The museum as tragedy, as clinic
Between 2015 and 2017, the Goethe-Institut São Paulo organized a series of gatherings called “Museal Episodes”, bringing together museum-based and independent curators to discuss the future of museums. The following text briefly reports on these gatherings as exercises in institutional analysis, interpreting and questioning the actions and transformations of museological work."It's tropical, even", reads one of the buttons included in the welcome materials for the first Museal Episode gathering, organized by the Goethe-Institut in Salvador in October 2015. The other button reads "People's Republic of MAM" beneath a photo of Lina Bo Bardi, founder of the Museum of Modern Art (MAM) in Bahia, the institution that was hosting us in Salvador. I didn't hesitate to pin the two buttons to my shirt – after all, Lina Bo Bardi was also one of the founders of MASP, the museum where I'd been working since January of that year as part of an artistic team that sought to bring back its original museological concept, in particular that of its headquarters on Avenida Paulista. While MASP's headquarters were being built in the late 1950s, Lina Bo Bardi moved to Salvador to create and run MAM Bahia.
In announcing a "People's Republic of MAM", the button confirmed, just like MASP, the desire of the current artistic direction of MAM Bahia in 2015 to bring back Lina's revolutionary grassroots plan for the museum, a plan stopped short by the authoritarian rule imposed following Brazil's 1964 civil-military coup. Among their proposed actions was The Director's Office, a program that opened up the museum's administrative workspace for public use and a series of exhibitions. It's tropical, even, was the name of one of the exhibitions organized in the Director's Office, in which works from the collection were shown in dialogue with the concept of "tropicology", proposed by Pernambuco-born sociologist Gilberto Freyre in the 1960s on the need to create a field of research dedicated to studying the influence of tropical climates on social life and culture.
In a way, the event in which I would be participating in Bahia sought to discuss the existence of museums from a perspective similar to that of Freyre's tropicalist, anthropological, or geographical perspective. The Goethe-Institut Museal Episode was part of a broader program of exchanges, research, productions and debates called the Episodes of the South, which aimed to question the hegemony of Eurocentric thought and models . The gathering in Salvador, bringing together various professionals from the modern and contemporary art  circuit, would be the first of several meetings in various cities around the 'Global South': La Paz and Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia), Cape Town and Johannesburg (South Africa), and Athens (Greece), each lasting four days, with the aim of questioning the possible future(s) of museums and outlining "new ways, methods, and architectures beyond conventional approaches". From visits to cultural spaces and open conversations among participants in the aforementioned cities, the gatherings looked at past and present experiences that envisioned new, different ways of producing and sharing culture other than those of the European colonial and illuminist museum. In this sense, the question of how to decolonize the museum (and what this actually means) was recurrent, but not isolated.
The conversations we had during the episodes showed us that, more than finding immediate solutions, we were brought together in order to be affected by different cultural contexts and to raise questions. Marina Fokidis, founder of Kunsthalle Athens and the magazine South As a State of Mind, suggested we come up with a "book of questions" as the final result of our gatherings. According to Fokidis, Athenian philosopher Socrates was known as the wisest among men, precisely because he admitted what he did not know, asking others questions and revealing that they weren't aware of everything they'd thought. Socrates has shown us the importance of admitting our ignorance instead of shutting ourselves off with answers or solutions, of being in a constant process of questioning. From here, Marcelo Rezende, then-director of MAM Bahia, reinforced the use of Socratic strategy to think about museums – understood by him as a tool (like a hammer, capable of building and demolishing). Drawing on Socratic logic, the Museal Episode would be a sort of oracle for the museum, its artists and audiences, to question itself, offering "a better understanding of the museum's ignorance, the possibilities of artistic research and the audiences' guile", to itself and to everyone. What if, in addition to objects, museums collected questions and relationships?
Marcelo Rezende had already proposed the idea of the museum as an oracle or tool as part of a project that took place at MAM during our gathering in Salvador. Questioning MAM's financial instability and local issues, Crisis Academy: a solution for every problem? presented, in addition to other objects and proposals, part of Elberto Lisboa Falcão's 2000 hammers from its collection. Our first conversations of the Museal Episode took place inside Ramiro Bernabó's habitable sculpture Escritório and under the large tree on the museum's grounds. The use of these alternative and circular furnishings in MAM's central spaces defined the collective tone of the program's discussions.
