On November 30, 2013, Casa do Povo in Bom Retiro hosted the third meeting convened by the curators of the 31st São Paulo Bienal. This space, where the Scholem Aleichem vanguard school stood out for its pedagogical boldness, was a fitting venue for an encounter largely focused on education—a theme of vital importance to the curatorial team.
As every conversation kicks off with a question, the gathering was asked to reflect on the following: to what extent have radical pedagogical traditions like that of Paulo Freire influenced Brazil?
The open meetings are for invitees only, which could be taken as a limiting factor. Considering that the meeting proposed to discuss the history of education in Brazil and Paulo Freire’s effective influence on mass education, there was a lack of teachers and other educational specialists (formal or non formal). We could have done with teachers dedicated to the arts, whether in schools or cultural institutions, specialists in mediation, and art educators. In short, though it was a potent gathering, it was incomplete.
The group created a general, wide-ranging panorama of education in Brazil, which we all know to be mangled, pocked and strewn with obstacles. The dictatorship years not only silenced the nation, but left in their wake a series of deficiencies that are extremely difficult to overcome. It takes time and persistence to restore the voice of a country gagged for so long and to transform its after-effects.
There are many serious and vigorous initiatives underway in Brazil, such as Escola Amorim in São Paulo, and Escola Parque in Bahia. Though isolated, these are gradually eking out space and gaining visibility. However, the question always hovers as to what becomes of those students who benefit from a radical education, as they will inevitably end up returning to the normal educational system and to our inherently unequal society. They will certainly have to rely on the solid base they have acquired in order to override the difficulties: connecting the production of critical knowledge with the production of critical consequences lies at the core of all radical pedagogies.
The collective construction of meaning inherent to these dialogic encounters, without any urgency for answers, conclusions or plotted coordinates, requires careful and dedicated attention. It’s a transformed sort of listening, one that presupposes “intentionality, consciousness and activity.” Being prepared to listen, to give time and space to silence, gains force and becomes as expressive as words. To enable people to recognize the importance of their contribution to the building of collective processes makes them feel the power of their voices. These meetings strike me as a genuine attempt to understand the weaker links in the collective chain, working with the public to create an exhibition that speaks to it directly. As suggested by Ira Shor, in conversation with Paulo Freire, transformative tensions arise when the matter in-hand pertains to the interlocutor’s subjectivity, so that it can distance itself from it and experience a more advanced reflection. Dialogue looks for ways to break the boundaries that gird our subjectivity.
The art system shows notable concern for education. The sheer size of the investment Brazilian art institutions make in their educational departments sets them apart from those of other countries. But does all this effort culminate in the possibility of creating a critical mass? Or is Paulo Freire’s ideal of mass education just bankrupt populism?
The dialogic relation some institutions propose for themselves, and which they understand as being emancipatory, is based on the dialogue Paulo Freire defined as “the moment in which human beings gather to reflect on their reality just as they create it and re-create it” . Even so, Freirean pedagogy, a theory that dialogues directly with the Brazilian social reality (and experience), has not been explored as deeply as it should. Without doubt, the word dialogue has been drained of its meaning in certain fora, and perhaps only partially so in others. For it to be transformative takes responsibility, direction determination, discipline and intention. For Freire, critical consciousness is that which recognizes that reality is mutable and considers the need for more porous investigation. It is also intensely restless, becoming more critical the more thoroughly it recognizes the restlessness in its restfulness.
In their history of de-formation, exhibitions and cultural institutions have proved powerful spaces of transformation. In many of these, the educational departments strive to lend voice through dialogue and pave the way toward experiences that foster closer contact with art. However, it has to be made clear that they cannot be expected to compensate for lax education, but rather serve as spaces that enable, promote and discuss aesthetic experience; where one can see, speak, and hear art by being touched by it. A place, that is, that gives rise to a new lexicon to be disseminated through the formation of critical thought, instigated not only by the works on show, but by the exhibition as a whole—which always reaches beyond the institutional walls—and the encounters it brokers. As in any relationship, the closer and more intimate it becomes, the greater is the vocabulary and range of opportunities for exchange.
