Hospitality presupposes a territory, a place where one may have the right to welcome and host. It is territoriality that produces feelings of belonging, creating communities that can establish forms of social interaction. Contemporary art, however, operates transnationally and, therefore, depends on its deterritorialization. This characteristic led the philosopher Peter Osborne to describe artwork as “a kind of passport” crossing borders as “a variable capital,” figuring “a market utopia of free movement.”1 In this context, contemporary art institutions – in the form of biennials, museums, residencies, galleries, etc. – function as local centers that orchestrate global relations among artworkers who, despite constantly moving, also carry with them the labels of their geopolitical positions. From this operation, there is a superficial and temporary form of hospitality, which is given by the invitation from a host (the institution). As a result, a network is expanded – an important dynamic for the functioning of neoliberal capitalism and its flows – but no long-term bonds are created, since the circulation should never be interrupted (the more connections the better, regardless of the quality of the engagement). The guest is only welcome in his/her immediate contact, contributing to the network, and to the utopia of a global and democratic society. So while contemporary art institutions mediate the exchange relations of artworks from diverse origins, they also “accommodate and appropriate cultural differences.”2 So how can these institutions create cultural polices that would be able to host differences, not in terms of plurality but as an intersectional operation that doesn’t silence tensions and conflicts?

In order to address hospitality and contemporary art, it is also necessary to consider the role that art and its institutions have played in questioning the most varied subjects of the present. They have consolidated as think tanks that use the diversity of artistic languages ​​as a tool for reflection, enunciating questions that they believe to be socially relevant. However, the questions elaborated internally does not necessarily come from an external urgency or demand, and it is rarely debated. The next topic soon replaces it.

It would be incongruent if we also turn “hospitality” into merely a topic to be illustrated in the spaces reserved for art. Jacques Derrida asserted that hospitality implies an outside question, which comes from the foreigner who “puts me in question,”3 so how do we remain open to, and listen to the external question, instead of asking questions? Therefore, it would be the case of enacting art institutions differently, in the sense that they could practice a kind of unconditional hospitality,4 sensitive to what comes from the outside. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss hospitality and the possibilities of otherness in art institutions using references from subjectivity studies, clinical psychology, political theater, and critical pedagogy. I will also briefly address past experiences in Brazil that could be used as tools for another understanding of art, collective processes, and the role of cultural institutions.

Inside and Outside the Subject/Inside and Outside the Institution

Trybuna Międzynarodowego Kongresu Psychodramy w MASP, 1970. (c) Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro. Autor nieznany.

In several essays on subjectivity production and politics of desire, the philosopher, and psychoanalyst Suely Rolnik, describes the interconnectivity of the experiences of inside and outside the subject as an essential force for life. Using the Möbius strip5 as an image, she asserts the world, every world, is a Möbius strip, a topological-relational surface with two indistinguishable sides: the familiar and the strange. Through this, she explains that subjectivity is not limited to the subject and its interior (that which is familiar – marked by habits, traditions, and the sociocultural representation repertoires) – but also the affection zone that is external to the subject (the Other, the strange, the one who promotes mutable relationships and possible alternatives to the modern/Occidental/colonial modes of thinking and being). However, the paradoxical experience between the two sides destabilizes the subject and generates malaise and tension: the stranger cannot be translated into the subject’s cultural repertoires; the stranger introduces a new scenario and produces new feelings. In the effort to create a balance and eliminate tension, subjectivity experiences two different movements: on the one hand, a reactive movement (conserving existing modes of belief, common languages, and keeping the other as an external body) and, on the other hand, an active movement, where empathy happens and the other is welcome to live in the subject. There is a tendency in our societies for a reactive movement, trying to conserve a world that the subject sees as unique and absolute. “The greater the destabilization, the more vehemently subjectivity encloses itself in what is established or received, defending it tooth and nail, and may even deploy high levels of violence to ensure its permanence.”6

So, while we usually find a general reaction that deafens, neutralizes, rationalizes, explains, and preserves, Rolnik argues that we should train ourselves to choose an ethical-aesthetical-clinical-political action, an ethical hospitality that listens, implies itself, creates, and imagines. To this capacity of self-othering, of confusing your own identity, we could add here that the wisdom of hospitality is that it unblocks the access to the strained strange-familiar experience.