So it was not by chance that with precisely such a project of institutional questioning, the first Museal Episode took place at MAM, a museum located in Salvador, a city whose memory is latent, hidden beneath many layers, and which can scarcely find spaces capable of representing its historical complexity. The visits we made during our time in Salvador sought to trigger possible spaces that could reactivate this memory. One of these spaces was the Bahia Public Archives, created in 1890, where documents of national importance are found, such as royal letters, slave entry registries, and records of slave revolts. The Archives were also one of the locations of the 3rd Bahia Biennial, organized by MAM in 2014. By articulating memory through the activation of archives, monasteries, candomblé terreiros, schools, and other spaces around the city, the 3rd Biennial looked at the stories of these places, many of them of ones of violence against poor and marginalized populations. Researching at the Bahia Public Archives for the Biennial, for example, curators and artists learned of the existence of the Estacio de Lima Anthropological and Ethnographic Museum (MEL), where a collection of objects related to criminal anthropology, such as death masks of Lampião's gang of cangaceiro outlaws, assassinated by state security forces in 1938 . What stories do museums tell or not tell?
In the suburban railway district of the Plataforma neighborhood, José Eduardo Ferreira Santos uses a different strategy to preserve collective memory. He closely observes the tides, which periodically bring ashore pieces of tiles from buildings in the historic center that were demolished and thrown into the water. "Isn't it wonderful what time does?" he told us. "We try to erase the past, but it always comes back to us." These remnants are collected by José Eduardo and have been used to cover the façade of the new headquarters of the Lage Collection, founded by him in 2011 to house the work of neighborhood artists. The collection is made up of thousands of objects by artists unknown on the larger cultural circuit, due to the region's marginality and lack of infrastructure, which leads people to believe that the outskirts of the city has no history or culture. The Lage Collection was created from this urgency to assert the existence of aesthetic and popular production in Platform. As a collection created by the population and for it, against a backdrop of having been forgotten by public authorities, its cultural and social relevance is probably much greater than that of many museums run by major institutions.
In addition to MAM Bahia, the State Public Archives and the Lage Collection, we also visited the Parque School, known for introducing a radical, grassroots teaching proposal in the 1950s, and which would go on to serve as the basis for other Brazilian schools. Created by educator Anísio Teixeira – assassinated by the dictatorship in 1971 – the Parque School, still in operation, offers artistic and hands-on activities (in its early years, it included courses with artists such as Mario Cravo and Carybé, who created the murals on school sheds), individual and collective studies, and sports subjects. These activities were understood as acts of work, involving a knowledge of craftsmanship and considered a tool for a complete education .
This understanding of work, put into practice by Anísio Teixeira at the Parque School, dialogues with ideas about museums that Lina Bo would outline a decade later. In Bahia, she would go on to design the "school-museum", based on work and training, in place of the museum-museum (the traditional, "dusty and useless" museum). This notion of work would also appear in other of Lina's statements, in particular to eliminate the differences between a work of art and other objects produced by creativity and human activity.
Development of Lina's educational museum project was cut short, as well as Anísio Teixeira's school project. However, they can serve as examples to change the way we think about the museums and schools of today. While we were in Salvador in October 2015, high school students from São Paulo began protests and occupations at more than one hundred of the city's schools after the state government announced a restructuring of the school system that would result in the closure of 94 schools. The movement grew and spread throughout Brazil, resulting, albeit temporarily, in the construction of a new community within the school environment and the radical transformation of our understanding ways of learning. What school is the museum?
April 2016, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. We met again for the second Museal Episode. A certain pessimism hovered over our first discussions, with the worsening of the global social and political scene. In Brazil, the impeachment process of (then) elected president Dilma Rousseff was progressing, as was the ever-widening rise of the far right in Europe and the United States. What social role would museums play in facing this turning point? "Working for extremely professional museums, all we know is that we want a stock-pile of objects for our collections, something we consider important for the future, but actually, in the inner workings of the museum, we have no idea what to do," said one of the participants.
