BLOCC web launch
Grand Palais, Bern, Switzerland
April 25, 2019
at 6 p.m.
BLOCC (Building Leverage Over Creative Capitalism) is an international cohort that includes a geographer, a social worker, organizers, artists, filmmakers, designers, scholars, and educators based in Beirut, Tulsa, Berlin, Belgium/Brazil, London, Zurich, and Lausanne. In the summer of 2017 and 2018, we assembled as fellows of the Sommerakademie Paul Klee with artistic director Tirdad Zolghadr.
BLOCC derives from block: a component of building material, a neighborhood or partition within a city, or a deliberate obstruction of an opponent's intentions. It is a strategy to tackle the relationship between contemporary art and the current global phenomenon of gentrification. How might we tackle a single planetary development alongside its many local manifestations? How, in other words, to forge international alliances when your legitimacy, and your working knowledge, stems from particular neighborhood materialities? Further, how to survive complicity in a moment when developers, city planners, and non-profits are are instrumentalizing artists who, willingly or not, participate in the violent process of displacement.
Join us on April 25, 2019 as we launch our website and share our collective educational project.
For more info please click here.
Work made by students of the Bern University of the Arts HKB during a BLOCC workshop in November 2018.
by Tirdad Zolghadr, artistic director SPK
The REALTY program asks how the growing traction of Contemporary Art can be used to better effect. Contemporary Art is still only beginning to understand its own complicity within a new and increasingly brutal game of urban renewal. REALTY insists on a generous time frame, and on the vulgarity of suggestions, however embarrassing. In an attempt to pool as many resources as possible, it is moving at various speeds, in various venues. Aside from a research stipend and residency program at the Sommerakademie Paul Klee, it has taken the shape of commissioned artworks, a cryptocurrency experiment, and a public program at KW Institute for Contemporary Art Berlin, as well as accredited courses at three MA programs (UdK Berlin, Europa Universität Frankfurt am Main, Dutch Art Institute Arnhem). The following describes the headway achieved thus far at the Sommerakademie Paul Klee, over the course of 2018.
Building on the Summer and Fall of 2017, the 2018 program offered the Fellows four distinct levels of engagement:
1) international experts helped consolidate a collective modus operandi
2) extensive group sessions were devoted to developing and indeed finalizing a collective way forward
3) during teaching opportunities at the Bern University of the Arts HKB, research accumulated at the Sommerakademie was taught in workshop sessions over the Spring and Fall
4) opportunities to use the university infrastructure as individual practitioners
Over the course of 2018, building on the work accomplished the previous year, and with the help of both extensive bibliographic materials, and multiple visiting experts, the Fellows circumscribed complex features of ongoing gentrification patterns. Features which need to be more clearly defined if we are to imagine any future beyond cycles of renewal and displacement currently established. This year, we continued to explore further examples of artists, curators and researchers who have sought to employ the leverage of art to make lasting contributions to current urbanization debates. Examples from Berlin included public art interventions as well as engagements with local policymakers, other case studies included recent activities (and activism) on behalf of the Fellows themselves, within their respective hometowns and institutions of São Paulo, Beirut, Hamburg, Zurich, Lausanne and elsewhere.
The ambition, almost from the very beginning of the time spent together in Bern, has been to develop a collective body that will outlive the Sommerakademie as currently planned. At the end of the day, the joint objective was to articulate and propose hands-on, sweeping reforms. Including substantial changes to art education, professional regulation of the art field, public art funding and more. Such are the aims that informed the wide-ranging working sessions this July and August. By most accounts, it appears the eight Fellows have succeeded in laying precisely such foundations for a structure that is sustainable enough – financially and otherwise – to explore the aforementioned issues in long-term, consequential fashion.
The collective contribution of the residents of this cycle of the Sommerakademie is summarized by the name BLOCC (see www.blocc.space). A multifarious, international teaching template that seeks to infiltrate the art-educational complex across the board. From prestigious MA programs to self-organized, artist-run setups. Any serious impact on behalf of Contemporary Art can only be devised with the help of two premises. On the one hand, it must address the way in which art itself is implicated, and propose new working parameters, beyond the endless reproduction of a cosmopolitan, precariously middle-class subject that cannot help but partake in ongoing cycles of gentrification. On the other, it must forge a measured and transgenerational contribution that can only germinate over time, in the very long term.
