Friday, October 23, 2009

Streiken und Lehren

Was so viel heisst wie "Strike and Teach" (stimmt nicht ganz, aber die urgency, die das ganze so bekommt, gefällt mir besser).

So there's a strike at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (the University of Vienna joined in on thursday noon as I just learned). The school is occupied by its students, by students, by students and teachers. Against? Against the so-called Bologna-process that means the introduction of a three-phase model like that in the (not only United States) with bachelor–master–phd. Of course this does not only mean a change in terms of curricula but also involves the whole structuring and decision-making process of the universities which already changed into entities with partial legal capacity; senates were introduced, the students were forced back in every step of a possible decision making process be it the policies of a specific institute be it commission-work for hiring professors etc. ...

By now the b-m-p model has been introduced at almost every university in Austria. But this is an art school and this strike is apparently against a system that considers education as good that is consumable like everything else, something you can and should invest in because you speculate on the return on investment (ROI) and on further interest that pays back–here, again in the US, this is a bit contorted as you take a credit to invest in something that has to help you in the future to pay that off–still, we're talking economic terms, or even commercial terms as we would still be able to find economic theories that regard education as common good, as public good, that should neither become scarce nor unaffordable for certain parts of the population. Again: this is not so much about the fear expressed from the economic side that the bachelor degree could be completely useless in finding a job–or from the academic side where the bachelor degree is the horror-scenario of every distinguished institute proud of its prominent researchers; for this discussion is an old one. In the 1980ies they changed from phd to a master-phd model and everybody was in full commotion.

This is about the penetration of all areas of life with economic and commercial principles, with an ideology that considers everything consumable and wants every process to be rational and goal-oriented. So of course, there has to be a strike at art school; where else if not there? But these protests do not only reveal the ideology behind a re-structuring process but also the ideas that still infuse art schools in my opinion: making them into a weird hybrid between romanticism and modernism–or better showing how modernism was infused with romanticism and we ourselves still are? (sorry for my grammar and syntax) the romantic notion of the artist standing apart from bourgeois society mixed with the very modernist idea of the avant-garde artist who can and should change society through art, a somewhat schizophrenic situation.

So am I supporting a system by attending an art school that follows the b-m-model and where you have to pay a lot to enter it? Yes and no. (oh how will I get out of this??). I decided to study here because I got the opportunity (and I worked for that) and then because I wanted to stay. I chose this particular school in this country exactly because of the cultural differences, because of not being in Europe, because of a language that I understand but I don't have to learn specifically, because of the relative smallness of the school, of its variety of departments, that seemed to encourage a more interdisciplinary approach to studying, because of the fact that it was far off from a straight way into academia. And as far as some of these things "worked out" for me pretty well others didn't but that is obviously not the answer to the question.

I am aware of the fact that I am in a system that I don't support from an ideological point of view, not at all. I am aware that I am privileged by being able to afford it. And I am aware of this contradiction but I have to work with that (not live) and what is interesting now that I am here is: how to perform this system, what are the pockets, what are the holes that allow something else? "Self-organized learning," I declared to a friend (who is Austrian) the other day, but he reminded me of the fact that I entered a system that is precisely not about this possibility of studying/learning and that I shouldn't be so snotty. Point taken, I thought, but is it really a point?

There are these two approaches around all the time: you pay a lot so you have the power to demand a lot–intensity, experience, knowledge, practice–as a student you seemed to have bought the right to be turned into a well trained creative artist whether that is possible or not, into an artist who knows how to surf the art world. You evaluate your teachers and courses, and they have to deal with you in an open, encouraging manner (that I have never experienced in a school in Austria I must say and I am bit reluctant to believe that it is only for the money!!) as you are somehow in control. But this is a system that is organized tight, attendance lists, assignments, etc... rules that define exactly how you may or may not fail etc... so you can demand a lot if you play to their rules. Basta. difficult to introduce your work pace, to subvert assignments, just to do differently? yes, but still I think my questions are worth considering–and the concept I just talked about was a bit followed by what was called "studium irregulare" at the University of Vienna in former times (as I think it doesn't exist anymore..).

So what are the pockets, how to perform the system? (and the answers will look like questions to you but they are answers, believe me.) What are the strategies that could be used? collaborations, groups, every work is a collaborative, collective project, where the authorship gets blurred? refusal of any thoughts about a market driven audience? re-enactment of crucial periods/points in canonization of works, strategies, theories? and then deconstructing them? deconstructing school a little bit in every work that you do? re-appropriate learning? deterritorialize learning? through setting up not only one blog but a network of blogs where it is never clear how updated and accurate information is? Through just changing the classroom? Through setting everyone in a different physical state? Be annoyingly critical about the content, strategies etc. that are taught? Quote without referencing, displace without stating the origin and even less the end? Re-appropriation of the processual? Introduce a playfulness that is not hippie, not hipster, but fierce and loud? Adjust your voice so that nobody ever knows who is speaking and from where? Simply ignore things that are taught? And how am I doing this as a teacher? (that was unexpected, wasn't it?).

Still the stucture, the administration is formed by ideology at the same time it infuses th politics of its execution, of teaching and leraning. At my little art school, there are these boards and committees where students are involved like the senate, there student affairs office, and a couple of others but I don't have the slightest idea how they are really organized and how the decision making processes are executed when there are budget cuts, new teaching positions, new offices to be formed. there seems to be no space that is students' only run–no, maybe the courtyards between the buildings, there seem to be small patches that resist regulation, but still it's THE campus–no budget that is in students' hands only. And again this IS a small school, placed like a sattellite to this vast city.

About a month ago there were strikes at USC (university of southern california), at all its branches if I remember that correctly. Teachers demonstrated against budget cuts and had to convince their students of this cause. I don't know if they were successful, I think this term is not even appropriate.

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