collective self-education in the arts and culture…

Formats of Work in Collective Self-education :: Ana Vujanović

related concepts and terms: research, dermatologist art practice as research, experiment, de-institutionalization, deschooling, self-organization, methodology, open source

Current cultural-artistic initiatives and conditions of work at the independents scenes today require new formats of education, learning, knowledge production and sharing, that go beyond models established in official educational institutions. As the scenes grow, the formats become more articulated and organized, thus emphasizing the importance of the process of self-organized learning in collective instead of gained amount of knowledge as the result of this process. Besides, the articulation of the formats render their methodologies available for sharing, further applying and/or improving by others. It also prevents us from over-enthusiastic understanding them.

Among characteristic organized formats of work in collective self-education, one can find: workshop, laboratory, working group or workgroup, and reading group.

Workshop and laboratory, as we know them in contemporary art and culture, are similar formats, sometimes considered variants. Moreover their etymology is the same – both are about “work” or “labor”. However, they are not the same nor at practical neither on conceptual level.[1]

Workshop is the most often about skills or similar particular (piece of) knowledge. It is realized as organized passing on of certain technique, specific knowledge, skill, experience, or method. Workshop is led by a workshop leader (up to 3) who already has or knows that technique, skill etc, and includes several participants who are interested in it. In collective self-education, a group gathered around common interest or aim is the one who invites certain workshop leader according to its concrete need. Workshop is framed in time, and it usually lasts from one day to one week. Laboratory is meant as wider and less organized infrastructure for artificial providing optimal conditions for experiments, discussions, and creative processes of a group of collaborators. An educational laboratory shouldn’t be led; it rather gathers horizontally collaborators in a cultural-artistic process in order to put certain subjects in question, to test methods, or to try new solutions and ideas. Therefore, there is usually a moderator or facilitator – instead of leader – of the laboratory. Laboratory can be realized without predetermined duration, as an open process, but because of economic reasons it is actually a rare case and it usually appears as a problem-solving format.

Speaking conceptually, although work is starting point for both workshop and laboratory, it is treated differently. Work-shop (in previous periods connected with crafts) is about “selling and buying” knowledge that can be integrated in future work of the participants. On the other hand, laboratory (from lat. laborare > laboratorium “a place for labor or work”) is about improving the work through extending knowledge about it, inventing it, questioning it, or destabilizing its premises by putting it into an experimental situation.[2]

Working group in the addressed field is a community gathered around common educational aim: particular task, research project, problematics, topics… It is temporary format motivated just by the aim, and after it is completed working group disintegrates. Number of members, their roles, as well as duration and organization of a working group depend on the very members and type of the aim. In the situation of collective self-education this format implies a “post-pedagogical” shifting the roles of those who know and those who are taught, those who ask questions and those who give answers. In that way each member of the group can learn from the others and learn them, orient the work of the group and follow the stream proposed by someone else. Because of the complexity caused by multi-directional “togetherness” of educational process and one predetermined aim on the other hand, working group requires precise organizational structure and decision-making process. Otherwise it can easily transforms in standard hierarchical educational or research situation.[3]

Reading group is also a temporary educational community, but whose work is intellectually orientated and focused on studying certain literature. It is usually not motivated by a particular task or aim, but by common field of interest and will to research on it by reading, discussing and thinking in a collective situation (but without a request for togetherness). Typical form of work within reading group is “seminar”. It is practiced also in official high education, when a group of students self-organize themselves in order to read together certain book or author. This kind of work concentrated around written material implies Rancierean horizontal educational situation, where “the book” is material artifact that engages directly all present intelligences in equally valuable understanding and interpreting it.[4] From the process of work within a reading group who benefits the most are the individual participants, who can work separately from each other and whose collaboration within the group don’t necessarily requires solidarity or common vision of cultural or artistic practice. However, it can be a starting point for certain group work or action in future.

