Demands on Education: Things, We’ve Learned …

Editor’s Note: Last summer, I met the artist Eva Egermann in Vienna. She was a key organizer of the 2009 occupations of the Academy of Fine Arts. The occupations there were contemporaneous with a broad wave of occupations in Europe, occupations at The New School in NYC and the first wave of occupations across the University of California system. In the piece below, Eva and Elke Krasny discuss the ongoing struggle initiated by the occupations, with a particular focus on duration. Their exhibition 2 or 3 Things, we’ve learned explored, “by way of a subjective collection and discursive as well as performative interventions, the demands that art, education and social movements make on each other. The central issues are those of space, image and collectivity. The search is focused on the eruptive moments and the consequences of ongoing interventions and change over a long period of time, as well as changes and interventions that last.” – MW

EVA EGERMANN AND ELKE KRASNY IN CONVERSATION:

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In our discussions the connections were always key. We talked about connectivities, but also about conflicts and contradictions between the fields of art, of education and of movements of protest. Herewith we refer on one hand to the protest movements at universities in Austria and in Europe during the 2009 winter term and thereafter, but also movements making demands on other forms of education. Our research is a collaborative journey along these sometimes conflicting yet connecting lines. Institutions of teaching and learning can be seen as spaces of possible change, as soon as one starts to reflect, to desire and to demand things from an intervening and activist’s point of view.

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We were interested in projects and discourses actively dealing with the educational system, offering educational criticism or intervening into mainstream educational contexts. What approaches can be found, offering a different reflection upon education or proposing educational alternatives and self-organization? Which projects cover the topics of teaching and learning? In addition to these issues, the criticism by the protest movements and the eruptive moments created during the universities’ occupation became important. These situations created a potentiality, an extraordinary situation where other ways of learning were possible.

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An impressive collective agency was manifested. On one side, there were demonstrations. For example 50,000 people demonstrated on one evening and 40 universities all over Europe were occupied. On the other hand, normality returned quickly. How could we create another kind of permanence, another kind of lasting moment, out of such intense political activity, collectivity and discussion? How can we translate these eruptive learning activities and shifts into long-lasting, permanently altered circumstances? The title of the exhibition project should therefore not be understood in the sense of a lesson, but in the sense of a discussion on the intersection of artistic production, critical pedagogy and the protest movement.

After the politicization that students and tutors experienced through protests, there were also self-critical moments: What have we really changed? What has remained? Just a few things changed. It was a moment to pause and reflect, an interim time to take stock, reflecting other extraordinary situations ranging from the recent strike to former protest movements.

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The project pursues the perspective of protest and functions as a kind of collection in multifold ways. The exhibition space becomes a place where objects, artifacts, photographs, videos, processes, workshops and discussions meet. Artworks confront contradictions in the debate. On the one hand, this will open up space for confrontation, and on the other it will create a collection, which documents the artistic projects and the processes of educational critique.

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This subjective collection is not an archive in the classical sense, or a finalized documentation, but an (educational) method. It is a gathering of collective experiences. The question of what a collective could be or how collectivity could be organized expresses itself as an unresolved desire. The exhibition format we are creating is again a space, where collectivities meet each other: on one side through collected things, through works of art and artefacts, on the other side through different positions. In the documents, magazines and materials of AG Hexenpower, Art Work, of the seminar Zwischen Kunst & Bildung of the Free Class Frankfurt, Rosa Kerosene, of Manoa Free University, Meine Akademie, W…WirWissen, the School for Non-productive Learning, of rum 68 or <reformpause> long-lasting debates within art as a form of educational criticism become traceable.

Figures 14.1 and 14.2: 2 or 3 Things, we’ve learned. Intersections of Art, Pedagogy and Protest, storefront with wall-newspaper. IG Bildende Kunst Gallery Vienna, 2010 (photos: Eva Egermann)

The spatial intervention of Julia Wieger is working with reproductions of this collected material on black and white posters on the façade of the IG Bildende Kunst building. This creates an expansion of the exhibition space into the street and the collection is made public/accessible in the most literal sense. The façade becomes a wall newspaper. Citations chosen from the archive material are presented in new neighborhoods and contexts.

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The various thematic lines within the exhibition can be described as following. First: the fundamental connection between the fields of education and art as well as interferences, interventions and transfers between them. The project Hidden Curriculum, for example, deals with hidden curricula in educational institutions. The term ›hidden curriculum‹ refers to rituals and habitually practiced patterns, rules and norms, which are conveyed as the hidden agenda in schools and universities. In collaboration with students from three different schools, Anette Krauss asked about these practiced patterns.

