Knowledge Should Be Priceless

Artists Statement

ND7_5659As the battle to stop the rise in fees exploded into the political imaginary of the student body, so did an extended period of experimentation with autonomous pedagogies. This shift in consciousness prompted Paul to begin his project The Alternative Art College in 2011, which created an experimental platform to question pedagogical processes, albeit temporarily.

I would like to open this by discussing how my art practice evolved to form my current research practices. I come directly from an art (creative) background where I create work that holds political connotations and implements social statements, as the aim is to create politically informative pieces. The main body of my practice is trying to find subtle ways to depict reactions to situations in the political sphere; an example of this is the Alternative Art College that is a website based piece of work but also works as an actual college. The art is the documentation, the protest is the action.

Theorists such as Jacques Ranciere, Pierre Bourdieu, Walter Benjamin and Max Weber have influenced the theory behind the work that has and will continue to be created. Han Haacke is an artist who has influenced my work to take on political connotations. His work has made me realise that to create a piece of art that has a politically charged reference you need to take in to account three things, site specifics, aesthetic value and ephemeral practice. This is to insure it is in the right place, in the perfect form and how to judge how long you have with that piece before it becomes obsolete.

My art practice is the Alternative Art College. In response to these events I set up the Alternative Art College in the tradition of protest art, as a proactive form of protest that was an alternative both to the prospect of an increasingly expensive education system and also to the existing form of protest. For this research project I will reflect critically on this initiative, drawing on the experience of other alternative education organisations.

I have two main research streams. The first focuses on whether the ‘alternative’ learning space can operate autonomously and if this is beneficial to their policy of informal learning. To achieve this, my work focuses on understanding the relevance of the creation of an ‘alternative’ learning space and how they tackle the topic of knowledge production. The autonomous nature of the ‘alternative’ learning space is considered in both political and artistic terms, referring to the conclusions of Adorno, Castoriadis and Benjamin. Castoriadis’ definition of autonomy is adopted due to his interest in autonomy’s function towards social change and the imaginary of change.

The second research stream is concentrated on the role of the ‘alternative’ learning space towards supplementing formal modes of learning. This is carried out by analysing four ‘alternative’ learning spaces to observe what their form offers towards learning and knowledge production.

Alternative learning spaces are spaces that function as an education facility to question learning practices in an informal method, in most cases as a critique to the current higher education system. My project and research aims to analyse these approaches taken towards knowledge production from a selection of ‘alternative’ learning spaces in comparison with the current HE and art and gallery education systems in both the UK and the US. I position the ‘alternative’ as a positive shift towards knowledge production that does not rely on historical, architectural or economical forms. Do these ‘alternatives’ supplement the current HE systems formal focus with informal and semi- formal modes of learning?

I have been situated as both a student and an employee in HE alongside being an artist whose work is located in the free university movement; I feel it is a position that is beneficial to the development of this project. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, ‘debt neutralises critical thinking, disciplining students into efficient components of the consumer economy’. As the university lies in ruins how will the next generation learn to resist?

A UNIVERSITY dean has praised the foundation of an “Alternative Art College” in Lincoln. “Third-year fine artist Paul Stewart set up the “college of ideas” less than two weeks ago – but already, guest speakers are clamouring to give talks in the living room of his student house.”

Ross Cummings, 22, a “pupil” of the college, said: “The college is a proactive way of doing something without going and causing a riot. “We’re here and we’re actually learning something.”

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