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September 10, 2020

School Watch: WHW Akademija: Learning at the Threshold of Another World

Art & Education

Group portrait with Banu Cennetoğlu during her “118 words between citizen and conscious” intensive, 2020. Photo: Damir Žižić.

Jolanta Nowaczyk, Blazing World, 2020. Handmade flag, part of “Drei Tage bis zum Ende der Kunst,” curated by Ana Dević/WHW, Gallery Nova, 2020, Zagreb. Photo: @_s_e_e_e_n.

Bianca Hisse, Thanking you for your immediate attention, 2020. Performance and LED sign. Photo: Damir Žižić.

Vlad Brăteanu, Get your shit together and stay balanced, 2020. Found materials, Zagreb. Photo: @_s_e_e_e_n.

“Drei Tage bis zum Ende der Kunst,” curated by Ana Dević/WHW, Gallery Nova, 2020, Zagreb. Exhibition view. Photo: Damir Žižić.

“Drei Tage bis zum Ende der Kunst,” curated by Ana Dević/WHW, Gallery Nova, 2020, Zagreb. Exhibition view. Photo: Damir Žižić.

WHW Akademija: Learning at the Threshold of Another World
By Ivana Bago

The curatorial collective What, How and for Whom/WHW has always been a kind of “academy.” Founded by curators Ivet Ćurlin, Ana Dević, Nataša Ilić, Sabina Sabolović, and designer and writer Dejan Kršić, this Zagreb-based collective has directed the nonprofit exhibition space Galerija Nova since the early 2000s while developing their increasingly dynamic international career. Through this continuous and even stubborn combination of localized presence and global-art-world itinerancy, their persistence in egalitarian collective work, as well as their signature embrace of the link between aesthetics and leftist politics, WHW has built a network of contacts, experiences, and knowledges that has actively translated into information, inspiration, and encouragement for younger artists and curators in Croatia and the post-Yugoslav region. At the same time, WHW has never tired of stressing their own debt to an earlier generation of artists, curators, and art collectives—Sanja Iveković, Mladen Stilinović, Goran Trbuljak, Želimir Koščević, the Group of Six Artists, among others—who informed the New Art Practice of the 1960s and 1970s in socialist Yugoslavia. The 2018 launch of WHW Akademija in Zagreb, in partnership with the Vienna-based Kontakt Collection, could be said to have simply formalized and instituted this ongoing, multidirectional geopolitical and generational transfer.

Open to emerging artists and tuition-free, each fall the academy brings together eight to twelve international fellows selected through an open call and engages them in a variety of programs and encounters until June the following year, when the curriculum closes with an exhibition at Galerija Nova. Despite the representative effect of an event like the closing exhibition, WHW Akademija places less emphasis on results as they may appear in individual artistic contributions and more on the yearlong, collaborative process of “learning by doing.” This was explicitly manifested in the closing exhibition of the 2018/19 fellows in June 2019 titled “Open Nova, Open Studio” where, instead of proceeding from one artwork to the other, visitors stumbled into a mesh of loosely arranged objects, ideas, conversations, and theoretical references collected throughout the year. Although this particular setup derived from the conceptual and aesthetic choices of the first-generation fellows, it also reflected the overall design of WHW Akademija and its emphasis on encounters and interactions over solitary studio work.

Informing the academy’s multilayered structure, these interactions are organized into units of varying intensity and duration. Each academic year, two resident professors—in 2018/19 these were artists Ben Cain and Tina Gverović, and in 2019/20 artist David Maljković and writer Kate Sutton—take the role of yearlong mentors and hold weekly meetings with the group and individual participants. While the program is designed and coordinated by WHW, the resident professors help participants navigate the curriculum and bring it into active relation with their evolving studio practices. The other resident program is a monthly master class taught by Sanja Iveković in her Zagreb archive and studio, which serves as another testament to WHW’s multidirectional generational and geopolitical transfers. On the one hand, WHW’s distinctly transnational presence and perspective opens up new opportunities for emerging artists who have finalized their formal education and started their careers but have not yet built their professional networks, especially not on an international level. On the other hand, this internationalizing agenda is also clearly anchored in Zagreb’s local context and the artistic practices that have influenced WHW’s work and the agenda of their project partner, Kontakt Collection, which focuses on art in Central and Eastern Europe from the 1950s on. [read the full text on School Watch]


School Watch presents critical perspectives on art education. Featured profiles and conversations survey programs in fine art, curating, critical theory, and other related disciplines, as well as the ideas and conditions that influence their practice.

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