Mapping Discourse Structure
Notes for an Art School
Mai Abu ElDahab
On How to Fall With
Grace—or Fall Flat on
The Manifesta Biennial is not unique; its pitfalls are shared by most similar powerpossessing
institutions to varying degrees and in relation to their particular structures
and aspirations. Although it engenders its own nuances and ambitions, for
the purposes of the coming paragraphs, Manifesta simply serves as a testing ground
for dissecting the processes of the art world into their different layers to illustrate
the pressing need for a new socio-political consciousness in the artistic community,
and to address the widespread paralysis of cultural production as a crucial sociopolitical
force. As such, turning to education as the heart of what is to become
he Manifesta 6 School represents an attempt to slap a patient out of a coma, and
awaken a consciousness that is more far-reaching than individual art practices.
In its customary introversion, the arts community does not let well
enough alone, but often extends itself just enough to instrumentalise the world
around it as props for its own production. A prime example of this tokenism is
the growing range of art projects based on a form of seemingly benevolent social
science research. The research results (or works of art) are, more often than not,
neither up to scratch academically nor do they imbue the information with any
new artistic significance. They are forms of either pop information, inaccessible
specialist data or, sadly, sensationalism. In contrast, a genuine form of awareness
and constructive involvement necessitates commitment, erudition, confrontation
and a recoiling from the superficiality of political correctness.
The Manifesta 6 School is a pretext, an excuse and an opportunity.
It is a pretext for questioning and possibly challenging the methods of the
institutionalised art world. It is an excuse to bring together inspiring thinkers
and cultural producers to invigorate the position of art, and cultural production at
large. It is a great opportunity for a wealth of critical endeavours: looking at the role
of art institutions as participants in cultural policymaking; questioning the role of
artists as defined by the institutional climate in which they practice and produce;
revealing the power positions that legitimise the prevailing elitism; looking at
culture’s entanglement with the pressures and demands of corporate globalisation.
And, finally, asking what kind of education do we as art professionals need today
in order to play an effective role in the world?
The realisation of Manifesta 6 begins with a few set parameters:
the Biennial, the team, the site. Let us start by taking a look at these givens before
extrapolating the Manifesta 6 School’s potential in depth.
Manifesta is the biennial of contemporary European art, although its geographyspecific
character is often underplayed. The general acceptance of this delineation
implies that the debate around modes of representation is only crude when it
refers to those outside of the West. Is that not just the other side of the same coin?
The Venice Biennale, for example, is often branded as outdated because of its
emphasis on national representation. But the Manifesta Biennial, similarly,
is a project that focuses on a new united Europe and is funded by numerous
national and trans-national agencies interested in promoting their own agendas.
These agencies structurally reflect the policies of their states, be they conservative,
moderate, liberal, right-wing, left-wing or middle-of-the-road. The bulk of the
project’s capital is provided by the host city, with the expected returns calculated
in the form of short- and long-term benefits. The reality of these returns is quite
evident in terms of tourism, new infrastructure, city promotion, salaries for
local administrators, etc.
The Biennial is like a parasite landing on a host. It is an authoritative
institution in the guise of a civic entity with a benign mandate. The deliberate
ambiguity of its position leaves it prey to the doctrines of corporatism as dictated
by the variety of interests it encompasses: the art market, funding agencies,
sponsors, foreign policies, cultural policies, city governments, etc. And thus,
as an institution that refrains from defining a position of its own on the
basis of its ideas and institutional history, it is susceptible to the prescriptions
of the external agents whose contributions empower its self-serving nature.
One illustration of this dynamic is the way artists from the richer end of the
European spectrum are often over-represented in biennial shows as a result of
the strength of their local funding bodies. This kind of imbalance creates a false
impression of the relative vitality of different cultural milieus, as dissemination
becomes a reflection of a state’s purchasing power. Preferably, concepts and
ideas, rather than financing, should determine the role and activities of civic
institutions. Therefore, if such institutions were to profess spe- cific agendas or
positions, they might suffer economically but they would be far less accepting
of, and vulnerable to, exploitation. The prevalent genre of insipid wishy-washiness
is symptomatic of the ongoing corporatisation of cultural production.
To continue the theme of transparency, we should begin by looking at some
history. The International FoundationManifesta and the host city, Nicosia,
began the search for the upcoming edition’s curatorial team with a relatively open
call for applications. As the dream team of political correctness, we made it
through the first round: multi-denominational German-Russian/American-Arab;
or North, South and centre; or Frankfurt style, New York glamour and Cairo
mystique; or whatever. The first successful sales pitch.
For the next stage of the selection, a proposition about art education
was presented by the team. The pros were immediately self-evident: a concrete idea
that leaves behind the predictable pseudo-political reductive North versus South
or centre/periphery jargon. Instead, the proposal put forth a precise and coherent
idea about initiating a seemingly neutral entity with a charitable and highly
popular motive and mandate—the Manifesta 6 School. Criticism from militant
anti-education activists seemed rather unlikely. Coincidentally, the buzzword in
the art world happens to be education. (Whether coincidence or copycat is
irrelevant, as the Biennial has wider outreach, a bigger budget and an early press
release to protect the concept’s ownership). Sales pitch number two.
So the selection was made. Unfortunately, one cannot point to a
conspiracy; we, the curators, are just compliantly savvy to the requirements of the
industry. However, we are guilty of complacently marketing ourselves according to
strategic geographical quotas to cater to the expectations of institutions that
ironically thrive on (and appropriate funds by) claiming a philosophy of openness.
In fact, such openness runs essentially counter to the demands of the standardisation
machine and cannot be tolerated. The incongruity of the world’s neo-liberal
face is exemplified by these seemingly progressive cultural institutions that espouse
an ‘openness to all’ without ideological predilections. Yet position yourself in
relation to this openness and—lo and behold!—you are swiftly absorbed into it and
reinforcing its inbuilt consumerist values. Same old, same old. This dynamic is bred
by the economic system’s aversion to any change that may disrupt its assembly-line
production, in this instance production of ideas. On this assembly line, production
has to self-perpetuate, legitimise and replicate itself, or the structure inexorably
breaks down. Everything that is interesting happens on the margins, and no one is
to know exactly where that is.
Of course, one question comes up again and again: Can you claim you are
anti-institutional, and yet work for one of the pillars of the system? A little hypocritical
perhaps? And here we can try to slip in some innocence: ‘You can only change the system
from within—participate and have your say, and gradually you can have some impact.’
Or, ‘The system is all-powerful, all-engulfing, and there is no room to manoeuvre.’ Mere
excuses used to protect one’s position on the assembly line. A mask for laziness or apathy
or, more often than not, for self-serving motives that cumulatively paralyse the endeavours
of culture and strip them of their predisposition to question, influence and change.
I acknowledge that we are complicit, but the real issue is how we
proceed from this point.
The divided capital of Nicosia is the location chosen for this European event:
part European and part not, part Christian and part Muslim, part rich and part
poor. A conflict that is metaphorically, or perhaps practically, a microcosm of the
supposed East/West divide fed to us 24/7 by the world’s free media. The choice
of this location leaves the outsider wondering whether Cyprus is supposed to
be a window on the fallacies of Eurocentrism or a wall to show where Europe
ends—as the question of Turkish inclusion in the European Union surfaces on a
daily basis. Moreover, the project is formulated as having a bi-communal character,
a naive problem-solving strategy that ignores similar contrived attempts that
have always fallen short as they repeatedly underestimate the complexity of this
longstanding reality. Whatever the assumptions and implications, the answer
depends on how we proceed from here.
Nicosia is not a capital of contemporary art, but this is certainly not
to be regarded as an affliction to be remedied by Manifesta. Rather than stripping
the Biennial of meaning, this reality simply indicates that the Biennial requires its
own method and configuration if it is to be of significance to the local community
with which it will cohabit. Here lies the most demanding aspect of the project:
What kind of meanings that are vital, dynamic and requisite for Nicosia can the
Biennial generate in this context? The difficulty in striking a balance between the
needs of the Biennial and those of the city lies in the dichotomy between the
immediate inclination to replicate existing models and the ability to have and
generate confidence in the power of the local situation and constituency to breed
their own valid frameworks.
In order to initiate meaningful interactions and relationships in
Nicosia, Manifesta should communicate a climate desiring of active engagement in
congruence with its place and time. Manifesting this desire concretely in the
formation of the School is the only function the Biennial can profess as a humble
guest rather than an arrogant intruder on the island. Otherwise, what will remain is
patronage and ignorance cloaked in a pretence of inaccessible sophistication.
Fortunately, in the aforementioned general atmosphere of indifference, Cyprus has
the advantages of location, scale, provincialism and—regrettably—firsthand
experience of living with conflict. In these circumstances, an empowering and
influential event is possible.
Regardless of the particulars, the fact now is that Manifesta has committed to
forgoing the glamour of the conventional large-scale show and opening itself
to transformation. Allowing the project to try sowing some fresh seeds, rather than
just using generic vacuum-packed merchandise in conformity with the apparatus
of corporate sustainability. Consequently, for this Biennial to be of any substance,
we need to be able, as curators, organisers and institutions, to stop censoring
ourselves, to give up our decorum, to dismiss our elitism, and perhaps even to
In order to be successful, this project must fail by the existing standards of
the exhibition industry. It should propose a new articulation of the ways of
assessment and not fall prey to the trap of proposing innovation yet using the same
old criteria for its evaluation. These obsolete standards not only stifle creativity but
also endorse a corporate paradigm of cultural production: How many tickets sold?
How many new works produced? How many reviews? How many international
guests? These questions are measures for a very superficial ‘return-on-investment’
logic, and are standard tools for promoting the Biennial to applicant cities.
This is the logic and language of bureaucrats, marketers and advertising executives,
certainly not cultural producers. Cultural production must maintain and defend its
autonomy as a space where the freedom to experiment, to negotiate ideological positions
and to fail are not only accepted, but defining.
The Manifesta 6 School can be about creating conditions with a
modesty and a desire to accept the possibility of failure. This is not referring to
the relativist failure of the laboratory model, but a vocal acknowledgement that
certain formulae do not work and should be refuted and new ones tested. One case
in point is the proponents of superficial cultural exchange relentlessly orchestrating
patronising situations where the didactics of their monologues deafen the audience.
Not only are the discussions redundant, the repercussions are damaging as entire
cultures and issues are packaged with labels of exchange endorsing the entire
futile exercise. For example, museums seize the opportunity of easy public funding
for a certain ‘topic of the season’ and package a complex and influential debate
into one exhibition to boost their finances through a false show of engagement.
These exhibitions reduce significant issues to consumable products, and strip them
of their urgency by presenting them as yet another of many options of display.
Such irresponsible methods should be rejected.
The Manifesta 6 School should not reiterate generic references.
It should demonstrate its uncompromising eagerness to encounter and delve into
conditions and realities as lived, and not simply exploit them as ‘content’ for
production. This transcending of abstraction and stripping naked of convictions
is not a painless exercise, but it is a gratifying one. Searching through diverse
disciplines for new directions, whether academic or practical, along with
meticulousness, indulgence and a readiness to admit shortcomings may prove to
be the necessary approaches. Pursuing new questions requires unorthodox means
and exploration in unexpected places. Learning-by-doing, be it reading, walking,
filming, discussing, painting, etc., should be privileged over reproduction or
didactic pedagogies. Repetition and re-investigation of exhausted theories whose
inadequacies have been repeatedly exposed would be a tedious redundancy.
Moving beyond the current production-on-demand modus operandi
of the art world, the School can advance site-specificity as a cerebral exercise rather
than a delightful gimmick. This can be possible if great labour combined with
flexibility in expectations becomes its dominant strategy. The structure of the
School would be demanding, and involve over-information and in-depth analysis.
A mind-expanding form of education can only become possible if different
paradigms are allowed to confront our own, challenge them and maybe invade our
confined and limiting hierarchy of knowledge. Moreover, alternative discourses
need to be imposed on the mainstream, and new ideas embraced and voiced on
their own terms.
All institutions represent an ideology, whether explicitly or by default.
The Manifesta 6 School should be overt and confrontational about its position
as a hub for a proactive, politically engaged community of cultural producers.
The School should escape from the model of harvesting innate artistic talent,
instead affording an environment of intellectual scholarship—this atmosphere being
not merely an accumulation of individualist endeavours but rather a direct function
of the institution. It should advocate the development of ideas as an ongoing
process of investigation. Research should be encouraged as a route towards
discovery and knowledge production in fierce opposition to product design and
display. This framework should be carefully constructed and communicated, and
the participants left with the independence to find and formulate their own
methodologies, spaces and languages within it.
This project must be a call for the politicisation of art production,
not for political art. It can make us dust off our Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy,
Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Antonio Negri, Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Zˇ izˇek and
listen, or even act. The politicians, the corporations and their professionals
are steadfast in their motives, purposes and aspirations. The community of cultural
producers is not. But in the face of current global conditions, for anything meaningful
or effectual to be expressed or produced, positions must be articulated within
the cultural sphere, their multitude explicitly representing a belief in the validity
of multiple worldviews and positions, and rejecting monological indoctrinations.
The bipolarity of world affairs, as sanctioned by the media, necessitates
urgent resistance. Horrific terrorism manifested in the form of a confused
nineteen-year-old girl in her US army uniform in Iraq, and on the other hand,
dogmatic ideologues empowered by this terror to manipulate a demoralised and
terrified teenager into strapping explosives to his own chest. In the midst of this
tragic reality, the detached silence of the cultural industry becomes a form of
collaboration. Art and culture professionals and institutions must become the third
voice with their creativity, inspiration and intellect. It is not a romanticism to be
shunned by cynics, but a genuine alternative, when we assert an indiscriminate bias
to compassion, and choose to become involved.
In the profound and irate words of Arundhati Roy (in The Ordinary
Person’s Guide to Empire): ‘Our strategy should be not only to confront Empire but
to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art,
our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer
relentlessness—and our ability to tell our own stories.’
The Manifesta 6 School is a chance to fall gracefully, and then stand
up and walk a new path. Perhaps this is in itself the education we need.
Notes for an Art School
Exhibition as School
in a Divided City
Just looking at the titles of some recent large-scale international art exhibitions
—‘The Production of Cultural Difference’, ‘The Challenge of Colonisation’,
‘Critical Confrontation With the Present’, ‘Urban Conditions’, etc.—one quickly
realises that there is an increasing desire, on the part of the organisers and
participants of these shows, to see their work as concrete social projects or active
interventions. Such language and positioning has become the norm, and it now
seems that artistic practice is automatically expected to play an active part in
society. But is an exhibition, no matter how ambitious, the most effective vehicle
for such engagement?
In 1937, André Breton and Diego Rivera (and, it is believed, Leon
Trotsky) wrote the manifesto ‘For an Independent Revolutionary Art’. They call
for a ‘true art, which is not content to play variations on ready-made models but
rather insists on expressing the inner needs of man and of mankind in its time
—true art is unable not to be revolutionary, not to aspire to a complete and radical
reconstruction of society.’ What may appear to be a naive call for all-or-nothing
revolution includes a subtle and important justification for that demand—that we, as
artists, curators, writers, need to engage with society in order to create certain freedoms,
to produce the conditions necessary for creative activity to take place at all.
But what precisely does it mean, the desire that art should enter all
aspects of social life? Is it a desire to bring art out of rarefied and privileged spaces,
or is it merely a move towards the further instrumentalisation of art practice?
Perhaps the exhibition is not the place to start. One must begin at the beginning.
The Manifesta team proposed going back to school.
The Bauhaus, in its brief period of activity, arguably accomplished
what any number of Venice Biennials have not (and at a fraction of the cost)
—a wide range of artistic practitioners coming together to redefine art, what it can
and should be, and most importantly, to produce tangible results. All this in the
face of Walter Gropius’ famous assertion that ‘art cannot be taught’. An art
school, it would appear, does not teach art, but sets up the conditions necessary for
creative production, and by extension the conditions for collaboration and social
engagement. For Manifesta too, these conditions are necessary. To follow Breton
and Rivera, ‘We cannot remain indifferent to the intellectual conditions under
which creative activity takes place; nor should we fail to pay all respect to those
particular laws which govern intellectual creation.’
The need for a more productive and open-ended structure is
heightened by the location of this Manifesta—the divided city of Nicosia. It is
one thing to bring together a group of colleagues at a designated space under the
rubric of an ‘exhibition’ in London or Berlin, it is another altogether to do the
same thing in the Cypriot capital. Given the absence of a widespread and
historically established cultural apparatus to uphold part of the proposition,
the implications of such a gesture are altogether different. The ‘particular laws
which govern intellectual creation’ demand self-criticality, and require consideration
of political pasts and presents, religious conflicts, and economic forces.
The aftermath of colonial rule has left Cyprus without such national
cultural institutions as a museum of modern or contemporary art, an opera or an
art academy. Ethnic and religious tensions have resulted in what appears to be
an insurmountable political, economic and cultural divide. And while Cyprus
historically maintained close commercial ties both with its regional neighbours
and with trade centres further afield, this did not lead to cultural exchanges on the
same scale. There are few cultural institutions significant enough to deserve or
withstand critique, while the political situation is already prominently displayed by
an ever-present Green Line—a presence so strong as to render other ‘political
displays’ superficial at best. In other words, the situation demands not commentary,
but involvement and production. There is a need to engage with realities in a
comprehensive, direct way, to build common ground for the divided city to meet
and work, and to pose pertinent questions and answer them as practically as
possible—all goals that are often central to the concerns of a school.
It can be argued that this approach is applicable to a much larger
situation, far beyond the boundaries of Cyprus. It can be said that the position of
artist-as-social-commentator/critic has run its course. Perhaps it’s time to consider
forms of art (and wider cultural practices) that can continue to be viable even in
the absence of reference points such as institutions, that can remain relevant even
in the presence of overt politicisation of the landscape, that can remain productive
both within the centres of art production and without.
But what specifically is an art school, and what is an art school at this
point in time? My research for the Manifesta 6 School yielded a range of models,
from art academies and experimental schools to collaborative projects, accompanied
by the insistent voices of critics lamenting the ‘crisis of the art school’. Yet there
has been an amazing range of schools in the past one hundred years: from the
ultra-academic École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts to the high-priced
Columbia MFA, from the inclusiveness of the various Bauhaus schools and the
dynamism of the Staedelschule to the elite coteries of the Whitney Independent
Study Program (ISP). Given this proliferation of different models of art education,
the notion of crisis seems, at the very least, a misplaced one. Art education is
not in stasis. It is being constantly re-thought, restructured and re-invented.
École Temporaire, run by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Pierre
Huyghe and Philippe Parreno from 1998 to 1999, was a series of workshops
conducted at several universities and schools in Europe. In one, the artists rented
a cinema for a day and screened a feature film, while narrating potential alternative
scenarios before the start of each scene. Another workshop was a seminar held
at the top of a mountain, a location only accessible by dogsled. In yet another, the
artists interviewed the participants in the middle of a frozen lake. Each workshop
was a situation filmed and edited by participants and addressed directly to the
students at the beginning of the next class session, creating a chain of connections
and continuity, and in this way constituting a school that stretched over a range
of times, spaces and institutions.
The Mountain School of Art was started in Los Angeles just this year
by artists Piero Golia and Erik Wesley. In their exposé, they write:
MSA^ [Mountain School of Art] is not to
be considered an ‘art project’ but a real, fully
functioning school. Although the school is
small in size, the program as well as its collective
ambition is substantial. It is important to
understand the intentions of developing as a
serious contender in the field of education and
culture while maintaining a position as a
supportive element in relation to other
institutions. MSA^ members often liken their
pursuits to those of 18th century European
revolutionists. Our present location at the back
rooms of the Mountain Bar, one of LA’s hippest
‘Art’ bars and hottest nightlife spots, provides a
pungent metaphor for this as these revolutionists
held court in the back rooms of bakeries,
printshops, etc. The culture undercurrent is
perpetually condemned to the backroom of the
establishment. It is the intention of MSA^ to
continue this tradition while holding onto a more
orthodox notion of educational impetus.
The Copenhagen Free University was started by Henriette Heise and
Jakob Jakobsen in their apartment. As they describe it:
What is remarkable is not what these programmes propose, but that
they should exist simultaneously, offering such varied approaches at the radical
end of the art education spectrum. But bringing up these examples is only to
underscore how far the nature of education has evolved in the past century.
Only when these experiments are set alongside the historic establishments of
the Beaux-Arts and the Art Students League do we have a complete picture.
And complete it must be, whatever the type of practice one may wish to pursue,
whatever political projects one might wish to promote. As Boris Groys points out
in an interview included in this volume, artists’ practices are often formed in
opposition to their education; methodologies and techniques borrowed from fields
seemingly irrelevant to advanced cultural practices can also form the basis for the
production of advanced and radical art. Clearly, there is unlimited potential today
for the artist pursuing an education.
The real crisis in art education appears to be one of distribution:
radical, experimental and advanced institutions are clustered in Europe and
North America, acting as magnets for those in other regions who wish to
participate in advanced art practice and discourse. As a result, despite the diversity
of practitioners, discourse and focus tends to remain bound, on many levels, to
these centres of institutional production and their relatively homogenous concerns.
Perhaps the most efficient way to impact the general state of art
education is not by denying the plurality of existing schools and programmes,
but by building a new productive model. In 1967, Fluxus artist George Maciunas,
following ‘the great contribution made by Bauhaus and Black Mountain’,
drew up his prospectus for an experimental art school in the village of New
Marlborough. The plan was never realised, due to his untimely death the same year.
His prospectus was one of the most inspiring discoveries of my research, a fully
formed vision of learning and production in no more than two pages. I was struck
by its subjectivity, a singular worldview that drew as much from the spirit of Fluxus
as it did from the actual body of work that its loose group of artists produced.
The prospectus encapsulates a particular poetics, a core vision that simply and
gracefully branches out to encompass all that was relevant in the art production of
the day. It is a proposal that hinges on the notion of ‘possibility’, saying far less
about what needs to be done than about what can be done.
The actual activity that can take place in a school—experimentation,
scholarship, research, discussion, criticism, collaboration, friendship—is a continuous
process of redefining and seeking out the potential in practice and theory at
a given point in time. An art school is not concerned solely with the process of
learning, but can be and often is a highly active site of cultural production: books
and magazines, exhibitions, new commissioned works, seminars and symposia,
film screenings, concerts, performances, theatre productions, new fashion and
The Copenhagen Free University opened in May
2001 in our flat. The Free University is an artistrun
institution dedicated to the production of
critical consciousness and poetic language. We do
not accept the so-called new knowledge economy
as the framing understanding of knowledge.
We work with forms of knowledge that are
fleeting, fluid, schizophrenic, uncompromising
[sic] subjective, uneconomic, acapitalist,
produced in the kitchen, produced when asleep
or arisen on a social excursion—collectively.
product designs, architectural projects, public resources such as libraries and
archives of all kinds, outreach, organisation—these and many other activities and
projects can all be triggered in a school. I say ‘triggered’ rather than ‘located at’
or ‘based in’ to draw attention to the danger pointed out by Paulo Freire, who
wisely cautioned against positioning a school as a privileged or an exclusive site
of ‘knowledge production’, which only reaffirms existing social inequalities and
hierarchies. The activities of the Manifesta 6 School are an attempt to infiltrate
the space of the city, to transform it and be transformed by it.
Experimentation is key to the structure of a school, to the process
of learning and to notions of progress. It is also key to this project, to the motivation
and goals behind the Manifesta 6 School, and to the rationale behind an
exhibition as a school. The group of people involved in organising the Manifesta 6
School are not an NGO, a ministry or a bureaucratic educational committee.
I see this school as a subjective act, essentially, an experiment—one that aims to
open, to question, to encourage the formation of subjectivities. So, although
I have outlined my hopes and aims above, there is no ‘ideal’ Manifesta 6 School.
