by Tirdad Zolghadr (artistic director SPK), June 2020
What is an international art residency in the year 2020? Ever since its structural overhaul in 2017, the Sommerakademie Paul Klee has sought to reinvent the residency tradition. Resident numbers were halved, teaching engagements became a key part of the equation, collective agency has been emphasized, and the time spent on-site in Bern was upped to seven weeks, over a period of two years.
The ongoing pandemic forces us to take structural matters even more seriously than before. Criteria which were once institutional choices are now political necessities – criteria such as material location and grounding, but also intellectual, economic and ecological sustainability, all of will need to guide our group efforts all the more.
For now, we will remain devoted to research that is as slow as the situation allows us to be. What kind of scenarios, however speculative or artistic, can we offer the economies, ecologies, infrastructures imploding around us? Current obstacles will at least allow us the time to reconsider what we need in terms of artworld business-as-usual.
Given the circumstances, we are postponing meeting again as a Sommerakademie Paul Klee in Bern, and will be continuing our conversations in virtual form over the coming months. An online event mid-Summer, including a guest speaker and maybe more, will be announced by early July 2020. Please stay tuned – and be well.
by Tirdad Zolghadr (artistic director SPK), autumn 2019
This cycle of the Sommerakademie Paul Klee is devoted to matters of STATECRAFT. How do the demands, the traditions, the conditions pertaining to statecraft dovetail with Contemporary Art’s investment in critique and open-endedness? What’s to be gained with the headache of shifting curatorial and artistic goalposts? Might there be perks to drawing political lines in the sand … indeed, in light of increasingly uncomfortable planetary developments, perhaps art’s fetish for critical tricksterism needs to be reconsidered.
These and other questions were touchstones helping us forge this year’s program at the Sommerakademie. Thus our discussion of statecraft began with keynote lecture “Statecraft Art is not Contemporary Art”, by theorist Suhail Malik of Goldsmiths University London. Here, Malik at first addressed why Contemporary Art, at least in its current configuration, will necessarily fail the challenge of statecraft. He then examined what the criteria for an art needs to be, if it were to be a statecrafting art operating otherwise than Contemporary Art as we commonly know it at present.
Other public moments included Oana Bogdan, architect and former Secretary of State in Romania. Bogdan revisited the role of the architect in light of her personal experience of co-founding an entirely new political party in Bucharest. Using examples ranging from property law to the renewal of bureaucracy and technocracy, Bogdan explained how an engagement in public policy can indeed build on a background in architecture and cultural production, in ways that are surprisingly straightforward.
Laura Zimmermann, meanwhile, spoke as co-president of Operation Libero. Operation Libero is a liberal pressure group which played a key role in finally preventing the Swiss right-wing from setting the tone within the national mainstream. In her presentation, which was voiced from an avowedly centrist position, Zimmermann outlined how online pressure points can be leveraged in order to break the momentum of anti-liberal forces on the political stage.
In our public conversation, artist and filmmaker Christopher Roth offered an extensive overview of his documentary, artistic and filmic endeavors of the last ten years. The scope of Roth’s practice is impressive, but one key leitmotif – of enormous relevance to this year’s Sommerakademie – was the artist’s persistent engagement with cultural workers who think, plan and claim responsibility for the near future, with just as much intelligence as (almost) any given policymaker out there.
The program culminated with curator Katharina Morawek presenting her work over the period of 2015/16, when the Shedhalle Zürich hosted the program „Die ganze Welt in Zürich” (The Whole World in Zurich). Morawek used her Shedhalle tenure as artistic director to help anchor Urban Citizenship debates within a Swiss context – despite approaching the topic through the prism of art specifically. "Die ganze Welt in Zürich" aimed for a concrete intervention within Swiss migration policy, hoping to leave a distinct and long-lasting mark on discrimination debates within the country.
Other case studies included activities – activities artistic, educational and activist in nature – on the part of the residents themselves, within their respective hometowns and institutions, which are strung across (nearly) all geographic continents under the sun. To have assembled in Bern is a surprising but perfect setting for the above conversation. On a national level, Bern is capital to the most extensive model of direct democracy available. While on a local level, it boasts institutions with a shrewd sense of strategy, such as the Reitschule, a onetime squat, squat, now a publicly funded cultural venue, and a key fixture of the institutional landscape. Though its punk aesthetic is anathema to the artworld, in terms of political verve, tact and coalition-building, we have everything to learn. In a meeting with Reitschule veterans Agnes Hofmann and Detti, we were offered a glimpse of how exactly the organization has survived unending attempts, including numerous public referenda, to shut it down.
