Issue 2 March 2011
Paul Koek de Theaterschool 2010–11
Voices and views from the Artist in Residence programme at the Amsterdam School of the Arts
Germaine Acogny de Theaterschool 2009–10
Anthony Heidweiller Jeroen Kooijmans Conservatorium van Amsterdam 2010–11
Academy of Architecture 2009–10
Culture clash By Marijke Hoogenboom Culture clash
Introduction by Marijke Hoogenboom .NL
Jeroen Kooijmans’ work and inspirations
Perhaps the time has come to speak frankly
Living Dance, Dancing Life
Igor Dobricic on Acogny and knowledge transmission
The long white wash
Lot Siebe on diversity in dance education
Expectations are traps 25
Heidweiller and Koek discuss the future of education
Into the Polder with Koek
Germaine Acogny / Ecole des Sables
Photo series on the workshop led by Paul Koek
Maria Wüst looks ahead to a broader school
What’s in the AIR?
AIR programme news
Download Dutch version at: www.air.ahk.nl .NL
ON AIR Issue 2, March 2011 ON AIR is a twice-yearly publication exploring the wide-ranging collaborations between guest artists and institutes, and examining the school’s role as host. Editors Marijke Hoogenboom Hester van Hasselt Translation and English editing Steve Green Production Sanne Kersten
Thanks to Maria Hagen
Printing Rotor offsetdruk
Graphic design Thonik
Publisher Art Practice and Development research group Amsterdam School of the Arts T +31 (0)20-5277707 E firstname.lastname@example.org www.air.ahk.nl
Images Coco Duivenvoorde: p. 13 Esther Noyons: p. 27 Jeroen Kooijmans en Dingeman Deijs: p. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 Thomas Lenden: p. 7, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24 Niels Schumm: p. 7 Hugo Timmermans: p. 8 Elspeth Diederix: p. 9
© 2011 Art Practice and Development research group All rights reserved. No part of publication may be reproduced without the express permission of the copyright holder
I recently noticed that the German word Kulturkampf is appearing increasingly frequently in international media. It is striking that the term is being employed in the context of two quite distinct debates. On the one hand, commentators use it when referring to integration and the question of how to involve people from other cultures in society. On the other hand, it pops up in the discussion about the function of art and culture that has erupted in the UK and Germany as well as in the Netherlands in the wake of the tidal wave of state funding cuts sweeping through the cultural sector. In all of these countries, people are raising the issue of whether the government should be supporting the sector at all. Public opinion in the Netherlands is so divided that I feel compelled to examine the societal shifts that are fuelling these cultural struggles. The Belgian writer David van Reybrouck also sees a correspondence between the lack of a broad base of support for arts and culture as common property and the rejection of multiculturalism. In his analytical essay Pleidooi voor populisme (Advocating Populism, 2008), he identifies a widening chasm between the well educated and the poorly educated. Van Reybrouck suggests that poorly educated people living in a ‘diploma democracy’ are bound to feel underrepresented, while the well educated sing the praises of cosmopolitanism. The result is mutual incomprehension and a deep fault line in society that exposes not only socioeconomic or Intellectual disparities but also ‘a cultural conflict, a difference in worldview.’1 He believes that there is a rational solution to this inability to meet on common ground: empower the poor through education. Publicist Bas Heijne disagrees. The way he sees it, European citizens have turned their back on society and are utterly consumed by the urge to consume. ‘Now, it is not the external world that counts,’ writes Heijne, ‘but only one’s own internal, experiential world. Here, one can imagine oneself to be the centre of all things – unburdened by the need to account for oneself to the rest of the world.’2 In our own field of work, there is an intense sense of outrage about the planned sweeping changes to cultural policy. I believe this would be a timely moment to remind ourselves of the broader context of the issues at hand. The position being taken by the government is an expression of a damaging social and political divide. Unfortunately, politicians are sowing the seeds of polarisation within society, rather than fostering reconciliation – something that does not bode well for constructive debate, whether in arts education or elsewhere in society. I see the art academy as a prime example of a community that cannot allow itself any form of exclusion, for this is where traditions are passed on but contemporary interdisciplinary and intercultural practices are also developed. We must build bridges, create connections and allow questioning from the new generations of students who temporarily inhabit the art academy and who apply their own individual sociocultural standards when evaluating their experience in education. Italian author Alessandro Baricco believes that the progressive elite has long been in denial about crucial changes taking place in our culture: a profound culture has been displaced by a trivial one. In The Barbarians (2006) Baricco
argues against building walls around humanist ideals. He sees the barbarian as a stage in the as yet incomplete transformation from the ancient to modern human.‘Each one of us is where everyone is: in the flow of mutation where what we know we call ‘civilisation’ and what we do not know, we call ‘barbarism’. In contrast to other people, I think it is a wonderful place to be.’3 There is no longer a clear distinction between barbarism and civilisation, between art and pulp, high and low. The often arbitrary pattern of cultural consumption among young people is an example what Baricco calls the ‘horizontal human’, a being that avoids diversions and heads straight for the desired goal. But is that such a bad thing? We in the arts education must then consider whether our sector might be the most suitable arena for the cultural struggle to take place and where the deeper significances of this new understanding of culture could be negotiated. In this second edition of ON AIR, we are once again looking at a selection of the Artists in Residence at the Amsterdam School of the Arts and the active role they have played or are still playing in defining the school’s position. The encounter with Germaine Acogny led Lot Siebe (Bachelor of Dance in Education) to conclude that, ‘If you want to maintain your position in a professional world, you must be able to put yourself into perspective and open up your own cultural identity for discussion.’ And Jeroen Kooijmans shows us a single work that can keep on transforming through artistic practice, continually adapting to the times and circumstances. It is not pure chance that at the moment of writing, a large number of students and teachers are working on location with Paul Koek and with Jeanne van Heeswijk, both of whom have clear-cut ideas about the connectedness of their art practice with social reality. They are, as it were, relocating the institutes in order to participate in projects that raise very tangible social issues such as the decline of agriculture and the limitations of the public domain. ‘As an artist,’ says Van Heeswijk, ‘I can get people to actively collaborate on work in the public space – which also belongs to them. I would describe my artistic endeavours as an engaged process of creating and enabling imagination.’4 It looks as if the looming obliteration of the cultural sector will not be based on a well-grounded, policy-led vision. And that is why, especially in the context of the imminent sector plan, I wonder if perhaps we in arts education should step up to the plate and present our own ‘new deal’ to overcome this great depression.5 For this edition of ON AIR I spoke with Anthony Heidweiller and Paul Koek. As you will read, these prominent artists are highly engaged with the future of education. They are convinced that we must accept current developments and not remain in denial about inevitable changes. While I do find their arguments confronting, they also strike a chord, the issues they raise are sure to test my integrity – and other people’s too – in these alarming times. Perhaps, indeed, the time has come to speak frankly. Marijke Hoogenboom is professor at the Amsterdam School of the Arts and chair of the Art Practice and Development research group.
1. Van Reybrouck, David, Pleidooi voor populisme, Querido, Amsterdam 2008, p. 46. 2. Heijne, Bas, Het populisme keert zich tegen de Verlichting – niet geheel onterecht, in: NRC Handelsblad, 5 January 2011. 3. Baricco, Alessandro, De barbaren, De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 2010, p.200. 4. Jeanne van Heeswijk in conversation with Maria Hagen, www.air.ahk.nl 5. The Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science asked the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (HBO-raad) to collaborate with representatives from advanced education and the professional field in formulating a sector plan for the future of arts education that is to be completed by June 2011.