If we place institutions in the position of the subject, how could they be spaces opened to the experience of what is outside of them? By using discourses of inclusion and social change, most art institutions still centralize dynamics and conserve their internal politics, agreements, and beliefs. So hospitality first would claim an alternative cultural mediation with the strictly unidirectional orientation of institutions, understanding visitors as counterpublics7 who can suggest other meanings and intervene in this context. It would be necessary to open spaces for listening – an attentive and responsive listening to the ways we relate on several levels within this very privileged place that is the art institution. From here, we will follow up with some past experiences in the Brazilian context that assemble clinical, political, and aesthetical processes creating new dynamics within institutions.

Role-playing in the Museum

Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP). Źródło: Lauro Cavalcanti. When Brazil Was Modern Guide to Architecture 1928-1960I, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003, s. 46.

The Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi devoted much of her career to thinking about the role of the museums in the Brazilian social sphere. When she designed the building for the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), inaugurated in 1969 in the most famous and disputed avenue of the city, she said she wanted to make “a poor architecture” with free spaces that could be created collectively. Through the use of glass and by designing areas open to the city, Bo Bardi encouraged people to actively inhabit its premises – twisting the relationship between the space inside and outside the museum like a Möbius Strip. By stimulating this “togetherness” through spaces, involving a playful dimension, Bo Bardi allowed a less authoritarian relationship between the institution and its audiences. It is definitely due to some characteristics of the building that MASP also became the main meeting point for different social demonstrations in the city.

Bo Bardi also had a close relationship with political theater and used her knowledge in this field within her curatorial practice. She created an intense partnership with theater directors and designed scenography for plays. The auditorium she created for MASP is a “naked theater” inspired by Antonin Artaud and his famous essay “Le théâtre et son double.” The wide concrete staircase leading visitors to the Museum’s exhibition galleries could be used as a stage for various actions. There, in the galleries, the transparent glass easels designed to present the art collection lend a Brechtian consciousness to the act of viewing, by revealing the whole structure of the frames and backs of the artworks.

Among her many projects, was the scenography of the first Psychodrama Congress in Brazil,8 in 1970, at MASP. Because it was held in the most celebrated museum of the city, and in its newly inaugurated monumental building, the Congress gained a lot of visibility, bringing together about three thousand people. It represented the largest public meeting in São Paulo that year, under the civil-military dictatorship in Brazil (1964–1985) and its strong censorship of freedom of expression. Open to anyone interested, the Congress brought together not only psychologists and the most engaged psychodramatists of the world, but actors, sociologists, philosophers, educators, and visual artists.9 Introducing a therapeutic, pedagogical, libertarian, and democratic practice, the Psychodrama Congress represented a counterpoint to psychoanalysis, a counterpoint to the strong political repression, and a counterpoint to the traditional museum.

Międzynarodowy Kongres Psychodramy w MASP, 1970. (c) Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro, zdjęcie: Manchete.

The Congress at MASP was an important collective symbol of the resistance of “psy” professionals to the Brazilian military regime, ratifying the need for greater politicization of their activities. It represented the loss of the hegemony of psychoanalysis and psychiatry, proposing new conceptions of mental health. As a method, the psychodrama proposes group activities based on the expression of situations–problems through theatrical language, thus introducing new technical possibilities to the clinical work. In addition, the desire of its founder, the Romanian Jacob Levy Moreno, was also to remove psychotherapy from offices and hospitals and to introduce it into any public space, such as schools, squares and, why not, museums and cultural centers.

Bo Bardi became in charge of scenography of the Congress, setting up a large arena theater with a grandstand in a horseshoe shape inside the Museum.10 She studied Moreno’s ideas and gave special attention to his theory of the “encounter.”11 Six mobile rooms or amphitheaters hosted presentations during the Congress, which sought the maximum use of drama and role-playing technique in group work or sessions where everyone should feel welcomed and participate. Enactments were made in “dramatized discussions” and “workshops of expression” addressing interpersonal relationships, ideologies, and individual and collective conflicts.

Because it sought to know and experience new ways of working and relating, the Psychodrama Congress asserted the museum as a political place for the emergency of conflicts – a place for mediation of social processes. Instead of the cultural “authority” that MASP and other institutions occupied, the psychodrama suggests that the institutions/artists (as actors) and its audiences (as spectators) could exchange positions, playing different roles, and reconfiguring their initial organizations.

The Cop in the Head

Teatr Uciśnionych. Warsztaty w Nowym Jorku (Riverside Church), 2008. Zdjęcie: Thehero. Źródło: wikimedia commons.

