Lygia Pape, Professor: Pedagogical Practices as Artistic Practices

20 October 2022 - no responses

This essay encompasses notes on the teaching of Lygia Pape (1927-2004), which took place at the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro – MAM-RJ (1969-1971), the Department of Architecture at the Universidade Santa Úrsula (1972-1985), the Escola de Artes Visuais Parque Lage – EAV (1976-1977), and the Escola de Belas Artes at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro – EBA / UFRJ (1981-1999).

In this context, the TEIA project, developed with students in the forest of the Escola de Artes Visuais Parque Lage in the late 1970s, contributes to the debate, by exploring experiments on nonlinear forms of participation, collaboration, and collective action. Based on ‘TEIAR’ [to web or weave] and ‘the new principle of moving upward or downward, to and from: without the harm of a single point of view,’ there is a starting point for the modes of co-creation in the radical experimental convergence between the artistic and pedagogical practice of Lygia Pape.



Lygia Pape’s teaching, which began in the late 1960s and developed over decades in different contexts—courses in museums, in experimental schools, in private and public universities—is intrinsic to her artistic practice. The intentions and realizations linked to her teaching experiences—a side that has been little researched among her many professional activities—may be found, though only occasionally, in recent publications that bring together interviews, testimonies, and writings of the artist. And it is based on these materials that I write these notes, still brief, about Lygia Pape, the professor: pedagogical practices as artistic practices and/or modes of joint creation[1]. In the lexicon that makes up the artist’s plural practices, the words ‘radical,’ ‘experimental,’ ‘ambivalent,’ and ‘free’ stand out.

In 1969, Lygia Pape debuted as an educator, teaching courses in the Departmento de Artes Plásticas at the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro (MAM-RJ). In 1971, the artist Anna Bella Geiger (1933) invited Lygia Pape and Antônio Manuel (1947) to teach in the experimental course ‘Activity/Creativity’, an integral module of the MAM-RJ educational program that was taught next to the museum. Outside the classroom, the experimental activities aimed to establish a “community of creation with the students.”[2]

The term ‘activity/creativity’ was proposed by Lygia Pape as an homage to art critic and friend Mário Pedrosa (1900-1981)[3]. Used as a form of induction to art, without the aim of creating a single object or a specific category, the course was based on initiations in which each one used their experience, setting out from the suggestion of a collective production made with the available materials[4]. According to Anna Bella Geiger:

“the purpose was precisely not to have any mystery about a course that should lead to the creation of an art object. It was the awareness of the very meaning of freedom”[5] .

Concerning the classes of that period, in an interview conducted in 2003, Lygia Pape recalls having worked on that occasion with sounds and forms, exploring words that implied physical situations, merging sound, rhythm, and image of the word[6].

Also in 1971, the artist participated in the first session of ‘Domingos da Criação’ [Sundays of Creation], proposed by Frederico Morais (1936), in the outdoor area of the MAM-RJ, where, on the last Sunday of each month, between January and July, different artists invited the public to participate with diverse materials donated by industry and made available for free creativity exercises[7]. In this series of artistic-pedagogical-participatory events, that became iconic for bringing together exponents of the Brazilian experimental artistic production of the time, Lygia Pape proposed for the first performance—’O domingo de papel’ [Paper Sunday]—the work ‘paper pool’: a literal immersion into shredded paper inside the museum’s outdoor pool. “In the act of creation, everyone gets confounded,” said Frederico Morais[8].

In 1972, the same year she received her bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the Instituto de Filosofia e Ciências Sociais at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Lygia Pape started teaching at the Centro de Arquitetura e Artes of the Universidade Santa Úrsula, in Rio de Janeiro, a private institution where she worked until 1985, teaching her ‘anti-classes’—a term she used to define her classes[9].