Situating ourselves in a place in time, talking about our present, past, and future became fundamental in our other discussions during the Museal Episode. A reflection on the future(s) of the museum – that is, a reflection that includes a temporal relation, like the one proposed to us by the Goethe-Institut – had to analyze how museums are self-contained in time and how they define the notion of time. So, how do we work with and against time?
El Alto and La Paz are among the highest cities in the world. Altitude reaches 4150 meters and the thin air can cause various side effects such as dizziness, tiredness and difficulty breathing. Consequently, it slows down the body. This choice of Bolivia for the second meeting of the Museal Episode was an intentional strategy to distance ourselves from a certain accelerated logic of institutional productivism. Conditioning the body to a new situation to which it must adapt signifies an improvement of our physical readiness to engage with the things around us. Museological spaces, in this case, require specific conditioning, mostly aiming at contemplative and silent behavior, without “exaltation”.
In the Andes, before the European invasion, locals frequently used coca leaves to alleviate the effects of altitude sickness. Soon, coca consumption became mandatory in the colonial labor regime, while mainland Spain controlled its production and the market. The existence of this biopolitical practice – alongside an "economy of the senses", which took place in the regime of production of images by indigenous people for the colony  – reinforces that a (permanent) process of global decolonization necessarily involves the body, the senses and thought. Working with a collection, more than displaying a collection, also entails understanding the physical, sensory and bodily relationships that we establish with it.
Soon after she became director of the Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore de La Paz (MUSEF), Elvira Espejo organized the exhibition La rebelión de los objetos, avoiding an aesthetic presentation of the museum's collection by emphasizing the relations involved in its formation. In the exhibition, objects are organized according to the operative process of their manufacture: they are presented as work, as an action on materials resulting from collective historical processes. They are contained within a much longer span of time, which is the time of production and also the transmission of knowledge. The MUSEF thus creates a museological hurdle, which takes into account the time and relations of local cultures. Also at MUSEF, fabrics are displayed in such a way that both "sides" are visible, blurring the lines between what is the image and what is background, questioning the existence of a single point of view. This (constant) exchange of perspective, essential for many indigenous cultures in South America, suggests a need to (always) occupy a new position in the face of (the same) things.
If we change our point of view, do we change direction? This was the Bolivian government's idea for the anti-clockwise clock installed on the front of the Legislative Assembly building in Murillo Square in La Paz. Dubbed the "Clock of the South," the position of the numbers and the movement of the hands are inverted. Time in the South, the position of the sun, is different from time in the North, and we can invent mechanisms to create awareness of the way we record it. Breaking with time, however, also means breaking with its pendulums, exact and qualitative measurements. In his analysis of Walter Benjamin, Michel Löwy discusses the fact that historical time, "of all traditional, pre-capitalist or pre-industrial cultures", is not to be confused with the time of clocks, this "purely mechanical, automatic, quantitative [time], always equal to itself (...) ".
Structures must change completely, in such a way that the Bolivian government's decolonization policies are not enough for the Mujeres Creando movement, created in 1992 in La Paz. They accuse them of being a "phallic decolonization," since "a renewal of the social pact that does not call into question the social contract that sustains it simultaneously reiterates forms of colonial and patriarchal submission." And they say: "looking at 'supposedly' originating cultures is not the mechanism that will allow us to decolonize our society nor make it more complete, visible and freer (...)".
In an attempt to answer the question of how to decolonize/democratize the museum, Mujeres Creando's political thinking and action suggests the need to consider cultural disobediences and transformations that occur in time. Museums must understand these complexities, highlight them, and distance themselves from the discourse that trivializes the democratization of culture. In other words, a museum must also learn; must redraw its social contracts, both internally and externally, and accept that other uses and appropriations of its works and spaces may resignify its existence in the present and determine its actions for the future. In addition to established programs, museums should be open to accommodating situations. It is a process that rattles a museum's structures and appearances and, therefore, most are not willing to do it. It is about the decolonization of oneself and those ahead of them, in a never-ending process.
It is summer in the Global South, but the strong wind cools Cape Town, South Africa, at the third gathering of the Museal Episode, in January 2017. Cape Town, the "southernmost place" we have come to, is a reference in the history of maritime exploration and early European colonization of the 15th century. Unfortunately, the consequences of colonial violence still prevail in the city. Reminding us of that, on the way from the airport to the city, is the statue of Bartholomeu Dias, known as the first European to sail around the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, establishing a new route from West to East.
