press release

What it is

The Encuentro Internacional de Medellin (MDE) is an ongoing project conceived and conducted by the Museo de Antioquia. The aim of the event is to make Medellín a center with permanent presence on the international art scene by promoting the production, dissemination and appropriation of contemporary art practices. The MDE challenges the conventional approach to biennials not only in terms of its periodicity, but also due to its interest in reaching out to internal agents and strengthening the local cultural playing field.

Through MDE, art events will take place throughout the city in the form of conferences, exhibitions, workshops, concerts, talks and another set of activities designed to promote a continuous, open dialogue with art practices conducted both within and outside the academic setting.

The first MDE, held in 2007, focused on spaces of hospitality -a subject that gathered more than 280 artists and speakers in Medellín- and among other activities featured exhibitions, round tables and film festivals; it was attended by a total of some 300 000 people.

This year’s version (MDE11) will take place from September to December 2011 under the curatorial theme of “Teaching and Learning: Places of Knowledge in Art”, and the focal point of its activities will be different ways of shaping and recreating knowledge in and from art.

The Museo de Antioquia is aware of the need to step up the learning processes around contemporary art practices and broaden Medellín and Colombia’s vision, particularly through the transformational capacity of art and culture, which is why it has established the MDE.

Introduction

The focal point of the Encuentro Internacional de Medellín (MDE11) centers on the different ways of shaping and recreating knowledge in and from art, while also raising questions on the limits and challenges of pedagogical experimentation in institutional, artistic and community practice. MDE11 aims to bring to the fore the tension between regulated, institutional and academic knowledge and more experimental forms of knowledge based on collective, community and self-managed practices. These heterogeneous approaches connect players and resources in the art circuit with projects and experiments that go beyond that circuit and have resonance in other contexts.

Aware that the art experience always operates in the terrain of the unknown and is subject to experimentation, doubt and indeed ambiguity, MDE11 proposes an ongoing, open dialogue with art practices, research within and outside the confines of academia, and community strategies and pedagogies that are critical of visual arts that provide alternatives to artistic environments and traditional learning processes.

Based on an initial proposal put forward by José Roca, the curator team made up of Nuria Enguita Mayo, Eva Grinstein, Bill Kelley Jr. and Conrado Uribe, has structured the concept of MDE11 around three focal points: Laboratory, Study Program, and Exhibition, which in turn are subdivided into various “areas of activation”. The emphasis is on process-based, collaborative work aimed at proposing issues and possible forms of producing knowledge through art practices by various authors, communities, collectives and students both from Medellín and elsewhere. This approach stems from work methods focusing on processes designed to shed light on matters that have been passed over, hidden or not studied by traditional disciplines, i.e., on forms of organizing information that can lead to new ways of viewing and understanding our surroundings.

The sphere of curatorial practices has become increasingly complex over time. Its emphasis now also extends to the processes of mediation and linkage in art, the flow and exchange of the ideas it generates and the production of exhibiting devices. Understanding curatorial practices in terms of the possibilities they provide for including non predefined models and collaborative structures in contemporary cultural practices means that they are in a position to promote the organization of events, exchanges and mises en scène that are open and in permanent negotiation with their realities. This broader interpretation runs counter to traditional approaches that separate the internal organization of a work of art –its actual, formal configuration— from other dimensions of the art field: research, circulation, and appropriation. Viewed from this perspective, curatorial practices are more process- than instrument-based; organic and non-linear rather than causal or case-based; horizontal and context-based rather than vertical and imposed; characterized by aims and means that are not consciously envisaged from the outset; detached from the imperative of achieving specific results, while nevertheless seeking to have an effective impact on conventional working methods.

The structure and development of MDE11 are the result of a specific mandate from the Museo de Antioquia to work within the context of the city of Medellín and its social and cultural agents. In keeping with its mission, the museum seeks to promote educational and cultural interaction by encouraging the participation on a large scale and prompting reflection through polyphonic and interdisciplinary dialogue. Working in line with these aims, the MDE11 curatorship has become involved with varying collectives and agents ranging from academia to community-work contexts and the self-managed spaces that exist in Medellín. The general MDE11 project is the fruit of this collaboration.

It is interesting to note that the Museo de Antioquia, a hegemonic institution that is strongly involved in and committed to Medellín’s socio-cultural development, is at the forefront of a city-wide event that is drawing together different institutions in an attempt to weave complicities and strengthen a set of creative approaches encompassing the plastic arts, architecture, music, image and technology. The curatorial approach has been enriched through the establishment of relations with different local institutions and communities and dialogue with the city’s tragic, fascinating history. It is this history that has determined the way this project wants to operate.

