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Manual: On Artistic Processing and Art’s Pedagogy

Reach, Grasp, Move, Position, Apply Force. Still from film by Kajsa Dahlberg 2015.

A conference at the Royal Institute of Art on Artistic Processing and Art’s Pedagogy.

The sculpture- and 3D-area at the Royal Institute of Art is formulating an orientation in which the existing resources and teaching models are assembled around the notion of the workplace as the locus whence practices, techniques, and gestures are shared, as well as differences, ideas, and positions. As a complement and guide to this discussion within the 3D area, we propose a collective process in the form of a conference with its starting point in the specific conditions that artistic processing entails. We do this by inviting six persons with different perspectives that will share their thoughts both in lectures, workshops and discussions. 

We start from two questions: The first one is how artistic processing happens and the second is how this is then transmitted in the teaching situation. Artistic processing is manifold and a large part of artistic practice involves finding and formulating and constantly reformulating one’s way.

However, we see some things as common. Input comes from several different sources, literature, theory, other artists and the techniques and technology we use. Artistic processing usually takes place in a fluid situation between process and project. We learn by testing existing models, and developing new prototypes. How is this then transmitted in art education?

Art education has always felt the need to assert a particular status in relation to the academic standards in science and/or humanities. Most often, this particular status has been characterized by the notion of praxis. Practical knowledge is accepted to be at the core of the many ways in which art is taught. Far from reclaiming this fact as a rhetorical defense of an exceptionalism –which in its most typical formulation claims that art cannot be taught– art’s education should define how, then, this practical knowledge can be elaborated and transmitted. 

To assemble the teaching around the notion of the workplace (and, literally, in the workplace) is also a way to activate the ubiquitous relation between artmaking and urgent contemporary matters. Our present is characterized by a historically recurrent anxiety around what defines the material conditions of existence. This recurrence, this cyclical preoccupation with the ontological definition of material reality, seems linked to moments of acceleration of novel technologies. As if a new technical possibility would always imply a momentary separation from the material constraints of being. As if the promise of a virtual representation of the world granted by a new technology would always imply a need to reconsider the inevitable material ground that supports such promises and the subject-object relations implied by this grounding. We must not dismiss but accept this renewed challenge. Artistic processing and the particular genealogies they draw, across times and cultures, are a vantage point from which to analyse and perform these questions. In this present of polarised distrust and enthusiasm for technological solutions to our problems as species, the particular view of art as a repository of crafts, gestures, techniques, analytical processes and critical positions regarding materiality should be claimed as a mode of apprehension of the world, by way of analogy. 

The conference commissions the invited participants to reflect on these issues and to produce an input, to be presented as lectures to an audience of students and teachers, making the gathering a continuation of an open inquiry on art’s pedagogy. These contributions will be published later as a report, with the aim to guide the pedagogic direction of the sculpture and 3D area of KKH. These reports will later be printed as handbooks and compiled, serving as a manual in the formulation of the area’s educational methodologies and structural planning. 

Day 1: Tuesday 7 December

09.00–09.30 Welcoming by Asier Medizabal, Johanna Gustafsson Fürst and Sara Arrhenius
09.30–10.30 Crisis in the Workspace, lecture by Axel Andersson 
Short break
10.45–11.45 Lecture by Loulou Cherinet
Short conversation and questions 
Lunch break
13.00–16.00 Workshop and organisation in smaller groups, followed by a general discussion 

About Axel Andersson´s lecture: 
The artwork happens in-between the crises of the workspace in art. Both the artwork and the crisis of the workspace can be understood as being intermittent, that is: they are re-occurring without any regular pattern. These are events that we can only fully understand, and invite, by letting them change us into something surprising and unfamiliar. How can we also make these events of destabilisation conscious to artistic practice and art institutions? Maybe by understanding crisis as a danger signalling health (if we survive them) and the work of art an understanding of singularity while at the same time being an act of cleaning up in-between crises. 