Robben Island retains colonial memory and its consequences in an even more conflicting way. The island was a prison from the 17th century, having held several 20th century intellectuals and militants captive, the most notoriuous of them being Nelson Mandela, imprisoned there for 18 years. The prison was closed in the late 1990s and began to operate as a museum with a very radical proposal: it can only be visited with a guide, who are former prisoners. We visited it with Lionel Davis, jailed in 1964 for seven years, who told us about the prison routine and the political context of the time. After his release from prison, Davis became an artist and his work can now be found in several collections. What our visit to Robben Island could contribute to our way of thinking about museums, however, is its policy of mediation. Visiting a place with someone whose life experience is tied to it involves a passionate narrative, strongly evocative of not only historical but fictional resistance.
Who no know go know? Fiction and resistance are also found in the center of Cape Town: the headquarters of Chimurenga, a pan-African platform for art and politics, founded in 2002, with the motto of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti: Who no know go know. Chimurenga produces several publications, organizes a library, a radio station and numerous events to think critically about Africa beyond colonial forms. According to its members, "it is necessary not only to raise a series of questions, but a series of tools, new practices and methodologies that allow the engagement of the lines of struggle, fragility, insecurity, as well as the pleasure, creativity and beauty that define contemporary African life."
At our conversation with Ntone Edjabe, founding editor of Chimurenga, we were given some publications. One of them contained a text about the student movement that began at the University of Cape Town in 2015, a few months before the protests by high school students in Brazil. Rhodes Must Fall originated against the statue of British colonist and imperialist Cecil John Rhodes erected at the university. The movement grew and became an important act for the debate on the decolonization of education in the country, with international repercussions. Some parallels have been drawn between this movement and the uprising of students in the Soweto neighborhood of Johannesburg in the 1970s when the apartheid regime introduced the Afrikaans language as a means of instruction in African schools . In June 1976, young students from various schools organized a march through Soweto which culminated in the death of one of the students, Hector Pieterson, by the police. At the end of that year about 600 young black students were killed like Pieterson, others were arrested or exiled. In 2002, the Hector Pieterson Museum was founded in Soweto as a manifestation of the historical counter-narrative, albeit using the same narrative structures of traditional museums, bringing together a series of photographs, texts and videos that narrate the causes, struggles and consequences of the movement.
What do we do with the effervescent rebellion? Forty years after the Soweto uprising, Rhodes Must Fall still longs to understand its ramifications. In early 2016, the NGO - Nothing Gets Organized platform, co-founded by Gabi Ngcobo, organized an exhibition by the same name suggesting that from “rebellion, from a tumultuous disarray of objects, acting out against time, space and each other, may allow for something to appear" . NGO, as a platform, is interested in unconventional processes of self-organization, which do not entail structure, context or form. The founders of NGO, located in a neighborhood with poor infrastructure but susceptible to gentrification in central Johannesburg, leave the key to their headquarters available for students to use as they wish in a collective and on-going process. "What do unmediated spaces (as political and resistant to organization) hold out?" .
The South African Museal Episode came to a close at the inauguration of the museum of the CHR - Center for Historical Reenactments, another collaborative, experimental platform in operation in Johannesburg between 2010-2012, to examine the intersections between art and historiography in the post-1994 cultural landscape, through research, conversations, exhibitions and other actions. Gabi Ngcobo said: "It's precisely when the project comes to an end that it then becomes a museum where documentation of CHR's activity can be accessed."
The Museal Episode didn't turn into a museum or a book of questions, but it certainly produced a collection of photographs and notes, memories, experiences, friendships and collaborations. Nor did it end in South Africa, but at a final gathering in Athens, in July 2017, during the 14th edition of Documenta, which preceded the traditional exhibition in Kassel, held every five years in the German city.
The places we visited in the first three gatherings of the Museal Episode brought along various ways of thinking and acting that could be characterized as practices of the "South", in the sense proposed by the Goethe-Institut program. How could a conversation about such practices come to an end in our supposed final gathering in Greece, whose culture gave rise to European ("Northern") thinking, and at a large-scale European/international event such as Documenta? Could the South be a state of mind?
