2014 - INTERVIEW BY WENDY WOON
By Wendy Woon
Wendy Woon is an artist, teacher and museum education professional with over thirty years experience in leadership and development of innovative and award-winning educational experiences with art for a wide range of audiences, in museums, communities and globally, online. She is interested in the transformative power of art in people's lives, and the important role that artists can play in meaningful exchanges with communities of learners through their art practices. She is currently the Deputy Director for Education at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and has taught at New York University and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PROVIDE CONTEXT
FOR THE COLLABORATIVE PROJECT “ESPETÁCULO DA TERRA"
(Copy editors: L. Ferreira, N. Moniz)
WOON: Denise, tell me how you got started. How did you know you were an artist?
MILAN: I didn't know it was art. I would do some drawings when I was maybe six years old. My father looked at them and said they were very good. I don't know if he liked my drawings because he loved me, but that made me feel like I belonged, that I was part of something.
WOON: Were you trained as an artist?
MILAN: At first I didn't start in Art. I thought I would be a mathematician. I love the abstraction in Mathematics. But instead I started a degree in Economics. Then I quit and studied dance in Spain in 1979. The drawing became the drawing in space: the body occupying the space. In Spain, I had the opportunity to study the great artists and masters.
WOON: Collaboration has been a really important part of your process. You collaborated with your former husband Ary Perez on a number of works. Can you talk a little bit about that?
MILAN: We were just married. Ary watched me create three-dimensional objects at home. I didn't know how to solve the structure of these objects. So he started to help me to find a solution. We started a dialogue then it became a collaboration. It was about finding the best solution for each idea. I don't have all the answers, other people can bring their contribution. My first exhibit was of collages and I the love the idea of being part of something that already exists; I believe that we don't create everything, things have been done before us and we can participate in a larger act of creation.
Collaboration isn't easy. It brings tension. Sometimes you have an idea and the partner has a different one. What is interesting is how we find the best way to solve the problem. Ary was my first partner in artworks and we worked together for many years.
WOON: And he's an engineer by training?
MILAN: Ary trained as a civil engineer. He brought knowledge of structure to the projects and sought mathematical solutions. I would start with the original concepts with the intuition that it could work, and then he would design the solution. It was a joint effort. Eventually even my children also participated.
WOON: Having children is a creative process in itself, but how they see and shape your work is interesting too.
MILAN: It was amazing because I didn't know they would contribute so much. I was preparing the Opera of Stones. I was having difficulties, I'm not a musician but the stones “sang". I wondered how I could work with musicians. Then my son Rodrigo, who knows a lot about music, helped me.
He knew a woman who had an amazing voice. He directed the whole narration using her voice. I always “directed" my stones, because through their atomic structures they have direct connection to their genesis and the transformations in the universe.
They interpreted the voice of the stone and helped bring this dimension into my work. Then Manuela, my daughter, helped me edit the libretto so the plot became more focused.
Obviously I was always directing, shaping, making sure it stayed in the realm I had envisioned. To have this collaboration with younger people, my children's was amazing.
BRAZIL AS CONTEXT AND CONTENT
WOON: I want to talk a little bit about Brazil. You grew up here and generations of your family have been in Brazil. What is it about your work that you feel resonates with Brazil as your context? And what do you feel extends beyond this context, is more universal?
MILAN: I think it's important to understand the historical context of Brazil. That's where I will start. The idea of European travelers, the Portuguese discoverers that arrived in Brazil in the 16th century. They imagined this place as paradise.
The colonizers and later the immigrants, came here in search of the Americas, the Eldorado, My grandparents are immigrants from the Lebanese diaspora searching for a better place where life could correspond to their own dreams. This is how I see Brazil, a place for dreams.
Brazil embodied the richness of natural resources –fauna, flora, gold and precious stones. In one side this is the place of exuberance, not exoticism. It is about the magnitude of its potential. The other side is the near extermination of the Indigenous people; the slavery and the rape of the land. This story has to be told.
In order to find healing you have to present the scars, but paradise is preserved and the exuberance is not lost. The issue is how to talk about this exuberance – the wonders of this place. One can look within the structure of Nature. We need to learn from the natural structures of the Earth rather than try to dominate it.
The most beautiful gems are found in Brazil. My work is to learn about their geometries, and what their structures have to teach us humans.
