We want to insert these words into author to acknowledge that the delivery of this work has been altered by recent circumstances (that no doubt altered you, too). This is not to say that the work is about Covid-19, but to make clear that our intentions and motivations were initially developed at a time when we felt different urgencies. We want to remember when our imagination was more hopeful, when we thought this work could exist as something useful for the students and staff of wdka. Now, we have had to paraphrase ourselves slightly. What can be learnt through an excavation and analysis of the studio in its immaterial state?
Based inside the school, our intended counter-discourse was to build and maintain a temporary studio space for intimate, secluded, individual and/or collective working. Our idea grew out of teaching experiences at the school, comments in meetings, brief conversations in the hallways and overhearings in the workshops and spaces next to coffee machines. We gathered up a collection of vocalised ruminations that expressed there was no space for focused work, no ‘stress free’ environment other than the smoking area (which provides only momentary release), limited areas to store physical work, no places to hang out and no space to have a conversation that didn’t have an agenda, a direction, a PowerPoint, a time limit. Where can you have a dialogue that is spontaneous and fluid? Where can you practice and experiment without a predefined outcome? We wanted to facilitate a structure for such experiences because, as the sociologist and writer Richard Sennett notes regarding skilled, creative work, ‘oftentimes it withers, it gets weak, because nobody has a social setting of interlocutors who respond.’1
Throughout dialogues of our own, we have been thinking about the book Look at Me by North American author Jennifer Egan, who wrote the character Z into her novel during the six years prior to 2001, the year of the September 11 attacks. Through a contemporary reading, Z would now be considered a terrorist. To account for this, the book was published with an additional afterword in which Egan writes, ‘My purpose here is to remind readers that, while it may be nearly impossible to read about Z outside the context of September 11th, 2001, I concocted his history and his actions at a time when the events of that day were still unthinkable.’2 Now it is impossible to read author, and peruse our online library, outside the context of what Covid-19 will mean for education. But, it is important to hold our intentions for a studio space close. And, contrary to Egan, we think it integral to stress that what is happening now has been thinkable for some time. As such, perhaps ‘errata’ is a more fitting word for what this text is. It is a message added in because, in the midst of these shifts in educational practice, to leave this backstory out could mean our original context is forgotten.
September 11 is also a day to be remembered for the assassination of Marxist Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was killed in 1973 during an army coup headed by General Pinochet. Allende’s assassination can be read as a north american act of terror, as author, activist and professor Naomi Klein tells us, ‘In the years leading up to the coup, u.s. trainers, many from the cia, whipped the Chilean military into an anti-Communist frenzy, persuading them that socialists were de facto Russian spies, a force alien to Chilean society—a homegrown “enemy within”.’3 While we may think that we are far from military dictatorship in the global north, mechanisms of persuasion that manipulate our politics and economy are at play within educational infrastructure, and are even constructed there. In the years that followed the coup in Chile, the north american economist and educator Milton Friedman was advisor to dictator Pinochet, and used the country as testing ground to implement an extreme capitalist economic model as a tactic he called economic “shock treatment”.’4 This consisted of free trade, tax breaks, immense privatisation and cuts to social spending all done at an extreme speed and scale, so as to ‘provoke psychological reactions in the public that “facilitate the adjustment”.’5 This process resulted in a dictatorship enforced by violence, mass unemployment, collapse of industry and a military takeover of all universities across Chile, and yet Friedman’s methodology was devised completely outside these surrounds, in a classroom in Chicago, north america. The classroom and (its relation to) institutions played a major role in incubating certain economic tactics, so much so that this era is ‘known as a “Chicago School” revolution, since so many of Pinochet’s economists studied under Friedman at the university of chicago.’6 If we didn’t already know before, education is dangerous.
Press fast forward and watch the tactic reproduced again and again. By british prime minister Margaret Thatcher ‘to crush the striking coal miners and launch a privatization frenzy,’ across Latin America and Africa in the 1980s, with ‘a debt crisis that forced countries to be “privatized or die”’, and’ in Iraq post 2011, after the launch of the so-called War on Terror by north america and the immense privatisation of war and security that followed.7 Pause on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and watch Friedman enter the stage once again, this time to implement a provocation in the education system. He prevented the ‘rebuilding and improving [of] New Orleans’ existing public school system,’ instead urging the government to ‘provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions, many run at a profit, that would be subsidized by the state.’8 These schools are charter schools, ‘public schools operating independently of the local school board, often with a curriculum and educational philosophy different from other schools in the system.’9 Klein further explains the polarising, discriminatory affects of this educational infrastructure when she notes that ‘in New Orleans [charter schools] are seen by many African-American parents as a way of reversing the gains of the civil rights movement, which guaranteed all children the same standard of education.’10 For Friedman, a subsidised schooling system that was accessible for all did not contribute to the capitalist market. Education is competitive. Press resume on our current climate, back to the european country within which we are writing. Now, instead of vouchers, we have login credentials that grant us access through private interfaces (with many running at a profit) that are subsidised by fluctuating valuation in the stock market. Like charter schools, the software companies who make these interfaces operate independently. They are not accountable to the school system, but rather to the finances of the company. When the ‘private’ seeps further into a ‘public’ institution like this, what happens to the standard of education when it is housed in the architecture of the free market? Returning to Egan and her character Z, she concludes her afterword by writing that the novel ‘remains an imaginative artifact of a more innocent time.’11 While we are not innocent, we may have been naive to imagine that the studio was possible. The always, and only, imagined studio is an artifact of a more hopeful time.