Miraculous Transformations Jeroen Kooijmans Hosted by the Academy of Architecture, 2010 The Academy of Architecture couples its AIR programme with existing modules, such as the lecture series Capita Selecta and the Winter Term, which sees a two-week period of collaborative work between three design disciplines: architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture. The primary focus is on interdisciplinary cooperation and confrontation with other art practices. The Academy chooses explicitly for AIRs with a challenging personality who are capable of creating a positive ‘disruption’ to the educational enterprise. About the project Together with his collaborator Roé Cerpac, Jeroen Kooijmans and his students embarked on a research lab project, seeking out miraculous transformations in biology, physics, alchemy and film and other arts. All forms of transformation were considered: from a cocoon changing into a butterfly, a squid taking on the appearance of a rock and the transitions of Hulk and Superman to the attack on the Twin Towers and the first bite from the forbidden apple. Every day, each student was expected to present ten examples of transformations and then make quick sketches of buildings for which there was no need to take account of limiting parameters such as gravity. In a tightly organised and intensive two-week period, the students were made cognizant of their own personal fascinations and the extent to which the they could demand space for them in their own designs. The results of ‘Transformation: a search for possibilities to create an unexpected moment of change’ served as a resource for various design projects and form studies, and as the basis of six Capita Selecta lectures with international guests from the abovementioned disciplines. About the artist Jeroen Kooijmans produces highly immediate work using a strong visual language in which reality, fantasy and poetry go hand in hand. The subjects of his works are time, circulation, utopia, religion and fairy tales in reality. Kooijmans’ work is characterized by the use of audiovisual media, the influence of painting, his archive of collections, humour, optimism, connection with architecture, interaction with the audience, being Dutch and travel. His work has shown internationally in Tate Modern (London), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), Museum of Fine Arts (Buenos Aires) and Lalit Kala Akademi Gallery (New Delhi). In 1998 he won the Dutch NPS Culture Award. In 2001/2002 Kooijmans participated in the International Studio Program at P.S.1/MoMA (New York). His most recent work appeared around the turn of 2010 at the Beyond the Dust exhibition in Middelburg, Paris and Milan. Jeroen Kooijmans and Roé Cerpac previously collaborated on architecture-related pieces such as Hanging Houses and several projects with Rotterdam-based architecture practice MVRDV. MVRDV also commissioned Kooijmans to make a film for the 2000 Architecture Biennale about optimism and beauty in overpopulation. The result was The City of 12 Million Sun, about Tokyo.
In Miraculous Transformations Jeroen Kooijmans and collaborator Roé Cerpac worked with Masters students at the Academy of Architecture. The Capita Selecta lecture series featured Arne Hendriks, Césare Peeren, Tijs Goldschmidt, Kees Brienen and Theo Jansen and Jeroen Kooijmans. AIR programme coordinated by Machiel Spaan and Patricia Ruisch and project assistant Marjoleine Gadella. Website designed by Jeroen Kooijmans and Dingeman Deijs and built by Dingeman Deijs: http://transform. academievanbouwkunst.nl/index. php
As well as looking at what our Artists in Residence get up to in the school itself, in ON AIR we want to examine how they are developing in their own practice, and how their residency fits into that process.
Folding Houses Jeroen Kooijmans on his work and inspirations as told to Hester van Hasselt. The houses are inspired by natural phenomena such as plants or shells that can close when danger threatens. Transformation and an ongoing sense of wonderment are key to Jeroen Kooijmans’ work. He once toyed with the idea of applying to study at the Academy of Architecture himself, but then he discovered that it is a Masters course, for which students must already be qualified as an architect. But as he says, ‘If I can’t attend as a student then it’ll have to be as a lecturer.’ Miracle As children we always used to have to go to church. It bored me rather, but I did like the miracles: things that happened that weren’t possible in reality. Like the story of Jonah and the whale. It’s not that anything that’s impossible is interesting, but some things just have a way of speaking to my imagination. And that really is something. Because then I’ve got something that really grabs me and I can work with it for days or months at a time. The folding house is no miracle, but I still find it astonishing. If you’ve got a few of them they’re just like building blocks. The possibilities are endless. There’s something very attractive about the way you can transform space with them – transform it totally. If you open up all the houses you get a village with an alleyway. If you close them all you get a market square. The way the house is cut through the centre means it’s impossible to guess how the space has changed on the other side. It’s just such a fantastic thing. It’s something I’ll be able to continue working on for quite a while yet.
Twin Towers This house has its beginnings around the Twin Towers attack on 9/11. I was living in New York in 2001, working as an artist in residence. I had just collaborated with Roé Cerpac on a design for floating gardens balanced on the Twin Towers and a runway on the roof so that you could fly directly into Manhattan. I was making art that was light-hearted, that was humorous and optimistic. It just wouldn’t have been acceptable to present it after 9/11. It didn’t fit with what was going on. I decided to stop making art. I got my truck driver’s licence and bought a house in Hungary. But I still felt the need to give tangible form to all kinds of ideas. But it was clumsy because I wasn’t allowing myself to call it art. So I decided to pick up where I left off.
Fish Pond Song From 2005 on, I was doing two things at once. I was working on a film called Fish Pond Song, about a fantasy war, in which I wanted to create neutral territory – something that Bush said no longer existed after 9/11. At the same time, I wanted to build a village where you could isolate yourself from the enemy, whether that was real soldiers, bad weather or information overkill. So I took my house in Hungary as the prototype and started playing around with wooden blocks. That was the beginning of the folding houses. I had an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Den Bosh in 2008: Fish Pond Song Part 1: The Lost Army. That was where I built the houses full-size for the first time. The film was projected in and around the houses as they opened and closed.
Tirana and Rotterdam In 2008, the architect bureau MVRDV asked me to think about part of a project in Tirana, the capital of Albania – it was a competition project for the urban reorganisation of the city centre. I took Islamic geometry as my departure point and made a ground plan for a market with folding stalls, a market that would constantly change shape. We came second in the competition, so the plan was never implemented, but in the meantime Jeanne van Heeswijk had got wind of it. She’s an artist working with social structures and she develops special events at the market in Afrikaander Square in Rotterdam. She asked me to make a prototype for a market stall, one that satisfied all the regulations and was vandal proof too. I collaborated on it with Hugo Timmermans. The idea is to eventually put 50 of these stalls there.
Golden teahouse Hugo Timmermans and I made the Golden Teahouse from the market stall prototype. It was opened in August 2010 by the Dutch Parliamentarian Nebahat Albayrak. There are plenty of coffeehouses around the Afrikaander Square used only by men. The women wanted their own place. But you could ask yourself whether this kind of project is really an answer to serious multicultural issues – partly because the development phase is so long and slow because of the endless meetings with officials. Time catches up with you and you can get the feeling it’s pointless. But I still see it as a successful artwork. Those women are so enthusiastic and passionate. I’m actually very positive about it. Otherwise I don’t think I would work on it. But when I tell people abroad about it, they just think: those Dutchies are nuts, doing stuff for people who could just as well do it for themselves.
