Keti Deepwell by Alexander Sokolov and Irina Korina.
The art education system in London has its own history of transformation and updating the system. And its structures have recently gone through another evolution to become from being independent art schools into a university system. And now the universities control the art education, instead of independent art schools. This is a government structural change, which has brought us into line with other countries, but it changed the way artists are taught.
Now the education became an important subject of discussions not only in mass media, but also in art institutions like Documenta 12 and Manifesta 6. Why do you think it’s important now to talk about the principles of education?
My first response is that it is a really big question. Because, I think, the principles of education are under endless refinement and change. It’s a long historical process in the last 150 years. So, I see it more continuous. Absolutely continuous. And what’s interesting, is that two international exhibitions should choose education as their priority. And what’s interesting about that is, that many curators recently, big international curators, have become deans or heads of art institutions. Like Okwui Enwezor, Saskia Bos, Daniel Birnbaum. And I think that’s what is making them think more about education. If you look at many international art biennales over the last 20-30 years, they’ve been quite good from the side of production from the point of view of allowing artists to produce considerable bodies of work, funding new commissions. But what they’ve been very poor about, is thinking about the perception of the work and who the audience is for art. And we seem to move from the question of audience in the last decade to the question of education. And it’s not just about the education of artists, as actually about the education of audiences. Because I think that Documenta 11 tried quite hard to have a debate, a discussion in conferences it organized, to build the discussions around the subjects it whished to tackle. But I think there was another level, of which Documenta also tried to work, which was with an education program. And I think that that became the wonderful Manifesta’s new idea in Cyprus to have an art school. I think, there is more attempt towards education because of those things in debates in international biennales. And shift from thinking about audiences to thinking about the importance of education in the transmission of educational values in the context of an international biennale. And maybe it’s all due of failure of a proper public discourse in contemporary art.
The attention paid to the education today allows to think about kind of new Enlightenment. Education in the time of the Enlightenment could be seen as an instrument of new identity in frame of the appearance of national state. Should we again see the education as an instrument of new identity?
Well, I wouldn’t disagree with this as an objective. It depends very much on how national interests and nationalism is handled in our debate. Because there is a tendency particularly in educational terms to see in any particular country or state or city the one is only educating for a local population or a national population. And because I come from London and because of the institution that I work within London, my institution has a moderately high proportion of international students. But it’s not huge. Maybe, it’s 30%. 15 to 30 per cent on some courses. So, we are not just educating people who live in London or go working in London. We are educating people across the world who have come to London for their education. And we have to think out of the provincial box. London likes to think of itself as a dynamic, cosmopolitan, metropolitan place, but sometimes in our education it can seem very provincial, because goals and aspirations are set to serve the national interests. I think, most other countries in the world, most other big art academies or big art institutions have that problem.
They have to think whom they educating and what they educating them for.
If we speak about the changing role of the art in contemporary world, can we expect some new approaches to the theoretical training of artists?
Unfortunately, this is very funny, and I am running pieces of work, which are about the idea that the main priority for an artist from central or eastern Europe is they must speak English. It is unfortunately. I am a dominant English speaker, but it is an irony(08,43) of this situation that speaking English is now an international passport. You maybe also need fluency in an other language: French, German, Spanish, depending on where you are working in the world. It’s not that you just have to speak one language. You have to speak many languages, and I think it’s becoming increasingly important to one’s portability as an artist. And what comes with that, is not just the ability to have conversation, the ability to understand cultural context, be sensitive to political and cultural social issues, think about the ways, in which your work translates from one context into another, or doesn’t. I mean, there are many pieces of work that are made deliberately because of the artists live in one country and they make pieces of work about political and social issues in an other country. And to be able to do it effectively.
How to define what kind of disciplines should be taught in art academies? Russian old schools offer mostly practical training for artists. As far as I know in London the theoretical education plays important role – there are political science, cultural studies, critical history or gender studies, media theory etc.
The real tragedy of the situation at the moment is that in the last five years there has been a slow retreat from that position in some places. In most of the small, previously independent art schools that were universities, there has been a retreat from that position, when the actual need of artist is going in a different direction. So, there is a conflict there from the position that I see it. However, Britain has had some remarkable courses where those things come together. I mean, encouraged. But it’s not universal. I wouldn’t want to overstate… I mean, for me personally it’s extremely important that artist have an in-depth understanding of the critical and theoretical context, in which they choose to work. But how that is done, how that is structured is really a big question.
It’s too easy to give the solution there: if you study the X, Y and Z you are going to be up to date in contemporary art. Because always new theories are introduced, new ideas are introduced… And what is more important is that there should be a kind of liberal resource and very, very extensive resource of a wide range of different things that are available. There are some interesting theoretical problems about this. For example, in UK – the theory very important in Russia, like Bakhtin - is hardly known and discussed. So, there are elements missing from the canon of ideas or the range of ideas not discussed in one context, that are very present in another. So, it’s more about careful ways of connecting and cross-fertilizing the absences and presences in different debates. And it’s much more subtle scheme of opening up ideas than actually saying “That is the body of literature that should be studied”.
I think there are some very important theorist in Russia, which are hardly known here.
If you think that all the work is to bring the authors from abroad into Russia, than you are going to miss a very important moment of the debate. Or how the debate could be structured or framed.
At least in Russia we can see the shift from the state-supported autonomous educational institutions in the direction of commercial enterprises which just offer kind of immaterial services. Do you have this kind of situation? How do you think the educational system should react on this situation?