With this history of the instrumentalisation of education, it is important for us to remain aware that we are bringing these works to a point of resolution at a time when the educational institution funding them is adapting to teaching in a global pandemic. The creation of a studio space for people to be together, to make a place, is now an idea completely off the table (it lies crumpled in a ball next to the bin where you threw it, but missed). This idea had already been delayed and declined multiple times before the school building was shut down. We learnt the hard way, what access to space really means.12 We learnt we lacked a status, the privilege needed in order to have a place to think. Walls and floors became capital and the hierarchical systems organising them were evermore opaque; a reality manufactured to leave us feeling like there was a scarcity of educational space at the school.13 Scarcity, real or imagined,14 was (is) used as tool to prevent collective action.15 Insufficient space meant firm grips were (are) forever unwilling to loosen on what little space they had claimed.16 Perhaps our request for rearrangement put stress on another scarce resource: that of time. The temporary studio space may not have aligned with the short-term goals of the academy (and certainly doesn’t now regarding health and safety measures), leaving it rubbing up against complex infrastructures of education and unable to fit in with existing internal processes.
What caused such friction? To better understand the conflict, we read our intentions—our now imaginary studio—alongside guidance from feminist writer and independent scholar Sara Ahmed,17 who writes about what it means for bodies to be situated in space and time. We want to think through why a studio space for bodies to be situated inside the academy was (is) impossible. Through Ahmed we learn what the never-existing studio means, and furthermore consider what it means for the student body and the staff body, for Ahmed knows ‘the body emerges from the history of doing, which is also a history of not doing, of paths not taken.’18 What emerges from what didn’t happen? Decisions taken over what to do and what not to do become matters of inclusion and exclusion when considering an institution, a system using fortification as method to preserve and produce. In Decolonizing the University, the scholar Dalia Gebrial writes, ‘the university is a site of knowledge production and, most crucially, consecration; it has the power to decide which histories, knowledges and intellectual contributions are considered valuable and worthy of further critical attention and dissemination.’19 Without certain bodies and their knowledges, when entering the system it becomes ‘impossible to know or to even register, of what might have followed from such paths.’20 We can find those hidden routes, or at least begin to sense them, through defining the system of value used to attribute worth. If we begin with the outermost layer of the institution—the architectural walls as a site of entrance—then consider the fact that the physical site of wdka stretches out from a former bank. The art academy is housed in an architecture designed for financial profit and is situated in the Netherlands, where ‘the competitive and entrepreneurial aspects of neoliberalism in the last ten years have been absorbed in the bloodstream of many.’21 The competitive facet of education is back and this time consecrated in an infrastructure of profit. We flow through the system devoting ourselves to the entrepreneurial spirit. No wonder we are, as wdka advertises on their website, ‘creating pioneers.’ But where are we going? Perhaps the definition of a ‘pioneer’ can directs us:
- n. One who ventures into unknown or unclaimed territory to settle;
- n. One who opens up new areas of thought, research, or development;
- n. A soldier who performs construction and demolition work in the field to facilitate troop movements.22
Territorial and colonialist in attitude, the pioneer emerges from art education assuming a world unclaimed, ready for demolition, eager for their newly developed thoughts. This attitude is perpetuated in the who and the what that we teach, as Dalia Gebrial writes with fellow editors, the scholars Gurminder K. Bhambra and Kerem Nişancıoğlu, ‘subjects of Western scholarship are enduringly pale, male (and often stale); where people of colour do appear, they are all too often tokenistically represented.’23 We must move away from the imperial narrative fostered by educational institutions and learn from activist movements like Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMFO), as discussed by Gebrial, to present methods to reorient us towards an anti-racist framework.24
As we began with physical architecture, as does RMFO. As ‘a movement determined to decolonise the institutional structures and physical space in Oxford and beyond,’ they ‘seek to challenge the structures of knowledge production that continue to mould a colonial mindset that dominates our present.’25 The umbrella Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) campaign began in March 2015 at the campus of the university of cape town, South Africa, when students and activists threw human faeces at and ‘toyi-toyi’d’26 around a statue of british coloniser Rhodes, whom we can describe as a white supremacist, settler colonialist—or a pioneer, if you like.27 The statue in Cape Town was removed a few months later, but there remains another statue of Rhodes adorning the facade of oxford university in the united kingdom. RMFO, the oxford branch of the RMF campaign, use this architecture to channel their call for reorientation, for this statue signifies an ‘alignment [to] the repetition of past gestures which give the body its contours and the “impression” of its skin.’28 Alongside the push to remove the campus statue, RMFO ask to tackle colonial iconography, reform the euro-centric curriculum, and ‘address the underrepresentation and lack of welfare provision for black and minority ethnic students and staff.’29 In 2020, the Black Lives Matter Movement has pushed these demands back into focus and as a result governors of the college recently voted to remove the statue of the colonialist.30 It is important to recognise that ‘RMFO is about more than a statue,’31 and that the strength of the movement is its ability to intertwine biases in the educational system with the architectures that uphold learning. They make us reconsider our surroundings. As long as the institute allies itself with colonialist ideals, this will be pressed upon staff and student bodies and onto the institutional body as a whole.