The Sommerakademie program seeks continuity in time, also building on the preceding edition, this in terms of thematic points of contingency, and in terms of revisiting previous contributors, along with revisiting the BLOCC initiative, forged by the previous residents of 2017-19. As a beast that was spawned entirely by the Sommerakademie setting, BLOCC demonstrates the massive potential that can and needs to be tapped, to the very best of our abilities. To a large degree, we also succeeded in maintaining a multiplicity of summer academy formats – as in the preceding cycle, the ongoing program offers four distinct levels of engagement:
local and international experts helped inform collective terminologies and working parameters
group sessions were devoted to developing a way forward
university infrastructure was at the residents’ disposal on an individual basis (an opportunity once again greeted with wild and unapologetic enthusiasm)
finally, teaching opportunities were offered at the Bern University of the Arts HKB, where research accumulated at the Sommerakademie is conveyed in workshop sessions over Decembers 2019 and 2020 – residents will be convening in Bern December 2, also to test and develop educational experiments which may form the basis of collective efforts in the near future
The 2019/20 cycle of the Sommerakademie Paul Klee will address the theme of STATECRAFT within the context of Contemporary Art. How have art practices resorted to strategies of governance, whether for progressive or reactionary ends? Be it in the name of decolonization, socialism, the Right to the City or otherwise? Which forms and formats allow for a future-oriented frame of reference, one that allows for coalition building and collective responsibility even among artists and curators?
Click here to read more about our public events 2019 with Speakers Oana-Maria Bogdan, Suhail Malik, Katharina Morawek and Christopher Roth.
Moreover, it's with great pleasure that we announce the participation of Aarti Sunder, Curatorial Resident 2019/20.
Click here to read more about her and the other eight new residents.
by Tirdad Zolghadr (artistic director SPK), spring 2019
What can statecraft amount to when it comes to Contemporary Art? We might be talking artists who leverage mainstream trends with media-savvy cunning. Or curators who work the museum circuit with Machiavellian aplomb. Or the neighborhood collectives devoted to long term causes in long term fashion. Though the latter is naturally the best-case scenario and Good Object, a statecraft that takes into account the particular weirdness of Contemporary Art today must go even further. To make the most of its own place in the grand scheme of things, art must somehow embrace media-savvy verve and social capital even as it honors the benchmarks of grassroots tenacity. Squaring this bizarre circle will be the leitmotiv of the coming Sommerakademie.
The previous Sommerakademie cycle, REALTY, culminated in blocc.live
The collective contribution of that first group of residents at the new Sommerakademie is, in essence, a teaching template, made to infiltrate the art-educational complex across the board: from MA programs to self-organized, artist-run setups. BLOCC argues that any serious impact on behalf of Contemporary Art can only be devised via a transgenerational contribution over time. With its syllabus and peer-to-peer teaching modules, BLOCC helps clarify the art student’s role within the political economy of today’s cities. And it strategically builds on the experience and network of the residents themselves.
So we’ve come a long way at the Sommerakademie, even if we still have a long ways ahead of us. This year, under the new curatorial framework STATECRAFT, there will be a renewed emphasis on art education, and we will, moreover, maintain the rambunctious mix of international visitors, local experts, and group sessions devoted to finding common ground among residents. This alongside teaching opportunities at the Bern University of the Arts HKB. (Not to forget the residents’ ample opportunities to use the university infrastructure.)
Contributors will include the odd policymaker, activist, artist, theorist. For now, Oana Bogdan, Suhail Malik and Christopher Roth are confirmed. Timing will be confirmed shortly! First, meet our new Residents 2019/20:
Airi Triisberg is an independent curator, writer and educator based in Tallinn. She is interested in the overlapping fields between political activism and contemporary art practices, issues related to gender and sexualities, illness/health and dis/abilities, self-organisation and collective care practices, struggles against precarious working conditions in the art field and beyond. Dorothee Kreutzfeldt lives and works in Johannesburg. Her artistic practice and research have been pre-occupied with spatial realities and imaginations, particularly in the post-Apartheid context of South Africa. Fadwa Naamna is a curator and researcher based in Amsterdam. Her research focusing on the ‘give and take’ economy of the contemporary art system, the influence of funding modalities and the policies on designing cultural and artistic production. Felipe Castelblanco is a multidisciplinary Colombian/American artist working at the intersection of socially engaged and Media art. His work explores participation, institutional forms and new frontiers of public space, enabling coexistent encounters between unlikely audiences. João Enxuto and Erica Love collaborate on projects about the role new technologies play in reshaping work, institutions, and economies connected to Contemporary Art. Olivia Abächerli is researching the political potential of ‘intimate fiction’, practicing proto-archaeological fieldwork, and examining where the utopic tilts into the dystopic, or the other way around. Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal writes essays about art, satire about Los Angeles, and opinions about housing justice. She is the editor of Art Los Angeles, co-founded the L.A. Tenants Union and authors the widely-shared Two-Evils Voting Guides for local and national elections.
Click here to read more about our new residents.
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), autumn 2018
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.