Folding church At the beginning of 2007, the Protestant Diaconie in Amsterdam, which does social pastoral work, commissioned me to make a piece that took the Good Samaritan as its guiding theme. I decided to make a subtle adaptation to my folding house to transform it into a folding chapel, a chapel that was open to everyone. The furnishings are inspired by the mussel: the outside is a rough and black; the inside feels like marble to the touch. When it opens, the closed stronghold is transformed as if with an ‘Open Sesame’ and it is turned inside out. I actually thought that was enough, but the curators wanted something even more miraculous. So then I added a projection of a miraculous film in the triangle in the roof. It’s a war scene with soldiers wading through water, and there’s a girl who walks on the water between the soldiers, from one bank to the other. It’s interesting that at the same time I was commissioned to do some work for the Sint Jan cathedral in Den Bosch, which is Catholic. At first I thought I could do the same for both places, because that seemed to me like a good statement to make. But the subjects of the two commissions were so different that that just wasn’t possible. I’m fascinated by religious faith: the idea that your faith can be so intense that you can drill yourself into the World Trade Centre. My grandma was really religious too. She prayed several times a day. But she knew that the family didn’t believe. She found a way to deal with that in a very laid-back way.
Bread I was invited to come along to the Diaconie to persuade them that the house was a good idea. So I thought, I’ll take a loaf of bread with me, hollow it out, put a bird in it and then break open the loaf and the bird can fly out – a pretty little canary or something. I wanted to do something miraculous. But then I saw myself in my mind’s eye, in a room with all those people and then the bird flying out and hitting a window or something and dying. So that was a bad idea. In the end I took the loaf along without the bird and told the story.
Rooftop studio in Cairo In 2009, the Contemporary Image Collective (CIC) invited six artists to present an architectural idea and to give a lecture. They decided to go ahead with my idea: a studio on the roof for an artist in residence – a folding house in which the artist can choose to be closed off from the surroundings or to open up to them completely, and where you can chose to be in the shade or the sun. There’s a lot of wind in Cairo, so I’m still looking into the options for putting in windows and panels. The CIC has moved away in the meantime and the idea for the roof house has been taken over by the Townhouse Gallery. An architect in Cairo who worked with Rem Koolhaas has translated all the drawings into Arabic. The house is being produced entirely locally, at least that was the intention, but now it’s two years on. In Cairo, it’s always: ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow.’ I’ve flown there three times already, each time believing they’ll have started building it or that it would be finished. But nothing has happened yet. And now the production manager has changed job. And so the story starts all over again.
Academy of Architecture I decided to use my folding house as the starting point for the second part of my period as AIR at the AHK. I was involved in supplementing the second year students’ studies on Materialisation at the Academy of Architecture. The idea was that students got up from their drawing tables and actually got their hands dirty with hammers and planks of wood. I wanted to start off from the skeleton framework of my house, and transform it in different ways with other materials. I hoped it would produce all kinds of inventive ideas. But one thing was that there are almost no tools available at the academy. And another was that most of the students were all fingers and thumbs. We worked for part of the time in my studio in Amsterdam Southeast. Then we went back to the academy because it’s more exciting if this kind of project takes place in the school. We built one little house for inside, which became an extra space in the canteen. And there was a second one in the courtyard. There is a wall in front of the academy, and I thought it would be interesting if people outside could see that there was something special going on within its walls. That’s why I wanted the house up in the air.
Office garden I use a folding house in my studio as a studio. I work with an assistant and we both have one half. Sometimes we don’t want to see each other for a whole day, so then we leave it open. Sometimes we have something to discuss, and then we slide the two sides closer. What I’d like most is to deploy the house in lots of different ways. I’d like MVRDV to adopt it, but it’s much too small-scale for them. They design skyscrapers – what would they do with a rabbit hutch like this? Winy Maas from MVRDV is interested in doing an office garden using these small houses, though. That would be brilliant. I can even imagine a whole housing estate of them, where you could fold your house up before going to work. It would change the space completely. I think that would be brilliant, but people – well, most people – don’t want any kind of change at all. They’d prefer things to stay exactly as they are. Ultimately, architecture is static, of course. Even at an architecture office like MVRDV, they still don’t want it to be too dynamic. But I think Dutch traditions like windmills and delta plans should mean we can allow ourselves to keep things in flux.
Fish Pond Song II and Hieronymus Bosch I’ve been working on a film for years already. We filmed last summer in Hungary, and we shot a few scenes that feature folding houses. It’s interesting to me that the house continues to exist in both everyday reality and in a fantasy world. The one feeds into the other. They’re both interesting, but I notice that the fantasy world is more my area. Fish Pond Song II is going to be a moving painting, 10m by 5m, with countless things to see in it. It’s about faith, about good and evil. It’s set during a war. There’s a hell and a heaven. There are soldiers and young maidens. It’s a very topical subject of course, and because I’ve been working on it for so long now, I sometimes feel like I’ve had enough of it. At moments like these it helps to zoom in on the material and view it as a war between cells in a microscopic world. And then it starts fascinating me again. The weird thing is that even now I don’t know why I’m doing it – but I’ll find out one day. It’s kind of like a dark cloud coming my way: a war or something else awful – something I’m already making something optimistic about. The project was inspired by Hieronymus Bosch. He plays an important role in my work. I’m named after him. We had the Garden of Earthly Delights on the wall at home. I thought it was a real painting, but it was a poster of course. I was brought up on Bosch. There was our neighbour Martien, Uncle Frans and Heronymous Bosch. He really was just like one of the family. Hester van Hasselt is a performer, writer and theatre maker.
Anthony Heidweiller and Paul Koek in frank conversation about educating artists, dreams of change and the cultural climate in the Netherlands.
Perhaps the time has come to speak frankly Recorded by Marijke Hoogenboom
It is a very wintry December afternoon and we are seated at a table at Paul Koek’s home, overlooking the fairytale beauty of the Braassemer lake. Koek’s Veenfabriek is performing the new music theatre piece Machine Agricole five kilometres away in disused stalls owned by the farmer Piet van der Geest. It is part of a large-scale project The Countryside as a Stage. A few days after our conversation, Anthony Heidweiller will be off to Bayreuth to prepare for an audition with the Deutsche Oper, having restarted his career as a baritone, while also being taken up with the programming of his final edition of the Yo! Opera festival, taking place in Utrecht in 2011. Paul Koek and Anthony Heidweiller are both Artists in Residence at the Amsterdam School of the Arts this year: Anthony at the Conservatorium and de Theaterschool and Paul at the Production and Stage Management department of de Theaterschool. Paul says it is ‘ridiculous’ that they hardly know each other and right from their very first meeting they felt drawn to work together at some point. What aspects of education are occupying your minds at the moment? Paul Koek (P): More than anything else, education is lots of juxtaposed disciplines. Working with the voice, for instance, is an entirely distinct craft, and working with singers is very different from working with actors.
Anthony Heidweiller (A): If I examine my own need to continue developing as an opera singer, I realise how important it is for the educational system to invest in craftsmanship and tradition in the first years. If I was leaving school and wanted to work with the Veenfabriek, for example, the one thing I’d want to be sure of is that my voice is working. Only after that would I want to find out what the added value was of working in an interdisciplinary environment, and what the balance should be between professional skill and extending outside of that. I mean, I think it’s also important not to isolate yourself in the school. P: To me, too, ‘interdisciplinary’ doesn’t mean ‘don’t bother about your technique’. Anybody who wants to work professionally has got to have the technique. But I’m convinced that things are going wrong in education. I think it’s odd that within the walls of the art school we work at a distance from society at large. You need to invest at least 10,000 working hours to acquire the technical skills of an instrumentalist or a singer. But should that apply to all the courses? I can easily imagine that students could put together their own study programme. And as far as I’m concerned even if there are only two subjects in it they can still pass, I don’t care. A: And if you’re in front of a school class, it’s so important that your technique is good. If I walk into teach
a lower-stream class, everyone there’s thinking, ‘If that was a real artist, he wouldn’t be here. He’d be onstage. This guy’s a loser – he just isn’t good enough.’ So you just stand there, open up your mouth and – bam! – let them hear what you can do. Then you’re really in for a treat, because it’s such an honour for them that you’ve come to them to share your craft. P: But there’s a huge difference between all those skills. I’ve got loads of people around me who are very good at combining things – that’s a technique too. Like John van Oostrum from the Veenfabriek, who combines electronica with guitar, draws, invents a drip machine, plays a cow, delivers a dialogue – and does everything well, too. We may have to explain to him how to read music, but we know that in a few weeks he’ll be playing it better than us, because he has a deeprooted technique for combining, but not an instrumental or individualistic technique. I think that students need to learn contemporary techniques in addition to existing ones. A: At the voice department they have a preset idea of how the student should progress and develop through the repertoire. But does that allow room for new voices to emerge? Or do you give credits because one student breathes better than the other? I’ve yet to come across the course that explicitly states: ‘You’re not here to reproduce, to copy; you’re here to make things yourself.’