This year we have thoroughly (forever?) encased our learning experience in another dimension. We are currently loading inside an online and locally installed piece of software, owned and programmed by the previously mentioned pale, male (and often stale) north americans and paid for with a contract between your institute of higher education and a multi-national technology company. Hierarchies become ever more ingrained when we ‘take certain bodies as the contours of ordinary experience,’ as Ahmed notes.32 And these companies, as well as many others in the same realm, are linked to mass surveillance operations conducted by governments. In their own words, they ‘only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers.’33 So if you are reading this and thinking it does not affect you, or worse, that you have nothing to hide, then we implore you to think with us further. When Gebrial describes the effects of the statue on an oxford high street, her description is equally descriptive of microsoft teams: ‘it hovers out of plain sight; much like the legacy of Empire, it occupies a position of simultaneous invisibility and hyper-visibility. It is an always present, shaping political, economic and cultural force, but goes unnamed and unseen.’34 This is a matter of control, is a matter of surveilling, is a matter of violence.
In Activists and the Surveillance State: Learning from Repression, editor Aziz Choudry reminds us that ‘many of today’s covert (and overt) policing and state security policies, practices and concepts have their roots in counter-insurgency techniques tested against earlier anti-colonial/independence struggles, in policing Black life under slavery and Indigenous peoples’ resistance.’35 If the educational space is formed by and for a specific body, rooted in the exclusion of others, then some can slide down its contours with ease with it still being be a traumatic passage for others. Your passage may even be prevented, causing you to lose direction as you are ‘shattered, cut into pieces by the hostility of the white gaze.’36 The violent shattering may be intentional, as evident in a report by the federal police of canada, written after the monitoring a Native Studies program in one university and here quoted by Choudry, ‘the 1975–76 school year was a “hotbed” of radicalism, tangible proof of “extremism”, and a site for the “brainwashing of young minds” vulnerable to infiltration by other “subversive” organisations.’37 We reduce our education down to a straight, white path, and where does it lead?38 For those who stray (willfully or otherwise) from the narrow route, ‘disorientation can be a bodily feeling of losing one’s place, and a feeling that is affected by violence, or shaped by violence directed towards the body.’39 Education is violent.
Yet, as our places of education are abandoned in favour of online teaching, how can we recognise the ways through which this enhances, for example, the consistent denial of indigenous knowledge from what we study? To think more about how software shapes us, we leant on video lectures released by artez university of the arts, arnhem, the netherlands, named ‘Rectangles-R-Us: What happened when the university went online?’, made with writer and professor of Multi-Actor Systems, Seda Gürses. She begins her talk by identifying that the shift online ‘was a transformation with short and long-term consequences, which in that moment we could not appreciate, because a lot of people were just…’ Here she pauses to collect her words while moving her hands together as if circling a small globe.40 Her body leans into and then away from the camera, ‘…just so in the business of trying to make things work.’41 We were responding while, as Naomi Klein might say, in a state of shock. For Gürses, jumping into software designed as business management efficiency tools, means we bring a ‘business approach to communications’ into our educational culture.42 ‘The surveillance structures [in the applications] shows a kind of relationship that is assumed in these technologies.’43 Gürses describes the functionalities in these programs that monitor if people are looking at the application window or something else (perhaps cause for flashback for some of us who were told off in high school for gazing out of windows). To make her point, Gürses repeats the advert for zoom—a north american communications company used heavily since Covid-19 rendered travelling to work and school difficult. The application is promoted with the slogan, ‘Good video communication will attract top talent and encourage flexible working conditions;’ words that suit the isolated aspect of working from home.44 When a school begins the academic year with an online meeting of around 200 people, what forms of solidarity pass through the rectangles, if any?
The aftermath of Friedman’s educational reform also promoted an individualised workforce, for as Klein notes, ‘New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now the union’s contract had been shredded, and its forty-seven hundred members had all been fired. Some of the younger teachers were rehired by the charters, at reduced salaries; most were not.’45 When a digital learning environment prefers individuation over collectivity, how do tutors and administrators feel supported and give support in return? Of course, support for content also changes, as student work passes through the online infrastructure. Gürses reminds us to ask ‘how it records things? Where it records things? How efficiently does it make things available? [This is] without respect to the local culture which might mean being sensitive to these files. That is completely erased.’46 The cloud storage of communication technologies have not only ownership of our material, but ultimately ‘the power to decide which contributions are considered valuable and worthy of attention and dissemination’ when considering the user data they have acquired.47 (To add salt to the wound, the cloud provider of zoom is amazon.)
