I will take the reader on a guided tour through the imagined structure of The Department Of A Playful Beginning, The Department Of Social Dreamers and The Department Of Conflict. These departments are explored throughout the stories of several students and their reflection on topics such as play, collectivity and plea for conflict.
Currently, you find yourself present at ⚧.
In your hand, you should find a copy of this handout and a tiny mirror.
We invite you to look into this mirror. While you are holding the mirror, the place you are in could be a mirror as well. It’s a reflection of yourself or of others. It’s a place in which you can position yourself. It could be an unreal, virtual space, that opens up behind the surface; an impossible place, yet you can see yourself there. But you are not there, and your absence from this place invites you to see where you are not. The mirror is your shadow, your personal view within the space you are in, or at least could be in.
You can choose which mirror to look at... The tiny one you’re holding in your hands, or the bigger one, the one you are now standing in.
Welcome, we invite you to join your space.
As she came out of the toilet she had to climb over a little bench in order to meet John. Obstacles could be found everywhere, the ⚧ felt like one big playground. John was waiting for her on the other side of the hallway, on a little bench in the corner. He seemed like a nice guy; very energetic, a bit too much even. He took her hand and dragged her through the hallway.
She felt like she just started some sort of game in which they had to see the most places in the least time. John was almost running and hard to keep track off after just arriving at the academy from a long way of travelling. They passed a few doors with signs on them; one said Copy Only, another one Silent Room and another one Place in the… she wasn’t able to read the last sign on the door as they passed. John was so energised; before she knew it they found themselves outside of the building. He pointed to the lake in front of them and told her the floating courtyard could be found in there. The days were short and it was already getting a bit darker which made it too hard to see what John was pointing at. She could vaguely see a round building at the centre of the lake. She had heard about the floating courtyard before, in order to get there, you have to balance over small wooden panels. She didn’t have enough time to figure out more; John wanted to show her some other places on campus. He took her hand and they walked towards a small tipi next to a tree.
“This here, this is The Place Where You Can Call Your Mum!”. The tipi was quite small but almost as high as the tree next to it, covering the top of the tipi with its branches. As they walked around it she noticed a small plastic window that gave her a chance to peek inside. In the middle of the tent was a small, red pillow, underneath the stick that supported the tent. She could vaguely see the interior fabric, which seemed to be covered fully with doodles and notes. Next to the pillow laid an iPhone. She walked to the front of the tipi and as she pushed the fabric aside she stepped into it. It smelt like an old dishcloth, she shivered and tried to hold her breath. The doodles on the fabrics were still no easier to read from the inside; the whole tent was covered with small notes layer upon each other. As she took a closer look at the phone next to the pillow she noticed something engraved on it: ‘enchanting ideology’. She wanted to pick the phone up but it seemed to be stuck to the wooden panel. She couldn’t pick it up.
John entered the tipi behind her and laughed:
“Just unlock the phone, it’s glued onto the panels”.Annie pushed the home button and unlocked the iPhone. She saw a white background and two applications: the camera function and its corresponding library. She clicked on the library and opened the album ‘free time’. Photos of people running around in a park, playing with dogs and children, being on holiday, watching a movie with friends or having a barbecue in a garden were displayed. She was confused and tried to find her own answers for the tipi, the doodles, the phone and the pictures. She wondered if she needed an answer and if she did, what kind of question she should ask to get one.
“Am I only allowed to call my mum in this place?”, she asked John. He stood up and walked around her and laughed.
“You know, he said, while taking her hand to support her getting up, “sometimes you don’t need to be given certain instructions. Think about it! Don’t take it so seriously. Look around, where are you, Anni?”
She was still confused, but couldn’t find the right words for it. He didn’t wait for an answer, maybe he didn’t expect to get one, she realised, as he took her hand and dragged her along. Away from the tipi she wanted to explore furthermore.
As he sits down he thinks about Sekula’s class. He looks around.
“Maybe Sekula didn’t talk about a factory far away”, he thinks.
“Maybe I am the one that’s been asked to make a perfect fabrication.” Now, on the edge of campus, of the so-called ‘no man factory’ Sekula described, he can’t stop thinking about escape. He doesn’t want to be a factory worker. He didn’t come here to become an automatised being. John looks at his hands and with his right thumb, he follows the lines on his left hand. The thick line in the middle, the second from left, slightly curved. He likes the curve, it resembles him. This is the route he wants to follow. This is how his life is going to be. His thumb stops at the end. This is where the route splits, the point where you can go either left or right. Which one should he pick? Where should he go? He only knows he is sure of one thing; these hands are not made to do automatic work with.
