WAYS OF VISITING ATENEUM | Brazilian Artist Bruno Moreschi Explores A Different Dimension of The Museum

Who: Bruno Moreschi (b. 1982) is a visual artist living and working in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and a PhD researcher at the State University of Campinas. His work relates to conceptual art and appropriation practice. In January 2016, Moreschi was selected for a one-semester CIMO Fellowship residency at the University of Arts in Helsinki, in order to extend his art research on European historical museums.

What: Ways of Visiting – an art project where the main character is a prominent historical museum perceived through the eyes of different audiences, as well as archived and appropriated material. The present story concentrates on Moreschi’s art research at Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

Images | Courtesy of the artist and Ateneum Art Museum

Featured image | Bruno Moreschi taking the first steps towards Ateneum’s exhibition halls. Photo credits: Sérgio Tavares

What happens to the life of a museum beyond its physical walls? How do visitors experience exhibitions? How does their art story look like, compared to the museum’s own narrative? 

All these questions and more make the subject of an art research and experimentation project by Brazilian artist Bruno Moreschi at Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.


Challenging Official Narratives

The first time I met Moreschi he handed me a book called simply Art Book, which comprises of 50 profiles of contemporary artists. Leafing though, I quickly realized that I had not previously heard of the respective artists.

My embarrassing feeling of ignorance luckily evaporated when Moreschi announced that the artists in Art Book are all invented artists, they do not exist in real life. The art works presented in the catalogue are produced by Moreschi himself, and the artists’ portraits are shots of his friends who posed incognito.

As an artistic project, the scope of Art Book is to challenge the official narrative of art history (or art histories) by contaminating libraries around the world. Meaning, one would come across Art Book while browsing the library and think that it is a real compendium of real artists. Instead, it is an imaginary compendium of imaginary artists.

In many ways, this encounter with Moreschi’s art sets the ground for much of his artistic practice. Pushing boundaries, challenging official narratives – or rather offering alternative stories to official narratives – is something Moreschi particularly focuses on in his work.

Ways of Visiting is Moreschi’s most recent art project that features as main subjects a few selected prominent historical museums and their life outside the limitations of physical walls. Because the story of a museum goes well beyond a building and the official narrative of the institution that inhabits it.

“One of the main themes that I set out to explore in this project is the ideological engine of a historical museum – how it operates in a city and the way it influences its visitors and inhabitants. A historical museum is not just a building, it is also a radiating center of various ideologies such as nationalism, Eurocentric western values etc. My interest is to understand the various forms in which these ideologies are interiorized by visitors and vice-versa – the way in which museums react to the responses and concerns of its audiences”, Moreschi explains.

The project’s title draws from Ways of Seeing, a 1972 project that features a BBC television series of four episodes and a homonymous book produced by art critic John Berger. In his work, Berger discusses how our ways of seeing affect our ways of interpreting art and the images that surround us.

With Ways of Visiting, Moreschi extends this concept in an art practice similar to Marcel Duchamp’s use of the ready-mades. He takes existing materials from existing stories about the museum and places them in a different art context, creating as a result an unofficial narrative of the museum.

Moreschi started what he calls his “art experimentations” in 2015 at Museu Paulista in Brazil, and continued his practice in 2016 in other historical museums: Ateneum in Helsinki, Hermitage in St Petersburg, National Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona, National Museum of Art of Romania in Bucharest, Prado Museum and Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, National Museum and Armory Museum in Warsaw.

One art experimentation example is Moreschi’s approach in Hermitage, where his starting point emerges from a character in the film Russian Ark: a blind woman who knows the works in the museum better than anyone else. So he went in the museum “as a blind man, without actually seeing anything inside. My goal was to try and create my own subjective Hermitage from sounds, smells and descriptions from the person who guided me during my visit.” 


The Unusual Visit at Ateneum

In January 2016, Moreschi was selected by CIMO, an independent agency under the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, for a one-semester exchange residency at the University of Arts in Helsinki. For the first months of the year, Moreschi focused his art research on Ateneum Art Museum.

