I wrote these essays for the first issue of Pigeon, Studio, published September 2011. The website and more recent issues can be reached here: http://pigeononline.co.uk/
I also created a graphic for their Market Issue, May 2012. (link soon)
ART ISN’T DEAD, TEACHING IT IS
CONTRIBUTOR: MATEUS DOMINGOS
Mateus Domingos is a fine artist, filmmaker and self-proclaimed serial dabbler. Interested in the experience or affect of art – with a keen awareness of the systems that facilitate and control the production, display and consumption of art – Mateus writes here of his experience within ‘Art School’ in its current incarnation, hoping to provoke a critical awareness of the teaching, the studio and the system.
To preface; I am writing this text, preliminarily, at a coffee shop. I came to the city primarily to encounter this moment of solitude in the masses, aside a straight black coffee. Life is performance. Here, I slip into the performance of that guy sat typing in a coffee shop, what a schmuck/dude. This performance, is however, dramatically more productive than the performance I succumb to in the university studios.
Art isn’t dead, teaching it is.
Painting statements on laminate boards. “You know, people say paintings dead. You’ve heard that right. Well, that’s all rubbish. Conceptual practice, though. Now that is dead.” Tutors harking on about their days as part of the YBAs wax lyrical on modernist tropes, whilst a lecture programme designed by feminist-cum-radical academians attempts to impart knowledge of a history, which seems tailor made to provoke a critical, politicised practice. All of this is obviously separate from the issue of commodities, and the reality of the systems in which art is produced. The result is a disjointed dialogue about ideas and theories and an overflow of images.
Through painting I’m thinking of Smithson, rendering the systems visible, examined. I want to strengthen the dialogue that we have as students, between students. All the ‘teaching’ seems to have worn most people out. The studio and smoking area is a place of small talk and the night before; a far cry from the happening cafés of the surrealists. The system is corrupt and broken. It produces practice, but not a positive practice. The whole value in the studio is that it provides the basis for a community and a platform for discussion. In a recent tutorial I defended the Feminist domination at the school of the arts, in terms of staff research and the perspectives from which we are taught. In the most rousing form I could manage, I said, ‘but this is good. It allows us, the students, to know our enemy! It allows us to position ourselves clearly, to argue or agree with the ideologies and histories we are being fed.’ I’m not sure I convinced a soul.
If the art school is to continue in it’s current incarnation, at £9000 a year, much needs to improve. It would be fine to teach the production of commodities, if they didn’t try and force romantic notions of the artist or politicised practice at the same time. There should be consistency.
I’m talking about provoking a critical awareness of the system. I’m not entirely keen on the slightly militant tone I’m using and hope you don’t write this off as more hippy shit.
More and more talk turns to escape routes. Possible trajectories that this degree will grant us. People want to teach, take other degrees, in psychology, philosophy, economics… actually learn about the issues they’ve been awoken to in their practice. (and surely this is a good thing. This has precedence, i.e. Daniel Hirschorn) People want to sell, and that’s good too. Others want to change the world through artist interventions and that too is commendable. After the history we’ve been taught, to want anything, to be able to identify any route of positive action is a miracle. With the growing realisation in the potential of the studios and the power of the students, there are an increasing amount of performances (conversely these are the moments when the performance stops and we become real) and student-led seminars. Real moments when we learn about what art is. There is a perennial bloom of student exhibition groups which are are overwhelmingly good as they force so many questions about the content of the work and how it should interact with a public, whether it should be for sale and how the works work together. Through these moments we become aware of the reality of the work outside the institution and also the value of the institution. The art school system can begin to be assessed. Art school effectively pits similarly aspirational students (young and old) against the more/once established artists- cum-lecturers who claim to hold a certain knowledge. There are, also, the really great tutors who do exist, who inspire and teach through positive wisdom, as opposed to negative monologues that provide that framework to fight against.
The practice today thrives in the in-between spaces, online threads of communication, walking to catch a train for some seminar, in the café outside the studio. Tom Sansome* turned the exhibition space of our studios in to a front room; sofas, tea, carpet and art. It felt real. The institution may fail to keep up with practice, unable to assess it by their old constraints, but that doesn’t really matter. It only matters that the practice continues and as art students we talk to each other about the work, the future, histories and context, and that these studio islands form networks and gain perspective from the dislocation of the studio. Positive change is happening, and itʼs through publications such as this one.