I often see students who get stuck in the second or third year. They’ve got a problem with the fact that no one asks them what they themselves want to make. First and foremost, the school is looking at where they’re going to fit in. P: As a teacher, too, I want to use my creativity and not be limited by a predetermined points system. How can you, at the end of a year, just say to a top-notch student taking his own path, ‘These are your study credits’? You spin some tales if you need to, but if you were being honest, you shouldn’t. We’re all bricking it when the accre ditation board comes around – just imagine if you weren’t keeping to the rules! Maybe it seems like I’m just being negative about the system, but that’s not the case. I’ve got plenty of constructive things to offer about how courses could offer more space, be broader and better for students. I’ve been teaching for fifteen years now, and I see it caving in all around me: financially it’s going downhill, getting stricter in the basic subjects, becoming more inflexible. And that’s disastrous for the students. I can see that teachers and directors of studies are doing their best. But up at the top, they’re preserving institutions that have existed for a hundred years or more. That just doesn’t wash any more. Young producing artists working today are living in another world. That’s why there are so many potential talents who don’t come to us anymore.’ A: In my dream academy, technique does come first, but it’s about a technique that’s far closer to the person you are, to what young artists need. I wouldn’t take on too many students; a class you can hang out with instead of exclusively individual teaching. We wouldn’t apply any standard techniques, we’d develop a personal technique for the individual student. At the auditions we’d want to hear their aria and their song, but we’d also be curious about their vision of what it is to be an artist. Instead of, ‘Is that our new star turn?’ P: So you’re actually saying that an academy like that doesn’t exist. There are twelve conservatoriums in the Netherlands as well as various theatre schools. But we have to recognise that in the entire country, there is hardly any opportunity to use your own artistic vision to put your own study programme together and develop your technique. How is that possible? It’s very difficult to break through the inner circle that we’ve created. The way I see it, static staffing can be pretty catastrophic. Education is losing its grip on the here and now. There are large numbers of permanent teaching
staff who have no idea about other developments in the arts. I’m not saying it’s their fault, but many teachers only know about their own teaching method, and that might not be enough if you were to combine courses. Students choose a specific conservatorium because of a specific teacher, so let them also put together their own modules. Something else: some systems outside the conservatoriums have a very different system of ‘succession’: a very open system that looks at whether the baton should be passed on to the best student or perhaps to someone who is much better but is further removed. There are many assumptions made and things taken for granted in conservatoriums – without ever stepping back for a moment to consider whether what is being done is best for the art itself. What alternatives could you suggest for educating young artists? A: I’m an idealist and I’m on the lookout for new approaches. Bold visions of the future have been emerging from my conversations in the conservatorium world: how would it be if you just had three conservatoriums, each with its own signature? The Hague could become the place for the makers, for instance, coupled with Leiden, and Amsterdam could focus more on classical music. And so on. But the other conservatoriums would return to being the vocational music lyceums they once were: top-class music schools with a clear vision on education and community art, so there’s a strong connection with the city in which they are located. The talents that rise to the top could be guided carefully towards the conservatoriums. The three conservatoriums would have a direct connection with professional practice: the Concertgebouw, the orchestras, the Netherlands Opera, music theatre ensembles. They’d be looking at what these organisations needed. For instance, I was working on a new housing estate in Zutphen with Nico Smit, who used to lecture on innovation in education. We were creating lots of different routes to connect people with one another using art. The request came from the community itself. Ideally the nearest conservatorium would be a breeding ground, a laboratory, stimulated by the municipality and the province to develop sustainable working methods that respond in a very active way to requests from the community. As far as I’m concerned, it should be implemented as a national master plan – but it should come up from the grassroots with an idealistic goal.
P: We’re very engaged and willing to do anything we can to contribute to education. Perhaps the time has come to speak out frankly. That next step towards changing the conservatorium system is very important to me too. When a school is really integrated into the city, it’s truly part of the world, I’m sure that people would be able to value all kinds of things, from Messiaen to Schubert. I’ll never forget when the Veenfabriek was rehearsing Veenfabriek’s Haar leven haar doden (Attempts on her Life) in the V&D department store. It was really heavy. Passers by were commenting on us like we were complete nutters. But the better we got – the better we understood our craft and the better we played the scenes – the more shoppers stayed with us for the whole afternoon. It would be great to put artists in an unforgiving environment like that. Not superficial, not easy, but somewhere where you can get yourself seen and heard. It’s simply urgently necessary. A: More than that, community art shouldn’t become some kind of amusing hype. It really matters. Not just for the audience, but for the artists too. Time and time again in my projects I see how my people discover their own strengths. Sometimes it can be pretty hard on the students. They trusted me, they followed me into my ‘delusion’. But when they have to go into shops on the Zeedijk in Amsterdam to make contact with local residents, as they did for the Marco Polo project, they’re suddenly having to do it for themselves. That’s a huge challenge. But if you manage to keep yourself together there, you’ll be different next time you’re on a stage. P: It’s crucial for makers that as part of the rehearsal process they are confronted with the question, ‘What’s it about?’ from someone who’s just come along to look. Sure, you can get on a stage without knowing the answer, but then that’s what the piece should be about. You only get better by exposing your vulnerability and working close to other people. I think it’s quite justified if Piet and Clema, the farmers that hosted Machine Agricole on their land, come in halfway through rehearsals and tell us they don’t get it. That sets me to thinking, rethinking what I’m doing. It makes what you’re doing very real. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is very distant from the educational world. I’m shocked by the naivety of many students at the conservatorium. They’re completely taken up with their cloistered world and wondering when they can perform somewhere. The kind of system Anthony is proposing would have to be put into place by the government. It’s not something
that we could do from the inside. If you want change – and change is urgently required – discussions will have to take place at the highest level. That’s the precondition for looking into whether we find a new approach to the established structures as they exist in the Netherlands. Then, there would have to be a lot of extra money, definitely for the coming ten years. And in order to maintain flexibility, as far as I’m concerned we should be able to fail and exclude students from any year, not just after the first year. We should be able to say to any student, second year or whatever: ‘I don’t see it working out, you should leave school.’ And then we need accreditation boards that value the exceptional rather than just the standards, the exceptional qualities of our vision on educating artists! And I also think, and this is totally taboo, that I, as a teacher, shouldn’t be given the sort of permanent position I have anymore – no one should. Only directors of studies should be taken on permanently. And then you could ask me to come one time to Amsterdam, another to Maastricht and another to The Hague. I’ll see what I can do, if I’ve got time I’ll do it with pleasure. Are your ideas workable given the current political climate in the Netherlands? A: I don’t have much faith in leaving changes like these to the government. I’m afraid that if we say to the present government that we want to change the educational system, in the first place they’ll be looking at ways to make cuts across the entire field. Then there’ll be nothing left. What’s going on in the Netherlands now pains me: the lack of understanding in the political world for our work. I’m disappointed by things said by people who I thought I was in dialogue with. But we still have to ask ourselves, ‘What’s the next step and what do I want to invest in in the coming years?’ As for myself, I want to avoid falling into repetition. I’m carrying on with my mission, but I need to be without an organisation around me for a while. I need to recharge my batteries. I want to gain some more space in education to make something happen for talented young people. And I’ll be treading the boards again. Singing allows me to work in the moment. It compels me to be alert to the situation. Unfortunately, most concerts take place in a purposebuilt venue. If we were always working at different locations, we’d communicate differently with those around us. At moments like these, everything in your life is focused on the moment itself, supported by technique, and the love of the tradition. If you remove the risk of coincidence and surprise – for example, because
