How does one become an artist?
Why become an artist?
What could art be today, and what could its role in society be?
We are not sure that we know the answers to these important questions and that’s why we started this school; in order to meet a young generation with whom we need to understand together what’s going on with art, artist’ subjectivity in our situation in Russia today.
What do we want from the art school?
First of all, we have no illusions about miserable situation about current stage of artistic production today, but we do not want to coop with this state of things: a free play of all type of différance which nobody is taking care about. These formal, linguistic and institutional games are mostly an escape from any form of responsibility and position. And despite of this objective situation we keep believing that art is essential for all human becoming, art is always a gesture of negation and a call to the world to be otherwise — thus the role of art in society has always been crucial. And it was and still is together with philosophy a legitimate ground for the crucial quarrel what is the truth.
But what is this role today, when all discussions about truth seems to be doomed under suspicion of totalitarianism and the borders between art and life, art and media, art and social studies, art and activism, have been destroyed and we have fewer and fewer opportunities to formulate not just the notion of art but even its location?
What kind of knowledge is important to gain to become an artist?
How can this knowledge be evaluated?
Who are the experts who make judgments on what is good and what is bad art?
We feel a strong unease with the current process of academization of artistic education. Maybe it is because none of us (the artists who initiated this school) have ever properly studied art as a discipline. Or maybe we keep believing that art cannot be taught, that it must rather be practiced.
This is why we would like to modestly continue the good old tradition of artists of one generation trying to inspire younger generations with their own beliefs, fears, hopes, love and poetics.
Just to commemorate a long list of such initiatives we want to mention a few – UNOVIS in Vitebsk, Black Mountain College in the US, Soviet confidential circles around dissident artists, Bauhaus and numerous other similar initiatives (1) which left behind tangible and sometimes invisible results. The most important of them have always created a change in communities whose presence in societies made a difference and inspired hope, even in the darkest times.
What kind of art education is possible in the Russian context, where basic democratic freedoms are highly strained and the level of state and everyday violence is steadily increasing? In a situation where there are no academic programs in contemporary art and no institutions (or support) that are concerned with critical and politically engaged knowledge?
We continue to think about art that engages in all the painful processes of the development of our society, about art that cannot hide in the secure ghetto of institutions and proper curriculums. Art that abandons the formalist approach to politics, art that is able to tell stories about humans which touch others, and communicates not just with trained professionals but with a broad audience. To achieve this, we need to obtain knowledge from different disciplines, and then use it in a most heretical way.
We need to marry poetry and sociology, choreography and activism, art history and militant research, queer studies and drama theory, political economy and the sublime, artists’ labour rights and romantic visions of art’s mission and so on.
Our project is unique because we want to keep fidelity to the leftist tradition of modern art, and at the same time escape narrow “old school” approach to politics. We want to experiment with true egalitarian practices of emancipation which succeed despite all the traps of real politics. We think that it is time to build a viable alternative to the private interest of oligarchs, corporations and senseless public entertainment. The 10 years of activity of our collective, and the positioning of the sponsors of our school – “Rosa Luxemburg Foundation” clearly has created a special space for the political experimentation in educational field.
No one has asked or invited us to open a school – just in opposite – there are many forces which did their best here that this project would never happen. And our school is far from having any standard facilities as a proper art academy. We wish we could have an equipped, permanent base– with classrooms, studios, wide range of teachers and assistants and so on — but it is not the case. But our school already operates under quite generous conditions – it is free (we even provide a travel and accommodation’ grants to participants outside St. Petersburg), it can support the projects in a framework of school activity, it can provide all teachers a decent remuneration for their labor at highest local standards and we are able to integrate into our activity most remarkable teachers from all disciplines.
The school operate as a module structure – we meet with participants one week in a month – a very intense time during which we run all of our seminars and tutorials, and also mount public presentations and lectures. We have 5 permanent courses composed for one year –The History of Modernist Art (Andrey Fomenko), Aesthetics (Artyom Magun), Body Studies and Choreography (Nina Gasteva), Critical/Poetical Writings (Aleksander Skidan) and English for Artists with Emily Newman. The rest of time we dedicate to practical seminars with 3 tutors (Nikolay Oleynikov, Tsaplya Olga Egorova, Dmitry Vilensky). And of course, we invite occasional guest-speakers for topical discussions with our participants and in the context of public presentations.
From the outset, we established that we would not focus our program on the development of individual projects of our participants (although we of course consult personally with students about their own work as a matter of course.) We decided instead to try to build new forms of collective work – to create knowledge in order to conceive and spread ideas of possible new communities. These ideas are far from the imagination of neutral positivist space of knowledge. We believe that our school is a not a place for learning about whatever is considered good in contemporary art – instead we demand that our participants take a position in a world where the main battle is the fight over ideological tendencies. In this, we strive to shape and defend our own tendency with all our means, inherited and new, in the process of mutual learning.
- see a very comprehensive list of initiatives listed in Anton Vidokle’s article: