Academy as exhibition

with Henk Slager

Henk Slager was the first to come on Wato Tsereteli’s mind for collaboration call on the 1st Tbilisi Triennial. Right this curatorial tandem accepted the challenge of provoking academies to rethink institutional conditions on the permanent basis and to bring the variety of collective practices from different cultural backgrounds together. However it was not the first experience dedicated to the educational agenda. What are the similarities and core differences between the present and past attempts? What was the main to expose for the triennial? And how far the impact of Tbilisi Triennial can go for Georgian or whole South Caucasus art scene development? Read these and other interesting topics below.

CaucasusArtMag: On the way to you, we had an appointment with Anton Vidokle. Among other things we discussed his view on the possible continuation of the raised issues within the frames of the 1st Tbilisi Triennial. His response was: the academy discussion is over and more or less this is a rehearsal.

Henk Slager.: Rehearsal you mean “the same thing again”?

CAM: Maybe not so roughly “the same thing” but in the wider sense of the meaning…

H. S.: Well, if Anton Vidokle talks about rehearsal, I guess he refers to the discussion from the mid of the last decade… Let’s say from 2006-2008 when people like Irit Rogoff developed the academy project and touched on issues such as – the exhibition as academy. It was mostly focused on the educational dimensions of the exhibition. The same topic was the core of Manifesta 6, which was to be held at Cyprus in 2006, and where Vidokle by the way was a member of the curatorial team. The provoking discussion at that time was coming from the contemporary art practice and not from the academy itself. Perhaps because of the constraints of the Bologna regulations, this understanding of the free place or experimental space was only articulated somewhere in the curatorial realm and it needed to be rethought. With the project presented within the framework of the 1st Tbilisi Triennial we try to reverse Rogoff’s exhibition as academy, by introducing the academy as exhibition. And thus we want to present, to put on display the internal conditions of contemporary art educational practices. So what Vidokle would call a rehearsal, could be better conceived as a similar discussion but then the other way around. We took the academy as a starting point, because we think it’s extremely important to rethink its’ conditions. Actually not really rethink them, but to be aware of the fact that the origin of academy was a free place for experiments and thinking. This is partly the discussion Vidokle is referring to, but now it’s important that academies themselves are again aware of the fact, and that presumably in the neo-liberal context, the whole discussion about creative industry doesn’t give that much free space for experimentation. For that reason academies should have a closer attention to the fact that they are presumably the only place that can offer a free space for producing to young creative practitioners. That’s one point and another… A lot of European academies are dealing with these so-called Bologna regulations which frame education in such a way, that there are comparable Ba, Ma or PhD programs. But which also might limit the possibilities of the free space I was referring to. So, because of this observation, together with the 1st Tbilisi Triennial, we’ve organized a gathering of European art schools which operate within the above mentioned framework, but still want to be focused on enabling free spaces; like Stadelschule from Frankfurt or Helsinki school. We compared them with other spaces outside of Europe, like Mildred’s Lane or ISA Havana and to see or figure out how they deal with the understanding of operating in a free space. And in this sense the discussion that came up in the forum about the collaborative practices, was also articulated in a very clear way in the exhibition, as most of the projects represented the outcomes of the collaborative practices.

CAM: Most of the artistic groups from the invited schools were created especially for this event, i. e. It was important to create a team which could collaborate in the frames of special event, just to illustrate the possibilities and outcomes of collaboration in a free space without any kind of regulations.

H. S.: Exactly. You could see the same example presented by MaHKU, Utrecht. Tiong Ang has produced together with a group of former students a movie and created “The pavilion of the distance” where the participating young, emerging artists could present their work. But there are more examples, such as Annette Krauss’s participatory “unlearning process”, or Inci Eviner’s “Acting in the Library.” So a lot of interesting collaborative practices took place during this triennial. I think it’s very important to establish these kinds of networks and meanings because in my view dialogues between different institutions can inspire each other. Based on these mutual inspirational encounters, people can think about the possibilities of developing unknown practices.  So, meetings like the Tbilisi Triennial create new connections, new possibilities… And why it’s important to have these kind of encounters, is not to develop a prescription or a recipe of how to build a free space, but to enable an exchange point for the spaces like CCA-Tbilisi that can influence the main stream academies and just because of their existence modify the general structure of these academies, and perhaps even parts of the art scene in general.

CAM: So it’s an opportunity to provoke the bigger with the small examples?

H. S.: Provoke in order to include various aspects of autonomous space and provoke the academy to rethink its own (institutional) conditions. That’s why it’s important to have those experimental schools in order to keep the dialogue vivid, otherwise art academies would face the risk of becoming a kind of bureaucratic machine, a large school according to the strict university laws, Bologna regulations or other regulations that make this entire factory run. So there is a permanent urgency to provoke again and again and make the academies think about their ontological condition.

CAM: But what stands behind the invitation of the keynote artists? Is it just a step for the event popularization or?..

H. S.: I’ve already had the same discussion with Wato (Tsereteli), you know. We wanted to go beyond a mere art school event. For that reason we wanted to highlight some artists that are experienced in long term specific discussions around these issues. People like Anton Vidokle who did Unitednationplaza project and was involved in the preparation of the 2006 Manifesta, Stephen Dilemuth who worked for many years on art academy projects, Marion von Osten, and Hito Steyerl who regretfully withdrew her participation.

CAM: Our last interview with Wato (Tsereteli) was emphasizing absolute necessity and possible ways of putting Georgia on the global art map. How do you see this intention in the context of the triennial?

H. S.: I can say some things about this. One is that after E-flux announcement, the triennial was invited to take part in the 1st World Biennial Forum in Gwangju, South Korea… Of course the development of the triennial needs a little bit more time, and with the second edition it will get more articulated. The first one is always very experimental. And of course not everything went well during this first edition. But the triennial learnt a lot from the first edition, I guess. It will be able to find better logistics for the second edition. And the second edition will secure that Georgia will appear even stronger on the map. Specifically, because this triennial has a very clear outlook, it doesn’t focus on city branding, like a lot of biennials do, but connects the city with conceptual and educational issues. There are only few examples of biennales that have a similar agenda: like Seoul International Media Art Biennial, and Performa in New York. Now Tbilisi is added to that list with the triennial focusing on art educational researches. In my view this conceptual profile is extremely important; because it’ll make clear we are working on a thoughtful project here and not simply invite some artists that are already traveling around the world.