South As a State of Mind – suggesting that the "South" is not necessarily a geopolitical place but a space of resistance and imagination – is the name of the magazine founded by Marina Fokidis in 2012 and which temporarily became a publication of Documenta 14 between 2015 and 2017 . The categorization of Athens as "North" was thus one of the questions and starting points of Documenta 14, entitled Learning with Athens. Following the locations chosen by Documenta's curators and artists, in a movement Fokidis dubbed "nomadic psychoanalysis," the last Museal Episode sought to excavate past experiences and proposals from within the city's collective unconscious.
Paradoxically, it was through excavating that some of the earliest European museums emerged, resulting in a violent act of appropriation and exhibition, although the word museum, of Greek origin, simply means a space dedicated to study and learning. Should we bury the museum then?
In 1990, architect Christos Papoulias proposed that a museum be built under the Parthenon, below ground, in order to assign new meaning to the experience of Athens' Acropolis complex. The museum would be visible only from its entrance, exiting through one of the existing caves. The interior would be entirely made up of the Parthenon's existing walls and grounds. Its space, outside the daily life of the contemporary city, would allow for another relation with space-time in the museological space – a relation in which the subject doesn't excavate and take things to the surface, but buries itself with the objects.
Integrating architecture with nature was also an interest of Dimitris Pikionis. Between 1954 and 1957, Pikionis carried out a project in the Acropolis complex using discarded materials from buildings and paying attention to the shapes of the local landscape. For Pikionis, the art of ancient Greece was based on nature, and the vernacular/popular language is "rich enough to overcome the dichotomies between old and modern, high and low, foreigner and local, and even North and South"  This interest in the vernacular made him distance himself from the rationalism and universalism propagated by Western modern architecture even before the International Congress of Modern Architecture (ICMA) of 1933, which took place on board a ship that sailed from Marseilles to Athens. ICMA ended with the drafting of the Athens Charter, defining a new concept of urbanism, and an exhibition at Athens Polytechnic, one of the oldest institutions of higher education in Greece.
During the Greek Military Junta (1967-1974), Athens Polytechnic also became a symbolic place of political resistance. Demonstrations by students through a pirate radio station in November 1973 gave rise to the fall of the "colonels' dictatorship." That month, however, many people were killed after a military tank invaded the Polytechnic, violently breaking down the main gate. In the early days of Documenta 14, three leaders of the uprising and occupation reported their experiences in the 1973 uprising.
Is there resistance in the museum? The history and memory of the repression, censorship and state violence is represented in the buildings around Parko Eleftetherias (Liberty Park), formerly used by the military police as their headquarters and places of detention and torture. One of the buildings became the Museum of Anti-Dictatorial and Democratic Resistance, managed by an association of former activists. In the Museum, the story of the resistance is told by an exhibition of photographs, newspaper clippings and various texts (where we see, for example, the image of the gate destroyed by police intervention in 1973), alongside the preservation of architectural elements that reveal interventions on the site (such as the crumpled gate itself, outside the museum) and oral testimonials made daily by members of the association.
Another building in the same area, which nowadays also operates as a cultural space, underwent an architectural transformation, seeking to "neutralize" its physical space in order to house contemporary art exhibitions. Such neutralization is due to the establishment of what we call the "white cube", the heart of modern museological space, which results in an environment of institutional amnesia. To restore the space's memory, Greek artist and architect Andreas Angelidakis, invited by Documenta 14, made a series of cuts on the walls and brought back original aspects of the building. Angelidakis also created large, soft blocks imitating marble ruins that served as a platform to host Documenta's public programs, bringing together artists, activists and theorists to examine the uses of institutions and the public sphere. It thus reconfigured the way of occupying institutional spaces and of narrating social history, albeit temporarily. What will remain of these actions?
Back from my trip I pull publications, leaflets, maps, loose notes, and other materials from my suitcase that I often wonder if I should keep or throw out – a ritual repeated each time I returned from the Museal Episodes. Among them was a pamphlet promoting Documenta's programs, where the introductory text, among other questions, asked: "Can museums work against their own colonial and patriarchal regimes?" The provisional reply, as given by the text itself: "We will fail. But we will try."