[1] See more about art practice as research, laboratory and experiment in contemporary art in Ana Vujanovic: entries “Reasearch, Laboratory/Experiment”, and “Open Work”, Performance Research: Lexicon, vol. 11/ no. 3, Routledge, London, 2007.

[2] See more about popularity of research and labs in contemporary performing arts in Mårten Spångberg: “Overwhelming, The Doing of Research” (manuscript), 2006.

[3] See more in Oxana Timofeeva, “From the ‘Inoperative Community’ to the ‘Workgroup’”, at, May 17, 2009 / “Od ‘neoperativne zajednice’ do ‘radne grupe’”, TkH, no. 13, Belgrade, 2007.

[4] More precisely it is the situation of professor Jacotot; see: Jacques Ranciere, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Research (Experiment >Laboratory) :: Ana Vujanović

Art practice as research broadly present in contemporary Artworld, symptoms was initially introduced in visual arts in the 1960s, viagra order developed and spread through later history of art. The concept is established by art historian Giulio Carlo Argan in his essay: Art Practice as Research (1958).[1] As Argan suggested, treatment research in and by way of art entails “the ability attributed to art for addressing and solving certain problems or for addressing itself to the artist as the problem that should be solved”.

Argan’s concept implies that artwork as research – in difference to a normal artwork[2] – introduces into the art production and practice elements and competences of second-level discourses on art: art theory, aesthetics, history of art, sociology and other sciences of art. So, points of departure of non-research-based art as normal artistic activity are established values: paradigms, technics, and knowledge existing in the Artworld. In that sense, its aim is to produce art objects as skillful and valuable as possible. In opposite, the research-based art, as incidental artistic activity tends to reflect, re-think, problematize, and question the existing values or itself as a value. In that sense, its aim is not the production of valuable art objects but critical artistic practice, focused on certain problems of Artworld (research in art) or on certain social problems through art (research by way of art). In the field of today’s art the interweaving of theoretical discourse and art production is constitutive for more and more works. They don’t exist in the system of history, tradition, and actual paradigms of art as in their natural environment whose values are accepted and used for the production of artworks. Instead, the values are here seen as the problems of the art-researches.

The problem with this practice that we meet in the most recent time is that art-research is already assimilated in the Artworld as a normal artwork, a ‘piece’. Further, this very problem must become an urgent topic for ‘art practice as research’ that still aspires to be critical.

Notions closed to the art practice as research are laboratory and experiment. Their increasing usage in the field of art from the 1960s to nowadays is usually superficial and makes as much problems as it tries to resolve. The concepts of laboratory and experiment are in fact taken from natural sciences, where they indicate place and procedure that provides optimal conditions for solving certain problems, testing certain presumptions, and discovering certain rules of surrounding world that can hardly be found in their pure shapes. In accordance to this, their common employment in the field of art – lab as free environment for unlimited experiment with human creativity – is basically wrong, since modern art (and post-modern too) in opposite to natural sciences is not based on positivistic approach to its ‘object’: phenomena, subjects, or topics from the surrounding world. Moreover, art in western cultural tradition doesn’t tend to achieve objective insight and conclusions on the object, but quite contrary encourages subjective points of view on certain matters of fact. Hence numerous labs and experiments in contemporary art are artistic self-evidence of its own weakness – in the absurd comparison to the natural sciences, in which art puts itself. Looking through these lens, the concepts are introduces into the field to provide more relevant status of art and its production of knowledge in contemporary society. However because of that they often miss that art is already-yet a kind of social production of knowledge whose intellectual and affectational peculiarities and material specificities are what should be constantly reflected in art and by way of art, as ‘the proof of artistic particular relevance’ in society.

[1] Giulio Carlo Argan (1982), »Umetnost kao istraživanje«, in Studije o modernoj umetnosti, Ješa Denegri (ed.), Belgrade: Nolit

[2] The term normal here refers to Thomas Khun’s theorization of development of science, through normal states of science and scientific revolutions, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolution.

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