WOON: The blue stone was something that you were very interested in early on. Can you talk about its significance for you and for Brazil?
MILAN: Blue is, in many places, considered the most elevated spectrum of color in stones. For me, the blue stone is the Earth. When the astronauts saw it from space, they said, “It's a blue stone!" To have this view of Earth in a bigger spectrum, looking from space, is to understand we are part of one big family connected by our planet.
We all have a common experience but we are blind to it. Whatever happens here, it will happen to all of us. Whatever affects nature, deforestation, mining, river dams, pollution, it affects its balance.
WOON: And the blue stone that has a connection between Brazil and Africa. Can you talk a little bit about that?
MILAN: It is found in Bahia and in Nigeria — it's called the Royal Blue stone. I use this connection in my installation titled Améfrica (2003). It reminds us of when Pangea happened. Earth's tectonic plates moved, and separated into two continents. However when one talks about Africa and Brazil one thinks of slavery, about dominating somebody's mind and body. This is when the wound happens.
We have to go back to a time known as Pangea. When these continents were together, and the memory is not about domination; it's about common origins. I always go back to the idea of roots, because origins are where we are all part of the same beginning.
The beginning is the Big Bang. And before the Big Bang, we don't know. Our beginning and our end are unknown. And we can share this experience of not knowing, because it's not about the identity from our father or our mother; but it's of the identity that goes to our planetary origins, to our cosmic origins, to our unknown origins.
This is a place where we can share a common language. For me quartz is a metaphor for the common possibility, because it's present in ninety percent of the Earth; it's part of these origins; it is common any place you go. It's a structure that is there for everybody.
MILAN: My story with quartz starts with the exhibition at PS1 in New York of “Garden of Light" that was the search for paradise. Haroldo de Campos, a Concrete poet had told me about Brazil, the “Isle of the Blessed" in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake but, I conceived the island as a stone.
The “Isle of the Blessed" is also a common metaphor in Brazilian imagination. It's the search for paradise. So there was this common thread, I did the Garden of the Light when I was working with the crystals in a more static way. It started with the invisible key to get to this island. Then some years later in the exhibition Genesis at the MASP I studied how the geode became this crystalline structure. It starts as something that is attached to matter – the quartz crystallized inside the basalt. I was starting to focus on matter, following the transformation process, and its phases. With this knowledge, the stone becomes symbolic and it can fluctuate in heaven. They're in Celestial Magma. So they are not about stones anymore. They became just symbols or symbolic structures that can guide you.
Earth Bellybutton, 1997 - Photo: Thomas Susemihl
Vulcanic Identities, 1997 - Photo: Thomas Susemihl
JOSEPH BEUYS AND SOCIAL PRACTICE
WOON: Recently, you've been working on a three-year project that is yet another collaboration. You talk about commonality of people. There are many artists today that are working in what is called “social practice," where the medium actually is an interaction with other people and affects other people. The idea is that art and artists can have powerful and transformative impact on people's lives. You mentioned to me that Joseph Beuys has been a really big influence on you. Can you talk a little bit about Beuys and then about your project?
MILAN: I think about the forest that Beuys did in Germany He installed 3,000 stones with seeds for reforestation. Nature inspires me a lot.
It is very important in art, when artists go to places where Nature is disappearing. They can inspire other people through their art to bring what belongs to nature and into our consciousness.
Recently, through this project with six underserved communities in Sao Paulo (Wonders of the Earth, in Portuguese “Espetáculo da Terra") I've started to see what Beuys means by social energy, how my mythological universe of the stones and their origins and structure -- the myth that I have created-- really became resonant and relevant in their communities. Discovering the connections between their lives and the metaphors in my work, that was the central process of the project.
THE STONES: NATURE AS METAPHOR
WOON: You're very inspired by the quartz and the process and the structure and the life of quartz. That it's not just a beautiful object, in that you feel that it has life lessons to teach. What can you learn from looking at stones?
MILAN: This sculpture is a perfect example. It has the form of an egg. So you have the idea of beginning. Also the egg is perfect to symbolize genesis, because it means transformation. When you look inside this geode formation shaped like an egg, you see many layers of transformation.