The event at MASP articulated a whole political activity – from education to counterculture – interdicted by the military dictatorship, such as the Theater of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal. The Theater of the Oppressed emerged in the 1970s as a theater proposition to abolish the distance between the stage and the audience, activating subjectivities through the identification and enactment of the figures of the oppressor and the oppressed in everyday situations. It uses several techniques, including “The Rainbow of Desire” developed by Boal and his partner Cecilia, an Argentinian psychologist while they were in exile in Paris (1979–1986). There, they realized that “authoritarianism penetrates even into the individual’s unconscious. The cop leaves the barracks (the moral, ideological barracks) and moves into one’s head.”12 Boal explains “we are so oppressed that we oppress ourselves, even when external oppression is absent, does not exist. We all carry within us our own ‘cops in the head.’”13 So through the workshop called “The Cop in the Head” one could “discover how these ‘cops’ got into our heads, and to invent ways of dislodging them.”14 And “The Rainbow of Desire,” in its turn, aimed to reframe internalized oppressions and assign them new features from the combination of the desires of the participants with the analysis of rainbow colors. By thinking in the singular processes of each individual, the technique provokes new social relations and a greater awareness of collective subjectivity.

Through theater it is possible to deal with real conflicts and the emergence of a wide range of narratives and images. The use of body language here is crucial to provide a common and accessible tool of communication, since the discursive hegemonic language can divide and segregate. Derrida also wrote that the imposition of a language, which might be not the guest/stranger’s own but the language of the host (the master of the house, the authorities, etc.)15, can be the first act of violence in a relationship of (moral) hospitality. So if we want, or if institutions want, a different narrative, collective and non-hegemonic, we may also need to find or experiment with other languages16 – the means by which we create dialogue and a common space.

Undoing Institutions

Similar practices to the ones I’ve already mentioned are rare or recent in cultural institutions in Brazil. Starting in 2003, the Public Psychodrama of the Centro Cultural São Paulo (CCSP), organizes free sessions of psychodrama every Saturday, establishing “a new culture within a cultural center” and “a theater where the actors and authors are the public itself.”17 The public of CCSP is very diverse, composed of teenagers, students, researchers, and artists from the most varied regions of São Paulo, including from peripheral neighborhoods, who freely use the permeability of the building’s architecture and its facilities for various activities that go beyond the curatorial program proposed by the institution.

More recently, in 2016/2017, two public clinics of psychoanalysis were created at the cultural centers Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto and Casa do Povo,18 offering free individual appointments for mental health care, especially to those who most suffer from the hostilities of urban capitalist life. But because they are located in cultural centers, they are also spaces “where notions of culture and psychoanalysis can be expanded, with artistic, therapeutic, analytical, and programs (public conversations, playgrounds, exhibitions, etc.) by people who do not necessarily belong to the Public Clinic of Psychoanalysis, but see in it a place to work together.”19 Of course, these initiatives are not free from possible contradictions (for example, we could question if the practice of listening has consequences for both sides), but the fact is that they give at least a new perspective to the institutions, which can become more permeable when what is being offered to the community is not a pre-determined program defined by a few, but tools and structures for an autonomous decision on how to occupy and uses the spaces.

So, at an institutional level, hospitable practices that assembly aesthetic, clinical, and political dimensions would mean a less programmatic agenda, allowing situations to happen and “being sensitive to the fluctuations that the process undergoes.”20 And the regulation of the process could be made not only by the director, the curator, or initiator, but in a collective manner or through an alternation of roles. It means a long-term effort in dismantling hierarchies (that can even be kept in many horizontal processes, in the figure of the one who proposes and manages the process) and in recognizing the rights to speak and to listen, to welcome and be welcomed, to question and be questioned (in addition to the right of the guest, he or she should have the right of becoming a host). A practice of hospitality would ask for art institutions, as hostesses, to admit their own ignorance, and to transform their own policies, structures, methods, division of labor, and contents. It is also to say that there might be no pure hospitality if there is no opening to constantly undo institutions.


Luiza Proença is a contemporary art writer, editor, and curator, interested in forms of artistic labour, political action, and collective learning. She has published on art, culture, and politics for several catalogs and journals, and has been working as a curator and guest speaker in cultural and educational institutions in Brazil. Currently, she is a curatorial researcher of Bauhaus Imaginista (Sesc Pompéia, São Paulo/HKW, Berlin) and a member of the international association Another Roadmap School, working towards art education as an engaged practice in museums, cultural institutions, educational centres, and grassroots organizations. Proença is the former curator of mediation and public programs of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), where together with a team of educators, activists, artists, and critical thinkers, she organized a series of programs that sought to connect the museum with different cultural practitioners and social movements, breaking down hierarchies between ways of doing, languages, and knowledge. Prior to MASP, she was associate curator at the 31st Bienal de São Paulo How to (...) things that don't exist (2014); and the editor of publications of the 9th Bienal do Mercosul | Porto Alegre Weather Permitting (2013).

