On Pedagogical Turns and the Use of Time

[*In 2017 whilst participating in Capacete’s mobile school project on the occasion of Documenta 14 ‘Learning from Athens’, Gian Spina edited a series of articles Documenta in Athens, and co-authored a couple of them. And, I got the chance to work with a friend (in a publishing capacity) on the series. I took particular interest in the two he co-authored, On Pedagogical Turns and the Use of Time (with Nikos Doulas) and Waiting for the After-Effects of Documenta 14 in Athens (with Jota Mombaça), which offer institutional critique for the ‘art school’ and ‘art event’ respectively. While these articles predate Luv ’til it Hurts, the project was already in my mind when working with Gian, and with this project I attempt to both make an HIV & stigma-themed work–that evokes themes and issues within ‘art curating’ and ‘art philanthropy’–and offers criticism on the conditions of production encountered along its two-year course. Thanks Gian for the inspiration!!! xo Todd]

I can think. I can wait. I can fast.

Hermann Hesse, Siddartha

In recent years we have seen a strong increase in the construction of schools as art projects or as new propositions of producing knowledge. Curators and artists present themselves as educators, public programs have become a sort of new-hit, and projects on ephemeral schools are marked as important events.

School of Unlearning, Night School, School of Improper Education, School of Everything, School of Death, School of Redistribution, The School of Nature and Principle, The School of Narrative Dance and Other Surprising Things, School of Improper Education.

With a quick search one can easily find such projects done by artist-educators which are normally followed by nomenclatures such as an education, dis-education, unlearning, dis-learning, learning from Athens. A common ground on many of these projects are the idea of listening as a form of construction, the organization of places for a communal gathering, non-hierarchy, and the desire to exchange and compose forms which distanced from the western neoliberal model of knowledge production and circulation.

But what are the consequences and deployments of a non-western-neoliberal proposition inside of a neoliberal western environment such as the art world? Are we really willing to deconstruct hierarchies, accepting and embracing this notorious knowledge outside of this status-quo, or are we just using this in-vogue-commodity in order to gain recognition?

In the nineteenth century, school played a key role in the formation of the nation states in Europe. It was an important weapon in constructing identity and ideologies and in the development of discourses of knowledge and power. A real state apparatus which constructed the foundation of what would latter be used in a much more sinister way.

One of the main questions when it comes to epistemological turns is “how does one liberate itself from the social historical ideas behind education?” The subjective power makes itself present constantly and to be able to analyze and attempt to dismantle those hidden techniques of power may be the biggest task.

“The idea of the ‘secret schools’ is largely considered to be a national myth that was devised to inspire patriotic feelings in difficult times and to idealise the—often ambigious—spiritual leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in the country’s collective memory… The topic has continued to receive prominent treatment in Greek history schoolbooks at the past and present century.”
Marina Gioti, The Secret School (2009), digital video (11 min), Documenta 14, Kassel.

Documenta 14 attempted to learn from Athens, but the question persists: were they really listening? Were they prepared for the change of paradigms within the structures which sustain such an event?

It is necessary to analyze both the collateral effects of such commodification of the school in real life and in the art world and to examine what these learning/teaching attempts could provoke. One of the departures regarding education could be the analysis of the linguistic implications of the term and the ideologies which are implicit in it. Inside education lies the notions of “bringing forward” and “bringing up,” which points to a positivistic vision of the world while also creating the problematic of: what is this forward or/and what is this up? In other words, this forward (progress) and this up (north) are still part of a specific ideology, a specific way of seeing the world and simultaneously connecting it to something controllable, shaping subjectivity with its contents and truths and therefore producing power and the possibility of organizing societies according to a specific agenda. Perhaps this is why so many projects regarding school and pedagogy tend to avoid or negate the word education, as a form of bringing up the necessity of thinking beyond this ethos, which is attached to the vertical hierarchical axis where one speaks and the alumni (the one without light) would sit, listen, and obey.

