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acco un ts, differen t mod es of docum entation , and, most

im portantly, a public record of the evolution of the project
in real time are ways to present an event in its multiple
angle s and allow for multiple interpretatio ns.
SEA documentation mu st be understood and utilized
in full recognition of its inadequ acy as a surrogate for
the actual experience (unless it is meant to be the final
product, in wh ich case the work would not be SEA).
D ocum entation of a particular action or activity is usually displayed in a tradition al exhibition format, in which
it is allowed to narrate th e experience. W hile it may be
informative, thi s app roach is frustrating to th e gallery visitor, who is expo sed to a represen tation of the experience
and not to the experien ce itself. In this regard, criticisms
of SE A as presented in convention al exhibitions are well
fou nded . SEA can't evoke th e imm ediacy of a collective
expe rien ce in gallery goe rs by presenting a vide o record ing of it . Whatever they end up experienci ng in such a
case is just tha t- a video or a set of photogr aphs; if such
documen ts are presented as artworks then th ey may be
scru tinized as a video installat ion or conceptual pho to g raph but not as the social experience th ey m ay have
intended to communicate.





In this boo k I have discussed SEA primarily throug h the
lens of pedagogy. For that reason , it is particularly relevant
to acknowledge th at a substantial portion of SEA projects
explicitly describe them selves as pedagogical. In 2 0 06 I
proposed th e term "T ran spedagogy" to refer to projects
by artists and collect ives th at blend edu cational processes
and art-making in works that offer an experience that is
clearly different from conventional art academies or formal
art education. ' T he ter m eme rge d ou t of the necessity to
describe a commo n de no minator in th e work of a number
of artists th at escaped th e usual definitions used around
participatory art.
In contrast to th e discipline of art edu cation, whic h traditionally focuses on the inter pretati on of art or t eaching
See Helguera, "Notes Toward a Transpedagogy," in Art, A rchitecture
and Pedagogy: Experiments in Learning, Ken Erlich, Editor. Los
Angeles:, 2010.

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art -maki ng skills, in Tran sped agogy t he ped agogical pro cess is th e core of the artwork. Such works create th eir own
autonom ou s environment, mostly outside of any acade mic
or insti tuti on al framework.

It is im portant to set asid e, as I have done in previous

sect ions , th e sym bolic practi ces of education and those
pr actices th at propose a reth inking of edu cation throu gh
art only in theory but not in pra ctice .
Education -as-art projects may appear contradictory
th rough the len s of strict pedago gy. T hey often aim to
de mocrati ze viewers, making them partners, parti cip ants,
or collabora to rs in the con struction of the work, yet also
reta in the opacity of meani ng com mon in contem po ra ry
art vocabularie s. It goe s again st the natu re of an artwork
to explai n itself, and yet this is precisely what edu cators
do in lessons or curriculum- thus the clash of disciplinary
go als. In oth er wor ds, artists, cur ators, and critics liberally
employ th e term "pedagogy" whe n speaking of these kind s
of projects, but they are relu ct ant to subjec t the wo rk to
the standard evaluative struc tu res of edu cation science.
Where th is dic ho tomy is acce pte d, we are con te nting
ourselves with mimesis or simulacra- we preten d that
we u se education or pedagogy, but we do not actually use
them-returning to th e differentiation of symbolic and
actual acti on discussed in previou s chapters. When an art
project presen ts itself as a school or a workshop, we must
ask what, specifically, is bei ng taught or learned , and how.
Conversely, if th e experien ce is meant to be a simulation
or illu strati on of educa tio n, it is inapp ropriate to di scuss
it as an actual educational proj ect.

Education for Socially Engaged Art -


Second , it is neces sary to ask whether a project of

this nature offers ne w ped agogical approaches in art. If
an educational proj ect purports to critique co nventional
no tions of pedago gy, as it is often clai med or desired, we
mu st ask in what terms this critique is being articulated.
T his is particularly important, becau se artis ts often work
from a series of mi sperception s aro und educa tio n th at
prevent th e development of truly thoughtful or critical
co ntribut ions.
T he field of education has the mi sfortune, perha ps
well earn ed, of being represented by the mainstream as
restrictive, controlling, and homogenizing. And it is true
that there are plenty of places where old-fashioned form s
of education still operate, where art histo ry is recitation,
whe re biographical anecdotes are presented as evidence to
reveal the meani ng of a work, and where educators seem to
condescend to, patro nize, or infantilize their audience.T his
is the kind of educa tion that thi nker Ivan Illi ch critiqued
in his '97' book Deschooling Society. In it Illich argues for a
radical di smantling of the school system in all it s institutionalized form s, which he considers an oppressive regime.
Forty years afte r its publication , what was a progressive leftist idea has, iron ically, becom e appealing to neoliberals and
th e conservative right.T he dismantling of the structu res of
educatio n is today allied with the principles of deregulation
and a free market, a disavowal of the civic responsibility to
provide learn ing structu res to those who need them th e
most and a reinforcement of elitism.To turn education into
a self-selective process in con tempo rary art only reinforces
the elitist tenden cies of the art world.

