A Conversation with Jan Verwoert

Accidentally Sonic

Education Initiative 2018

 

This conversation between Jan Verwoert and Viktoria Draganova took place at the opening of A show A night Of talks at Swimming Pool, which was the concluding evening of Accidentally Sonic, a project by Piet Zwart Institute Master Fine Art Class of 2019 and Swimming Pool Education Initiative 2018.

Viktoria It has been a pleasure to host you and all the students from PZI Master Class over the last couple of days, and generally to work with you on conceiving and carrying out this project within Swimming Pool Education Initiative we only started this year.

Jan Viktoria, let’s start this conversation – amid the artists’ performances that take place tonight here at the empty pool and around – by asking you a question: You have a particular commitment towards the idea of education. In your understanding it is not only to be done by institutions, and it is not only professors or doctors who can teach, so you have made a commitment to opening up an exhibition space to educational projects which you started yourself. Can you talk a bit about it, what inspired you?

Viktoria After the changes in 1989 what is professional became a difficult question.  Not only because the political transformation called into question who belongs to the teaching elites, also the needs within the society dramatically changed. During the transitional period the central institutions – the academy and art museums–  couldn’t respond to the questions posed  within the new societal situation and stayed ways behind, hermetical and hibernating. Lately, some of these follow practices that rather satisfy the needs of a consumer society, so there was and still is an urgent need for a  response and commitment outside the market logic.  Within the experimental frame at Swimming Pool and almost 30 years later, we try to raise the attention to questions at the core of art thinking and production today asking how artists, curators and art institutions can address society. As basic as it sounds, these topics have been raised only rarely, and the reason lies deep in the modernization history in Bulgaria where we’ve always assumed that these questions have been or will be answered elsewhere, and all we need need to do is to import the discourse to not stand behind. That’s why I believe  we need to learn to pose questions here and out of experience. And, education means this all: to learn to relate one’s own experience to everyone else, and turn it into a collective experience. It is the right time to do this in Bulgaria as we know a lot, but we need frames to recognize, share and make sense of what we know in order to be able to make real choices. So to speak I’m interested in organizing spaces for joined and collaborative processes that are also spaces of collective agency.

Jan And when I’m probably speaking on behalf of the whole group I would like to say how insanely we appreciate your incredible hospitality. When traveling like that, I always feel as a Motley Crue of international artists, but there is no place where the international exists except in local places where someone opens the doors and says this is the space, and this is the key, let’s get it started.

Viktoria Tell me more about your educational practice at the Piet Zwart Institute for many years now, is there something particular about this institution you want to mention? How long have you been actually teaching there?

Jan For 13 years now, so I’ve probably become part of the furniture I guess. I’ve been called an 1990s hippie (laughing) … but there was a moment in the 1990s when internationalism stopped being just about  “Germans talking to Americans” or “you can join the crew in Cologne and then you can join the crew in New York”. And you suddenly realize there is an entire new topography opening up. I love when Deleuze and Guattari speak about the margins interconnecting. When you no longer think about the centre but you move on the limits and the limits keep connecting you to people. And this is something I believe in, I must confess I’m almost addicted to, and it feels that it happens exactly when you jump on the plane with everyone else to places like this and somebody opens the door. But with every new generation of students you realize you have to work out again and again what these limits are and which ones you can move together. It can be a conceptual conversation, it can be very much a conversation about humor, memories, experience … There cannot be a formula, or a law, there cannot be a constitution, you have to constitute it again and again. That is a challenge, but it is very exiting.

Viktoria When I frame education as a space to share experience in order to gain the ability to ask questions, and it seems this methodology interweaves philosophy, ethics and performance, I was wondering what is your definition of or approach towards education.

Jan There is one sentence by Spinoza that Deleuze keeps quoting, and I will quote it again: In Ethics he says something along the line: No one has understood yet what the body is capable of, and by the same token the mind. And I think this is a beautiful definition of education: No one has understood what bodies and minds are capable of, and that’s why we are here to understand exactly what we don’t know. I refuse an idea of education as the legitimation of knowledge, and I embrace the idea of entering of some state of potentiality together where you do not know what you will hopefully know by the end of it. We started two and a half days ago talking to people, going to places and looking at things without ever know what the hell this evening will be like and I find this is a scenario that I believe in in terms of education without knowing much in advance.

Viktoria It is indeed an extraordinary format you and the artists chose: a three-days research with an final presentation on a place you’ve never been before. Is this an acceleration in terms of excess that leads ad absurdum the pressure to perform? Or is this, on the contrary, a slowing-down of artistic practice through taking a refugium at a distant place and operating within a distinct geography?

Jan Speaking of time and speed, I realize that we are fighting the timing of the sinking sun, and we have two more performances to go … I think in certain moments when there is the speed of the days going by that this is the one pace, the other pace is the experience of the city that has been around for hundreds of years, and there is also the pace of the experience of the work and intuition that people bring with. So, all of these things become strangely layered. At the beginning we’ve been talking about polyrhythmicality in musical terms and I believe fundamentally in the layering of experience where you bring something with, and some rhythms are rather quick – within two and a half  days -, and the other are ten years of a practice that prepares you to be receptive and open to what will happen. This is part of an artistic practice but it can be also I guess part of a curatorial practice where you have the confidence and the trust to open the doors to people you barely know, and this is again about hospitality.

 

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