C Magazine


Issue 131

Art School Supplement
by Michelle Bigold, Esmé Hogeveen, and Rupert Nuttle

At its best, education forms collectivities – many fleeting collectivities that ebb and flow, converge and fall apart. These are small ontological communities propelled by desire and curiosity, cemented together by the kind of empowerment that comes from intellectual challenge.1
The progressing education movement was driven by hope that broader access to liberal arts education would create a more just society. Originated in the ate 1800s by a group of thinkers that included John Dewey and Cecil Reddie, the movement gained momentum in the early 20th century and crested in the late 1960s. It was thought that a curriculum that encouraged students to move freely between disciplines, and use their ideas to critique the established social order, would produce thoughtful, well-rounded and engaged citizens. But the ’80s and ’90s reversed that narrative, making higher education the mark of the élite and career-oriented. The dream of social progress was replaced with one of economic growth.

Today’s prospective students are told that post-secondary degree will reward them with a good job and good pay. Yet, for many, university is still prohibitively expensive. The majority of students are required to take out loans, which are seen as “investments” in their future employability. But, over the last decade and a half, there has been a decline in gainfully employed grabs, and a comparative drop in their average wages: a growing number find it impossible to make good on their investments.2 In the USA, where tuitions are exorbitantly high (and rising), “the payoff from many [university] programs – as much as one in four – is actually negative. Incredibly, the schools seem to add nothing to the market value of the students.”3

The expectation that schools should add “market value” to their students puts a dangerous pressure on liberal arts universities. Instead of cultivating students’ critical faculties and social awareness, as was the ideal of the 1960s, recent curriculum changes have favoured marketable skillsets and predictable outcomes. In the context of art schools, this shift is especially problematic; no art school was founded to create high-paying jobs; no critical theory department was intended to produce “skilled workers” for a “high-tech economy.” But as arts programs increasingly remodel themselves to that end, the space for rigourous inquiry and collective imagining gets cut.