Exhibitions or exhibition spaces should foster unlearning by questioning themselves and putting preconceptions in check, thus opening room for the new, for what urges to be said. An institution that invests in its relationship with the public should understand it as a chance to discuss what is known and is not known, so as to act critically and transform reality. One might suppose this ought to take place on every level of this relationship, directly or indirectly, from the editorial team to the curators, from the sponsors and chairperson to the educational department, just as among all their respective stakeholders. The art system can never be allowed to obstruct the work of the curatorial and educational teams. A permeable institution understands that a constant undoing is part of its formation and establishment, forever working on the fringes of acquired structures.
The São Paulo Bienal, with permanent teams in place since 2010, has to shed its skin with every edition, encountering greater or lesser degrees of difficulty each time. Though permanent, these teams must be permeable to the new concepts and perspectives brought by the incumbent curators (as these change annually rather than biennially, thanks to the off-year events). The permanent staff has to be constantly willing and prepared to re-learn. As Eduardo Viveiros de Castro reminds us, the provisory nature of the contemporary permanence can never be forgotten. Welcoming the new means taking what is already in place and making it available or dispensable. Experience derives from a combination between what things do to us—modifying our actions, expanding and deepening some while resisting and investigating others—and what we can do for them by effecting change.
This modification of actions, which runs throughout the Bienal’s operations, requires much more than information alone. Whatever about much dreaded inaccessible information, in considering its public the institution has to confront what is there, what can provoke a breach in the system—that moment of rupture with established standards. We must think about how we can undo what it is comfortably in place, approaching formation as a de-formation. We must consider the exhibition space in such a way as accommodates un-learning and an anti-pedagogy as the possibility and potency of the exhibition, whilst remaining forever mindful of the fact that, in order to un-learn, we must first work on formation, with each individual the subject of his or her own action and transformation. Information and explanations usurp the work when it comes to experience and transformation. Education should be understood as an exchange of knowledge, experiences, discoveries, investigations; an exchange in which we can say what wants to be said, in a balanced, dialogic relationship.
If to dia-logue (dia—acrosss; legein—speak) is to beat a path through speech, convey something to someone, bring something to the ears, the eyes, the tongue, and allow the other to speak; to educate is to put something across, more precisely, coax the other into meeting that content halfway, while allowing the gaze to wander across other places, to meet other things and people. This coaxing–out is effected in words, through conversation. Con-verse means speak with, consider, share words. But to con-verse, in the sense of con-version, translation, entails transformation, making something understandable. Putting something across also involves transformation. No-one emerges from a conversation unchanged, at least not from a conversation in which there is a meeting of minds. Not if we think of the conversion of the word into verse: poetizing.
text: Dani Gutfreund
 GRAHAM, Janna. “Between a Pedagogical Turn and a Hard Place“, in Curating and the Educational Turn, edited by O’Neill and Wilson. London, Open editions/De Appel, 2010, p. 127.
 BAJOUR, Cecilia. “Ouvir nas entrelinhas“, São Paulo, O pulo do gato., 2012, p. 19.
 FREIRE, Paulo e Shor, Ira. Medo e ousadia. São Paulo:Paz e Terra, 2011, p. 178.
 Idem, ibidem, p. 167.
 FREIRE, Paulo. Educação e mudança. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2011, p. 53.
 Idem, ibidem, p. 168.
 DEWEY, John. “Democracy and Education“, in Education , Documents of Contemporary Art, edited by Felicity Allen. Londres: Whitechapel Gallery, 2011, p. 31.
 ESCHE, Charles & De Appel CP. “Stand I don’t“, in Curating and the educational turn, edited by O’Neill and WilsonLondon, Open editions/De Appel, 2010, p. 300.