Professor Lanfranco Aceti (Boston University) and Professor Doris Sommer (Harvard University) have joined forces to deliver a student experience in interpretation of complex texts within art spaces. The semester-long course titled Arts in Barcelona, analyzes how national conflicts and civil unrest affect forms of cultural production. Professor Aceti chose The Politics of Friendship by Jaques Derrida for the class Arts in Barcelona because of its focus on nationalism and its relevance to the challenges and complexities involved in arts administration on the international and national scale.

Professor Aceti was delighted to use Professor Sommer’s “Pre-text methodology” in interpreting extremely complex philosophical texts. Professor Sommer, who is an expert in Latin American studies, has developed a series of workshops that can be embedded within an art institution like the Harvard Art Museums within which reading becomes a form of creative activities and creation of new content from the participants. The workshop fosters a community understanding, as well as a sense of togetherness which allows for familiarity and mutual support in the intellectual interpretation of highly academic contextualized content.

Thanks to the support of the Harvard Art Museums and in particular of Alexandra Gaydos, students from BU were able to participate in a series of workshop activities based on collaborative efforts that linked Derrida’s text to the artworks exhibited within the galleries of the museum: Joan SnyderSummer Orange; Lorna Simpson 1957-2009 Interior, 2009; Morris Louis Blue Veil; Joseph Kosuth Complicated, Titled: Art as Idea as Idea [Society]; Georg Baselitz Saxon Motif ; Victor Grippo Analogia I; Gunther Uecker Spiral White; and Alberto Burri Legno e Rosso 3 (Wood and Red 3).



When asked about the pedagogical structures of the workshops put in place by Professor Sommer, Professor Aceti said that “the Pre-text Workshop allowed for students and faculty to bond together, as the choice of Derrida’s text dealt with the theme of familiarity and allowed for a reflection on issues of nationalism, love, and society. I wanted people to reflect more on the issues of nationalities, the disappearance of social structures, and the divisions existing within our contemporary worlds. The Pre-text Workshop had a surprising effect of creating a community, independent from nationalities, between all participants.”



All workshop participants had to choose one phrase to analyze from the text that they felt was closer to them and their personal history. Between the many phrases chosen, the following quote perhaps explains what could be a way of understanding our social interactions and the lack of friendship in contemporary social politics.

“Aristotle recalls not only that it is more worthwhile to love, but that you had better love in this way, and not in that way; and that hence it is more worthwhile to love than to be loved.” [1]

[1] Jaques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London: Verso, 2005), 7.

Lanfranco Aceti is known for his social activism and extensive career as an artist, curator, and academic. He is a visiting professor and research affiliate at ACT @ Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at the Academy of New Media Arts Cologne (KHM), and professor and director of the Department of Arts Administration at Boston University. He is the founder of The Studium: Lanfranco Aceti Inc., the founder and Director of OCR (Operational and Curatorial Research in Contemporary Art, Design, Science, and Technology), and founder and Director of MoCC (Museum of Contemporary Cuts). He has exhibited and curated internationally. In 2017, he exhibited for Shimmer, curated by Irini Papadimitriou (V&A), at the Tobazi Mansion in Hydra;  Accursed for the Thessaloniki Biennial in Greece; and Knock, Knock, Knocking a public space installation. In 2018 Aceti is preparing a new series of exhibitions and performances.

Doris Sommer is Ira and Jewell Williams Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies. Her academic and outreach work promotes development through arts and humanities, specifically through “Pre-Texts” in Boston Public Schools, throughout Latin America and beyond. Pre-Texts is an arts-based training program for teachers of literacy, critical thinking, and citizenship. Among her books are Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America (1991); Proceed with Caution when Engaged by Minority Literature (1999); Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education (2004); and The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities (2014).

Alexandra Gaydos is Project Assistant for the Summer Institute for Technical Studies in Art at the Harvard Art Museums. Alex works under the Division of Academic and Public Programs to support a broad range of activities in the museums’ Materials Lab.  Alex has over a decade of experience working in studios, fine art galleries, and community art venues and is interested in the arts as a vehicle for expression, connection, advocacy, and meaning-making.

Sarah E Bradshaw is an alumna of the Arts Administration masters program at Boston University. She and Professor Aceti have previously worked together, both during her time in the program and on the summer 2017 Comparative Cultural Policy course to Dublin and London. This term, she is assisting Professor Aceti with the Arts in Barcelona course and the Pre-Text seminar established by Professor Sommer. She currently works at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as the Executive Assistant to the Director.

Polly Lauer is Cultural Agents’ Research Coordinator. She is a 2017 graduate of the College of William & Mary, where she studied History and Latin American Studies. Next year, she will begin a doctoral program to study Latin American History, focusing on the importance of community radio as a cultural and political tool in Central America.

Jahnvi Singh is a learning experience designer from India, and a Pre-Texts facilitator, with hands-on experience in the field of crafts & making, education, and human-centered design. She has worked with young learners, educators, school leaders, museum curators, artists, environmentalists, and more to create cultural learning tools and connect classrooms to the real-world in a way that makes every day learning effective, valuable, and adaptable to the 21st century.

The head image credit: Joseph Kosuth, Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) [Society]), 1968. Photostat mounted to board. Detail.