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Artist Pablo Helguera shares socially-engaged art

By Abby Burns

Pablo Helguera, a Mexican artist working in New York, visited the College on Wednesday, Nov. 6, to present his various art forms and history to students and faculty. Helguera’s style differs from traditional interpretations, as he mainly employs socially-engaged mediums and performances to express a point.

Helguera, now 42 years old, was born in Mexico City. His work focuses on a variety of topics ranging from history and memory to the absurd. Helguera has been working in a variety of contemporary art museums since 1991, and along with being an artist and teacher, he is the author of many books, including “Education For Socially-Engaged Art.”

During his presentation, Helguera spoke about social consciousness in his work, starting with his latest artwork. He described the piece as “a game” involving 50 volunteers who provided their names and dates of birth, which were displayed beneath a photograph taken of them. Each volunteer received 16 envelopes and was directed to open each envelope on a specific date.

The first date of the game began on May 1 of this year wherein the participants opened their first envelopes. The following message was directed to be opened two days later, the third to be opened four days later, eight days, 16 days and so on. The final envelope, however, was scheduled to be opened on the day of the participant’s death.

“Overall, I found his approach to modern art refreshing,” freshman communication studies major Marc Trotochaud said.

Helguera described his art project from 2008 that took place in Chinatown, New York City, called “The Seven Bridges of Königsberg,” a card-reading system intended to create dialogue among engaged viewers. The piece related to a historical problem in mathematics, where the city of Königsberg, Prussia was divided by a river. The two islands of the city were connected to each other and the mainland by seven bridges. The problem was to find a path that could cross each bridge only once. Inevitably, no solution could be discovered.

Helguera spoke about how he was stuck with a closet-sized room in Chinatown and, consequently, had the idea to develop the space for a project. Helguera put up a sign that said “Card readings $1” and made his own set of cards. He decided to do a socially-engaging project, which involved real people coming up to him, thinking he was a real card reader. He found that many people revealed personal things to him.

“No life has a single path,” Helguera said. “You can never re-cross a bridge, the same way you can never re-cross a path in your own life.”


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