With humor, she claimed that her anti-classes in the Architecture course were an antidote to the conventionalism of other subjects in the curriculum[10]. Defining herself as “intrinsically an anarchist,”[11] her pedagogical practices followed the same direction: they vindicated unrestricted freedom for creation and were based on a “deconditioning” of teaching towards entering “states of invention”.

In words of her close friend Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980), experimentation depended on a process of ‘deconditioning,’ that is, on the “overthrow of all conditioning for the pursuit of individual freedom”[12]. To enter such ‘states of invention’—also borrowing the term coined by Hélio Oiticica—it is the artist’s function to encourage and lead the ‘former spectator’ participant in overcoming the hierarchical distinctions to “make each person enter into the state of invention and from there a collectivity can emerge”[13].

In her anti-classes, students’ testimonies recall realizations as practical exercises consisting of building objects—raising brick walls, for example—and (re)creating new meanings for everyday objects. To build awareness of the ordinary actions that are performed day-to-day, Lygia Pape proposed attention exercises such as, for instance, describing the path traveled to reach the university, intending to evoke an internal (re)cognition of the self-contained potentialities for building experiences and records in the simultaneous perception of the city’s spaces.

“How could you be a good architect if you didn’t even know Rio de Janeiro?”[14] asks Lygia Pape in proposing ‘incursions’ with her students to the Favela da Maré, one of the largest community complexes, located in the north of Rio de Janeiro.

In 1972, the artist wrote the text “Favela da Maré ou Milagre das Palafitas”[15] [Favela da Maré or Miracle on Stilts] and, in the same year, she made Favela da Maré, a ten-minute-long super 8 film[16]. In the text, Lygia Pape professes her fascination for seeing and thinking about the diversity of inventions in popular constructions. “At the time, my intention with my work and my classes appears intensified with external and direct experiences of interpreting the world (…)”[17].

In the film, she documents the register-path made ‘back to front’: in the mobile labyrinth of the community complex, with people entering backwards into the frame in a continuous flow, without an inside nor outside, into the Moebius Strip—a metaphor often evoked by the artist. “Lygia Pape, like Hélio Oiticica, sees ‘solutions’ in spaces of popular housing, as well as the invention of an aesthetics of the precarious, the transformation of the most hostile forms into creative potential,” asserts Ivana Bentes in an analysis of the artist’s film production[18]

During her ‘incursions’ into the Favela da Maré, Lygia Pape also took hundreds of color photographs that explore architectural details of the houses, entrances, rooms, living rooms, and inhabitants of the community complex.

In the contemporary context, could the pedagogical-artistic practice of making ‘incursions’ into the Maré complex, proposed by Lygia Pape, be read as an extra-activist-exploratory action of the ‘aesthetics of the precarious’?[19]. On the one hand, there was an experimental practice of territorial (re)recognition of the city carried out in the context of the 70s, during the civic-military dictatorship in Brazil, within an Architecture course at a private university in Rio de Janeiro, that was essentially elitist and guided by formalist-modernist teaching, which was assumed as transgressive[20]. On the other hand, currently, there have been recent decolonial approaches that also question the processes of internal colonization as well, where the practices of extracting the value of ‘difference’—which occurs even in visual arts—are a core part of this regime and are not exempt from later problematizing.

In the context of the 70s, both Lygia Pape and Hélio Oiticica employ the word ‘ambivalence’ as the reading key to their work.

“This plastic concept is the translation of a refusal to work with any notion of hierarchy in art. This is what allows me to transgress the nature of things,” says Lygia Pape[21].

To assume and recognize ambivalences, says Hélio Oiticica, warning of the urgent and permanent need for taking a critical standpoint and affirming the experimental in the face of the Brazilian paternal-cultural form[22]. Today, in the 21st century, amid cancel culture and canonization, questions remain open about what is ambivalent and what is antagonistic in pedagogical-artistic practices.

In the light (or in the shadows) of the persistent modern dichotomies that continue to resonate between discourse and practice, the syllabus of one of Lygia Pape’s anti-classes, taught in the Architecture course at the Universidade Santa Úrsula, points to convergence.