Beings, 2005 - Photo: Levi Mendes Jr
Let us follow the stone transformation path and move back to 130 million years ago, when the supercontinent Gondwana began to divide and the Atlantic Ocean was formed. This was caused by volcanic eruptions that brought up magma from within the planet and with it the minerals from Earth's internal layers. Because the temperatures were extremely high, close to 3100oF air bubbles formed, as if the magma was breathing…
Both minerals - basalt and quartz - came together within the lava but because they have different natures, they tend to separate. When the quartz penetrates the bubble it starts to crystallize and as quickly as possible it makes a protective skin to create a barrier so the basalt doesn't enter the same space. Underneath the skin, inside the bubble, the quartz will start its own process of organizing and making visible its structure.
In the first moment of solidification, this is a chaotic state where there is no structure. It is the skin of this stone. But already within chaos, you have the first manifestations of order.
Photos: Lucas Mandacaru
From this, it goes to the next inner layer, the agate, where, the quartz crystal starts to structure itself. Then you get to the third layer, when the structure becomes visible.
Photo: Lucas Mandacaru
In summary, you have chaos on the outside layer, transforming into these inner layers of agate, when the structure and its visibility are being defined. The pre-order already exists before it becomes a structure. It is a structure that we can contemplate and learn to see. A structure that dates back to the birth of Earth. It is a structure that continues until today and for a long time to come.
By looking at the processes from the non-structure to invisible structure and then to visible structure is a way of understanding the way of any project we engage in. That is the beauty. When you first meet in a team, in a group, everybody has an idea. And you don't know how it's going to be shaped.
WOON: So you've taken this idea of your deep interest in looking at the structure of stones (earth and nature), and you're taking it to more of a metaphorical level?
MILAN: Completely. The quartz as a metaphor is my starting point. I decode it and look at the struggles just to continue to exist, fighting against all that doesn't belong to its nature. This artistic vision allowed me to go through the layers of matter and transform its stages of evolution into steps of knowledge. This is how I conceived pictorially the “language of the stones."
METAPHORS AND SOCIAL STRUCTURES
WOON: So your project over the last three years has been to work with communities.
MILAN: Yes, not exclusively. I continue my own work in the studio but I also share it with people in the communities.
I wanted to find out if this language of stones could touch other people as it did to me. Could it transform people, even if it was just a drop of water in the ocean, as it was transforming me? I was departing from my artistic experience and searching for creative solutions to translate it, to overcome the obstacles of daily life, of poverty and violence that people in the community deal with daily.
CATALYSTS AND PROCESS
WOON: I want to understand the emergence of the whole project. Let's start with that trajectory.
MILAN: Well, the identification of the community came from Regina Barros, an educator and social activist who has been working in the community for fifteen years. She thought that bringing an artist there could be very inspiring.
MILAN: It became clear when the leaders of the community said that my presence was inspiring because it made them learn about their own potential. They could identify symbolically with the story of the stone; it became their narrative.
One of them, Genésia, said “I have I stopped suffering the death of my son. I learned to stop bringing this pain to my heart, and learn that my role here is protecting these children."
WOON: Let's talk about why you wanted to work with communities. You talked about Brazil and the commonalities of all things, what makes us similar. But there are things within Brazil— the economic diversity, some very deep chasms between those who have economic means and opportunities and those who do not, right?
MILAN: Yes, correct.
I feel very uncomfortable with what happens in Brazil. I had an amazing experience with Ruth Geni Donário, my housekeeper at the property in the Atlantic coast in the state of Rio de Janeiro. We would talk and hike in the trails of the mountains and forests nearby and she would tell me her stories of how she understood nature and its cycles. I learned how to look at nature with a different awareness of this place, an indigenous perspective that inspired me deeply. I made a book and a documentary about her called Mist of the Earth that would later become a photocollage exhibition presented in 2012 at The Chicago Cultural Center.
I had to do this because there is this false idea of paradise. You know, people come here and think Brazil is paradise. It's this superficial image. But when you go deeper you discover true paradise. I felt uncomfortable being just on the surface. I need to reveal this real paradise and go through the pain. To give back to the local “caiçaras" – descendant of the Indigenous groups the original inhabitants of this place, what belongs to them. The local knowledge belongs to Ruth, the “ caiçaras and their village. We cannot speak for them. We are not their representatives. So I think a new way of addressing this all has to be awakened. It's like the metaphor of hearing the voice of a stone, perceiving that a stone is immutable. A stone doesn't have a voice but there is a story of its genesis. I am listening, paying attention to the language of the stones.