There are no ideal results, no hard-and-fast principles beyond the production and
circulation of possibilities, a reshuffling of priorities for Manifesta and Nicosia,
and an attempt to privilege the conditions for creative intellectual production,
both in the city and beyond.
To go back to the beginning, to go back to school, involves a great
deal more than the desire to bring art into social life. Producing tangible results
that move beyond commentary requires research, groundwork and a continuous
process of involvement and production. Let’s call it homework. And a little
bit of homework never hurt anyone.
New Marlborough Centre
The Centre is being created in recognition of the
great contribution made by Bauhaus and Black
Mountain as a think-tank and training ground for
the future avant-garde. The acquisition of a
beautiful “village” of a group of some 12 buildings
in the township of New Marlborough presents the
possibility of creating a similar center that could
devote itself to:
1. study, research, experimentation and
development of various advanced ideas and forms
in art, history of art, design & documentation,
2. teaching small groups of apprentices in subjects
and through procedures not found in colleges,
3. production and marketing of various products,
objects and events developed at the centre,
4. organization of events and performances
by residents and visitors of the centre.
The Centre would be structured as follows:
1. Studios, workshops and residencies for
permanent and visiting members of the
community would be housed in buildings 3 to 12,
the tentative list of members is as follows:
(a) permanent residents:
– George Maciunas (design, production of
multiple objects, new sports, new forms of
documenting history, diagrams)
– Robert Watts (director of school, workshops
& studios; events, environment and objects)
– Jimmy Giuffrey (jazz workshop)
– Yoshimasa Wada (developing new acoustical
(b) visiting members:
– Ayo (tactile objects & events)
– David Behrman (electronic music)
– George Brecht (concept art, border-line art,
non art, objects, events etc.)
– Trisha Brown (kinesthetic events
& environments, anti-gravitational dance)
– Bob Diamond (electronic engineer)
– Jean Dupuy (optic & sound constructions)
– Robert Filliou (literary art, poetry,
– Richard Foreman (surrealist theatre,
– Geoff Hendricks (events & environments)
– Dick Higgins (theatre, art criticism, poetry,
music, action music)
– Joe Jones (musical machines & kinetic art)
– Alison Knowles (bean art)
– Shikego Kubota (video art)
– Joan Mekas (film-poetry, film criticism)
– Larry Miller (e.s.p. art)
– Peter Moore (photography, photo-technology,
– Nam June Paik (action music, kinetic art,
robots, video art)
– Takako Saito (games, sports, objects)
– Paul Sharits (experimental cinema)
– Stuart Sherman (magic acts, new vaudeville)
– Daniel Spoerri (objects, events, culinary art)
– Stan Vanderbeek (animation film, video art)
– Ben Vautier (concept art, humorous art,
– La Monte Young (concept art, electronic
music, endless music)
2. School-workshop. Students will be accepted
on a part time basis. For most part instruction
will be individual. Students will maintain
a working relationship with the staff.
When appropriate, students will assist the
staff in their ongoing research. At all times
students shall be considered part of the learning
community on an equal basis. Students will
be introduced to a wide range of experience
not ordinarily found in conventional schools
and art programs.
3. Library, archives and exhibit space (buildings
1a, 2, 13). It would contain reference material
on past & present avant-garde, original
documents, prototypes, possibly contain archives
of photo-documentation (Peter Moore’s), exhibit
new work in sound, graphics, objects, video etc.
and would contain the “learning machine”
being developed by G. Maciunas.
4. Performance space (chamber music room in
1b, theatre in building 2) & lawn bandstand.
Music room to be used for small scale, solo events,
music, lectures, video presentations, suitable
for audiences up to 40. Theatre with audiences
up in balconies and a 30ft × 60ft performance
space in the middle, for multi-media, inter-media
performances, events, theatre, music, dance,
cinema, new sports, games etc. Suitable for
audiences up to100.
5. Technical workshops (located in basements
of building 2 & 3) to contain equipment for
electronic music, video, machine shop, wood
working shop, ceramic workshop, photo
darkroom, film editing & processing, recording
studio, chemical laboratory.
Chronology of Experimental
— École nationale supérieure des
— Drawing School (1751, Geneva)
— Vienna University of Applied Arts (1867)
— Académie Julien (1868, Paris)
— The Flying University (Warsaw, 1883,
several versions until 1979)
— Gustave Moreau’s Paris studio
— Ox-Bow (1910)
— Ealing Art College (renamed 1913)
— Merz Akademie (1918, Stuttgart)
— Vitebsk Art School (1918–1920s,
founded by Marc Chagall)
— Bauhaus (1919–1933, founded by
— VKhuTeMas School of Architecture
(Moscow, founded 1920)
— Black Mountain College (1933–57,
founded by John Andrew Rice)
— Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson,
— St John’s College (Annapolis, 1937
reform initiated by Stringfellow Barr and
— Berlin Free University (founded 1945)
— Skowhegan School of Painting and
— Independent Group seminars at the ICA
— John Cage at the New School for
Social Research (1956–60)
— Ray Johnson’s New York Correspondence
School (founded early 1960s)
— Intermedia (Toronto, 1960s)
— Experimental Art School (Copenhagen,
founded 1961 by Paul Gernes&Troels Andersen)
— National Art Schools (Havana, built 1961)
— Bauhaus Situationniste (Sweden, 1963)
— John Latham and the Artist Placement Group
(London, formed 1966)
— The Munich Academy for Television
and Film (1967)
— Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design
(founded 1882, renamed 1967)
— Whitney ISP Program (New York,
— Jörg Immendorff, Chris Reinecke and
the LIDL-Akademie (1968–69) at the
— New Marlborough Centre for Arts
(George Maciunas, 1968–69)
— Image Bank (Vancouver, founded 1969)
— Joseph Beuys’ ‘Free International University
of Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research’
— Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics
(Boulder, founded 1974 by Allen Ginsberg
and Anne Waldman)
— General Idea (Toronto, founded 1977)
— Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage
(Rio de Janeiro)
— Ultimate Akademie (Cologne, founded 1988
by Al Hansen and Lisa Cieslik)
— The Vera List Center for Art and Politics at
the New School (New York, founded 1992)
— DasArts (Amsterdam, established 1994)
— Mode2Research—NPO Austria
(Eva Maria Kosa, 1997)
— École Temporaire (1998–1999,
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Philippe Parreno
and Pierre Huyghe)
— Proto Academy (Edinburgh, 1998–2002,
founded by Charles Esche)
— The Independent Art School
(Hull, founded 1999)
— School for the History and Theory of
Images (Belgrade, 1999, founded by
— The Real Presence (Belgrade, annually
since 2000, founded by Biljana Tomic)
— Centre for Advanced Study (CAS), Sofia
— Copenhagen Free University (founded 2001
by Henriette Heise and Jakob Jakobsen)
— Masters in Print and Multimedia,
University of Bologna (founded 2001
by Umberto Eco)
— ArtSchool Palestine (founded 2001,
— Campus 2002 at Kokerei Zollverein,
Essen (founded by Marius Babias and
— Gasthof 2002 at Staedelschule, Frankfurt
— School of Missing Studies (Belgrade,
— Future Academy (London, founded 2002
by Clementine Deliss)
— University of Openness (London,
— Manoa Free University (founded 2003)
— Informal University in Foundation
(Berlin, founded 2003)
— The Paraeducation Department
(Rotterdam, founded 2004 by Sarah Pierce
and Annie Fletcher)
— Cork Caucus (Cork, 2004–05)
— Mountain School of Art (Los Angeles,
founded 2005 by Piero Golia and
— Free University of Los Angeles
— L’université tangente
— La Universidad Nómada
— Facoltà di Fuga
— Göteborgs Autonoma Skolas
Notes for an Art School
Each One Teach One
Adorno: Thinking is action, theory is a form of practice.
In general terms, the purpose of studying and teaching at an art academy is to
establish links between current and historical knowledge. But, since the obsolete
relationship between master and pupil derives from a form of teaching dating
back to the eighteenth century, it is necessary to set about renewing the content
of teaching in European art academies by means of project-based and practical
transdisciplinary education. The classical academic disciplines and classes
must be discontinued. If European art academies wish to prepare students for
the twenty-first century and to push forward new forms of teaching, then we
require a complete reform of the education system.
The suspension of traditional forms of presentation and teaching
is crucial to contemporary education at European art academies. Contemporary
art academies must reflect on processes in changing societies, for without this they
will be unable to arrive at a definition of themselves and the issues they address.
In times of crisis, when the old categories of the sublime and the
beautiful are losing ground and primary socio-political requirements take centre
stage, it becomes clear that the teaching of traditional cultural concepts has nearly
nothing to contribute to discussion about our lives, let alone to changing them.
This is the point when people start to call on the art world to address socially
relevant issues in a new way.
The ‘idea of the universities’, which the reformer Henrik Steffens
enthusiastically formulated 190 years ago, was once realised in the ‘organised
unity of knowledge’. Instead we now have a veritable bazaar of arbitrary individual
disciplines—allegedly so as to do justice to the need for subjectivity—with no
consideration of practical issues. In reality, the art academy often provides no more
than a forum for professors to tend to their egos, not to mention their pensions.
Back in 1983, Gerhard Richter noted: ‘The most gruesome aspect
of our artistic misery is to be found in the so-called art academies, which dupe
the entire public with their pompous and resounding names. The word academy
merely serves to deceive ministries, local governments and parents, and in the
name of the academy young students are deformed and misshaped. […]
The mechanism follows an absolutely classical pattern: the more these professors
feel the need to conceal and suppress their true inability and their obvious lack of
influence, the more unscrupulously they attempt to wield their power wherever they
can—over students in the direct form of arbitrary control, and over their colleagues
in the indirect form of intrigue. There can be no doubt that this system is one
root of the cultural misery of society, nor that these academies need radical reform.’
The crisis of the European art academies is also a crisis of the
authority of those who should be imbuing these institutions with new questions,
content and substance. Professors view their work as an onerous duty, and few
of them spend more than three or four days a month at their place of work.
Politically minded teaching staff now remain increasingly outside the academies
and do not even attempt to pursue an academic career; if they do, they are
Marcel Duchamp was quick to recognise that the artist moves
from the margins of society to the centre. He always resisted becoming ‘bête
comme un peintre’—stupid like a painter—and understood art as an attempt to
school his intellect. For Duchamp, the artist is highly integrated into society,
so that, after his or her emancipation from the commission and the patron, he or
she is positively obliged to pursue the education and expansion of his intellect.
Quite rightly, Duchamp insisted on being more than just a chatterer and a thief
in an artist’s smock, because he saw himself confronted with a society that pursued
the exploitative logic of capitalism and therefore dwelled in intellectual
To date the usual practice for most professors at art academies has
been to age quietly doing unremarkable service whilst watching their salaries
increase. It makes no difference if the professors in question are internationally
renowned or academic underachievers. To this day, it is simply assumed that
professors of art have the necessary teaching skills, and they make their real
careers with their success in the art world.
But most students of art are no better. If the student does not like a
particular seminar or professor they will just leave the room or find a different one.
In 1968 students would have fought against this kind of chaos in the name of
education, but their children just accept it in silence.
Revolt, Reform and Vocation
The student revolts in the late 1960s were a rediscovery of the place of
education as a central location for the reflection of social and economic problems,
taking seriously the ideas of autonomy and political criticism as espoused by
Theodor W. Adorno. Adorno saw criticism as an instrument of political correction
and he expressed his satisfaction at the fact that massive criticism by the students’
movement forced the resignation of politicians and other public figures for the
role they played in Nazi Germany.
Universities and other institutions of higher education were the
breeding grounds of protest and the most important mover of comprehensive
social change, because they brought sections of the population that had hitherto
not enjoyed university education into the reformed institutions. The student
movement of 1968 demanded more reality in teaching (even in the art academies),
and more social commitment, and the protests were aimed at the great political
issues of the time, such as the Vietnam War.
Joseph Beuys founded the German Student Party after experiencing
the politicisation of society in the late 1960s, especially following the shooting
of the student Benno Ohnesorg by a policeman during a demonstration in
Berlin in 1967. Beuys was relieved of his duties as a professor at the Düsseldorf
Academy of Art in 1972 by Johannes Rau (who was later to become the
German head of state) after he refused to implement a university reform that
provided for greater regimentation of studies. Beuys’ pupil Jörg Immendorf
founded a movement for the rights of tenants, and at the École nationale
supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris art students supported other students in revolt
and striking workers on the barricades with their Atelier Populaire. Artists’
cooperatives were founded, such as Cityarts Workshop, with the aim of making
‘art for everyone’ possible.
The slogans, ‘education for everyone’ and ‘culture for everyone’,
which summarise social democratic education policy in western Europe in the
1970s and 1980s, contain an echo of the students’ movement’s demand for
reform in the late 1960s. Young people from low-income backgrounds were to
have the opportunity to study at university, and to partake in social advancement
and affluence. State promotion schemes and scholarships were introduced.
New universities were founded and old ones expanded so as to accommodate
the numbers of applicants pushing into the academic market. The student milieus
that were established had a lasting influence on politics and society. In particular
the universities proved to be autonomous places where—unlike today—social
issues were at the forefront and career took second place. Universities sparked
developments that affected the whole of society andgenerated a culture of
Education for the Market
Since the late 1990s the institution of the university has again been the subject
of discussion in society, but now with reversed priorities. Today the talk is of
overcrowded lecture theatres, of stale teaching methods, the introduction
of students’ fees, and simply of a ‘state of emergency in education’. Whereas
the reformers wish to preserve the achievements made in education and education
policy in the face of reduced funding, critics are demanding an ‘offensive
for education’ oriented solely on the market laws of supply and demand.
This ‘offensive for education’ aims at the privatisation of information, knowledge,
culture and education. The redistribution of information has fatal consequences
for the social and cultural status of those who have no access to the sources
of knowledge. The ‘equal opportunities’ that formed the core of the reforms of
the 1970s are understood by the supporters of market-based education above all
in economic terms. It is qualification for a job, and no longer the emancipation
of the individual, that now forms the core of university study.
Much has been written about 1968, but only seldom has it been
recognised that the primary aim of the students’ movement has been defeated
—in spite of all the visible successes, including the opening up of universities for
people from working-class families, opportunities for mature students entering
university from a profession, and the democratisation of internal structures.
Universities have become a bland playground for too many unmotivated students
who merely wish to extend for a few years the comfortable status that they enjoyed
at school—the comfort of not having to assume responsibility. And whenever proof
of performance or the basic tenets of teaching become an issue, then these people
take recourse to the old anti-capitalist sentiment. Where the university becomes
a protective workshop, it stifles initiative, instead of demanding and encouraging it.
A student who has no idea what he or she aims to achieve will test out any number
of odd jobs and postpone serious decisions about the future. Certainly, though,
not all students comply with this picture of a trade union mentality.
All this insecurity leads to quite new forms of what have been called
patchwork biographies. Today’s patchwork youth ridicules the great improvers
of the world of the 1960s, the eco-freaks of the 1970s, and the 1980s discoverers
of the self. Today’s generation has no plan and adheres to no ideology. These
people are studying without conviction. Is this perhaps an expression of passive
resistance towards the desolate boredom of the academies?
The above brief polemic in fact only serves to distract from the structural problems
that our state of intellectual house arrest gives rise to. If the (art) academy is no
longer a site of inspiration then it is no longer possible to fight for its survival, and
the policy of intellectual economies will face no serious obstacles. Many members
of the universities are simply resigned to their fates, or they do no more than their
utmost to preserve the privileges of the status quo. They are afraid of redundancy,
of job cuts and unemployment, and of the uselessness of the education they either
deliver or partake in. But it is a fact that all relations of power derive their
continuity from the continuing existence of human fears.
What we need is practical models for resistance in the fine arts, network
culture, politics and the media. Before we begin to discuss existing and potential
models for the training of artists, the very profile of the artistic profession must be
reformulated. What options are open to art students in the art world anyway? What
do existing models of education have to offer—beyond the development of the self?
As most professors agree with the premise that art is unteachable, blinding their
students with notions of artistic freedom and thrusting them into bohemian fantasies,
they stand in the way of critical approaches to political, theoretical and social
discourses. In any case, since the advent of project-based art in the early 1990s,
the role model of the artist has moved in the direction of that of a cultural worker.
If our view of society and its socio-political change is restricted,
then our perspective on art is equally restricted.
Georges Bataille defined art as an act that is controversial by nature
and in opposition to the status quo. What would education for this kind of concept
of art look like?
Derrida sees the university as a dissident, resistant, critical and deconstructive
opposition to state power, to economic powers, and to media, ideological,
religious and cultural powers that restrict the advent and the permanent development
of democracy. The university should therefore be a post-hierarchical space, a
‘université sans condition’, a university without rank or status. Derrida’s university
is a privileged location of the forces of resistance and dissidence, which is why it
is entitled to unequivocal freedom. Here everything can be stated in public, and
the professors will assume the responsibility for this. The freedom to say everything
that one believes is true and feels compelled to say creates an absolute academic
space, which has to be symbolically protected by a kind of absolute immunity.
For Immanuel Kant, too, the university was a ‘public institution’
with the task of cultivating all the sciences and protecting them against restrictions.
Universitas signifies ‘the whole’ or ‘the world’ and the university embodies the
character of wholeness and unity. And if this is true of a university, then it is
definitely also true for an art academy.
Leading on from Kant and Derrida, a further contentious social and
political issue becomes crucial. This is the question of education policy.
The significance of the university as a social institution will certainly
not recede in coming years. This is exemplified by the activities of private
corporations, such as Microsoft or Nike, which are focusing their attention more
and more on education and research—while the real universities are becoming more
and more significant as economic actors, to a degree independent from the state.
The importance of education in our society as an ideal and economic good is still
beyond question: it is the way in which this is achieved that is changing. This means
that the real challenge today is to preserve the autonomy of the universities in terms
of the content of what they do. The freedom of teaching and research (but not
the university community’s relationship with society) can still flourish within the
clearly delimited space of the campus—but this is now no longer a matter of course.
Schools and universities are increasingly losing their socio-political
autonomy, as they become the locus of mere vocational qualification. Under
these circumstances cultural institutions are acquiring a new field of activity—
testing out new models for education that are not restricted entirely to vocational
qualification. As these institutions have traditionally been able to react more
quickly and flexibly to social change, they may be in a position to work out tomorrow’s
models of education.
The next Manifesta in Nicosia, Cyprus, will take a transdisciplinary
approach to education, training and the production of knowledge.
Due to its history and geopolitical significance at the crossroads of
three continents, the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which has been a member
of the European Union since May 2004, is particularly suited for a forwardlooking
project centred on new approaches and models in knowledge transfer and
education. At the Manifesta 6 School in one of the world’s two last divided capitals
(the other being Jerusalem as designated by the United Nations) a great variety
of discursive formats and activities will address the issue of the transition from
interdisciplinary to transdisciplinary education in the field of art, producing a
critical stocktaking of this process of change. Critical in Adorno’s sense of the
word, taking criticism as a theoretical endeavour that runs counter to ‘blind’ practice.
The Manifesta 6 School sees itself consciously as a part of the city of Nicosia.
The coming paragraphs outline some hypothetical propositions for what my
ideal Manifesta 6 School could entail.
The Manifesta 6 School
A biennial such as Manifesta is a social medium. Even if not every intervention
presented there will assume social significance, the form of the exhibition as
a whole does exactly that.
I see the Manifesta 6 School as an exhibition or a project (it does not
matter which denotation you prefer) devoid of the general misery of the institutions
and the typical embalming processes of market aesthetics. The Manifesta 6 School
represents an attempt to counter a cultural economy poisoned by optimism and
adhering slavishly to a redundant ideology of education with a form of practice
that is critical toward institutions and an alternative model of seeing, thinking and
acting. I am fundamentally interested in the question of education as an exhibition
format, and in discussions, seminars and workshops as a form of practice and its
In the late eighteenth century, Friedrich Schiller promoted the
ennoblement of the status quo by means of culture, as he believed that art and
culture would make better and nobler people of us. Fragments of this kind of
aesthetic education are still around today, embedded in our belief systems. On the
level of visual grammar, works of art generate counter-images and counter-models
at specific junctures, or they interrupt the particular kind of image sciences
that are provided for us by pop culture.
In the Manifesta 6 School we wish to overcome the separation of
theory and practice. The idea that was particularly prevalent in the 1980s, that
theory and practice are two distinct fields of action, has led to a disengagement of
criticism from public life. For Adorno the concept of ‘criticism’ is the theoretical
location where the intellectual remains in firm opposition to ‘blind’ practice that
negates theory in favour of a change in social conditions.
I see both art and theory as forms of practice. Seminars, workshops,
discussions, etc., are micro-political forms of practice with a high proportion of
theory, and the same is just as true of a challenging exhibition of contemporary art.
The history of counter-culture since the 1960s has shown that in the 1980s, the
generation following the social movements of the late 1970s experienced a significant
problem in distinguishing theory and practice. It was not possible to find an
overarching theoretical model that did justice to the disintegrating range of interests
in practice. This led to a de-politicisation of culture and of political life in general.
The Manifesta 6 School will not reduce what appears as practice to a theoretical
shell, but will extend it as a critical practice of seeing, thinking and acting.
In my view, the Manifesta 6 School should concentrate on the
interactions between artistic practice and theory, and also on the social function
and relevance of contemporary art production. With a concept of art that is
undergoing permanent transformation and whose historical points of reference are
intertwined with socio-political discourses, we need both to continuously redefine
the traditional constellation of artist, teacher and public and also to address new
fields of practice. So as to counter established social hegemonies, we require critical
examination of those political, social and media conditions that to a large degree
determine concepts and practices of art.
My Manifesta 6 School will largely consist of a programme of education that is
committed to political cultural production and the struggle for cultural freedoms.
This programme implies the necessity of self-organisation, using existing
structures creatively, so as to have an influence in political and social issues of
the future and to develop models for solutions.
Cultural practice at the Manifesta 6 School will link culture and
knowledge production with social action by means of typical methods of critical
reading of cultural practices that bestow meaning. The Manifesta 6 School will be
a form of intellectual practice with the task of enquiring as to how cultural practices
can be employed to give political meaning to the everyday lives of ordinary people.
The Manifesta 6 School will discuss the ways in which people find
cultural options and space for individual action within the political and economic
structures that determine their lives, and how these options can be utilised. The aim
is to examine the cultural mechanisms and structures that facilitate, promote or
restrict such action, and also to address concrete political conditions of power
within which realities and their means of influence are constructed and experienced.
The Manifesta 6 School will examine cultural practices that produce
meanings along with their economic and political contexts. The programme
of the Manifesta 6 School sets out to investigate the permanently shifting
relationships of representation, discourse and power from a number of perspectives,
and also to attempt a critical revision of the concept of culture.
As the concept of culture cannot be enshrined in any one definition,
but is rather reflected in the differences between various cultural processes and
practices within specific economic, social and political contexts, the first matter
that will be addressed critically at the Manifesta 6 School will be the heterogeneity
of meanings and their conditions of production and reception.
The Manifesta 6 School will productively overstep the borders between
the individual fields of scientific, artistic, cultural and political practices, so as
to interlink the various contexts. Knowledge production and teaching, theoretical
and practical resources for the formulation of appropriate questions and the
search for answers will be offered and used productively. The historical opposites
of art and culture versus science, politics and economics must be abandoned,
so as to facilitate a permanent interaction of socio-economic conditions, political
relations of power, cultural processes in the production of meaning, and the
locations of effective individual human action within these complex relations.
The concept of art and culture at numerous European art academies
is still bound up with the notion of the original and unique. Art is seen as serving
the purpose of representation, without any questions as to the function that
art and culture have to perform within society—or the function that is ascribed
to them. In fact, in a social context, other, more complex demands are made
of artistic production and producers, but this is generally ignored.
