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Learning by Doing: Reflections on Setting Up a New Art Academy

The most basic distinction between state-run art institutions and so-called “self-organized” structures in the cultural field concerns the distinction between ways of working within them; between pre-existing positions to be filled, and unstructured, continuously reinvented positions. Beyond having a strong division of labor—a characteristic of “real” state-run and more corporate private institutions—it is this distinction that shapes all the others, producing a basic duality between paid professionals who have access to large budgets and the “not yet professionalized” paying students. Thus payment and the labor involved in its earning—the existence of a budget that brings together notions of resources and needs, and the indirect funding of these via student fees—are the cornerstones that distinguish these two spheres.

It is for this reason that earlier thinkers like Godard and Guattari claimed that the institutional is the political, or that claims were made in the 1960s for recognizing other modes of labor—suggesting the TV viewer should also get paid for his “work” of consumption, for example. While they had institutions like the media in mind, the analogy between who gets paid and for what kind of labor remains: self-organized structures are fundamentally shaped by a lack of payment or budget, which means that—with regard to institutional power relations—the distinction between those who pay and those who get paid is largely dissolved; we face the free market alone—but together!

It then becomes complicated to speak about education in the context of self-organization because, as there is little clear hierarchy, self-organized structures transform everything that you have to learn and every educational moment into self-education, a characteristic that is less due to a basic fragmentation than to a productive lack. When state institutions “suffer” from being underfunded, it is linked to what they are allocated or to their management and profitability. Perversely, a self-organized institution’s lack of funding is both its woe and its pride! In other words, when state institutions don’t function, they shut down, while self-organized “institutions” thrive, precisely because they “don’t function” (are not managed) to begin with.

People often organize their career prospects around a lack instead of a plenitude, mainly because they perceive a structural lack within institutions and their relation to the free market—in our case, the art market. In this sense, one could define self-organization as a social act of gathering “freely” around a lack of resources, gaining a distance from the logics of the market. The notion of “choice” within a free market system begins in the educational world of art academies, but is extended into the art world itself through the capacity to curate all forms of activity. The “real” world (museums, galleries, media, etc.) follows the same logic, maintaining this basic duality between paid, managed labor and economies of lack. The proximity of self-organized initiatives to this duality is neither pure nor heroic. It comes in various combinations, necessarily mingled with the official framework of the Institutional-curatorial-market-complex.

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