The Goethe-Institut Museal Episodes appeared to have the same premise of failure by trying. They hadn't even created any expectations, except the willingness to collectively share problems, doubts, desires and inadequacies. In identifying symptoms, perhaps the best definition was that of an exercise in "nomadic psychoanalysis," which at times seemed to be indispensable, and at others aprivilege that was insufficient in the face of social urgencies. As they dove deeper into the museological unconscious, the episodes shifted their focus from an anxiousness for results to an on-going process of self-reflection about our responsibilities and transformations, whether in the South or the North. As a tragedy, they sketched out the possibility of the museum as a clinic, where what we neglect or are reluctant to confront is highlighted.
Back at work, I am reminded of the first Congress of Psychodrama in Brazil, organized in 1971 at the São Paulo Museum of Art . It took place in the museum's basement, a space that Lina Bo Bardi originally imagined for a popular theater, integrating the cultural complex that included spaces for exhibition, coexistence, leisure, research and teaching. Lina was in charge of the set design for the Congress, organized by a group of Brazilian psychodramatists in training, amid the political repression of the country's dictatorship. It was a radical and unique experience in an art museum that deserves even more attention given current tensions and crises. As a method of collective work, the practice reclaims the museum space as a political place, of conflicts, mediating social processes.
Translation: Zoë Perry
 The description of the Episodes of the South asked: "Is there a global art history? What are the pathways to decolonization of thought? What are the artistic visions of the future in Africa? How can we invent utopias in the Amazon Rainforest? What would the museum of the future look like? How is the South traded on the black market? What would a "Episode of the South" look like in the "cloud"? What are the new paths of knowledge acquisition and mediation like? What is the musical rhythm of the revolting masses? What effects does this have beyond the South? New points of view on art and culture may be experienced this way. Through the "faults" of the South, they use the potential of non-conformist thinkers and bring to light new paths from the South to the South." At: Episódios do Sul: novos pontos de vista . Accessed June 2017.
 Other participants included: Elvira Espejo (Bolivia), Zdenka Badovinac (Slovenia), Pablo Lafuente (Brazil), Gabi Ngcobo (South Africa), Nydia Gutiérrez (Colombia), Övül Durmusoglu (Turkey) and Marion Ackermann, Matthias Muehling, Anna-Catharina Gebbers and Yilmaz Dziewior (Germany). The meetings were organized by Katharina von Ruckteschell-Katte and Martin Bach of the Goethe-Institut Sao Paulo, together with Uta Schnell of the Kulturstiftung des Bundes.
 Statement by Marcelo Rezende sent by email.
 Ana Pato. “Arte Contemporânea e Arquivo. Reflexões sobre a 3a Bienal da Bahia”. In: Revista CPC, São Paulo, no. 20, pp.112-136, Dec. 2015.
 Marcelo Rezende. “Contra o museu-museu e a escola-escola”. In: Politicas da mediação. MASP, 2015-2017.
 This process was reported on several occasions by Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz, who accompanied us on the trip, such as in the "Princípio Potosí" projects, Museo Reina Sofia, 2010.
 Löwy, via Benjamin, returns to the acts of revolutionaries who shot at clocks in the nineteenth century as an awareness of the inrush of empty time, and compared them with the arrows shot by Indians at the clock that marked the days and time at the official celebrations of "500 years of Brazil" in the 2000s, in Brasilia.
 Maria Galindo, Mujeres Creando. “Evo Morales y la descolonización fálica del Estado Boliviano”. Mujeres en Red, 2006. In: “Evo Morales y la descolonización fálica del Estado Boliviano”. Accessed December 2016.
 Khwezi Gule. "Soweto Story". In: Contemporary And Magazine. No. 7. June 2017.
 Text posted on the platform's Facebook page. Accessed June 2017.
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 Theocharopoulou, Ioanna. "Nature and people" in: Modern Architecture and the Mediterranean: Vernacular Dialogues and Contested Identities, edited by Jean-François Lejeune and Michelangelo Sabatino, 2012, Oxon, Routledge. pg 119.
 I would like to thank Marcelo Rezende, who first told me about the Congress in early 2015.