At most art academies the training of the artist takes place completely
without any reflection on society. The corrective measure—which is long overdue—
would not be to devote attention to the selective quality criteria of high culture,
but rather to correct the inadequate image of the artist that is preserved within
the unreal and cocooned space of the academy. In the light of completely new
social responsibilities for the artist, it is simply no longer acceptable to continue
to reproduce stereotypical images of artists, or to see the issue resolved merely
by the introduction of new technologies.
What is required is new subject matter and new teaching methods
so as to establish a new concept of cultural education. New potential for artistic
practice and also for new insights into the field of art in general can be found
in particular wherever artistic and social action intersect, and in the free analysis
of these points of intersection. Thus it is a matter of an innovative renewal of
the mandate to teach, both in relation to the self-image of the art academy and
to the subject matter taught and the methods used.
This kind of fundamental renewal of existing subject matter and
teaching methods means that art academies must offer new content in addition
to the traditional artistic training and the theoretical subjects such as art history
and philosophy of culture. These new subjects would include cultural, social and
media theories; cultural philosophy and history; psychoanalysis and cultural theory;
critical theory; the theory of symbols; the archive of the psychological history of
human expression; visual, gender, post-colonial, cultural, critical and curatorial
studies; new historicism; cultural poetics; postmodern ethnography; cultural
analysis; post-structuralism, deconstruction and discourse theory; issues concerning
the political significance of cultural interpretation of research into the history
of mentalities; the sociology of art and culture and practices of mediation;
cultural policy; cross-cultural issues and popular culture. The Manifesta 6
School should offer subjects in a three-month postgraduate programme, such as:
Political displays and participation, bio- and repro-technology, analysis of
architecture and new resistance, the politics of knowledge production, and post8
colonial studies and migration.
Prospective Manifesta 6 School students will embark on an experiment
with theories, methods and subjects of study that are new to art academies.
Until around 1800, culture was understood as a narrow and normative benchmark
of the excellence of ‘good society’, but today culture encompasses anything from
classical high culture to various lifestyles to an understanding of nature as a
cultural construct. A further aspect in recent developments in science, which is
particularly evident in cultural studies, is the realisation that the interesting
scientific discoveries are now made where various disciplines meet and cross
over into one another. This is accompanied by a trend towards crossing national
borders, as culture is identified in the mutual interplay and cross-cultural
comparisons between the self and the other.
Following on from ideas that were formulated in the manifesto
of the teaching staff of the Collège de France in 1987 on the ‘Educational
System of the Future’, one of this project’s general goals is to overcome
historically obsolete restrictions to singular disciplines when looking at art.
The investigation of various theoretical discourses within art studies
needs urgent support, and a combination of theory and practice in the form of
project-based work must become a matter of course. The Manifesta 6 School
will use curricula with international bias and also look closely at various concepts
of culture as well as employing teachers and recruiting students from various
A further qualification in artistic education at the Manifesta 6
School will consist in introducing transdisciplinary postgraduate studies in
close international cooperation, so as to establish research activities that have
hitherto been neglected at art academies.
The concept of transdisciplinarity was introduced into the
debate on the development of research and science in 1972 by Erich Jantsch.
Since then it has been used in various contexts, including the following three:
1. In terms of the practice of science, it denotes a treatment of
issues independent of single disciplines, in particular those issues
that are too complex to be dealt with appropriately within
2. It includes a social understanding of issues, extraneous to science,
in the scientific definition of a problem or an issue.
3. It means that the borders of domains of knowledge are broken
down and non-scientific sources can be included.
It is important to briefly explain the differences between transdisciplinarity,
interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity, with mutual exchange of ideas and
corrections. Whereas ‘multidisciplinary’ means only that various disciplines
work alongside each other on one issue, interdisciplinarity implies the
exchange of concepts and methods, which are incorporated into the various
Transdisciplinarity is a new approach to research and science
which defines and solves problems more independently of specific disciplines,
thus transforming disciplines and subjects by removing their traditional borders
wherever a single disciplinary definition of an issue is not possible or useful.
Research is then undertaken by a number of groups working on
different aspects. The social responsibility of research increases and researchers
are no longer merely accountable to their peers. Knowledge production is
spread far beyond the universities, and socially-distributed knowledge production
Transdisciplinarity therefore denotes a dynamic relationship between
society and science. The production of knowledge gains a context of application
and a context of implication, which means that human agents and their conditions
of action, and their own understanding of their aims all influence a scientific
approach to a subject. This leads to innovations in cultural production that
become significant for society. Innovation also takes place within social discourses
and as a result of pragmatic requirements—and this innovation becomes relevant
for culture, which then develops new ideas and forward-looking concepts.
Manifesta 6 School Wireless Enabled
Does the Manifesta 6 School need a physical building, a venue? A campus has
an ambivalent character; here local conditions are linked to universal tasks.
The place is insignificant in itself, when the world is declared to be the object
The Manifesta 6 School addresses the future role of education
at art academies, and emphasises the role of new technologies and new media.
The Manifesta 6 School will make all course material available online.
It is wireless-enabled, and students will be able to work wherever they wish
—on the lawn, in a café, or at home. The ideal of the Manifesta 6 School as a
location of spontaneous and cursory learning, with students strolling through
and exchanging ideas in virtual space, is intended to network the local and
international university community much more directly than was hitherto the
case. Internet communities demonstrate that networks can often be more easily
realised in virtual space than in real space. As Derrida put it, the direct university
is not necessarily located within the walls of today’s universities. It will take
place, and seek out a place, wherever the direct approach is on the agenda.
Further arguments in favour of abandoning a fixed physical venue are found in
Niklas Luhmann’s definition of the university as a milieu made up of administrative
and political systems of communication on the one hand, and scientific and
educational systems on the other, all with their divergent functions, codifications
Manifesta 6 School Radio
The Manifesta 6 School will establish a further knowledge-based model for
mediation, an English-language satellite radio channel, which will be received
worldwide and committed to the central principles of the School. Manifesta 6
School radio sees itself as a transdisciplinary and democratic medium of
communication, which will merge the most varied forms of discourse, contexts
and aesthetic procedures, and thereby create discursive listener experiences as a
new form of knowledge transfer. In line with the Manifesta 6 School philosophy,
the formation of theory and knowledge are understood as ongoing practice,
which here will be combined with a productive relationship to the emotional
power of subtle and advanced pop culture. The thematic focus of the radio format
will facilitate both a wide range of varied, independently produced material
(interviews, reports, music features, jingles, sound sculptures, etc.) and the direct
active involvement of listeners on location.
Manifesta 6 School radio will comply with certain basic features
of the Manifesta 6 School, so that it will not display an academic and sterile
educational radio format with a hierarchical structure, nor will it have a consensual
pop format. The aim is to work out and create a media space situated ‘in between’,
which will attempt to gather together in appropriate aesthetic forms the manifold
oppositions to and critiques of the cultural status quo without any regard to
schematic distinctions between serious high culture and superficial low culture.
Manifesta 6 School Library
The gravitational centre of the Manifesta 6 School is a library with an archive
on the above-mentioned topics. The Manifesta 6 School library is a place of
research and the accumulation and organisation of knowledge. The Manifesta 6
School library will have a sufficient number of computer work stations, access to
global information and networks and will be open round the clock. It will be a
library without walls, whose ideology is committed to knowledge and the dynamics
of networks. This library will serve the interests of its users and not of the books
Collections and their accessibility have always been an expression
of and a litmus test for the structure of a society. Princely and clerical libraries
were only open to the nobility and the clergy. As humanism gained momentum
and more universities sprang up in the fourteenth century, the first university
libraries were founded. In the eighteenth century, the age of Englightenment,
education for all assumed a key role. Shortly after the French Revolution,
the ‘cult of reason’ was founded. Numerous new libraries were established, clerical
and aristocratic collections of books were secularised and made publicly accessible.
The effects of the French Revolution were felt as far away as the United States,
where a half-scale copy of the Pantheon in Rome was erected as a temple of
knowledge to be a centrepiece for the University of Virginia.
Students who learn to teach themselves, to organise their own studies within
the subjects on offer, and to be responsible for themselves will possess the core
artistic skill of researching, working and thinking in transdisciplinary terms.
These students are then able to develop their own fields of action within different
societies. It is always learners who actively acquire knowledge. This knowledge
is primarily their knowledge, for it is the result of a personal and individual
Artistic knowledge is social knowledge.
Adorno, Theodor W. Gesellschaftstheorie
und Kulturkritik. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp,
1975.Adorno, Theodor W. and Max Horkheimer.
Dialectic of Enlightenment, translated by
John Cumming. New York: Continuum, 1995.
Babias, Marius and Florian Waldvogel, eds.
Campus 2002. Essen: Kokerei Zollverein |
Zeitgenössische Kunst und Kritik, 2002.
Derrida, Jacques. Die unbedingte Universität.
Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2001.
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason,
translated by Paul Guyer. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2000.
Gibbons, Michael, et al. The New Production
of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and
Research in Contemporary Societies. London:
Luhmann, Niklas. Social Systems (Writing
Science). Stanford: Stanford University Press,
1995.Muthesius, Stefan. The Postwar University:
Utopian Campus and College. New Haven and
London: Yale University Press, 2000.
Narby, Jeremy. The Cosmic Serpent: DNA
and the Origins of Knowledge, translated by
the author and Jon Christensen. New York:
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1999.
Notes for an Art School
Babak Afrassiabi & Nasrin Tabatabai
Practice of Indecisiveness
Knowledge often breaks into pieces when put into practice, with each piece taking one
to the most unlikely places.
At the time of Iran’s 1979 revolution, the Iranian filmmaker Abbas
Kiarostami made a documentary film called First Case, Second Case. The film
was originally shot just before the revolution and completed only after the
declaration of its victory. The film, itself divided into two opposite moral takes
on its subject, later faced the same fate, that is, first winning an award for what was
interpreted as a parable on the Shah’s secret police, and later banned for addressing
issues politically too sensitive for the post-revolutionary government.
The film is about a boy not owning up to having misbehaved in
the classroom. The teacher, who does not know who the guilty party is, sends
a group of pupils out of the classroom. ‘First case’ involves the pupils refusing
to name the guilty party, and as a result, remaining expelled from the class.
In the ‘second case’ one pupil from the group identifies the culprit and returns
to his seat. School inspectors, the education minister and other newly appointed
political figures from the post-revolutionary government are filmed commenting
on the two cases. Some believe the students should not name names as this
undermines the model of moral character, while others agree with the second
case as being principally correct. Throughout the whole film we see either the
pupils standing in a row against the corridor wall outside the classroom,
or the talking heads of the commentators. At the time the film was banned, the
political climate was quite similar to what this film depicts. One reason for its
later ban was because some of the commentaries were coming from members
of political parties that had been declared illegal in the few years after the
First Case, Second Case operates within the gap between the
two moral poles: enouncing (naming) the name of the guilty boy and complying
with the principles of the school system, or remaining silent and renouncing
one’s place in the classroom for the sake of the other. In both cases, however,
the ‘name’, in its exposure and concealment, is just an instrument for a moral
arrangement. What is truly sacrificed, either way, is the boy’s ‘real’ name.
The film avoids taking sides. Nor do the comments by the established
figures offer a way out either. On the contrary, they only increase and widen the
gap between the two points of view. In simply documenting both cases, the film
seems to offer two differing options. But what it truly shows is that there is in
fact no real third way, not as an alternative discourse, and this is exactly what
makes this dilemma unbearable. In remaining inconclusive, i.e. neither depicting
the group as ‘heroes’ nor the fellow pupil who named the boy’s name as a ‘traitor’
(or the other way around), the film leaves us simply in the midst of its dilemma.
What the film unfolds is the symptom in each discourse. Both are undermined
in the face of this impasse of choice/sacrifice. One either favours one ‘case’
over the other, or eludes both and is left with nothing—the non-discourse of the
third option that the film is about. This is exactly why this film can only be
misinterpreted if one remains within the fields of one of the two options; this is
why it was first given a prize and later banned, on the basis of two opposing
What Kiarostami seems be saying with this film is that we are
relentlessly entangled in these discourses of social posture, outside of which is
nothing but the very place the film itself occupies: the ambiguity of social and
In a place like Iran, where most of life evolves between speculative
relations to history and vague notions about the future, cultural production has to
a great extent become a volatile and impulsive endeavour. If there is any political
or cultural indecisiveness in Iran, it is the consequence of the discrepancy between
social reality and its political representation: this essentially irreducible gap between
the multiplicity of social logics and its totalising representation by the ruling
force acting in the name of the society as a whole. Rulers and governments in Iran
have been explicitly concerned to close this gap with symbolic and imaginary
identifications to implement the illusion of a unified and sovereign society.
With these identifications, the society is offered false knowledge of itself.
The period of the war with Iraq provided the best chance for the
Iranian government to reinforce the symbolism on which it had based itself
during the revolution. The war was represented as an ideologically collective event,
articulated with historical references and rhetoric, mobilising a national force for
what was called ‘the sacred defence’. To this day, these representations are revived
and reformulated at every possible opportunity, in order to maintain the illusion
of social uniformity and continuity. However, symbolic representations start to
lose their context when every experience hints at their inconsistency with reality.
In being compelled to repetition, discourses of power are permanently at risk;
in other words, the social and cultural conceptions they repeatedly institute run
the risk of becoming de-instituted at every interval. It is exactly in these intervals
that the society engages in producing substitutive discourses and representations
of and about itself. It is no surprise that only after the end of the war was it
possible to disseminate other political views, slightly moderate in their approach,
in the ruling elite. During the years after the war, the number of newspapers
with different political views increased enormously. During and before the war,
any idea of a reform within the existing political establishment was unthinkable.
However, it is appropriate to say that the idea of reform has given way to
disappointment, even among some of those who promoted it in the first place.
What is interesting is the way these socio-political inconsistencies
condition the production of indecisive discourses, from one moment to the next,
in variations, and sometimes in contradiction with one another. Rumours are
good examples of this, always suspended between belief and disbelief, falsity and
truth, pointing to the very ambiguity of knowledge. Recently, after a report on an
explosion heard near a nuclear plant in the south of Iran, rumours started spreading
about an American bombardment. Newspapers started reporting contradictory
explanations. These varied from ‘explosives used for road expansions’ to ‘a military
training plane having to discharge its explosives due to technical problems’. The
total destruction of a building and the firing of anti-aircraft missiles near where the
sound was heard were also reported. Although the truth has not yet been clarified,
and most probably it never will be, the rumour did temporarily affect the price of
oil that day when the New York oil market opened. (The reality rumours entail
does not lie in the truth about an event but exactly in the rumours’ very indecisiveness,
for they will always return to their true source in spite of being a lie. The
source of the sound of the explosion may never be located, but it did reach the ‘true’
instigator of the rumour, that is the New York oil market.) By pointing out the
representational gap in the totalising articulations of reality, rumours as indecisive
discourse undermine discourses of power. Yet they remain hesitant and speculative.
What would be the radical yet productive equivalent of such a subversion?
At this juncture cultural practice may take on a double-edged role,
at once occupying the space of this gap and rearticulating it into a space for
dialogue. Always involving this gap between social representation and pure
difference, cultural practice attests to the irresoluteness of political identification,
encircling the very ambiguity of discourse. Cultural activities are political in
the way they relentlessly reinscribe a split in the heart of any discourse, opening
it for negotiation. To give in to this ambiguity is to keep open the possibility
for constant rearticulation and negotiation. This is exactly what Kiarostami’s film
is implementing. It is as if it reconsiders the corridors between classrooms as the
place where discourses meet to collide, to be diluted and split into two, a place
where the ‘real’ lessons are picked up.
Pursuing the Indecisive Beyond Locality
Cultural vocabularies change rapidly, as do the contexts upon which they reflect.
Today’s discourse on the social and political currents of a place may be dated
tomorrow. There are always multiple flows of discourse in a society, crushing and
cross folding unto one another. Therefore any totalising symbolisations are bound
to fall short of this complexity. Cultural projects attempting to pursue a critical
flow of discourse are successful only to the extent of escaping symbolisation of
any sort. It is the internalising of the very intricacy of conditions that is challenging
and constitutes complex articulations.
First Case, Second Case was one of a few films in Kiarostami’s oeuvre
that did not receive enough recognition outside of Iran. The reason is obviously
that most festival viewers and critics do not know of the distinct political—and
now historical—context the film refers to. When these historical distinctions enter
localities other than their own, they can affect them in the most direct manner
—for one thing, they are no longer mere narratives of a far-off place. To welcome
complexities of other conditions, i.e. to re-insert them into one’s own representational
discourses about the ‘other’, may not only de-certify our subjective position,
but also render certain estrangement into the ‘reality’ of our own condition.
Recent trends in the art world in depicting cultural and artistic
practices from various localities have often resulted in simplified articulations
and presentations. What should be accounted for is not merely the differences
between cultures, or conformist categorisations of conditions, but rather the
difference within each and every locality. The latter is of course a more timeand
mind-consuming effort and would require certain sacrifices were it to be taken
seriously. In coming close to ‘real’ difference, one is exposed to a kaleidoscopic
inconsistency against which all prescribed knowledge is bound to break into
pieces. The hardest venture is then to pick up the shattered bits and pieces of
fragments and to renegotiate them into alternative configurations.
Here, reconfigurations of meanings are pursued always in regard to
the ‘other’, to other meanings and configurations; in a sharing of knowledge
based on its ambiguity, its suspension between (in)comprehensiveness and discord.
In other words, to share knowledge is to produce and de-produce it together in
a network of enunciations and of localities. This conditions an approach beyond
consistencies of cultural representations and identifications, where knowledge
is then a discourse of exchange and of constant transposition. As Georges Bataille
wrote, ‘Every time we give up the will to know, we have the possibility of
touching the world with a much greater intensity.’
Notes for an Art School
Julie Ault & Martin Beck
Drawing Out & Leading Forth
In the recently published New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and
Society, Genevieve Lloyd describes the meaning of education as situated between
the two strands of the word’s Latin roots: education as ‘drawing out’ of qualities
already inherent in an individual; and, secondly, as a ‘leading forth’, which is
understood as a form of guiding individuals into certain social contexts.1
In the first framework, education has an enabling role, that of helping individuals
to realise and fully utilise potentials that are thought to be already inherent
in them. The second framework situates education in a larger political field,
mediating between the notion of individuality and the social body that an
individual is always part of: ‘Thinking of education as a ‘drawing out’ of what is
rightfully our own can encourage us to think of its benefits as ultimately an
individual and private matter, while the ‘leading forth’ idea encourages concern
with the more collective, social dimensions of the process.’2 Although describing
discordant meanings of education, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
‘Leading forth’ is also partly based on the idea of inherent qualities: ‘We can
be “led forth” by having our inner qualities or characters “drawn out.”’3
Individuality and Social Practice
In the arena of art education, these two operations or goals are at the heart of a
conflict that haunts numerous art schools in their quest for a contemporary learning
environment. This conflict has philosophical, structural and practical consequences.
Distinct from fields of study that utilise the banking method whereby
information is deposited into students, art education has largely been conceived as
a framework within which inherent qualities of an individual are expressed,
encouraged and developed—or, one might say, drawn out. Terms such as
‘individuality’, ‘freethinking’ and ‘autonomy’ remain persistent characterisations of
art-making. While striving for independent thinking is in many ways productive
and positive, in reality, artistic production is both a social process and a cultural
practice, embedded into particular histories and contexts.
Though contested, the art school prototype that holds individuality
as its ideology is still widely in use. However, conceptions of art and artist as well
as art education have variously transformed during the latter half of the twentieth
century.Anti-domination movements have provided theoretical and practical frameworks
for making non-hierarchical social structures, including educational ones. In
this light, education might be considered a contextual, dynamic, and social process,
aiming at the ongoing development of critical consciousness for the purpose of
engendering cultural and social agency as guiding principles. Paolo Freire and bell
hooks, among others, have theorised such empowering pedagogical processes.4
Master and Apprentice
The long-established model of art education is exemplified, both practically
and ideologically, by the master-apprentice relationship. In this set-up, students’
worthiness to study or gain admittance is measured according to demonstrated
talent and the requisite wide-eyed near-religious belief in being an artist.
Once immersed into such programmes, disappointment and frustration can rapidly
set in, while waiting for inspiration that does not come (where should it come
from?) and while feeling powerless to practise in an accomplished manner.
How could one prove that she is an artist? How to even know? Do the professors
know, or do they more often than not simply assist students in feeling they are onto
something. Perhaps the enterprise is one of mutual indulgence and reproduction?
Surprisingly, North American art programmes designed in the
1960s and 1970s that proclaimed reform and sought to democratise educational
structures and widen the discourse of art beyond tradition have largely succumbed
to newer versions of the master-apprentice structure. Although a range of
missions and specificities or areas of expertise are purported to define particular
institutions and art departments, most prominent art schools function on a
business model within which student recruitment is based (via their art careers)
on the marquee appeal of teachers who promise new generations of viable careers
on the horizon, once the school’s stamp of approval has been earned in the form
of a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. Such developments are symptomatic
of American market culture wherein education is a commodity that costs money,
sometimes a great deal of money, and is believed to translate into the potential
to make a great deal of money.
While American art schools continue to up the financial ante and
traffic in increasingly raw marketing processes of selling education, many
European art academies have been immersed in differently textured states of
transition in recent years as constituencies grapple with contemporising
institutional structures and integrating more recent modes and models into their
curricula. One of the conflicts being played out in a number of central European
art academies with long histories is the transition from the historical Meisterschule
principle, a master-apprentice model, to a more topically oriented model of study
with an emphasis on discourse and critical reflection.
Topicality and Discursivity
The concept of an art school structured along not just one, but a multitude of
models, topics and discourses that are communicated in seminar, lecture and
visiting artist formats as well as developed in independent work aims to address
shifts in terms of what an art practice and, consequently, what an artist can be.
The legacy of Conceptual art and the emergence of new media also question the
structuring of an art school along traditional artistic media or material such as
painting, sculpture, ceramic, fibre, etc. An expansive model of art in contemporary
circumstances might well encompass all potential forms, as well as including
both analytic and creative ways of thinking. The differences between practices,
between kinds of artwork and between motivations and purposes are what make
the art field vital and constitute it as an arena of possibilities.
Topicality and discursivity (formatted into a curriculum-based seminar
and lecture configuration) are advocated as capable of transcending historic forms
of organisation in favour of a structure based on interdisciplinarity and media
diversity. In such a model, topics and critical discourses relevant to contemporary
visual and cultural production would be foregrounded, investigated and developed.
The teaching focus would largely shift from material techniques to intellectual
tools in order to model artistic practice as an integration of analytical thinking
and the translation of that thinking into manifestations independent of specific
media. In its ideal form, a topically and discursively organised structure would
be open-ended in terms of methodology, continually evolving and negotiated as
well as challenged by various processes of what has recently been termed ‘artistic
research’—an open-form, but nevertheless rigorous, visual and intellectual
investigation meant to result in artistic communication.5
The currently much-discussed European ‘Bologna Process’ aims at synchronising
university education throughout western Europe for the purpose of furthering
cultural and scientific integration. It is meant to enable students to choose,
change and combine their sites of education as they see fit. The formal structure
underlying this exchange is founded on compatible bachelor’s, master’s and
philosophical doctorate degrees (BA, MA, PhD). Translated into the art academy,
it would produce a curriculum-based path of study composed of seminars,
lectures and independent study units led by various teachers.
The larger transformation is recognised by adversaries of the
Meisterschule principle as a historic possibility to do away with whatever remains
of those structures and steer art education away from the master-apprentice
model towards a potentially more discursive one. Rather than studying with one
professor for four or five years—as is the case in the Meisterschule—students
would experience working with different teachers and being exposed to a variety
of methods and bodies of knowledge. Moreover, they would be able to seamlessly
integrate and combine specialty knowledge offered at different art academies
and universities in Europe.
