Nicolás Paris constructs environments that draw on pedagogical strategies to encourage reflection and dialogue among spectators. To activate his work, Paris—academically trained in architecture, with a background teaching in rural Colombia—culls from an archive of his own drawings that are inspired by other artists, personal revelations, and past collaborations. Twofold (Doble Faz), presented in 2008 at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Castilla and León in León, Spain, comprised a series of drawings by Paris, arranged in rows on long tables. Participants were invited to view and manipulate the works by folding down the upper or lower corner of each sheet of paper, every turn revealing a new drawing that modified the original image: A smile became a frown, a man receded into the distance, still water rippled, and a bird passed through an empty sky. As the drawings transformed over time, they attested to the fragility of the medium, mimicking the conversion of static meaning into something more fluid.
Often constructed as group experiences, Paris’s work employs drawing as a tool that provides a common language for participants, moving them toward a process of action, reflection, and dialogue. Exercises such as drawing with scissors and negotiating movement from one point to another through a series of pencil marks produce moments that are both meditative and active; carried out by multiple participants, these discrete, individual actions generate collective change. For the 2009 exhibition “Classroom,” at the Museum of Modern Art in Medellín, Colombia, Paris and the museum’s education staff offered a series of drawing workshops inside a central space of the institution. While the location remained the same, the arrangement of elements—the seating, positioning, and spatial direction—evolved depending on the needs of the audience and their actions. As Paris explains, “I work in projects that are assembled from pedagogical experiences; more than a record of events, they are experiments and exercises that speak about suggestions.” Similarly unfixed, the emotional and intellectual experience Paris intends for participants is indeterminate and speculative from the start.
For his project Classroom: Partial Exercises at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011, Paris transformed a room in the Central Pavilion into a flexible laboratory for experimentation. Workshops with different participants—including young children, high school and graduate students, and teachers—were developed and facilitated by Paris and the education staff. Individuals passing through the space could observe different drawing prompts posted around the installation as well as ongoing workshops. Transcending normal boundaries between spectators, artists, and institutions, these activities together created a dynamic hub for encounters. Underlying Paris’s work in general is the question of when art happens as well as a call for social action by artists and institutions. He argues that “art is a discipline that has the responsibility to build social capital, to build new ways to connect different ways of perceptions. Art institutions have the responsibility to build value and common language between people, between communities, and different disciplines and institutions.”
Paris’s interventions in the institutional space of the museum, the privileging of process over product, and the deployment of drawing as a tool for mediating dialogue and reflection provide a platform for exploring pedagogical methods with teachers and students. In October 2011, the New Museum’s education department embarked on a project with Paris that mines the artist’s practice for new strategies to invigorate and subvert existing pedagogical models. Customized workshops will take place with local high school teachers and students that will explore how artists and educators may work together. Throughout this project and true to Paris’s own artistic practice, pedagogical tenets of collaboration, needs-driven learning, and process-oriented outcomes will be the driving forces in how experiences with teachers and students will be planned and facilitated. Paris’s work with the New Museum will unfold over time, and deliberately so. As the project transitions from an immersive planning period with the artist and staff to direct work with audiences, then new directions, possibilities, and even roadblocks are anticipated and welcomed.