Because it is a space that tries to intensify strategies for persuading the gazes, the Hermitage configures a rich museum system from the point of view of vision control. Through the relations at play during a visit to the Hermitage, the subsystem of the human body inevitably receives a high burden of control of the subsystem of the work and its exhibition space. In this context, the subsystem of the photographic apparatus is largely passive in light of the power relations between the grandiose space and the visitor. Everything there seems to be orchestrated to control the visitor's gaze and, consequently, the camera's gaze, creating a sort of flattening of these two subsystems.
This characteristic of visual delight calls to mind an anecdote by Nestor Canclini in Hybrid Cultures – Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity, which took place in Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology. What I sought to break at the Hermitage was precisely these constructed expectations:
Torres Bodet [the Secretary of Education] took me to an interview with Dr. Lopez Mateos and told him: ‘Mr President, what indications do you give the architect about what this museum should achieve?’ The answer was: ‘That, upon leaving the museum, the Mexican people feel proud to be Mexican.’ [...] As we were leaving, the President said: ‘Oh, I also want it to be so appealing that people ask have you been to the museum in the same way that they ask have you been to the theater or movies. (CANCLINI, 2013, p. 189, free translation of the Portuguese version)
Because it is a space that seeks to control the gaze in an intense way, the Hermitage has proven to be the ideal space to carry out a typical procedure of institutional critique, which characterizes part of my way of creating art, namely: through the deconstruction of groups of institutionalized practices, I was able to create a situation in which it was possible to separate elements of the system in question (in this case, the photographic apparatus) from the context in which it is presented, thus facilitating the understanding of its procedures and the different powers acting there. How?
To deconstruct the Hermitage's powerful imagery, I could simply refuse to look at it.
Following the suggestion of filmmaker Fernanda Pessoa, I visited the Hermitage with my eyes closed on five separate occasions, guided by different people, during the period of February through May 2016. At no time did I see what was in front of me. Without ever having seen the inside of the museum in person, I studied it through photographs taken blindly, using only the automatic focus of my camera. Before these experiences, I had never visited the Hermitage, and the decision to not view it is something that persists to this day and will continue indefinitely.
I am still in the process of understanding the Hermitage without ever seeing it in person and intend to return to the museum soon for more visits of this type. This attitude has been adopted by me both as a political conceptual strategy (refusing to see something presented as powerful is a form of turning away from authority) or as a way of enhancing the fact that a visit to any museum depends on the visitor's attitude.