you think the work might be too fragile and not satisfy the standards for CDquality recordings – then there will be a tendency to institutionalise your profession. And the same goes for education, where we are in danger of eradicating chance and improvisation, and of standardising quality. P: It’s true that at the end of the seventies and the start of the eighties, there were far more alternatives available at the conservatorium. There were so many things going on in the evenings and outside the lessons with all sorts of people. And it was a period when society was open to experimentation. I get the impression that that there’s a bit more space for it in what the Flemish theatre maker Benjamin Verdonck calls the ‘consensus society’. But there’s no sense of urgency. I asked two very talented people what they would really like to do most. Both of them pretty much said, ‘If I really have to answer honestly, what I’d like most is to have a studio in a caravan and get away from the whole carry on of yours.’ I can understand a response like that in these times. A: I draw from my own foreign experiences, especially in the Ruhr region: Bochum, Dortmund, Essen. I’ve been lucky enough to work with professional and amateur choirs in recent years. You can rediscover yourself to an extent if you’re placed in an international context like that, and you become very open to everyone. It’s miraculous what happens there – especially given my dark skin and poor German – because in the end there are 50,000 people singing together. In Germany, they look differently at the function of the artist. You’re taken seriously. You’re taken care of. People communicate clearly with you. And you may ask, ‘Is that really necessary?’ Yes, it really is. P: Anthony is right, it’s wonderful to work in a climate where your existence as an artist isn’t questioned and your presence is welcome. A similar thing happened to me with Candide in Bochum. But I think I’m needed more here in the Netherlands. In my life, there have been quite a few times when I’ve had worries about the finances or the ensemble, but I’ve never had to worry about my place in society. But that’s changed radically over the last two years. It’s a disaster to be told that the music I’ve been playing for fifteen years has destroyed society by being inaccessible, because it’s art with a capital A, or because it was made in a baby-boom bubble. It’s the first time in my life that I‘m thinking, ‘I hope my children don’t go into the arts.’ I used to be really completely convinced that playing Messiaen could change the world;
that you could play the work of a composer who had studied birds of all kinds, was deeply religious and had poured all his powers into a dream of a score. How wonderful that you can play that music and have the whole audience trembling there in a concert hall. But that’s apparently not allowed any more. I had no idea that such a thing was possible here in the Netherlands. It’s made such an impact on me. A: The only answer I can come up with is: just do it. The way I see it, at a certain point the time for talking is done. And then the important thing is to do, do and do some more. Education shouldn’t be bottom of the list in any organization anymore, a poor relation to help bulk up your grant application. Any artist walking into a comprehensive school needs to be a top artist. I see no other option. P: Happily, because of our work in the countryside I’ve come across loads of small, alternative initiatives by everyday people. Like simply by improving their own living environment with solar panels and vegetable gardens. It’s not true that there are no counter movements. A: People have just claimed back their surroundings, and that’s what our next step should be. That’s the reason behind the music lyceums in the regions. We need to give people the idea that anyone can make art. P: And make no mistake, Anthony, Theo van Doesburg said it too: the arts are for everyone. They keep on saying it, but it’s never been delivered. Bauhaus, Joseph Beuys, they all said the same thing. So keep on saying it! Koek is artistic director of the internationally renowned music theatre ensemble the Veenfabriek. Anthony Heidweiller is a singer, operamaker and the founder and artistic director of the Yo! Opera festival and workspace.
In Into the Polder with Koek, musician, composer and theatre maker Paul Koek is working with teachers and students at the Production and Stage Management department to develop their vision on the professional of the future and to build bridges between innovative artistic and educational practices. The activities form part of Veenfabriekâ€™s ongoing project Het Platteland als Podium (The Countryside as a Stage) and will take place throughout the 2010-2011 academic year.
During orientation week, first-year students led by Herbert Janse and Guido Bevers from the set-building studio constructed a wool and steel installation in the polders around Leiden. In the next issue of this magazine, we will be taking a closer look at the Into the Polder with Koek project. The sheep was made at the farm belonging to Paul van der Geest.
Living Dance, Dancing Life by Germaine Acogny / Ecole des Sables coordinated by Lot Siebe and the production assistants Ise Verstegen and Martina Visser. Germaine and Patrick Acogny gave master classes for teaching staff and senior students, while first and second year students attended workshops with Jean Tamba, Saky Tchébé and Ciré Beye. Oumar Diop and Ousmane Sene provided the musical accompaniment to the master classes and workshops, in collaboration with musicians from the dance department at de Theaterschool. There was also a day dedicated to exchange involving professionals from various Dutch dance and theatre education institutes, third and fourth year Dance Teacher students, Germaine and Patrick Acogny, and moderator Laurien Saraber.
Living Dance, Dancing Life Germaine Acogny and Ecole des Sables Hosted by de Theaterschool, Bachelor of Dance in Education, 2009–2010 Dance teachers working today are operating at the very centre of contemporary urban reality, where there is growing demand that what they produce relates to people from diverse origins. Teachers are expected to be able to bridge the gap between familiar and unfamiliar dance forms, and have an understanding of both popular and traditional dance cultures. From 2005 to 2010, the artistic director of the Bachelor of Dance in Education Jopie de Groot pursued the development of an intercultural vision and policy at the school. To this end, she twice deployed the AIR programme as a powerful tool for accelerating change within the department. Following the residency of Nita Liem and Don’t Hit Mama (2007-2008), De Groot invited the ‘mother’ of contemporary African dance Germaine Acogny into the school to take the next step in this process. About the project Germaine Acogny visited Amsterdam several times for intensive working periods at the Amsterdam School of the Arts. Her unique practice offered teachers and students insights into how they could connect between the norms and values bound up in European and African dance styles. Artist in Residence Germaine Acogny – accompanied by her son Patrick and a team of teaching staff from the Ecole des Sables in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal – gave teachers and students an intensive introduction to her techniques, working methods and vision on education. The collaboration also triggered a debate on tradition and renewal within the department, giving a powerful boost to its intercultural ambitions. About the artist Germaine Acogny is Senegalese and French. She founded her first dance studio in Dakar in 1968, influenced by the dances she inherited from her grandmother, a Yoruba priest, and her studies of traditional African dance and classic and modern Western dance in Paris and New York. She worked closely with Maurice Béjart and was the director of the Mudra Afrique dance school in Dakar from 1977 to 1982. In 1980, Acogny published her first book, African Dance, in three languages. In 1998, she founded the Jant-Bi dance company and, together with her husband Helmut Vogt, the Ecole des Sables in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal. In recent years, this dance centre has become Africa’s most important institute for the development of professional dance. Germaine Acogny dances, choreographs and teaches on every continent. She is a true ambassador of African dance and culture. Acogny’s work is highly regarded throughout the world and her awards include knighthoods from France and Senegal.