So when thinking about un/an/dis educating we are actually talking not only about a new form of seeing, approaching, and discussing the events but also an “end of a world as we know it,” where the necessity of re-addressing the past, re-writing history, and finding ways of re-conducting ourselves becomes an imperative.

In the recent symposium titled School of Everything,[1] held in Kassel and Athens as part of Documenta 14, Jonas Tinius characterized anthropology as potentially a study of everything and posed questions on how we can “avoid the pitfalls of turning the study of everything into an ideological project of ordering and narrow-mindedness” and on “how one can teach a critical discipline that focuses on appreciating and understanding human experience, and yet is fundamentally based not in theoretical abstraction but in interacting, in doing and in living.”[2]

His introductory statement echoed notions of listening, open-endedness and the beautifully unfocused with regards to education:

Anthropology is a discipline that focuses on the study of human beings, in their ways of being, their interactions with one another and the world, which bring into focus even the post- or non-human. It is a discipline that has in focus everything and is therefore to some extent beautifully unfocused in its theories and obviously also in its approaches. Anthropological approaches are about listening, doubting; its methods are open-ended, some describe the basis of its knowledge production as ‘deep hanging out’[3].…[4]

A very similar approach is the one of Nicolas Austin Legros. Perplexed by the restraints and hierarchical methodologies of western pedagogy, he wishes to embark on a two-year cycling expedition from Athens, all through East Asia, ending in China. His project, titled The Draisian School, originates from the Draisian bike—the ancestor of the bicycle invented by Karl Drais in 1818. The name serves as a metaphor for being on and off the road and for learning to balance between epistemologies (ground knowledge) and interpersonal experiences.

A Masters student himself at the School of Fine Arts in Bordeaux (l’Ecole Supérieur d’Art de Bordeaux), he embarks on this expedition as a means to produce a thesis within and beyond the restrains of the Academy, and thus through a new educational ecology.

Legros describes it as “a school within a school” framed under the appropriation of existing Academic tutorial structures enriched by informal encounters and connections with locals as new generators of learning. Geography, history, music, politics, and everyday rituals become the fundament of a sensorial awakening that takes place through a procedural “being with.” This learning condition positions him in a dual function of a student and a distributor of knowledge/mediator among a constellation of “experts” beyond the geographical restrains of the west.

In a sense, one could read Nicolas Legros’s proposition for a school as an anthropological research (in accordance with Tinius’ line of thoughts) and as a tailoring of an education that doesn’t simply object contemporary/western pedagogies but distills from them all essential discursive and reflective particles to its benefit. It is a journey of understanding human experience, a study of everything, and a “deep hanging out,” beautifully unfocused and yet thoroughly assembled.

But surely if we are not all eager to jump on a bike and embrace a nomadic life as a means of learning, we must ask: how can we construct spaces of deep hanging out as new pedagogical temporalities that evade epistemological hierarchies and surpass dated educational models? And maybe more importantly, could these spaces actually exist, given that the politics of learning are an integral part of the neoliberal regime of operation?

Aware that the commodification of the everyday leaves little (if no) space for modes of exchange, imagination, and sensorial awakening beyond the capitalist structures that define productivity through their dogmatic prism, could those zones of learning become places of unlearning, intending non-productivity not as a shut down but rather as an opposition towards entrenched methods of knowledge production and consumption?

Over the last decade, we have witnessed a plethora of thinkers speaking about the fast change of the human experience, from conversations to walking, from looking to sleeping; a time of permanent syntony in an overexposed world. The subversion or better said eradication of simplified forms of inhabiting the world creates a form of insomnia as a state of sensory impoverishment, of permanent illumination.

Schools have been, with rare exceptions, reinforcing this fast-pace agenda. How then can the school be a place for reclaiming spaces of daydreaming and non-productivity?

