On the 28th of October, I attended a workshop by Ana S. Gonzalez Rueda titled: ‘Unknowing and other ways of learning with art’. The workshop brought the material of her PhD thesis (Radical Pedagogies and Curating) to a practical environment in the form of a workshop at the CCA. Gonzalez’s main focus was on how the pedagogical is inherent in the exhibition space rather than something imposed on it. The aim Gonzalez defined for her PhD was to supply the tools from ‘the educational’ for people operating in the exhibition space (curators and artists), functioning as the mediator between pedagogical theory and the theory and praxis of exhibition making. This process is specifically interesting to approach within the CCA (Glasgow), as this institution doesn’t have an ‘educational department’ (or another organ with a different name but similar mediating activities). Gonzalez’s approach to the outline of this research, by using the workshop-form, gave way to others in the process of defining and testing the line of thinking which is daring for a PhD research but an inseparable practice when researching the educational.
The workshop was divided into two parts – a collective dialogue around some of the main focus points in Gonzalez’s thesis and a practical pedagogical exercise in the exhibition space of the CCA within groups.
The workshop came with a handout with excerpts from Elisabeth Ellsworth’s Teaching Positions: Difference, Pedagogy and the power of address on one side, and on the other guidelines for an activity (a ‘snaplog’) to be carried out in the gallery. The excerpts from Ellsworth’s Teaching Positions spoke about ‘the mode of address’. The quotes formed an outline of what Ellsworth defines as ‘the mode of address’, how this plays a role in media (like exhibitions) and how it should be acknowledged for playing a role in education – concluding with a set of questions about the effect, affects and role of ‘the mode of address’ as being inherent to any exhibition.
What would have been helpful was to get an idea of Gonzalez’s the position towards these fragments. Why these? How does the idea of an inherent pedagogy relate to the inherency of ‘the mode of address’? In the texts the connection between the exhibition/exhibition-producer (curator) and film and film producers was explicitly made. However, how does this translate to a medium that doesn’t pin its audiences down with a strict spatiality and embodied collectivity as in the experience of film. This is actually the same argument, Simon Sheikh uses against Ranciere’s emancipated spectator (that focuses on theatre) in ‘A Long Walk in the Land of the People’ in Future Publics (The Rest Can and Should B Done by the People). Besides criticising the emancipated spectator, Sheikh sets out a range of perspectives towards audiences, spectatorship, participation and citizenship. Thereby approaching maybe one or two of the questions in the last segment selected by Gonzales: “What difference does ‘who a viewer thinks s/he is’ make to how s/he acts in the world?”
But the gap between the two media, more precisely the open speciality of the exhibition space opposed to the film (and hierarchical teacher-students education) audience, is partly what I believe makes it interesting to explore the exhibition space through a more experiential action-based manner.
For the second part, a collective exercise in the galleries, we turn to the other side of the paper titled ‘How Else?’. As practice-based research, the exercise is both an outcome of the research material (Material and conditions follow the content to be learned and by containing some ‘diffractive learning elements’?) while at the same time exploring the content of the first part of the workshop within this specific exhibition. We were asked to answer a question from the sheet of paper by making a picture from an element in the exhibition. What seemed from the discussion afterwards, was that some of the manifold knowledge produced by this layered exercise got lost in the immersive, subjective and ‘off’ aesthetics of the exhibition itself. I keep wondering myself whether this is an unavoidable or unfortunate outcome of this workshop, while Gonzalez seems to say that there is no exhibition excluded from the mode of address, there certainly could be exhibitions that could function as more convenient testing grounds. On the other side, should you want to exclude for this reason? Even when you are in that way applying another mode of address on this exercise that could make you miss out on unexpected knowledge. – How else?
In a conversation after the workshop, Gonzalez specified she mainly focused on critical and feminist pedagogies in her research after I had expressed my curiosity about this. As had come forward throughout the workshop this practical experiment had only scratched the surface of an understanding of how she saw inherit pedagogy within the exhibition space, and also where the two were still wrangling in the practical framework. I would love to see more experiments in this, not to get that wrangling ‘out of the system’ but to unfold it and learn where it comes from.
I would myself not be too interested in having a critical approach in the traditional sense as it makes a clear separation between theory and praxis while I believe they can very much inform each other. Other things I find interesting in relation to the (contemporary art) exhibition space usually being a non-linear medium are sustainable and Zen pedagogies. As I have recently been reading a bit about sustainable pedagogies, this workshop made me think about the inherency of these questions within the exhibition space specifically. Questions of sustainability are inseparable from a location or a site as such and therefore always inform the exhibition space in a certain manner.
Mentioned in this piece:
Ellsworth, E. Teaching Postions: Difference, Pedagogy and the Power of Address (New York: Teachers College Prss, 1997)
Gielen, Pascal. Institutional Attitudes: Instituting Art in a Flat World. (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2013)
Hlavajova, Maria. Ranjit Hoskote. Future Publics (The Rest Can And Should Be Done By The People): A Critical Reader In Contemporary Art. (Amsterdam/Utrecht: Valiz, BAK Utrecht, 2013)