By devising a syllabus for art students, and drawing on state-of-the-art teaching methodologies that clarify any art students’ place within the political economy of today’s cities, BLOCC succeeds in hitting two birds with one stone. On the one hand, it strategically builds on the existing experience and professional network of the Fellows themselves, a network which stretches across art-educational panoramas on all continents. On the other hand, with its nimble, peer-to-peer teaching modules, and shrewd thematic architecture, it boasts a didactic rigor and savoir-faire which is rare within the latter-day field at large. At the risk of sounding propagandistic, the BLOCC template stands more than a fair chance of success.
Expertise and Infrastructure on Offer at the Sommerakademie Paul Klee
Rival Strategy is a cutting-edge, theoretically-driven consulting firm, currently based in London, whose client base ranges from grassroots cultural endeavors, to progressive educational institutions, to corporate heavyweights. By means of a closed workshop session lasting several days, alongside a public lecture, Rival Strategy mapped out distinct definitions of “strategization”; within the economy at large, the political landscape of Europe and the US, and beyond. They then proceeded to chart the resources, immediate priorities and long-term ambitions of BLOCC, so as to render it as steadfast and effective as possible.
Jaya Klara Brekke, for her part, is a researcher of power structures within distributed systems and new technologies. She spends much of her time in Vienna as collaborator of RIAT, Institute for Future Crypto-economics. It was in this capacity that she greatly contributed to our understanding of the potentials of Blockchain. So-called “distributed ledger” technologies and Smart Contracts have recently forged an exhilarating, new playing field where the possibility of rethinking the production of value self-defined, progressive ends – and even rethinking money itself – is not as ridiculously utopian as it may sound. By means of both a closed workshop session, and a public lecture co-hosted by the Kunsthalle Bern, Brekke helped to spell out what BLOCC has to gain (or lose) from engaging in tokenization strategies now offered by cryptofinancial platforms such as Ethereum or Faircoin.
As for the infrastructure of the Bern University of the Arts HKB was once again greeted with wild enthusiasm on behalf of the residents. For all their differences, the eight artists greatly appreciate the options granted by state-of-the-art facilities. This year, the Fellows were offered a chance to maximize the time on site, and to work with the infrastructure of the university during an additional fourth week in Bern.
Where to Next?
Press coverage has been positive, e.g. much of the above was generously covered, in great detail, by the art&education writer Aoife Rosenmeyer. So it is now the success of the BLOCC proposal that should be our clear priority over the coming months. We have one more decisive opportunity to create a substantial platform – this coming April of 2019 – when the residents will convene one last time in Bern. Other BLOCC meetings will surely follow, beyond the remit of the Sommerakademie, but this Spring will offer one last chance to boost the project. A success story in the shape of such a wildly ambitious initiative is the best possible outcome for the Sommerakademie itself, and to gain the support among a generation of artists who are eager to finally move beyond business as usual.
Read Aoife Rosenmeyer’s report on the Sommerakademie Paul Klee here.
→ Saturday, 18 August 2018, 5 pm
at the PROGR Zentrum für Kulturproduktion, erlesen - Raum für gedruckte Feinkost (access through the PROGR courtyard), Speichergasse 4, Bern
You may think there’s nothing wrong with gentrification. Or you may think you have nothing to do with it. You’re just painting in your studio, no harm done. Or perhaps you think capitalism does what it does, nothing you can do.
BLOCC can sort you out. Come join us for an aperitif, August 18, 5 pm.
BLOCC (Building Leverage Over Creative Capitalism) was formed 2017, by the eight artist Fellows of the Sommerakademie Paul Klee in Bern. August 18, we’ll present the first blueprint of our teaching template, and show you an amusing, short video. Or maybe just a video. BLOCC seeks to alter the relationship between Contemporary Art and Gentrification, one generation at a time. By means of an experimental, adaptable teaching method. In essence, BLOCC reflects an entirely new way of learning art. On the one hand, it places art’s relationship to city politics at the very center of formal training. Right alongside feminism, critical theory, Harry Szeemann, Paul Klee and all the rest. On the other hand, it introduces a teaching template that is introduced from afar, but remains open-ended as it builds, crystalizing differently in different cities.