Not surprisingly, the application of the Bologna recommendations
in art schools has repeatedly produced conflicts which tend to get rhetorically
framed not only as a battle of epic proportions, but far too frequently in polarised
terms too. For some this shift represents a foolhardy abandonment of standards
and continuity as well as submitting art education to the waves of discursive
fashions; for others it is a battle of the past versus the present and future, fought
by the necessity to be competitive in the contemporary world as well as to rid
the academy of what is often seen as a fossilised structure susceptible to nepotism
and corruption. These battles cast choices in black and white terms of either
self-reproducing formalisms or reflective open-endedness.
There is no doubt that such a process offers a genuine opportunity for reform
since hardly ever is it possible to reframe the organisational structure of an
entire academic institution in one grand sweep: idealistically speaking, a chance
for utopia; pragmatically speaking, a chance to rid a school of outmoded yet
What gets little play in the rhetorical outbursts marking the transformation
is a closer look at the most immediate references for the Bologna
synchronisation model—the Anglo-American university system. In the
universitarian sub-genre of the art academy, one tends to encounter an innocent
enthusiasm for a particular model of US-American art school. The art programmes
at Columbia University in New York and the University of California in
Los Angeles (UCLA), for example, have sometimes been singled out as inspiration
for future development. Over the last few years, both schools have been the subject
of newspaper and art press features and have been lauded as some of the most
significant schools for art education today. Attention is being drawn to alumni
success stories, the roster of art world celebrity on faculty, the fact that influential
gallery owners prowl graduation shows and so forth. The tenor is that today’s
successful artists are groomed in these kinds of schools. Such media accounts
do not, of course, deliver a discussion of educational principles or structures.
That is, after all, not headline material. When European art academies are taking
inspiration from such schools, it is nevertheless somewhat troubling that it
generally seems to be accepted that an art school is a business whose products
are professionalised artists who should practice their profession on a prominent
stage. In the current neo-liberal cultural and economic climate, one might be able
to sympathise with a fiscal argument about cost control in a university setting.
But a problem lies in the confusion that arises if an educational institution’s
success is measured in economic terms, and, specifically, the economics of the
current mainstream mercantile art world. The educational question would be:
Is a successful art student someone who is able to line up a number of gallery
shows for graduation? Clearly it is problematic to define cultural agency only in
market terms. What of someone whose work interrogates the ideological
parameters and possibilities of cultural agency? Of course, these goals are not
mutually exclusive, but they have a tendency to get in each other’s way.
Curriculum requirements in art programmes such as the American ones cited
above are often centred on one-to-one meetings with faculty and guests,
taking place in school-provided individual studios.6 Generous spatial working
conditions are, no doubt, an asset for schools as well as students and, to a certain
degree, important for a productive learning context. However, this kind of
spatial and organisational premise implicitly posits a model of artistic practice
in which an artist is someone who works, mostly alone, in a studio where every
now and then a member of the faculty, visiting artist, critic or curator comes to
discuss the work emerging in this situation. One aim of this spatial and social
ritual is to simulate professional practice. Although offered, the students’ curricular
obligation to take courses other than independent study meetings is minimal
by comparison. Often it is simply left to the students to decide if their education
consists mostly of individual studio practice cum meetings or if other intellectual
and social engagement with significant discourses around art, visual culture
or other fields is vital to their development. Given the pressures of tuition fees
(often in the range of $30,000 annually), peer success, media affirmation,
and, last but not least, the normalisation of this educational set-up, one can grasp
the difficulties a student might have in developing an artistic practice that differs
from a professionalisation that seeks its rewards in the art market.
The faculty’s role in this educational model is two-fold and includes
both the drawing out and the leading forth: the explicit feedback role in which
a teacher draws out a student’s simmering talent in private studio conversations is
complemented by the more implicit leading forth into the social rituals that
compose the art world. Studio visits are, to some degree, ritualised social
encounters in which studio practitioner and visitor play scripted roles for which,
in order to inhabit them properly, one has to cultivate a certain habitus, to use
Pierre Bourdieu’s term for an internalised behavioural pattern that is specific
to a social context. In the arena of the art studio, habitus translates as a form of
social courting skill that merges genuine engagement with a hard sell. Education
and economics are joined together into one experience that aims at the
professionalisation of the art student—and the faculty benefit of being able to
deliver success stories as the immediate result of their educational efforts.
The development of that habitus is a key to the reproductive functioning of this
particular art school model. What is reproduced is not so much intellectual
information deposited into students (as it is the case with the banking method) or
artistic styles (as it is the case of the master-apprentice model), but a scripted
model of what artistic practice is. What an artist does, how she does it, where she
does it, and how art circulates once it is made are plainly resolved into a coherent
version of a professionalised artistic practice that integrates into the gallery circuit.
It would be unfair to blame studio visits alone for such a reproductive
tendency—they undoubtedly have an educational value and offer a chance for
student and teacher to articulate what the student is struggling with, and help
them move forward and identify effectivities. It takes a seamless combination of
spatial isolation, no-obligation curriculums and a highly art-world-integrated
school environment to generate that dynamic of reproduction.
If looked at on a structural level, the reproduction of a particular
artistic role model under the banner of professionalisation has an uncanny
resemblance to the principle of the Meisterschule. Although more liberal-minded
and less focused on artistic style than the traditional Meisterschule, the above
model is highly effective in normalising artistic practice: in this case as a business
practice. Consequently, artistic agency is redefined as the ability to function
professionally in a neo-liberal economic model of culture that readily masks its
shortcomings and retrograde tendencies—maybe not by purpose but by effect.
Curriculum and Structure
Whereas several prominent US-American art schools operate smoothly within
this model, many European art schools—particularly those still battling with
the remnants of the Meisterschule—are at a crossroads imposed upon them
by the Bologna process. As one can see from taking a closer look at the choice of
references discussed in that process, the challenge these European schools are
facing lies less in the embattled BA/MA/PhD model, but in how to functionally
implement notions of topicality and discursivity within that model, in order to
develop an educational structure that is capable of defining artistic production as
both a social process and a cultural practice. Another battle seems to be looming
right around the corner and it will be fought around the minute details of
The advocates of structured curriculums believe that there are
certain sets of knowledge that are the foundation to an individual’s explorations.
What these sets of knowledge are is, again, highly contested—for good reasons,
since the question of the nature of that knowledge is highly ideological. Even in
Art schools that one would deem more progressive, the question of how to balance
the need or urge to structure curriculums with a freeform exploratory approach
is critical. This balance is often precarious, sometimes eloquently articulated,
or—more often than not—taciturnly embedded in institutional structures.
Whereas the above-mentioned example shows how, under certain conditions,
tilting to one side can produce a capitulation to the marketplace, the other end of
this equation could result in academic over-structuring and knowledge transfer
according to the banking method. Both cases are reproductive in tendency.
Within an open-ended framework such as an art school, it seems
vitally important that the core curriculum expand its scope beyond independent
work, artistic technique and spotty art history, to focus on investigation and
analysis of the various contexts artistic production stand in relation to and are
influenced by. These include the ideologies, histories and current conditions of
aesthetic, cultural, social, political and economic frameworks. Correlating
individuals’ artistic desires with these larger contexts in a dynamic enterprise
might provide, generally speaking, the means for developing critical consciousness
and articulating a form of cultural agency that goes beyond professionalisation.
Together they constitute a broad agenda for contemporary art education.
One goal in particular may be to equip students with a set of methodological
models (rather than one method) and the means to their application.
Example: Social Process and Collaboration
In thinking through a notion of leading (students) forth to develop artistic
and cultural agency beyond the kind of professionalisation outlined above
—for instance, agency based on non-market-centred models that speak to various
social dimensions of cultural practices—questions emerge such as: How can
social process be taught? How do people learn how to collaborate effectively?
We should state clearly that we do not believe individual practice
to be conservative and collaboration to be progressive. This essay attempts to look
critically, and with vested interest, at current configurations of the field of art
education, noting fundamental conditions and tendencies we have experienced.
Within the larger discussion this is part of, various art school models may appear
to be on a positional or hierarchical field, within which models are either negative
or positive. But things are not so black and white and it is not our intention to
advocate one model against another, but to advocate an opening up along lines
of our particular interests and experience. Our primary aim here is to analyse
what particular situations encourage and discourage, and highlight the potential
transformation of the social relations (and subsequent artistic production)
within differently organised educative environments.
As we have seen above, being ego-oriented with a focus on individuation has
been normalised beyond questioning, particularly in the cultural field. Art as social
process, collaboration and collective production are largely omitted as topics and
models from many schools and institutions. These modes are often denigrated
as ideological, or as something people try when they are younger, and then feel
that they have outgrown, or that they should move on to develop their singular
voices. For instance, it is commonly believed that collaboration eclipses individual
practice—which sets up a specious binary relationship—when in fact they can
be balanced to productively fuel one another. Collaboration is rarely presented
as a viable method, or even simply as a fact of most creativity and production and
worth knowing about for that reason. We believe it is important to broaden the
field of references to include specific models and principles of effective collaboration
as potential influence and inspiration, in order to pose a counter-paradigm to
the standard definition of art practice. Only if one knows of differing models is
one able to make choices and take what is needed and desired from various sources.
Clearly, artistic production as social process and collaboration should
not be essentialised or regarded as mandatory, to be taught according to formulas
laid out in curriculum reports. That kind of regimentation is antithetical to the
principles of dynamic collaborative process and would certainly undermine its
discursive character, which is so valuable as method for thinking and acting.
In this mix, which is in part a discussion of institutionalisation, there is a risk of
rendering social engagement and collaboration into genres and medias as opposed
to ways of working, guiding principles or operating systems. But from our
perspectives, the values of collaboration and collectivity—their inherent tendency to
complexify and contextualise—need to be amply represented, theorised and experienced
in the context of art education. In art education, collaborative structures
and process as a mode of authorship need to be effectively brought into the field of
models that are referenced, articulated and investigated, including through practice.
Offering—in the course of teaching and in the minute details of art
school structure—a genuine chance to encounter, analyse and test a variety of
modes of artistic practice represents the groundwork for producing artistic agency.
Beyond a subject matter for articulation and study, we believe that social process
and genuine collaboration as guiding principles, to be evidenced through a number
of means, are essential to the effectivity of the topicality and discursivity structure
discussed above. If such a programme is aimed at pedagogical empowerment,
then the programme itself must be reflexive and open to critical process, including
from within. Were a genuine collaborative spirit along with vigilance against
reproducing authoritarian power relations be brought to bear in the acts of leading
forth and the democratisation of the educative environment, then not only
would relations between students, teachers and institution be reconfigured, but
dynamic social engagement as part of a continual process of becoming and being
an artist would be central to practice as a means for both individual and collective
1. Genevieve Lloyd, ‘Education’, in
New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture
and Society, Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg
and Meaghan Morris, eds., (Oxford: Blackwell
Publishers, 2005), pp. 97 ff.
2. Ibid., p. 98.
3. Ibid., p. 99.
4. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
(New York: Continuum, 1970) and The Politics
of Education. Culture, Power, and Liberation
(Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc.,
1985); bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress,
Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York
and London: Routledge, 1994).
5. Papers from a recent conference in
the Netherlands on this new buzzword have
been published in Artistic Research, Annette
W. Balkema and Henk Slager, eds., (Amsterdam:
Lier en Boog, 2004).
6. On these issues see Howard Singerman,
Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American
University (Berkeley: University of California
Notes for an Art School
Denial & Function
A history of disengagement in relation to teaching
The last twenty years have seen an enormous shift in the role and potential of
educational environments in relation to visual culture. Shifts in the status of art
education within the broader pedagogical context have been taking place.
These changes in emphasis have refocused our perception of how things should
proceed towards a position that is potentially away from the role of the artist
as the prime parallel functionary in relation to younger artists/students.
This has moved us towards a situation where the artist-teacher is merely one
element within a matrix of expectations and institutional aims within established
educational models. This perceived shift is, paradoxically, demanded by both
university art schools—which must create neo-academic justification for all their
departments—and by some independent-minded artists who are increasingly
unsure that it is relevant to insert themselves as the sole providers of ideas within
schools. We therefore face a new set of dilemmas, for the shift is not complete
or well planned; it is taking place as I write and we still face many differing art
school models. We must acknowledge that the changes are subtle manoeuvrings
in the culture rather than dramatic shifts. For the most part, artists remain the
primary educators within studio-based art school departments. But the fact is
that the expectations layered onto these schools now clearly exceed the desires
and qualifications of most artist-educators in terms of the theoretical and
bureaucratic components. We are familiar with the still-standard idea that the best
people to teach or educate or discuss ideas with young artists are other artists.
Yet, while this assumption of professional competency exchange is still embedded
in the culture, there has been a rise in the daily programming of most dynamic art
school environments, an increasing provision of parallel structures alongside that
of studio practice. The most notable development has been the mutation from
a vague representation of basic art history as a component of the young artist’s
educational experience to the provision of serious critical theory, to a greater or
lesser extent. Traditionally, such moves have been viewed with suspicion by older
artist-teachers who are devoted to earlier theories of artistic practice via their
insistence on the prime importance of the role of the artist in relation to younger
artists within the educational sphere. Some art historians have also traditionally
been suspicious of engaging with active, ongoing contemporary visual art practice
within art school environments. Yet it is clear now that, certainly in the UK and
the US, we have been living through a period when the theoretical component
of a young artist’s education has become an increasingly important aspect of the
educational experience in a formatted and clearly defined way, so we better pay
some careful attention to it.
The comments related and outlined here are primarily restricted to western
Europe and North America, the main places where I have some knowledge of
educational practice. And, within that powerful framework, my work has also
been mainly restricted to schools that function under the umbrella of large urban
universities: in my case, Goldsmiths College, which is part of the University of
London, and the School of the Arts at Columbia University in New York.
However, I have been involved temporarily as a visiting tutor, lecturer or guest
professor in many schools, including the academies in Frankfurt and Hamburg,
the department of cultural studies at Lüneburg and the Kunstakademie in Munich.
Other specific moments have seen work in relation to the École des Beaux-Arts
in Grenoble, along with the ECAL in Lausanne. On top of this, while my
knowledge and experience has been partial, my involvement has also been partial
and fragmented in relation to the traditional power structures that get established
at places such as these.
While I have an interest in the legacy created by artists who have chosen to teach
as a way to avoid structures within the dominant art system that might otherwise
negatively effect the direction of their work, it seems that the development of a
more precise critical component of art education over the last twenty years has
made it impossible for artist-teachers to avoid viewing themselves as implicated
players within the broad critical territory of art production. It is no longer possible
for someone to teach ‘artist to artist’ but instead necessary to identify oneself as
an implicated subject within the critical space that is established within the terms
of contemporary art education. The teacher is no longer someone who merely
creates a notionally-free space within which the young artist may experiment and
operate free from certain pressures. Now the artist-teacher and the artist-student
must stand side by side, each as subjects and generators of the critical discourse
around art, whether they want to do so or not. Within the art schools that I have
been involved in, there is an obligation for the student-artist to be well versed in
the language of critical theory in order to provide a political and theoretical framework
for their practice. It is expected that this critical framework be rigorously
contemporary in order to ensure that even if the student-artist claims complete
disinterest in the critical components of their practice they still understand that
this apparent disinterest is merely a component of an earlier critical structure rather
than a rejection of critical potential per se. While this does not mean that forms
of refusal are suppressed, it is much harder to veil forms of refusal than in the
earlier environment, where proximity of artist to artist could ensure a suppression
of the critical cultural processes taking place between them. It does, however, lead
to an embracing of certain figures who leave art school with an apparent rejection
of ideas at the root of their work. During moments when the commodity exchange
of art-like ideas seems most buoyant, there is a concurrent rise in the number of
people leaving art schools who appear to have escaped the critical context in which
their ideas were formed. Most of these artists in fact project paradoxical messages,
as is the case with people such as Damien Hirst or Maurizio Cattelan, both of
whom make work that is deeply steeped in an understanding of post-Duchampian
Western traditions in terms of fabrication or creation of the mise-en-scène but
takes fundamentalist acritical positions to be the base of the ideas, whether that
be sex and death or post-clownish auto-destruction and overstatement.
Within this context, that has arisen where the critical procedures that underscore
art activity are exposed simultaneously by order and by demand, we ought to
witness a shift in the type and quality of art production, arguably for the better.
While some would suggest that this shift has created work that is pitched against
the art now visible that uses the market as the primary determinant of value
and quality, in fact what we more clearly witness is a situation where certain types
of gallery- and market-determined structures are increasingly isolated through
their reliance on a preponderance of self-conscious, acritical art production—with
notable exceptions, of course. This does leave us with a problem. What can be lost
in our current scenario is a sense of the value of a semi-autonomous critical context.
So while studio-practice-orientated art students are told about moments of critical
significance in the recent past in a form that increasingly melds with the traditional
seminar and studio visit, this is at the expense of a distancing that may be required
to create a truly significant semi-autonomous critical community. To put it in
other words, while a multiplication of critically engaged moments in an art school
ought to offer more, it can give students the impression that they have absorbed
a requisite quantity of basic theory in the same way that in the past they might have
taken the correct number of classes in life drawing. Art school departments need
to find ways to attract the best art historians and critical theorists and therefore
put themselves in direct competition with dedicated art history and critical theory
departments. This new venue for the best theorists would mean the possibility of
new critical structures emerging alongside the work of the student-artists.
So, given these broadly and simply stated current conditions of shift and slow
mutation, what might be a next step in terms of thinking about the potential of
future educational perspectives, for now unencumbered by the dominant structures
of broader university requirements and potential complications, in order to clarify
thinking? For while many students who attend university-affiliated art schools
are conscious of the apparent benefits they might accrue from being able to
take classes in various other subjects and generally fade in and out of the academic
ambience of a serious place, the result is increasingly a post-student body who
at the end of their course are now left looking for a relatively casual differentlymediated,
yet still critical, ongoing neo-educational structure to work within as
a kind of post-post-graduate working situation.
This means there has recently been a rise in the potential of such a quaternary
working place. It is normal for a young artist who has recently graduated from
a serious school to look carefully for opportunities within foundation or studio
programmes that in fact replace the excess of programming that is often perceived
to have arisen at graduate level with a concurrent lack of an articulated critical
relationship between the artist and the structure of a place or course. The problem
is that the illusion of freedom projecting into the near future is exactly that.
A situation created by a confusion of practices that is neither open nor closed,
truly critical nor truly free. One of the main problems relates back to assumptions
of what working environments should be like: studio-like working environments
were originally the desire of the student, but have concretised themselves
over the last fifteen years into the rule rather than the option. The idea that each
person requires a fixed location to work within—yet within a wrecked and
improvised environment—refers only to certain kinds of studio practice and not
to others, such as my own, which has never involved using a traditional artist’s
studio. It is no accident that many of the most interesting students find
absolutely nothing to gain from sitting in a cubicle wondering how to relate to
the broader social context, or completely divorced from it. Often, the only option
in this environment is to work in ways that mimic the conditions of the production,
with the concurrent stifling of critical art practices that reject the model of the
solo artist struggling to articulate his or her vision within a workshop
The serious model of a new potential school would involve a remodelling of space,
both literal and intellectual, at the beginning of each chosen time period of work,
with ongoing assessments of the usefulness of the working space on a regular
basis. Within these discussions about environment, there should always be more
than one representative of the faculty in the room. The elevation of the single
teacher and consolidation of his or her role offers a perverse message to students
about the potential of the artistic position within society that prefers to view artists
as singular, context-free creators who survive or transcend a circumstance, rather
than working within one. There must be changes made each year, or at least serious
reconsiderations of the appropriate spaces within which to work critically as well
as practically, with as much thought given to the spaces where discussion takes
place as to the spaces for the creation of art works. Historically, as a legacy of
battles from the 1960s, where students fought for more control over their working
environments and to be free in relation to the institution, we have been left with
an improvised, space-hungry model of working practice that is not necessarily
what students would want from a new ‘fourth stage’ educational environment.
We must, therefore, reinvestigate these apparently crucial moments that set in
place, over thirty-five years ago, our current model of working in order to
understand whether they remain functional models in a contemporary situation.
It is quite clear that those shifts were not brought about by students alone,
but by certain coalitions of enlightened teachers and students working together
to remodel working and learning environments. This situation must be re-attained
if a dynamic new working possibility is to be discovered. If a diploma, thesis or
degree exhibition is seen as a requirement of the place, it should be shifted within
a post-post-graduate environment to halfway through the course and the final
moment of assessment replaced by a series of discussion panels and symposia
where students would be expected to address their work without an exhibition
as such. At this point, they would also be permitted to present, via someone else,
a person interior or exterior to the institution, who could speak on their behalf.
The relationship between the teachers and students should be under constant
review. This would mean that the staff should present work alongside the students
in order to create a true debate and shift the potentially hierarchical nature of
the discussion towards an exposure of the potential weaknesses of the staff, rather
than merely exposing the students to critique. In addition, the provision and
discussion of broad themes to be addressed critically should be introduced at the
beginning of each yearly work session. This does not mean that the students have
to take any notice of these themes, but that the artist-teachers have to start to
articulate what they see as crucial issues for debate, rejection and development,
rather than merely attempting to adjust their ideas to the propositions put
forward by the students themselves. These broad themes would be an attempt
to place the school in a critical framework that replaces the existential void that
can often emerge in an art school environment, without suppressing the students’
desire to find and propose new models themselves. It would be a way of
creating a set of concepts to work off, rather than an excessive focus on separation
via critical theory classes pitched against an excessive focus on the work of
the students themselves, as they attempt to find new models and ways of
Within all these shifts there will and ought to be moments of refusal and collapse.
The current situation inevitably leads to these moments and it is not possible
to imagine a situation where this could not be the case. The issue here is not
to try and repress dissent and disagreement in a new model, but merely to change
the orientation of the model. At present there are too many givens, each of which
is related to a consolidation of earlier moves within art connected to existentiallybased
philosophy rather than the reality of our complex situation. So at present
there is an enormous rift between the theoretical components of an art school
environment and other practical working aspects of the same place. This break is
not clearly perceived and articulated by most of the people working or studying,
but they are aware that there is a problem rather than an interesting set of dilemmas.
To change the working environment and at least introduce constant moments of
review would not lead to a more calming or precise way of functioning, but would
remove the alienating and imploded quality of the current relationship between the
creative aspect of the art school and the critical functions of the same. There is no
situation now that exists free of critical play. The question is how long we can
continue with a situation where the critical and the notionally practical can continue
a dysfunctional relationship that at times can appear completely out-of-sync.
Notes for an Art School
A Room With a Conversation
in the Middle
We each harbour a story about corridors. A story about those functional
components of domestic architecture we customarily walk and casually forget.
Corridors, which may in a child’s imagination expand into expansive ‘neverlandish’
fields unchecked within the father’s home. But such a moment is usually short
lived, trampled by the pressing demands of a life managed in the efficiency of
kitchens, reproductivity of bedrooms, chatter of dining rooms and stupor of
TV rooms. Such corridors, and the stories that lie in them like dusty moths dead
on the reflective plate behind the glow of a halogen light, are usually of the past.
Unless a war happens to visit your city, encroach upon your front yard, intimidate
your windows shut and send you scurrying into those corridors again on all fours
like the child you once were.
War can hurl us back unprepared into the spaces of childhood, into
those secondary spaces, the in-between spaces of parental distraction and patience.
There we may find ourselves again crouching close to details forgotten by
architect and mother alike: the chipped wainscot, the over-stuffed medicine cabinet,
the coat-hanger straining under the weight of derelict sweaters, the perfect
geometry of unfnoticed hairballs and the mess of electric cables dangling from
the paint-splattered fuse box. It is there, crammed in corridors, that we gradually
learn to recognise the architectural end point of war; a corridor packed shut into
a room, wishfully a shelter, where the pretences of architecture regress to join
the fragility of human flesh.