In such a climate, the student is set adrift. For we should not assume that online education democratises or even increases access. Not every student has sufficient bandwidth to connect, a device through which to connect, a safe and focused place to be if not in a school building or the type of mind that can focus, learn and express thoughts through a screen. We should remember that online is not there all the time. While writing this, protests against the Lukashenko dictatorship in Belarus were hidden from view when the country’s internet was turned off for seventy-two hours. Online is also not constant. Move focus to north america—where changes to student visa rules become evermore xenophobic—to find that ‘the u.s Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it would strip the visa of foreign students whose entire courses have moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic.’48 You double-click on this article and read an interview with a Kashmiri student in the u.s. If they are sent home there will be no way to pursue their learning, for in Kashmir Valley the internet is frequently cut off by the Indian government (and when granted, high-speed mobile data is restricted to certain areas, phone models and payment packages). Online is edited. Scroll down and read about students learning while in China, and how they have to work around strict internet bans in order to enter the channels their external universities communicate through. Online may stop, just as we can be stopped too. Then, as if a premonition, your phone vibrates with a news notification that ‘Trump wants to build a wall around the Internet.’49 Online is territory. Hitting a wall, coming up against a wall, having your back to a wall ‘does not simply stop one from getting somewhere, but changes one’s relation to what is “here”.’50 Can this change in relation spark a reorientation?
The here of higher education has felt very different this year. We have not only moved inside our rectangles, but isolation has prompted a reconsideration of what Gürses knows we have been reticent to acknowledge, that ‘international students are a source of extracting value, recouping costs.’51 Yet now that travel is prohibited and borders are shut, it not only reveals the makings of this business-oriented model, but it is also just simply impossible to count on the return (both physically and financially) of international students. The forced local, for those privileged to perform quarantine, is also localising education. Writer and curator David Xu Borgonjon expands on educational extraction, noting that ‘the image of Asian international students as consumers is not just a stereotype. It is the inevitable outcome of a system in which art schools, starved of federal and state funding because of neoliberalism, turned to international student tuition to fill the gaps: a process of capitalist racialisation.’52 Now sit that alongside the language used on the ‘About’ page on wdka’s website, where you read that the school sees ‘a clear added value of an “international classroom” [as] this contributes to the international profile of the academy and enhances its reputation, which facilitates the recruitment of international talent.’53 The profit-driven business model of the academy becomes evermore exposed and in so doing the colonial university is revealed.
Within wdka, students know this and they are changing their relation to ‘here’ accordingly. This year, during the week in which the Black Lives Matter protest was organised in the streets of Rotterdam, a petition called ‘WdKA: Start Speaking Up’ was launched by a bachelor’s student named Winta Ghebre.54 The text of the petition commented that the school had ‘been radio silent on what’s happening all around the world and their silence is loud. Other than their silence, they don’t actively provide their students with educational resources around social injustices, institutional racism and white privilege.’55 She goes on to note that, ‘It’s a shame to have a social practice program that’s called “Cultural Diversity” and do nothing outside this program to educate their students on these topics.56 This shows that the students, like many others, are aware of the direction in which they want to travel. They want to extend out of the walls of the academy—an act surely necessary for anyone wanting to make responsive work that will resonate with a public. ‘At this moment of failure, such objects “point” somewhere else if they make what is “here” become strange.’57 The academy becomes strange, detached from it’s place. ‘It’s a shame to have a social practice program that’s called ‘Cultural Diversity’ and do nothing outside this program to educate their students on these topics.’58 How do you extend outside a program? You can let things in.
After all this, we are finding it difficult to conclude our insert, our errata, for ours is a story that ends with absence. Our studio was a moment of failure that made here (there) become strange. How strange that art and design should manifest without a physical space, without material, without a public. We note the irony in considering this while sitting in the luxury of our own studio spaces with our things strewn about us. The books we have used to write this text are upturned roofs on our desk and there are little sounds of other people sanding wood, typing, assembling furniture, talking, eating, laughing, being. We gaze out the window into the garden, now in its peak moment of lush. I focus on an apple that has been growing for some months now, it’s bulbous form is hanging from a tendril and soon I will go outside, wade through waist-high green and spider threads to twist it off and bite. In order to make work that is responsive to the world in which you find yourself, a studio must be a porous place.
Our friend and collaborator calls our attention away from the apple and into a screen, to comment on a self-promotional facebook post of a creative practitioner. They are making something as a team but writing as I. Our friend remarks, ‘There is always a ‘we’! This kind of work doesn’t come about alone. When you work with other people it’s some kind of whirlwind romance!’59 We write to you now smitten with creative romance, constantly infatuated by working with others. Our studio failure directed us to somewhere else and we are moving, not to settle, claim or demolish but to imagine a place and a practice that does not perpetuate a pioneering attitude. That is strange to us. We want something else.
Please consider our absent studio in these following sonic (add term when we have the sound files).
