(last corre. oct 6. 2014)
STRANGE TEACHING – THE ARTIST AS EXCELLENT AND MISERABLE TEACHER
Weibel’s influence on my learning and understanding, despite the disharmony between us, was rather big. This stands in contrast to the experience with my next principle art teacher, Nam June Paik at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dusseldorf. He was a love affair for anyone who encountered him. He was funny, incredibly generous, helpful and he liked us all. But I felt I didn’t really learn more than what had been already communicated through his work and all books about him. I liked him and his art works a lot but he didn’t influence my perspective the way Peter Weibel had previously done. Weibel was very straightforward and people feared his opinions and judgment, something I needed at the time.
The next educational stop was the Whitney Independent Study Program (ISP). Coming from Europe in 1990, I entered into an intellectual climate at the height of a paradigm shift characterized by postcolonial studies and an orientation towards popular culture. The ISP repositioned my previous knowledge with respect to these new prerogatives and perspectives in a way that it still continues to mark my practice to this day. Investigating Euro-centrism and cultural arrogance, I could use myself as a good and readily available exemplar. I came to better understand myself and my biased cultural background, a process that is still ongoing, hence, I'm still unlearning. To this day, I am fundamentally marked by these educational experiences and I see or read nearly everything through these questions regarding representation and the dynamics of power. But again, it seemed that the more I learned from my teachers the less well I got along with them. There I had the honor to study with Hal Foster, Benjamin Buchloh, Mary Kelly, and Yvonne Rainer among others.
The reason for mentioning all these wonderfully fortunate though not always well ending encounters, is simply to show that one doesn’t need to get along with a teacher in order to learn something. Not to care about teachers is also consistent with my preferred autodidactic approach to education. This all should offer an explanation and an apology to why I tell students what I tell them, and why I am not so concerned whether they like me or not. I have had students quit because of my criticism or my disinterest. I do not think that Art School ought to be a client-oriented service station, seeking to make students feel good about themselves. The constant flux of networked Selfies and Likes can do that job better. I therefore define art education also as a clearing house that points towards the Exit door and hope to provide immunization for people from this virus
What should art education really be since it cannot be just reduced to telling people to stop making art?
I find it important to scare people out of this madhouse of false promises and irredeemable expectations. I welcome a negative attitude as part of an important component for any ambitious art education. In fact, I have learned most by people who trashed me when I started my way with writing and art making. Artists and poets live in a world of too much supply and only little if any demand to put it economically. and we have not yet even begun speaking of money. The chances for anybody in art school to come out and make a living or to succeed critically in the art world is very, very small. Speaking for myself in the role of a teacher, I encourage students to welcome disruption, obstacles and disillusions, confusion and surprises. 'd like to break early-adapted formulas and if necessary, to facilitate the exit or transfer out of art making. I offer non-sense and an insight into the miserable state of affairs; and finally push when the are about to fall.
I am perfectly aware I'm perceived as a good teacher by some and as one who is not worth his salary by others. These two opposite perceptions don’t even have to be seen as contradictory in themselves as they reflect just different degrees of interactions, expectations and demands. As mentioned earlier, I was learning the most from people I did not get along well, and those who made my life difficult. But I do consider it important to tell students what I think of their work, even if they end up disliking me and subsequently switch classes or even change school. I do have some cases in mind who looked for a more nurturing environment and found it elsewhere though soon after school they ended up as lost and alone with their work as before. Well, just face it, that is the life of an artist.
New York / Leipzig / New York 2014
Ad hoc Manifesto for Art Students
eventually i got some reactions and a bunch of new follow up questons_
micke wilson – interview
1. This first issue of the new journal is devoted to the question of judgement. In inviting your contribution we, the editorial team, were mindful of your sustained engagement with the questions of education – especially your brilliant 1997 piece Education Complex and the show you curated around this also. We were also mindful of your humorous and pointed critique of celebrity-intellectual culture (public-intellectual as spectacle) in your paparazzi shots of leading intellectual figures. We were especially interested to hear your thoughts on the question of judgement within the educational complex. The text you have presented is riddled with judgements: judgements on particular educators – or at least your personal encounters with those educators; judgements on the appropriate behaviours of students and recent graduates from art school; judgement as something that the student must already have and so exercise in deciding what to make art with / about etc.