So, you know... Be part of the alternative. It’s already here.
The Fellows 2017-19:
Johanna Bruckner, Crystal Z Campbell, Luiza Crosman, Alexandros Kyriakatos, Alexis Mitchell, Bahar Noorizadeh, Heather M. O'Brien and Jonathan Takahashi
1 Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing & Displacement, Los Angeles, California, 2016. Photo credit: Heather M. O'Brien, member of Los Angeles Tenants Union
2 Patrick Guns, No to Contemporary Art, #P3, 2006
3 Defend Boyle Heights demonstration against Self-Help Graphics, Los Angeles, 2016
4 By W.A.G.E. (Working Artists & the Greater Economy), New York City
5 Los Angeles Tenants Union sticker. Photo credit: Jonathan Takahashi
6 Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing & Displacement, Los Angeles, California, 2016. Photo credit: Timo Saarelma
7 Boycott Weird Wave Coffee, Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, 2017. Courtesy Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing & Displacement
8 By Wasted Rita, Lisbon.
by Tirdad Zolghadr, artistic director SPK
Contemporary Art finds itself at the beginning of a complicated process of understanding a new worldwide game of urban renewal. A game that has upped the stakes in dramatic, game-changing, and often violent ways. How to redefine the possible rules of engagement here? How can the traction of Contemporary Art be used to better effect? In an attempt to pool as many resources as possible, REALTY is moving at three speeds, in three different venues: it is currently a public program at KW Institute for Contemporary Art Berlin, a Masters of Research and Science course at the Dutch Art Institute, and a research grant at the Sommerakademie Paul Klee. The following report describes the specific headway achieved thus far at the Sommerakademie, over the course of the last four months.
Aside from individual opportunities to use the infrastructure of the Bern University of the Arts HKB, the August 2017 program offered the Research Fellows three levels of engagement:
1) international experts helping us formulate a common point of departure
2) Bern residents explaining the particularities of urban renewal in a local context
3) group sessions devoted to brainstorming a collective way forward
1) The Bird’s Eye Perspective
How, we asked, could eight strangers, from radically different backgrounds, be parachuted into such a complex and intimate conversation as the Sommerakademie, and still find ways to move forward together? Over a period of three weeks, a string of international scholars and artists helped us understand our own possible points of departure; whether by means of public lectures or of closed internal workshops. The answers they offered were twofold.
On the one hand, we defined features of ongoing gentrification that are urgently needed if we are to imagine a future beyond free market maxims. Including features that are global in nature. To be sure, the differences are plenty, stark and obvious – but – for better or for worse – commonalities persist, and often overweigh. It was perhaps the heterogeneity among our Research Fellows that allowed us to address the dilemma of local agency vs. planetary patterns a little less awkwardly than is often the case. As a group, we addressed “What If” scenarios, historical thresholds, theoretical diagrams, counterstrategies, basic facts and figures. Tashy Endres, of Kotti & Co and the Berlin University of the Arts, was a considerable help in this regard.
On the other hand, we succeeded in defining Contemporary Art as a field that is not as amorphous as it thinks it is, and that can thereby offer a solid ground to work from as a group. Contemporary Art is an economy, a working ideology, a political temperament, a language, a history, a kind of knowledge production that is sometimes superficial, but never imprecise. For it is part of an international project to produce, and reproduce, the cosmopolitan middle class subject. And this cosmopolitan subject is, in turn, partaking in urban renewal with more bravado than any other segment of society. Suhail Malik of Goldsmiths University helped us navigate these questions, while philosopher Dieter Lesage pointed out ways in which something as outlandish as a summer academy in Bern could be of help. Lesage discussed Bern as a place for reading and revolution, mapping a trajectory from Walter Benjamin to Lenin to Hegel and back again. At the end of the day, looking back in an effort to look forward, Lesage’s hope was to become less “interstitial”, and more “consequential”. To envision even a summer residency as a space of sustainable agency, and not just artistic sightseeing. Surely enough, nothing is as future oriented as a school. Whether it’s a primary school, a BAUHAUS, or a research driven network of artist peers. Schools produce new horizons of expectation, just as they can consolidate old ones. They reproduce the labor. And the belief system that is necessary for it.