“Objective: To give students proposals of behavior aiming at an open structure methodology. This behavior could be translated as the ability to know how to think creatively, that is, to think actively, transforming the information received or perceived into something personal and new. To awaken, in a maieutic way, the student’s creative potential. The process employed will be, first of all, handling all of the student’s senses, not only the visual—the student as a creative whole. The visual, in the specific case of the subject, would be the student himself plus all the other senses. The grasping of reality would become an experimental exercise in creative freedom”[23].

In 1976, in a room adjacent to her first major solo exhibition Eat Me: A gula ou a luxúria? [Eat me: Gluttony or Lust?], held at the MAM-RJ, Lygia Pape proposed the exhibition Espaço: Comentário [Space: Commentary], a space dedicated to showing the individual works of her assistants and students at the School of Architecture at the Universidade Santa Úrsula. On the gesture and the exhibition space dedicated to the teaching practices, the artist reflects:

“incorporating students and students’ activities as a work as well, a work of art inside the MAM, the Museu de Arte Moderna, because there, at that moment, I broke with a tradition of the architecture course, of the courses, in general; to the extent that I called up the students and opened up space for them to do whatever they wanted, I was already making a new, different connotation”[24]

The experimental exercise in creative freedom is applied to the institutional exhibition context.


Spiders, Spider webbing, cobwebs

In the years 1978-79, as part of the ‘Espaços Poéticos’ [Poetic Spaces] course and in collaboration with artists who were her students, Lygia Pape—also a professor at the Parque Lage School of Visual Arts (EAV)—carried out the TEIA project in the forest where EAV is located.

“Tteia. Área aberta” [Tteia. Open Area] is a text written by the artist in 1979, describing the intentions and achievements of this proposal, and it is also a key text to expanding the lexicon that makes up the plural practices proposed by Lygia Pape, together with and through collective-collaborative pacts[25].

“The “TEIA” [COBWEB[26]] project aims to occupy areas of the city of Rio (southern zone) and mainly of the northern zone, that is, the so-called “Baixada Fluminense,” with a collective movement where the structural installation is completed with citizen participation. The proposal is to “weave the space” in a process of creativity that establishes a new relationship between the creator of the project and the audience, who must appropriate it and also claim the uses that could take place in it, throughout and after the presentation. The fundamental idea is to make the art object profane, or to eliminate authorship from the beginning. Despite having an author, the installation can be carried out by anyone, as long as there is a WILL, because it is not intended as a “special touch” but as a level of expanding new perceptions from the new horizons arising or being generated from the estrutura-TEIA [COBWEB-structure]. I also intend to start with only one thread, nothing more; the installation will emerge, growing in its own place of use. Before, there was nothing, and afterward, only the idea and perceptions generated by the ARANHADA [SPIDER WEBBING] will also remain”

It is the act of ‘weaving’ that creates what Lygia Pape calls “ESPAÇOS IMANTADOS” [MAGNETIZED SPACES]: “well-defined, even geographically, threshold situations in which special poetic things are happening.”

For the artist, certain structures—”TEIA” [COBWEB]—can be only visual, while others can be used to go up or down, altering the “principle-of-the-horizon-line.”

“The “TEIA” [COBWEB] will allow the relationship of the viewer with his place in the world to be changed, [not] from a single point of view but from different points of view and heights. The “TEIA” [COBWEB] can modify this relationship: in the spider-man. These mechanics will be called ARANHADAS [SPIDER WEBBING]: rising in the air, held only by a light torn fabric, pierced by light, like colored filaments of his own thread-structure. “TEIAR” [to web or weave]—is the new principle of moving upward or downward, from one side to the other: without the harm of a single point of view. This new appreciation of space and objects leads to a heightened perception of the eye and of the entire body: gliding from top to bottom has so far been the privilege of birds alone.”