War can hurl us back into the spaces of our childhood. It can pack
a family into a box-like semblance of security with little else to do except listen
for sounds and hear too many. The irony lies in the realisation that to listen and
hear is an indication that one is alive still. Survival, it seems, is nothing other
than hearing much and knowing very little. And yet it is in such corridors, when
surviving at the architectural end point of war, that we discover the desire for
speech. First, it bursts sporadically, disjointed, words heavy with meaning even
if without the couch of proper syntax. Words of a rare ambiguity, more like
captions to faces we thought familiar, now crumpled in fear, almost primitive.
Then it picks up, longer sentences, words connecting into a speculation,
a probable guess. The corridor grows slightly more spacious, almost a room with
a conversation in the middle. Granted, this is unlikely to last. For language, no
matter how it may thicken, is nevertheless easily deadened by the blasts of bombs.
Yet, given the briefest lull, words come around once again, gather into inarticulate
lumps then slowly fall into formation like a steady and tireless bacterial activity.
This is not reminiscing about the war, our Lebanese civil war.
Much more, it is an attempt to locate a structure and a libidinal drive able to
provoke and warrant the making of a place of conversation, one that we can perhaps
call an art school. This introduction to the issue of a school of art is obviously in
avoidance of the conventional language with which such an issue is usually framed.
More importantly, it follows a decision to think critically at the limits of the
possible. For clearly neither the premises of a liberal education nor the conditions
of the market have either successfully promoted or discouraged art or its teaching.
And although artists live and work amongst us and a few art courses are available
at universities and other like institutions, the fundamental question of ‘why an
art school’ is yet to be answered. We often hear related questions such as ‘why art?’
and ‘what kind of artist?’ But as for art schools, the issue seems less imperious.
After all, art happens in galleries and an artist is most probably born as one.
To ask ‘why an art school?’ represents primarily a shift of emphasis from the artist
as the subject of conversation to the school as a place of conversation. But to do
so, one must think outside the well-rehearsed categories of the academy, the socalled
foundation courses and vertical studios. In other words, one must postpone
discussion of the ascending and accumulative structure of an art curriculum and
consider instead the art school as a place we congregate in rather than a pedagogical
structure from which we graduate. Such an approach might allow us to suspend
those polemical distinctions between artist and art teacher, between artist and
designer, between the paths of the vocation and the demands of the market and
face instead what is once more a fundamental question: Why an art school?
Clearly, one answer is almost always at hand. An answer that is as
redundant as it has become axiomatic in its obedient repetition by artists,
educators and audiences alike: art schools are a cultural necessity. And so we
continue to teach art mostly as an added value, a cultural topping. We also continue
to hold on to the few art courses offered at universities out of an antiquated
moral imperative, a vague suspicion that art must be significant.
It seems to me that this cultural necessity, this moral imperative,
promoted within art schools derives primarily from an unquestioned loyalty
to the figure of the artist. For if pressed to explain why an art school is
culturally necessary, we most often answer that it is so because artists are great.
Accordingly, art schools gain legitimacy by claiming a role within the larger world
of great artists.1 In this sense an art school remains a parasitical institution, a
worldly temple for the adoration of renowned artists, of patron saints, so to speak.
And at the heart of every art school there lies a wish for death and resurrection:
that one day a student will transgress and exceed the curriculum, join the gallery
of those patron saints and thus provide a renewed reason for the continuance
of the art school.2 In other words, an art school claims its own justification in
the figure of the transgressive and singular artist.
To approach an alternative, one needs to insist that an art school
need not be concerned with the making of artists. If successful, such an insistence
can provide a shift that will not only set us outside the artist’s biography as a
paradigm for the annunciation and flowering of great art, but will also lead us
into theorising a project specific to an art school. A project that will possibly
found the school as a place of conversation unburdened by loyalty to the ascendant
teleology that structures the genre of artists’ biographies. A place of conversation
that is not foreclosed by the figure of the artist as a prophecy fulfilled.3 And so
to propose a structure recollected from the time of war, when one is besieged by
a present without a future and when the rushing pulse of poor bodies turns
deafening, is not mere exercising. Rather, it is a search for a structure outside the
bounds of the figure of the artist, in what is probably a shared experience, a
recognisable phenomenological situation, by which we can begin to understand
the making of language and the desire that motivates it. It is an invitation to think
and reflect at the limit, where an act is usually decisive. And what is this structure
we find wherein desire is reared in the midst of a ruined landscape? It is that of
a room with a conversation in the middle.
By way of further elaboration, let us assess a situation historically
specific to art schools, and one that seems comparable in structure. In her book
titled Hikayatou Jasad (Story of a Body), Nadia Annamar offers a series of
interviews conducted with Lebanese artists and sculptors, all of whom taught
or studied at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA) and later at the
School of Fine Arts at the Lebanese University.4What these artists had in
common is a model, a nude woman in the centre of their shared atelier. Her name
is Mariam Kheiro. We are told that she worked for some time as the private model
for the painter Kaisar Al-Gemayel before acting full time as the first professional
nude model at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts when Al-Gemayel was
its head. Although unevenly articulated, Annamar’s book seeks nevertheless to
unearth a hitherto unwritten story about a woman’s body repeatedly pictured.
Mariam Kheiro’s voice, it seems, is yet to be heard. In the interview with the model
with which the book opens, Kheiro appears as an elderly and ailing woman, still
temperamental, with strong opinions and a marked generosity in remembering
the artists of the first and second generation whom she accompanied during
the early years of the Académie. Her nostalgia is poignant. Obviously, she is an
ageing and forgotten woman who was once at the centre of a nascent art school
and whose image was multiplied over the papers and canvases of a growing
community of artists. She was once the centre that gave structure to that famed
room at the Académie, while the artists had a room with a model at the centre.
That is the gist of Annamar’s book. It is also possibly a concise description of
that pivotal moment in our local history of modernism, namely the founding of
ALBA; a moment when the grammar of pictorial arts was presumably set and
rehearsed in a room with a model at the centre. Accordingly, the nude body of
Mariam Kheiro is proffered as a measure, a standard by which art students are
evaluated and towards which they all must tend. Concomitantly, what is usually
named style, or in other words, the personal pictorial idiom of each student,
is but the visible evidence of a young artist’s shortcomings, exasperation, partial
solutions and latent desires for that model at the centre of the room. In all of
this, the body of Mariam Kheiro remains inexhaustible, a cipher for unrequited
approaches, a fixed object of desire on whose shores a million pictures lie awash.
‘This ass is not my ass,’ she says. Stunned, the student attempts a defence:
‘It is not my fault if you are like this.’ Mariam replies: ‘You are incapable of seeing
beauty, this thing is not for you, this ass inspired good artists and by drawing it
they all learned art.’5
Perhaps this is no more than an anecdote. It tells nothing of that
stunned young art student, very little of the interviewee Nkoula Annamar
and not enough of Mariam Kheiro. Yet it does provide an image of the insuperable
hierarchy on which art schools are founded. Rather than a room with a model
at the centre, art schools are in fact structured as a hierarchy, the pinnacle of
which is occupied by the conflation of the model with a primer of fixed pictorial
grammar. To exceed the pinnacle is to force a miracle and become a singular
artist. Yet what the hierarchy provides is the preface to every transgression.
And although the hierarchy professes a yearning for the singular artist as liberator,
it nevertheless maintains the art school as a solid basic necessity.
In following the logic of this assessment, an art school appears to be
ideologically produced. It performs an inversion of relations. It proffers the singular
artist as an unbounded subject, a fountain of creativity, vital because transgressive.
It does so by positing itself and its curriculum as the contrary, namely an
incomplete proposition, a structure that points at ‘genius’ but can only provide
lessons in the pictorial grammar of yesterday. For the primer of pictorial grammar
becomes more antiquated with every transgression of every singular artist.
This is an ideological production because it inverts and masks the function of
the artist. For is the artist, that singular individual with a proper name, simply
and purely a tireless and expansive emitter of ideas? Is the artist truly and simply
the other of institutions, the renegade of discourses, a puzzling innovator?
Or is the artist a guarantee against the proliferation of signification, what is
ironically termed the ‘peril which threatens the world?’6 In his essay titled,
‘What is an Author?’, Michel Foucault argues that the author, the proper name
—for us it is the artist—fulfils a functional principle by which ‘one limits, excludes,
and chooses; in short, by which one impedes the free circulation, the free
manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and re-composition of fiction’.7
Accordingly, one can argue that the author/artist is the figure through which
we avoid the often daunting task of looking at an image, of reading a text and
assuming the responsibility of interpretation. And so rather than engage with
the making of signification, the weaving of fictions, we relegate unto the
artist/author, unto that proper name, all the risks involved.
If I choose to deploy Foucault’s insight, it is in the hope of questioning
the way art schools are dragged into complicity with a project aiming at the
containment of signification. And so if we are to imagine an art school without
a model at the centre and independent of the figure of the artist, who stands
outside it and antecedes it, then we must face and respond to this incumbent fear
of the proliferation of meaning. We must search for a reason, or rather a libidinal
drive that makes the proliferation of meaning an utter necessity and not a threat.
My argument is that if an art school cannot avoid institutionalisation, it is then
necessary that it be constantly an institution in crisis: a besieged room with a
conversation in the middle. For it is in such a situation of chronic crisis that
the proliferation of signification is never a threat. Rather, it is a libidinal drive to
disperse the one thing we are probably still capable of, namely the enunciation of
words. In such a situation, words are evidence that we are still able to propose
otherwise. Words are evidence of our survival and of our likely deaths. For words,
when extinguished, leave behind a noticeable emptiness, a dubious silence. An art
school with a conversation in the middle is a place for the dispersion of language,
for weaving sentences; it is a place for the making of fictions. Its evidence lies in
its ability to make the gradual prevalence of silence noticeable and questionable.
1. The figure of the ‘visiting artist’ is a case
in point. Especially prevalent in graduate art
programmes, the ‘visiting artist’ is a successful
and famous practicing artist whose visit to the
studios of graduate students is almost the one
event in the calendar that makes a graduate
programme worth enrolling in. This is certainly
true in my experience at the Claremont Graduate
School of Art (1990–92). Although universities
in Lebanon do not offer graduate studies in art,
the issue is even more relevant there precisely
because it is exacerbated. Undergraduate students
are often left but with the hope of emigrating to
continue their studies abroad and so partake in
the calendar of a graduate programme abroad.
2. Howard Singerman develops this idea
at length. He writes: ‘Yet it is Art, a genuine
discovery, and the student is an artist,
only through excess and difference […]’,
in Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American
University (Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1999), p. 123.
3. In his often-cited Lives of the Artists,
Giorgio Vasari (1550–68) lays down a typology
of artists’ biographies. His chapter on the
Florentine painter Giotto is exemplary for his
description of a miraculous beginning in Italian
painting. For an elaboration of the function
of the miracle in an artist’s biography see also
Kris Ernst and Otto Kurz, Legend, Myth,
and Magic in the Image of the Artist (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1979).
4. Nadia Annamar, Hikayatou Jasad
(Beirut: Dar Annahar, 2001). The Académie
Libanaise des Beaux-Arts, most often known
under the acronym ALBA, was founded in
1943. Instruction began in the academic
year 1944–45 with Alexis Boutros as the
The School of Fine Arts at the Lebanese
University was founded in 1964. Nkoula
Annamar, a former student at ALBA (1944–49),
became the second dean, following architect
5. Ibid., p. 45.
6. Michel Foucault, ‘What is an Author?’
in The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon
7. Ibid., p. 119.
Notes for an Art School
A Conversation Between Boris Groys & Anton Vidokle
Art Beyond the Art Market
AV — Dear Boris, you recently mentioned to me that you left
Russia in 1981, the same year that my family and I left. A couple of years before
departing, I had started taking painting lessons at a private artist’s studio in
Moscow. There was a feeling of underground activity going on in this small class,
in part because of its literally underground basement location, but also because of
the style of painting we were taught—vaguely modernistic and slightly reminiscent
of Cézanne. While this was more liberal than the methodologies of existing
official art schools and academies, it was of course light years away from the
advanced Conceptual art practices that started proliferating in the seventies and
eighties in Moscow. Was there something like a ‘school’ for this new type of
work? Where did Moscow Conceptualists study?
BG — Dear Anton, no, of course, there was not a school for this kind
of Conceptual art practice in Russia at that time. But I don’t believe that such a
school could be found in the West at the beginning of the seventies either—for
example, at the time the Moscow Conceptualist circle started. On the other hand,
the majority of the Moscow Conceptualist artists of the time already combined
visual images and language in their work—long before they began to make
Conceptual art. Many of them were book illustrators or designers: Ilya Kabakov,
Eric Bulatov, Victor Pivovarov, Vladimir Sorokin, Vadim Zacharov. Dmitri Prigov
was a sculptor and a poet. Andrei Monastyrsky and Lev Rubinstein were poets
and participated in the artistic performances. As Western Conceptual art became
known in Moscow through Western art magazines and catalogues, these artists
saw the chance to use their training in this new framework—to redefine their
already existing art practices in a new way. You can compare this move to the shift
from advertisement to ‘high art’ that was effected by Andy Warhol. Additionally,
structuralism was the dominant intellectual fashion in Russia at that time.
That means that it was easy and almost self-evident for Russian artists to perceive
art as a kind of visual language.
This also explains the relationship between Western Conceptual art
practices and the art of the Moscow Conceptualist circle. The acquaintance with
Western Conceptual art opened Russian artists up to the possibility of using
their own art tradition and artistic training in a new way. But it remained the same
tradition and the same training—and therefore Russian Conceptualist artworks
actually look quite different from Western ones. In this sense it seems to me that
the use the artist makes of his or her training and education is decisive in the
contemporary art context. To a certain degree every kind of education is a readymade—
and can be used in very different ways in the art context. The crucial
question is, as always: how?
AV — So if we are to take education as one of a number of influences
that affect an artist’s approach, can we still talk about certain models of education
that are more productive, whether focused on art or otherwise?
Perhaps if we speak of a ‘school’ in both senses of the word—both as
an educational institution and an affiliation of like-minded colleagues—
it becomes useful to think of historical precedents, such as the relationship
between New York School artists in the fifties and sixties with Black Mountain
College, or the experimental painting workshop that Siqueiros taught in
New York to a group of expressionist painters, including Pollock.
Was there such a connection between artists and institutions
in Moscow in the sixties and seventies? Or were the artists, like their educational
backgrounds, ready-mades: one day a book designer, the next day a Conceptual
artist? Did institutions ever provide an unofficial framework for group experiments?
In Poland, for example, there was an unofficial group working within the Lodz
film academy that used the school’s resources for independent experimental
research—their work closely parallels that of North American and European artists
like Michael Snow and Chris Marker. Were there any similar initiatives within
the official art academies in Russia?
BG — No, the independent, unofficial Russian art of that time emerged
and developed beyond the official institutions. That was partially because of the
restrictive art policies of these institutions. But, on the other hand, the artists and
intellectuals themselves wanted to go away from these institutions, wanted to
situate themselves outside them. I remember this time very well. All Soviet things
were hated and despised. One did not want to be a part of the Soviet system,
did not want to be mixed with ‘them’. People wished to demonstrate that they
were different, non-Soviet. Art was just one way to become different—to be unlike
the others. It was a form of dandyism in the first place. People were not thrown
out of the institutions because they made a certain kind art. They made a certain
kind of art just to demonstrate that they didn’t belong to the ‘Soviet herd’. To do
so, one displayed all the conventional signs of ‘non-Sovietness’: modern art,
the Bible, the Kama Sutra, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Freud, etc. The Soviet state
created a huge reservoir of the forbidden and excluded—and the Russian
intellectuals and the artists of that time were happy to exploit it as far as they could.
They built the networks and circles and black markets that were present in all the
major cities of the country. One could live and survive in these networks without
having any need to deal with anything ‘Soviet’. The majority of unofficial artists
of that time were quite satisfied with this lifestyle. Only the Moscow Conceptualists
were unsatisfied, because the members of this circle asked a disturbing
question: How does the art production of the unofficial Russian scene look in
the international art context?
That means that Moscow Conceptual art was a part of a pretty
well-developed unofficial art scene. This scene had had its own institutions,
traditions and hierarchies since at least the mid-fifties. But Moscow Conceptualists
were at the same time an opposition within the opposition, the outsiders within
the community of the outsiders.
Speaking more generally, every education is based on a certain
system of exclusion. If it is said that something is good and something is bad
—and any education consists in saying that—then something is always excluded
and suppressed. That means every education creates a domain of the excluded
and forbidden that can be exploited by the students. To exclude or forbid
something always means to open new possibilities and opportunities. In this
sense, Soviet art education was very successful, because it created a huge domain
of the excluded and forbidden that opened new possibilities for at least three
generations of Russian artists.
AV — Last December in Ljubljana I had a very interesting conversation
with Yuri Lederman, who told me a little bit about how he initially got involved
with contemporary art in Odessa, in the early eighties. According to Yuri, this had
to do with meeting Sergei Anufriev, who was a very flamboyant and charismatic
figure then, who single-handedly tried to start a contemporary art scene in
Odessa! Thinking that a ‘scene’ has to incorporate a number of different types of
practices, he assigned various roles among a group of friends, with and without any
art background, some of who were supposed to start working with photography,
others with sculpture or installation. Yuri was designated to be the performance
artist within this group, although he was not quite sure exactly what this entailed
at the time. Do you think it’s possible to speak of this sort of playful, spontaneous
collaboration as a sort of art school, albeit one without teachers?
BG — The unofficial art scene in Moscow was, of course, much more
heterogeneous. But the Moscow Conceptualists also met in the seventies on a very
regular basis to discuss their work and listen to lectures or readings of poetry and
prose texts. This was called a ‘seminar’, and one can say that it worked like a school
—especially for the younger artists. Of course, these meetings and discussions were
very helpful, but I am not sure that this kind of practice could be generalised.
Russian unofficial artists had no access to Soviet official exhibition
spaces and to the media. There was no art market, no spectators from the outside.
That means that these artists made their works for colleagues—for other artists,
writers or intellectuals involved in the unofficial art scene. There was almost no
competition among the unofficial artists—they built a really utopian community.
And an individual artist worked for this community. The contemporary situation
is, of course, quite different. Young artists try to get in touch with galleries, with
media, with potential collectors as soon as possible. A contemporary artist does
not see other artists as the viewers who should appreciate his or her work. Rather,
he or she regards other artists as competing for attention, for the gaze of a possible
viewer. Under these conditions an education through the building of a utopian
artistic community seems to me to be a still desirable but hardly achievable goal.
AV — This is very interesting—it makes me think of the Independent
Group: Alloway, Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton and the others who held
lectures at the ICA in London in the fifties. Can you tell me a little bit more about
these seminars in Moscow—where did they take place? Who organised them?
Surely you took part in them?
BG — Yes, I took part in them, indeed. The seminars took place
in the apartment of Alik Chichko, in the studio of Igor Makarevich, from time
to time also in the studio of Ilya Kabakov. The participants were mostly the
members of the circle of Moscow Conceptualists. Each seminar began with a
lecture or with a presentation of somebody’s work. Then the participants reacted
with their commentaries and critique. Also, artists and writers of the various
non-Conceptualist orientations were invited to present their work. These
seminars codified and formalised the practice that was already well established in
the unofficial art milieu. The artists regularly invited people to their apartments
or studios to show their new work. Such apartment exhibitions were very popular
—and many people came. The poets also organised readings in private apartments.
In some cases only a small group of people was invited. In other cases more
than a hundred people came. But even if attendance was not so large, these readings
and shows were frequent and the work of the unofficial artists quickly became
known. Of course, to get the access one had to belong, to be invited or brought
along by friends. If one shared some mutual friends with the artist, one could
also just call this artist and ask to look at his or her work. In most cases it worked
perfectly. In this sense the unofficial art scene was well informed about what
was going on. But on the other hand, one had to be polite—there was almost no
discussion or critique. The seminars tried to compensate for this lack of discussion
and to create a forum that could offer the artists and writers an opportunity to
discuss their work in a more or less systematic way. The seminars took place every
three or four weeks. They were attended by twenty to forty people and were not
open to the public: one was admitted only by invitation. The seminars started
after I moved from Leningrad to Moscow in 1977 and lasted for some time after
I left Moscow in 1981.
AV — Boris, who organised these seminars? It sounds like there was
some structure to them, since there were rules such as having to be invited, etc.
It’s also interesting that writers and poets took part. The seminars must have been
interdisciplinary in nature? What were some of the specific subjects discussed?
Coincidentally, in 1977 Joseph Beuys reconstituted his
‘Free International University of Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research’ at
Documenta, as a series of public seminars. Was this something that was discussed
in the artists’ circles in Moscow?
BG — To a certain degree the initiative came from me, because I
started my activities in Leningrad and had already participated for a long time in
such seminars there. Leningrad’s unofficial cultural scene was generally better
organised than Moscow’s. We had some samizdat magazines in Leningrad like
37 or Chassy (Watch) that appeared on a more or less regular basis, etc. But the
seminar didn’t actually need any specific organisation. People were well connected,
they were in regular contact—this was a very close network. So it was very easy
to organise people, to bring them together.
The seminar was not really interdisciplinary, because the participating
poets and writers were also involved in the visual arts in one way or another.
On the other hand, the ideology, and not a profession or a discipline, was decisive.
First of all, the participants had a common aesthetic programme. It was similar to
the situation with the Surrealist movement, where the borders between artists,
poets, philosophers, writers and filmmakers were less important than the common
Surrealist programme. And secondly, the participants shared a certain political
attitude. They were not political dissidents, but they were in clear cultural and
ideological opposition to the official Soviet culture of that time. That produced a
certain degree of ambivalence in their attitude to Western Conceptual art, which
was—at least rhetorically—left-leaning. We should remember that all these art
movements took place in the more general context of the Cold War. Russian artists
at that time saw Western leftist politics as being pro-Soviet, as being favourable
to the regime that oppressed them. On the other hand, the Western left-wing
cultural opposition saw Soviet dissidents as traitors working at least ‘objectively’
for the CIA.T he situation was indeed complicated. Conceptual art became the
lingua franca of the cultural opposition in the seventies. This united oppositions
in the East and West on an aesthetic level. But their political sensibilities and
attitudes were diametrically opposed to one another, because the regimes to which
they were opposed were themselves diametrically opposed. The Cold War split
the cultural opposition, including the contemporary art scene of that time, even
more radically and uncompromisingly than the dominant regimes themselves.
That is why Beuys’ political engagement could not find much positive resonance
in Moscow during this historical period. Actually, this split between the cultural
oppositions of East and West that has its roots in the Cold War has by no means
been overcome yet—and it could be much more persistent than many people
expected it to be immediately after the end of the Cold War. After the removal of
the communist regimes and the end of the Cold War, the old enmity and distrust
were reproduced—using different ideological signifiers—by the former oppositions
that now came to power. This process of reproduction through opposition can
last for a very long time—longer than people generally imagine.
AV — I’m really curious as to what examples you see of this
ideological opposition being played out today. Boris, what does this mean for
an art school? Does it have to be set up with an inbuilt oppositional structure,
or just extremely aware of its various political contexts?
BG — It seems to me that left-wing intellectuals and artists from
the West were shocked by the readiness of the Eastern European populations to
abandon the socialist model and embrace a pretty rough version of capitalism.
In recent years I have been repeatedly asked by Western colleagues if Eastern European
intellectuals and artists would be ready to join the anti-capitalist movements
in the West and in the Third World. I said, ‘Yes, some of them are very much anticapitalist,’
but I also added that for many people in Eastern Europe, being anticapitalist
means being anti-Modernist and anti-contemporary art because
Modernism and contemporary art are perceived there as the signs of Western
capitalist expansion. And that means that the sensibilities are still different.
Does it mean that this should be made a topic for education?
Rather, it should be made a topic for a discussion. The concept of education
presupposes some privileged knowledge that has to be transmitted from the
teacher to the students. I don’t believe that we can speak about such kinds
of knowledge in the context of contemporary art. But, of course, it is useful for
an artist to be informed about what happens in the art world and also in the
world of politics, theory and cultural studies. The concept of information is
usually regarded as being something more profane than a concept of education.