1. Richard Sennett, “A Plea for Communalist Teaching,” in Teaching Art in the Neoliberal Realm, Realism Versus Cynicism, eds. Pascal Geilan and Paul De Bruyne (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2012), 41.↩
2. Jennifer Egan, Look At Me (New York: Anchor Books, 2001), epub.↩
3. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007), epub.↩
9. Wordnik, s.v. “Charter school,” by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition, accessed September 16, 2020, https://www.wordnik.com/words/charter%20school.↩
10. Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, epub.↩
11. Egan, Look At Me, epub.↩
12. What does accessing space mean? For us, these terms are a way to softly describe recurring responses we had, or never had, when requesting to book rooms to use in the building without pointing the finger at specific administrative procedures or staff members. We, as librarians, were not privy to the conversations had about a suitable room for our proposed temporary studio, so we couldn’t point our finger at a specific location in the wdka interface even if we wanted to. And the more we learn, the more we feel that the pointing should not be towards individuals but towards the system. We asked multiple times to read and collect the e-mail threads surrounding the discussion about borrowing a space as we wanted to include them in the library as document of our endeavour, and a way to understand the difficulties of our request. Alongside our request for space, the handing over of e-mail conversations was also declined. We became disheartened but also all the more curious, because the more information is withheld, the more we are left to speculate. What hesitations were there for building a temporary studio space? Why were we denied access on all levels of organisation (the programmatic, administrative and spatial)?↩
13. The opaque system we refer to is literal and metaphorical. Literally, the school organised spaces with a room booking system that is used throughout almost the entire school, including the workshop areas (called ‘Stations’) which have specific relationships with different courses and are not always open for just anyone to work in. Rooms, machines and tools can only be booked through software accessed by hogeschool e-mail accounts (hogeschool is the parent institution of wdka). Nearly all teaching staff do not have an office or desk space, and instead operate from a ‘hot desk system’ or in the staff room, which is coincidentally also a storage space for large artworks or surplus office furniture. Of the bachelor student body, only a selection of fine art students have studio spaces and for only one or two years of their four years of study. However, the opacity of the system became more metaphorical when we learnt about exceptions within it, like the board room that we initially asked for, which is not on the booking system and can only be reserved by the dean. The board room is kept free so it can be used for entertaining international visitors or for audits. Spaces that were available for use were usually small, dark or without walls (such as atriums or corridors that are therefore exposed to anyone walking past). Throughout this period we never managed to have any kind of meeting with anyone other that our producer, but felt the presence of an unknown voice that suggested these spaces to us. This time period lasted roughly five months. Just before the school closed down at the beginning of the pandemic, we had finally decided on a room that is usually left off the booking system as it is at the top of a thin, steep staircase in the roof of the building and has bad acoustics. Because of its positioning in the roof, it is small, very cold in winter and hot in summer, making it an inhospitable working environment.↩
14. Scarcity at the school is real because there are too many students for the available resources. By this comment we also want to indicate teachers as a resource, as some classes in the school reach around seventy students per a year group. For comparison, other courses of similar disciplines elsewhere in the netherlands have between ten to twenty students. Scarcity is therefore imagined because no school would accept more students than they had space for, as the priority of an educational institute is learning. This leads us to think that scarcity is in fact constructed by overloading an education system.↩
15. Collective action could come in the form of staff from all levels of wdka working together to implement change. It could be a collectively agreed upon refusal or a complaint. From our limited experience, we feel that the infinite number of micro-hierarchies comprising the school system prevent group discussion and make any kind of communication fraught and difficult. The hierarchy both allows a constant abdication of responsibility and denies the possibility of anyone being able to take responsibility should they try to. Unless you bypass usual channels (a route you must keep to yourself), any action that flows differently to the usual system, such as our studio, is endlessly roadblocked. This waiting is in contrast to the fast-paced nature of the academy, where e-mails swarm like buzzards around fresh roadkill. Watch out, your idea for change just got mowed down.↩
16. Claiming space in this scenario is occupying a physical space in the school—whether it be for your course, your students, your station, or anything that has been granted to you for your teaching, administration, caretaking or managing. Once the space has been granted to a body (human or official) there is a distinct lack of flexibility with regards to changing who can enter the space and what happens inside it. The wdka building is filled with people dedicated to their shared endeavour of higher arts education, but a territorial atmosphere is growing amongst, and at odds with, other convivial and supportive sentiments. Territory can also be expanded into hours of work, as most new staff only receive short-term contracts. While those who are more established in the school have longer contracts and greater job security, newer staff members enter with a sense of competition between themselves as well as a looming end date to their employment. The urgency to prove themselves in a short space of time, and a desire to connect with their peers and the students, often means that people work much more than their contract necessitates in attempt to develop their working methods and reputation as much they can before the contract ends.↩
