Writing an abstract for the Hollo Institute spring seminar, emailing with Kristina Junttila concerning an upcoming trip to Tromsø (a horse performance is in the making!), stressing over the Kontula Electronic gig and making neurotic/pointless edits to the SOW: Blacksmith ed.1 sound pack text descriptions/webpage (while waiting for Frederic to confirm that the clips have been accepted to freesound.org).
Discussing the politics of art education: Pedagogical Paradigms: Documenta’s Reinvention (2010) by Denise Frimer.
With the question ‘What is to be done?’ the artistic directors of Documenta 12 (2007), Roger Buergel and Ruth Noack, launched the exhibition’s investigation of the complexities of globalization and the neo-liberal agenda that is privatizing institutional education and culture. The curators understood the potential of ‘education’ and ‘art’ as mediated forms for the production of collective knowledge and political practice. But what implications are being made if these polar disciplines are forming relationships in other spaces? What forms pedagogical practice when applied as ‘edutainment’ in contemporary art mega-exhibitions such as in the Documenta X, 11 and projects? […] Common rituals of pedagogy, characterized by critical learning and innovation, are appropriated in socially engaged exhibitions and intersect to blur the line between education and art.
This convergence of art and education exemplifies a shift in the nature of the academy and art. ‘New Institutional’ practice, a curatorial trend developed in the late 1990s as ‘part community centre, part laboratory and part academy,’ as artist-curator Jonas Ekeberg defined it, demonstrates a paradigmatic shift in the institution of education since the mid 1950s away from the dominant orthodoxies of the educational establishment.
Both vices, the dogmatic tendency of the academy and the commodification of the object, have become embedded within the institutional body of contemporary art.
Artists and curators who displayed leading radical tendencies in the 60s and 70s, such as [Harald] Szeemann and Joseph Beuys, were influenced by the early ‘street events’ of George Maciunas and his convictions against formalist aesthetics; they were determined to subvert the museum framework and its ideologies of establishment.
[…] Szeemann’s exhibition would shift the theme to visual perception based on a mutual correlation of the artworks. In 1972 Szeemann said ‘the work of art can be experienced in various ways: as information, for its connections, or as the way to a more concentrated statement.’
Paulo Freire, a key educator and theorist of critical pedagogy, who was writing contemporaneously with Szeemann’s preparations for Documenta 5. In his key text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Freire questions the ‘banking’ idea of education, a model conditioned by teachers who deposit information into students to produce knowledgeable subjects under a system based on social hierarchy. […] Education, in this instance, becomes a more participatory practice, activating the invisible and imaginary in education and furthermore, the unfamiliar. This non-formal model of educational practice, one could argue, was best exemplified in Szeemann’s Documenta 5, thematically devised as it was on individual mythologies which presented alternative discursive frameworks.
Critic Hans-Joachim Müller states that Szeemann’s Documenta had completely ‘unmasked the rituals’ of art by refraining from the aestheticization of the art object in favour of directly addressing the moral consciousness of the audience – that is, by evoking a spontaneous criticality within art qua social practice.
Since the beginning of his career in the 1960s, [Joseph] Beuys’ artistic production followed a ‘parallel process’ of education and artistic performance. His version of an academy was founded in his epic Office for Direct Democracy (1971), staged at Documenta 5, where, independently from the institution, he held discussions on important issues such as the environment, politics and education, as well as alternative models for schools.
For Beuys, the museum was another state-operated educational institution from which he could practice and expand on the traditional notions of an academy, but split from the existing academic standards. This marrying of aesthetic production and pedagogy would invent new social structures outside the institutional boundaries and challenge conventional practices in education. […] Beuys worked against any pedagogical model and any theoretical basis for his performance teaching. He continued to believe that the foundations of the world economy, law and culture were about training, education and research based on a model of what he claimed ‘an information site’ for all people, and actively sought to create a social experience in which the relationships between student and teacher would collapse. His method was one of fusing aesthetics with socio-political debates, in order to create an emancipatory pedagogy, by making education become more visible through performance.
Szeemann, who respected Beuys’ model of teaching, presented open-ended performances in his exhibition format. The event-based Documenta 5 would therefore help the curator attempt to break with institutional conventions between art and its representations.