At times you insist on the necessity of the teacher producing judgement on the student’s work (and the need for that judgement to be unrestricted by concerns for the possible hurt-feelings of the student or the possible unpopularity of the teacher with stduents etc.). On the one hand, the need for the students’ judgment suggests that judgment cannot be taught as such, on the other hand the emphasis on the teachers demonstrations of judgement suggest that the teacher does indeed teach judgement: What is your position? Should the teacher in an art education attempt to teach judgement? Can we avoid teaching judgement, as in some sense the hidden curriculum of our teaching practices, where we are always unwittingly transmitting judgement and the students are unwittingly learning judgement from us?
RG: The moment I am introduced as a teacher students start demanding for judgments and engage in reading and deciphering all forms of giving judgments though I give only “comments.” This is obviously a dangerous game but people try to squeeze judgments – I keep using this term now - from any kind of reaction from me. Needless to say, I try to behave “unteacherly ” because I naively kind of envy my students for all the fun, the misery, the desperation and releases they have in parties and irresponsible behavior that only youth, insecurity and non-engagement can justify. But yes, students demand judgments from me and I usually provide it even if I risk attracting unpleasant reactions. Only yesterday, an ex-student came by and showed me his work though I didn’t ask for it. After not commenting he lashed out on me with the passive-aggressive slur “This is why you are a bad teacher !” I knew how much he wants to hear from me and how strong his reactions to my judgment always were, hence, I tried everything to evade any conflict. I finally ended up speaking for two hours on his work and himself on a beautiful Berlin vacation day. The last critic I gave him in my class made him switch art school which of course, he also doesn’t fully admit. “I needed something more nurturing and didn’t leave because of you …”
In order to avoid these hypersensitive reactions, I usually introduce the framework on which my judgments have grown as well as they have partially degenerated. For example, I tell them because of my introduction to A, B, C in the year XX under the social, media and political conditions of YMY I have come to the conclusions TYCxcZ778CA. Needless to say, it can get very complicated and variable.
Giving you a more practical and more graphical answer I’d like to say that I teach judgment relativism as a kind of judgment constructivism along a long and meandering path of a multilayered judgment contingency plan. But the real task is to hand over this responsibility to the students themselves so that they can make their own judgment based on their own experiences, responsibilities and needs and can justify their judgment reasoning reasonably according their own logics.
Concluding let me also say, I would never “teach judgment” but instead try to feed people with knowledge and experiences so students can start their own uphill battles for their consequential judgments. On that way I might throw them into confusion by confronting them with as many “good and bad” (according to “my judgment”) judgments as I can. Again, I never use the word “judgment” and don’t necessarily feel a need for it but I am aware that any position, any comment, any “liking” or “not-liking including any “ignoring of something” is a judgmental speech act.
2. In your overall instruction to the student at Art School – to learn for themselves, to engage horizontally with peers, create their own scene – you seem to be echoing a particular mythos of “talent will out” familiar from the 1990s rhetoric about the British YBA phenomena and Hans Ulrich Obrist’s repeated story of having his first exhibition in his kitchen etc. There is a recurrence of this particular narrative of success-through-authentic-action - think of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, “my uncle has got a barn we can still put the show on” (1) - and the well-rehearsed stories of artist movements and groups, who are supposed to function as self-sustaining micro-cultures in marginal spaces and economies, and then get “picked up” or become celebrated by the art system through new found market exposure or through validation in museum shows or through subsequent valorization in criticism and art history etc. This story is constantly rehearsed in popular media (X Factor, USA has got talent, etc.) where talent will out through sustained personal conviction and authentic investment in one’s art.
This narrative occludes the political economy of the various systems – Hollywood, R&D in the music industry and the construction of the music charts, the capitalization of, and speculative investment in, artistic production in the contemporary art system(s) – where the operation of, and the selectivity of, the market/fair/biennial/museum/journal system is effectively obscured. In a very summary sense, are we not thereby obscuring from the art-student the actual dynamics of the art system in favour of a kind of double-edged rationalization? By double-edged is meant that, on the one hand, there is a Darwinian logic of “survival of the most fit (to-make-art)” and, on the other hand, that any “failure” has simply been a failure to define success in one’s own terms?