As a result, artists and educators are taking it upon themselves to recreate that space, by forming “collectivities” of the sort that professor and curator Irit Rogoff describes. Here, we’ve compiled a partial list of such experiments operating today. In our selections, we favoured the “low-key, uncategorizable, [and] unheroic.”4 These projects are nomadic and unfixed; they shift and evolve. Most are free, or operate through alternative currencies. They don’t aspire to grant degrees, and eschew student–teacher hierarchies. Indeed, these roles become interchangeable, as both traverse common speculative grounds in the shared pursuit of knowledge not yet defined.
- Rupert Nuttle
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Location: Queen Alexandra Elementary School, Vancouver
Founded: 2015
Tuition: free
Eligibility: students, teachers and staff of Queen Alexandra Elementary School
Borrowing its name from the comic-utopian folk song about peppermint trees, lemonade springs and soda-water fountains, Big Rock Candy Mountain creates a “post-proportionate”world where adult rationality doesn’t define the limits of what is possible. It was initiated by artists Hannah Jickling and Helen Reed as an artistic intervention in the bizarre environment of the public school. In the words of its founders, “BRCM inhabits camp sensibility, loses control and skirts a direct relationship to education.” They regard the elementary school as an available (factory) form, and work with students to produce edible editions, strange conversations and installations on school grounds. An aesthetic and pedagogical exchange across the adult–kid divide, BRCM encourages schoolkids to consider questions of economy, labour and taste-as-power by “riding the coattails of candy.” BRCM is curated by Vanessa Kwan and produced by Other Sights for Artists’ Projects.
Vancouver Institute for Social Research
Location: Or Gallery, Vancouver
Founded: 2013
Tuition: free
Eligibility: open
“We started VISR with a view to making a roughly graduate-level critical theory education available and accessible to the general public in a city where non-corporate space is quickly evaporating,” say Dan Adleman and Am Johal, the founders of the Vancouver Institute for Social Research. They call it a “para-academic” free school, staking out a distinct model that’s on par with the “corporate universities” from which they stand apart. Students meet every Monday night to hear lectures by local and visiting experts and professors on topics such as “The Neo Liberal Personality and the Politics of Disgust” and “Rage Against Empire: Resentment, Reconciliation and Indigenous Decolonization in Canada.” Classes are divided into themed terms of 7–9 weeks and are open to anyone who wishes to attend.
Radical Imagination Gymnasium
Location: Port City Gallery, Portland
Founded: 2014
Tuition: free
Eligibility: open
“The radical imagination is not merely about thinking differently, but rather the unorthodox process of thinking together,” suggest the founders of the Radical Imagination Gymnasium. Their project started with research into the contemporary politics of imagination, and grew from a belief that the imagination should be used to envision better ways of living together, not as an instrument of capitalism. A riff on the word “gymnasium” – which can refer to both a place of learning and a place for exercise – the goal of the Radical Imagination Gymnasium is “to strengthen, flex and stretch the muscles of the radical imagination” through workshops, readings, interviews and art-making. Imagination “workouts” have included public workshops about the connection between science fiction and social justice, theatre exercises that demechanize the body and yoga classes that embody balance and collective change.
Your Own Grad School
Location: Canadian artist-run centres
Founded: 2008
Tuition: varied
Eligibility: artists
“A PhD in studio practice is a highly questionable program …even its existence provokes fundamental issues about art education,” say Cliff Eyland and Jeanne Randolph, the facilitators of Your Own Grad School. Their project began as a series of performances at the University of Manitoba School of Art that analyzed the pragmatic and ethical dimensions of post-graduate studio programs. It now exists through partnerships with Canadian artist-run centres, which select local artists to use their galleries as shared studio space for a month. At the end of each session, participants “drink beer and sit around in the gallery focusing on what it means to evolve as an artist, and what factors hinder or enhance that evolution.” The artists are each awarded a failing grade and granted a diploma emblazoned with the school’s motto: “Your Own Grad School – Art is a Life and Death Hobby.” Past sessions have been hosted by Modern Fuel in Kingston, Ontario and Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The next session will be held in 2017 at Library Gallery, Winnipeg.
Wood Land School
Location: unfixed
Founded: 2011
Tuition: free/varied
Eligibility: open
The Wood Land School emerged from founder Duane Linklater’s interest in the Indigenous artists of Northern Ontario from the 1970s, whose work engaged both contemporary and ancient Indigenous art forms. The school began as a small art exhibition on the Nipissing First Nation, in a studio space above the Necessities convenience store just off Highway 17. It has since grown to include residencies, seminars, film screenings, readings and discursive happenings in numerous spaces across Canada. “Each iteration of Wood Land School carries forth with it a commitment to address the lack of structural inclusion [of Indigenous people], both historically and in the now, in a multiplicity of institutional spaces,” says Linklater. “This activation and investigation of space is an ongoing and never-ending task that must be portable, because walls should not obstruct the circulation or behaviour of ideas.” The school’s most recent iteration, Wood Land School: Thunderbird Woman, took place in Winnipeg this summer. A book of Indigenous art criticism is forthcoming, titled Wood Land School: Critical Anthology.
River School
Location: Kagawong River, Manitoulin Island
Founded: 2015
Tuition: $20–$75
Eligibility: open
River School is a site-specific, “river-based” program that investigates the relationship between art-making and the natural environment. A response to the institutional separations of art and science, body and place, it teaches participants about river ecology through a range of land-based, sensory and relational methodologies. The program includes half-day, full-day and week-long programs, with separate activities for adults and children. Kids plant trees, examine invertebrates with microscopes and build clay sculptures, while adults go on canoe trips, medicine walks and engage with local histories. The school is affiliated with the Northern Ontario Institute for Land and Landscape Studies, a group of researchers and artists who explore the connections between land-based art and the cultural, environmental and economic sustainability of the region.
Location: various locations in Toronto
Founded: 2014
Tuition: free
Eligibility: open