During the course of the project, Moreschi never stepped into Ateneum’s exhibition rooms himself. He remained stranded in its café, observing and experiencing the life of the museum through other people’s stories.

“My main interest at Ateneum was to produce a museum guide book without actually entering the museum myself. This guidebook – unlike the museum’s official guidebook – is created by using visitors’ own material, their stories and interpretations, combined with archive material such as old photos and videos. By refusing to enter the exhibition rooms, my intention was not only to set aside the official narrative of Ateneum as a museum institution, but also to discuss its life further as a non-static building”, says the artist.

Moreschi gathered stories, photos and videos from Ateneum visitors or staff who were willing to share their personal and unique experiences with the artist. He also selected digital material from social media such as 3000 Instagram images with #Ateneum, as well as archived material like old, black-and-white photographs of Ateneum.

The extensive time spent at the museum premises also led him to became friends with the staff. Moreschi recalls:

“People were very nice and helpful. They used to sent me emails to ask how my project is going. Especially towards the end of my stay, the first question when they saw me was ‘Have you visited yet?’

‘No, not yet’ (laughs). It was really heartwarming and welcoming.”

Moreschi saved his own visit for last. When he finally did visit Ateneum in June, he mentioned that “it was not a huge surprise. I had the feeling that I was already so familiar with the museum and the exhibitions, as if I had already experienced them myself through the stories of others.”


Revealing the Project to Ateneum’s Management

It was not until the end of his project and stay in Helsinki that Moreschi revealed it to Ateneum’s management team. Although initially surprised that this had been secretly developing under their roof for months, the team liked the approach and supported the project further.

“I think they were a little bit shocked at the beginning that this was going on without their knowledge. But in the end all the staff were very supportive and helpful, including the director Susanna Pettersson”, says Moreschi.

In her turn, Susanna Pettersson appreciated Moreschi’s project not only from the museum’s point of view, but also from an academic perspective. In addition to her role as Museum Director at Ateneum, Pettersson is Adjunct Professor of Museology at the University of Jyväskylä, and Associate Professor at the Reinwardt Academy in Amsterdam.

“I was really happy to find out about his project also for its academic value and the analytical part of his work that regards the museum as a study. On Ateneum’s side, I am of course interested in anything that people do inside the museum. I found Bruno Moreschi’s ideas very fresh and I encouraged him to push the boundaries even further”, says Susanna Pettersson.

Asked if there was any worry from Ateneum’s perspective of certain mis-interpretations or challenges to the museum’s own official narrative that Moreschi’s project might raise, Pettersson replied:

“Absolutely not, on the contrary. We can always build new layers on top of existing narratives, and this is more than welcome. It would be completely silly to suggest that there is only one way to say something. Historical facts are of course always the same, but stories can and should be created.”


The Outcome

Moreschi’s own Ateneum guidebook is not yet finalized. He is now back in Sao Paolo where he continues his work, having resumed his experimentations at Museu Paulista, the starting point of his project. Rather than separating the material per each specific museum, Moreschi is currently developing Ways of Visiting further by cross-referencing all the images and experimentations from different museums in a larger archive.

For Moreschi, the project might never be finished: “I think nowadays it is hard for me to just visit a historical museum. I tend to start looking for something else and this will probably continue for a while.”

Nevertheless, he is scheduled to show Ways of Visiting next year at his representing gallery Blau Projects in Sao Paolo (exact date of the exhibition is not yet confirmed). For the rest of us here in Helsinki, it would be interesting to see the project exhibited closer to home sometime in the not-so-far future.

Aside from its value as an art project, Bruno Moreschi’s work brings out an important aspect of experiencing art: the visitor’s freedom of interpretation. He reminds us that curiosity stands at the heart of discovering art. That there is no one way of visiting or one way of interpreting, but that the act of visiting is always a deeply personal and unique experience.