The 2019 Graduate Summer School theme was Artist Collectives and we were delighted that for the inaugural year our partner was the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London.
The 2019 Summer School addressed the following three questions:
- What does collectivity mean?
- What does collectivity mean to artists, both past and present?
- What is the relationship between artistic collectivity and the institutional structures of any given art world?
Graduate Summer School: Artist Collectives
The programme began from a point of acknowledged friction in its very structure: between collectivity as an active, and socially and politically urgent, mode of practice; and collectivity as an historical object of study. Today, artistic collectivity encompasses a broad spectrum of approaches and motivations; from the conscious devolution of, and turning away from, the individual authorship of artworks, to the establishing of alternative structures for working, that bypass conventional understandings of artistic production. A unifying thread among some of the most interesting contemporary collectives – such as the Otolith Group and Collective Creativity – is the desire to challenge the value systems that have become entrenched around individual artistic subjectivity.
This form of collectivity also raises the possibility of an important realignment in the understanding of art practice, as one that, in the words of Henriette Heise and Jakob Jakobsen, is “not exclusively related to the making of art works, but also includes the establishing of institutions for the experience and use of art and generally the making of institutions for human life”. To collectivise is to organise communally, and to establish new structures for working, exhibiting, circulating, communicating and living. From this perspective, to collectivise is to self-institutionalise. The Summer School investigated what this form of self-institutionalisation means for existing institutions and academies, which tend to limit collectivism to a space of exception. Can institutions and academies learn from contemporary artistic collectivity to better understand their own areas of elision and reproductions of inequality?
As well as addressing these issues in relation to contemporary art, the Summer School explored non-conformist examples of artistic collectivity from the past and investigated the parallels and contrasts they offer to the present situation. From early in the nineteenth century, groupings of artists and art workers who felt estranged from, and neglected by, the dominant institutional structures of the British art world coalesced into what they defined as alternative, oppositional collectives. These collectives often saw their role as one that encompassed far more than a collaborative, communal form of artistic practice; they, too, saw their example as one that offered an alternative model of self-institutionalisation, and a different way of living. Such historical precedents include: the Pre-Raphaelites in the mid-nineteenth century, who rebelled against the institutional and ideological directives of the Royal Academy; the Independent Group of the 1950s, who operated both inside and outside the ICA, and who instigated innovative forms of artistic collaboration as they did so; and the Hackney Flashers of the 1970s, a women’s photography collective which developed within the context of the rapidly growing Women’s Liberation Movement, and who believed that collective action was a vital element in bringing about social and political change.
The 2019 Summer School ran from 8 July to 19 July and was co-hosted by the PMC and the ICA in London.
Artist Collectives was convened by Mark Hallett from the PMC, Richard Birkett from the ICA and Ayham Ghraowi from the Yale School of Art. The academic coordinator was Rosie Ram, whose research focuses on the topics of artistic collaboration and collectivity. The Summer School was documented by Judith Stapleton and Jon Law. The programme’s theme benefitted from the input of other colleagues from participating institutions, including Tim Barringer of the Yale History of Art department and the PMC’s Deputy Director for Research, Sarah Turner.
The 2019 programme featured three one-day workshops led by members of contemporary artistic collectives, which emphasised their particular understandings of collectivity and their relationships to institutional forms. It also comprised a series of workshops, seminars and trips that focused on historic forms of artistic collectivity, and which were led by curators, artists, critics and art historians.