SCHOOL was founded on the idea that people in the arts rely heavily on theory, both as a vocabulary base and for generating ideas. Initiated by Jonathan Adjemian and Xenia Benivolski, the project seeks to provide Toronto-area artists with the kind of rigourous, doctoral-level study that they might otherwise not be able to access. The four-week sessions are oriented thematically and accompanied by assigned reading lists. Past sessions have included: “We Are a Knot of Relations: Embodiment and Ethics,” a course on phenomenology taught by the dancer Niomi Anna Cherney; and “Eating Bodies: Towards a Consummate Consumption,” a course led by Leila Timmins and cheyanne turions, which examined the political, historical and social dimensions of food. SCHOOL moves nomadically between cultural spaces in Toronto. Classes have been held at Videofag, 8-11, Erin Stump Projects and the Museum of Contemporary Art_ Toronto _Canada (formerly MOCCA). Upcoming sessions will delve into automation, ethnomusicology and memory aesthetics.
Hamilton Perambulatory Unit
Location: unfixed
Founded: 2014
Tuition: free
Eligibility: open
The Hamilton Perambulatory Unit explores the pedagogical properties of walking. It is directed by a group of artists, writers and educators based in Hamilton, Ontario, whose perambulations are guided by texts, artistic notions and philosophical ideas. Their participatory workshops hybridize public pedagogy and relational art, placing an emphasis on the inter-relationships of people and environments. The HPU has developed a technique called the “Strata-Walk,” which uses stratigraphy as a metaphor for the layers of meaning that exist in the external world. Observable strata are divided into categories such as: Architectural Strata, Non-human Animals Strata, Shiny Strata, Olfactory Strata, Pre-urban Strata and Speculative Strata, among others. The HPU has led walks all over Southern Ontario, in Quebec and internationally. They have partnered with the Articule artist-run centre in Montreal, and were residents at WalkingLab in Toronto this summer.
School of Making Thinking
Location: Catskill Mountains and New York City, New York
Founded: 2010
Tuition: $175–$600 (depending on program)
Eligibility: Anyone over the age of 18
“Creating alternative learning spaces is, for us, a form of activism,” reads the website of the School of Making Thinking. Founded on a 10-acre farm in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, the school attracts a diversity of students, including dancers, filmmakers, poets and botanists. Its founding philosophy emphasizes the value of bringing creative minds together in a secluded natural environment, with the purpose of fostering not only social critique and pedagogical experiment, but also experiments in communal living. The School of Making Thinking has offered summer residencies at its Catskills location, and week-long hikes through the surrounding wilderness. Last spring, the school instituted several courses at the Abrons Arts Center in New York City, which focused on topics like “Sci-Art: The Art–Science Continuum,” and “Experimental Nonfiction: The Self as Writing and Performance.” These classes cost $200 and last just under two months.
Trade School
Location: worldwide network
Founded: 2010
Tuition: barter-based
Eligibility: open
Trade School began as a small group of friends living in New York City who gave each other things they needed in exchange for hands-on learning. It has since become a global phenomenon, with over 20,000 students attending more than 50 Trade Schools worldwide. Chapters are as far-flung as Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Pietermaritzburg (South Africa) and San Juan Del Sur (Nicaragua), with courses in each locale covering a dynamic array of local, global, and personal expertise. In Quito, Ecuador, for instance, you can trade one kilogram of beans for a class in experimental photography. Other classes include: “The Body’s Ability to Heal Itself Through the Skull” (Athens), “Creating a Power Work Wardrobe on a Budget” (Port of Spain), and “Cupcake Icing – Basics” (York). A local Trade School can be formed by anyone, anywhere, using the step-by-step guide found at tradeschool.coop.
Anhoek School
Location: unfixed
Founded: 2009
Tuition: barter-based
Eligibility: woman-identified participants
Until 2013, Anhoek school was a nomadic school for woman-identified students. Courses triangulated aesthetics, politics and theory, Students interfaced directly with the public, circulating their coursework in the form of pamphlets, zines, broadsheets, podcasts and park-side manifestos. Early classes and tutorials included: “The Mutinous Classroom: Outlaws with Books” (New York, 2009); “Stealing Horses: The Invention of Possession” (Marfa, 2009); and “Radical Citizenship: The Tutorials” (San Francisco and New York, 2010). Beginning in 2011, Anhoek shifted away from the classroom, forming offshoots such as feminist pirate radio station, and Scantron exams administered on subjects such as “Beautiful Economy” and “The Feminine Mark.” Recently, the project (Doggy) Mouth of (Doggy) Truth: Language Lab, installed in Brooklyn, explored human/canine interfaces in “a generative commentary on the impossibility of radical education under oppressive, racist, or sexist circumstances.”
The Gonzago Institute
Location: The Khyber Centre for the Art, Halifax
Founded: 2016
Tuition: free
Eligibility: Residents of the Halifax area aged 19-35
Developed by NSCAD professor Craig Leonard, The Gonzago Institute operates entirely outside of the university, offering a three-month, tuition-free certificate program in which students explore concepts of “Practice, Theory and Community.” The Institute’s first iteration was held between January and March of this year, and was housed in The Khyber Centre for the Arts, an artist-run centre in Halifax. A handful of participants, including artists, writers and musicians, met on a weekly basis for group discussion, action and critique. The Gonzago Institute will return to the Khyber Centre in 2017 and its activities and conversations will be documented in a forthcoming publication.
The Silent University
Locations: London, Stockholm, Athens, Hamburg, Mülheim/Ruhr, Amman
Founded: 2012
Tuition: exchange of knowledge and skills
Eligibility: open
The Silent University is a knowledge-exchange platform for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who have had academic training in their home countries but who cannot share their knowledge due to their residency status in their adopted countries. Its members advocate for a “transversal pedagogy” that exists outside established academia, and defies the restrictions of border politics, migration laws and other juridical obstacles. The university was first founded in London by the Turkish artist Ahmet Ögüt, in collaboration with the Tate Modern and the Delfina Foundation. Subsequent branches have been established internationally, through partnerships with local organizations. Lectures include: “A comparison of Sharia laws and the Swedish political system,” and “What children (in migrant families) need for their psychosocial development.” A comprehensive survey of The Silent University’s activities was published by Sternberg Press in June, 2016.
Michelle Bigold, Esme Hogeveen and Rupert Nuttle are Editorial Interns at C Magazine.