“We’re living through a time when artists’ voices could not be more essential, though they often don’t make headlines” says Fritz Steiner, dean and Paley Professor at the Weitzman School. “Our students and community are fortunate to have Ernesto Pujol for a guide.”
Based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Pujol has just been appointed the Keith L. and Katherine S. Sachs Visiting Professor in the Department of Fine Arts for the 2020–2021 Academic Year.
Pujol labels himself a “social choreographer,” who creates ephemeral, site-specific installation projects and durational group performances publicly addressing individual and collective repressed memories. His performances often incorporate walking, stillness, silence, and poetic gestures, and typically take place in public spaces of historical significance. Unfolding over periods of hours or even days, Pujol’s work demands a shift in thinking from the public.
“To do something over a span of time…puts us in another frame of mind and materiality. It immediately throws us into experiencing, rather than consuming,” Pujol says.
The engagement of, and interaction with, the public is a core component of Pujol’s work, which is based on a reciprocal relationship with the engaged community.
“I create a system of checks and balances throughout,” Pujol says. “I welcome a grassroots supervision by the very people of the place who are letting me in.”
“Ernesto’s work is important for his innovative approaches to examining embodiment as transcended from the physical body. He is interdisciplinary in his thinking, always starting from and through the lived experience of society and culture,” says Ken Lum, Marilyn Jordan Taylor Presidential Professor and chair of fine arts at Penn.
A significant theme of Pujol’s work is the importance of listening, because “many people are walking around feeling unheard.” The Listening School, an ongoing multi-year project by Pujol, consists of a series of listening exercises that ask the public to engage not with what is heard specifically, but to learn about the act of listening in society. The Listening School has been performed at locations in Germany and the United States.
At Penn, Pujol will be engaged with graduate students in the Department of Fine Arts. In the spring of 2021, he will give a public lecture at Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art and will be leading a series of online workshops on listening skills for artists, culminating with a student-immersive trip to Puerto Rico in May 2021 (pending COVID safety) to study “ecological and cultural decolonization as evidenced in space reconceptualization and redesign.”
The artist has had solo exhibitions and performances at the River to River Festival, New York City; Kunsthalle Osnbrück, Germany; The Noguchi Museum, New York City; and Salina Art Center, Kansas. Pujol’s work has also been included in group exhibitions and performances at the McNeil Art Museum, San Antonio; Rubin Museum, New York City; The Menil Collection, Houston; PS1, New York City; Miami Art Museum; and Contemporary Art Center, New Orleans. Pujol’s work is held in the collections of the Bronx Art Museum, New York; El Museo del Barrio, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; among others.
Pujol is the author of Sited Body, Public Visions (2012) and Walking Art Practice (2018). Artist interviews and essays are found in publications such as The Brooklyn Rail ("Vulnerability as Critical Self-Knowledge," 2013), Fernweh: A Travelling Curators’ Project ("An Atlas of Small Places," 2015), and Awake: Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art (2004).
The Sachs Visiting Professorship has been previously held by Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, video-based collaborators who script works performed on elaborate sets of their own creation; Ralph Lemon, a choreographer, writer, visual artist, and curator; Josiah McElheny, a sculptor, performance artist, writer and filmmaker best known for his use of glass with other materials; and alumnus Wael Shawky (MFA’01), whose work tackles notions of national, religious and artistic identity through film, performance, and storytelling.