No institution can work by turning its back on the cultural framework of a locality, and this implies viewing culture and art as active social practices, as ways of garnering knowledge and engaging in reflection rather than as mere objects for consumption and entertainment. At a time in which the culture industry has been totally taken over by the third stage of transnational capitalism (post-Fordism or globalization) and its consequences, other proposals of a very different order are being created. These new forms of production –cooperative, adisciplinary, non-mercantile, etc. — are redefining, for example, classic concepts of the second vanguard such as autonomy and representation in a broader field of art practice. And it is in this context of a broader sphere that art work must change absolutely, by passing from a symbolic proposal residing in an object (autonomous) that projects some values, to a different practice that can generate new forms of representation and distribution in search of new, common frameworks of experience. Among many other things, that change calls for reconsidering the forms of learning and methodologies used in the field of pedagogy in the cultural field and revisiting ways of teaching and learning, as well as the new ways of reaching out to the public through trans-disciplinary processes that have not been used much in the history of art.

Since MDE07, the Museo de Antioquia has promoted a strategy designed to recreate and extend the civic discourse from the inside out by working in conjunction with artists and communities. On conceiving MDE11, the aim was to broaden and continue such work by capitalizing on Medellín’s valuable cultural resources as a means of moving forward and respecting the artistic and pedagogical path laid down by the museum. Medellín has a rich, dynamic range of pedagogical projects, both institutional (municipal government) and self-managed. The greatest challenge in this regard was to establish close relations with as many communities and cultural projects as possible.

That dialogue with external agents has sought to strengthen that community labor force, which has reached very interesting levels of development in Medellín: they are proposals for education and emancipation in a complex territory and are aimed at fighting illiteracy, reducing expressions of violence and recovering memories through collectively created pedagogical projects designed to build a genuinely public space and a common knowledge. For MDE11 this implies an interest in participative projects that go beyond the establishment of ephemeral spaces for socialization or unstable communities.

In the great majority of project in which MDE11 has become involved, participation is structured in such a way as to lead to a collective experience to construct meanings – in a collaborative and often interdisciplinary way. The notion of experience is redefined within the framework of proposals that do not focus on the teaching of art (techniques) or the formation of audiences (history and interpretation of art), but on the establishment of hybrid and participative settings that can exist on the boundaries of artistic, cultural and educational processes.

Such practices embrace pedagogical processes, but resist resorting to traditional teaching and learning techniques in the field of art. They view their fringe condition – on the limits between art and pedagogy—as a possibility and potential for raising new questions, proposing linkages between disciplines and generating other responses. They are subversive in that they challenge the traditional structures of art production and in passing give new meaning to their interpretation. However, they do not merely deconstruct and criticize established notions, since at the same time they generate infrastructure and take a proactive, constructive approach; since their authorship and learning method is collective, their aim is to have an effective, lasting say in local processes. As Paulo Freire also proposed, they aspire through art and education –understood here in its political dimension— to make those involved acquire a critical awareness of their condition. However, their agents no longer seek to bring about major socio-economic changes, although they do want to have a say in the agendas and interests of specific collectives by helping to define identities and even solve certain conflicts. By definition, collaborative work reassesses and strengthens such relations and the trans-disciplinary – trans-pedagogical even– criteria that make it possible to understand artistic methodologies signal a significant break from inherited discourses of the past, thus challenging the historical and contemporary theories behind the discourse on “the public” and “communities” in contemporary art.

The Encuentro Internacional de Medellín MDE11 wants to emphasize those ways of learning and doing by insisting that art has to do with processes, ideas and practices and not just with objects. It has to do with exchanges, with points of view and dialogues. It has to do with listening more and talking less. That is what the title of MDE11 refers to. It sets out some places of knowledge and experience, and like all places of experience it involves a position in the present but also an awareness of the past and a proposal for the future. The outlook for MDE11 and its future prospects will depend on its ability to place in common a large number of varied, anonymous singularities against the space and time of the city where the event is taking place, by bringing to light capacities that seek to recover the public in a contemporary context where the common is reduced, as often as not, to the space of the productive.

In short, teaching and learning do not just involve a curatorial working methodology, but a conceptual framework that raises questions on the possibilities of an event of this kind. What is its scope for sharing new ideas among various communities and jointly building learning spaces? Who stands to benefit from these pedagogical proposals? What role does a museum play in these massive structures and where do artists and the public fit in? These are some of the questions that the MDE11 curator team has posed continuously for over a year during the organization of the event. We hope to continue the dialogue with you.