Luleåbiennalen 2018

The Exhibition as a Psychodrama
Marcelo Rezende

In the year of 1970, the Museum of Art of Sao Paulo (MASP) held the first Psychodrama International Congress in the city of Sao Paulo, bringing for the first time among the Brazilians this (then, at least) so unusual and fresh concept: the theatre, the act of self-dramatisation, the role-playing and the possible catharsis as a methodology to touch, sometimes win, a personal drama. However, what’s in the shadow of this so curious historical moment is the position of the museum, the political questions on the concepts of exhibition and what does it mean to exhibit, in the end. This very particular story comes to mind and becomes an interesting slot through which the critic and curator Ruth Noack´s series of ‘perfomative’ conferences could be observed, with a special attention to the project developed by the theatre director Anja Scheffer for the Roaming Assembly (“Between Subversion and Hallucination”), organised in the Dutch Art Institute in March of 2018.

Resuming the Brazilian episode: the group of psychoanalysts approached the couple Pietro and Lina Bo Bardi to request the use of the museum as the site for the congress; the decision taken by the Bardis since the beginning was to have the MASP not as a passive participant, but to find ways to integrate the institution with the goals of the event. In doing so, to have an active role – so to speak. Lina did ask for a coherent political philosophy between the museum and the organisers. After this agreement, the museum became in all meanings active: Lina developed an Arena theatre in the shape of an horseshoe, with seats made of wood, a stage with two chairs and three seats in the format of the cube were set in place. The provisional theatre could hold around three thousand people, creating by means of the psychodrama a political libertarian experience, and not the other way around, as it could be expected.

Staging, displaying, showing, promoting an experience has been part of the (undercurrent) narrative on exhibitions, with very strong cases to look at in Germany during the first half of the 20th century; and with the new avant-garde after the Second War, different ideas about what we are talking about when we are talking about exhibitions took form. Following Ruth Noack and Anja Scheffer’s experience there is another seismic instant to be noted in the already-mentioned narrative.

The language of dreams and sleep, and the formats of the processes and its materialisation were displayed in “Between Subversion and Hallucination”. The word ‘displayed’ should not be taken in a casual manner here. In “Between Subversion and Hallucination”, the conference is not a conference, and at the same way ‘performative’ comes with a new meaning. If, in the history of the avant-garde, the idea of ‘performing’ an intellectual discussion (as among the Futurists) has been present, and everything can and should be theatrical (a nod to Hugo Ball), Noack´s strategy points to another direction: the performative process becomes the exhibition per se. As Lina Bo Bardi said, ‘putting the viewer as an actor of the theatre of life’. In the Benjaminian sense, a participative experience: what it’s seen puts everyone as a critical agent of reality.

The clearest part of the exhibition’s aim and intentions could be observed in the work developed by Anja Scheffer, an almost abusive process of transference: the artists became actors, the actors became patients and the viewer becomes a participant of the psychodrama, concerning not a personal trauma, but the trauma of history. Sat on chairs, the group articulates some abstracts of the book “The Third Reich of Dream” by Charlotte Beradt on a stage (curiously, the image resembles the one organised by Lina Bo in 1970), where dreams dreamed during the Nazi years in Germany return through the voices of the group of artists. The result has a powerful meaning: the past is not only the past anymore, every border of time dissolves itself, creating a political libertarian experience, and in doing so the catharsis of the theatre becomes at the same time representation and psychoanalytical catharsis, true and not true, bringing to memory a very Freudian concept of a radical political level: Nachträglichkeit. The fact that a trauma should happen a second time to be understood as such. The memory is then reprinted in accordance with a later experience, in an après-coup. In this case, on political, artistic and psychoanalytic levels.

As said by the Brazilian critic and curator Ivo Mesquita, all the best exhibitions should be just like a psychoanalytic session: something happens to everyone in the venue, and all the rational discourse will be not enough to explain what just happened there. Then, immediately the session is over. Go home, and think about it. However, as Lina Bo Bardi has observed, and Ruth Noack and Anja Scheffer have just shown, the reflective instant can also be a collective experience.

Marcelo Rezende (b. 1968 in Brazil) is a researcher, critic and exhibition-maker.
He was director of the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia (2012–2015), artistic director of the 3rd Bahia Biennial (2014) and was part of the curatorial group of the 28th São Paulo Biennial (2008), amongst other projects and occupations. Author of the novel Arno Schmidt (2005), he is associate curator of the Museu do Mato (Scrubland Museum) in Bahia, and curator of the exhibition Kaffee aus Helvecia (2017) at the Johann Jacobs Museum (Zürich). He is co-director of the Archiv der Avantgarden (AdA) in Dresden, Germany.