Low Residency Faculty Pablo Helguera Wins International Participatory Art Award

Award announced at Arte Fiera Bologna – Bologna Art Fair by jury members Julia Draganovic, Rudolf Frieling, Alfredo Jaar, Bert Theis and Luigi Benedetti.


Pablo Helguera has won the first edition of the International Award for Participatory Art.
The award was announced by an international jury comprising Julia Draganovic, award curator,Rudolf Frieling, curator at the Media Arts Department at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Bert Theis, artist, curator and co-founder of out-Office for Urban Transformation and Isola Art Center, Milan and Luigi Benedetti, Director General of the Legislative Assembly of the Region of Emilia-Romagna. The jury announced the winner at Arte Fiera – Bologna Art Fair and gave a preview of the winner’s participatory project, the first of its kind, to be created at Bologna during 2011.

Luigi Benedetti, introducing this award sponsored by the Legislative Assembly of Emilia-Romagna, explained the background leading to the foundation of the Award starting out from a reflection on the crisis of participation which faces democratic institutions today. Julia Draganovic, award curator, emphasised how the international scope of the Award, international artists and an international selection panel, melds with a project designed specifically for a particular region, creating links between the works of an international artist and the people of a particular community.Alfredo Jaar noted the importance for art today to enter the public sphere to create spaces for communication and dialogue. Bert Theis stressed that this was a challenge and an objective at a time when society was less democratic and public space was increasingly less public.
Rudolf Frieling described the winning project as being very inclusive and an opportunity for an intense dialogue with the community. The project involves the public at large, public bodies and also those working in the area of contemporary art. It works with new technologies and therefore belongs to both the present and the future. It goes beyond the definition of social change, pushing out the boundaries and demonstrating a real commitment to the community.

Pablo Helguera has been awarded the prize of € 15,000 and a budget of € 30,000 to create his project. The project was chosen from a short list of three where the other two finalists were the internationally renowned artists Mel Chin and Jeanne van Heeswijk.
Pablo Helguera was born in 1971 in Mexico City and today lives and works in New York. His work focuses on history, pedagogy, socio-linguistics and anthropology employing formats such as conferences, museum displays, performances and narrative literature.
His project for Bologna, called Ælia Media, aims to create an itinerant cultural institute of journalism, a physical and virtual forum for the city and a place to talk about culture and analyse socio-political topics. Ælia Media focuses particularly on young people and students and is designed to provide a place for democratic participation, a place where all those who work, live, study, holiday and enjoy themselves in the city can experiment and make a creative contribution. This is a sustainable initiative which looks for the extraordinary in the ordinary, the exceptional in the commonplace, on the road to rediscovering the cultural wealth of Bologna in an international context.
Ælia Media will be a centre for dissemination, an alternative, multimedia art channel, a cultural workshop for all. It will use various media including television, radio, print and internet. Particular emphasis will be placed on content created by users. Methods will include live participation and online social networking. The programmes will be presented and broadcast from a special kiosk in one of the public squares of Bologna. “The idea of the kiosk”, explains Helguera “is firstly to raise the awareness about the project in the city and secondly to create a location in the form of a ‘third place’. Occasionally the kiosk will be moved to other parts of the city to meet with the local community and to draw attention to topics specific to the city itself”.

Pablo Helguera and the other finalists, Mel Chin and Jeanne van Heeswijk, were invited to spend time living in the City of Bologna in order to get to know the city, its history and the social and cultural context of the surrounding region. The period of residence also provided the artist with two opportunities to meet local sponsors of contemporary culture and the people of Bologna.
The MAMbo – Modern Art Museum Bologna hosted his conference entitled Contrappunto Sociale – Social Counterpoint while at the neon>campobase gallery the artist held a workshop which produced the Conferenza Combinatoria – Combinatory Conference, a performance based on the results of the artist’s stay in Bologna. During the event, nine local people shared their individual skills in a ‘combinatory’ conference orchestrated by the artist who harmonised the individual contributions as if they were part of a musical composition. The participants were Elena Ascari, Andrea De Carolis, Klodian Dodaj/Helidon Gjergji, Luca Labanca, Chiara Manciagli, Cinzia Pietribiasi, Francesca Scuto Pizzo, Luca Spaggiari and Rebecca Fosser.

The award is sponsored by the Legislative Assembly of the Emilia-Romagna Regional Government in collaboration with LaRete Art Project and goodwill. The Award is curated byJulia Draganovic and co-curated by Claudia Löffelholz. The International Award for Participatory Art is the first award of its kind world-wide. Its aim is to support artists whose work involves the direct participation of the public in the production of their art works. The Award aims to encourage the creation of new projects in a town, city or region in order to stimulate new ways of looking, thinking and practicing participation in the community. 
Participation is at the heart of this art movement which has enjoyed great success internationally over the last fifty years. Participatory art projects are particularly close to social and political themes and focus primarily on building a relationship with the viewers of art who become co-authors rather passive onlookers. The relationship between artist and participant is two-way and is based on exchange, sharing and interaction.

The three finalists of the first edition were chosen from a long list of twenty names nominated by a panel of internationally renowned critics, curators and artists including Carlos Basualdo, Catherine David, Pablo Leòn de la Barra, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Tom Finkelpearl, Manray Hsu, Geeta Kapur, Enrico Lunghi, Nina Möntmann, Julian Navarro, Anne Pasternak, Cesare Pietroiusti, Gabi Scardi, Zara Stanhope, Aneta Szylak, Tom van Gestel, Per Gunnar Tverbakk and Catherine Wood.