the other. Both roles are me, one single person.
We are innovating in merging art and education, taking pedagogical events outside the “ivory towers” of higher education institutions, universities and schools. In our times where privileges are reproduced and defended, it is time for artists to break with the established order of some galleries and museums, by engaging with people, by exploring different mediums, and by posing questions that empower people to make their best in their own lives and communities.