About Loulou Cherinet’s lecture: 
Loulou Cherinet will ‘talk back’ to some of the concepts put forward in this conference by means of storytelling and adapt Graham Greens famous quote to claim; a process has no beginning or end, arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. She will speak about her experience of the workplace as a nomadic entity and seek to trace her current project – the making of a cyclorama, a myriorama and panoscopic structures – through some of her previous attempts (prototypes) to disrupt binarism. “When I flesh out notions and modes of thought, when I elaborate on their substantial form or explore their differential edges in my work as an artist, my feeling is that this allows me to spend time with the unknown. I think of it as a kind of ‘vegetation’, a becoming that is less predicated on stable oppositions than the more typically desirable ‘knowledge production’”. Finally, she will tell us about a trope in Ethiopian poetry called Sem ena Werq (Wax & Gold). The founding metaphor of this specific style of Amharic poetry is based on lost mould casting. “I was never explicitly taught Sem ena Werq in school, yet the way it relates ambiguity and double entendre to knowledge and interpretation seem to have the indirect power of a paradigm (model) in my work.”

Day 2: Wednesday 8 December

10.00–11.00 Meta Material Data Ends, lecture by Manuel Cirauqui
11.00–11.30 Introduction to workshop 
Lunch break
13.00–15.00 Workshop 
15.00–15.45 Crystallization, lecture by Agnieszka Kurant
16.00–17.00 Discussion 

About Manuel Cirauqui’s lecture: 
This lecture is part of an ongoing research carried out through Eina Idea’s seminar META MATERIAL I DADES, a multi-year investigation on post-materiality as an evolving paradigm in data-driven global societies. This presentation, which condenses the research carried out to this date, looks at the ontology of matter as an interface, and at art history as an archive open to material processes such as mutation, erosion, and crystallization. Thus a series of classical case studies—from the statue of Laocoön and His Sons, to the Cathedral of Cologne and the Grand Shrine of Ise, among others—intertwine with contemporary examples, to form a conceptual site in which we will discuss ancient concepts of presence, matter, and technics. Contrast with today’s accelerating technologies (e.g. crypto objects, mixed realities, smart gear) and their associated discourses should inevitably fade as we combine perspectives of geological, molecular, and human time in them.

About Agnieszka Kurant’s lecture:
The lecture will address unstable and hybrid forms in times of post-materiality. Her works often elude ontological classification, drawing attention to a paradigm shift: the distinctions between natural and artificial, sentient and nonsentient, real and synthetic, life and nonlife are starting to crumble. 
We will discuss works which undergo perpetual plasticity and mutation, physically reacting to changes happening in society and exploring the impact of digital footprints made by millions of people around the globe on physical changes and mutations of matter. 
Today mineralogists talk about “mineral evolution” in which networks of matter and energy flows are connecting living organisms to minerals. The fact that organisms and minerals are no longer clearly separated radically changes the field of what is considered life. A mineral crystalizes much like a sign, a language, a fiction, or a revolution. We will discuss various stages of emergence, crystallization, growth, and decomposition of forms resulting from the collective intelligence or agency of thousands or millions of people, molecules or microorganisms. Among the artworks and notions discussed she will draw on exformation, bezoar and Post-Fordite.
To ask questions about the deep consequences of contemporary ideologies and technologies Agnieszka will draw on human intelligence and the “self” as a multitude of agents: a polyphony or a collective intelligence, involving minerals, microorganisms, viruses and algorithms, thus reflecting on the relationship between the virtual and digital with the biological and geological.

