“Has art school missed out on the internet?”

When we first posed this question, we did so somewhat provocatively, to articulate the feeling of witnessing an institution overlook and not engage with a body of knowledge, a style, and an experience of learning and sharing that is dear to us. We felt that including the internet in discussions about art school was critically necessary, and this question has circulated within memeclassworldwide for several years. Since it was first raised, we have become rather tired of it.

Recently, we have felt it necessary to problematize this question from several perspectives: Which, and therefore whose, art school do we mean? Does the internet really exist on a linear timeline of progress where a single opportunity could be missed? As the question imposes a static nature on the constitutive properties of art school—even though our research has taught us that art school always changes with the external and institutional political environment—has the concept of a singular art school ever existed? Aren’t memeclassworldwide and other self-directed emancipatory initiatives, such as the discursive space opened by this very publication, a clear sign that there hasn’t ever been just one art school, and that we should no longer believe anyone who attempts to write it into being?

memeclassworldwide emerged in a time and space not claimed by art school bureaucracy, and the question of missing out was posed because these ungoverned moments offered an indication of an answer and a frame of discussion. However, by now, we as initiators, members, students, and guests of memeclassworldwide have all in our own ways moved on from art school as a place we go to regularly, as an institution we accept as immutable and static, and as a time in our lives that we connect to a feeling of longing for change. We are more interested in the perpetual becoming of art school and the importance of continuously reinstituting it through creative, political, and thoughtful practices.

For this Classroom, we have assembled a set of material used in previous moments of instituting memeclassworldwide in seminars and workshops in Kiel, Linz, Bogotá, Basel, and online. The series of videos is a sample of this material and its contextualization.

At various points, we have thought of this material and the ideas it engages with as missing from art school. This sense of absence is what Davina Cooper describes as a defining feature of practices that act as if a desired future is already realized in a fragment of what a community considers reality. These “prefigurative as-if practices” then establish a desired future reality in the present in order to show how this gesture affects the immediate political surroundings. [1]1
Davina Cooper, “Towards an Adventurous Institutional Politics: The Prefigurative ‘as If’ and the Reposing of What’s Real,” Sociological Review, April 6, 2020 .
Rather than re-presenting art school’s transformation from its reality to its imagined future in the form of plans and proposals, memeclassworldwide was founded in an effort to perform as if art school adopted the themes and modes we perceived as missing.

As a weisungsfreie Klasse (German for “not given instructions by the rectorate”), memeclassworldwide began running self-organized seminars in 2019, occupying unused classroom spaces at the Muthesius Kunsthochschule in Kiel, Germany. In these weekly sessions, students worked through thematic fields that ranged from the digital practices of love and hate to the ways in which political protest takes place through visual languages born on the web. Through these seminars, memeclassworldwide inscribed themes into the school that were not yet part of its curriculum and proposed a space and time in which other ways of teaching, learning, sharing, and hanging out could be conceived.

Drawing by Dorota Briestenska made during memeclassworldwide new media art #takeover workshop at Kunstuniversität Linz, 2019.

These are documented in a perpetual work-in-progress curriculum of pedagogical scripts that memeclassworldwide maintains. [2]2
See .
This document collects conceptual prompts, performative scores, and course descriptions and is intended to undo the reduction of nuance in the binary distinction between what is considered art practice and what is considered teaching.

memeclassworldwide’s inscription into the institution of the art school began by sneaking into the online course administration system to announce our lectures with the help of a friendly fellow student who worked for the school as an assistant. Today, while the initiators are still not paid as lecturers, they are officially permitted to add their courses to this system, and participants are even awarded ECTS points for their participation.

To return to our initial question: when not used in such emancipatory ways, these systems of online course administration help us distinguish between our own fear of missing out on something and the institution of the art school truly missing out on an opportunity, namely the meaningful integration of the internet into art pedagogy.

In fact, the internet and other tools for participating in digital systems were introduced into art schools as early as the 1980s. Yet the ways in which this manifested were contentious. Some institutions purchased rows of specialized SGI computer systems and launched media art programs that engaged in academic-artistic discourse on the aesthetic phenomena and political consequences of digital technologies. The tech industry also heavily marketed its products to art schools, which were ideal places to grow future user bases for standard design tools and subscription-based software required to participate in the creative industries. Equally uncritically, art schools implemented digital disciplinary tools for the self-administration of teaching staff and students, only adding to the fragmentation of the art students’ and lecturers’ experiences.