The field of art is also a system with coded patterns, manners and rituals, comparable to a socialization process. Rainer Ganahl uses art spaces to organize reading circles within. Texts written by Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Fanon are read collectively in the White Cube, in a gallery or in a limousine during an Art Fair. Which role does the respective context play for the reading and how are collectivities and situations created?

H.arta Group (Maria Crista, Anca Gyemant and Rodica Tache) situate their work in the contexts of processes of the civil society, spatial formations, different publics, conception of history and gender relations. The ›transitionality‹ marking Romanian everyday life becomes the initiating moment to create other escape routes in history and other educational concepts.

H.arta Group drafted an alternative schoolbook for art classes, which defines the starting points for teaching art in a completely new way.

Sofia Olascoaga works in various contexts and is part of the School of Panamerican Unrest. She is dealing practically and theoretically with contexts of experimental pedagogy and artistic practice in Mexico. One reason for the critical debate with the connections of artistic strategies and alternative education methods is the reduction of resources for public education in Mexico. Another motivation is the interest in alternative educational history with historical references to collectivity and collaboration, artist groups like Proceso Pentagono, No-Grupo, Grupo Suma or TAI Art and Ideology Workshop.

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The second thematic line leads to works of art, but also to material, dealing with educational protest movements in the past. What were the historical 

struggles for education, their discourses in other times and in other places? What did people learn and un-learn from this and what could we build on today—how could we apply the knowledge of former struggles—in the sense of a genealogical practice—to present debates and arguments? The projects pose the question: whose history is documented and whose is not? What will remain? We want to examine other historical processes, amd show the continuity and discontinuity of protest movements. A broken continuity that is leaving traces…

In her work, Heidrun Holzfeind interviews activists in Mexico, who occupied the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) in 1968. The former students of the University of Mexico drafted a programme against the prevailing forms of repression and called for strikes and occupation. In interviews, they point out the importance of this movement for Mexican society, politics and culture. Sabine Bitter/Helmut Weber examined the archive material at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver from the 1960s. In their series Events Are Always Original they demonstrate, through photographs taken one day after the end of the protests, that these documents can also be perceived as an archive of tracing movements—as an archive of the traces of a production of space in the sense of Lefebvre. The archival materials were the material basis for a change in the contemporary perspective. On one hand they were looked at from a contemporary perspective and their meaning for us today. On the other hand, which is equally important, the materials were also re-read and used to reveal the traces of the production of protest from an emancipatory perspective. Originally these photographs had been taken in order to comply with the necessities of insurance and damage assessment. The contemporary reading in the work of Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber constitutes an intervention into the archived representation turning the representational logic of the assessment of damage into a representational logic of the assessment of empowerment, change and the traces of the production of another possible space within the university.

Marion von Osten and students and tutors of the University of Lüneburg researched within their project <reformpause> the history of educational reforms from the 1960s to today, and the tradition of criticism within university spaces. The research resulted in posters and a newspaper discussing how universities should be reformed and on what kind of historical traditions this argumentation is founded. These materials were included in the exhibition; copies of the newspaper were made available for the visitors to take home with them. Madeleine Bernstorff presents the screening En Rachachant by Daniele Huillet/Jean-Marie Straub based on the narrative Oh! Ernesto by Marguérite Duras. The relation between classroom, pupil, mother and teacher is shifting. Marijan Crtalic examines the present meaning, reception and presence of sculptures, which were made in the workers’ settlement of the Croatian steel factory Sisak in the context of a factory-run educational programme. The processes, which Crtalic documents artfully, bear witness upon a period of over 40 years of the making of these educational sculptures.

Cecila Wendt and Emma Hedditch rediscovered a forgotten document of a self-organized situation establishing an alternative form of learning. They came across the Free Women’s University Project that was founded in Italy in the 1970s. It was documented cinematically by Adriana Monti and photographically and in text form by Paolo Melchiori. The desire for learning broke every time limit and spread from the metal workers and chemical workers to the housewives and the unemployed: Scuola senza Fine/school without end From the initial 150 Hours of Courses emerged the Free Women’s University.

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Compared to these historical and documentary works other projects operate in a fictional or half-fictional/docu-fictional form. This is the third thematic line.

The O.T.K. Crumpers dancers, depicted in the drawings of Petja Dimitrova, demand non-violent education and self-determination and connect post-colonial theories with the practice of a critical, non-hegemonic form of image-production, but also the specific local reference to Vienna- Ottakring. The Factory of Escape by the Copenhagen Free University criticizes a neoliberal educational machine through the production of images as a visual and spatial strike. By connecting theory and performance, Dolce & Afghaner interact, react and intervene into real situations of demonstrations or occupation of spaces and create new fictional situations with real criticism and real demands within these exceptional situations of protest.