ON AIR regularly invites external experts to reflect on aspects of the AIR programme. Igor Dobricic was reunited with Germaine Acogny who has greatly influenced him.
Wordless In 2003, as a part of my DasArts studies, I spent ten weeks at the Ecole des Sables, the dance platform and school that Germaine Acogny and her partner Helmut Vogt were setting up in Toubab Dialaw, a small fishing village on the Atlantic coast of Senegal. I was one of the eleven students that embarked on a journey that was to be a life-changing experience for some of us. Many factors contributed to the intensity of the period that we spent in Senegal. It was a momentous encounter with the African continent in all its glory – and all its misery. Then there was the timing, with the invasion of Iraq taking place just a few weeks after our arrival in Toubab. But what gave real depth and importance to the experience was not the political, cultural or even natural extremes, but the presence and involvement of one particular person. I distinctly remember our first working encounter with Germaine. Using very few words, she instructed us to imitate whatever she did as accurately as possible. Rather than elaborate explanations, she gave us her movement – direct, and unmediated by language. In return, she expected pure mimesis and absolute trust. So, there we were, atop a sandy hill overlooking the immense, dry landscape, under a huge open tent, imitating every movement made by a tall, beautiful African woman of indefinite age whom we barely knew. Dancing to the accompaniment of a battery of live drums, her movements were unpredictable, complex and hybrid. Without interruption, she shifted style, direction, orientation, speed and limbs with playful delight. From time to time, the mood would shift and joy would be overshadowed by sadness, sadness would morph into almost religious solemnity, only to slide back into light-hearted irreverence and childlike playfulness. We were mostly incapable of capturing the details of her gestural propositions and respond in kind to her unstoppable, proliferating, continuously changing movement. Yet still she transported us all forward from one moment to the next for almost an hour. Sometime in the middle of that first morning session with Germaine at the Ecole des Sables, I came to understand the true meaning of ‘direct transmission of knowledge’. I also realised – in a flash – why we in the West are incapable of experiencing it: we are scared of mimesis. We have forgotten how to trust and to follow the movement of another body. We do not come together in the moment. So what Germaine Acogny used all her charisma and wisdom to demonstrate to us on that first morning, was the power the physical body has to inform and instruct another body, beyond spoken language. In 2010, I was fortunate enough to meet up with Germaine again during one of her visits to Amsterdam as AIR at the Amsterdam School of the Arts. And once again I found that, eloquent as she is, it was her physical presence and communication that left the deepest impression.
This encounter with Germaine, just like our first, involved two animated bodies communicating despite and beyond verbal language. For a short while, we resolved cultural and personal differences and avoided possible misunderstandings because we were producing our own temporary shared culture, an interplay of movements, postures and gestures. The benevolent sensuality of the encounter became its medium of transmission. We communicated by imitating and responding. The words we spoke existed as sounds and rhythms before they became containers of meaning. Mimesis cannot be put into words if the words are not spoken and heard – if they are not performed by vibrating the air. Essence and mystery abound in Toubab Dialaw. They are profoundly, playfully omnipresent. There, they are real and incontrovertible simply because they are the immediate conditions of embodiment. Germaine Acogny carries this spirit with her. She reminds me that what matters is physical encounter and its unfolding over time, rather than the web of signification it leaves in its wake; it is the perceptible movements of the sun and the moon that matter, not the astronomical calculations of their orbits. She taught me about the body’s ability to transcend verbal language and inform and instruct another body. One might view Germaine Acogny’s presence/work/technique as a unique example of embodied intercultural practice, to the extent that to inform is to recognise differences – whether cultural or personal – and that to instruct is to assist in overcoming them. But this characterisation drags it back into the realm of ideological discourse, where it is instrumentalised for some imagined future social benefit. I would like to believe that what she is proposing and offering can create benefit only in the moment of doing for those who are doing it; what is being transmitted cannot be transmitted by explanation. Perhaps the only thing that can be articulated clearly in words is the deceptively simple lesson that the one true basis of all dance is the immediate and vital coexistence of moving bodies in the same timespace. This lesson is so fundamental, so blatantly obvious, that perhaps we have no need to learn it. In this spirit, I feel that what we need is the presence of the one who speaks, rather than the content of what is spoken. We need the teacher, not the teachings. To me, Germain Acogny is precisely that: the wordless teacher of the most evident wisdom of movement. Igor Dobricic is a dramaturge and theatre maker. He works with various choreographers and teaches at the School for New Dance Development. He was recently a mentor at DasArts.
Teacher Lot Siebe on diversity in the Bachelor of Dance in Education.
The long white wash Interview by Hester van Hasselt
Germaine Acogny’s period as Artist in Residence is part of an ongoing process of change that started in the Bachelor of Dance in Education five years ago. Could you give a little background to this process?
Amsterdam Southeast and New West [districts with a relatively high population of immigrant origin. ed.], bringing in new visiting lecturers from a wider variety of backgrounds and of course through the AIRs Nita Liem and Germaine Acogny.
about the focus on African rather than Indonesian dance, for example. But Germaine Acogny is not about African dance as such. Hers is a mixture of contemporary African and Western dance traditions. Dancers from all over the world come together at her dance
Jopie de Groot’s arrival as the artistic director of dance teacher training meant diversity became an important point of focus here. Among some communities of immigrant descent, if you are intending to follow a professional training programme in higher education people say, ‘You’re going into the long white wash.’ And this applies to our department, too, because conceptually its framed entirely in the Western tradition. We’ve tried to change this bit by bit by introducing new selection procedures, working together with secondary schools in
Why did you choose for these two women?
school in Senegal. She wants to break out of the conceptual framework and shake up ideas about identity through encounters with other people – other kinds of people.
Nita Liem from Don’t Hit Mama was the first AIR in our department. We invited Nita because of her unique approach to theater making. For example, she took students on a guided tour of places that matter in her artistic context, places from the urban dance culture. Nita Liem led us to Germaine Acogny, who has taught students and teachers at the course for short periods over the last year. Some students wondered
I understand that an interesting discussion on this subject developed during Nita Liem’s tenure as AIR? As part of her residency, Nita invited along two theoreticians: American dance historian Sally Sommers and African English dance researcher
Fumni Adewole. They had a big impact on our way of thinking about the meaning of social and informal dance cultures. Sommers was very explicit in the way she invited us to contrast Dutch reality with the reality in the United States. She sees the US as a land of immigrants, from its very beginnings. People there think in terms of immigration, migration and shifting styles. And you see that reflected in dance culture. She sees the Netherlands, on the other hand, as having a largely monocultural orientation. She looked into the issues of how we could integrate new influences in the training. ‘Interculturality’, ‘diversity’: what awful terms they are. Just what is it we’re talking about here? I reckon the important thing is that you become aware that Western identity is just as much a cultural identity as any other and not a standard that should be applied elsewhere in the world. What you perceive as yourself is a framework, a label that you accept, and reproduce, and value. So you’re saying people need to re-examine things they take as given? Funmi Adewole, a Nigerian living and working in London, believes it’s all about asking yourself the question ‘Why is this different from me, or why is this relevant for me’. It all starts by
asking ‘Who am I, what defines my art, and what is my culture?’ Adewole says that we at the academy seem to think we have no culture, that culture is something only other people have – the people in the clubs or the Surinamese along the road – and that we aren’t ‘exotic’ or ‘ethnic’. But Adewole points out that we actually have a very strong indigenous culture and history. And you have to understand your own history in order to relate to others – you have to understand the similarities and differences, because only then can you create common ground.
