Conversation between Marjetica Potrč, Veronica Wiman & Amalia Ruiz-Larrea
May 2013, Hamburg and Tromsø
In May 2013, while gathering material for Tromsø Report, Veronica Wiman talked with Marjetica Potrč and Amalia Ruiz-Larrea about self-organization making up a third of the curriculum of the Master in Contemporary Art at the Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art, about equal relationship between educators and students, about what happens when the world enters the class and about collaborations. Veronica Wiman is professor at Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art, where she leads the masters students in the Thematic Field “Sustainability/Capitalism/Art”. The students of Design for the Living World at HFBK worked with her on Tromsø – A City as a Garden project during UniGrowCity Tromsø days March 4-8, 2013, which were hosted by Tromsø Academy. The interview was conducted by e-mail in May 2013.
Marjetica Potrč: Let’s talk about curriculum. I was impressed when I learned from your students that self-organization makes up a third of the curriculum.
Veronica Wiman: Yes, one third of the curriculum of the Master in Contemporary Art at Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art, is what is called Self-organisation. The other two parts are Thematic Fields and Master Project. Self-organisation in the curriculum and playing such a significant part is much influenced by the profile of the Academy. Situated in Northern Norway and in the small city of Tromsø, it is necessary that the students take responsibility for their practice and the environment that they exist in. This is of course similar to many other places where artists live and need to adapt and work with the conditions of locality.
Amalia Ruiz-Larrea: In “The Ignorant Schoolmaster”, Jacques Rancière proposes himself as an ignorant school teacher. The teacher does not put knowledge into the students’ heads but instead pushes them to use their own will so they can themselves construct knowledge. When I think about emancipation, many examples come to mind of artists who view their class as an art project (e.g. Tania Bruguera, Joseph Beuys, and others.). Maybe the emancipation of students is easier in an artistic context than in a scientific one?
VW: Good question and I have thought about it quite a lot. Perhaps you are right and it is too some degree easier, although I doubt it many times… I still find art education, art institutions and students expectations surprisingly formed in conventional terms. Knowledge should be delivered by a person that takes on the role of knowing best and most in the room, delivers answers and says what is right or wrong, preferably quoting french or other western world philosophy. Many students want it to be simple also, to be directed and narrated to rather than delivering them selves. I see a great cultural difference among students – and teachers – in interest and openness for this emancipation. I believe art education should strive for this, that “teachers” stimulate rather than preach or deliver answers and knowledge. Of course we need to make a difference between various fields within art education also, there are technical matters you need to learn etc. But to “make art” during education, I see as a matter of relationships of inspiration and proposing questions and material for she or he to approach in her own direction.
MP: What is your experience? Is maintaining an equal relationship between you and your students a constant struggle or a simple success story?
VW: I want to believe in an equal relationship between me as a teacher and a student, this is my starting point and ambition in general. Obviously it is possible to a certain point, at the end both parts are aware of my position to value and take decisions. I have used pedagogy and methods to support that. I strive to represent and use the opportunity to make necessary changes in relation to hierarchical structures and power relationships. When students follow a program, attend according to schedule and deliver work as agreed – the relationship is easier to keep as equal as possible. The difficulty begins when one as a teacher – professor needs to demand and refer to the institution and its frame. The challenge is also the moment of critique or to be questioned, which sometimes creates tension and unbalance. Again, and back to the preceding question, equality is perhaps impossible since expectations are many times still conventional. Some students dont want or are simply more confused by a nature of equal relationship. I see that more mature or self secure and confident students can handle this better. Sadly I see that equality is still much a fantasy, perhaps a utopian idea where the best balance between student-teacher is held with a male teacher dressed in suit, telling art students how to shape their practice or explain who they are.
MP: Your class is founded on the Thematic Field “Sustainability/Capitalism/Art”. Over a period of two years, MA students develop their work around issues that open up their hearts and minds beyond the studio to the world that surrounds them. What happens when you bring the world into the class?
VW: Thematic fields is a fantastic platform within the program and has a lot of potential as I see. The intention and structure of the program is such that the students work and individual research is part of informing and defining this contents. For example this years Thematic Fields, “Sustainability/Capitalism/Art”, serves as a focus within the program to read the world through and reflect or develop ones own work in relation to. There is an initial wish to gather a group of students that are especially interested in and driven towards the given Thematic Fields, to create a shared motivated environment where its possible to go into a profound and complex dimension. Naturally each individual has their own understanding and attraction to this field and the approach will look very different. It is important to have a common understanding that there is not one or the right understanding, and that openness is required for a nourishing process. In some cases it works in a positive sense, where the field meets and inspire already ongoing reflections and practice or open up for new discoveries and directions. It can also be challenging, when students see that it becomes an obstacle and the field take time from what they “actually” want to focus on. Therefore I would say that the field should be defined by the students and their research as much as possible, so that “the world” we are looking at is their world and meet their level of world engagement.
MP: I like to say that the world today is full of complex challenges that demand complex solutions. A great example is Kåre’s Community 1 project, where we shared knowledge to develop five felt-making machines in just a few days. What is your view of collaborations?
VW: Collaborations… has become a word with often too simple meaning. There are so many variations and so many complexities to them. My basic and immediate view is that collaboration is an ultimate and necessary mode of working, especially in relation to the worlds complexities of today. When collaborations operate through shared knowledge and every individuals skills and interest is used and met in some stage, its a fantastic situation and moment. Like the one you mention, Kåre´s community 1 project, where we experienced a truly functioning collaboration. For this to happen I believe some matters have to be in place; generosity, a common goal and shared devotion, will of exchange and unconditional contribution and good spirits.
The interview is also published on the website of Department of Design, HFBK