Fourth, we come to the question: What are the promising, alternative forms of education/learning? How can eruptive protest and learning activities, with regard to their settings, be transformed into changed relations? How can the disturbance within thinking be used for movement to facilitate collective involvements that last? What could queer education be?

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During the Anti-Bologna-Summit at the Vienna Unicampus in March 2010, we participated in a workshop, dealing with feminist/queer demands on education and the sexism within the educational protest movement. This was organized by students (some from the group Kollektive Involviertheiten/ Collective Involvements).

Following the stories on the spaces and the speaking positions within the occupation, we got the impression that gender egalitarianism is still not to be taken for granted in the context of educational situations. The history of feminist movements is one of discontinuity. The creation of continuities, spaces and interventions — or, for example, Women’s Movement for Everybody is a practice of the group Collective Involvements (Moslam, Pfingstl, Wagner, Weissman, Schasiepen), who discuss, practice, improvise and work on queer-feminist education concepts in collaboration with the Büro für fremde Angelegenheiten, Vipfek und Schwere Schwestern in the context of the exhibtion. Treat me right! was a party performance at Marea Alta which took place in conjunction with the exhibition.

Figures 14.3 and 14.4: 2 or 3 Things, we’ve learned. Intersections of Art, Pedagogy and Protest, inside the project space. IG Bildende Kunst Gallery Vienna, 2010 (photos by Eva Egermann)

Share a skill step by step is the instruction for the event Show & Tell, which was hosted by Marthe Van Dessel. The pedagogical format of Show & Tell was turned into a collective production of learning from each other. Katharina Strubers’ visual work deals with the situation of protests, public lectures, held on the streets as part of the strikes, on Piazza Navona in Rome. On 29 October 2008 in Italy, a resolution was passed about new educational laws. Behind the protesters, occupying public space, we can see the ministry down the lane—the workplace of Berlusconi and minister Gelmini. Struber challenges the limits of documentation.

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What all these projects have in common, apart from questioning the organization of collectivity, is the level of possible interventions and shifts. They initiate something. The artworks in the exhibition and collection create other images, visual experiences: imaginations on education and learning activity as well as possible shifts in predefined spaces of education or of educational contexts.

The spatial intervention of Nanna Neudeck and Titusz Tarnai translates the eruptive moments, displaced and distorted situations into an opportunity of action for visitors to the exhibition. The monitors, traditional slide projectors as well as digital projectors were installed on tripods made out of steel supports and euro palettes as platforms. Steel handles made it possible to turn the projecting devices placed on the tripods. Each turn made by visitors created new perspectives within the exhibition. Each turn created new shifts, alternative constellations, sometimes even a layering of projections. Each new position created by the turns of the visitors changed the exhbition as a whole. The neighbourhoods reflect the contexts. The installation of the display created the potentiality of visitors’ intervention.

The blog by bolwerK http://www.ooooo.be/2or3thingswevelearned is a growing space for debate, controversy, shift, intervention, discrepancy and links.

Space is educating, space is formed, space is forming. The social production of space, as Lefebvre is pointing out, can be taken a step further through conceptualizing space as the third educator. Who else is educating? What educates oneself? What forms oneself? To put it as a question: We walk past the previously occupied auditorium of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. How do we perceive this space? Do we see it as occupied with all these bodies, their inscriptions and volatility? This disposed imaginary leads us again to the relation of moment and duration …

Whereas before the strike, the auditorium was not seen as or associated with a place of self-organized intervention and inhabitation, this has changed. It is now a place with possibilities. This happened with many places and is a substantial shift. Additionally, the protests led to the founding of new structures, of networks and magazines, to the formation of political consciousness. These accomplishments, be they newly created spaces or political structures and projects, however, are mostly fragile and precarious. They will always have to be re-established and re-claimed, over and over again.

Figure 14.5: Email from the Camel Collective, January 2011

This text derived out of the project 2 or 3 Things, we’ve learned, an exhibition project in the IG Bildende Kunst Gallery in Vienna, autumn 2010, in which the space RE:solutions conference was happening and was translated in the course of the preparation of the 2nd World Congress of Free Artists, November 2010 in Aarhus, organized by the Camel Collective.

The preceding text was first published in: Peter Mörtenböck and Helge Mooshammer (eds.), Space (Re)Solutions: Intervention and Research in Visual Culture, Bielefeld Transcript 2012

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