Well, in the end of the 19th century it was that case in Britain, that a lot of private individual schools were set up and then effectively nationalized, and now we have the nationalization under the university structure and further, the structuring of everything that every university does under the Bologna process. So, instead of fragmentation we’ve got a real attempt at unification. So instead of lots of independent initiatives, what we had, is one centrally organised plan and everybody to conform this centrally organised plan, even though the content of each course might be completely different.
Do I see a problem between the state founded initiatives and commercial initiatives? Not really, because in Britain in the 19th century it was like that, and there were the private art schools and the national art schools, and the whole thing was unified and it’s been unified several times, under the diploma system, under the university system, and now we have very tide university structure and we don’t have any privet art schools. I mean, we do have individual artist, who aloud people to come and work with them and to pay them, but nothing else. The interesting problem that we have now, is whether the most successful artists teach in the art schools or not. And many independent artists don’t teach in the art schools.
I would like to ask you about the book :Art after 1900” by Rosalind Krauss, Hal Foster and the other authors. What is the reaction to this book?
So this book After 1900 […] was defined by October group to be the classic textbook, the sole textbook. Every art student must purchase it. Now, that works extremely well with the American art school system. When they do recommend one book, every student must read it. Like “Art and Theory”, one book, that every student must buy and that will be the key teaching book. However, in Britain nobody works like that, we don’t have a single orthodox canon, even on the survey courses that are taught in art history. It’s very eclectic, it’s up to individual teacher, always multiple textbooks are recommended. What is interesting, that this book will serve the 16 to 19 years old market in England, which is an A level market, which is pre-student education market, and it’s value for art school students will be less because of that. It will be for younger students and less mature students that it will have a value. And the resistance to this book it was very strong. The Art Historian Association in GB organised a big conference and the resistance to this book was very strong, it was enormous, because many of the art historians, the professional art historians didn’t want this book to be discussed in this way, because they felt that it was purely commercial exercise on behalf of the publishers and it wasn’t the serious invention for the education of the art students. You see, what I mean? It’s the difference between how the British market works and how American market works. However, what is interesting it’s how having spent 30-40 years fracturing and intervening and upsetting the kind of modernist canon, here they are, much later in their profession, establishing this canon of artist. And they are attempting to shift certain ideas and to change certain ideas, but it still is a very conservative book, and it’s really been written for American market. I certainly think that British reception of it is very ambivalent, and it won’t have the impact it will have on the American market, in Britain. Because there have been several books like that in Britain, I mean John Berger’s Ways of seeing, or Gombrich’s Art and civilisation, or Robert Hughes The shock of the new, all those books have been used in Britain, but they have only being used for the 16-19 year olds, and when it comes to the serious art education as adults, they are not used.
What kind of texts and authors would you recommend to translate into Russian to be used for the educational purposes in the field of art? Perhaps you have already answered this question?
I’ve already answered this question. Precisely by publishing this Gender art theory anthology with Mila Bredikhina, and that was designed to revel my interest in my specialism, which is the discussion about the feminism and contemporary art, and to overcome what I see as misunderstanding and the lack of depth about what feminism has been in the last 30 years in the Russian circles. So, that’s intervention, calculated intervention, so I hope it will deep in the debate and raise a lot of interesting material. And I will recommend the anthology approach, rather than choosing a canon of books and works. I mean, obviously there will be always some, but does not Misiano has always been doing that and his attempts of publishing. And the other books series, that the Open society has been doing has taken the view of, you know, ‘here is the author, the book that should be done’ but most of our criticism, the important part of our criticism, is actually the essays. It is a really important, the essay form, for the discussion of art, so the translation of the particular essays in an anthology could have greater impact than the translation of all the books by the one author or key books by the one author.
I believe that it’s important to translate much more of the theorists like Clement Greenberg, who had great impact not only in 50s, but also as the negative point of reference on art of 60s and even 70s. For couple of weeks Moscow Art magazine published the first translation of his article.
Yes, but Clem Greenberg is a good example. Often essay has been more significant than a book, and there are may be 10-12 main essays of Clement Greenberg, and no more because most of it is very detailed analysis of an individual artists and individual works and less general art theory.
For some years the position of the artist could be understood as autonomous critical position. Now we can see the shift of the position in direction of entertainment industry. What is the expected competence of the artist today?
In my institution, The University of Arts London, what they do is a very strong emphasis upon professional practice, what they mean by it, is teaching or training of artists with business skills, with publicity skills, with understanding of how the art market works, we looking at different people career paths and thinking about the ways in which they survived, make money, continue their practice. This kind of model of professional practise should be a very important component of art education, I believe. But it doesn’t necessarily have take place in the art school, because there are some very good models of the mentoring practises. Which means that after education a younger artist is supported by the older artist and basically the artists meets regularly and tries to encourage the younger artist in the carrier path. And thinking about how they could find opportunities, develop their carrier, manage their live, manage their work time, and give that support over the number of years, so there is a transition between the formal art education and professional life. Because for most young artists that is the hardest time. It’s not the formal education, it is what happens after the formal education into professional life, in gaining opportunities. And there are many interesting and competent artist, who are failed, because they can’t own their living, they cant’ manage their time they can’t get a professional studio, they have not got the money to purchase the materials to make their works, they don’t have connections with curators and critics, they don’t see the importance of having connections with curators and critics. And so what you end up with is a kind of survival of the fittest, those who are supported by friends or colleagues and those who are just left and don’t proactively seek out those opportunities, but could be making extremely good work.