17. It is interesting to pay attention to Ahmed’s personal relationship to institutions, best explained in her bio on her website: ‘I work at the intersection of feminist, queer and race studies. My research is concerned with how bodies and worlds take shape; and how power is secured and challenged in everyday life worlds as well as institutional cultures. Until the end of 2016, I was a Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London having been previously based in Women’s Studies at Lancaster University. I resigned from my post at Goldsmiths in protest at the failure to deal with the problem of sexual harassment. My primary focus now is on writing and research. With regret, I am no longer involved in the supervision or examination of research students. I still present my research and offer lectures and seminars/workshops.’ See further: “Bio,” Sarah Ahmed, accessed September 16, 2020, https://www.saranahmed.com/bio-cv.↩
18. Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 159.↩
19. Dalia Gebrail, “Rhodes Must Fall: Oxford and Movements for Change,” in Decolonizing the University (London: Pluto Press 2018), 19.↩
20. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 159.↩
21. Sennett, “A Plea for Communalist Teaching,” 44.↩
22. Wordnik, s.v. “pioneer,” by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition, accessed September 16, 2020, https://www.wordnik.com/words/pioneer.↩
23. Gurimunder K. Bhambra, Dalia Gebrial and Kerem Nişancıoğlu, eds., Decolonizing the University (London: Pluto Press, 2018), 6.↩
24. Gebrial, “Rhodes Must Fall: Oxford and Movements for Change,” 20.↩
25. “Our Aim,” Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, accessed September 16, 2020, https://rmfoxford.wordpress.com/about/.↩
26. ‘Toyi-toyi is a Southern African dance originally created in Zimbabwe by Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army forces that has long been used in political protests in South Africa. . . . Toyi-toyi could begin as the stomping of feet and spontaneous chanting during protests that could include political slogans or songs, either improvised or previously created.’ “Toyi-Toyi,” Wikipedia, accessed on September 16, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyi-toyi.↩
27. If you’re feeling like those words are too extreme then take note of this comment on Rhodes’ wikipedia page: ‘One of Rhodes’s primary motivations in politics and business was his professed belief that the Anglo-Saxon race was, to quote a letter of 1877, “the first race in the world”.’ This was acted on according to ‘the reasoning that “the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”.’ This doesn’t deserve to be in the main body of our text but we recognise we might need to back up our words. “Cecil Rhodes,” Wikipedia, accessed September 16, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_Rhodes.↩
28. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 159.↩
29. “Our Aim,” Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, accessed September 16, 2020, https://rmfoxford.wordpress.com/about/.↩
30. Sean Coughlan, “Oxford college wants to remove Cecil Rhodes statue,” BBC, June 18, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/education-53082545.↩
31. “Our Aim,” Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, accessed September 16, 2020, https://rmfoxford.wordpress.com/about/.↩
32. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 159.↩
33. “United States Government,” Wikipedia, accessed September 16, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft#United_States_government.↩
34. Gebrial, “Rhodes Must Fall: Oxford and Movements for Change,” 26.↩
35. Aziz Choudry, ed., Activists and the Surveillance State: Learning from Repression (London: Pluto Press, 2019), 3.↩
36. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 159.↩
37. Choudry, Activists and the Surveillance State, 13.↩
38. Choudry digs further into motivations for the labels given to the Native Studies program and indigenous and environmental movements, and tells us that such initiatives ‘increasingly challenge the Canadian state’s ambition to become an “energy superpower” by working with the tar sands, shale gas, and extractivist industries.’ Indigenous resistance fighters are ‘targeted and labelled as “violent Aboriginal extremists” and “environmental criminal extremists”.’↩
39. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 159.↩
40. Seda Gürses, “Rectangles-R-Us – What happened when the university went online?,” filmed 2020 at ArtEZ University of the Arts, Arnhem, video lecture, 12:09, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXFslDTSy-k.↩
45. Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, epub.↩
46. Gürses, “Rectangles-R-Us,”.↩
47. Gebrial, “Rhodes Must Fall: Oxford and Movements for Change,” 20.↩
48. Heena Kauser, “New US visa rule leaves Indian, Chinese students in panic,” Aljazeera, July 10, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/visa-rule-leaves-indian-chinese-students-panic-200709091726735.html.↩
49. Whitney Kimball, “Trump Wants to Build a Wall Around the Internet. How Worried Should We Be?,” Gizmodo, August 18, 2020, https://gizmodo.com/trump-wants-to-build-a-wall-around-the-internet-how-wo-1844691997?utm_source=gizmodo_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2020-08-19.↩
50. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology, 159.↩
51. Gürses, “Rectangles-R-Us,”.↩
52. David Xu Borgonjon, “The International Student as a Term of Art,” Asia Art Archive. June 4, 2020, https://aaa.org.hk/en/ideas/ideas/the-international-student-as-a-term-of-art.↩
53. “About,” Willem de Kooning Academie, accessed September 16, 2020, https://www.wdka.nl/about.↩
54. Winta Ghebre, “WdKA: Start Speaking Up,” change.org, accessed September 16, 2020, https://www.change.org/p/willem-de-kooning-academy-wdka-start-speaking-up.↩
58. Ghebre, W. (2020) WdKA: Start speaking up. change.org [online] Available at: https://www.change.org/p/willem-de-kooning-academy-wdka-start-speaking-up [Accessed 16 September 2020]↩
59. Spoken by a wise friend who does not wish to be named.↩
authors’ noteUnusual decisions over capitalisation in this text are intentional. They are done with the aim to toy with the restraints of the written word and in so doing shift your attention to hierarchies encoded into our languages. To what do we apply status and why, and, alternatively, what if we didn’t?
the librarians and their index
author is a textual introduction written by the librarians of an online library of references, which sits behind this text. The library contains resources and documentation from roughly one year of experiments in art and education. Our library’s collection of digital matter is classified as debris resulting from moments of choreographed, collective working.1 The library index follows two ambiguous systems of relation: the first system defines the type of transaction that led to the reference’s inclusion in our collection, the second is organised by the first names of the people who supplied the documents.