Day 3: Thursday 9 December

10.00–11.00 Form in Art and Capital, lecture by Josefine Wikström 
Short break
11.10–12.00 Lecture by Kajsa Dahlberg
12.00–12.30 Workshop Part 1 
Lunch break
14.00–15.00 Workshop Part 2 
15.15–16.00 Sharing from the groups 
16.00–17.00 General discussion 

About Josefine Wikström’s lecture: 
The Western democratic capitalist system is on a steady downturn. The 1970’s start a cycle of crises that repeats in the 90s, and implodes in 2008, so the twenty to thirty so called “golden years” after the Second World War are, after all, a very short period in the history of capitalism. With no international workers movement strong enough on the rise precarious work is now endemic in all parts of the world. From food delivery workers serving the urban creative classes to the lumpenproletariat in the global south.
If western capitalism has changed the past fifty years or so, in the same period art has also undergone transformations. After the post-war era, with movements like Abstract Expressionism and the invention of new genres in art like performance, a global art market has been established with mega biennales and art as a kind of finance property. The performative turn that began in the 1950s and 60s has expanded into categories like social practice and choreographic exhibitions and now dominates the idea of the contemporary in art. The privatization and deregulation of higher education in general – made possible partly by the Bologna system and by the focus on “research” – has made art academies enter a sort of real subsumption under capital. How can we understand art’s role in this “new” economic-social landscape in the context of Northern Europe? How might the philosophical and aesthetic concept of ‘social form’ – both of art and of society – help us in trying to answer such broad question as that of art’s role in society? One argument the lecture will propose is that one of the specificities with art is that it proposes new notions of form that break with dominant social forms in society. The centrality of form in art distinguishes it from other subjects in the academy, like the social sciences. 

About Kajsa Dahlberg’s lecture: 
Kajsa Dahlberg will be speaking about her PhD project at KKH. This practice based research is looking at the ways in which nonhuman modes of life are embedded in human-generated manifestations of visual culture, specifically investigating film as an apparatus deriving from seaweed bodies and kelp forests. One part of this research is based around the work of the Danish playwright Ulla Ryum and engages in non-linear modes of storytelling as a way to decenter humanist perceptions of temporality. Here, the (camera)lens, rather than being the threshold between that which is registered and that which is not, becomes a device through which we can engage in a reciprocal relationship with the world. The other part engages with seaweed as an organism deeply embedded in the history of photography –both because iodine extracted from bladderwrack was used in the first forms of fixed chemical photography, and because seaweed contain large amounts of polyphenols that function as an active agent in the developing of analog film. Invoking the work of Jean Epstein and others, this project is engaged in cinematography´s capacity to place the perspective within something other than our (human) optics.

About the participants

Josefine Wikström is a writer and researcher working at the intersection between cultural theory and post-Kantian Marxist philosophy with a particular focus on performance and dance in contemporary art. She is currently working on a project on the possibility of art’s autonomy after 1989, funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond based at the department of Aesthetics at Södertörn University. She holds a position as a Senior Lecturer at Uniarts in Stockholm and completed her PhD in philosophy at the CRMEP (Kingston University) in London 2017. She is the author of Practices of Relations in Task-Dance and the Event-Score: A Critique of Performance (Routledge 2021) and the editor of Objects of Feminism (2017) together with Maija Timonen. She writes art criticism for Kunskritikk and dance criticism for Dagens Nyheter

Axel Andersson is a Swedish historian, writer and critic who primarily uses the essay format as his artistic medium. He contributes to several Swedish and international newspapers and magazines with texts that often explore the intersections of art, colonialism and nature. His books engages with topics such as how the West learned to swim the crawl stroke in colonial locales (Koloniala simskolan) and how nuclear waste can be understood as a subject and material for philosophy, feminism, and contemporary art (Absolut farmakon). In his latest book, Negative Geology: A Cultural and Technical History of Early European Mountaineering (2021), he traced the theoretical and visual origins of European Romanticism. Andersson has since 2016 been the editor of Kritiklabbet, a critic-run organisation investigating the future of art criticism in the new digital public sphere. In that capacity he has written and lectured extensively on how to understand the role and potential of criticism today. 

Kajsa Dahlberg is a visual artist currently living in Oslo. Dahlberg investigates the materiality of film based on a desire to problematize the medium’s relationship to representation, and thus also the relationships between the artist and the object of investigation. She is interested in the specific relations between photographic inscriptions of bodies, human as well as non-human, and the mechanisms through which these become disciplinary forces in our societies. Dahlberg received her MFA at The Art Academy in Malmö 1998-2003 and was a studio fellow at the Whitney Program in New York 2007-08. She is currently undertaking a PhD at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. Dahlberg’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde, Parra & Romero in Madrid, and Lunds Konsthall. Her work has been shown at museums and biennials including; Moderna Museet Stockholm, Malmö Art Museum, 8 Bienal do Mercosul, Manifesta 8, and GIBCA 2019. 

