International Conference (May 29th till June 1st, 2014)
One of the global tendencies that describes the current situation of the arts under the conditions of neoliberal capitalism is privatization and financialization, in which both the arts and education lose the meaning and the status of a public good. Using the pretext of austerity and strategies of neoliberal policy, the state is dismantled in its public sector, disowning the arts and education as common concerns. While, on the one hand, it goes hand in hand with the transformation of labor in post-Fordism, de-skilling and re-skilling which trains flexible subjects, and, on the other hand, it reflects the temporality and affective modes of project-based, intermittent and precarious work, this tendency plays out as a merge between art and education, leaning on art as research, or art as practice, to name a few concepts in recent debate.
The past few years have witnessed a paradox in the development of higher education in the arts and university. On the one side, MA and doctoral programs in the arts are proliferating, thus registering an increased influx of artists into the academy. “Creative-art” and “practice-based” doctorates offer institutional support to artistic research, in other words, a refuge for many young artists who are struggling in precarious conditions of freelance production. To continue one’s studies by going back to school doesn’t just present a temporary relief from the art market, it responds to a relentless feeling of various kinds of structural lack: of knowledge, an incurable “unlearnedless” that artists express in the wake of knowledge economy; of consistency in work, which is compensated or covered by conflating one’s art with a project of lifelong learning and subject-formation; of public space that can be hijacked into a platform of artistic, theoretical, social or political gathering and activity; of time that is punctuated and fragmentarized by projects, nomadic lifestyle, and other forms of job opportunity that thwart the experience of duration in which things may go astray, in which one may hesitate, delve into something that doesn’t seem useful yet, drastically change or simply research. In sum, there are many positive aspects of higher education in the arts that empower artists today and, thereby, explain the mass exodus of artists from the artistic scene toward the university. But there are equally many problems associated with, what was uncritically appraised as the “educational turn” in the arts, which prompt us to organize this conference.
What makes this seemingly positive development a paradox lies in the context of the neoliberal transformation of university. Paradoxically enough, the burgeoning of new academic degrees in the arts coincides with the budget cuts, and the rise of student fees, as well as other financial measures, like the merge of departments in which the humanities, and especially philosophy are under attack since they foster research without social benefit. These changes are viewed from the immediate social and political effects they have in the first place. Students’ life is financialized, as the students who protested the increase of fees in the University of California, Santa Cruz observe: “The jobs we are working toward will be no better than the jobs we already have to pay our way through school.” University is being run like a corporation, which even in state-funded schools entails the influence of private capital, and the protection of its interests. Students’ uprisings in the U.K., the U.S., Canada and across (the continental) Europe in 2010, reflect their mobilization as one of a political class that recognizes precariousness as its permanent condition and university as one of the “factories” of this precariousness. Thus, in the manifestos of “Edu-factory,” which describes itself as “a transnational collective engaged in the transformations of the global university and conflicts in knowledge production,” or in the students’ mobilization in Zagreb, the crisis of higher education is immediately recognized as a political problem, corresponding to the decline of the welfare state and with it, the public sector and the public or common goods: education, healthcare, and art.
One strategy is to continue to fight frontally against the neoliberal policies implemented through the Bologna Process. Such position implies engaging collectively, and sometimes even militantly, in political and ideological issues of an anticapitalist struggle, where the right to free education is a socialist demand for a common good. Another viewpoint, profferred by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten in their radical phrase of “undercommons,” implies resistance, subversion and trouble-making from within:
Students must come to see themselves as the problem, which, counter to the complaining of restorationist critics of the university, is precisely what it means to be a customer, to take on the burden of realization and always necessarily be inadequate to it. Later, these students will be able to see themselves properly as obstacles to society, or perhaps, with lifelong learning, students will return having successfully diagnosed themselves as the problem (…)
How to exceed the profession, and by exceeding to escape, problematize themselves, force the university to consider them a problem, a danger (…)
Harney and Moten are right when they debunk the standpoint of the professionalized student or academic who distances herself in critical skepticism, because it is “the most active consent to privatize the social individual.” It is necessary, at least from the outset, not to foster skeptical attitudes that equip young citizens, be they artist students or not, with opportunist cynicism and bad faith. Yet, it might also be important to distinguish various aspects that the crisis of the university and the higher education in the arts comprehends, and articulates in relation to the art practices and global social transformations. Therefore, the conference would like to address the questions arising from the analysis above of the current situation that students, artists, activists, scholars, researchers in humanities, professors, and outcasts of the university find themselves in.
What does it mean or take to fight against the privatization and corporatization of the university today? Which positions and strategies can be staked out in defining the struggle? Is the corporatization of the university a global phenomenon, the “wind that comes from the West,” from Britain spreading into the continental Europe through Holland or are there still significant differences in various social and political contexts in Europe? What is distinctive about the new academic research programs in the arts compared to the humanities? What are the aesthetic and political facets of developing artistic research under the provisions of the academy? What transformations of the arts are to be expected by the infuence of the art PhDs? Should we fear the university as a “greenhouse to pamper” artists as “hothouse flowers” (James Elkins) whose art will become, as it were, more academic? And, in turn, are we also to expect an inflation of academic degrees and what effects could it have on the job market? Or, could there also be a positive transaction from the political lessons artists may learn in the institutional environment of the university into the art practices, and perhaps, even into the concerns with the public sphere in which art also participates?
The conference aims to highlight the positions of students, artists, activists, scholars, researchers, professors, outcasts etc. concerned with the aforementioned crisis of the arts and education regarded in a broader context of the crisis of labor and the public sphere in neoliberal society. Once a critical diagnosis of the situation is exhausted, the discussion will seek to distinguish constructive views, proposals and terms, under which our concerns can be articulated into concrete demands, strategies and actions.
The political direction of this conference must have a bearing on its set-up. Instead of hosting pre-written papers in an event that exhausts itself in punctual representation, the conference proposes three temporally distinct phases of development. In the first phase, participants are invited to send a short text in which they articulate their views, analysis, arguments for debate. The short texts are then exchanged between all participants well in advance, prior to the conference. At the same time, those who already have (or want to write) longer texts in response to the conference call are invited to submit them for a pre-publication, a reader as another, more deliberated point of departure for the conference-event. In the second phase, the event of the conference unfolds in discussions organized around problems and themes that arose in written statements, where the views drafted in the short texts may serve as arguments to develop, depart from or contest. In the third phase, those participants who wish to take the discussion further after the event, are invited to rewrite or write anew a text, which will be subsequently published under the proceedings of this meeting. Instead of having yet another line-up of representative lectures, we would like to push the discussion into a commitment to consequences that a discussion may produce. Since we invite speakers to engage before and after the event, we are looking for means to offer a decent, rather than symbolic, and equal fee for everyone.
Concept: Bojana Cvejić, Stefan Hölscher, and Bojana Kunst
Realization: Bojana Cvejić, Stefan Hölscher, Marta Keil, Bojana Kunst, and Frank-Max Müller
The International Conference The Public Commons and the Undercommons of Art, Education, and Labor is hosted by the MA program Choreography and Performance (Justus Liebig University, Gießen) and organized in collaboration with the Hessian Theatre Academy (HTA), the Eastern European Performing Arts Platform (eepap), and Frankfurt LAB, which will also be its venue. An application for funds at Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) is still in the process.