The two indexes form the online navigation of our library: they are the paths that grant you access. Directions in which a visitor to the library can move may be unclear and potentially frustrating. This is not intended as an exclusionary act, but rather an attitude that comes through systematising that which is a mess, is unruly, is the reality of working with people. We are doing this, in the words of writer, educator and editor Kate Briggs, to move away from ‘a practice which is owned and promoted by one individual.’2 We recognise the countless transactions and exchanges that compose an authorial position, and therefore seek to organise ourselves by these relations. The coincidental, maybe even serendipitous, ways in which our library visitors can access the materials is to enact a mode of dissemination that reflects the mode of collection. We choose to preserve an orderly mess in a form that hints at the similarly coincidental and serendipitous moments in collective working. As writer and curator Paul B. Preciado states, ‘a library is a material biography, written in the words of others, made up of the accumulation and order of the different books.3 In perceiving our hoarding, you can read our positioning.
The transaction that prompted this library was a hybrid publication prize, awarded to a thesis from the masters of education in arts, one of the programmes at the piet zwart institute—a semi-autonomous postgraduate department of willem de kooning academie (wdka), rotterdam.4 The thesis, titled [sic] scripture, had the subheading: how to use scripts to imagine counter-discourses?5 A counter-discourse is a way of thinking that opposes an institutionalised discourse, and in drawing a connection between the original prize-winning thesis and this publication—the outcome of the prize—the library tries to act on what this thesis imagined. [sic] scripture was an investigation into modes of reading, writing, speaking and listening to scripted texts. The intention was to generate situations in which you encounter different identities and perform the ambiguity of not knowing. Through performing, I came to understand that I was finding ways to reach a polyvocal position. When polyvocality is performed alone my identity shifts in research and writing, and when performed in groups it shifts in workshop scenarios.
There is a memory I return to when we need to remind ourselves of the convictions that underpin author and the library. I remember that before being awarded this prize, we were asked by the awarding committee: ‘How would you develop this work?’ We answered that in taking polyvocality to another place, we wanted to investigate a ‘polybody’ attitude to learning. We wanted to consider ways and methods of inclusive learning that go beyond reading, writing and speaking. The award was extended from within the institution and we read it as an entrance ticket, a door ajar (we placed our foot there to keep it so). We wanted to use this invitation to enter as a place to perform a counter-discourse, as previously, given we were positioned on the outside looking in, we could only imagine one and leave it as proposition. Now it seems contradictory to have reconciled a polybody approach with a library, an architecture so connected to formal modes of education and individual searching (though our categorisation will only send you on a detour, not a linear path). We must admit that we are disappointed to be only intangibly online. But, like a library, the thoughts that a visit can catalyse are of more importance than the building itself.
We are disappointed because there was another physical aspect to author that has not been realised: the studio.
The following insert details our studio plans, and what our failure signifies for the broader context of higher education. In understanding this failure, and through taking into account recent shifts in the delivery of education, we have instead attempted to work towards an interpretation of what an immaterial studio, with the digital taking the place of the physical, could be. Upon our invitation, the artists (names) have made audio (instructions / exercises / reflections add in when we know what it is) in response to our library. With these contributions we wanted to present ways to imagine a studio through the immaterial medium of sound. You will find their propositions (we are again using proposition as mode of address) in the section titled how to use.
1. Keeping and displaying workshop debris is an attempt to include what curator and writer Jo Melvin terms ‘dirty matter’. (This term was shared with us by the artist and writer Naomi Pearce, with whom we crossed over at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop.) Jo Melvin defines dirty matter as ‘elements of research and practice that do not make it into the “clean” publication. Often overlooked, the dirty or the banal can invigorate. It is transformative in its effect.’ This publication intends to bring back the mess usually edited away, leaving our dirty matter on show to lead you towards another way of knowing. In order to be led, it is necessary to perform another type of reading. You are not performing a linear reading. You read in and around subject matter, between the thoughts of many bodies and across their focus, concentration and selection. We are not inferring a short and neatly encapsulated answer, but rather our dirty matter ‘adds inflection and nuance to the historicized account, and by establishing a vivid reconnection, it reanimates the original product and purpose of both.’ All quotes: Jo Melvin, Holes in the Archive – To fill or leave, that is the question...Bright Light (2) (London: University of the Arts London , 2015), 65–74. ISSN 2055-1606↩
2. Kate Briggs, (2019) text sent by email to the authors.↩
3. Paul B. Preciado, “Library Love,” Passa Porta, September 23, 2019, https://www.passaporta.be/en/magazine/library-love?locate=en_be.↩
4. A course living on the top floor of the wdka building, but which has no permanent space for its students to call their own.↩
5. Amy Pickles, “[sic] scripture” (Masters diss., Piet Zwart Institute/Willem de Kooning Academie, 2017). Available online at: http://amypickles.co.uk/writing/sic-scripture.↩
how to use
Performing as an online library of debris, this interface is made out of necessity for spaces and modes of organisation that are other to archetypal libraries. You will not be able to find an item by name or author, but only through the social relations which made the entry into the collection possible. As it is important for a multiplicity of forms of organisation to exist, knowledge organised into a system made by organised people also organised by a system, (capitalist, neoliberal, colonial, surveillance state, take your choice) it is also paramount to recognise the multiplicity of kinds of labour, and positioning, which lead to references being added to a collection. Each contributor to the library, a Librarian, has done their own work of collecting through their research and has reached the material they contributed to the library through a Method.
