[This is the third text in a series of seven, prepared by Christian Dunker, Professor in Psychoanalysis and Clinical Psychopathology at the Institute of Psychology at USP, which we are publishing weekly.

up the title "The Education of the Look and the Reading of Images –  Ethical Challenges for Museums" we already approached

1] Curation as conflicting symbolic systems2] Aesthetic form and social contradiction


I intend to show how mediation practices invite the encounter with the work as a reconstructive reading experience. This process can be understood as an ethical experience of recognition, involving aesthetic form and social contradiction. The ethical function of discourse, concentrated on the notion of letter, determines modes of relationship with the work that are also models of intersubjective relationship with the other. I present this theme based on seven ethical challenges for contemporary museums.


Formalization and Temporality


Giving shape to suffering, caring for its recognition and mediating the transformative political inspiration it inspires and demands requires that, first of all, the museum realizes its own historical position in this process. After all, this is what drives your own vocation and task. Now, museology has recently realized how it competes to produce and reproduce forms of suffering. This happens, and here we must get even closer to the Brazilian case, because museums are erected as an immense bank of cultural capital from which a large part of the population feels excluded, and why not say intimidated.

This is partly because this is the effect that most museums have, all over the world, as a result of the walls that hierarchize culture, placing certain codes, generically incomprehensible, above others. The verticalization between high culture and popular culture can be reproduced in such a way as to synchronize cultural capital with financial capital, legitimizing its inequitable distribution. This cannot be solved by just opening the doors and placing popular art in the museum space. In a way, this was the answer given by the avant-gardes of the 1960s. Pop-art, art powder, op art, movements from punk e beatnick, as well as the cultural studies and university third-worldism made an effort to horizontalize the content of social contradiction, just as the formalist, abstractionist and geometrist avant-gardes continued to search for aesthetic forms capable of providing us with languages ​​for uninformed states of the world, life or suffering.

The most significant inversion in this process occurs when we begin to realize that the idea of ​​the museum as something oriented towards the conservation of the past, in essence, also involved a certain conception of the future. The unintelligible languages ​​of high culture, as well as the desecrations of the museum's sacred space, with low culture, were basically instruments for a world that is not yet given. Languages ​​in search of subjects, languages ​​waiting for worlds, speeches left in a bottle thrown overboard, recipients to become.

Now, if we take forward the hypothesis that the aesthetic unconscious, proposed by Ranciére, offers the rules of form, while the content is given by the Real, three fundamental procedures are decisive. These procedures are also the ways in which the psychoanalyst recognizes the incidence of the real in his clinical experience. Each of these procedures is linked to a specific incidence of language.

  1. the denial. The significant series are the condition in which we can detect modalities of negation. Negations in the symbolic that return in the symbolic, negation or abolitions in the symbolic that return in the symbolic, imaginary negations that represent themselves in images. Here the work has a speech structure, in which the message returns to its own recipient in an inverted way.
  2. A deformation. Here we are in the domain of images, in their framing, in their texture, in their relationship between shape and color. Here, the work has a fantasy structure, with its captures and traps for the gaze, as well as its inversions between who looks and who is looked at, with its realizations and figurations of states of sexuality and violence, deformed, according to the consideration of figurability necessary for keep the recipient asleep and awake, awake and dreaming.
  3. A repetition. Here the key concept is the notion of letter. We then have the trace, the writing, the procedures of systems of representation and inscription, or failure of inscription, are decisive for us to stabilize a given discourse. Here the work has a structure of trauma, it captures as an event or happening a junction point, historical and temporal, between the truth and the real.

The traumatic is one of the most important figures of the Real because it is organized as an operation of repetition, but not only as a repetition of the same, which returns in dreams or intrusive images in its identical re-presentation. The traumatic also includes the repetition of what never ceases to be inscribed, that is, the void of representation or naming that needs to be captured in an experience, whose effect is one of discomfort.

In the case of the 33rd Bienal de São Paulo, we can find, on a recurring basis, the search for listening to the traumatic in Siron Franco and his series on the radioactive accident with Cesium 137 in the city of Goiânia. In this series, objects are separated from contexts but represented in a white against black contrast, in the manner of a radiographic plate. Let's remember that the accident happens because children open a dental X-ray machine, spreading the radioactive dust that exists inside, killing and sickening the inhabitants of a street.

Exhibition by Siron Franco for the 33rd Bienal de São Paulo. 15/09/2018. © Leo Eloy / Estúdio Garagem / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.

Subtraction and deformation make up the common strategy between the Brazilian Siron Franco and the Guatemalan Aníbal López*, who shows us the face stained with red or blood of a young man, on the card that reads “open file” or in the photo of two aged hands, splattered with blood. Two powerful summons, for memory duty. Here the traumatic appears in the form of the past of civil violence and repression that took over the country between 1976 and 1982, involving paramilitary exterminations, earthquakes, repression of the indigenous peoples of the north, Castroist and Sandinista guerrillas.

What is at stake in both cases is the action of time, the conflict between remembering and forgetting, between elaboration and the failure of symbolization. This work is above all a work of restoration of desire, of composing the history of desired desires. Freud said that desire is like a thread that starts from the present, goes to the past and projects itself into the future. In the same way, museological listening creates this thread that reinvents the present for a certain future from a certain past.

Read related texts:

AI 53167: context factor  


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