WOON: Clearly, listening is a very important part of this process.
The same impetus for this was to use the stone as a metaphor, to help empower the urban community, to give voice to them in a structured way., This art experience was really about a multi-faceted metaphor. It wasn't just visual art. It was theater. They saw the Opera of the Stone. They did writings and they did science.. It seemed like every community made it their own, found what resonated, what worked within their structures and culture. And you worked with six communities, is that correct?
MILAN: Yes. The visual representation in a bi-dimensional design of the structure of the quartz cell with its six extremities.
Images: Marcus Vinicius Furtado
STRUCTURE AND COMMUNITIES
WOON: You structured the whole project visually, with the six parts of the quartz, six communities. How did you put together the team that you needed to do this?
MILAN: Well, it was one by one. And each one that was introduced I knew that this person could bring something special to the whole team
Each who participated has a structure or a way of understanding life that connects to this project - how each can be part of the whole. Like Regina Barros who introduced me to the Heliópolis community.
WOON: Can you talk about Regina?
MILAN: Regina, through her teaching and leadership in NGOs has been working in the underserved communities for many years. She wanted to bring deeper changes. She would look in my studio for things that could help her. So she would select videotapes that I had made inside the amethyst caves in the south of Brazil, to better understand their formations. She borrowed videotapes of previous art works that show the whole process of how I recreated my vision of stones and Earth. In this way the community could learn how an artist translates research, vision and concept into sculptures in urban space or exhibitions in museums or galleries-.
As they participated they wrote amazing poems and did installations and drawings. it was incredibly creative.
Marcus Vinicius Furtado -- my technical assistant in the studio for fifteen years keeps my digital archives and helped Regina select tapes and prepare the educational material – stones' samples, images, photos of some of the art work --that would support the community's process in the learning experience with the stones.
WOON: What principles about quartz have you identified in your education program curriculum in response to your work with quartz are meaningful metaphors for changing communities?
MILAN: That adaptation, the ability to restructure itself as it's threatened or attacked; aggregation, the independent units joining together in a whole, without losing their original potential and preserving their differences;constancy, the idea of atoms that vibrate in constant sequence and generate a single rhythm and harmony; balance among polarities and the structure that creates it; expansion, possibilities to reproduce in structure and generating crystals affiliating to itself; and finally, survival, the constant pursuit of development or evolution.
A structure from nature is used as a teaching metaphor to get people to think about how one survives, but also how these different parts of life can be embraced and become aware of them.
What I feel right now is that all the systems— in particular, the economical system is falling apart as are values. Also the climate is impacted. Why are these things happening? It's because of the prevalent social economic structures. I think we have to look to systems that will survive, that go beyond time, that are not in crisis.
WOON: You are talking about sustainable systems.
WOON: So on your team there was Regina, who has amazing teaching experience.
MILAN: Yes and an incredible connection to the community. It's not like you can go to a community just to use them and take what you want and then you have something.
WOON: I came to this project with great skepticism. I've seen, many projects of artists whose intention towards a community are very good yet they are quite naïve, and they don't know or understand the context, history or culture. The intention is good, but it misses the mark. And it often embellishes the artist's career, but leaves the community feeling disrespected and used, and in the end has very little sustained impact. Can you talk about the other people on the team because you really pull together a team of collaborators?
Carla Govêa was invited by Regina. She went through the whole process of the genesis of the quartz and she changed. And she would say, “Denise, I have to go to your studio, just to get nurtured, so I can continue my work."
WOON: Carla had a great deal of investment in the community to start with?
MILAN: She had done significant work with the community over a number of years as a pedagogue and through my work she was now connected to visual arts. She told us that first we should go to the community to listen. We would go inside their own stories, and hear them. The sequence of work was the following: 1) make the bridge to the community; 2) Carla, as a link working as an technical educational analyst for the SESI program (Serviço Social da Indústria, or Social Service for Industry); 3) organize meetings and talks; 4) Invite people from the community to visit my studio to touch the stones, examine the process, and finally to discuss how they saw the connections. In the beginning, it was chaotic.
WOON: Tell me about Carla's background.
MILAN: She has a deep understanding of the community and how to connect with them. She knows the trouble spots.