*Cover photo: Section of a photo of the International Congress of Psychodrama at MASP, 1970. (c) Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro, photo: Manchete.

[1] Peter Osborne. Anywhere Or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art. Verso, London, 2013. p. 27

[2] Peter Osborne. “Anywhere Or …” . p. 165

[3] Jacques Derrida, Anne Dufourmantelle. Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond. trans., Rachel Bowlby, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. p. 3

[4] In opposition to that hospitality of an invitation, conditional, Derrida defines unconditional hospitality as the opening for whoever arrives as an absolutely unknown, anonymous, an unidentifiable and unpredictable visitor.

[5] Born in Brazil to Polish-Jewish parents, in the 1970s Rolnik was in exile in Paris, where she worked closely with Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, who was teaching at the Sorbonne. At that time Clark was focused on group experiences and proposals that involved the sensible relationship with the self and the other, mediated by objects. These propositions were an unfolding process that she started with the work Caminhando [Walking], in 1964, where she suggested the participant cut a Möbius strip with scissors. Rolnik addresses this specific work in many of her texts, such as “The Knowing-Body Compass in Curatorial Practices” (Theatre v. 47, p. 116–136, 2017) and “Archive for a Work-Event: Activating the Body’s Memory of Lygia Clark’s Poetics and Its Context” (Manifesta Journal: around curatorial practices # 14. 1ed.Amsterdã: Manifesta Foundation, 2012, v. 1, p. 73–80).

[6] See Suely Rolnik: “The Spheres of Insurrection: Suggestions for Combating the Pimping of Life.” e-flux journal #86, November 2017.

[7] To Michael Werner “counterpublics are ‘counter’ to the extent that they try to supply different ways of imagining stranger–sociability and its reflexivity; as publics, they remain oriented to stranger-circulation in a way that is not just strategic, but also constitutive of membership and its affects.” pp. 87–88 (

[8] It was the fifth International Congress of Psychodrama, the first one held in Brazil. It was organized together with the First International Conference of Therapeutic Communities.

[9] I thank Ivani Di Grazia and Marcelo Rezende who first introduced me to the Congress and the research of Gustavo Gil Alarcão, Norival Albegarua Cepeda and Maria Aparecida Fernandes Martin.

[10] The space used for the Congress was the second sub-level of MASP, originally intended to be a popular theater, but, after a request of the City of São Paulo, it was maintained as a hall for social events.

[11] In his poem “Invitations to an Encounter” from 1914, Moreno writes: “A meeting of two: eye to eye, face to face. / And when you are near I will tear your eyes out / and place them instead of mine, / and you will tear my eyes out / and will place them instead of yours, / then I will look at me with mine.”

[12] Augusto Boal. Games for Actors and Non-Actors. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. p. 206

[13] Ibid. p. 108

[14] Augusto Boal. The Rainbow of Desire. The Boal Method for Theatre and Therapy. London: Routledge, 1995. p. 8.

[15] Jacques Derrida, Anne Dufourmantelle. Of Hospitality. p. 15.

[16] We can also emphasize the imposition of English as the official transnational language, which also applies to the context of contemporary art. I’m writing in English now, although I feel limitations in using it.

[17] See Cida Davoli. “Quando o psicodrama tambem é cultura”. In: (Accessed in January 2019)

[18] The clinic that operates today at Casa do Povo is a dissident from the Vila Itororó clinic, which started with the proposal of the artist Graziela Kunsch who was responsible for the public formation of Vila Itororó, together with the psychoanalysts Daniel Guimarães and Tales Ab'Sáber. Kunsch was a resident at Ujazdowski Castle CCA in 2018. To learn more about her ideas around the Public Clinic see: https://u- (Accessed in January 2019)

[19] Daniel Guimarães. “O Direito à cidade psíquica: a clínica pública de psicanalálise, ou a psicanálise como canteiro aberto”. In (Accessed in January 2019)

[20] Rodrigo Nunes. “Learning to No End: Tension and Telos in Pedagogy and Politics”. Lápiz 2 (2015): 81–98. p.13. In this text, Rodrigo Nunes analyzes political processes of the last decades in Latin America as processes of collective learning.

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