Manuel Cirauqui is a curator and writer currently based in Barcelona and Bilbao. Since 2019 he is the director of Eina Idea, a think tank and programming platform at EINA University Center of Design and Art/Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona. Also, since 2016 he has served as curator at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao where he has conducted the Film & Video exhibitions program and curated a number of major exhibitions such as Anni Albers. Touching Vision; Art and Space; Henri Michaux. The Other Side; Architecture Effects; and Soto. The Fourth Dimension. Previously he has worked at institutions such as Dia Art Foundation, New York; Jeu de Paume, Paris; and Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation-Centre Georges Pompidou. 

Loulou Cherinet is an artist and professor in art at Konstfack. She began making art and exhibit as an autodidact through self-studies rooted in pure serendipity, love and friendships that took her from Gothenburg through Pannonhalma and Vienna to Bali where she joined a community of artists and developed a praxis of large-scale outdoor paintings on canvases treated like sails, wood and metalscrap sculpture and transdisciplinary installations in a DIY tradition. After a few years of shifting workplace from Bali and Jakarta, back to Gothenburg and then Washington DC she began to formally study art in Addis Ababa 1996-2000 and at Mejan in Stockholm 2001-2005. Cherinet works mainly with the film medium as spatial montage where cinematic storytelling, the act of filmmaking, viewing and semantic layers are conceived in terms of form and structure. Her work has been shown at biennials in São Paulo, Venice, Bamako as well as at Modernautställningen, Manifesta 8 and grand touring group exhibitions, such as Africa Remix and Divine Comedy. Another strand of Cherinet’s practice is devoted to public space and collaborative projects focused on social dimensions, such as House of Words, commissioned by Elvira Dyangani and Statens Konstråd 

Agnieszka Kurant (Lódz, Poland, 1978) is a conceptual artist whose work investigates collective intelligence, non-human intelligences and the exploitations of social capital under surveillance capitalism. She often collaborates with scientists and scholars from various fields. Kurant is the recipient of the 2020 LACMA A+T Award, the 2019 Frontier Art Prize, the 2018 Pollock-Krasner Award and the 2021 Google Artists + Machine Intelligence Grant. She is currently an Artist Fellow at the Berggruen Institute Transformations of the Human program and was an artist in residence at MIT CAST in 2017 – 2019. Her work was recently exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Istanbul Biennial, Kunsthalle Wien, Salzburg Kunstverein, Hamburger Kunstverein, the De Young Museum in San Francisco, MOCA Toronto, Jameel Arts Center in Dubai and the Milano Triennale. Her recent solo exhibitions and projects include Crowd Crystal at Castello di Rivoli in Turin, Errorism at Muzeum Sztuki, Lódz (2021); The End of Signature, commissioned by the MIT List Visual Arts Center at Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA (2021); The End of Signature, Guggenheim Museum, New York (2015); Exformation, Sculpture Center, New York (2013) and Stroom den Haag (2014). In 2010 Kurant co-represented Poland at the 12th Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition (in collaboration with the architect Aleksandra Wasilkowska) presenting the project Emergency Exit at the Polish Pavilion. Her work was also exhibited at Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Guggenheim Bilbao, Witte de With, Rotterdam; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, Cleveland Biennial; The Kitchen, New York; Bonner Kunstverein; Grazer Kunstverein, Kunsthalle Meinz; Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; MOCA, Detroit; CAC, Cincinnati; Mamco, Geneva; Frieze Projects, London, MUMOK, Vienna; Performa Biennial and Momentum Biennial. Kurant’s monograph book Collective Intelligence, will be published by Sternberg Press / MIT Press in the spring of 2022