She knows how to engage the right people for the project because they trust her.
WOON: Right. It seems like listening and respect are the two essentials of working with communities. One of the things that we talked about was the idea of collective knowledge. Often there are people with deep knowledge that is important to share and acknowledge, even within the community. Who are the other players that came along?
MILAN: The first year was Regina, Carla and myself and we identified the community leaders suitable for this kind of work.
WOON: And it was just one community that you worked with for a full year?
MILAN: No. We worked for a period of four months, It was translating and taking this material to them and adapting it with them.
Rosa Iavelberg is an important part of the team, discussing methodology and Carla would readapt, it, to make the project stronger/workable and I learned a great deal from it.
The first year, Cléo Miranda, another social education worker curated with me “Heart of the Amethyst,"(2010) an installation where people could interact With the stone to see and experience the formation of the crystal.
In the second year the children's book, Pedra Azul (2011) was published. This text helped us immensely. So we had these two artistic events: the installation and the book, and its performance reading.
My ideas were also based on the studies by the Brazilian geologist Fernando Flávio Marques de Almeida, who had done expeditions between Africa and Brazil. He specialized in and discovered the proofs of the separation of the continents. He was the person who inspired me to look at the symbolic importance of the strata of our geography and geology. You will see how it goes from chaos to order."
Ernest Moniz a physicist who works with energy and climate change. said about my concepts: “This is a artistic approach to understand it, you make the poetic bridge…. " I was very moved by this. I also had the opportunity to talk about this with other scientists at MIT.
Sônia Barros, a geologist who collaborated with Fernando Almeida, integrated his findings into our project. Other geologists helped in the organization of the educational material also. So we would base it on geology but it became symbolic. It's really the poetry of the Earth. It's not science.
WOON: It seems like this network of people are your social network.
MILAN: Completely. Gesa Waitz is another person who has been the executive planner to the team since it began in 2010. She would support me in the process and organized the team to work together.
WOON: It sounds like she was a great facilitator.
MILAN: Exactly. You have the catalyst, that's me and the bond, Gesa for the molecules to come together.
WOON: How did you identify which people you worked in the community?
MILAN: Carla already had this knowledge. SESC also played a major role, because if I had not the trust of a person like Danilo Santos de Miranda [Director of SESC SP], who trusted me to do an experimental work, it could not happen.
WOON: Can you tell me what SESC is?
MILAN: SESC is Serviço Social do Comércio.
WOON: How does it function?
MILAN: SESC is a very important institution here in Brazil, a cultural institution in São Paulo, and they do works in the city that are outstanding. What I proposed to them was a completely experimental thing.
First, I did an Opera of Stones. When I said stones sing, they would look at me and say what is this person talking about? But SESC championed my experiment and with the Opera, the DVD, and this project.
The first project began with a team of young filmmakers who came to work with me. My studio became a cave, like a laboratory, where we did the DVD for the Opera of Stones – First Voices. It was a video art experiment. That was happening in the year that I was working with the community. Many leaders of the community saw this video and the “Espetáculo da Terra".
WOON: Did the children see the opera, or just the leaders in the community?
MILAN: Some of the children saw it but it was primarily for adults. In the second year I published an adaptation of the opera into children's book and then I did the installation “Heart of the Amethyst" and integrated it into the community project.
WOON: So it was really an interdisciplinary project making connections between art and science with an artist, team and community members guiding it?
MILAN: Yes. The process of the creation of Earth is a great place to start. You see how everything was adapted. How things break, how things go together, how things melt, how things survive, how things disappear. It's a process.
WOON:. So Regina and Carla were absolutely essential. There were some other partners within the community. So you met Genésia Ferreira da Silva Miranda.
MILAN: Genésia and Antonia Cleide Alves are community leaders from Heliopolis. In the second year, there were leaders from each community. In Grajaú, Lu Nunes and in Jaguaré, Andrea de Carvalho Zichia. Each community has its own specificity, but the model that was developed in Heliopolis worked well in the other communities. The leaders and representatives from the three communities were transformational for the whole project. They all came to the studio to participate in a kind of a retreat. They had their first connection to the stones, it was an enlightening meeting.
WOON: Can you tell me what role each one played? It seemed like Genésia was a— a leader— a mother, a leader, a person that was involved with the community.
