New Platforms of Art Education for Urban Reflection The case of ADRIART site-specific workshops for European Capitals of Culture | LARA BADURINA & PETER PURG

August 19, 2014

adriart

Introduction and Background

In the crisis-stricken transitional societies, art and cultural production in general are pushed to the background. Even though they can become both topics and forms of reflection or possible intervention against the downward spirals of (de)civilization, propelled by the (post)capitalist appropriation of the public (and the) space. Among other possible responses, special attention should be placed on the development of new (forms of) artistic study programs and broader academic practices that reflect on this problem. One of such methods may be found in the so called “mobility” courses in public spaces that are based on “site-specific” approach – such as international workshops, developed and pilot-tested in the ADRIART.net project 2011-2014. Here they are presented as a form of direct academic-cum-artistic response to burning societal issues.

The background of this assumption may be found in the somewhat macabre tones currently dominating the cultural public sphere, especially in South East Europe, where the ADRIART project is based (Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Italy; the so-called Alpe-Adria region). One of the vivid ways to illustrate the problems faced by the cultural scene(s) in transitional societies is to compare cities from the transitional East to the relatively stable West (even within the mentioned region!) with regards to the European Capital of Culture (ECC) phenomenon: one may assume that Rijeka’s problems in the matter, as well as those of the post-industrial Maribor, in comparison to Graz, are predominantly based on poor education in culture and cultural production. While Graz (Austria) famously profited in many ways from being the ECC in 2003, Maribor (Slovenia) in 2012 is predominantly seen as a failed ECC in terms of public cultural legacy and sustainability – while Rijeka (Croatia) is currently filing in an ambitious bid for becoming a European Capital of Culture. (1.)

A Framework of Activities Against the Socio-political Context

Research on corruption in Eastern Europe shows that in transitional, post-industrial societies without fully established democratic principles and without a vital economy based on services, new technologies and IT revolution, corruption and organized crime are targeted against city budgets. In such societies, city budgets consist of taxpayers’ money and are the sole reliable source of capital. (2.) The global economic crisis in Eastern European societies and former communist and socialist states allowed for the rise of neo-liberal philosophy which advocates reductions in government spending. The largest cuts have been imposed in health, social benefits, education and culture. Culture funding was often cut by as much as 50 percent. (3.)

As a result, societies resort to the second largest source of income and the only resource that remained in the hands of people – space, both public and private. Public space, in its broad sense, is something that should belong to all, in terms of communication and movement of people (a park, a street, a square, etc). It is necessary to indicate that „public spaces“ in this case is not only a mere urban toponym for public traffic, physical communication, etc., but encompasses much more. As an ideological term it is advocated by Chantal Mouffe and David Harvey: a place in which a community by taking over the space can initiate a revival of the political confrontation of ideas (4), opposing the neoliberal terms of finding new ways in sustaining always the same idea. In that sense the community’s right to public spaces is also a right to change ourselves by changing those public spaces. (5) However, since public space is seen as an interesting economic resource – especially this may be claimed for the transitional countries at stake, Croatia and Slovenia – the issue of commercialization and sale has come into focus.

This text thus gives several examples showing the importance of such issues to society, both in positive and in negative connotation:

The government of Croatia currently plans to implement the Expropriation Act that provides that any space, private or public, can be taken from one person, even against their will, and is sold to another, if the government finds that it is in the interest of attracting investments. While many people are against the act and consider it unconstitutional, the government is persistently trying to present it as a step forward. In contrast to such tendencies, the most prominent cultural activist of Zagreb, Teodor Celakoski, received the prestigious award of Princess Margriet for introducing public interest in cultural policies and spatial planning. In doing so, Celakoski enabled cooperation among civil society, independent cultural organizations and public institutions in a joint combat against privatization of public spaces. The award was also granted to the employees of an Italian theatre, who saved the theatre from privatization and transformed it into a space for common good. And there are increasing tendencies for privatization of public spaces across the entire Europe.

The Problem: Educating for European Culture Capital(s)

Transitional societies, such as Croatia, are faced with a burning issue: will they be able to produce capital surplus by creating new values, or will they sell their resources, without using the sales surplus for production of new values? One should be aware that recovery from the permanent economic and social crisis is possible only with a concrete, state-wide plan of economic development, including a long-term social consensus in the implementation of such a plan. If Croatia decides to create new values, it will need to raise awareness and change attitudes towards education and culture – vital mechanisms that have been methodically reduced and eliminated over the past ten years.

