Case Study: Modalities of Change, Sean Dockray, Telic Art Exchange
The Public School
Three and a half years ago, we started The Public School as a project under Telic Arts Exchange. Since then, it has become central to our organization and programming. This short Case Study is a reflection on how and why that happened; the changes it created for the composition of Telic; and what kinds of support the organization provides now, and to whom.
The Public School was initiated in 2007 as a school with no curriculum. Like much of our program, with a mission of “providing a critical engagement with new media and culture,” it assumed a form that would be recognizably contemporary (in this case, much like the “social networks” and “user-generated” websites used by hundreds of millions worldwide) while allowing the given contradictions of such a form to play a role in the project. By 2008, we decided to substitute the class for the exhibition (and the school for the gallery) as our “model.” Certain things that took a lot of effort to squeeze out of an exhibition, seemed to come quite easily from the school: to bring people together for longer durations to spend time with each other thinking about an idea, project, or question; creating a space for “in-process” concepts and works; using the space of Telic to generate projects, collaborations and knowledge; to ignore disciplinary boundaries, including the discipline of art itself; and to find ways of supporting artists without reinforcing neoliberal competition between individual artists.
Our space is now not as empty because we have all the trappings of a school: a chalkboard, a table, a library, duplicating machines, a video projection area, furniture, a kitchen, an office, etc. Because Telic occupies a shop-front and has only 600 square feet, all of this shares the same physical volume and is very visible and accessible to the public. In a way, the school is a long-term, ongoing exhibition: artists and designers have made many of the things in our space, classes leave artifacts behind, and many people have donated the books in the library.
Because all classes begin as public proposals, there are many possible pasts, presents, and futures of The Public School, all of which are visible. Instead of a curatorial figure who makes decisions based on their particular taste, connections, or expertise, we have a rotating committee that reviews proposals and organizes them into classes, which at times look like exhibitions, lectures, screenings, performances, workshops, coding sprints, or reading groups. When people rotate off of the committee they are replaced by people who have been active within the school in some way, which means that the types of discussions, arguments, and classes within the school are continuously refreshed. A regular class about The Public School is one stage for this meta-activity, although it tends to carry through all the classes at some level.
Beginning in 2009, the project of The Public School has expanded beyond Los Angeles and we have worked with 10 other groups and spaces across the world to share the model. This has been a little ad hoc; truthfully, there aren’t many examples to follow and there is almost no funding for international projects like this (funding is usually directed at the local manifestations). Nevertheless, we see value in creating shared infrastructure; but in order to control the growth of the project and the labor that requires, we have had to say “no” to 9 out of 10 requests from people who would like to start an instance of The Public School in their own location. This is probably one of the most significant experimental changes that Telic has been undergoing, a change directly related to evolving communication systems and internationalization of art, and a change that we think is worth exploring in a manner consistent with our history and mission.
It is no secret that the University has become central to so much contemporary art practice, with many artists either teaching or otherwise passing through conferences, symposia, or MFA programs. Many artists imagine themselves teaching in order to make money, or even see teaching as a part of their creative practice, but few are given any experience or preparation beyond the very traditional “teaching assistant” structure. Pedagogy in recent art discourse might be a fad if it hadn’t already totally permeated contemporary art — much like exhibition. At the same time, however, public education is being drastically de-funded and “non-productive” programs are being cut, resulting in protests, occupations, and a generally growing student movement. This context has placed The Public School in the position of providing a space for mutual support, building networks, experimenting with learning situations, and the proposing of autonomous structures for analysis, debate, and self-reflection.
Telic Art Exchange, Los Angeles, CA