In 1997, Documenta X presented a model of critical pedagogy based on an interdisciplinary apparatus, and the curator’s concept of a retrospective exhibition.
While the first Documenta proposed to reclaim the spirit of avant-garde history, it also strategically repressed the entrenched memory of war and the Nazi ruling period.
The curator Catherine David’s opening lines in her first research issue of documents, questions: ‘can an exhibition like Documenta – somewhere between an experimental space and an arts bazaar – propose a model capable of confronting the complexity of aesthetic experience today?’ […] David is clearly preoccupied in her Documenta with resisting the commodification of art and western culture, which, as I noted above, had permeated all aspects of aesthetic production and the art museums by the late 1990s.
The parallel processes of art and education practiced by Beuys are echoed in David’s politically charged program, only her event is based on an intellectual platform, inviting experts in the fields of interdisciplinary arts to perform for 100 days. David’s political approach as a traditional model of education, in conjunction with [Arnold] Bode’s deliberate social approach in his early organization of Documenta, marked what education philosopher John Dewey in 1916 described as the ‘social function’ of education.
In 2002, Documenta presented a model of high critical pedagogy based on a radical de-centralisation and de-culturalisation of the established institution. […] Hirschhorn’s Bataille Monument, dedicated to the French writer Georges Bataille, was paradoxical from the early planning stages. […] The monument was installed in a working-class African-Turkish neighbourhood outside the main Documenta sites of Kassel. […] Hirschhorn worked with a group of residents comprising youths and adults from the housing complex taking two months to build the monument. The monument was a makeshift building of wood shacks, a snack bar, a library, a Bataille exhibition with explicit graphic material, a TV studio and a wooden sculpture in the shape of a tree.
Interestingly, Hirschhorn deliberately kept Documenta tourists away from visiting the art monument – thus preventing what he calls the ‘zoo effect’, which Claire Bishop has described as an established Other viewed from the outside.
Beuys and Hirschhorn, both actors in their social stagings, created independent pedagogical models within the framework of the Documenta exhibition. Beuys on the grounds of the museum and Hirschhorn outside, both sought out their audience and relied on non-professional participants to multiply the educational experience and change the social fabric.
The application or access to intelligence and knowledge is more a matter of desire and learning than an act of will, and training and strengthening of this will. In other words, learning is about emancipation, at least when it occurs within a progressive universal teaching method. [Jacques] Rancière writes: ‘This device allowed the jumbled categories of the pedagogical act to be sorted out, and explicative stultification to be precisely defined. There is stultification whenever one intelligence is subordinated to another.’.
Documenta X and 11 similarly adopted the form of a conventional model of pedagogy but with important political issues on their agendas.
As we have seen, the Documenta project emerges as an educational venture by way of an experiment in the mid 1950’s, when it embraced a universalism and utopian belief in the museum as an educational force, yet while betraying a historical amnesia in its search for a future social reconstruction. […] Conservative dominant institutions allowed pedagogical practices to move to external and open spaces of the ‘everyday’, as in Documenta 5’s move away from historical concerns to more contemporary economic, social, and political concerns.
In Radical Philosophy’s contribution to the Magazines Project, Peter Osborne acknowledges Documenta at the ‘forefront … of international contemporary art, but also of institutional reflection upon its intellectual, cultural and political functions.’ Simultaneously, Radical Philosophy questioned the cultural legitimacy of such educational initiatives, suggesting that they represent an act of instrumentalization by such large-scale exhibitions, as in any University.
Such instrumentalization, including the pulled back funding from universities and the arts, has “con-demmed [students] to the bleakest of futures”40 in the context of education in the UK and elsewhere. While public education is in a continuous battle of privatization by neoliberal government bodies, whereby only the wealthy will become empowered by a glorified education, we might consider alternative models such as the Documenta and other biennial exhibitions for creating more productive possibilities in education. These alternative institutions and the artists who exhibit in them, albeit on very different levels, inevitably become subject to some degree, to the demands of capitalism. Still, in spite of this, what is practiced in these alternate spaces, is exactly what the government has foreclosed in many universities and higher education in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences: a platform for critical thinking and social mobility for all people.