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Expanding Academy

a program/project of research and education in the arts at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp

By Judith Wielander and Nico Dockx in collaboration with BLESS (Desiree Heiss and Ines Kaag), Maarten Desmet, Otobong Nkanga

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Program as Process

The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy, stated bell hooks, in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, 1994. Referring to that, what does an art academy for the 21st century really mean? Is it possible to inject the institution of the art school today with a shot of engagement, activism, and a critical stance toward contemporary urges? Similar to the notion of expanded cinema -which is used to describe a film, video, multi-media performance, or an immersive environment that pushes the boundaries of cinema and rejects the traditional one-way relationship between the audience and the screen- we also see the idea of an Expanding Academy as a potential critical stance to most existing post-graduates of curatorial and visual studies that are based on highly exclusive and competitive selecting procedures as well as extremely expensive tuition fees and their professionalized academic training with the promise that this will be the next step to success in your artistic career. We are convinced that education should be free (or at least reduced to a minimal administrative cost) and that an educational platform for research in the arts like the one we are proposing here should be -to quote artist Robert Filliou- teaching and learning as performing arts so that it can become an innovative learning environment at the intersection of art and politics where and when one gets challenged to develop processes that produce visions beyond the ‘white-cube’ exhibition format and have the capacity to bring forward a social impact in society as well as render visible cultural imaginations of our contemporary world.

The current crisis of education is interconnected with the larger, self-reproducing, socio-economic, and political crisis that we are facing everywhere in the world, which also means a crisis of our imagination. The Program wants to focus on collaborative practices or artistic experiences that build communities, generate infrastructure of democratizing and caring, underlining the crucial role that artistic collectives can play in our contemporary society. It would be interesting if the notion of 'expansion' - a pedagogical space extending outside of the classroom- could also be read as a need to 'expand' beyond the exhibition-based space into situations where and when one is working with contexts as a whole, to raise social understandings, and encourage new forms of solidarity and improve our living conditions. But, what are the possible perspectives from which events, fictions, and facts could be observed and how can we transform and re-invent our conditions of life and learning when these perspectives are radically reversed and questioned? Artists are those bodies in society that unveil what still does not exist, that try to open up different areas of action and thought, hereby showing us how we could change our current economic and political strategies. Our program -in the form of an expanding academy- inscribes its mission statement in this artistic ability to imagine and re-imagine novel relationships between things and people that were previously unrelated and hereby producing new realities. The program will take the shape of some sort of counter-narrative as a complementary form of teaching and learning that prepares us for an ecological, sustainable, and socially just future. A micro-scale program in the arts with a highly experimental and flexible profile that focuses on pluriversal and interdisciplinary research methods, collective learning, and new modalities of exchange based on reciprocity and self-organization. This program is rather conceived as a process-oriented, research-based project than a traditional school system. And, to quote Sarat Maharaj: “Do we still need academies as we know them today?” Our intention is to invite a small group of tutors and participants to co-create together with us a program that can be opened up and shared amongst every student, researcher, and teacher in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp as well as different audiences outside of the academy’s walls.

Artists as Tutors

The program of the Expanding Academy will be renewed every two years by inviting new guest tutors who will co-create together with us the content and form of this program under permanent construction. We strongly believe that both the skeleton and the organs of this program should be made by a rich mix of diverse (perhaps even contradicting) artistic practices that engage themselves for two years and are based on their own time and timing of interaction in relation to their daily practice as artists in the field of contemporary art. So, we propose to plan and work out three workshop situations in which ongoing, long-term (research) projects of our invited guest ‘artists as tutors’ will be unraveled together with the participants through unorthodox methodologies and radical praxis to be further explored, engaged, and expanded within the course of the program. At this very moment we made a shortlist of visiting artists for the first cycle of our program in progress that we would like to involve in the co-creation of the program and with whom we are in dialogue recently and on a regular basis:

Participants as Co-creators/ Co-workers

We are very much interested to work with a small group (6 – max. 8 persons) of young ‘artists’ (of many sorts) that live and work in Belgium as nowadays we live in a ‘transnational/ trans-local’ society in which the local and global are totally intertwined. The participants will be selected by the initiators/ curators of the Expanding Academy as well as through suggestions by the invited workshop-leading artists, and they will have a pioneering role in actively setting up this project of an Expanding Academy within the existing academy in Antwerpen, and critically reflecting upon our ongoing, shared learning process and to co-create the future adventures of the program. The participants will have the opportunity to explore and engage some artistic ongoing projects, site-specific ecosystems and situated knowledge productions. The Expanding Academy space in Antwerp will be perceived as a 'safe and exceptional space' where new relations and imaginations can be experimented with and co-created.
Furthermore, it is also an exercise in self-organization, do-it-yourself economies, collective thinking and doing, and an awareness of the social, and transformative responsibility of the artist in society. The selection procedure will not happen through a call for application that automatically installs competitive and exclusive conditions, but through in-depth research and fieldwork by the initiators/ curators of this program so that we can bring together a dynamic group of young artists and cultural practitioners that are interested in imagining and realizing together a sustainable environment for communicating our different ideas and actions.

Active Audiences

The idea of The Expanding Academy is to create a program in close collaboration with some guest ‘artists as tutors’ as well as some ‘participants as co-creators’. The program will be opened up to the whole academy (bachelors, masters, teachers, and researchers) and also a variety of fields (arts, sciences, politics) outside the walls of the academy who are invited to attend and participate in the various events being produced by the program.