This text will tell you a few things about ways in which you can navigate this collection.
Where L stands for Librarian, M for Method and a Set is a Collection:
L's are all the first names at the top left side of your screen.
M's are the three words on the top and the three words at the bottom of your screen.
∪ is a union of sets.
∩ is an intersection of sets.
\ is a substraction of sets.
L1 : If you click on one L, you see what they contributed to the library.
L1 ∪ L2 ∪ ... ∪ Ln : If you click on more L's, you see what items each of them added to the library side by side.
L1 ∩ M1 : If you click on one librarian and a method, you will see what the librarian contributed to the collection through that particular way.
(L1 ∪ L2 ∪ L3 ∪ ... ∪ Ln) ∩ M1 : If you click on many librarians and one method, you will see a collection of files that were obtained by the library through that particular method by all the selected librarians together.
(L1 ∪ L2 ∪ L3 ∪ ... ∪ Ln) ∩ (M1 ∪ M2 ∪ ... ∪ Mn) : If you click on many librarians and many methods, it will do the same as above and keep adding new collections for every new method added.
(L1 ∪ L2 ∪ ... ∪ Ln) \ L1 or (M1 ∪ M2 ∪ ... Mn) \ M1 : You can unclick both librarians and methods.
We hope you enjoy your time here.
After putting together this collection and setting paths which you can use to traverse it, we invited three artists to share their experience of being among the files in a sonic work: Martin Gugger, Arvand Pourabbasi and Simnikiwe Buhlungu. You can listen to them below.
Martin Gugger, Superflies
Hi, my name is Martin Gugger. I was given an address to a library and now I'm browsing its contents. I'm not too sure of where I'm supposed to go, so I wander around aimlessly, reading words here and there, recollecting my thoughts in the process. Where will my explorations lead me? Why do I feel out of place? How can I make these words I read mine? Why is it so hard for me to keep focus?
Arvand Pourabbasi, Hyper-desk
Through a series of notes, Hyper-desk responds to our living/working condition as immaterial workers, and focuses on structural needs of a workspace and its physicality which forms and conditions our working habits. Hyper-desk particularly talks about the precarious life of immaterial workers as an aftermath of de-centralising workspace into numerous homes, living rooms, and bedrooms. It tries to correspond to both virtual and on-site collective workspaces, one as spacious and extending boundaries of time, space and accessibility, while the other sees boundaries as a value.
Simnikiwe Buhlungu, Berlin 2 Berlin
An audio guide detailing the directions from Berlin (Not this one! That one!) to Berlin (Not that one! This one!) using Google Maps’ step-by step directions for -- ideally -- a vehicle. While this form borrows from the structure of audible GPS directions, it is more of a mobile historical narrative[s], of how one site in the Northern Hemisphere and it’s colonial-namesake located in the Southern Hemisphere (Germany and South Africa, respectively) are cyclical points which chart the cultural and historical landscapes of various geographies. Names of roads and streets, the absence or presence of toll roads, whether there are landmarks or amenities as indicators of vicinities nearby, the [collapse of] measuring space and time and the route that GPS gives to you in assumption that “there were no stops, no necessary visa applications, favourable [to us] socio-political, cultural and historical stabilities, infinite mobilities, infrastructural and architectural favourabililites, or limitations to access and economic capital”.
Some of the text, images, graphics, audio and video clips on this website are protected by copyright law, where the copyright is owned by third parties. author is making the third-party material available to you under the fair use doctrine. Fair use permits only certain limited uses of the material.
You may use the website and its material only for your personal, educational and scholarly use. If you wish to distribute or make any of it available to others, or to use it for any purpose other than your personal, educational and scholarly use, you must obtain any required permission from the copyright holder.
If you are the copyright holder and would like to take down any of the files, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We want to recognise the labour of writing and publishing, and encourage those who can invest in knowledge do so through the purchase of the books you like, through the publisher or a second hand seller. As the publishing house Minor Compositions write in their Open Access Statement, one can think of buying physical copies not as the purchase of commodities, but as a form of support or solidarity for an approach to knowledge production and engaged research (particularly when purchasing directly from the publisher).1 We are strongly intonating on the word particularly, and would like to add that on all accounts do not make a purchase through amazon. This company accounts for 40% of “online retail sales in the e-commerce market stream”, controls 75% of all online marketplace salesiiand engages in predatory pricing to obliterate competing sellers.2 What will we be learning when one ultra aggressive, north american company is the sole distributor of our curricula? Our library is made as an extension of access and a nudge towards reconfiguring outdated syllabi.
1. Harney, S. & Moten F. (2018) The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. ↩
2. Aditi Agrawal “Amazon targeted sellers, investees, AWS clients with anti-competitive practices: 9 key takeaways from Bezos's deposition before the antitrust subcommittee,” MediaNama, August 3, 2020, https://www.medianama.com/2020/08/223-takeaways-jeff-bezos-antitrust-hearing/↩