With this project, the artist sought to experiment with non-linear forms of participation, collaboration, collective action, and a way of co-creation. Evidencing, in turn, the intention to make the work of art profane and to dissolve authorship—even if an author does exist—as Lygia Pape points out.

Being the artist is like being some kind of spider and the city is a huge entanglement[27], the links between the two are also reinforced by the research grants received by Lygia Pape; among them are: ‘Poetic Spaces: An Architecture of the Precarious’ (1975), to continue with the documentary photographs made in the Favela da Maré in her ‘incursions’ with students; ‘Woman in Mass Iconography’ (1977), a research grant from the Fundação Nacional de Arte (FUNARTE); ‘Indigenous Architecture and Favelas of Brazil,’ Guggenheim Fellowship; and the research grant ‘Architectural Education in Rio de Janeiro’ (1988), awarded by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq). In the same year (1988), as part of the UNESCO World Conference on Education, Lygia Pape also organized the lecture ‘Architecture and Creativity in the Favela da Maré’ at the Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).

The Escola de Belas Artes of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (EBA/UFRJ) is the last institution where Lygia Pape teaches. Having entered in 1981 through public tender, her performance in the Visual Languages research area, at the Art History Master’s Program, was decisive for the creation of the Visual Arts post-graduate program.

Regarding the collection of practices employed by the artist, testimonies of former students emerge:

“What Lygia Pape did was to ignite sparks, as poetic triggers that set off processes—artistic, sensitive, reflective—in/of the other, never by the other,” said Nélson Félix (1954)[28]

“She speculated to see where you swayed. She would ask, “What are you doing?” Then she would stick her finger in the wound. Who left me this viscerality, who taught me to use the stomach, was Lygia Pape,” recorded Ronald Duarte (1963).

“Everything I do in art, I do in life,” declared the artist[29]. With teaching, it would be no different. Creative freedom, in all spheres, is a great lesson from Lygia Pape’s anti-classes for art pedagogies in the twenty-first century.


– –

By: Michelle Farias Sommer


The essay is part of my postdoctoral research in Visual Languages at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (2017-2021) with a research focus on Latin American contemporary cultures. The investigation problematizes the question ‘What is there of Brazil in Brazilian art?’ reviewing historical particularities towards the construction of non-hegemonic art theories and historiographies. This specific essay was commissioned by La Escuela, an artist-run platform for radical learning and collective making in public spaces (


[1] In this context, the following exhibition catalogs stand out: Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms, hosted by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, from March 21 to July 23 of 2017, and Lygia Pape: Espaço Imantado [Magnetized Space], hosted by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, from May 24 to October 3 of 2011; Serpentine Gallery, London, from December 7 of 2011 to February 19 of 2012, and by the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, from March 17 to May 13 of 2012. I would also like to highlight the “Dossiê Lygia Pape: arte não se ensina,” published in the academic journal Concinnitas | year 17, volume 01, number 28, September 2016, available at: There are divergences among texts on the respective years of the artist’s performance in educational institutions; here, I choose to follow the information found in the ‘Chronology’ chapter of the catalog Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms, 2017, pp. 168-175.

[2] Activity/Creativity [press]. Rio de Janeiro [January 12 – February 25, 1971]. Acervo MAM-RJ.

[3] Transcript of an interview by Lygia Pape to Mário Pedrosa about Antonio Manuel’s iconic intervention O corpo é a obra [The Body is the Work] at the opening of the National Salon of Modern Art in 1970. Pedrosa says, “(Antonio) you were at the end of this whole process. From a model of art that is not an artwork, the art that dissolves in itself – into action. Creatively dissolving (…) this whole chapter of the activity-creativity that is the fundamental issue in today’s world –the world of contestation –of rejection to the consumer society –of crowding –of mass culture. In fact, I was going to propose in the last Biennial: modern art, then postmodern art, then environmental –environmental-art. Two kinds of environmental art: existential, which is what is done in Brazil, because we have no technology; and abstract environmental art: the art of technology. After that, beyond that, is activity-creativity.” Published in: “O corpo é a obra,” Mário Pedrosa in conversation with Antonio Manuel, Hugo Denizart, and Alex Varela. Transcribed by Lygia Pape in: Oiticica Filho, Cesar (org). Mário Pedrosa. Rio de Janeiro: Azougue, 2013. pp. 91-42.

