What follows is a multigenerational conversation between the philosopher Fahim Amir, the artist Eva Egermann, and the artists and curators Peter Spillmann and Marion von Osten, about the varieties of antagonism currently shaping the production of knowledge.
Scarcity and Integration
Marion von Osten: I would like to begin our conversation with a hypothesis: the production of knowledge has entered a phase defined by certain tensions, leading to a variety of conflicts we face in our work in the art academy as well as, and more importantly, in our intellectual and cultural work. On the one had, we can observe a rise in the significance of certified expert knowledge bearing academic institutions’ seal of approval—this process is evident in the European debates over BAs/MAs/PhDs, Clusters of Excellence, and Collaborative Research Centers. This structure of training and research, with its increasingly hierarchic organization, is in part being introduced in European art schools as well. On the other hand, knowledge produced and passed on outside schools and institutions has become more and more important over the past fifty years, as have experts who are not academics. The practices of everyday life and popular culture have emerged with greater prominence, as has the knowledge produced by social movements, and some of their spokespeople have become part of the curricula. Among other consequences, has been an emergence of critical methodologies that reflect on Eurocentric epistemology, introduce a multiple-actor approach, conjure up the death of the author, embrace the vernacular, et cetera. What should also be mentioned in this context is the attention paid within institutions to what is called “artistic research” and the call for transdisciplinary work. Yet extra-institutional knowledge is also an essential part of contemporary cultural and artistic production.
Peter Spillmann: It is not so much we, as the producers of knowledge or culture, who are at the center of the antagonisms you describe, but the educational institution. We can move fairly well in both extra-institutional and institutional contexts. For the university and other institutions of higher education, by contrast, the rapidly rising importance of extra-institutional knowledge implies to my mind that their role as authorities over the legitimacy of knowledge has become questionable. I think the ongoing reforms and efforts to create new systems of certification are also an institutional—as well as political—strategy to counteract the increasing dissolution of the boundaries of knowledge, to shore up the power to legitimate knowledge and define education; and certifications, as a technique of control and discipline, obviously play a central role in this process.
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