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In re ality, education today is fueled by the progressive

ideas discussed above, ranging from critical peda gog y and
inquiry- based learning to the exploration of creativity in
early ch ildhood. For th is reason it is important to understand the existing stru ctur es of educatio n an d to learn
how to innovate with them. To critique, for exam ple, the
old-fashioned boarding sch ool system of mem ori zation
today would be equivalent , in the art world, to mounting
a fierce attack on a ninete enth-century art movement; a
project that offers an alternative to an old model is In
dialogue with the past and not wi th the future.
Once we set aside these all-too-common pitfalls in
SEA's embrace of education, we encounter myriad art
proj ects that engage with pedagogy in a deep and creative
w ay, proposing potentially exciting directions.
I th ink of the somewh at recent fascination in contemporary art with education as "pedagogy in the expanded
field," to adapt Rosalind Krau ss's famous description of
po stmodern sculpture. In the expanded field of pedagogy
in art, the pra ctice of educat ion is no longer restricted to
its traditional activities, namely art in struction (for artists),
connoisseurship (for art historians and curators), and in terpretation (for the general public).Traditional pedagogy
fails to recognize three things: first, the creative performativity of the act of education; second, the fact that the
collective construction of an art milieu, with artworks and
ideas, is a collective construction of knowledge; and th ird,
the fact that knowledge of art do es not end in knowing
the artwork bu t is a tool for understanding the world .

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O rganizations lik e the Cente r for Land Use Interpr etation, in L os A ngeles, which stra dd le art practic e,
education, and research , utilize art formats an d processes
as pedagogical vehicles. The very di stancing that some
collectives take from art and th e blurring of boundaries
between disc iplines indicate an emerging form of artmaking in which art do es not point at itself but instead
focuses on the social process of exch ange. This is a powerful and po sitive reenvi sioning of education that can only
happ en in art, as it depends on art's unique patterns of
performativity, experience, and explora tion of ambiguity.

A ssuming th at socially engaged art requires a n ew set of
skills and knowledge, art programs engaged in supporting
the practice have quickly begun to dismantl e th e old art
school curriculum, wh ich is based on craft and skillsrangin g fro m wha t rem ained of the academi c mo del
(figure drawing, casting, and th e like) to the legacy of th e
Bauh aus (such as color theory and graphic design ). W hat
is replacing it is tenuous at best, and the process ofte n
creates a vacuum in wh ich the possibilities are so endless th at it can be paralyzing for a beginning pr actitioner.
T he social realm is as vast as the human world , and every
artist ic appro ach to it requires knowledge that can't be
atta ined in a short peri od of time. This is, perhaps, the
main reason why stu dents often wonder whether an SEA
practiti oner can be any kind of expert. D isenchanted with
poor guidance an d with no sense of purpose, students


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A Materials and Techniqu es Handbook

may turn to a social wor k discip line instead, leaving the

conventiona l tools of art behind. Some believe th at it is
the future role of art to dissolve in to other disciplines; I
think such a d issolution would be th e product of poo r
education about wh at the dialogue between art and the
world can be.
T he underlying issue is, of course, the crisis of high er
ed ucat ion in t he visual art s, wh ich involves far more
complex problem s than what we can address here. I wi ll,
however, point out some problem s in the traditio nal
cur riculum th at should be taken into consideration in a
discussion abo ut teaching and learning SEA.
In a traditional art school, the emphasis on craft and the
subd ivision of depa rtments (sculpture, painting, ceramics,
etc.) promotes the developm ent of specialties that each
bases it s di scursivity in a discussion abo ut itself. In this
framework, artworks are judged by how they question
or pu sh notions int rinsic to the craft, an approa ch that
en ters in to conflict with the directi on Post-Minimalist
practices have taken, including SEA . In them, craft is
placed at the service of the concept, not the other way
around. Furthermore, the promotion of a craft specialty
makes it difficult for an arti st to achieve a critical distance
from his or h er work.
The di sconnect between art program s and art practic e
is anoth er problem. In an art sch ool, the school itself is
th e primary contex t in which th e art will be produced and
analyzed . This artificial environ ment, while necessary an d
positive in som e aspects- such as th e social environm en t


it creates for arti sts of th e same ge neration and intereststoo often is not ch alleng ing eno ugh or does not provid e
students with a clear understanding of the world in which
p rofessional art activity takes place."
The lack of dista nce from craft , th e use of historical
forms of art as the guideli nes for future art-making , and
th e absence of practical experience may inspire an impu lse
to dispense with hi stor ical art discipline s completely and
in stead give the students an open field in which to play.
H owever, this di smantling, deskilling, or "deschoo ling "
(to use Ivan Illi ch's term) soon can become chaotic and
aimless. So met hing must take its place.
It may take years to establish th e best way to nourish SEA practic es. In thi s book I have made a case for
education pro cesses as the most ben eficial tools for fur thering th e understanding and execution of SEA projects.
H owever, any new art curriculum for SEA needs to be
multidi sciplinary in its reach and creative in its individual
Chr istine Hill is an arti st who se work ranges from
small editions to th e exploration of social transactions
through her project Volksboutique. She chairs th e new
media program at the Bauhaus-Universitiit W eimar where