2) Local Anchoring
At many moments during the August time window 2017, we were introduced to ongoing debates in the city of Bern; thanks to, among other things, an informal meeting with architect and local politician Tilman Rösler, along with an impromptu visit to the Lorraine neighbourhood association fighting local gentrification, and an extensive guided tour of Bern with artist Annaïk Lou Pitteloud, offering a privileged view of housing struggles in the city. Including pointed confrontations in the Lorraine quarter, confrontations which bore odd parallels with settings in Los Angeles. (At one point, we realized the work of our two Californian Fellows actually served as a reference to Lorraine activists.) By way of another example, the Reithalle impressed us as a case of political savviness and mass mobilization. As it happens, even the very host venue for our internal seminars – the PROGR cultural centre – stands out as a case of Bernese artists acting as vectors for change. Finally, the Cultural Senator of Basel, Philippe Bischof, generously shared points of interregional comparison, from an acting politician’s perspective.
Renzo Martens and Adelita Husni-Bey were two artists who shared their complex working methodologies with us, alongside artist and activist Leonardo Vilchis, who described the work he’s been pursuing over the last 30 years in Boyle Heights Los Angeles. During the sobering conclusion to his contribution, Vilchis mentioned he’d never seen a situation arise where outside interventions, whether financial investments or aesthetic gestures, were helpful. As long as the momentum of finance capital is as unchecked as it is today, it seems impossible to imagine well-intended intrusions bearing sustainable, happy consequences. Where does that leave Contemporary Art? All of our practices, after all, come to a problem, a situation, a location, from a professionalized outside – such is the very nature of the field today.
Eventually, the Fellows focused on the irony that, even though Contemporary Art is louder, faster, bigger, stronger than other art forms today, it still cannot take care of its own. It is the precariousness of the field, they argued, that leaves us no choice but to do the bidding of gentrification. How, after all, can we find responses to problems of such violent complexity when we are broke and exhausted. The first item on the to-do list, it seems, is a support system for and among artists. All of which dovetailed well with artist Lise Soskolne’s contribution, a lecture at the Kunsthalle Bern, where she argued for an equitable distribution of profit margins in the art world. Soskolne sketched scenarios of working less, for more resources – “Less with More” – not “More with Less”. On this occasion, artist Enno Schmidt argued for a transversal strategy responding to similar necessities throughout society, such as a Universal Basic Income across the board.
In light of the above, the working proposal being developed by the Fellows sees conditions of production within Contemporary Art, and art’s complicity with gentrification, as deeply linked. But addressing this chicken-and-egg conundrum requires more time than currently accorded. Thus their strategy is to form a collective body – the newly named “BLOCC” – that will actually outlive the Sommerakademie as currently planned. The eight Fellows are attempting to lay foundations for a structure sustainable enough, financially and otherwise, to explore these issues in long-term, consequential fashion. Eventually, the aim is to develop and propose hands-on changes to art education in particular. Needless to say, the very possibility of a structure of this kind should by all accounts be considered a sensational success on behalf of our fledgling Sommerakademie ...
For the coming Summer of 2018, we wish to delve more into the Berne context in general, and the Lorraine neighbourhood in particular. Which is why we have agreed to replace the conventional string of international visitors with a combination of local speakers, and a single tutor, in the form of an artist- or researcher-in-residence. For another, we need to cultivate a local public with more investment than has hitherto been the case. So far, a large crowd has not been a pressing necessity. But the Fellows’ proposal, as described above, does merit a substantial audience. And it is the success of this refreshingly ambitious proposal that should be the clear priority for our institutional efforts in the near future.
© 2017 Sommerakademie Paul Klee