He stands up and walks to the pile with the broken and forgotten sculptures. As he picks up a piece in front of the pile he wonders what it could’ve looked like. It’s unclear what the piece used to be before it was thrown on the pile in front of him. He looks at it for a few minutes, notices the forms creating a human shape as two bent sticks are dangling on a rake in the middle. He recognises human ribs in this rake. Furthermore, he recognises something that might have been an arm. While looking around, he tries to look for answers and if he can possibly find a head laying around, but there’s is no head to be found. He throws the sculpture back on the pile and realises that his imagination can be wrong. The fact that he finds this sculpture, here, thrown on a pile, reminds him that he could’ve been wrong all the time.
He takes the broken piece with him, sits down on a bent tree and takes the handout, given to him a few years ago, out of his pocket. He wants to reread the handout and notices an underlined sentence: 'But you are not there, and your absence from this place invites you to see where you are not...' When he looks up after reading the handout he sees that it’s getting darker. He takes out his notebook, tries to imagine what the forgotten sculpture in front of him must’ve looked like and starts sketching. Next, he takes out his knife from his small travel bag. He looks around to find a perfect tree to engrave his thoughts in.
“I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art”, he engraves.
“I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art”, he keeps engraving the same sentences over and over until it becomes too dark to continue.
“I think we should just wait for it to end.”, Cedric replies while drinking from his coffee.
“When are you going to change your shirt?" Nelly added. Cedric was wearing his 'Goodbye, Utopia shirt for over a week now. He mumbled that he would change his shirt if she finally would stop looking at her bellybutton. She recently pierced her belly button just to have a realisesson to look at it.
“But you know I want to, it’s cute.” Cedric looks at her while she is trying to look into the tiny mirror which is hanging from her belly button ring.
“You’re so weird",he says.
They watch Sekula entering the Copy Room walking to the front where he installs himself on a big chair in-between two printers. With both arms he leans on top of them. The two copy machines have a sign on them saying ‘this machine is defect’.
“Welcome,” he says. Cedric notices that the room is too packed and unsuited for this many students that came to see the lecture.
“I want to tell you something about a factory.”, Sekula continues.
“There used to be a factory called the No Men factory. It was located somewhere south of here, some time ago. In this factory people weren’t people, they were machines. They were taught to make something perfect together. Something perfect according to the supervisor. What was this perfect fabrication? Every year the machines made something together they found the most perfect. The supervisor didn’t agree. It was never perfect enough. After five years the unspecified demand of a perfect fabrication was still not delivered. And after ten years of suggesting, trying, adjusting to the supervisor’s demand, nothing even close to perfect was produced.”
Sekula interrupts his own story, turns around and starts pressing the print button on the copy machines behind him. First the left one, then the right one. He keeps on repeating this action. The copy machine starts printing something. Cedric can’t figure out what’s being printed. The pages seem almost blank, although it looks like there’s a small text in the corner. As Cedric tries to get a glimpse of what’s on the paper Sekula starts pressing both buttons at the same time now. The copy machine is running high and spitting out papers.
“What’s happening?”, Nelly asks Cedric.
“I really don’t know.”
Sekula seems not to be bothered by wondering faces and ignorantly keeps pushing the buttons of the copy machine in front of him.
Nothing happens for a while now. As the printer keeps printing, Cedric and Nelly look at each other confused. Then, suddenly, Sekula turns around and starts screaming at the audience:
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
No one replies, no one can figure out what is happening. Sekula stops pushing the buttons and with his back still turned to the audience he whispers,"everybody should stop copying", as the printer blows out its last breath.
Nelly stands up and walks towards Sekula. She takes out the pile of paper from the tray and reads out loud:
“Are you serving your own interests?” She chuckles.
“Well, are you?” Nelly looks at Sekula while throwing away all the papers from the tray. The papers spread all over the room, falling on people, some even fly out of the windows. Cedric notices that Sekula didn’t expect someone like Nelly to be in the class today.
Cedric could feel a tension, a misunderstanding and somehow fear in the copy room. The same room in which he is always just copying something. He never thought the room could be something else. The room shifted, it shifted into becoming the factory Sekula just described.