In 200 5, I wrote The Pablo He!g uera Manual ofContemporary A rt Style

(Tumbona Edicioncs, M exico City) a critique of the social dynamics
of the art world. I hoped it wo uld serve as a practical gu ide for art
students in understanding the underlying social system in which art
is evaluated and supported. Little effort has been made in schools
to prepare art students to engage in the social terms of the art scene
and thus lessen the great anxiety of a young artist facing the world at
large for the first time .

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she h as created a course entitled "Skill Set" in which

stu dents learn a series of non-art skills for wh ich they
also tran sform our studio/classroo m space into a suitable
envi ronme nt for the task. T he skills taught have included
50S h air styling, Alexander technique, ste nography, and
J apanese tea ceremony, am ongst many others, as they
change every year.While the program retains the idea that
artmaking requires technical knowledge, it emp ha sizes the
value th at any non -ar t specialty may bring to th e art and
de sign practice. In Hill's own words about the objective of
the course: "The not ion is for them to rely on their own
resources (i.e., not to just spend mon ey to recreate som ething ) an d [develop th e] ability to innovate as design ers,
and invol ves a tight eno ugh deadline system so that they
are pretty much working non- stop on these installation
ro tations .. . like flexing a mu scle repearedly.'"
The n ew art school curriculum (or a self-gu ided program for someone interested in SEA) shou ld contain th ese
four co m po nents:
1. A comprehen sive und erstanding of the methodological appro aches of socially centered discip lines,
in cluding sociology, theater, education, ethnography,
and co mmunication;

2. T h e possibility of reconstructing and reconfiguring it self accord ing to th e needs and interest of th e
stud en ts;
Correspond ence with Christine H ill,]uly 12, 2011.

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3. An experient ial approa ch toward art in the wo rld

th at offers a st imulating ch allenge to the student;
4. A refunctio ned cur riculum of art history an d art
technique, including a history of the way these things
have been taught in the past.
Implementing th ese four compo nents wou ld requ ire a
significant ret hin king of how cur riculum is cons tr ucted
in a university or art school (particularly th e bureau cratic
proce ss). As in the Reggio Em ilia Ap proach, the curriculum would not be a mo nolithic sched ule of subj ects but
the result of an organic exchange between professor s and
stu dents, in wh ich the former listen to the interests of the
latter and use th eir expertise to construct a pedagogical
structure that will serve th eir needs. Some basic ten ets
mu st be maint ained, whi ch wou ld for m part of the third
objective , providing the student with a sense of the real
world so th at h e or she understands that co ntex ts are not
always unde r the artist's control.
It may seem counterintuitive to seek a reintroduction
of the traditional com ponents of studio art and art history, and it defin itely is contrary to the direction of social
prac tice progr am s tod ay, wh ich are severing th eir links to
studio programs. Yet that division is, I believe, unnecessary
and limiting. A s I h ave argu ed through out thi s book, the
disavowal of art in SEA to the extent th at it is even possible, at best weakens the practice and brings it clo ser to
simulating other disciplines. If we under stand the history

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of th e form s of art, the ideas th at fueled th em, and the

ways these ideas were comm unicated to others, we can
tran spose and repurpose them to build more complex,
tho ugh tful, and endur ing experien ces.

Ac lmowledgments
I wrote this book in 20I0-II while developing two socially
engaged art projects, one in Bologna VElia M edia) and
the other in Porto Alegre, Brazil (the ped agogica l project
of the 8th Mercosul Biennial). W orking back and forth
between two count ries th at gave so much to the field of
educa tion (the work of Paulo Freire and Augu sto Boal in
Brazil and the Reggio Emilia school system in Italy, just
to name a few) certainly colored some of th e thoughts
presented here. But, mo st im portantly, it was the teams
of collabora tors wit h wh om I developed th ose projects
(Ju lia Draganovic and Claudi a Loeffelholz in Bologna,
and M onica H off and G abri ela Silva in Porto Alegre),
th at taught me the mos t and help ed me to articulate my
th oughts.
This boo k is also th e result of many conversations, debate s, and exchanges over the course of several years with
art ist and educator colleagues, cura tors , and writers. I am
parti cularly grateful to Claire Bishop, Tom Finkelpearl,
Shannon Jackson , and Suzanne Lacy, who , with great
generosity, agreed to read thi s book in its different drafts
and provide th eir feedba ck and comm ent s. I am certain
that this book is better because of them; any shortcomings
of th e text reflect my inab ility to fully heed th eir wise and
expert advice.
I can only menti on a few of the many others with
whom I had exchanges th at informed my thi nking for this