We are conditioned to live in a world of “permanent illumination”[5] as the dystopian aftermath of western enlightenment where knowledge production is framed under a photology that surveils and controls it for the sake of productivity and the capital benefits. This conditioning serves the appearance of an improvement of our social status, of our economic situation, and our standard of living; it creates lifestyles and mediates them as desirable truths. From that, what many (Jonathan Crary / Christophe Bouton/ André Lepecki / Jorge Larrosa Bondia) have perceived is the arise of an impoverishment of the experience through the increase of information, a dispossession of the self, a form of amnesia in a disenchanted world “in its eradication of shadows and obscurity and of alternative temporalities.”[6]

This is certainly a metaphor, but the regime of information plays an important role when thinking about both our daily experiences and the pedagogical turns which are here the subject. However, if we attempt to incorporate those ideas into a more expanded application of pedagogy there should be a place for the darkness, not just as a metaphor or antonym of the permanent illumination we are living in, but as place of being in another rhythm, as a possible place of resistance that exists within that which is already out there in the world. André Lepecki calls this potentiality of darkness “the dark promise,” which conditions the creation of something away from the fraudulent brightness that the state delivers, “a darkness in the light that operates fugitivity.”[7] We could therefore think of the school as a dark promise, as an environment emerging from the temporal condition of deep hanging out where time can literally make its presence perceived.

One could identify this as a form of escapism, a moment of silence or a pause. But as witnesses of the commodification of those ideas through the commercialisation of leisure, we can no longer speak in those terms. What is truly elaborated here is a form of learning beyond the imposed politics of time and productivity, a constellation of periodic raptures of some sort that encompass a non-western perception of time that supports and shapes productivity as an elusive entity. And though we talk about a prototype for a school, education, or pedagogy, we are in the most profound way confronted with a fundamental question: how do we deal with the very precious tool we have, which is time, and what do we with it? Perhaps this calls for the construction of forms for preventing its complete and total privatization. A condition of being with and feeding from each other and from multiple “others” (human and non-human) through seeing, listening, caring, offering, and thus living; a doing nothing, but doing a lot.

And while this might appear as a paradox, it does legitimise itself through a temporality that evades deadlines, solid outcomes, a quantification of its processes, and the urgency for a mediation of its encounters.

In late March this year, CAPACETE art residency (Brazil) landed in Athens, forming an approximately eight-month residency titled CAPACETE ATHENS. Transposing its modus operandi from South America to the Greece, this “gathering” of ten Latin American and two Greek artists framed itself as an experiment and proposed a first semester of listening, being together, and engaging with Documenta 14 and the local communities without having a necessary goal—actually there are no imperatives in its proposition. That is to say, we are changing and being changed by being, by contemplating and letting things happen, a program without a program. Perhaps this is the common point of some of the ideas which embrace the non-productivist use of time, to concentrate on being-together, on giving the phenomena a chance to happen without pressure or imperatives.

To come under the shade of this mango tree with such deliberateness and to experience the fulfillment of solitude emphasize my need for communion. While I am physically alone proves that I understand the essentiality of to be with.

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Heart

[1] See: http://www.documenta14.de/en/calendar/23511/the-school-of-everything-at-the-parliament-of-bodies and http://www.documenta14.de/en/calendar/22574/the-school-of-everything.

[2] Jonas Tinius, “Anthropology and/as the Study of Everything? Paradoxes, Potentials, and Pitfalls,” School of Everything, Kassel & Athens, July 2017.

[3] See: http://cyborganthropology.com/Deep_Hanging_Out

[4] Jonas Tinius, “Anthropology and/as the Study of Everything? Paradoxes, Potentials, and Pitfalls,” School of Everything, Kassel & Athens, July 2017.

[5] Jonathan Crary, 24/7 – Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, (Verso, 2014), p.14.

[6] Transcription from recording: André Lepecki, “Are You Alive Or Not? Looking at Art Through the Lens of Theatre,” Studium Generale Rietveld Academie Conference-Festival, Amsterdam, March 2015.

[7] Transcription from recording: André Lepecki, “Are You Alive Or Not? Looking at Art Through the Lens of Theatre,” Studium Generale Rietveld Academie Conference-Festival, Amsterdam, March 2015.

Head image: The School of Narrative Dance, Under The Mango Tree, Kassel – source: instagram @aneducation_documenta14

Article originally published on ArtsEverywhere, on August 22nd, 2017.

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