To counter this isolation, memeclassworldwide posted hyperbolic, satirical political memes on Instagram to document the cognitive dissonance between being a student and being a critic of the school. At one point during this early stage, the governance office of the university suggested that legal measures be taken against memeclassworldwide for what they considered demotivational slandering. The Instagram account’s distinction as protected, political free speech in the tradition of institutional critique precluded any such attempts.

The university’s effort to shut down the Instagram account ultimately exposed the art school as an institution struggling to produce the meaningful imagery necessary to succeed in the imaginaries of artists that practice online. Yet a critical perspective toward institutional transformation makes it necessary to speak truth to power in a plurality of voices. This is even more essential as we find ourselves amid a plurality of meanings and truths, where control over signification and interpretation has been taken away from centralized institutions. memeclassworldwide teaches that in the age of digitization, the work of the artist is the work of decoding the implied authority of signs and meanings.

This might come as a surprise, but memeclassworldwide is not focused on teaching internet meme culture in art school. The idea has never been to guide art students in becoming memelords crossposting shitpics for virtual likes. memeclassworldwide makes this ever changing thematic field accessible to artists-in-training from all disciplines and helps them find entry into the mutation of languages in images, text, and aesthetic and political discourses that originate on the web. The generation of meaning has been substantially transformed by the ubiquitous, becoming-default unravelling of the utopian hope of hyperconnective technology—the condition described as “post-digital.” [3]3
Florian Cramer, “What Is ‘Post-Digital’?” in Postdigital Aesthetics: Art, Computation and Design, ed. David M. Berry and Michael Dieter (London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015), 12–26 .
These languages need a place to be developed, mutated, adapted, and used collectively for expression and determination.

We find manifestations of this mutating and the endless mutability of digitally manifested information in this selection of material used in memeclassworldwide seminars and produced by memeclassworldwide itself. The series presents a journey through the ways in which art students access discourses on politics and aesthetics today and can lead us to think about the new roles that the art school as an institution and as a place must adopt for new generations of students and artists. These artists-in-training will continue to navigate multidimensional streams of content and networks of communities in self-directed paths through a new landscape in which there is no longer a discernible mainstream, but only ever weirder niches. This work unfolds in a world in which elections are decided by meme-based online activism and psychographic digital campaigning, and in which hyper-referential visual languages interweave archaic image formats with machine learning.

The question that memeclassworldwide seeks to propose is not whether the institution missed out on adapting to the internet, but what art academies are becoming in the ongoing post-digital transformation: Is art school a place for in-depth disciplinary training, protected from the blur of postmodernist socio-informatic juxtapositions, or rather a distinct, intentional social space where bodies-with-knowledge meet, share, and care?

For now, we invite you to enact memeclassworldwide into existence, whenever and wherever you are.

—Bernhard Garnicnig

memeclassworldwide* is an autonomous and parasitic class initiated by three artists* within their art academy in Germany in 2018. The artists organize research retreats, exhibitions, seminars, and workshops. Using the internet as a reference space, the classes investigate post-digital phenomena across their aesthetic, social, and political dimensions, integrating these investigations into practices of teaching and exhibiting. memeclassworldwide collaborates with the artists Bernhard Garnicnig and Jennifer Merlyn Scherler. Their forthcoming book memeclassworldwide: research, documentation, index will be published in 2021.

*Ramona Kortyka, born 1991 in Aachen, Germany; Mateusz Dworczyk, born 1994 in Zabrze, Poland; and Juan Blanco, born 1988 in Bogota, Colombia, live, work and study in Germany.

Bernhard Garnicnig works as an artist, researcher, and lecturer. His current research focuses on the relation between artists and institutions as a site where artistic and political practices emerge. He currently works with memeclassworldwide on a curriculum for post-digital art education, with the Palais des Beaux Arts Wien on the concept for a multidirectional memory site, with the working group “the artist as consultant?” on a critical framework for performative knowledge practices, and with Lucie Kolb on an open access index for Art after Institutions. He is the cofounder of the Bregenz Biennale and the former artistic director at the Palais des Beaux Arts Wien.


Preview image: memeclassworldwide, videotutorial-documentation, 2020. Screenshot from the exhibition and workshop "escaleras futuras," Galeria Santa Fe, Bogota.

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