radical reThink

How to critically address urgent issues for Fine Art in Higher Education

radical reThink conveners discuss how and what the collective means to them following their symposium at the ICA.

radical reThink

24 Jan 2017

The educators, artists and activists behind radical reThink each share their perspectives on the movement following their recent symposium at the ICA.

radical reThink is a group, a process and an event. In the face of funding cuts and the marketization of education which seek to instrumentalise creativity, limit criticality and marginalize dissent, we exchange and co-produce ideas as a practice of solidarity which allows our different points of view.

SE Barnet
Within an education context, art has an interesting position due to its basic approach of criticality. This outlook from my art practice has extended into my experience as a tutor. For me, radical reThink subsequently sitsat times problematicallyas a combination of art and action. It is socially engaged art practice and it is a practical response to the failures of art education. The strategy has been to look towards alternative models, to undertake inclusive open debate and to work towards a system that allows for improvement based on the wisdom of actual experience from both students and faculty.

Critiquing this art education system is not new, nor is the desire for change our challenge lies in actual change. radical reThink began as a simple conversation between two people. This conversation has expanded to include more voices and incorporate more ideas, which I hope will continue to grow and develop.

radical reThink [is] a project that breaks down hierarchies, questions existing structures and allows us to develop that vision.

Marsha Bradfield
A central concept in my practice is that of ‘riding the hyphen’. Punctuating my identity as an archivist-artist-curator-educator-writer-researcher attempts to acknowledge—and mobilise—diverse skills and sensibilities, prompting them into dialogue as I tackle wicked problems from diverse points of view.

A more focused variation on this polyphonic approach is that of the ‘artist and’, i.e. the ‘artist and educator’, which is proving prime in locating myself in radical reThink. I am committed to cultural production that double registers as art and education. This drives my work as an associate lecturer and researcher at UAL. It is cued by years of collaborating as part of the Critical Practice Research Cluster and the Precarious Workers Brigade. Working with these and other collective, collaborative and cooperative practices has taught me that the potential of their alternative ways of doing and being cannot be anticipated in advance.

Georgia Brown
The successful campaign to persuade UAL to divest from fossil fuels suggests that collaboration between students and staff could result in a transformation of managerial strategy. However, it has become clear that we must monitor the evidence of progress and revise our objectives to ensure institutional action on the causes of climate change. radical reThink continues to stimulate a multitude of artist-led responses to the market-led model of art education. Prompted by the ongoing financial restructuring of UAL, radical reThink remains a productive dialogue of cross-disciplinary insights.

My financial liability incurred through studying at UAL makes me a stakeholder, with an interest in the direction of the institution. With debts totalling £47,000 as a result of undertaking my degree (BA Sculpture), I feel a responsibility to current and prospective students and staff in campaigning for UAL to be governed as a world-leading university of artistic-academic freedom and critical-creative practice.

Critiquing this art education system is not new, nor is the desire for change — our challenge lies in actual change.

Kelly Chorpening
As an undergraduate Course Leader, my work aims to create an educational experience that provides the best possible preparation for individuals to operate creatively after they graduate, given the challenging context of contemporary fine art. I try and create an environment where definitions of ‘best possible’ can be openly debated and are informed by conditions on the ground. In radical reThink I was particularly interested in being part of a project that involved staff, recent graduates and current students, in order to consider together strategies for the future of fine art education and turn our dissatisfaction into constructive engagement. In the future I would like to see radical reThink widen its network and inspire other collaborations between staff and students in order to positively influence decision-making at UAL.

David Cross
As an artist with Cornford & Cross I made installations that envision the ideological tensions inherent within public contexts. As an academic I critically engage with the relationship between visual culture and ‘sustainability’, a depleted concept which misrecognizes the urgency of the ecological and social crisis.

I helped initiate the campaign for the University of London (UAL) to divest its £3.9 million endowments from fossil fuels. The aim now is to reinvest in energy that is not only renewable, but decentralized, diversified and democratically controlled. In a small way, the progress towards divestment has overcome the separation between the university’s material operations and its academic activities of research, teaching and learning. Today, the university risks being reduced to an engine of capital accumulation. Instead, we could expand our conception of how value is produced in education, and reclaim our university as a co-operatively run, not-for-profit social enterprise.

radical reThink continues to stimulate a multitude of artist-led responses to the market-led model of art education.

Kyran Joughin a radical reThinker's progress:

10/11/2010 Demo-Lition
50,000 march against Tuition Fees of £9000. Weary of speeches at Millbank, I walk into Tate Britain for a coffee. Delta.

24/09/2013 – Court of Governors, UAL
I’m both Associate Lecturer and elected Governor. The Court’s emplacement has seated me at the furthest end of a rectangular table. Marginalia.

23/03/2015 Occupy UAL, Central St Martins
Occupy-ers sit at a round table, discussing democratic education in Spring. Two students from reThink UvA (a response to the proposed restructuring of University of Amsterdam in 2015) have hitchhiked from the Netherlands to be here. One says, “You only need a couple of faculty to join together”. Jazz hands.

10/10/2015 Caravan, Kings Cross
SE Barnet and I meet for a coffee. She wants to understand the chain of power at our University. Confluence.

I hope we become a critical mass: able to model the unthinkable, map the unseen.

"A snake’s coils are even more intricate than a mole’s burrow”
Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on Control Societies, May 1990

Ana Oppenheim
I’m currently the Campaigns Officer at Arts Students’ Union. I’ve been involved in multiple campaigns led by UAL students and staff, from UAL Living Wage, the Central St Martins occupation against Foundation cuts to UAL Divest, Fix the Fees and many more. I am not interested in purely theoretical discussions about the future of education I’m here because I believe that change happens when people come together and act.

In particular, in light of the current Higher Education reforms when education is increasingly turned into a market good and universities become forced to operate like a business, we need solidarity and a powerful alternative vision of a democratic university. I’m excited about radical reThink as a project that breaks down hierarchies, questions existing structures and allows us to develop that vision. ■

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