The consequences of such behavior are obstacles that hinder societies’ progress: budget deficit and, importantly, the deficit of educated people who can generate the needed income. The example of all the possibilities offered by an increase in the number of educated people is best shown through the comparison of Graz, the former European Capital of Culture (ECC), and Rijeka, which is aspiring for the title. Between these two cities, not just geographically, but arguably also in terms of ECC success and visibility, there is Maribor that carried the title in 2012.

Rijeka, the largest port of former Yugoslavia and the city that used to generate large profits from its oil refineries, weapons production (it had the best weapons factory in the Austrian Empire) and sugar plants, boasts a significant cosmopolitan heritage that was continually cultivated from the period of baroque to modernism. Most of this heritage has been well preserved to this day. As regards to architectural heritage and economic importance, Graz was seen as unimportant and it was largely limited in this aspect; in other words, it lacked “hardware”. However, for the purpose of the ECC candidacy, Graz exerted efforts in the construction of „software“, focussing on contemporary culture and art, and chose to nurture new cultural trends, art producers and audiences.

Their plan consisted of three stages: a) focusing educational and cultural public on new strategies; b) producing sufficient number of people who would design and create the needed programs; c) producing sufficient number of interested consumers or audiences.

The main objective in Graz was to establish and permanently maintain cultural programs. Educational strategy created a fresh material framework based on contemporary production, with a significant number of the employed and a significant number of permanent consumers. To put it in other words, „software“ created „hardware“: Graz established a cultural industry that generates profit to the community. Ten years later, Graz (which was awarded the title in 2003) has been recognized as one of the most successful examples of permanent integration of positive effects of the ECC project on the city infrastructure and the city’s program orientation to plural and progressive directions of cultural development.

On the other hand, Maribor was reviewed as one of the least successful cities, as soon as a year after its ECC status had expired. (6.) The city managed to maintain only legally and economically desired projects (excluding failed “hardware” projects, such as the un-built cultural center “MAKS”). However, the “software” heritage is scarce and there are only a few positive examples (such as the “Urbane brazde” eco-community process). Several analyses, although mostly feuilleton-level, agree that one of the reasons of the failure was the lack of high-quality human resource, people:

During the ECC period, Maribor (the second biggest city in Slovenia, post-industrially stricken similarly to Rijeka) attracted a critical mass of referenced individuals from other regions of Slovenia (especially Ljubljana, the capital), who were put in charge of organization, coordination and realization of programs and projects. However, general conclusion was that one of the reasons for the numerous problems of Maribor in the ECC process was a lack of people who were mobile, inter-culturally competent, skilled and recognized as authors. Such people would have been able to create a strong team, harmonized in a large organism for demanding projects.

Moreover, one may claim that projects such as the EEC do not end and have no limits (apart from limits perceived by authors). Such projects can, in turn, certainly mirror the limits of the communities that decided to take up the projects. Rijeka decided to rely on its famous industrial heritage, which was quite logical. However, the city suffers from a shortage of educated and competent people and a lack of interested consumers. As a result of these weaknesses, both Maribor and Rijeka are confronted with difficulties in maintenance of larger programs, which consequently loose economic and political importance, or even generate counter-effects.

Therefore, a crucial problem of transitional societies lies in poor systems of cultural education and cultural production. Since the current financial situation does not allow for one-way maneuvers in terms of direct government investments in education – which, in turn, would boost cultural industries – communities have to form new strategies and find new ways of dealing with the lack of cultural production, and of its impact. This also includes finding ways to attract funds above national level (such as the here presented ADRIART project).

All this brings up issues of public spaces, which can be addressed through mobility workshops that develop concrete relationships among the following:

1) establishment of cultural industries; 2) preservation of public spaces through activation; and 3) participation in the strengthening of education, by involving educational institutions in the development of new study programs.

The success of the European Capitals of Culture as a tectonic transnational process is the result of developmental strategies that recognize the potentials of art and education in times of transnational capitalism, including its constructive critical (re)thinking.