An anecdote: In a lecture recently, the tutor asked the assembled second years, ‘what is art?’ A feeble silence followed and we moved on swiftly, all aware that the contradiction of our existence had reared it’s ugly head once more.
Another coffee, another seamless performance. An adaptation. This time the setting is the café of a creative industries building that homes a dozen graphic design firms, a handful of photographers, web designers and even a couple of architects. Anyway, I lied, it’s an OJ as I already took coffee in a restaurant where the only other 8am customer was a wild- eyed old man with a long beard and smart red sweater, drinking old english tea. Maybe this isn’t really relevant.
I read my feedback for another semester. The work I’d submitted was focussed around a novella. I was forced to recognise a confusion in the geography of the studio. ‘You can’t read a book in a gallery.’ Admittedly I am here afforded the luxury to speak without entering in to an actual discussion, much like the feedback, but so take all this to be mildly exaggerated. My problem here is that there never seemed any point in focusing art school
problem here is that there never seemed any point in focusing art school practice on ‘gallery’ work, when the work was always destined to be judged by the tutors and peers, where I left it in the studio. This it seems is one of the central conceits of the art school. They allow a freedom to explore practice without being bound by project briefs or titles, yet they are in the end judging the work in terms of it’s imagined potential realisation within a gallery space. This then dismisses work that has been actualized in other contexts, such as the studio itself. Performances and community art projects will come to be judged in terms of their documentation within a gallery.
Art School offers participants the oft-perceived luxury of a four month summer. Art School summers are the students time of migration into other networks, other worlds. They can be periods of stark realisation of an other. Outside of the institution, because it’s doors are locked shut. It forces a negotiation of studio. Following feedback, I take long walks in which I mutter monologues of what I might say in my first group tutorial. About how I am reacting by working exactly as I was before but censoring out, with a marker pen, the elements that aren’t for the hypothetical gallery, and how I’m not going to speak of this censorship outside of this initial group tutorial. I’m inventing a performance for within this institutional context now more completely than before. A practice that is always to appear hypothetical within the studio but through dialogues and uncensored visibility in other locations, it is realised. I guess I’m just scared of the end. I’m trying to eject early. The making-work-real by removal from the institution. I think what I’m talking about can be explained in terms of twhat I believe I once heard was the native american’s conception of space: If I cannot find my way home. It is not me that is lost, but home. An artist’s contextis always going to be that immediate physical location which is around them and their work.
I decided to explore Etsy. Throw myself into a context outside of the Art School. This itself seemed like some fatal betrayal of art school dogma. I was greeted open arms by a community full of love and happiness. People rarely sold anything but everyone was talking about the work, sharing it and enjoying the process. There’s a kind of purity to the place that would probably be considered naive at Art School, and maybe this is why I created the No-Sales Club which is a ridiculous group only for people who haven’t sold. Many people have joined and everyone’s sharing advice and tips, but none of us has sold, so what do we know. It is doomed. I sense my poisonous presence is probably being noticed though and received a plea to open the group to people with sales, who could provide qualified advice. I want to believe in this, in happiness, but art school awaits and in order to succeed there it’s hard not to be just a little cynical.
In Beautiful Losers (1966) Leonard Cohen writes, “Come on a new journey with me, a journey only strangers can take, and we can remember it when we are ourselves again, and therefore never be merely ourselves again.” And is this just how Art School works, ever necessary to engage in this performance, of the hypothetical gallery? When I return for the new semester I’ll take my adventures on Etsy and talk about them with distance. Reality, and the reality of other art worlds, outside of the Art School, interrupt the hypothetical gallery. It’s like pulling an actor’s wig off. Like the coffee shop performance, that is useful because it creates a public space in which one can work, even if looking like a schmuck, it is productive. And maybe the bias towards a hypothetical gallery makes Art School studio practice a more productive rehearsal for the outside art world.
* artist website -indexhibit.tomsansome.com