Transfuturing the University
Proposal by João da Silva
How do we transfuture the university? How do we combat the anxiety we have and feel as students, tutors, professors and staff members?
Transfuturing: a neologism made from transforming and future.
In the coming months students from the MA Home of Performance Practices, want to address the Future of the Art University based on their experience and observation of a high level of anxiety with students, professors and tutors within education.
With this Open Call we reach out to individuals who have experienced anxiety in education and aim to collect their thoughts and proposals that encourage people to doubt and design ‘better’ futures.
This project is a collaboration with ArtEZ studium generale (Future Art School), ArtEZ Press and the Professorship for Art education as Critical Tactics at ArtEZ University of the Arts, Arnhem.
The following text is one of the contributions to the project Transfuturing the University. Find more info here
Abstract: Inspired by subversive affirmation, we propose designing scores that would enable teachers, management, staff and students to fulfill their work within the university in a way that is more playful, less anxious, but above all sustainable. A major challenge is finding ways to resist being brought to the position of having to be resilient. In our view, being resilient often leads to further exploitation and precarity.
Other notions (and practices) we connect to subversive affirmation are undoing, over-identification, deidentification, opacity, fugitivity, pure negation, and ‘yes and.’
Transfuturing the University
Proposal by João da Silva, 10 July, 2022
with Mar Esteban Martin and Thomas Diafas
Inspired by how subversive affirmation works, we would like to design group scores that will hopefully enable artist-educators, management, staff, and students to carry out their work within the university in a more playful, less anxious (read: sustainable) manner. This involves identifying what hinders them from currently doing so.
A major challenge in combatting anxiety in art institutions, and a longer-term goal that is connected with creating more immediate sustainable working conditions, is to find ways to rehearse resisting being brought to the position of having to be resilient. We think that being resilient can often lead to further anxiety, a condition that, in our view, is antithetical to sustainability, not just in the arts. This is to say that these group scores have a short and a longer-term goal: on the one hand, personal relief, repair and maintenance; and on the other, systemic change.
Working in groups matters to us because 1) there is a higher chance of not feeling alone or overwhelmed, thinking that the reason for feeling anxious is primarily a personal or individual issue one needs to solve alone; 2) sharing issues and getting to know about and experimenting with different ways to tackle anxiety together creates more room for play as well as critical distance from what appears to be one’s own psycho-physically felt problem; and 3) the more people who get involved in the creation and activation of scores, the easier it will be to eventually come to a critical mass, without which systemic changes from within will probably not occur.
I have a long past as an artist-educator of 37 years. Hammering it all into one shape would do no justice to the myriad of experiences I have had and the richness of the contexts within which I have taught so far. So, I will not put my experiences in one box. Nevertheless, in all these years, there is one tendency I can clearly discern and feel, despite the privileged conditions I have worked under for most of my artist-educational journey.
I am referring to moving from an institutional culture of invention and abundance (fewer options, but arguably more of just about everything else, such as money and space-time for artistic exploration) to working within an institutional culture of innovation, scarcity and precarity (a lot of options, but arguably less of just about everything else, such as money and space-time for artistic exploration).
This shift has led to an unprecedented instrumentalisation of art and artistic ‘knowledge’ in the many forms and guises it can wear. As far as my experience as artist-educator is concerned, working conditions have continuously deteriorated. Thus, the ‘present’ as I live and experience it is often stressful, plagued by a deeply seated anxiety. Thinking of a better future is therefore a challenge, but one I think I want to meet, together with as many of my ArtEZ stakeholders as possible. Doing otherwise would be to capitulate. Is this hope? Stubbornness? Desperation? All of these mixed up in an alluring, magical potion? Or is this something else?
The Scores: A First Proposition
As a first subversive affirmation-inspired group score, João proposes playing with the anxiety he himself feels when assessing students’ work with numerical grades (and their resulting translations into qualifiers such as excellent, very good, competent, and so on). In this case, the group is made of a senior lecturer and two students. The steps proposed are as follows:
- Identify what creates anxiety, describing how it psycho-physically feels in the context within which it occurs. In doing so, come to a place of non-denial about it, fully accepting it. It is important that the context, and how it psychophysically feels, is as precisely described as possible and that the description is formulated in at least two ways: verbally (recorded) and in written form (hand or typed). If verbally, do this in conversation with at least one other person who may ask questions. Doing so will possibly shed light on where the issue was born (the past). Acknowledge it, but do not dwell in it. This is the first phase of subversive affirmation.
- Choose an artistic ‘discipline’ and/or medium and/or materiality and exaggerate what creates anxiety. Different artistic ‘disciplines,’ media and materiality will afford different forms and expressions for exaggeration. This is the second phase of subversive affirmation. The process of engaging with exaggeration wants to be reiterated. Other members of the group will be working with your exaggeration by imitating and exaggerating it even more, giving feedback, and so on. Reiterating it is important because it provides an immediate relieving, cathartic experience, as most play does. It will also give important feedback to the person talking in the sense that the original description of the problem (anxiety) might become more detailed, potentialising more options for action/play.
- After having practised exaggerating what causes anxiety the third phase starts: one plants seeds of dissent in the exaggeration itself, attempting to slightly subvert So, after identifying and affirming what causes anxiety (in its context) by means of exaggerating it, ideas of how to undermine the anxiety are invested in. This is a period of playful and thoughtful trial-and-error exploration. It will eventually lead to a consciously chosen way and form for doing this and the ability to adapt it whenever needed. The intuition here is that by consciously choosing, one would ‘feel good’ (anxiety-free) for longer periods of time. These three phases are thought of as having and embracing a strong therapeutic dimension in the sense that they foster personal change by repairing ‘damage’ and finding ways to maintain one’s ability to work without feeling (as) anxious as before.
It is important to say that phases one, two and three should not lead to a mere immunity or anaesthesia to what causes anxiety because we think that this does not facilitate systemic change (the longer-term goal). It would, in fact, reinforce our difficulty with the rhetoric of resilience that is often used in in the context of the art university. Thus, while one might temporarily feel better (less anxious) in their ability to maintain their work as it is demanded or prescribed, what we ultimately aspire to is systemic change. That means taking into account the necessary conditions for providing what is demanded or prescribed by the art university from the very start. This might culminate in a substantial re-evaluation of what is demanded or prescribed. The institutional promise of quality provision and assurance must be inherently and intimately coupled with the health of all its stakeholders.
Other notions (and practices) we connect to subversive affirmation are undoing, over-identification, disidentification (Muñoz), opacity (Glissant), fugitivity (Harney & Moten), pure negation (Žižek), process (Process Philosophy), and ‘yes and’ (improvisation). Those interested in designing these group scores are warmly welcome to incorporate the singularity of their understanding of these notions and any practices they may be entangled with.