Solutions and Strategies: The Role of Art Practices as Pedagogical Methods

In a social inter-space, an artist represents relationships of values that can create other forms through ethical, aesthetic and other principles. Practices of contemporary art demonstrate a dynamic relation between artistic and other statements, regardless of whether they too are artistic, since dialogue is vital for art. For that reason, art depicts the models of social connections and interaction with viewers; it creates new tools that link groups and individuals.

Artists may also become the creators and carriers of mobility courses of the ADRIART project that have already been carried out through mobility workshops (more than 15 were set up from 2011 to 2014, in Venice, Rijeka, Nova Gorica, Komiža, Udine, Ljubljana, Graz; c.f. www.adriart.net/mobilities ). They can participate as teachers in performances and activities in public spaces, in video/film and theater etc., but they are also engaged in the field of non-formal education and research in situ. By promoting art through art and while implementing art and artistic research in education, they contribute to the artistic experiment, as one of the most significant (and perhaps underused) methods in teaching.

It is precisely the combination of (methodologically reflected) experimentation and research that introduces the most important novelty here. This combination stems from the curricular and implementation structures of Media Arts and Practices (MAP) as the basis for the above mobility courses. It is also the result of interactions between progressive and traditional methodologies contained within the ADRIART project gathering students and mentors of four universities from Austria, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, whose participatring schools are of different profile in terms of both acdemic fields and methodologies (art, architecture, media production; theory, applied practice etc.)

If the objective of art exhibitions is to form a dialogue between an individual and the public, then such workshops had to be created in and with public spaces, in specific micro-locations that are characterized by strong social and/or political features (the so-called site-specific approach) that became topics for the academic-cum-production work involved. Mobility workshops can thus offer something that the traditional educational system lacks: physical space, i. e. the space for testing ideas and learning through the method of trial and error; and mental space, as the space for contemplation and reflection upon the work done. This opens up an entirely different perspective of physical locations and their social and political implications, including a (de)constructive conflict with them – which is predominantly carried out in the context of digital media.

Artists/mentors are often in a position where they have to search for new forms of cooperation, which includes the combining of structural and political sectors with conceptual issues relating to the artists’ mobilities as the subject of artistic production. Therefore, the process of organizing and running of the mobility workshops can be viewed as a form of artistic practice in itself. By joining artistic ideas, through a teamwork of students and joint projects, through involvement of experts and their opinion in the selection of media and techniques, and by incorporating critical reflections, these workshops become the place where different professions meet and develop (new forms and practices), producing exceptional ideas and objects or processes of art.

Such form of education offers the students a unique opportunity to engage with experts from scientific, humanistic and artistic fields, in a focused manner and through meaningful work. Moreover, mentors also benefit by learning new facts about and gathering first hand experience in pedagogical approach in their work with students. In today’s mass production, educational institutions, under the Bologna Process, are aimed towards production that should not serve its own purpose. Education is a public good which needs contributions both by students and their mentors, in mutual exchange. Public space and in situ location, with site-specific performances, digital media interventions and interactive ambient, can illustrate relations among contemporary performance, interactive new media art, the audience, the place and (their) society.

By exploring the physical and digital domains of space in the mobility workshops students develop a sensibility towards specific locations and public spaces. Public space in the ADRIART.net project is the city – in different historical and physical scales, from the small and young Nova Gorica to the old capital of Venice, or the ex-fishing (now tourist) town of Komiža; or then the prosperous Graz, along with the post-industrial urban phenomena of regional capitals such as Ljubljana or Rijeka. (c.f. the running mobility workshop calls/archives thorugh http://www.adriart.net/mobilities).

Finally, such workshops cannot function without (reflecting) public spaces. In times when governments expropriate public spaces because of financial pressures, such academic processes protect compromised public spaces and (re)create their identities. Provided that they are cyclical (recurring) and maintain the quality of their programs, they breathe life into public spaces, (re)vitalizing both the creators and the consumers of culture, eventually compensating for the weaknesses of local educational provision and making up for the deficits of the cultural scene (absence).