People start mumbling and asking each other questions of what just happened. Was this all part of one big lecture? Cedric realises that he is the one that should save Nelly, still standing uncomfortably in front of Sekula, possibly doubting her impulsive action and asks:
“Sekula, is this a lecture or a performance?”
“Sometimes, you should find your own answers, think for yourself.”, he answers on which Nelly turns around to the class and adds:
“Well guys, I think it’s a performance.” She sits down and starts looking at her belly button again.
“Or just get a tiny mirror like this one, hanging on your belly button”, she whispers and looks up at Cedric.
Her lighter was almost empty; she had to keep shaking it in order to get it to produce even the smallest of flames. When it finally worked, she puffed and looked at the water. The moon was reflected in the lake and the trees on the other side were waving at her. She smiled and thought it was cute that the trees were waving at her. She waved back, but this only emphasised her feeling of being alone. Where could the others be?
She fell down on her back in the grass and looked at the stars. She could design the stars, she thought. She could scan them with her brains right now, one by one, and then with the help of her own memory replace them in Photoshop. She could then remake the stars in whatever way she wanted them to look. They could even be a different shape. Maybe not the traditional shape of a star; do stars actually look star-shaped from close-up?
“Why are we always drawing stars in this pointy way?”, she wondered and realised; if the stars could be pointy in people’s imagination, she could be also different than expected. She could be any shape she wanted to be; a designer, a dreamer, a speaker or writer and maybe even a dancer as well.She remembered the little mirror she got when entering the ⚧ and which she carried around, on a necklace. She took it out of her shirt and looked inside. It was too dark to see herself. She searched for some stars in the reflection. The stars seemed shinier in the mirror. She realised that if the stars can be more shiny and pointy in people’s drawings or in her mirror, she could be that too. She felt she could be everything here, in ⚧. That was the beautify of this place, she could be a square; or even a circle. She could be every shape floating in the universe among all the others. She realised she would rather be a circle than a square; she would rather be a shiny star than a pointy one.
While sitting up straight she wondered what time it was. She never knew the time, she didn’t think it was important. Time was an abstract thing here, some people still used it, others looked at the moon or the stars, like her. Some of them were always annoyed at her for being late. But today she was early, she knew she left exactly on time. Wandering over the lake, quickly waving at the same tree again, her eyes captured the little dock on the left. It was empty, the boat already left. She laid back down in the grass and took out her phone to check the time. Of course. They weren’t late. She was.
The class was taught by Kate and Stefan. When she started studying and teaching here in ⚧ she arrived at the campus with both of them. He gave her a picture of a small boat. They talked for hours about how they arrived here. Apparently, it took them forever to paddle to their so-called ‘new world’. They wanted to find this new world throughout their practice, they told her. A new world in which no one will have nightmares any longer. They were hoping to find it here, in this place.
She thought it was rather funny. Mostly because she didn’t feel like she found her place yet, even after all those years. She was still hoping for the best to come.Kate and Stefan asked them to repeatedly say:
“I’m an object.” She took a breath, trying to become more focused and serious about the class, but wasn’t really able to do so.
After a few minutes, they were asked to name certain objects that popped up in their minds. Objects they could be, here, in this place, in our academy, now in this time and environment. Everybody started mumbling all kinds of different objects. Most objects you could find around in the space they were in. The hallway was full of unfinished projects, 3D prints, a big roll of toilet paper, some parts of a Finnish sauna, broken glasses in an empty hot tub, beer cans next to it and so on.
People started mumblingwords as ‘emergency sign’, ‘rusty kettle’, ‘old cookie’. Everything else they could see around them. She thought the class was failing. Again, she was incredibly bored. Not only because she didn’t feel connected to the method but more because she felt everyone was just following orders, without any creative output.
‘I’m a box full of chocolates!’, the girl next to her said. She had to laugh.
They were told to listen to their breathing. As Kate walked by she touched everyone’s forehead for a moment. When she came over to Chantal she did the same.
“Just let go, you can do everything you want here.” She couldn’t take it seriously, she began to laugh even louder. She had to laugh about the whole situation she kept putting herself in. Trying to provoke herself, by challenging herself into lame classes that didn’t bring her anywhere.
She wanted to get angry at the stupid nothingness box girl, she wanted to provoke her and hurt her feelings. She wanted to feel fear. She wanted to feel less free in order to feel free again. She couldn’t stop laughing.