I do not see any contradiction in your two hand opposition: Those who seem to engage the smartest will acquire the most practical, social and theoretical knowledge to prevail in whatever sense and create their own structures, their own spaces with their own audiences and economies. But the pendulum is now already swinging back if we ask the question where all this strength is coming from? My answer will in most cases hint towards the detection of some intrinsic qualities, interests and talents - if you allow the word without me having an idea what it all could imply - that are not just mindlessly Darwinian but an inspiration for success on one’s own terms. Failure is hence not just a failure to define success but a lack of energy, social reinforcement and belief that it is worth the game, the play, the struggle, the costs, the fun. I myself simply don’t see much of a separation between the qualities of the art and the qualities of kicking down the rotten ball - sorry, art I mean - all these times and spaces. If you give up, you give up and need not ask who to blame.
3. Your basic argument that the student should not care for the teachers’ “love” is a very provocative and a very important one. It references a very ancient theme in educational thinking about the love between “master” and “student” - going back to traditions of Greek paideia and so forth. Within the psychoanalytic tradition, reflection on pedagogical exchange has consistently thematised the question of “affect” and the “transferences” between student and teacher. Is it really possible for any teacher, or any student, to enter the field of affective relations and transferences between the one-presumed-to-not-know or to-want-knowing and the one-presumed-to-know without taking these flows of affect as somehow critical and definitive conditions of, and occasions of, learning in themselves? Or is your teaching a demand for the self-disciplining of affects, for professional distancing from affective entanglements?
RG: I might have given the wrong impression. It is impossible not to be affected, attracted or repulsed by any meaningfull teacher – student relationship but all I would like to say is that one needs not to overemphasized the emotional and cathetic aspects of it. In fact, if you wanna fall in love and find reciprocity do so, and if you encounter nothing but rejection and weirdness but still learn something don’t leave. I am for sure the last person to encourage affective distancing – quite the opposite, I feel like we are all family. Like in the song, love is all we need and I’d complement it with beauty and knowledge based on our interests, desires and politics.
4. Can you talk a little bit nore about “Strange teaching”: www.strangeteaching.info. We wondered if this might also be understood as a kind of corrective research project – an enquiry into alternate models of educational practice, embedded within the terms of art practice, rather than “about” art practice?
RG: The strange teaching Leipzig project – and there should be a Bushwick, NYC version in 2015 – is for sure both: art practice and “about” art practice depending on how you read and perceived it and who was engaged in it. It fulfilled different tasks and opportunities for lecturers, performers, students, visitors and guests. The special characteristics of this experiment consisted in the openness of the format and its results, as well as in the instability of its model and success. Leipzig’s former Held department store in particular was an illegal semi-squatted, uninhabitable, uninviting, dirty space with no heating, no electricity, no clean water, where people lived, worked, performed and showed in for the duration of two weeks. It was a semi-secret extravaganza with daily events, teach-ins and performances that exited everybody and resulted in a show, an on line presence, instragram video clips and twitter, a publication (now in the making) and a good portion of myth not to talk about the beautiful images and memories people hopeful have as I do.
The remarkable thing about Leipzig consisted in getting many interesting people involved who all came without any budget. On that scale, New York City should even ad to the fun and excitement. Also the contrast to the city’s regular fine art education economics might be as dazzling as the potential access to the unlimited pool of mind staggering talent in New York. Again, the curatorial and selective mode will be simply the invitations I extend to artist friends who in return invite their students. In Leipzig programming was enriched by spontaneously inviting people from nearby Berlin. With a certain critical mass and buzz people got pleased by these autopoetic activities.
Given the fun it all was, I got now even more interested to organize, stage, host and share opportunities with a Just do it attitude without letting myself be scared by today’s planning hustles or costs. I admit, from a contemporary well sanitized and regulated perspective strange teaching was irresponsible, illegal, and even potentially hazardous as you cannot invite 100 people into an unprepared shut down ruin and just say “just do it” but that is exactly what I did rejecting even any personal or institutional responsibility. It was for sure a daring experiment and one that was worth taking. Bushwick today is not Leipzig but will also have some of its interesting challenges I need to overcome.
Of course, Leipzig was not an artificially staged survivor island reality show but the result of a no budget situation and some lucky circumstances as this former defunct department store became somehow. New York will be staged in a more organized environment since everything is productive and regulated in this high cost living and working area where no spaces are left alone for long without profit. I believe in people and their intrinsic interest in exchange, curiosity, love and need for communication and lived through and told stories.