How have students responded to the AIRs? In the documentary on Nita Liem’s AIR project, Move in a Modern World, you can see just how great the resistance is among some students. They say they don’t want to be guinea pigs. They’re happy to participate, but only if there’s a guaranteed benefit. Students often arrive here with very clear-cut ideas about dance, aesthetics and what they want to learn. And when you start tinkering with the schedule, they feel threatened. The students are highly motivated, and we don’t want to do anything to change that. But this course isn’t a factory for rolling out standardised, ready-made products. Students don’t always realise that an educational course is always developing. Sally Sommers has been teaching for 35 years. She said she has seldom come across an institution that has maintained a single direction, which means that students are never in a stable situation. Students are concerned about losing their technique, and that was an issue in this case. The regular curriculum was put on pause and replaced by, in the words of one of the students, ‘a bit of jumping up and down’. You see them caricaturing things that are foreign to them. Only at the end of the block did they realise that their technique has come on a long way.
Can you explain what you consider so unique about Acogny’s work ? Germaine’s method is marked by a rhythmic use of the spine. It is unique. It is not a technique you’ll find in any other movement discipline, not even in the martial arts. The spine is often viewed as a static column, but the moment you introduce movement into it, it has far-reaching effects on the entire body – affecting the internal organs and radically altering body awareness. Also, students worked together col-
lectively in almost all her lessons. That’s not something our students are used to. Dance lessons are almost exclusively individual processes that ultimately prioritise the excellence of the individual performance. When you work with the mirror, you place a strong focus on the external form, the outside, an idealised construct of yourself. But in Germaine’s lessons, the curtains are drawn over the mirrors. You start the lesson as a group – in a circle or by walking around the studio space together. The idea is that you can transcend yourself in the collective, that you can extend your own boundaries, that you can be galvanised by the energy of the group to bring out the best in yourself. So collectivity is another route to excelling on a personal level. Germaine is fantastic. In the final lesson, during an improvisation with the musicians, she invited the students to step out of the group one by one. You could see the students rising above themselves; the energy of a group dancing like that is really stirring. They are well trained physically; they have this immense potency that you see blossoming in a situation like that. Some of them remained highly subtle and sensitive in their movements despite the explosive level of energy. So the students changed their mind, then?
In the end, the students were unanimously wildly enthusiastic. They experienced an unprecedented sense of freedom and transcended their physical and mental boundaries. They entered a world that was new to them and had to struggle and conquer themselves. Here, they found out that they could do much more than they realised. This was a huge benefit for the students, it’s exactly the sort of thing you want training to achieve. Sally Sommer was absolutely right when she said, ‘Why do you think you have to give up tradition for experiment?
You should do both in your life! You are grounded and you learn something new!’ I heard that Acogny also went along to a secondary school in Southeast Amsterdam. Patrick Acogny, Germaine’s son, gave master classes at the AHK and two workshops for pupils at the Bijlmer Open Comprehensive (OSB). We’ve been working with the school for the last four years. Our third-year students taught the 14, 15 and 16-year-olds. Students always dread it beforehand. This time, Patrick Acogny kicked it off in an incredibly noisy gym full of 55 school kids. He walked in and his presence and charisma had an immediate effect. Even at the OSB, where many pupils are of immigrant heritage, having an African man as a guest teacher is something. Patrick worked with elements from social dance traditions. For instance, he separated students into two groups of girls and boys and placed them opposite each other. Then he got them to dance for each other. Of course he knew that this would create a huge level of solidarity between the girls, and they clapped and encouraged each other. Patrick plays with the group and manages to bring out the individuals in the end. He doesn’t want people to disappear into the group! In the end he even got one
particular boy dancing who was very reluctant at first – it got a very enthusiastic response from everyone else. You might actually be exploring collectivity and individuality or masculinity and femininity, but our students have no idea that’s part of what the dance lesson’s about. After the lesson, Patrick talked with them about ‘the gaze’, the way you look at someone else – about how you have to be aware of what it means if you’re white-skinned and blond, for example, and you’re in front of a class. The kids perceive you in a certain way.
Patrick grew up in Africa but has lived and worked in Europe for the last 25 years, mostly in Brussels and England. And he recently obtained his doctorate in Paris. His comment, ‘I am more European than you are,’ was dynamite. It helped the students realise to what extent they had been viewing him exclusively as an African. And to what extent were the teaching staff involved? Investment in teaching staff at the course is crucial for processes of change in the department. All the teachers and advanced students worked with Germaine whenever she was here. Actually, that was the most remarkable part of this whole AIR period, because students and teachers were together in the lesson and the classical dance teacher was next to the modern dance teacher, and they were all doing something totally foreign to them. Germaine is hugely charismatic and she’s able to reach out to very different kinds of people and inspire them. She handles people’s backgrounds in dance and physical abilities with great respect, but she’s very demanding at the same time. Everyone there was just slogging away, everybody felt as clumsy and ridiculous as one another, but they still all went for it 100 per cent. And this is perhaps the most vitally
important aspect of the whole process, because everybody was enjoying doing something that was foreign to them and they were also doing it with people who were ‘foreign’ to them. Did you meet any resistance from teaching staff? The most important issue – for students and teachers alike – turned out to be the relationship between tradition and innovation. Processes like this can give you the feeling that
your own tradition is being undervalued. The challenge is to know to what extent you are able to open up and take onboard new things coming at you, almost in a playful way. We don’t want teachers to dispense with tradition – training in Western techniques is equally important and valuable. But everyone needs to realise that from the moment you make a connection with ‘the other’, the values and norms at the foundations of these traditions are not shockproof.
Maria Wüst, the programme director of studies for the Master of Education in Arts discusses cultural diversity in teacher training.
Expectations are traps
Most of the teachers participated very actively in Germaine Acogny’s programme. The question they are now asking themselves is, ‘How do I connect this new information with my practice?’ This is least problematic for modern dance teachers. But it’s an almost irresolvable issue for teachers in a specific style such as jazz or classical, which involve a matching didactic method. The structure of a classical ballet lesson is so rigid that once you introduce changes, one could argue that it loses its identity as such. This triggers a variety of questions. Should teachers teach a specific dance style or use their own expertise as a departure point for teaching dance? What alternatives are there to thinking and teaching in genres? If you want to thrive in the professional
world, then you’re going to have to be able to put yourself into perspective and open up your cultural and artistic identity for discussion. The challenges we face going into the future are collectivity and flexibility. And that applies to education as much as anything else. That’s where we are right now. Lot Siebe is a teacher and researcher at the Bachelor of Dance in Education. She investigates transcultural dance techniques.
1. The Divers symposium took place on 21 January 2010, and was followed up by the publication of ‘Divers, Negen onderzoeken over interculturaliteit en de docentenopleidingen van de Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten’ (Diversity. Nine researches on interculturality and teacher training courses at Amsterdam School of the Arts), Arts Education research group, Amsterdam, 2010. 2. The Master of Education in Arts is a part-time interdisciplinary course for artists and teachers operating in arts education.