But, actually, well-informed people can be pretty inventive and effective
—even if, and maybe precisely because, they are not especially well educated.
AV — Actually, this reminds me that virtually all the primary texts
used in theory, art history or studio classes in all the schools I went to in New
York in the late eighties to early nineties were basically either directly Marxist
(Adorno, for example) or very strongly influenced by Marxism, like Foucault.
This is interesting because it is taken completely for granted, like air—a kind of
a sublimated ideology that underlies all Western contemporary art education.
BG — It seems to me that the absolute majority of today’s world
population believes that today’s art is, actually, the art market, that art is primarily
a commodity and that the art market is simply a specific fraction of the general
capitalist economy. Marxism is only a sublime high-culture version of this
dominant opinion. But beyond that, the Marxist tradition is also ‘critical’.
And it is critical in a double sense. It is critical of the authors who think that art
is something more than simply a commodity—such authors are treated as being
‘metaphysical’, ‘idealistic’, ‘naive’ and blind to the economic and political realities
of our world. But Marxism is also critical of people who accept that art is a
commodity and enjoy works of art as beautiful commodities. The correct attitude
is to think that art is simply a commodity, but to hate this fact. In this respect,
the Marxist tradition reproduces, on a rhetorically sophisticated level, the
common-sense opinion that life and, especially, art are actually shit. Adorno is
especially good at formulating this evident truth in philosophical language.
But the power of ‘critical theory’ depends substantially on faith in
the power of capitalism itself. You have to believe that capitalism is indestructible,
that the work of art is always a commodity, etc., to be able to be permanently
critical in the Marxist way. Critical theory believes in its own truth because it
believes in the historical stability of the object of its critical analysis. But for
somebody who was raised outside of the capitalist regime, a critique of the Marxist
type is less attractive because they cannot believe in the all-encompassing power of
capitalism. In the Soviet Union art was not a commodity, there was no art market,
but art was made nevertheless. Maybe this art was also shit, but it was a different
kind of shit that cannot be analysed by the same ‘critical theory’ by which the
capitalist shit is analysed.
AV — I’d like to bring up Nicosia, the site of our Manifesta 6 School
project, as a concluding question. The history of Moscow Conceptual artists in
the seventies and eighties is an amazing example of how (what you describe as)
an opposition within an opposition can push artists to find potential not only in
what is excluded and forbidden, but also in a critical reflection on the ideological
nature of everyday reality. The Middle East, therefore, would provide interesting
circumstances for similar developments. There are not only large areas of exclusion,
but also factors of religion, nationalism and the legacy of colonialism which distort
the Marxist/capitalist dialectic we all are used to in the West. Can we imagine
a present-day, advanced educational structure for these conditions—to support a
complex oppositional stance in a space that is more committed to ‘information’
than to ‘education’, and where the specific dispensation of privileged knowledge
of a traditional education model is de-emphasised and its sanctity open to
question? I would also be very interested in what critical models you propose in
your own classes at the Centre for Art and Media.
BG — The capitalist subject does certain things because he or she is
paid for doing these things. Or this subject raises money to be able to do things
he or she likes to do. But, of course, one can also do things without being paid for
them. Or without being sponsored. In this case we have to do with religion,
nationalism, different ideologies, etc. The subject of religion or ideology does
things without being paid for doing them. This is already a scandal. To do things
unpaid means to be violent—violent against the others or at least against oneself.
That is why Soviet art is still excluded from Western art history. It was made
outside the art market—and so nobody knows its value. At the same time, this art
is immediately perceived as being intrinsically violent, as being a kind of secret
brainwashing—even if it does look very peaceful. To reflect something beyond
the market means to reflect the violence. That means also to reflect capitalism
itself as a form of violence—after all, capitalism can only survive because its security
is guaranteed by the military and police. And how to be critical? I don’t think that
we have to have a specific critical model to be able to be critical, because that would
mean that we accept this critical model uncritically. And we actually don’t need
such a critical model to formulate a critique. Every discourse wants to prove that
it is right and true. But by doing so it also shows that it is at the same time a
wrong and false one. If a discourse would really be a true discourse it would be
immediately evident—beyond any additional proofs or explanations, beyond any
additional apology. But in reality every discourse wants to situate itself inside a
certain discursive field, to show its differences and its similarities in relationship
to the other discourses, to explain why it should be trusted, etc. Every discourse
—as every artwork—can present itself only by means of such a self-apology.
But every apology can be read as a critique. The need for an additional apology
already reveals that things are not so obvious as they should be. Maybe this is
precisely the goal of education: to make the students able to read an apology
as a critique.
Notes for an Art School
Arguments to challenge or defend the institutional boundaries of the academy
The relation of the academy to the field of art production is difficult to assess.
First of all the academy is defined by the symbolic boundary that designates the
inside of the institution as a place of education by distinguishing it from the
outside world of uneducated amateurs and mature professionals. Is there any sense
in guarding this symbolic boundary today or is it high time to abolish it?
The critic of the academy will argue that, as art students produce art
just like any other artists, the dividing line between the inside and outside of the
academy appears to be little more than a virtual boundary. Its only evident function
is the establishment and enforcement of the distinction between those who have
received the legitimation to call themselves artists (now and in the future) and those
who are barred from this right. To call this boundary into question means to
challenge the institutional power of the academy to monopolise the right to
legitimise art—and is therefore quite simply the right thing to do. Against this
argument the defender of the academy will hold that the symbolic boundary
between the academy and the outside should indeed be guarded as it in fact
continues to be one of the few untouched barriers that, ideally at least, protects
art production from the competitive logic of the art market, and gives students
the right and freedom to develop their practice in experimental ways that are
not yet constrained by the pressure to serve their work up to the public as a
finished, recognisably branded product. From this point of view, the right
political move would not be to tear down the boundaries that preserve the freedom
to experiment, but rather to defend them. Both positions have a point. So the
academy can today be understood equally as a monopolist institution of power
and as one of the few remaining strongholds against the art market.
This contradiction manifests itself in many different forms.
The fact that the academy offers a refuge from outside pressures, the critic will
claim, is precisely the reason why liberal and conservative academies alike become
safe havens for ageing professors who can indulge in the privileges of their power
without ever having to check the premises of their teaching against the realities
and criteria of contemporary art production. What then is the academy but a
machine for the reproduction of ignorance that warps the minds of emerging
artists by feeding them with all the cynicism and defensive narcissism that
flourishes in the brains of stagnated professors? Even if this may be true in
some cases, the defender of the academy will respond, the strength of the academy
still lies in the fact that it is only here that different generations of artists can
coexist, learning from and confronting each other, while the outside art world
either ignores the importance of the generational contract for the sustained
development of art production or reduces it to the market logic of promoting
new generations like new product ranges. In the age of the biennials, the generation
gap actually seems to have narrowed to two years, as each new show is expected
to introduce the next set of freshly emerging artists. This is why the academy
has to be preserved as a place where generations are given the space and time to
emerge and age at a pace that is not dictated by the speed of the market.
Fair enough, the critic will answer, but in the end the very assumption
that the atmosphere and understanding of art production inside the academy is
substantially different from the world outside is flawed. Instead of providing a
genuine alternative to the market, the ideas about making art and being an artist
entertained by people inside the academy are very often just a distorted version
of the dominant principles of the outside art world, with the effect that much of
the art made in academies only reflects the desperate desire to approximate the
standards which students believe to be the current status quo of gallery art.
By the same token, it is at the academy that all the competitive strategies that
are later put into practice in the market are learned and exercised in the shark-pit
of the classroom under conditions that might actually be even more severe than
those prevailing in the real world. If that should be so, the defender will retort,
then this is precisely the reason why academies should first and foremost teach an
awareness of the difference between the academy and the market, and of the
potentials that this implies. And it is precisely this difference that especially the
outwardly more progressive institutions fail to recognise as they invite active
professionals from the field of contemporary art to familiarise students with its
current status quo. The questionable outcome is that these students then
emerge from their courses equipped with a ready-made knowledge of the latest
aesthetics and terminologies of critical discourse, but nothing to contribute that
would make a substantial difference within the field—since to make a difference is
something you only learn when you take the time to grasp and confront the
traditions and conventions of art practice and discourse.
Superficial teaching is not acceptable, the critic will agree, but this
is because in general there is no excuse for bad education. And this is also why
it is crucial to create open and dynamic structures, for instance, to bring younger
professionals from the field into the academy as they may have valuable experiences
to share and can play the crucial role of an intermediary generation between
students and older professors. Having said all this, I still wonder: Haven’t we
only been discussing political commonplaces so far? To create the conditions
for a good art education has always been the primary task of the people who run
institutions, just as the struggle for better conditions has always also been the
cause of student protests. These conflicts cannot be solved theoretically, they
have to be fought out practically.
The Academy as a Site of Production Within
the Expanded Field of Academia …
Instead of pedagogical agendas, the critic continues, we should rather discuss the
more basic question of what the function of the academy could or should be today!
Can we really take it for granted that education is still the one and only purpose
that the academy is to serve? According to the logic by which the function of
the institutions within the field of art is conventionally defined and administered,
each institution has a different role to play, of course. Art education is supposed to
take place in the academy, art production in the studio, art presentation and
circulation in the gallery, art collection in the museum and private home, and so on.
If we assume, however, that the assignment of distinct roles to different institutions—
following the maxim of ‘divide and rule’—is, in fact, a strategy to consolidate
existing power structures within the art world, should it not be a primary political
goal to question such authoritative definitions of what an institution is supposed
to be and do?
After all, there is ample evidence that the redefinition of the role of
the academy is already in full swing. Ever since the conceptual turn in the art
production of the late 1960s, the academy, apart from being a place of education,
has been claimed more and more as a site of art production, presentation,
circulation and collection. The Fluxus performance festivals staged in academies
in the 1960s are an obvious example. Similarly today, seminar settings provide
a forum for the screening and discussion of video art and alternative films.
As their works come to be collected in and circulated through university and
academy libraries, the academic field has become a primary audience for at least
some alternative film and video makers. In general, the definition of conceptuallybased
art practices as interventions into critical discourse have brought the field
of practice much closer to the academic field. When, as Brian O’Doherty has
elaborated, the conceptual work is reduced to an ephemeral gesture, project or
proposition that challenges and renegotiates conventional definitions of art,
the primary mode of existence of such a dematerialised work may in fact be its
discussion and documentation in a contemporary academic discourse.1
Consequently (as shown, for instance, in the intense exchange of ideas between
the producers of the new wave of institutional critique and the critics of the
American magazine October), the symbolic distance between the artistic production
and academic reception of conceptual works can (for better or worse) shrink to
an intimate circle as artists respond to the theoretical views proposed by academic
writers, whereupon these writers, in turn, update their premises by reviewing the
works the artists have produced in relation to their theories, and so forth. In the
light of these developments, the academy today must be understood not only as an
institution for education, but always also as a site for the production, discussion,
circulation, collection and documentation of contemporary conceptual art practices.
To open up the academy to these new tasks also means to break
down the boundaries of the institution. As the range of those who become
affiliated with the academy by joining the academic discourse is expanded to
include all kinds of artists, writers and cultural producers, individual academies
become immersed in the general field of academia. Ideally then, the status of the
single institution is no more than that of one hub among many that channel the
discursive productivity generated by the field as a whole. And although the field
of academia may often have to rely on individual institutions to host presentations
and discussions, it is, in principle, not fully dependent on these institutions, as it
can generate its discourse in personal exchanges and informal discussions just
as well as in public symposia or exhibitions. The basis for the open affiliation of
different producers with the academy is, in turn, not so much an identification
with the role model of the academic but, on the contrary, a sense that, within the
academy, clear identity profiles are suspended. In the expanded field the academy
thus attracts, especially, those cultural producers who are marginalised within the
field of art production because their professional identity (which may oscillate
between that of an artist, writer, researcher, project maker, etc.), when measured in
conventional categories, is as much in limbo as that of an art student of whom no
one can say yet if he or she is a future artist or not. In general, work produced in
the academy is a preparation for future art. The uncertainty of the status of work
done in the academy (which notoriously prompts debates over the question whether
student work should be judged by different criteria than the work of ‘mature’
artists) implies a huge potential, as it allows for experimentation with working
models and forms of production that are not sanctioned by conventional standards.
The academy can, therefore, become a site for unsanctioned forms of production
when it is activated as a local support structure for an international discourse
between marginal cultural producers and intellectuals. In this spirit, the academy
must be transformed into an open platform that offers a viable alternative to the
museum and gallery system through the integration and redefinition of the functions
of art education, production, presentation, circulation and documentation.
… Or as a Site of Resistance to the Depreciation of Skills
When you formulate the concept of an expanded field of academia with that much
utopian vigour, the defender of the academy’s boundaries will respond, it may
sound like a good idea. Yet, if you look at the standards of work and discourse
this expanded field has established so far, things appear in a different light. It still
remains to be discussed whether much of the conceptually-based work that passes
as an intervention into open critical discourse can, at the end of the day, really
count as a substantial contribution. Often enough, those producers who participate
in the international circuit of marginal artists and academy members have so little
time left to do work as they travel from project to project and tackle issue after
issue that all they can possibly do when they are invited to contribute to a show
or conference is to hastily gather some available information and stitch it together
around some more or less witty ideas. This has little or nothing to do with the
in-depth analysis and sustained debate that only becomes possible when people
take the time to develop their skills and positions within the context of a specific
academic discipline or artistic medium. What we see, instead, is the rise of a new
culture of art project-making that is superficial in its content, and in its form
deeply entangled in the power play of competitive curating, as these projects are
primarily commissioned to fuel the machine of the global exhibition industry
and simulate a constant productivity, which purposefully prevents everyone
involved from ever reflecting on what it is that they really produce.
The submersion of conceptually-based practices in the global
exhibition industry we see today, the defender of the academy’s boundaries will
continue, is in fact the outcome of a tendency Benjamin Buchloh diagnosed early on
as an inherent danger of the dematerialization of art production and deskilling of
art producers pushed through by the Conceptual art of the late 1960s. The radical
dissociation of art from all aspects of a skilled practice within a conventional
medium, Buchloh warned, would in fact make Conceptual art all the more
vulnerable to outside forces that seek to determine the shape and meaning of the
work: ‘In the absence of any specifically visual qualities and due to the manifest lack
of any (artistic) manual competence as a criterion of distinction, all the traditional
criteria of aesthetic judgement—of taste and of connoisseurship—have been
programmatically voided. The result of this is that the definition of the aesthetic
becomes on the one hand a matter of linguistic convention and on the other the
function of both a legal contract and an institutional discourse (a discourse of
power rather than taste).’2 Buchloh concluded that the only form of art that could
withstand co-option was a Conceptual art that engaged itself in institutional
critique and criticised the exhibition industry from the vantage point of a distanced
observer. You could, however, also come to a different conclusion. When the working
model of the flexible but deskilled conceptual producer has been established
as a global norm, a new strategy of resistance can be to reclaim traditional criteria
of medium-specific art practice and defend the academy as a site where skills can
be acquired that may strengthen the autonomy of the artist in the face of the new
set of dependencies created through the hasty culture of project-making.
Can the Academy be a Place of Initiation
Into Practices of Resistance?
But what then, the critic will hold against this, is the difference between the
strategic evaluation of the skills acquired through an academic education which
you propose and the neoconservative call for a return to traditional standards? Can
you really distinguish one from the other? Or are you not inadvertently playing into
the hands of retrograde traditionalists when you praise the potentials of a skilled,
medium-specific practice and deny the revolutionary character and liberating effects
of the conceptual turn in the late 1960s? Yes, the defender will agree, it is indeed
essential to make it clear that the strategic re-evaluation of the notion of skilled
practice and academic education in no way betrays the spirit of the initial liberation
of art from its confinement to academic disciplines achieved by Conceptual art.
Still, it should be possible to renegotiate the concept of skills in the spirit of the
critical break with disciplinary power. In fact, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak seeks to
do precisely this in her book ‘Death of a Discipline’.3 In a discussion of the fate and
future of the academic discipline of comparative literature, Spivak confirms her
belief in the political necessity of an undisciplined form of teaching that challenges
the literary canon of colonial modernity. At the same time, she articulates her
discomfort with the deskilling of students who receive their literary training only
on the basis of the advanced interdisciplinary approach of cultural studies and, as a
result, often lack the basic skills of closely reading texts which students enrolled in
traditional courses do acquire. ‘We have forgotten how to read with care,’ she
writes.4 To rehabilitate the ideology of a disciplinary academic education is not an
option. Instead, the question Spivak raises is on the basis of what method or model
the skills of a discipline could be taught in a different spirit within the horizon of
the critical philosophy of interdisciplinary education that cultural studies stands for.
To learn the skill of reading literary texts, Spivak argues, means to
be initiated into the secrets of a cultural practice that can be a source of resistance
against the administration and commodification of knowledge production if this
process of initiation is carried out under the right conditions. One condition is
that the skill of reading is not taught as a technique of mastering the language of
literature, but rather as a sensitive practice of ‘entering into the idiom’,5 dedicated
to the disclosure and protection of precisely those aspects of literature that remain
resistant to any form of mastery, due to the sheer specificity of their language.
In this sense, Spivak writes that, ‘in this era of global capital triumphant, to keep
responsibility alive in the reading and teaching of the textual’ is a practice of
resistance as it defends those moments within culture that cannot be commodified
and made commensurable.6 Moreover, Spivak stresses, it matters in whose name
the ceremony of initiation into the idioms of literature is performed. So, the second
condition Spivak formulates is that academic education should be dedicated to a
justified political and ethical cause. As a model for this moment of political and
ethical dedication, Spivak draws on a proposition Virginia Woolf makes at the end
of A Room of One’s Own. Woolf asks her fellow women writers to dedicate their
work to the evocation of the ghost of Shakespeare’s sister, which is to say that
they should write for a future audience of emancipated women writers and readers
and thereby call it into existence. To ‘work for her’ is the formula Woolf suggests
for this moment of dedication. The distinctive quality of this formula of dedication
is that it is specific enough to give a clear political perspective to the project of
a feminist literary practice, while at the same time sufficiently open to avoid
dogmatism. In the context of Spivak’s argument, this formula of dedication
becomes a model to describe the general importance and specific character of the
attitude with which the initiation of prospective intellectuals into the skills of
literary practice is to be carried out. It should take place in the name of a different
future and be dedicated to the cause of making that future possible.
So, the critic will ask, the argument is that the dedication of the process
of initiation into academic skills to a justified cause will transform the nature of the
procedure of teaching and learning those skills from a tedious disciplinary ordeal to
a progressive project? Is this not what also Nietzsche meant when he said that the
right way to go through with a classical disciplinary education was to ‘learn how to
dance in chains’? The reply this idea must provoke from anybody with a free mind
is the question of why chains should be necessary in the first place. Why should
anybody submit themselves to a procedure of initiation when it is clear that such
procedures by definition imply the forceful internalisation of the laws of tradition,
a violence that can never be justified by the principles of the Enlightenment? No
matter what cause you dedicate the procedure of initiation to, the means can never
be redeemed by idealistic ends because they are inherently brutal. The only true
alternative is to reject outright the academy and the form of disciplinary education
it represents. Here we have got to the bottom of the matter, the defender of the
academy will concede to the critic, because, in the end, the question we will have
to continue to discuss is whether you can dismantle the disciplinary power of the
academy and put its potentials to a different use, or whether the power structures of
the institution remain too inflexible to allow for such a process of transformation.
I believe that it is possible, but in the end we will have to see if works out or not.
1. On the intimate relation of the conceptual
gesture to the intellectual context of its realisation
O’Doherty writes: ‘It [The gesture] dispatches
the bull of history with a single thrust. Yet it
needs that bull, for it shifts perspective suddenly
on a body of assumptions and ideas. […]
A gesture wises you up. It depends for its effect
on the context of ideas it changes and joins.’
Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube:
The Ideology of the Gallery Space (San Francisco:
The Lapis Press, 1986), p. 70.
2. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, ‘Conceptual Art
1962–1969: From the Aesthetic of Administration
to the Critique of Institutions’ in Alexander
Alberro and Blake Stimson, eds., Conceptual Art:
A Critical Anthology (Cambridge, Mass., and
London: The MIT Press, 1999), p. 519.
3 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Death of
a Discipline (New York: Columbia University
4. Ibid., p. 42.
5. Ibid., p. 50.
6. Ibid., p. 101.
Notes for an Art School
In front of the gallery stands a 7-series BMW. It has been parked with care and
the parking tickets are clearly visible, squeezed between the large rubber mats
under which the vehicle is hidden. The title: Erlkönig (Erl-King). Every two hours,
new parking tickets are bought and added to the existing collection. After two
days, the vehicle is towed away and parked in the police compound in exactly the
same state as it was in front of the gallery—in other words, buried underneath
rubber mats. The reason it was towed away? Overstaying short-stay parking.
For the two days it was there, a surveillance camera installed inside the gallery
regularly took photos of the wheels.
Next to the computer on the desk in the gallery there is a coffee cup
containing some leftover coffee and a spoon. The spoon is tinkling softly as
the cup slowly rotates anticlockwise on its saucer. The title: Schwarz und süß
(Black and Sweet).
On the wall opposite there is a huge felt-pen drawing, three by five
metres in size. A mildly abstract depiction of people fighting. Title: Oktoberfest
Abend (Oktoberfest Evening).
Fifteen small photos that would normally be kept in a photo album
have been mounted in a row along the gallery corridor. They show a family enjoying
a picnic. In the background are columns and the silhouetted skyline of Kabul.
After a few more family snaps of this nature, the series ends with another picnic,
this time on the Olympiaberg in Munich. In the background are the columns of
the BMW Tower. This time the women are not veiled. Title: Der 30. Geburtstag
meiner Schwester (My Sister’s Thirtieth Birthday).
‘I’ll lick the surface that you’ll just scratch, if you scratch each other.
Scratch the wounds that you’ll open, if you open each other. Open the box
that you’ll buy, if you buy each other. I’ll sell the work that you’ll want, if you want
me. I’ll want the fame that you’ll reap, if you reap…’ This was the beginning of
a video that, like the other works described here, was on display at the show
Back in the seventies, Donna Summer’s big hits (‘Love to love you’ etc.) were
produced in Munich by a man called Giorgio Moroder with a label called ‘A Say
Yes Production’. In no time at all they established a music scene set for global
success. The talk was suddenly of the ‘Sound of Munich’. All this has long since
become cult, just as pop culture has become standard fare and artists born in the
seventies and eighties—whether in the music business or in the fine arts—have more
questions than answers. The distinctions between the various media were becoming
blurred long before globalisation. The result? Crossover and anything goes.
One purpose of the ‘SayNoProduction’ show at Galerie Klüser 2
in June and July 2005 was to highlight the wide range of thematic approaches and
sheer complexity of the working methods that have developed in Munich during
the past few years. The exhibits included murals, sculptures, installations, objects,
video and photography. ‘Just because they shout “action”, that doesn’t mean you
actually have to do anything,’ Marlon Brando is alleged to have said. That may be
true, but if an art scene is to retain its vitality, then it has to be constantly renewed
and reinvented. Whether the conditions of production or society itself have
changed (or not), whether in line with a trend (or not), whether swimming against
the tide (or not). No self-financed art projects. No off domain. And definitely no
institutions. But rather a gallery where contemporary artists from Germany,
Austria, Romania, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Iran and Afghanistan can show their work.
What all these artists have in common is that they all studied—or in some cases
are still studying—in Munich. The exhibition consisted of two parts or rather
—to extend our musical metaphor—of an A-side and a B-side, although it is often
difficult to decide which is the better of the two.
‘Ne travaillez jamais’ said a slogan on a wall in Paris’s rue de Seine in 1953.
