Experimenting as a form of teaching, democratic coexistence, interdisciplinarity, the self-determination of students and teachers, and working in art and design to develop and reconstruct society: Black Mountain College, founded in 1933, served as a space for artistic and social utopias for two decades and has remained a starting point for discussions on the conditions for successful teaching and research in the arts and design through to today.
And as one historical example—in addition to many other pedagogical reform projects—Black Mountain College could, in hindsight, be seen as an education project to enable subjects capable of self-empowerment, of working together in common spaces and inventing new forms through this process.
These cross-disciplinary experiments and self-empowering strategies just might be urgently needed in times of so-called Post-Democracy and Post-Facts, which imply a reformulation of the public sphere. Is there a potential in the cultural sphere that might offer a space for democratization? Does the impact of new working methods linked to digital technology drive further interconnections and resources that create other public spheres? Might this be a catalyst for new patterns of a communal exchange? And what does this mean for the teaching and learning of arts and design, for the structures, formats, and content of learning/teaching, for an institution?
The symposium “Revisiting Black Mountain College: Cross-Disciplinary Experiments and Their Potential for Democratization (in Times of Post-Democracy)” asked these questions in relation to anti-democratic tendencies in many countries worldwide. How can education still hold up democratic values, while at the same time presumably measuring its success by careers in the market? The symposium—from 25–27 May 2018—was organized by Prof Dr Dorothee Richter in conjunction with the exhibition and event programme “Revisiting Black Mountain” (documented under https://blog.zhdk.ch/revisit) initiated by the Zurich University of the Arts (especially through the now retired Head of the Department of Performing Arts and Film, Hartmut Wickert and the Head of the Department of Cultural Analysis, Christoph Weckerle) under the direction of the “Kollegium Kuration” (Bitten Stetter, Brandon Farnsworth, Dorothee Richter, Jochen Kiefer, Martin Jaeggi, Paolo Bianchi), with the aim of opening up projects from different disciplines, of artistic and research-based practices in equal measure, and the idea that it should be open to the participation of all groups at the university—students, researchers, and lecturers.
This new interest in other forms of learning is also connected to the cooperation platform “Shared Campus,” a bold initiative by the ZHdK working together on experimental educational formats at eye level with partner universities from Hong Kong, Kyoto, Singapore, Taipei and London. To work at eye level means that one also has to work on other forms of teaching and learning. In our globalized cultural world, deep cultural knowledge – both locally and globally – is a central requirement for artists and cultural practitioners working in diverse geographical, cultural, and social contexts; therefore, a vibrant network of international practitioners as well as the knowledge and experience necessary for navigating and being aware of such complex situations is a pre-condition in every contemporary cultural practice.
The symposium showed connections, interferences, contradictions, confrontations, and dialogues. We invited cross-disciplinary radical cultural practitioners as well as educators specifically interested in educational experiments. The invited speakers from various disciplines presented diverse formats of engaging with educational methods: Bernard Stiegler (philosopher), Alfredo Jaar (artist), Hongjohn Lin (curator), Susanne Kennedy (choreographer), Steven Henry Madoff (author, curator), Lisette Smit (curator), Raqs Media Collective (artists, curators), and Jeanne van Heeswijk (artist, activist) with lecturers (designers, musicians, theoreticians, curators) of the ZHdK, including: Swetlana Heger (artists), Dorothee Richter (curator, author), Gerald Raunig (theoretician), Nina Bandi (theoretician), Sabine Harbeke (dramaturge), Brandon Farnsworth (musician), Annemarie Bucher (artist), Daniel Späti (designer), and Cornelia Sollfrank (artist).
This issue brings together contributions from participants of the conference and adds further contributions by Andres Janser, Olga von Schubert, Caroline Adler, Boris Buden, Lucy Bayley, Sascia Bailer, Simon Fleury, Gilly Karjevsky, Asli Uludag, and Mieke Matzke.
The interview by Ronald Kolb with Bitten Stetter, Brandon Farnsworth, Dorothee Richter, Jochen Kiefer, Martin Jaeggi, and Paolo Bianchi—all professors or lecturers at the Zurich University of the Arts—provides an internal perspective of today’s curriculum-based universities in relation to an education model like Black Mountain College—which can be seen as the opposite.
The contribution by Andres Janser introduces the exhibition Revisiting Black Mountain × Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, he curated at Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, which ran in parallel to the project, and gave historical insights into Black Mountain College.
Daniel Späti presents the cooperation platform Shared Campus, a ZHdK initiative for international education formats launched by eight arts institutions.
Steven Henry Madoff’s contribution Black Mountain: Pedagogy of the Hinge gives thorough insights into the history of Black Mountain College and its migratory background and describes the form of the college as a formless network or assemblage.
Dorothee Richter follows the argument related to a renewed interest in other forms of knowledge production—as seen in Black Mountain College—in our contemporary society in her contribution Teaching to Transgress. She connects John Dewey’s educational theory with Fluxus’ Robert Filliou, bell hooks, and Jacques Rancière’s and Jacques Derrida’s theories.
Commoning the Institution–or How to Create an Alternative (Art School), When “There Is No Alternative,” the contribution by Cornelia Sollfrank, brings the “Commons” into an educational framework and discusses it with the example of the ERG Saint-Luc Graphic Research School.
In Emphasizing the “Co”-Factor: Practicing, Teaching, and Learning (Fine) Arts Outside the Curricula, Annemarie Bucher discusses alternative formats of teaching outside of an institutional framework. The contribution tells us about methods Bucher created in FOA-FLUX, an art and education project founded by Dominique Lämmli and her.
In his text, Ambiguous Dramaturgies and Crude Curation, Jochen Kiefer looks into theater practices and fine arts-related curating—their similarities, their differences, and their overlaps, and what they can tell us about education practice.
The interview with Mieke Matzke (member of She She Pop) by Dorothee Richter pursues the question of what the cross-genre and experimental teaching of Black Mountain College could be in art and theater today.
The artistic contribution by Susanne Kennedy, The Infinite Game of Becoming, comes as a play/script to us, combining theatrical elements with philosophical questions about the hegemony of man.
Brandon Farnsworth directs his attention in “We have created a parody of these austere rituals which didn’t exist in the past”: Revisiting Music Education to music education and its relation to other artistic disciplines with even stricter educational limitations, frameworks, and compartmentalization.
Johanna Bruckner’s text is based on her artistic works Terra Vague: Against the Ghosts of Land and Total Algorithms of Partiality. The works are informed by Brazilian architect Sérgio Ferro’s key ideas on questions of the socio-economic transformation of built space as the politics of the material and of social class.
Olga von Schubert, Caroline Adler and Boris Buden introduce the project New Alphabet School (Haus der Kulturen der Welt: 2019–2021), a long-term project at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. The series of events follow an open school-like method with “forms of collectively produced knowledge, making it possible for the participants to detect and address its incommensurability within the established knowledge regimes.”
The contribution Everyone is just watching what’s happening… reports on a collaborative exercise by Sascia Bailer, Lucy Bayley, Simon Fleury, Gilly Karjevsky, and Asli Uludag at a workshop event of Un-Learning Place at Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
Jeanne van Heeswijk talks with Ronny Koren about her long-term, community-based project Philadelphia Assembled (2013) at the Philadelphia Museum, and about her manifold methodology of community learning, collective care, and the “Training for the Not Yet.”
In Dreams of Equal Division of Toxicity Raqs Media Collective metaphorically speaks of the care of life, of oneself, and of community in relation a taking care of toxicity.