Conclusion

The success of the European Capitals of Culture phenomenon is the result of developmental strategies that recognize the potentials of art and education in times of transnational capitalism. ADRIART mobility workshops seem to help cities and towns to present themselves as cultural spots and pools, attracting new capital investments in cultural industries and motivating public co-financing. Such mobility-based collaborations where students and mentors mix from different countries – interacting strongly with local audiences (in response to actual urban issues) while strengthening competence of cultural exchange and production – can become important places for experimentation, and nodes of contemplation. Either in local student shows, interventions within urban brown fields, or as a region-wide platform, they give rise to new perspectives on and new understandings of society, especially in the context of digital media as the new realms of (reclaiming) public space.

PETER PURG (PhD, Project manager, R&D Coordinator, Teacher) is assistant professor in New media at the School of Arts, University of Nova Gorica, where he currently manages the present ADRIART project as also HiLoVv (Hidden Live(r)s of Venice on Video). He holds a PhD in media art, communication science and literature from the University of Erfurt, Germany, publishing and producing widely in the mentioned areas.

LARA BADURINA was born in 1968 in Rijeka, Croatia. She graduated in 1993, and took a PhD course in Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts, Ljubljana, in 2003. Since the end of 1980s exhibits through different artistic media, receiving many prizes and recognitions. Alongside Fine arts (25 solo and 43 group exhibitions), Badurina is active in the fields of stage- and light design. She is member and cofounder of A3 and Trafik nonprofit associations in Rijeka. Currently she teaches as assistant professor at the Academy of Applied Arts, University of Rijeka. http://www.larabadurina.net

NOTES:

(1.)www.rijeka.hr Croatia and Ireland are the countries which cities will have the title of the European capital of culture in 2020. The City of Rijeka included the candidature for European capital of culture in 2020 as one of the most important strategic projects in the development Strategy for the City of Rijeka until 2020.For that purpose, project’s web page has been set up http://www.rijekaepk.eu/ in 2013, where all information about The City of Rijeka’s candidature can be found, as well as all the news about implemented activities and local community’s involvement up to now. On 17th of June 2014, a web page is open http://ekonzultacije.rijeka.hr/europske-dimenzije-rijeke-rad-manjine-voda-luka/ for the E-consultation with the citizens about the Concept of the City of Rijeka’s candidature for the European capital of culture in 2020, based on four topics: work, minorities, water and harbor.

(2.)Carlo Alberto Brioschi: Breve storia della corruzione, 2004 TEA S.P.A., Milano

(3.) Reduced Budget – Ministry of Culture granted 52% of submitted program proposals“ says Jutarnji list, on 28th of May 2014 in an article about annual grant scheme of public needs in culture http://www.jutarnji.hr/template/article/article-print.jsp?id=1177879 In recent years, complete budget of Ministry of culture has decreased from 0,85% to 0,49% of total share in national budget. From that amount with up to 40% Ministry of culture is financing programs in the City of Zagreb where almost 70-80% of all cultural programs take place. At the same time, there is a great demand for support coming from other local projects due to decrease of cultural budgets of other cities. The biggest share of the Ministry of culture funds has been dedicated to music and theatre, and the smallest share remains for archeology and international cooperation. Indicative is the fact that visual art is not even mentioned in this article. But, Minister of Culture Andrea Zlatar Violić claims they took great care to finance all programs that show continuance and which can, also by other sources of financing, be realized.

(4.)Chantal Mouffe: Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces (ART&RESEARCH-Volume 1. No. 2. Summer 2007.)http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n2/mouffe.html

(5.)Henri Lefebvre: Le Droit à la ville (Paris: Anthropos -2nd ed.-; Paris: Ed. du Seuil, Collection “Points”.1968.) David Harvey described it as follows: “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city (…) The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”http://newleftreview.org/II/53/david-harvey-the-right-to-the-city

(6.)Ex-post Evaluation of 2012 European Capitals of Culture, Final Report for the European Commission, DG Education and Culture, July 2013; ( pages: 39., 40., 41., 46.) Authors: Nick McAteer, Neringa Mozuraityte, Neil McDonald, Country researchers: Cristina Farinha, Vesna Čopič, Andrej Srakar; Ecorys UK Ltd www.uk.ecorys.comhttp://www.kulturklik.euskadi.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/evaluation-ecoc-2012_en1.pdf

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