The Situationist International took this up—expressing a particular way of life that
tried to put down roots there. Christopher Gray’s comments were characteristic:
‘Total despair was never far away. Guy Debord described one evening when they
were in an apartment somewhere, all completely stoned and drunk. It was almost
morning and nearly everyone had crashed. Debord alone was still smoking a joint
when suddenly he smelled gas. He went down the corridor to the kitchen at the
far end of the apartment. There, two friends were sitting at a table and drinking
in silence. All the windows were closed and the gas was turned on full blast.
They had hoped the whole lot of them would die painlessly in their sleep.’
Productive ‘saying no’? ‘Say: no Production’ or ‘say no—Production’? Defiance
or active resistance? Social and/or political activism? Certainly not advice in the
sense of ‘don‘t say yes when you want to say no!’ Or ‘say no by default’ from
the book Good to Great by Jim Collins … and ‘Feel free to say no’ need not belong
to the script of an anti-smoking campaign.
Whether the participating artists had a bachelor’s or master’s was not
a criterion when we pieced together this show, by the way. No grades, no points,
no system, no rules and no political correctness either. Art cannot be taught.
During the preparatory phase we went up to the Walchensee, which is
the coldest mountain lake in all Bavaria. The whole class—all twenty-eight students.
And painted watercolours! Oh yes and we bathed too, of course, and barbecued
and drank a bit as well. The watercolours later went on show at a different gallery
and some of them even sold. ‘That’s how delightful studying can be,’ the
newspapers said later.
The same students organised a parallel project. They put the
Art Academy under observation using cameras, bugging devices, transmitters,
computers, mattresses, potato crisps and plenty of drink—all installed behind the
blinds of an empty office unit on the opposite side of the road. The photographs
were then published in the press. Fluid transitions—what does it mean to be
inside or outside the academy—was it deinstrumentalised?
It must have been late 1970 or perhaps early 1971—the first album from
Kraftwerk. Although denigrated as junk in some quarters, I still decided to buy it.
With such legendary tracks as ‘Ruckzuck’ and ‘Megaherz’, an original album
these days can fetch as much as a thousand euros. Somehow, it seemed to be just
the right music to go with the book I was reading back then—a book called
Keiner weiß mehr (No One Knows Anymore). I had just enrolled at university
and had decided to study art—mainly because I could not come up with
Whereas Kraftwerk became an international success, the author
of my book, Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, would write only two more books. He was
killed in a road accident in London in 1975 and thereafter forgotten, although
those who loved the three books he did write still consider him worth reading.
Classic pop culture.
Keiner weiß mehr was published in the late sixties and according to
the blurb describes ‘the feeling of a new generation that has yet to make its mark’.
By the end of the book, the author is so jaded he seems to find everything ‘lousy
and phoney’. After all, no one knows anymore. It was with these bleak thoughts
in mind that I opened ‘personne sait plus’ in 1998 at the Villa Arson in Nice,
a show in which the featured artists reacted to this situation with a variety of
strategies. A form of grassroots activism, perhaps?
‘Our tendency,’ writes Bazon Brock, ‘to identify institutions with the buildings
they occupy […] demands that we view them simultaneously from both the inside
out and the outside in.’
When I first entered the Munich Art Academy in 1990, I walked
straight out again backwards. I would prefer not to be reminded of the musty
atmosphere that hit you upon entering, or the decrepit state of the building.
What cannot be denied is that compared with other art schools, it was certainly
one of the worst. So why would anyone want to accept a professorship there,
still less to be the rector of such an institution? Was it just an experiment?
The appeal of grassroots activism? Before long, the newspapers were decrying
the ‘anarchy at the academy’ and what they called ‘intellectual hooligans’. In other
words, the compliments came raining in! One thing was clear, the academy was
suddenly in the spotlight. Even just our non-hierarchical apprehension of art
was enough to get people’s hackles up.
My doubling as artist and rector could certainly be described as a contextual
situation or perhaps even as Conceptual art. It was therefore only natural
that my work should address this issue head on: Basisarbeit (Grassroots Activism),
for example, was the title of an installation I created about the art academy itself.
In addition to a conference table (‘It’s all been said before, but not everyone has
said it yet,’ as Karl Valentin once said), the installation also featured voting booths
(because we just love democracy), a chaotic assortment of files, a paperweight—in
this case a miniature of the academy—and a book. Actually a reader, published in
1999 at the end of my stint as rector in hopes of making the situation at Germany’s
art academies more transparent—or at least of facilitating discussion on this subject.
In the foreword, I suggested that an art academy should in fact
function much like a supermarket in which the students are free to help themselves
to what they want from each department—be it in photography or philosophy,
in groups, workshops or seminars, whether with just three students or with thirty.
Everyone is at liberty to fill his or her trolley, but no one has to pay. The art academy
itself as an experiment—well, that need not remain a pipe dream. With
sufficient conviction, it is indeed possible to support such work and projects as
promise to venture into new terrain and to nurture the creativity of the younger
generation. The focus must be on both the artistic production process itself and
the theory of the same in an interdisciplinary context—the learning situation
as shaped by the national and international art scene. Artists, art historians,
critics, curators and gallerists must of course be willing to engage in free and frank
discussion, for only an academy that is at the centre of such exchange can truly
No matter whether the grassroots activism is from the top down or
vice versa—these days, art can be produced everywhere and anywhere and in all
circumstances. It is simply a question of organisation, infrastructure and flexibility.
The transitions are fluid. And that there will always be a periphery is actually
just as well, for that is how the social spectrum is broadened. William Copley once
said that, ‘Only when you know what art is not is the whole world open to you.’
Perhaps that is why I sometimes felt like an intensive student. ‘Personne sait plus’,
no one knows anymore. Ultimately, there are more questions than answers.
The introduction of tuition fees here in Germany will turn students into paying
customers. Higher education as a glorified shopping trip? The university as a
provider of consumer services? ‘The change of roles from student to paying
customer … will lead to social exclusion’ warns Katja Jedermann. The rich have
to become richer—so that the poor can become richer too? If you read between
the lines of Karl Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, even he was in favour of
tuition fees: ‘If in some states […] higher education institutions are also “free”,
that only means in fact defraying the cost of education of the upper classes from
the general tax receipts.’ So what now? Realpolitik, New Deal? Or is it time to
subvert the whole system?
‘Anyone who these days is concerned with drafting or implementing curricula
is bound to run up against the demand of officialdom that he or she take a stand
on profitability profiles, teaching principles, teaching results, grading criteria and
such like. Management jargon is eating its way into our institutions …’ (Charles
Harrison). The university as a public-private conglomerate with bureaucratic
barriers. The Bologna Reader of the German Standing Conference of University
Rectors contains a sample teaching unit called: ‘Intercultural Communication in
Multicultural Societies’. Thank you very much. Horses I can see, but horseness not.
Studying literature, meanwhile, students dip into Büchner, Dante or Racine in the
manner of armchair tourists, highlighting a few lines here, copying a few pages
there—but no more than that. Learning outcome: five credit points. Enough to
join the Jehovah’s Witnesses selling the latest issue of Watchtower in front of the
railway station or why not go straight to the Salvation Army? Who needs a second
wave of European-style colonialism? Not fast track—wrong track.
‘The teacher is now no more than the gatekeeper of a legitimisation process
ruled by the logic of equivalent value […] Today’s freshmen students seem to
be miles away from the elitist professionals on the international biennale
circuit […] they are non-professional newcomers who are merely striving for this
elitist status.’ (John Miller) What should be taught? Should we teach at all?
Does teaching simply mean galvanising students into ‘networking, self-organisation,
self-positioning, self-management, the courting of sponsors and even
project management?’ (Ute Meta Bauer) Should it be geared to the art market?
What function do artists have in a globalised world? ‘In the US education system,
driven as it is largely by consumer interests, it is usually the part-time teachers
who are most dependent on their students’ grades […] and it is here that the main
weaknesses of the system reside. For how can teachers subject to such constraints
act courageously? Only those tensions that are part of the real learning process
generate real friction.’ (Trebor Schulz)
‘The question of the extent to which art can be taught and learned
—like the issue of the role of our academies and art colleges—takes us back to the
mythic apprehension of creativity […]. as a means of explaining how transgressing
the rules of the prevailing orthodoxy in the name of creativity has become the
norm.’ (Beatrice von Bismarck)
There is something rather stale, inhibited and self-pitying about nineties-style
discursive institutional analysis and critique. The most common grievance is the
loss of the critic’s own significance and in some cases that of the legitimacy of
his or her own scholarship. Much of what is written about our academies and art
colleges is completely lacking in subtext and amounts to little more than the
cognitive equivalent of running on the spot. After the third art theory lecture,
hardly any students want to attend the seminars, which all too often merely repeat
what has been said before or degenerate into a tour of the professor’s card index.
If attendance is high, then only because it is a requirement for admission to the
exams. Rather less esoteric self-fulfilment and rather more genuine exchange
would certainly not come amiss. The art academy is there for its students, after all,
and Germany still has open and liberal educational opportunities. Perhaps that is
why so many German artists are successful abroad? Perhaps that is why so many
foreign art students choose to study here? Of course plenty are needed if at least
a few of them are to be any good.
Erst rechts, dann links und dann immer geradeaus (First right, then left and then
straight ahead)—the title of one of my early installations, a work made of crash
barriers, the idea being that of a roundabout. And it was meant literally too.
You do not have to bully your way into the fast lane right away, but the fast lane
should still be what you are aiming at. ‘When you’re doing something, you should
play your own game and not spend your time looking over your shoulder at
where your own game is not,’ says Friedrich Kittler.
‘The work is bearable for as long as it is unfinished,’ wrote Mario
Merz in 1983 in Von den Erfindungen zu den Aussichten.
No more concepts that are promptly discussed to death, but actions,
happenings or—better still—exhibitions. ‘SayNoProduction’ is the latest in the
series that began with ‘Küssen und Fahrradfahren’ (Kissing and Cycling, 1996)
and continued with ‘personne sait plus’ (1998), ‘Basisarbeit’ (1999) and
‘Rote Zelle’ (Red Cell, 2004–05).
A recent UN survey of big conurbations concluded that one of the salient characteristics
of a city is its consumption and production of culture and demonstration
in an urban setting of how cultural output can be consumed. Of particular
importance here are what are known as ‘Creative Urbans’, a term that doubtless
includes artists for whom, being a kind of urban-cultural ornament—to quote
Marius Babias—society at least offers the prospect of self-fulfilment, albeit a
fulfilment subject to certain financial constraints. There can be no question that
the functionalisation of art and culture serves above all economic interests.
What is at issue is the image of space as a commodity, the city itself as a
commodity. Public space these days is occupied by private enterprise and politics,
each of which—whether in the form of a folk dancing society or national league
football club, to say nothing of arts and culture—has a share in the value-added
production of the city as a commodity. Art is both a means of expression and
a platform for the fictional variable of public space. I am thinking here not so much
of mega-events disguised as art shows, but rather of ambitious exhibition projects.
It need not be another biennial, nor does it have to be visionary or propose
a different attitude to the public in the ever-changing city. The attractiveness of the
art scene with its fluid borders could easily be demonstrated in larger exhibitions.
The onus now is not just on the numerous institutions, but on those executive bodies
that organise such shows and on curators and artists themselves. These are the
ones who can best document and illustrate the complexity of the world in which we
now operate and who together with the media can forge ahead with such projects.
Urbanity in the form of row upon row of empty blocks of flats
—the ruins of superfluous investment, to say nothing of superfluous architecture?
On the positive side, though, it can at least be said that property speculators
are not doing as well as they would like either and that soon there will be still
more office space standing empty, which may well cause commercial rents to fall
below housing rents, thereby opening up some interesting and exciting new venues.
This is one subject that is certainly not confined to any one particular city.
‘Leicht kommt man ans Bildermalen, schwer an Leute, die’s bezahlen,’(‘Painting
itself is easy enough; what is hard is finding someone to pay for it’) quipped
Wilhelm Busch in Maler Klecksel. Artists, and especially young artists,
need opportunities to show their work and to make contacts—not just to galleries,
but to colleagues, collectors and curators as well.
The mid to late nineties saw a plethora of exciting student projects
—among them Café Helga, Galerie Goldankauf, Club lebomb, Seppibar, Chicks on
Speed, Kein Mensch ist illegal, etc.—developed on academy premises. As cities
have changed their image, so there has been a change of strategy in favour of
temporary, self-financed, self-organised exhibitions and other spontaneous
activities in leased premises.
Last year saw the opening in Munich of the Rote Zelle, a small red building in the
courtyard of a residential block, the purpose of which was to add to the range of
available art venues and in doing so to increase public awareness of the quality of
the work being done by students at the academy. The project was co-founded
and is still being run by a firm of book designers on the ground floor of the block
in front and enjoys the support of the building’s owner; my own role is more that
of advisor than curator. Certainly a cellular structure in which everyone is involved
and in which new perspectives can be explored under changed conditions is
bound to be an inspiration for such young artists as already have some experience
of exhibitions and have already had their debut in public. What makes this
project so out of the ordinary is the way in which both landlord and tenants are
working together to facilitate the production and exhibition of spatial art in what
is actually a very ordinary setting. What also makes it a model worth copying is
that it has been limited to two years, if only to prevent it turning into yet another
institution. A detailed report on the project is to be published early next year.
At a show in Denmark in February 2000, Chilean artist Marco Evaristti
exhibited an installation consisting of a Moulinex mixer filled with water and live
goldfish. The appliance was hooked up to the mains and was in perfect working
order. Although most museums have a rigorously enforced ‘Do not touch’ policy,
a number of visitors apparently took a different view and countless fish were
pureed. The show provoked a scandal. The artist himself described it as a ‘social
experiment’. An instance of art undergoing a metamorphosis? A short time later,
the museum bought the installation and since then, instead of swimming around
in water, the fish have been preserved for all eternity in synthetic resin.
It is actually very simple. Someone who has no key to unlock the
door and who is not strong enough to kick it in might just as well call a locksmith
and claim to have locked him or herself out. This is more or less what is happening
to our art colleges too. Art is always a reflection of the times in which it is
created and will always be associated with those times and viewed in that context.
At some point, however, production takes on a life of its own and becomes an
end in itself and in doing so crosses the Rubicon from surplus to superfluous
—the never-ending remix better known to us as pop culture.
Jane Birkin once said that when she recorded ‘Je t’aime’ with
Serge Gainsbourg, she had no idea that even then, that was already a utopia.
Unfortunately, things like that tend to dawn on us only much later.
Notes for an Art School
On an Art School
Cyprus has got itself a biennial, Manifesta, and with it, it hopes to demonstrate
its contemporaneity as a newly joined member of an expanded European
Community. In 2001, when I resettled in Cyprus after 34 years of living, studying
and working in London, there was a palpable sense of remoteness. Cyprus seemed
geographically and culturally distant from events that were shaping the rest of
the western contemporary art landscape, something that was felt especially strongly
by the local arts community. Cyprus’ accession to the European Union in the
spring of 2004 meant that the island’s future became intrinsically linked to a
broader network of activities that are as much cultural and artistic as they are
economic and political. Since accession, there has been a noticeable thawing of
the isolation. In a way, the presence of Manifesta in Cyprus is testament to that.
This is not to give the impression that the local arts community was passive;
a few non-commercial art groups and individuals had initiated projects whose
underlying purpose seemed to be creating contact between Cyprus and the outside
world and the questioning of established ideas about art and culture.
In the absence of an art school in Cyprus, or of any other forum
that might accommodate critical and constructive debate on art, I became involved
in initiating and organising a series of annual seminars. Artalk began in 2003
and took the form of presentations by international artists, curators, historians,
academics, philosophers and writers around themes and issues relating to the
direction contemporary art is taking. As an extension of these seminars, Artalk
invited the speakers to stay longer in Cyprus, and arranged less formal impromptu
gatherings. These ranged from visits to artists’ studios to late-night discussions
in informal settings that allowed for a different level of exchange and debate.
Creating a space that encourages different aspects of learning and exchange and
breaks down the conservatism and pomposity of the distinctions fostered within
academia is, I think, an important aspect of any creative educational institution and
in particular of an art school. Mohsen Mostafavi of the Architectural Association
(AA) in London highlights the importance of this when he refers to the bar
at the AA functioning as a central meeting space that provides a different kind of
environment for engaging in discussion. ‘The idea is to construct a situation in
the School that is enjoyable, that inspires and motivates people.’ (Mostafavi, 2003)
Artalk as an organisation has been mindful of operating on these
lines and, by identifying and responding to a gap within the culture and providing
a public service, it has also sought to create its own distinct way of operating
that allows for a layered and more natural interaction between the invited speakers
and local artists, academics, intellectuals and members of the public.
From the outset, the policy was to encourage the participation of
the wider community in the programme. The seminars were open to the public
free of charge, and people from a range of professional backgrounds and disciplines
attended. Also with diversity in mind, the seminars were programmed to expose
the audience to different perspectives on the same subject. The spring 2005
seminars, which took as their central theme ‘The Politics of Mobility’, included
presentations by Catherine David, who spoke of mobility in the context of
her ongoing project on Contemporary Arab Representations; Michael Haerdter,
who addressed mobility in the context of artist residencies as in the work of
Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin and Res Artis—International Association of
Residential Art; Claudia Wegener, who introduced her writing project ‘24hrs’ and
the work of Foreign Investment, of which she is a member; and Ursula Biemann,
whose work focuses on gender relations within the global economy, media,
technology and urbanism.
Although the programme started with artists in mind, it was
interesting to discover that the greatest enthusiasm and openness for debate
came from non-artists, who seemed much more readily able to accept the issues
raised within the seminars as abstract philosophical explorations that allowed
them to approach their own daily practices from a slightly different perspective.
In contrast, a number of artists expressed their disquiet with presentations
that lacked visual material and also with work that did not produce consumable
objects for placement within museums or galleries. This distinction between
art as commodity and art as an exploration of the constitution of ‘self’ and its
relationship to the everyday is an issue that runs through the history of the
vanguard in art and is of relevance to the formation of any future art school.
What is an Art School?
An art school can be thought of as an art project. An art project can be thought of
as a thinking site, functioning as a springboard from which ideas and concepts can
be brought back to the notion of an art school, and give it new form and direction.
A recent article in Artforum (summer 2005), entitled ‘Remote
Possibilities: A Roundtable Discussion on Land Art’s Changing Terrain’,
seemed to bring to the surface an endemic distinction that is symptomatic of
the state of contemporary art: what I have called the ‘be for art’ and ‘before art’
syndrome; the dichotomy between emphasis placed on the production, marketing,
selling and consuming of the art object on the one hand and, on the other, the
notion of art as a creative way of engaging with the world. In the context of
the theme of the ‘remote’—as in artworks and projects being realised in distant
places—the notion of ‘stepping out’ geographically and conceptually from the
‘art circuit’ was expressed by two of the participants in the roundtable discussion:
Rirkrit Tiravanija in relationship to his project The Land, and Pierre Huyghe,
who referred to his project Antarctica as ‘a place without pre-existing protocol,
a non-knowledge zone … a place that’s not overcrowded with meaning, rules,
culture, even longitude and latitude’. Huyghe’s reference to ‘a place without
scenario’ is perhaps indicative of a broader criticism of the academic
conventionalisation of meaning within art. Huyghe indicates the right of the artist
to engage with art as process or event—not art as image or as representation
of an event, but art as an integrated part of the everyday; where the everyday is
brought back into the fold of the art praxis.
Reciprocity between art and the everyday is by no means a new idea.
Nevertheless, if we are to accept that a fundamental aspect of art has been the
production of objects to look at, either for pleasure or contemplation, then the
dematerialization of ‘the object’ and the absorption of art into the everyday,
as an event, does represent something of a fracture with modernist productions
and practices and calls into question the very purpose of the art school.
The present model of an art school has centred upon looking at, producing and
talking about the unique object of art and developing strategies for positioning
it within the art market. The lives of student-artists revolve around the anxiety
of the production of the art object and it is through the object that their worth
is measured. The break with such a tradition in art presents an opening for
rethinking the purpose of art and of what an art school is and what it does.
Art Without Object
Conventionally, the art school has reflected a dominant ideology that evolved
around the production of the unique object. This idea was, and largely
still is, prevalent within the world of art. Historically, the unique in nature,
and analogously in art, has been revered in ritual acts as symbolising contact
with the ineffable and the untranslatable. The art object, through the act
of public spectacle, became imbued with a sense or ‘aura’ of some greater reality.
Walter Benjamin demonstrated how the institutionalised world of art is connected
to the social order, which idealises and adulates the unique as symbolic of
a transcendent reality. This is what John Berger (1972) calls ‘bogus
Modernist art, as Clement Greenberg defined it, and in particular
painting in the form of Abstract Expressionism, which is no longer mimetic
of nature, entered an age in which the very surface of the painting became its own
self-referential reality. Hence, the uniqueness of the object was in the materiality
of the medium and that was what differentiated painting from sculpture and
art from other activities. Art and the artist demarcated well-defined boundaries
between the inverted concerns of the world of art and those of society.
The studio was generally regarded as a hermetic refuge from the outside world.
In his studio, the artist entered into communion with his craft in search of the
absolute and sublime through dialogue with the material itself. Art became
self-referential, art for art’s sake—and was primarily intended to engage the
viewer on a one-to-one basis. This perception of art underpinned art pedagogy
and a system of operation within the art school that emphasised the purity
and distinction of art and the singular vision and insight of the artist.
By the beginning of the 1960s, the outside world had already entered
the sphere of art in the form of Pop Art, with its reference to popular and
consumer culture. The modernist distinction between art and wider culture and
the privileged place the art object occupied on the basis of its uniqueness came
under attack. Arthur C. Danto writes that ‘the master narrative of the history of art’
came to an end with the demise of Abstract Expressionism and the rise of Pop Art.
Danto argues that when anything can be a work of art, as in the case of Andy
Warhol’s 1964 Brillo Box, where there was nothing in the outward appearance to
mark the difference between ‘art’ and objects in supermarkets, then the meaning of
art ceases to be taught by example. According to Danto, art makes the transition
from experience to thought. Art becomes conceptual and one needs to turn
to philosophy for an understanding of art (Danto, 1997). An illustration of
these shifting concerns can be found in the work of the artist Joseph Kosuth.
In One and Three Chairs (1965), he displays three versions of a chair: an actual
chair, a photograph of the same chair made in situ and pinned on to the wall,
and a blown-up dictionary description of the term ‘chair’, again pinned to the
wall. In this seemingly simple display, Kosuth throws doubt on what constitutes
an art object, mixing signifier and signified, and challenging the viewer to
consider which is the object of art.
By pointing outward, to the everyday, artists were heightening
a perception of the world at large and extending the right to look across and
contemplate a wider field of visual reference. In doing so, they were raising
issues of the very contiguity of art to the everyday and articulating their own
sense of being in the world. Ed Ruscha’s photographs of Twenty-six Gasoline
Stations (1963) comprised bland and ordinary snapshots of gasoline stations on
the highway between Los Angeles and Texas. The artist comments on the
work: ‘I don’t have any message about the subject-matter at all. They are just
natural facts, that’s all they are.’ (Meyer, 1972) Ruscha’s seemingly nebulous
and intuitive peering at the world, coupled with a healthy disrespect for
aesthetic protocol, contains within it the seeds of complex entwining references.
Photography, with Ruscha, becomes a deictic language that situates the artists
within an actual event; there is no sense in which he seeks to transform the object
aesthetically. The art is the event itself, the point of contact between the artist
and the space he occupies, the space itself being a complex weave of geography
and personal topography, a space to be appropriated by the ‘I’. (De Certeau, 1988)
In addition, Ruscha’s photographs present a conceptual cultural landscape that
exists within the collective consciousness as a form of Americana, an image
that has been mythologised by the road movie. The photographs were reproduced
in a small, slim book, which Ruscha published and sold for three dollars apiece.
