Could we do something for nothing and without funding? Could we even opt against funding as a way of being? Be so cheap that we are free? And instead organise Bake 2 make stalls as fundraisers. We wanted to do something tangible, talk seriously about art in the making; but also, something that was not entirely goal-oriented. Could space be found for real dialogue (Bakhtin), beyond the now neatly institutionalized boundaries of the simulacrum of relational aesthetics (Bourriaud)? Could there be space for the idea that personal identity changes in the collective forum, that individual and collective hard edges don’t exist, that, instead, they become.
Even if an “inoperative community" (Nancy) is better than nothing, slightly better than a “community to come" (Agamben), maybe it is more helpful to think in terms of “creative commons" (Negri). This follows from “Art as Operation" (David Brancaleone, recirca.com) which applies Pierre Macherey’s ideas on philosophy to art practice, art that never happens in isolation and which begins with dialogue to produce or suggest change.
Could there be an art practice consisting in art theory; theory not divorced from its object (art and the social), but looking at what is the case and trying to understand it? Take the example Deleuze gave Foucault in an interview, in which he recalls that Proust tells the reader that he is just offering her a pair of specs with which to view the world; so if the pair doesn’t quite fit, no problem, she can try on another one.
This project eventually began to address and question not only what is involved in art and making inside, but also outside college, thinking of art practice as a practice situated in a social context, our everyday life which is also a site of change, creativity, and rebellion inside and outside the institutional space (Lefebvre), or of resistance (De Certeau). Could we spread out – amoeba fashion – into noninstitutional spaces?
In the context of trying to think about directions and even just getting one’s bearings about educational institutions today and how marketization affects us, The New spirit of capitalism (2005) is a particularly useful device. The authors argue that society responds to multiple logics in the way it functions and justifies its actions, what they (Boltanski and Chiapello) call “cities". These include: the logic of the industrial city (efficiency, command-based line management, hierarchical, modelled on Fordist industrial processes of manufacturing); the logic of the commercial city (market, exchange value is given absolute priority over use value). This portable skills-based commodification of the human being student is spreading into universities); the logic of the project-centred city (connexionist, network-based, but outcome driven, collaborative but not necessarily ethical let alone aiming for equality); and the logic of the inspirational city (ethical and equal, interrupting clichés, having the courage to expose what the commercial city excludes, to value the knowledge of blind spots, of noncommercial, non-goal-oriented activities.).
Then the questioning shifts to: can the imaginary city ever morph into the real city? Is the real world a combination of these cities which can overlap, be overturned, resisted? The authors argue that this is possible through revived social critique and artistic critique, the one redressing the balance in terms of equality and against exploitation, the other in terms of a sustained attack against commodification in a project-based, mobile, flexible twenty-first-century Western society.
In the face of the institutional status quo as attempted stasis, immobility, Art in the making is also inspired by Alain Badiou’s outlook, a philosopher notable for his authoritative rejection of postmodernism and its theoretical consequences, in preference for an architecture of thought which posits human agency and change, the dynamics of radical change, at its core.
If you replace Boltanski’s and Chiapello’s cities with ‘worlds’, you get a sense of Badiou’s recent thinking. Some theorists have interpreted Badiou’s ideas as messianic, unrealistic and even incoherent. But this is because of his theory of the event which describes radical change in philosophical terms. In Being and event (2006) he built nothing less than an architecture of the event, using mathematical ZF axiomatic set theory; then, in Logics of worlds (2009), he concentrates on the situation, the reality of the status quo, trying to explain, in philosophical terms, change as it appears in situations, in one of a number of worlds, each one governed by its own logic.
While the kind of event Badiou has in mind is rare indeed (major scientific breakthroughs, 1917, 1968), and has little application (other than to think big, to think radical change as a real possibility), Badiou’s theory of fidelity can be applied and brings us closer to the event as he sees it. It consists in a fidelity to a principle (or let us call it militancy) as it emerges in a real situation (rather than just as an abstract or platonic idea, outside time and space, so ideas within a material, contingent world); for example, the cultural and political revolution of ideas in the post-1968 West, in which for a while, one logic gave way to another, which could not be explained or understood within the parameters of the preceding logic. Fidelity as finding a route through, not giving up, despite the obstacles, to be active in developing the positive consequences of big breakthroughs in society and culture, what others earlier referred to as “epistemological breaks" (Althusser, Bachelard, Canguillhem).
In the context of education, and specifically art education, Badiou’s fidelity to the event could be exemplified with student-centred, emancipated teaching, and the very idea of citizenship as something to be gained, rather than a given. Such a position draws on the legacy of Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the oppressed.
What the forum facilitates among participants is the opportunity in college to debate ideas, a growing confidence to speak up, negated by traditional transmission teaching (chalk and talk). If learning is considered as more than a skills-based and vocational ‘activity’, there is room for it to also embrace a journey of self-enquiry at any age, and the ‘search for meaning’ in life that Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel wrote about and a journey that the learner-student and the learner-educator share (Frankel, 1984).
For critical theorists (Marx, Gramsci, Habermas, Zizek) learning in our society tends to replicate, produce and reinforce hegemonic values. In this framework of thought, some kinds of knowledge are singled out as more important in a society still determined by class values (in an expanded definition of class). For them, it does not make sense to ask how learning functions, unless we also take into account the societal context in which it functions, its power bases and values.
Paulo Freire said that learning and schooling are not the same thing and that most learning takes place in an informal setting outside the classroom. In this respect, Art in the making provides a forum for learning as reflective discipline (occurring outside the framework of formal learning, learner types, tasks, curriculum, course design, teaching aims, learning outcomes and formative and summative assessment). Freire’s approach was to see learning in terms of emancipation; as a means to have a voice in the world or what Jürgen Habermas calls our “lifeworlds" and improve them; something that becomes possible once we learn to learn. ‘Learning to learn’ makes it possible to adapt -exciting, because it is only when one of the forms of intelligence is engaged experientally that we realise our potential. Now that’s active learning.