MILAN: Genésia is like Agrégora, the mythic protagonist that I named after a geode amethyst -- one hundred thirty million years old, the first feminine principle and soul of the Earth. In the opera, Agrégora guides the amethyst population of the underground to become conscious of their own nature, following the inner sun of their heart (a formation that appears in rare amethysts-1/1000) and that represents the sun illuminating the process. We identified Genésia as Agrégora, because she aggregates people and experiences.
WOON: And there were two other community leaders, elected representatives of Heliopolis?
MILAN: The one you met Antonia Cleide Alves, President from UNAS [União de Núcleos, Associações e Sociedade de Moradores de Heliópolis e São João Clímaco].. Also, Fabio Rodrigues Martins Roseira (manager of one of Center for Children and Adolescents and member of UNAS). They all came together and made this happen; they brought it to the communities. But the first thing Regina did was to bring these leaders to the studio to see if they accepted the proposal, whether it interested them.
WOON: I think that a really critical part is finding leadership within the community and listening closely; showing respect for the people and the community. To ask them whether they feel that this is relevant to their process, to their communities.
MILAN: Sure, if there is not a resonance, then if you go there, you're an invader. to a community. People want to donate things. Don't donate anything. Ask.
WOON: We went to Heliópolis and you made me a believer when I heard Genésia talk. You gave her, one of your works of art, which was a photocollage that incorporated her, but also the children of the neighborhood, and kind of alluded to this mythic character Agrégora.
MILAN: When I did that collage, it was powerful because it portrays those who are the precious lives inside the community? And then “she" came. Heliópolis means the City of the Sun. the “Sunstone" (heart of the amethyst) “pinha" is of one of my myths. So she is the shining stone – the Sun who guides them all. So Genésia is the sun in the collage, she is sheltering all these bodies, as the goddess Isis, the Egyptian goddess or the medieval images of the Madonna. It is important that they can identify, in their own communities, their own catalyzers, their own stories. This is one of the roles of this project, to give them this opening. Genésia was deeply moved by the gift of the photocollage. She spoke of how much she had learned, and how much she had changed. She became aware that suffering was there, but it didn't have to be heavy in her heart, that it is part of life. She found healing for her pain –transcendence. So it's working with each leader, individually in what layer of the stone they find themselves How they can go to the next step. So it's all about everybody's trust in this process.
They are the interpreters of this knowledge. Because this is something that is not teachable. You can teach Mathematics— but you can't teach what a person's dream is.
WOON: One of the other things that I noticed was that the after-school teachers, who worked in the community centers with the children implementing these programs talked about transformation. The woman, Kelli Cristina Vicente talked about all of a sudden realizing that this was not just about stones; it was about how one could look at an object and interpret it and it had meaning. It has transformed her sense of possibilities of what something can be.
MILAN: What is wonderful, Wendy, is that I have been transformed throughout this whole process. You know, what I believed before is not what I believe today. Because today, when I speak about the Opera of Stones, I think those who participated are the Opera of Stones. These generations are the new amethysts, the population of the amethysts.
They are the Foundation. When you speak about the invisible structure and the visible structure, the parade we did, bringing all the communities together to participate in a public celebration, that is the visible evidence of a transformation, of structure.
I learned by seeing Kelli as this new leader of her generation, being so open— receiving this and transforming herself and constructing the human board game rules that was created by the children in Heliopolis. A game that connects them to one another, to Brazil and to Earth as the story is constructed by all participants.
EXPANDING PROJECT WITH NEW COMMUNITIES
Two more communities joined the project in the second year (2011). Grajaú, Robert Loeb, an architect connected us to Grajaú community. And I went there to meet the leaders and ask if they wanted to to hear about the project? They came to the studio.. We sat there and they felt so happy to be part of something like this and to see what Heliópolis had done. I reminded Carla that “ it has to be three because it's a triangle. I always try to bring the geometries that can teach us so much and that shape the space into the design of projects.
Rosa Iavelberg (from the Faculty of Education at USP) joined us at that point.
In the second year, I realized that we needed some structure. We needed Rosa's expertise on the team. She worked in the Ministry of Education of Brazil developing projects for curriculum structures and training teachers all over the country. She is very knowledgeable about art education and understands the best to way to choose artists, train teachers and develop strong curriculum.
