Hogeschool Rotterdam Willem de Kooning Academie

Thematic Projects

Thematic Projects

In this section you will find information about current thematic projects.

In addition to studio space, technical facilities and tutorial support for Self-Directed Research and Practice work, the Master of Fine Art curriculum includes an annually changing programme of thematic seminars and projects, which function as a framework for joint exploration of issues that are relevant to contemporary visual art and theory, culture and society.

THEMATIC SEMINARS AND PROJECTS 2020-2021

All of me for a piece of you, thematic seminar led by Jan Verwoert, 6 credits, October-June

All of me for a piece of you 
A set of talks and seminars on  
Letting pieces be pieces 
Allowing for work to work 
Refusing to know things a certain way 
And pursuing knowledge in different  
Keys, modes and manners. 

Outline 

If sharing an artwork is to give a piece of oneself to people, what kind of gift do we think we are dealing with here? Following Marcel Mauss, a gift could be characterized as a thing with a soul that travels. So how can we (not) speak of the soul when we address art? How else are we going to make sense of moments when work works, and pieces are perceived as „fresh“, as animated and animated, inspired and inspiring, be-souled and be-souling? When things with souls travel they create bonds. Munus (pl. muni) is Latin for gift. Communication is the crafting of com-muni-ties through the circulation of muni. Can we learn to communally talk soul? What is at stake when we seek to do so, today? 

Indigenous knowledges of the soul and everyday practices for communing with spirits, however, are precisely what the apparatus of knowledge and power driving Western modernity has sought to discredit and oppress, in the course of corroborating colonial conquest and enforcing imperial rule. Through brutal systemic forms of racialized, gendered, epistemic and economic violence, imperial reason asserted the supremacy of the—self-validating rationality of—scientific method for isolating truth. This apparatus remains in power in large parts of the knowledge, truth and value producing industries today. Critiquing its power, de-colonizing knowledge, and re-avowing the many ways the gift of soul may come to pass in the making of community, understanding and art is most urgent. 

The challenge for the seminar then is double: For talking art to make sense, we need to talk soul. But for talking soul to make sense, we also need to talk violence, and look at the soul-crushing machinery of imperial reason. In our reading we will therefore alternate between writing that addresses the communal giving of the gift, sharing of the soul and engagement of the spirit on one hand, and the deconstruction of the imperial-knowledge apparatus on the other. 

Orientation 

But why even talk art when the challenge is global? The rift between method and soul (that modern systems of power and knowledge violently open up) is painfully tangible throughout communal life. Yet it also makes for the crisis of truth, value, sense and knowledge in art practice, continuously unfolding throughout modernity: The experience of work working (or not) and pieces freely given and well received (or not) is at the heart of artistic exchanges. Method is of no help when it comes to understanding if, how and why a piece is received in a certain mode, manner and key. [Method will quantify targets, organize intentions, and rationalize steps of execution, but fall flat in no time when the mood in a space turns against you.] But since the moment of presentation and reception — when push comes to shove, and some experience, truth and understanding, aka soul, comes to pass between people and the pieces — is precisely what the value of art work hinges on, crisis is as inevitable, as it is exemplary for the modern condition. Method provides no measure for the experience of existential qualities (joy, pain, highs, lows, vivacity, death, as well as color, tone, texture and groove). Hence the evocation of such qualities — which animate/be-soul the work — perpetually plunges artistic experience into a zone of sensations that defy measurement in terms of quantity, and hence must appear lacking or excessive: “Too little” or “too much” are notorious verdicts passed on art works, as well as the artist’s gift — and right to claim being an artist —, temperament or presence in the work. In realities governed by the laws of quantification, qualitative perception joins the soul in being homeless. 

This by no means implies that the crisis of lack and excess could or should be glamorized as a pathway to higher understanding, as such. It is existential, and so is the need for support. What it may mean, though, is: Modern reason methodically isolates (its) failure in the individual, masking  systemic overreach by blaming personal shortcomings. [The apparatus can do no wrong. If it fails the people, audit the people.] A first step in turning crisis into criticality then may need to lie in overcoming the imposed isolation of the problem in the individual, by communicating it: Talking soul can also mean communing over crisis, in such a way that what is given to be perceived in terms of a personal failure — e.g. to be the rightful giver of a properly measured gift of art— may be addressed collectively, and permit false standards to be called out as such. 

Art is one public arena where people argue over what, in a given society, counts as value and knowledge, and who is to say that this is so. This argument doesn’t have to be public. In a sense it can occur among the voices in the head of anyone making work, asking themselves, time and again: “What the **** am I doing, who the **** am I to do it, and how the **** am I to know?” If it should, however, turn out that the methodologies the modern apparatus of knowledge and power holds ready to answer/silence these questions are not working, its epistemic crisis is an everyday experience while making art. But so are first-hand insights into the plasticity, relationality and volatility of the dynamics out of which value and knowledge emerge. You intimately know what you put at stake when you call a piece a “work” and put it out in the hope that it will transport the soul, hold value, and carry meaning. Now, if uncertainty — as to the value, truth and knowledge passed on and over by the giving of pieces — makes art works volatile, can this volatility be weaponized for epistemic struggle? When art flickers between being a thing with soul and piece of work, too much and too little, can it illuminate the cracks in the order of knowledge and power, and guide makers and viewers elsewhere?  