After a few minutes, she realised she was free to go wherever. She didn’t see the purpose in this course, so why follow it? She left the room. She left the room unhealed nor as a box full of chocolates.
She opened her laptop to send her essay on time and closed it again after pressing send and looked into her mirror. Maybe she needed some make-up, she thought and opened her make-up box. She barely opened this box her sister had given to her last Christmas. She never really understood makeup and why she should use it but also really didn’t know how to. She opened her laptop again to watch a tutorial called ‘FULL COVERAGE GLAM MAKEUP TUTORIAL’ and followed the instructions. Her skin looked surprisingly more smooth and after applying some glitter to top it off she felt stunning and ready to leave. She jumped into her black leather boots and put on her coat.
She wasn’t fashionably late, fortunately, she wasn’t unfashionably early either. She put her coat on a pile next to the door at the entrance of the ⚧ and looked for the drinks table. First a beer, she thought. Then she turned around she walked into John and two friends. He hugged her and introduced her to his friend Cedric and Fritz.
“Hey guys, I hope you can get along, we need to call the dealer now.” He and Cedric turned around and left her alone with Fritz.
Fritz was wearing a shirt that said Goodbye, utopia. He was holding a mug on which ‘I’m never going to dance again’ was written.
“Why aren’t you ever going to dance again?“, she asked him.
“Well, it’s the end of the story, you know”, he answered.
She wanted to tell him that she didn’t know, she didn’t understand what story he was talking about, but he interrupted her:
“Want to get some beer?” She nodded and they walked towards the beer table in the corner.
Several hours later, and several drinks into the night, Sheila asked Fritz about his shirt and mug again. He had made them both in collaboration with Cedric for a project about synergy; he wanted to stimulate collaboration. According to them, there was too much individual focus; collaboration was failing, yet it was the answer to it all. He told Sheila he was working on a project with Cedric to make the school a better place and to suggest a new system. He wasn’t going to dance until the project was realised. By protesting the one and only thing he really loved to do, dancing, he wanted everyone to realize how he felt: too much of an individual.
A girl started dancing and Sheila noticed Fritz getting distracted. There was nothing to blame him for: she was beautiful; she was completely covered in silver glitter, no wonder why he had a thing for her.
“You won’t even dance with her?” She asked him.
Fritz looked at the girl, “Oh you mean Tania.” Without answering her question he put his hand in his pocket and took out some pills. The pills were all different colours. Some of them were imprinted with small logos of cats and dogs. He handed Sheila an orange one with a cat on it, swallowed his green imprinted dog pill with some beer and then laughed. He looked at the girl next to them again. After thirty minutes of shallow, distracted conversation Fritz told Sheila he needed to go. He said goodbye and walked over to the girl next to them. She started to dance around him. He stood there, still, not moving a bone. Sheila walked over to the table to get a new beer, swallowed her pill and turned around again. There she saw him; it didn’t take Fritz long to start dancing again.
Structures such as art schools are shaped by these utopian ideas; places where a potential community can form and freedom can be glimpsed, like subcultures. Glimpses of these utopian ideas can be found in every image and aesthetic around us like architecture, art, advertising and social media. The striking characteristic of these non-places can be described partially by words and text like objects such as maps, guides, warnings, signs, screens and posters: we are informed of what we are missing. And while being aware of this we play and question the intertwining idea of this utopia or dystopia, shifting from one to the other.
In art school, designers and artists are being educated in becoming aware of these ideologies by constantly looking in the mirror, the place in which you can position yourself in but in which you are not. We are reflective of the society we’re in and this can result in utopian projects about beautification, escapism and enchantment.
Therefore we also need to remind ourselves not to only look inside our mirror, but also outside of it. The place in which we are now. Ideology is simply a reflection of the structure we find ourselves in and can only create other ideologies.
This brings us back to questioning the role of utopian thinking in the design of art education. Whether the structure will be institutionalised, self-organised or funded, the ideology will never question itself and in all cases, we will still be inside a given structure.
In other words, instead of creating the other space, outside of the current one, we can take in the one in which we are now. Instead of creating an alternative, enchanted ideological education system, outside of the institutional one, we can stay here: The Art Academy. We must first delve into every problematic aspect of art education and practice in order to counteract them.
Eventually, by taking a closer look, we create a new space. We create a new perspective and position in the space we were already in. And by taking out our mirrors, by looking in and outside of the mirror we’re holding we find a space in which rules could be different, tangled and then made clear as contradictions.