‘Expectations are traps,’ said Ernestine Comvalius, director of the Amsterdam Bijlmer Theatre, at the Divers symposium organised by the Arts Education research groupt.1 I believe this cuts to the heart of the cultural diversity issue in teacher training at the Amsterdam School of the Arts (AHK). Solely introducing changes to the content of the curriculum is not enough. Interpersonal relationships are equally important, so we must open up to unfamiliar encounters, confrontations and clashes. In short, anything that can grate, stimulate or even hurt. It will require self-reflection and open communication. And it will require that students and teachers alike accept a certain level of vulnerability. Defining art An event that took place during a course of the of Education in Arts provides a practical example.2 Our students – all experts in their field – develop their knowledge with the help of a broad-based company of visiting lecturers and fellow students. As part of the interdisciplinary expertise module, guest lecturer and art historian Steven ten Thije took the students to the Play Van Abbe exhibition, which he had co-organised at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. Shortly afterwards I read on student blogs that the group was dissatisfied and resentful about the visit. What had happened? A student had asked the non-Western guest curator about a collection of everyday objects on display: ‘Why is this art?’ The curator experienced the question as dismissive and answered, according to Ten Thije, that it matters less whether something is art or not, and more that it is of interest – on a political or historical level, rather than a personal one. The answer to a question that has sprung out of genuine interest thus led to frustration and incomprehension among the students. Writing on his museum visit, Ten Theije explained that it was here that he, ‘realised for the first time what it means to be an art professional working in a globalised world, in a time when the domination of the West is dwindling.’ Ten Thije believes he has detected a flaw in the fundamental structure of his lessons: they are based on a classical, modern understanding of art as, ‘a component of a universalist, colonial period of Western domination.’ The incident
described above was not so much about the clash between student and guest curator, but the fact that, ‘within the theoretical framework I had put forward, this question, posed in this way, was still possible. Perhaps it will come across as abstract – and the distinction is indeed subtle – but what I realised as I reflected on the criticism, was that the student was not aware that she was not a student calling a teacher to account, but a Westerner calling a non-Westerner to account. Progress through communication This is the point where the full complexity of the situation is revealed: a visiting lecturer teaches Masters students and becomes increasingly aware of his special position as curator; the response of students then brings him to the realisation that he (but not he alone) has misled them, because his art history lessons contribute to an expectation students carry with them into the museum. Put simply, you see something, a painting, an image, and you expect it to have some effect on you. The exhibition did not satisfy those expectations and the students were put out. The students and teacher then felt the desire to analyse with each other this mutually unsatisfactory state of affairs. This created an opportunity to connect Ten Thije’s reflections on the matter with those of the students. In their discussion, there emerged among the students a sense of how their expectations had coloured their conversation with the curator and their interpretation of the exhibition. They also came to understand how their thoughts had been framed and how they had been shaped by previous art teacher training as well as by the visiting lecturer in question. This increase in understanding was a great relief to all concerned, because both parties had felt grievously misunderstood. This was also an important step in heightening awareness, a process that is such a necessary step for artists and arts teachers operating in a variegated urban context who want to take the role of link between globalised artists and their audiences, or are seeking to effectively deploy their expertise in arts education for a globalised target audience – such as in schools with pupils of predominantly immigrant descent, a multicultural young people’s theatre group or
a local orchestra looking to attract children with a migrant background. The students were genuinely moved by the lecturer’s willingness to open up personally and place himself in a vulnerable position. It made it easier for the students to open up and participate in his considerations. Everyone felt how their personal frame of reference was at stake.
and what do they gain? […] Furthermore, shifts in artistic emphasis put at stake the identity of the institution. And we can see that this issue is particularly apparent in the Bachelor of Music in Education course, where the curriculum has been recalibrated most and over the longest period. I believe the experiences in the music course would be of great value to other departments.’
Towards a broader school I am fully aware that we involved in the Master of Education in Arts course must create the conditions that enable our students to have ample opportunity for similar experiences and that there must be sufficient leeway for reflection. So how exactly should we go about creating the right conditions? To a greater or lesser degree, all the modules making up the study programme cover aspects of cultural diversity, but is our approach sufficiently effective? And what about the fact that our teaching staff is entirely white and Western? Until now, only a few visiting lecturers have had a multiple cultural perspective. Should we re-examine our recruitment and selection procedures? While it is true that there are Surinamese and Surinamese-Dutch students in both study years, are we reaching all the people we would like to be reaching? Our formal requirement of a bachelor diploma means it is not easy for artists who have come up through an alternate, multicultural educational route to be selected.
New identities Here we stand with our new expertise, our many expectations and just as many traps. The professional field is also looking to us with a great deal of expectation. Students and teachers are demanding intercultural competences while also fearing that they will be unable to satisfy the requirements of the traditional curriculum. Here we stand, in short, with our questions about identity. The arts education department will continue the knowledge network and new research will be carried out alongside new experiments with the curricula. They will bring about innumerable fascinating personal encounters that will produce ongoing friction as well as painful experiences that tip over into new opportunities.
The Masters course operates from within the Arts Education research group, which has two key areas for research, one of which is cultural diversity. It has also initiated a knowledge network for this purpose. Lecturers giving teacher training at the AHK also perform research into aspects of cultural diversity in their field and in their courses. On the occasion of the presentation of these research projects, the research group organised the abovementioned Divers symposium. In order to satisfy the needs for encounter, expectation, information exchange and reflection, a meticulous invitation policy was conceived with the aim of bringing about encounters and confrontations. At Divers, the predominantly white AHK teaching staff and present and former students were coupled with experts and talent developers from Amsterdam’s multicultural circuit. Seated at a round table, they discussed the consequences the research projects could or should have on the courses at the AHK. And they formulated possible answers to the questions I pose above. The research presentations revealed that particularly the teacher training courses for music and for dance have been working for some time with expertise that is truly revitalising their curricula. Research into this area recently began at the Academy of Fine Art in Education (Academie van Beeldende Vorming), while the concept of reflexivity is being used to approach and influence thinking about cultural diversity within School for Theatre Teachers training. As part of the arts education Master of Education in Arts, students are encouraged to carry out research and develop projects focused on cultural diversity. Those operating within each field believe they require their own unique language and instruments; interdepartmental contact within this knowledge network will reduce the risk that they all reinvent the wheel in isolation. At the end of the afternoon, moderator Laurien Saraber spoke of the ‘good-natured struggle’ in the faculties over the development of the curricula. She noted how in the research presentations, ‘Activities often still depend on the work of individuals, and are played out at the periphery of the course.’ For her it is obvious that, ‘Shifts at the centre of the artistic domain are the most fundamental, painful and complex. Because here, it almost always means that something else must perish. What do your students lose with this shift,
NB. For the full text of Laurien Saraber’s closing address: www.ahk.nl/lectoraten/educatie/conferenties Maria Wüst is the programme director of the Master of Education in the Arts programme. Her roots are in music education and she has fulfilled various functions connected to the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.
What’s in the AIR? Next issue will be out in September 2011
‘Youth opera applies the dramatic power of opera as an art form in giving a musical answer to the many questions that young people face today.’ Anthony Heidweiller Conservatorium van Amsterdam 2010 –11
‘Sherry can take anything. For me she is a sort of everywoman but better. People open up to Sherry, she has a magic touch.’ Ann Liv Young de Theaterschool 2011
‘Ultimately, I would like to see more of the black culture roots of this jazz eagerly integrated into the music of our young artists.’
John Clayton Conservatorium van Amsterdam 2005–06, 2009–11
‘My artistic projects are not about satisfying everybody: confrontation is an important tool in what I do.’ Jeanne van Heeswijk Academy of Architecture 2011
‘When an art school is really integrated into the city, it’s truly part of the world. I’m sure that people can value everything from Messiaen to Schubert.’ Paul Koek de Theaterschool 2010 –11
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