The artist states, ‘I am not trying to create a precious limited edition book,
but a mass produced object.’ (Wolf, 2004)
The depreciation of the uniqueness of the object, together with
an increasing interest by artists in the visual vernacular of the everyday and the
banal, signified a perceptual shift in the arts from the production of the ‘pure’
self-referential image, or the idea of the original in the form of a palpable artwork,
to art that connected the artist to the outside world physically as well as
conceptually. Artists literally took themselves out into the world or engaged the
world within their art. In Catalysis I (1970), Adrian Piper spent a week moving
around New York in smelly clothing that she had impregnated with a concoction
of vinegar, eggs, milk and other substances. In Seedbed (1972) at the Sonnabend
Gallery, New York, Vito Acconci, hidden under the floorboards of the gallery
space, masturbated to the sound of the viewers’ footsteps in the empty gallery
above him. The unknown viewer was drawn into the work as Acconci spoke his
fantasies into a microphone. Both these artworks direct attention away from
the art object as product and throw the spotlight onto the artist and the event as
art. Piper’s and Acconci’s actions point to another landscape, not to topography
and the idea of personal mapping, but to social distinctions between the spheres
of public and private. The gallery visitors, or in the case of Piper the general
public, are not allowed to operate within the comfort zone of being a spectator,
separate from what they see. Rather, the spectator is forced to internalise the
work through the anxiety of displacement.
These artists are challenging fixed notions about the demarcation
between the viewer and the work and between personal and monumental space.
These unrepeatable gestures created by the artists have inscribed themselves within
the history and mythology of the avant-garde in art. Their relevance for us today
is in locating and evaluating our own contemporary practices; a necessary process,
particularly in an era where the ‘master narrative in art’ has been replaced by
consumer capitalism and a state of excess and intensification of the production
of the art object.
As our understanding of art becomes more amoebic, our sense of
what constitutes an art school also becomes more questioning. We can now look
beyond the conventional art school model, with its emphasis on the production
of consumable artworks, for a possible re-articulation and transformation of
the paradigmatic structures that form an art school.
Notes on an Art Project: A Thinking Site:
An Art School
In the roundtable discussion that appeared in Artforum, summer 2005, Rirkrit
Tiravanija spoke of a project which, while very different, nonetheless encapsulates
similar sentiments to those expressed by Pierre Huyghe. This project was The
Land, which he initiated in 1998 with fellow Thai artist Kamin Lertchairprasert.
The project is not art, as the founders are adamant to point out. It is literally
a piece of agricultural land whose significance lies in the convergence of artists,
local farmers and students, with the aims of producing foodstuffs, of functioning
within the sphere of the everyday, of growing vegetables, cultivating rice
and working towards ‘a sustainable infrastructure, not outdoor sculpture’.
Tiravanija also referred to the project as a thinking-site away from the art world
circuit. In addition, The Land functions as an impromptu art school, with
visiting international artists giving talks to local art students. Tiravanija sees
The Land as a laboratory, lending itself to long-term projects without expectations
or time frame.
Whatever paradoxes and inconsistencies this project may operate
within, it does open up a timely space for conjecture, for rethinking and rearticulating
the structures of the art school based on group dynamics rather than
individualism, integration rather than exclusion, hybridism rather than purity,
exploration rather than interpretation. It points to an art that is essentially social
and purposeful, rather than self-serving. It is possible to imagine the function of
an art school quite literally as individuals coming together for a common purpose,
to explore and discover what that shared purpose may be at the collective level.
This seems to me a profoundly important vantage point from which to think about
the formation of an art school. Perhaps we should not be thinking of a school as
such, but a laboratory that lends itself to exploration, as proposed by Tiravanija.
That an art school could first and foremost be simply a collection of people coming
together to explore possibilities in relationship to the collective seems an excitingly
alternative start. No architecture required; the needs of the group take shape and
form as they arise and expand. The process is organic and about mutual respect;
not a building of bricks and mortar, an institution of logical divisions and abstract
splits. The group learns to function on the collective level as an organism that is
allowed to expand and contract according to its own needs, that is, the needs of the
group. It will form itself into a distinct body with no preconditioned forms,
structures or functions. An art laboratory with such a sense of orientation would
make it possible to advance art projects of a different time-scale to those
accommodated within the present model of an art school. These would be projects
that are not directed towards the consumerist imperatives of the art market but
instead evolve out of collaboration and shared interests and engage individuals of
diverse backgrounds, not just artists. Unlike an exhibition, whose content can be
unpacked and staged anywhere in the world, an art school does not function as an
isolated system, and, in order for it to have a future, it needs to interact with the
world around it, both at the local level and connecting to the wider art community.
I believe a truly progressive art school needs to respond to what is lacking within
institutional spaces of culture and seek to transform everyday life. Further, it would
function as a matrix that opens up spaces for exploration, experimentation and
growth beyond conventional expectations and time frames.
Baker, G. ‘An Interview With Pierre
Huyghe’, October, 110 (2004).
Berger, J. Ways of Seeing (Harmondsworth:
Benjamin, W. Illuminations (London and
Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1977).
Bishop, C. ‘Antagonism and Relational
Aesthetics’, October, 110 (2004).
Buskirk, M. The Contingent Object of
Contemporary Art (Cambridge, Mass., and
London: The MIT Press, 2003).
Danto, A. C. After the End of Art (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1997).
De Certeau, M. The Practice of Everyday
Life (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London:
University of California Press, 1988).
Deleuze, G. Negotiations 1972–1990
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).
Lefebvre, H. The Production of Space
(Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).
Gablik, S. The Reenchantment of Art
(London: Thames and Husdson, 1991).
Griffin, T., ‘A Roundtable Discussion
on Land Art’s Changing Terrain’, Artforum
Meyer, U. Conceptual Art (New York:
E. P. Dutton, 1972).
Mustafavi, M. AA Prospectus 2003–4
(London: Architectural Association School
of Architecture, 2003).
Wolf, S. Ed Ruscha and Photography
(New York and Göttingen: Whitney Museum
of American Art and Steidi Verlag, 2004).
Notes for an Art School
An Interview with Tobias Rehberger by Mai Abu ElDahab
An extract from a conversation between Tobias Rehberger and Mai Abu ElDahab in
the kitchen of Rehberger’s Frankfurt home on 6 November, 2005. Rehberger is a
full-time teacher at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildendew Künste (Staedelschule)
in Frankfurt am Main, where he himself was once a student.
MAD — What were we saying?
TR — We were discussing the idea of the art school. Florian
[Waldvogel] asked me to write about what could be the ideal school. I thought
that that should be easy because I have a strong idea of what I think and what
I’m doing with my students at Staedelschule. But it’s actually quite complicated
because I’m not doing something fixed with my students; I’m doing many different
things with them without having a clear pedagogical focus. You see, with each
student it’s completely different.
MAD — Right.
TR — To one student I have to speak this way, and to another student
I have to speak another way. I have approaches which are more productive than
others, but only to a certain extent. I would never decide that a particular model
would produce a good artist. In the end, the students decide for themselves
how to be good artists because a school is about forming something that doesn’t
exist yet, something which the students themselves have to discover.
MAD — Now that you’ve been doing this for a while, do you think
that you’ve found certain ways to move in different directions with different people,
like a good starting point to foster a certain atmosphere?
TR — In my experience, the first thing you have to do with students
who are just beginning is destroy their expectations, this kitsch they enter art
school with. They’re coming in, saying, ‘I’ve made it, I know what I’m doing’
when most of what they know is a very clichéd idea about being an artist and what
an art school is and what they’re going to learn. So ‘learn’ becomes a very important
word for them to get used to. The first things you have to teach new students is
what the school can offer them, as well as what it can’t offer and what it shouldn’t
offer. You have to begin by destroying their idea of what the art school is.
MAD — Have you evolved this process of destruction?
TR — Usually after you destroy these ideas, you have to remake them,
or that’s what I try to do. I destroy a lot of things, but only what I find to be clichéd
ideas about artists’ lives, about art, about art school. At the same time you have to
help them to feel comfortable with these same ideas. It’s not as if you just hammer
at them and leave them to pick up the pieces themselves, because this is still a
school and it’s a protective space. I also try to help them to understand that they
can depend upon this protection for a couple of years. They can stay in bed if
they like, no problem. It’s their responsibility. However, if they choose to deal with
me, they also have to accept that I need to destroy certain things, and that I will
give my opinions. It’s quite a delicate process, in a way, to make them feel that
you like them and that you take them seriously. You have to be really hard to them
too, but this is also about how seriously you take them. If you just say, ‘Fuck off
… this is shit’ then it doesn’t work. In the end you have to make them understand
that they have to find out for themselves. They have a limited time that is given
by, I don’t know whom, to find out what it is that they’re really interested in. So it’s
very important that the students begin by at least shedding their pre-education
somehow, and the idea that they have to do certain things. They don’t have to
do certain things. They have to do what they really think is important and not what
they have been educated to think is important. I’m always saying, ‘You have to
surprise me. You have to go beyond what I am telling you. Otherwise you can only
reach my level and that’s not very interesting because you’re already there.’ If you’re
able to get rid of the kitsch you’re carrying around, then you almost automatically
get there. It could be super boring but at least it’s something else, and it’s your own.
MAD — When I was young I would paint, and I always knew that
I was painting what other people were painting. At some point you break through
a barrier to where you begin doing something which is yours, which can be
TR — Yes, that’s the hardest. It has a lot to do with being honest
with yourself, and I don’t mean it in an entertaining way; it’s quite difficult to be
honest. It’s not that the students shouldn’t have points of reference—they should,
which is another thing they have to learn. Many students think that in art school
they’re detached from the world. Though you do have to move away from it in
a certain sense, you shouldn’t lose touch with the existing system.
MAD — Are there any texts that you recommend for students when
they begin? For example, Walid Raad teaches at Cooper Union. He always begins
by giving his students Howard Singerman’s Art Subjects: Making Artists in the
American University. I think for him this can be a way of destroying the kitsch,
as you say. Do you have anything similar to this?
TR — I’ve never thought about it much. I have always begun with
the individual student. Some need to be destroyed by different means than others.
I also like to think about what somebody needs. I would find it a bit inappropriate
to be always using the same hammer, somehow, though it’s probably just a
question of character. I don’t think I would give a book to everybody; there’s
nothing like the personal discussion. There are so many ways to approach a thing,
but there are also so many ways to escape understanding for oneself what is there.
I think if you stand there and look at somebody’s face and explain something to
them, this just has a very different impact.
MAD — I was wondering about, say, showing the person in the desert
a Malevich painting or something like this.
TR — I think it would work very well, but it would give too much
direction, like a solution. Now that I think about it, maybe that would be something
that students would want: ‘So I read this book and now I understand. What is the
next book you’re giving me to make me an artist?’ I have the feeling that most
people are very shocked when I tell them, ‘Now you’re in the school, but you should
know that you can’t learn anything here, you’re aware of that?’ Then usually their
eyes get big and they don’t understand why they’re in a school where they can’t
MAD — How did you pick Staedelschule originally as a student?
TR — I was applying to Düsseldorf because I had learned that it was
the most famous school with Josef Beuys and blah, blah, blah. He wasn’t teaching
there any more, but it was a famous school, it was the biggest, and it’s still the
biggest art school and the most well-known. It was the first art academy in
Germany, I knew about that. I also knew about the University of the Arts in Berlin.
So I was applying for these two schools. But while skiing in France, I happened
to meet a girl from Frankfurt. So I moved here and called the city office to ask
if they have an art school here in Frankfurt. Then I applied and they took me.
It was pure luck because at that moment Staedelschule was completely changing.
When I arrived, Kaspar König also arrived, and a lot of new teachers arrived.
I think that, before this, it was one of the most horrible schools you could imagine.
So I was just lucky that all these people arrived and were kind of opening up the
whole thing, but I did it basically because of a love affair.
MAD — What’s the system? How were you accepted?
TR — There are a couple of ways to be accepted to the school but the
main way is by handing in a portfolio. Then all the teachers look at the portfolio,
along with five students.
MAD — Is this portfolio in a file somewhere now?
TR — My portfolio? Oh no, you get it back. (laughter) I think my
parents still have it somewhere in a cellar … I don’t know. There are usually
somewhere between two hundred and fifty and five hundred portfolios and then
you choose between fifty and fifteen people to invite for an interview. They still
go through this. I think parts are quite stupid, like there was a test in which
the applicant creates work on the spot, which I think had to do with wanting to
check whether somebody really made the portfolio themselves. We’ve changed it
a little bit already and we’re thinking about changing the whole system but the
interview is certainly the most important part.
MAD — Who interviewed you? Do you remember?
TR — I remember that Thomas Bayrle was on the committee.
At that time the system was still a little different because they had two committees
interviewing at the same time, so some people had to talk to this committee
and some people to the other. Now that I know who was in the other committee
and who they are, I’m almost certain that I wouldn’t have been accepted had I
met with the other committee.
MAD — Were you surprised when you got in?
TR — No, I was really sure that I would get in (laughs). My attitude
was, ‘I’m gonna go there and change everything.’ I had no idea what that meant.
I just thought, ‘I’m so different’, because I was so different from everyone else in
my village. I figured that I must be different from everyone else here as well.
MAD — Were you shocked to find you weren’t so different?
TR — No, I was quite different.
MAD — Really?
TR — Yeah, because somehow I had this idea, at least a very vague idea,
that it has to be about conflict, about developing something very different from
anything anyone else did. I was very much really longing for this conflict, somehow.
MAD — Was there a moment when you realised, ‘Oh, I’m at home now’,
or was it always something of a conflict?
TR — No, it was both at the same time.
MAD — And then after the first year you chose a teacher?
TR — Right. I had Thomas Bayrle as a teacher for my foundation
course, but since that was the last year the foundation existed, he got his own class
and I just stayed on with him.
MAD — How did you pick Thomas Bayrle?
TR — At the time I thought he was the most interesting. I stayed
with him for basically all five years that I was in the school. For me, he was the
most interesting teacher. Gerhard Richter was there for two years. He’s certainly
a fantastic artist, but I never had the feeling that he was a fantastic teacher.
Thomas Bayrle was always so awake, he was always so open to a lot
of things. He had people in the class who wrote text, he had people who dealt
with the computer in a way which was very uncommon in the late eighties. He had
painters, he had sculptors, he had everything, and he was quite open, and also
vague. Precise and vague at the same time—he could be very hard to understand.
When he speaks, he’s very metaphoric, so it was always a challenge to interpret
what he was talking about. You had to square it with your own interpretation.
MAD — And was he already doing group things then?
TR — Yes, group things mostly. We had a class meeting once a week
where we just discussed things. Mostly people’s work, but then other things as
well. I have to say, I’m now teaching like him a little bit, but not exactly like him,
of course. I find it’s always very productive to have open discussions in front of
the class. It’s also very helpful for the people who prefer to just listen. I’m also
doing these class critiques. If somebody insists upon having an individual
critique, I do that too, though not as often. Most of the time I’m trying to convince
people to present their work in front of everyone so it can be an open discussion.
MAD — Do you think many other students found it difficult to
work with Bayrle?
TR — A lot of people found it difficult because he wasn’t telling them
specifically what to do. He would see an object that looked like a plate and talk
about the autobahn or something. You really had to understand the way you
wanted to relate to his way of speaking. There were people who were frustrated
and left the class. He was not the kind of teacher who said, ‘You should make this
a little bit more like that’ and that’s fine. It was never about that. It was never about
having a catalogue of qualities. He was always trying to find reasons for qualities,
but at the same time asking if they are valuable and in what sense they are valuable.
Some people might have found it too soft. Just as he would never say, ‘This is
good because of exactly this’ or ‘You should also do this and then it’s good’, he
would also never say, ‘This is shit.’ He would also talk about the autobahn again.
I think this was frustrating for a lot of people, but for others it was extremely
MAD — If I understand correctly, he left for a year and then Martin
Kippenberger took over.
TR — The school has a system of guest professors which the students
can select themselves. He had a free semester—every seventh semester you take
one research semester. At the same time, as the whole school, we invited
Kippenberger and Ludger Gerdes, an artist from Munich who was very
theoretical. Gerdes would have his seminars and talk about Baudrillard and all that
kind of stuff. Kippenberger wasn’t taking over Bayrle’s class, he created his own
class. At the first meeting there were twenty-five people, then at the second there
were fifteen, and in the end there were eleven or twelve students, and then it
stayed like that. Kippenberger’s way of teaching was completely different again.
He would just constantly trash everything and tell you how stupid you are.
It was very difficult, he had this very strong presence. In the way he lived his life,
it was almost as if he wouldn’t allow any possibility for another role model to
survive next to him. It was very much like a sect. This was extremely counterproductive
for a lot of people because it was hard to think with your own head.
I would often catch myself wondering, ‘Why am I thinking like this? Because
that’s exactly how Martin would think about it.’ It was extremely difficult to keep
him from overlapping with your own identity, because he wouldn’t allow you to
think about things in a way that was different to his own.
MAD — How do you feel about this pressure now, in retrospect?
TR — If you survive, it’s good. I could give a couple of examples of
when it was just totally destructive. Many students just adopted his way of
thinking, and of course you could do that maybe once or twice, but you can’t just
be Kippenberger. Of course not. He wouldn’t accept anything other than his own
way of thinking. He would never say, ‘It could be like this, but it could also be
like that.’ It was always ‘like this’, nothing else. That’s how it was a little bit like
a sect. He would tell you something like ‘You should leave your girlfriend because
you’re an artist and you shouldn’t have one’, or something really related to your
personal life. Then he would insist upon that and be personally insulted if you
didn’t do it. I have to say I was always kind of accepted but I was always also
in a way the black sheep of the family. I think it changed in the last couple years
of his life when he wasn’t teaching as a job. He had moved to Frankfurt, just
around the corner from here. When his teaching job was finished, he would just
hang out with the same group and go on, because it was never just teaching.
It was not about the institution. Also, because he was someone for whom it was
very hard to be alone, because when you’re alone, I guess, you have to face yourself.
He was totally paranoid about self-doubt. He wouldn’t allow that—not from
himself and not from other people. He always had to have people around him.
MAD — Sounds slightly traumatic.
TR — Yeah, it was traumatic to a certain extent. I learned a lot from
him and it was extremely interesting. As a student, he encouraged you with very
interesting encounters. For example, as a student you were meeting museum
directors or gallery owners. He just dragged us all over the place for these openings
and we would meet a lot of artists and friends of his and just sit at a dinner table
with them and talk to them. It was extremely good for me.
MAD — Did he thrive on having these protégés?
TR — Totally. He was always—almost paradoxically—raving about
school. He was always saying what a stupid thing it is to have an art school, but
then when we would go to New York with him he would be super proud, almost
childishly proud, to present his students, and he is the professor. It was kind of a
paradox. He died when I had just stopped being a student and was starting to be an
artist. There are a lot of things I would have liked to talk to him about. Even shortly
after I left art school I already felt that the relationship had changed a bit, because
he would suddenly consider you to be an artist and not a student anymore.
MAD — Was it a good group of people? Did you have a good
chemistry? A lot of the time you find that so much depends upon a moment when
you have the right teachers or faculty and the right students; a chemistry that just
works. You can’t orchestrate that, it can just happen. Did you have that?
TR — The chemistry in between the classes, with the people I was
with … these people were quite good, we hung out almost every day. It was
interesting and it was exciting most of the time. We did funny things and stupid
things which other students wouldn’t have allowed themselves. We also allowed
ourselves a certain amount of arrogance. It was definitely a great time, but it had
this other side to it, a difficult side.
MAD — I think it always needs both.
TR — Right. Like with Kippenberger, in a way, it was much more about
himself than it was about us. He used us, and we wanted to be used because we
thought we could get something out it. And we got something out of it. For some
people it was productive and for others it was not. It was paternal, but in a very
conservative way. He was the father, and you don’t question the father. It was
complex. I can’t say that he didn’t take care of us. He made a lot of things possible
for us. We would go to Vienna for his show, and if somebody didn’t have the money
to come along he would help him out—not because he wanted this guy to go,
he just wanted everybody there. It was also kind of an ego thing for him, in a way.
MAD — How much time did you spend away from Staedelschule
between when you were a student and when you began teaching?
TR — About ten years … nine years.
MAD — That’s a long time. Were you excited to return to the place
where you studied?
TR — It was funny because I had offers from other schools and I
was thinking, ‘Should I do it or not?’ I was asked a couple of times to teach here,
but I didn’t feel good about it because there were too many of my friends
—some of whom were still in the school.
Then when Daniel Birnbaum asked me to do it, it was the right time
because I had been considering taking a teaching job anyway. I realised that I
enjoyed it from having done a guest professorship in Munich and a couple other
smaller and bigger workshop things. When Daniel asked me, it was so convenient.
If I want to teach, it makes the most sense to do it here in Frankfurt. I liked how
it was just around the corner so I could go in my pyjamas. It was exciting, yes,
but I was also a little bit doubtful, feeling a bit like someone who’s married to the
school. But then, after a while, I realised that it wasn’t a problem. I’m involved,
but it’s not something I think about every day. I think I can handle it quite well.
I still have enough distance and it doesn’t disturb my work at all. I have to say
that I really enjoy working with the students, which is mostly because the students
I have are really interesting. I also liked the way Daniel wanted to run things.
MAD — Did many other people come in at this time, like you?
TR — Daniel was the first, and then I think Michael Krebber and
Isabelle Graw and myself, then Wolfgang Tillmans, and then Simon Starling,
and then Mark Leckey. There was a great deal of change happening automatically
because contracts were running out. Some of the teachers were getting old
enough to retire and Daniel just started bringing in a new generation, and of
course a bit of a different attitude. I guess this was also part of the reason he took
the job—because he saw that he could rebuild the school in a slightly different
way. He was an art critic and philosopher, and he was also curating shows a bit
and had run an institution before. Kaspar had been working in a university
before, in Canada. He was also a curator. I think, after the experience with
Kaspar, which was very positive, we wanted the director of the school not to be
an artist, but to be somebody who is extremely related to it. I think it’s very good
again with Daniel, I have to say.
MAD — How much time do you have to be at the school?
TR — You mean in the contract, so to speak? For me it’s different
than it is for other teachers because I live in Frankfurt. I have a more or less regular
class meeting every two weeks. Sometimes I do it every week. Sometimes there
will be three weeks in between. It’s not completely regular.
MAD — So, being in Frankfurt, you probably have a more intimate
relationship with your students.
TR — That’s true. You don’t always teach in the classroom.
Suddenly you meet four students in a bar and you start talking, and talking is
also teaching. Then sometimes people come to my studio. It’s not that I’m always
available for them, but it’s easier than it is for teachers who live in other places.
Sometimes I go with them to see a football match, not with the whole class,
but maybe three or four students. I like this family structure. It makes it easier
for them to understand that if you’re very hard on them it’s not because you
want to insult them or that you don’t care. It’s quite nice.
MAD — So is there anything totally horrible about the school?
TR — Something horrible about the school? We don’t have
MAD — Or maybe something you find difficult.
TR — I understand, but it’s hard … I never thought much about it.
Tell me something which you think is difficult, or possibly negative about the
school, just from what you know about it.
MAD — I think—as an outsider—that it could perpetuate the dated
master-pupil system a bit. Do you think this is the case?
TR — Yeah, I can see what you mean, but I don’t have the feeling
that it’s so true in general. It might be a little problematic in some classes.
If I compare it to a school like Düsseldorf, which has basically the same system
of master-pupil, with one professor who is really the master—or the god,
we do have that system, but I don’t think that this is what we’re really presenting
in the end. It’s also just that the Staedelschule is so small. The students all know
each other and they always talk to each other about what’s happening in each
other’s classes and how it is, and ‘Why does your teacher always say this?’ and
‘Why does your teacher never criticise?’ and so on. The general atmosphere
in the school is totally not about this ‘master’ thing.
Honestly, for me it’s hard to imagine how to make a better school
than this one.