Hanging in there, however, consumes immense energies. How to protect oneselves from exhaustion when bearing with the flicker? One inherent task of art education may hence lie in communally cultivating ways for living with the epistemic instability of art and artistry. To aspire to a secure mandate for holding epistemologically volatile substances seems beside the point. But perhaps the study of texts that deconstruct imperial reason and point to the survival of different ways to make things with soul travel can strengthen the awareness of alternatives and inspire respect for bodies of epistemologically divergent knowledges, practices, modes, manners and keys. 

Desires and needs 

If there is a desire of the seminar, it is to hold open questions in consideration, and to do so by closely reading relevant philosophical texts, and voicing experiences that relate. What the seminar therefore needs is for participants to hold the question open, by staying with its development over time, from session to session, mustering the patience to read closely and hear one another out, and fostering a passion for going out on a limb when thinking out loud, risking readings and sharing experiences. So, first of all, a most highly valued contribution to the thinking process of the seminar is the continuous giving of attention, through closely reading the text and listening to participants. Focus is in the atmosphere, readers and listeners create it, a speaker will only ever make as much sense as listeners allow, just as solos only sound good when the rhythm section holds the groove.  

Having said that, please feel free, welcome and provoked to step out, risk a solo, and permit the rhythm of the conversation to carry your thoughts. Philosophical concepts worth their salt are as thickly layered as complex musical harmonies. To hear the different notes and nuances layered in a concept/chord, it is necessary to strike them one by one, so they become audible, in their own right and in relation to the others. Four a fourfold harmony it takes four voices to make it resound.  The equivalent lies in four people (or more) sharing thoughts and experiences that resonate with different implications and ramifications of a layered concept, to make it come alive. So please say what you hear in a concept when it’s being addressed. To train the ear for concordances, intervals, resonances and relations in critical thinking is vital. Yet, what is equally needed is discord: when you pick out an unchecked premise or distortion of the point the authors or participants are trying to make (particularly so in the tutor’s moderation of the seminar) please raise your voice, object, and give things a different spin. 

What’s the difference between Antillean Carnival and Summer Carnival? is a thematic seminar by Quinsy Gario, 3 credits, October-December

When the oil crisis hit in the beginning of the 1980’s airplane tickets prices went up globally. Antilleans in the Netherlands who every year would travel back to their respective islands found themselves either paying the skyrocket prices or staying put. Those who stayed put decided to organize their own carnival in Utrecht in 1982 and called it the Antillean Carnival. Two years later however the carnival moved to Rotterdam and in the ensuing years was renamed Summer Carnival. Gario’s uncle Rudsel Martinus was an art student at the time in the Netherlands and designed and made one of the floats in the parade for the 1983 parade in Utrecht. He also filmed the parade with his Super 8 film camera. In the summer of 2019 Gario was on Curaçao with his mother and his uncle gave him his Super 8 film archive. Only after scanning the footage that Gario find out about a carnival in Utrecht. The city where he also studied and lived in for close to a decade. If it wasn’t for this footage and the conversations with his uncle about his material Gario would never have known about the Utrecht origin of Rotterdam Summer Carnival.

The seminar will revolve around practices of remembering through families, government funded institutions and materials themselves. It will discuss situated practices and the social political context of actions. Caribbean carnival as a set of interlocking artistic practices will be discussed and also what happens when those travel to Europe. What happens to these practices and practitioners when placed in the heart of colonial empires that colonized the places where these practices emerged and the ancestors of these practitioners were abducted to? During the seminar we will look at the Utrecht, Rotterdam, Notting Hill and Berlin versions of carnival and think through the ways in which they tell us about difference, colonial memory, and practices around Black liberation. The seminar will include readings, viewings, songs, discussions and guest lectures. During the seminar participants are encouraged to bring their individual practices to the table in order to create a fruitful engagement. Participants are also invited to bring their own sources and inspirations. 

 ‘distribution models’ is a thematic project led by Taylor Le Melle, 6 credits, January-March

‘distribution models’ is a term that we will begin from, as a shorthand, for the following inquiry: 

 How have makers used their work to intervene into the status quo of our global economic systems? An early example, offered by poet and scholar Anne Carson’s The Economy of the Unlost, involves the life and practice of Simonides, ‘the first’ poet to request coins in exchange for verse. 

 Further responses to this question of intervention should include uses or strategies pertaining to both the nature of the work itself and how, or to what extent, that work circulates publicly. The contemporary circulation of art has been discussed in After Art, David Joselit; Art and Value: Art’s Economic Exceptionalism in Classical, Neoclassical and Marxist Economics, Dave Beech and Reproducing Autonomy: Work, Money, Crisis and Contemporary Art; Marina Vishmidt and Kerstin Stakemeier. distribution models utilise these texts and will dedicate further analysis to contemporary art that sits in authored friction with buy-sell economics. 

We will look to creative projects in other disciplines (such as agriculture – Freedom Farmers, Monica White; phytology UK ), to contemporary artists’ employment of radical theory to contextualise their work, and to living and working conditions of artists in the network-ed artworld’s metropoles. 

I also want to think self-reflexively about how we can all participate in these contemporary movements alongside our commenting upon them (Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown). In our current moment, we have been both forced and empowered to think about how work can be shown outside a physical gallery space. In this seminar we will consider the premise of modelling distribution not as a question of physical-virtual, but rather a question of how physicality can be circulated. 

keywords: distribution, value, labour, agency, ‘Socially Engaged Art’, activism, publics, circulation