[4] Interview with Anna Bella Geiger. In: Domingos da criação: uma coleta poética do experimental em arte e educação / Jessica Gogan; Frederico Morais – Rio de Janeiro: Instituto MESA, 2017, pp. 192-202.

[5] Interview with Anna Bella Geiger. In: Domingos da criação: uma coleta poética do experimental em arte e educação / Jessica Gogan; Frederico Morais – Rio de Janeiro: Instituto MESA, 2017, p. 197.

[6] “Lygia Pape and Lauro Cavalcanti: A Conversation.” Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, 2003. In: Lygia Pape, Espaço Imantado. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2012, pp. 304-308.

[7] Domingos da criação: uma coleta poética do experimental em arte e educação / Jessica Gogan; Frederico Morais – Rio de Janeiro: Instituto MESA, 2017.

[8] “In creative making, everyone gets confused,” Frederico Morais. In: Domingos da criação: uma coleta poética do experimental em arte e educação / Jessica Gogan; Frederico Morais – Río de Janeiro: Instituto MESA, 2017, p. 3.

[9] Lygia Pape / Interview with Lúcia Carneiro and Ileana Pradilla. Rio de Janeiro: Lacerda Editores e Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica, 1998, pp. 74-75

[10] “Lygia Pape: em busca do Poema.” Cavalcanti, Lauro. In: Lygia Pape, Espaço Imantado. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2012, p. 298.

[11] Lygia Pape / Interview with Lúcia Carneiro and Ileana Pradilla. Rio de Janeiro: Lacerda Editores e Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica, 1998, pp. 74-75.

[12] Oiticica, Hélio. Aspiro ao Grande Labirinto. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1986, pp. 102-105.

[13] According to Hélio Oiticica: “for if it’s an invention, I cannot know… if I already knew what these things will be, they would no longer be an invention, if they are themselves an invention; their existence is what allows me to realize the invention, so it becomes infinite from this point of view. (…) The experimental is precisely people’s capacity to invent without diluting, without copying, it is the ability that people have to enter a state of invention, which is the experimental, tending to be simultaneous; there are several levels of experimentation as individuals can be.” Figueiredo, Luciano (org). Hélio Oiticica: a pintura depois do quadro. Rio de Janeiro: UBS Pactual, 2008. Ivan Cardoso interviews Hélio Oiticica for the film HO (1979), pp. 37-39.

[14] “Lygia Pape and Lauro Cavalcanti: A Conversation.” Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, 2003. In: Lygia Pape, Espaço Imantado. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2012, p. 298.

[15] Favela da Maré ou Milagre das Palafitas, Lygia Pape, 1972. In: Lygia Pape, Espaço Imantado. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2012, pp. 287-292.

[16] On her film production, Lygia Pape says in an interview that some of her films were stolen from her car in the parking lot of the MAM-RJ and, as they were originals, they were lost. The remaining films are still difficult to access and have rarely been screened. On the theft, see: ‘Outside the frame of the screen,’ Lygia Pape interviewed by Angélica de Moraes. In: Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms, 2017, pp. 43-44.

[17] Idem.

[18] Bentes, Ivana. “Caos-construção: O formal e o sensorial no cinema de Lygia Pape.” In: Lygia Pape, Espaço Imantado. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2012, pp. 333-368.