She created the educational materials that captured the poetics of my work and made it relevant to the students and teachers in the classrooms.
Rosa was particularly valuable as the project and the team evolved, helping to elaborate the concept of art education, fostering collective dialogue with the team. Her vast knowledge of the structure of art education in Brazil will undoubtedly be very useful should this project extend to the whole country.
That year Carla suggested we add another community, Jaguaré, west of São Paulo where she had also worked for many years as coordinator for the implementation of an education methodology and also in discussions on human values.. Because of this previous relationship, and her understanding of my artistic principles, the analogy between the quartz and the human being, she saw the alignment with their work in this community to support and strengthen human values.
So at first, we had three communities in São Paulo. Then Rosa helped shape what Regina and Carla had created the first year.
We did a series of workshops in the third year (2012) together with SESC and the six communities, and it culminated in a full day event, where all the communities gathered on a designated day (Earth Day) for an urban performance, a parade in the national Park and monument Ipiranga. The site was chosen by me because it is an historical site of Sao Paulo that celebrates Brazil's independence from Portugal
First the participants were organized and linked in diamond formations to the music and second they walked in a parade from from SESC Ipiranga, carrying kites representing their chosen precious stones representing their “precious lives", which they had made themselves and walked towards the Monument of Independence of Brazil where Agregora, interpreted by the singer Badi Assad, convened all the children.
The young people occupied this public space and flew their kites around the monument as an act of celebration of their creativity and freedom as agents and transforming participants in their society.
CREATING THE CHILDREN'S BOOK
MILAN: I co-authored the children's book to tell the story of the connection to the Earth. The book of A Pedra Azul (The Blue Stone) was published by Caramelo, an imprint of Saraiva, a Brazilian publisher.
WOON: This children's book was to be used in the communities as part of the whole curriculum?
MILAN: Yes. Because it becomes so much easier when we tell a story. They related to the characters in the story, like Confuso, Ordenatrix, Violetaluz, I created for the “Opera of the Stones". Agrégora, the protagonist is to be identified in the community. The characters, represent the six phases of the transformation.
WOON: I saw videos of what the children actually did in response to the curriculum of the stones. They started with the book. The after-school leaders were trained and t worked with the curriculum to look at these different aspects of the quartz, what we can learn from it. Each community really interpreted in different ways.
Can you talk about each one of the communities and how they did this. Start with the ones that surprised you the most.
MILAN: When I went to Grajaú the second year, After the experience they had at SESC, including the parade, they invited me to go there for their performance ofThe End of the Earth. I called Carla to come with me and had, a filmmaker. When we got there they had this giant toy in their garden, it was their construction of the atom of the quartz.
I was a three-dimensional wooden structure with curtains that they would pass through. They were passing inside the atomic structures.
WOON: But it's experiential learning, learning through the body of that whole structure.
MILAN: Then, they took me a little bit further. On these molecules, they were writing their stories. They had never written about themselves. They didn't have a sense of self. It was the search for their identity.
In a corner there was the maquette and it was titled “The first evolution— the first maquette of social evolution." And then I said: “Oh, my God. They're going to a new place, opening a new spectrum I believe art as a total experience. I don't believe art as an object that somebody pays and buys. This is a part of the spectrum. Not collectors, galleries, museums. “First maquette of the social evolution." And they said, “everything is linked." They had signed it.
MILAN: Like Genésia says, “this is our experience." The artist is there as a catalyzer.
You can generate process of creativity through your vision. I have never lost my vision because authorship is present.
WOON: Tell me about what happened in the other communities.
MILAN: The Jaguaré community interpreted the story of the children's book in a theater play called Between Two Worlds: Pedro and the Blue Stone Princess. A girl played Agrégora, and this character was invited to go to their community and see their problems – the reverse. She comes from the underground. She has the wisdom of the underground.
WOON: So they used the form of theater as their response?
MILAN: They created a play. And the characters of the underground were the players of the community. They embraced the myth and it became recognized in the communities.
WOON: Interesting. So they owned that story, that process. So they actually interpreted it and made it their own.
MILAN: That again was a surprise.
WOON: Some of them also created dioramas. A cave was built out of used milk boxes the children collected. They created a life-sized cave with stones,
MILAN: They asked the communities to give them empty milk boxes. It was a sustainable thing to collect them all. Everybody participated. The community was pa