Concerning to hard way to enlightenment

with Stephan Dillemuth

Have you ever thought about the educational systems and the casual market goods like tea or coffee active especially now when the Universities are branding themselves to advertise and provide expansive services around the world… The customer in this case pays for the education like for pizza delivery but the trick is that the knowledge in its core contradicts the idea of capitalism. It just has no price accordingly it has to be “an open source for an open access” – as the respondent of our conversation, Stephan Dillemuth states talking around the education and his research The Hard Way to enlightenment.

CaucasusArtMag: As it stands here: “Education in the Humboldt tradition was always intended to enable students to engage in a process of self-formation. But now students realize that commercial and technocratic factors are solely responsible for the form their education takes.” – So maybe you could compare it to other market goods like coffee, tea or something else for example. Why do you feel it so catastrophic when educational platforms are concentrated on marketing issues?

Stephan Dillemuth: The consumption of coffee and tea does not make the consumer to think like coffee and tea – if they had a brain. With Humboldt we had a concept of education that respects and furthers the students concern for self-definition and self-realization – schools and universities provide tools for a process of self-formation. Whereas now, with the Bologna Process in Central Europe a new ideology enters that determines higher education solely according to economic principles. The universities are firstly seen as markets for selling products (books, food, and fashion) and services (education) they also started to enterprise themselves with the goal of money making. As other big corporations they are using advertising and branding to create the good image, they are building up franchise systems like McDonalds and install their standards around the planet. You can make an Oxford degree in South Africa, for instance. The university, which is the center of intellectual production and reproduction, produces and reproduces the new neo-liberal spirit, in its content and its form, in edition. Universities become the service providers and this service costs money, you pay for the delivery of knowledge like you pay for a delivery of a pizza. But that contradicts the essence of knowledge. It’s the only stuff in the world that gets more when it is used. More you use and share knowledge, more you create.  So knowledge is a wonderful thing that contradicts the logic of capitalism, there is no price attached to knowledge, it wants to be free and accessible for everyone: open source, open access! In order to make knowledge profitable, capitalism makes knowledge accessible only if you pay, for school, university, for patents or copyrights. So the idea of free accessibility of knowledge and self-formation is gone.  Education becomes more and more expensive. It has become the synonym for streamlined job training that gets right into its application on the job market.

CAM: You’ve mentioned the Oxford licensing guarantees for more or less best option. And this investment gives you possibility to continue…

S. D.: I guess we are talking about two concepts of education: One that gives you tools, critical tools that enables you to self-formation, in a universalist sense. The other is merely job training, it gives you knowledge and skills that you can cope successfully in a particular, narrow field.

CAM: In order to supply a market with the human resources?

S. D.: Yes, exactly! This education creates streamlined human capital in the industrial or post-industrial process.

CAM: Another topic in the text is the free education. We can take Soviet Georgia as a model of something what is under the discussion. For instance in Soviet Union and thus in Georgia education was free, and accessible for the most part of the population. And finally almost everyone was high educated with a proper diploma in hand. Although only very small part of them could really deal with the topics. At that time in Georgia, for example, it was like obligation to subscribe for the newspapers or the book series editions. May be it was forced fashion, but still there were a lot of must have books which can be found almost in every family here. All this was creating an empty image of intellectuals, with nothing beyond it. It was empty image of erudite with interior design of the colored books. Many family libraries are full of uncut pages till today. These books have never been probably opened. And in other hand, maybe giving price to the education, on certain level, can be a try of this Soviet experience infiltration or setting of education where these authorities were created from colored shelves.

S. D.:  That can happen in any other kind of education. A narrow job-training creates probably a very general and solely economic view of the world. But the free access to an affluence of information can also create an empty intellectual. All that points to the necessity of an education to provide the tools for accessing the world and teaches how to use these tools. But why has the neo-liberal system finally conquered education? Because it’s the place where people are formed and formatted. The university is the place where neo-liberal ideology can reproduce, where students are made complicit with this economic system and its priorities. Outcome is ‘homo economicus’ in its function as human capital. Right now we have a crisis where almost every student has a debt. And that debt becomes the whip that forces people into the job market. So for the next ten, twenty, thirty years the earnings are used to cover the credit. Is that not the version of slave system? But then you might say this is better than no job at all. But maybe there is an escape?

CAM: It’s also mentioned there: “In the fields of fine arts, we find today a widespread, anything – goes attitude… Everything seems to be allowed as long as it generates desirable new commodities… Knowledge gained from such proceeding can only be seen a highly questionable, the market mechanisms often appear more interesting than ‘innovations’ in art”…   

S. D.: In my younger days I’ve experienced the field of art much, much narrower than today. In seventies the field of contemporary art was basically divided up between USA and few… only few European countries, Germany, Britain etc… Depending at which decade you look. This was coining the idea of Western contemporary art. But since early 90’s, this field expanded heavily and has gained much more participants; it has become a global concept. I am very ambivalent to that. Contemporary western art has now become a global promise for a certain kind of ‘freedom’, i.e. participation in western culture and its economy. It has become hegemonic. But it also merges with other regional and/or traditional cultures and forms of expression, which creates more diversity and ‘innovations’, but beyond that it does not create a paradigmatic shift away from the western understanding of art, and its commercial centers. For the art-markets even a benefit, you get huge variety of new products. I am very bored with that, as it all seems to happily conform to western art and western economy. It makes me a bit sad, when I see these new participants giving up their heritage, techniques, knowledge, aesthetics and identities, in order to participate in this global art circus. Exactly because of their different cultural background and knowledge it should be possible to observe and rethink the cultural and economic hegemony from the outside, or – if you say there is not outside anymore – then I say, to see it with different eyes. Maybe I should say it differently: What if the Western avant-gardes until the 1970s, have expanded their possibilities by turning inward, against the ruling notion of art. They opposed, or tried to break away, at least from the previous findings. By that new ways of thinking, new aesthetics marked paradigmatic shifts and willingly or not expanded the field of modern art. But now, what we call contemporary art has become all-inclusive. The concept offers a lot of possibilities to play around with; it creates diversity, but not difference. An opposition to it, is a paradigmatic shift, a possibility to turn against contemporary art cannot be found. Everyone is subserviently feeding the system, which is, in its core, the market, the economic system. Even if to consider that the field of art is a functionally differentiated – we might speak of art-market-art, art-fair-art, biennale-art, research-art, political-art, etc…  – The question remains the same. If we can, with all out imagination, construct a place outside of it. Art is always a construction! We do not have to wait until another economy or a totally different understanding of art falls down from another planet, we can work on it now, together with others, in order to change reality. ‘Contemporary art’ can not do that because its part of this reality slime, that’s why we have to fight it and its all-embracing tentacles. That’s the new game! We cannot rely on existing institutions; they are part of the problem. We have to make new and better ones. I find it necessary to collaborate and to organize outside of institutional frameworks, In order to do that. We share a similar problem and yet, we are different enough to bring different tools, knowledge and experience into the shared problem – I call this ‘bohemian research’. I can imagine situations where people work together locally, or in encrypted networks, with their problems at hands, keeping their findings away from the all engulfing contemporary art system, in order to use them for the improvement of their very own contexts. That, I think, would be a step towards the art of the future.