[19] This question was raised by students of the ‘Formation and Deformation Program’ at the Parque Lage School of Visual Arts, led by Clarissa Diniz and Ulisses Carrilho, in the inaugural class of the course that was, on invitation, taught by me on July 14 of 2021, with the title ‘Lygia Pape & (n)os anos 70.’ For this edition of the program, the starting point in a public call for selecting artists was the TEIA [COBWEB] project, carried out by Lygia Pape and her students in the late 70s. While this discussion, as well as the debate on how actions born out of pedagogical and collective practices are co-opted by the art system as reduced, individualized and individualizing artistic practices, escapes the focus of this essay, it seems fundamental to bring it up here to demonstrate how the pedagogical-artistic practice of Lygia Pape is read in the present and, also, how her actions are a questioning presence for the constant revision of my own teaching practice.

[20] In 1973, Lygia Pape was under arrest at the Destacamento de Operações de Informação – Centro de Operações de Defesa Interna (DOI-CODI), an intelligence and repression agency of the Brazilian government during the dictatorship, subordinated to the army and recognized as a center for torture and murder of opponents of the regime. In later accounts, the artist says that she spent a month in solitary confinement; she was put on trial and acquitted. On that occasion, the government tried, unsuccessfully, to pressure the rector of the Universidade Santa Úrsula to dismiss her. See Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms, 2017, p. 172.

[21] A arte de ver pelas frestas, Márcio Doctors em conversa com Lygia Pape; O Globo, Segundo Caderno, Rio de Janeiro, 7/2/1988. In: Lygia Pape, Espaço Imantado. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2012, pp. 373-375.

[22] “It is necessary to understand that a critical position implies inevitable ambivalence; to be apt to judge, to judge oneself, to choose, and to create, is to be open to ambivalence, since absolute values tend to geld any of these freedoms; I would even say: to think in absolute terms is to fall into error constantly; (…) which does not mean that one should not choose firmly: the difficulty of a strong option is always to assume ambivalence and to unravel each problem piece by piece. Assuming ambivalence does not mean accepting all this state of things in conformity; on the contrary, one aspires to put it into question.” Hélio Oiticica, ‘Brasil Diarréia’ [Brazil Diarrhea], 1970.

[23] Marins, Maria Clara Amado. “O outro como protagonista”. Concinnitas | year 17, volume 01, number 28, September 2016, p. 22.

[24] “Lygia Pape and Lauro Cavalcanti: A Conversation.” Paço Imperial, Río de Janeiro, 2003. In: Lygia Pape, Espaço Imantado. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2012, pp. 304-308.

[25] Lygia Pape, “Ttéia. Área aberta,” Rio de Janeiro, June 2, 1979. In: Lygia Pape, Espaço Imantado. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2012, pp. 333-368. The distinction in writing between the use of uppercase and lowercase belongs to the artist; the underlined italics are mine.

[26] Lygia Pape’s conceptual creativity also appears in the word plays and neologisms she proposes as titles for her works and methods. TEIAR means ‘to weave or web,’ like an ARANHA ‘spider,’ and so TEIA ‘web’ alludes to a spider’s web or ‘cobweb,’ as translated into English by the critic Guy Brett, who worked closely with the artist, in his text “The Logic of the Cobweb” [A Lógica da Teia]. The term ARANHAR, then, alludes to a spider-like behavior, which I have translated as ‘spider webbing.’

[27] Lygia Pape, “Espaços imantados,” undated. In: Lygia Pape, Espaço Imantado. São Paulo: Pinacoteca do Estado, 2012, p. 298.

[28] Nelson Félix was a student of Lygia Pape at the Universidade Santa Úrsula, in the seventies, and a professor at the same institution by invitation of hers in the eighties. ‘Dossiê Lygia Pape: arte não se ensina,’ published in the academic journal Concinnitas | year 17, volume 01, number 28, September 2016. ‘Despertar fagulhas como gatilhos poéticos,’ interview with Nélson Félix, pp. 44-48. Available in:

[29] Lygia Pape in the ‘Jornal do Brasil,’ 1979.


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