Video by Kleoniki Stanich & Elia Kalogianni for Public Rietveld, © Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam
In August 2020, Strategies of Relationality had its first public appearance during the Gerrit Rietveld Academie Graduation Show. Since Johannes had offered his personal exhibition space, we together developed the para-academic classroom and curated a diverse public program inviting friends and collaborators. Additionally, this show was the first occasion to test and share our performative textile piece with the audience.
Realising the “para-academic classroom” was preceded by a process of painstakingly questioning the role of school evaluations and degree shows. Both share their focus on the assessment of individual performances, one resulting in an official certificate granting access to receive further consecutive education and perhaps more prominently, a certain degree of symbolic capital determined by the ethos of the awarding institution; the other resulting in recognition from those belonging to “the art world” hence further supplementing the symbolic capital of one’s own artistic persona by the means of media coverage, new professional contacts or further exhibitions. When starting “to put ones own subjectivity at risk”, as is the case in working as part of a larger body of collaborators, most of the expectations involved and informed by individualism and artistic autonomy become difficult to reconcile. Both school evaluations and degree shows embedded in the realm of either state or market interests, therefore ask for continuous strategies of bypassing, hijacking or circumventing in order to be temporarily accessed and perhaps shaken, though more oftentimes tickled, from within. I am mentioning this, because these constant negotiations in and out of the discourse, are as much part of how I understand my practice as are the material representations that occur along the way. I see this process as a sort of affirmative or negative institutional critique, rejecting and constructing according to collectively determined needs. In that sense, Strategies of Relationality, the para-academic group I have helped to initiate and maintain as a reaction to a fundamental feeling of misrepresentation in the academic and artistic discourses facilitated by the institution, can be seen as an on-going performance producing an output that is diverse, manifold and sometimes contradictory. The gesture of inviting all contributors of the group to collectively utilise the exhibition space which the institution grants every student in the course of their degree show is in that sense one of the many parts that constitute this performance.
Involving more than twenty different actors over the course of several weeks prior to the show, we therefore tried to make sense of the possibilities and complexities of the given context. Acting as some sort of a diplomat, mediating between teaching staff, administration and the curatorial team of the show as well as my collaborators both in physical proximity and digitally connected from abroad, I tried to frame and reframe this working process in order to navigate the terrain as shaped by the institution and our para-academic framework.
Situating our presentation in open air, exposed to rain, wind and weather was one of the strategies to cut ties with more conventional forms of exhibited and being exhibited. We chose to reconfigure the institution’s furniture pieces as a metaphor for having reconfigured its education through our collective endeavour. Together we were stacking, tying, knotting, piling, crossing, turning and twisting an array of chairs, stools, tables, plates, easels and other pieces, sometimes loose and with a swift balance, sometimes tight and frustratingly dense, just as an entanglement between established power relations often feels like. Resulting in a set of furniture patterns these experiments provided the foundation for what we later called the “para-academic classroom”, a set of elements in constant flux able to stand in silence or else support various kinds of activities, gatherings and situations “the social” presents itself in. With these elements, every scratch, every splash of paint and every squiggle applied on or inscribed into the furniture’s surfaces began to allow for an imaginative drift into the layers constituting education as practiced inside and outside the institution.
Seeking for ways of further translating our activities into immediate physical form and offering surfaces to map, note, draw and announce thoughts and ideas on top of the already existing, we made use of the institution’s annual cleaning ritual in which all educational facilities are transformed into exhibition spaces a couple of weeks prior to the show. Doing so, we turned left-over scrap wood into modular chalk boards as an obvious denotation to uphold a refuge for education even after the appearance of the campus has been altered.
As heavy storms hit the Netherlands in the week of the show and building a breathing sail with tarps failed, we were accompanied by an element strange to the installation at first, but through the company of trees, camouflaging us even more into the realm of the mundane: a squarish-white party tent keeping us save and dry.
Then, several times throughout the day, the para-academic classroom was activated thereby turning from a symbolic representation into a set of tools by which participants of the audience could join us in compiling initial patterns into ever new combinations so as to meet shared needs, extend the range of combinations possible and facilitate a public program of diverse activities which I curated for this occasion. Inviting contributors of the group as well as other Graduation students and initiatives engaged in the academic community to present their work in the para-academic classroom, we spent a week learning with and from each others experiences through readings, talks, workshops and discussions. Since the program was accompanied by a library of books around alternative education and social practices, compiled from our personal collections and with the help of the Rietveld & Sandberg Library, fresh mint tea from the Rietveld Garden Department, as well as cakes, bread and gnocchis, everyone’s spirits were well taken care of during this period. Another important part helping to set the classroom in motion were provided by the textile piece and a set of postcards, which we have created together for this occasion. Both were featuring a selection of instruction-based, contextual exercises which we performed and tested together with the audience so as to sharpen our sensorial awareness and promote co-responsibility.
At the end, there remains a certain feeling of accomplishment against all odds. Less because I have managed to pass through the school’s evaluation process, but more so, because of the small encounters and observation this week has gifted me with. I am obviously not talking about “art world” recognition, since comparably few visitors really meant to engage with the work, but instead about those moments I believe are situated at the margins of the arena. Be it little children fiddling around with our rocket chairs, exhausted visitors sunbathing on our benches, high-school teachers finding inspiration in our books, family members engaging in an improv exercise, tutors debating about methodologies and curricula, visitors baking and tasting their own bread, fellow students reflecting on their education, director and boards members listening for once or long candlelit nights of discussions togetherness in the classroom.