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School Watch
February 2021

Ghost in the Machine

Ane Hjort Guttu, Sveinung R. Unneland, Katrine Østergaard, and Mathijs van Geest in conversation

Ane Hjort Guttu, Manifesto (still), 2021. Film, 27 minutes. Photo: Patrick Säfström.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine,” Hordaland Art Centre, January 9–31, 2021. Image courtesy Hordaland Art Centre, 2021.

Matias Grøttum and Vilde Jensen, “Digression” online kitchen podcast. Image courtesy Joy Forum, 2021.

Matias Grøttum and Vilde Jensen, “Digression” online kitchen podcast. Image courtesy Joy Forum, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, “Ghost in the Machine.”  Image courtesy Joy Forum, 2021.

Sara Bo Lindberg and Fergus Tibbs, “[NON]PIZOP” bar event. Image courtesy Joy Forum, 2021.

Katrine Østergaard, “Dinner Conversations” event. Image courtesy Joy Forum, 2021.

Katrine Østergaard, “Dinner Conversations” event. Image courtesy Joy Forum, 2021.

Ane Hjort Guttu, Manifesto (still), 2021. Film, 27 minutes. Photo: Patrick Säfström.

Hordaland Art Centre in Bergen, Norway, recently hosted “Ghost in the Machine” by Ane Hjort Guttu and Sveinung R. Unneland, an exhibition consisting of Guttus new film Manifesto projected on a freestanding white wall. Walking around the wall, visitors discovered that it contains a fully-equipped kitchen with an oven, hot plates, a fridge, and a sink. Part exhibition architecture, film prop, sculpture, and gathering space for an art department within an art department, the hidden kitchen reveals a covert resistance to the demands of administrated art education. Over the three-week exhibition period, the kitchen hosted an exciting series of events, workshops, and performances with a large group of collaborators.

ANE HJORT GUTTU: The film Manifesto is about a school hidden inside another school. An art department of a major university, both students and faculty staff, is so frustrated by the many impositions and requirements decreed from above that they have decided to manage themselves. They act as a subordinated department and appear to follow all the rules but they do everything their own way without asking. They have a secretly elected principal, secret courses, an alternative study program, and a kitchen hidden inside a wall. This last element is necessary because they are no longer allowed to freely cook their own food in the school but must eat in the school café.

MATHIJS VAN GEEST: It seems as if Manifesto is full of duplicity: there is a façade, and then the film presents quite a different reality that only some people know about.

ANE: Yes, I’ve been teaching ever since I graduated from the Oslo National Academy of Art in 1998. My relationship to artistic practice has always been two-sided: there is the professional art field that consists of institutions, discourses, a market, and many different, distinct disciplines. But on the other side, art and artistic practices are intellectual and revolutionary activities that deal with fundamental human, social, political, and emotional relationships that transcend these professional categories. I think that many artists who teach relate to very practical and technical matters in their everyday teaching, but the goal is still to connect with something bigger, a kind of Olympic flame that you reach out for and that the students too must learn to reach out for. This ideal is revolutionary, and I suppose we dream that it should transcend both market and institutions.

As a professor, I experience that the educational institution is intended to bring students into the professional field, but this does not reflect the bigger thing we all aspire to. It doesn’t create conditions that make students ask fundamental questions or change the world, even though this is the task of art. I have therefore always walked around with an idea of the other school—a school that is more in line with the higher purpose inherent to any artistic practice.

Ane Hjort Guttu, Manifesto (still), 2021. Film, 27 minutes. Photo: Patrick Säfström.

The New Architecture of the Art School

MATHIJS: This conflict is expressed not only as a way of thinking and working in the academy but also through the physicality of the institution itself. Can you describe your first visit to the new facilities of the Faculty of Art, Music, and Design (KMD) in Bergen?

ANE: Yes, previously the school was placed in an old factory of eight floors. It was worn down but worked fine as an art school with good studios for the students and a big communal kitchen with a roof terrace. But in 2017, the school moved into a new building designed by Snøhetta Architects. When I visited, I was very surprised by the totalitarian feeling of these new facilities.

I had been invited to the school by Sveinung Unneland, a doctoral degree student at KMD who runs the gallery Joy Forum. Joy Forum is built as a kind of container and located on the first floor of the school. Sveinung had many thoughts about institutions and counter-institutions; for example, he chose to create this gallery as a structure with walls, roof, and floor within the building, rather than use a gallery space in the school.

I was at KMD to show an earlier film but quickly got into a discussion with Sveinung and students about the new school and how it affected the students’ daily life and activities.

MATHIJS: Other than the totalitarian expression of the building—its metallic facade, black entrance, and large cubic shape—what kind of problems and restrictions do the students face that influence their practices?

ANE: The building does not facilitate the most important thing that should take place in an art school: the students’ own work. When it was built, both the builder and the architects wanted the students to work in open-office spaces. It quickly became apparent that the students were not able to work that way. After many discussions, a favela-like labyrinth was built from lightweight walls so the students could find some space for concentration. Primary factors like daylight and ventilation were not arranged for these workplaces.

In addition, the building contains disproportionately large atria, among them the gigantic “Building Plaza,” which also functions as a stage and entrance hall. Many of the student studios are now located there, and it creates a total surveillance situation. When you work in the Building Plaza or just sit in your little studio, you can be seen from all the floors above. I had an interesting conversation with Katrine Østergaard, who was a student when I was there, about this.

KATRINE ØSTERGAARD: Yes, I was assigned a studio right beside a staircase that leads down from the big atrium. Since the atrium is also used for public events, I constantly saw heads and fingers of guests sticking out over the railing, where they had an unimpeded view of our workplaces. Often these guests took pictures or filmed us. Ahead of events in the atrium, we received emails from the administration with instructions to stay away from the workplaces before and during concerts and ceremonies.

I have spent several hours crawled up under my desk or hunting for other private places in the school where I could concentrate. Over the course of my three years at the Academy, I gradually moved my studio back to my bedroom in the collective where I live. I adapted my practice to avoid the workshops at the school, and my studio in school became more and more “performative,” that is, it became a place for the projects that I felt comfortable showing, but it wasn’t a place for trial and error.

For a period, I used a big cardboard box as a reading room and “safe space.” It had a little door I could creep in through and close behind me. Inside the cardboard shelter I had a couple of cushions and some materials to make it more comfortable. Here I could work in peace, take a nap, or just do nothing.

MATHIJS: In the film Manifesto, a teacher claims that Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) guidelines are used as instruments of control. Is this something you experienced as a student?

Ane Hjort Guttu, Manifesto (still), 2021. Film, 27 minutes. Photo: Patrick Säfström.

KATRINE: Yes, at the school all attempts to modify the workplace were torn down and removed with a reference to health and safety. Every day, representatives of the owners of the building went around keeping a close eye on whether we followed all the HSE rules. In the beginning, several artworks were removed and destroyed in these raids. It was not permitted to have “comfortable furniture” or sofas not made of fireproof material, to have spray paint, hot plates, or anything else that required power apart from so-called “safe devices”: chargers, lamps, and computers. In addition, they removed all curtains and textiles that the students hung up to get more privacy. Even having a bicycle standing in your own studio was prohibited!

But this is an art school! People should be able to work with all sorts of materials, with water and power tools and large and small installations.

SVEINUNG R. UNNELAND: HSE was also mentioned as one of the reasons why the school must close early in the evenings and entirely during some weekends. After they introduced a total alcohol prohibition, they came down hard on even the most sober social events. This hasn’t only been applied during the pandemic: it has been a tendency ever since we moved here years ago. Normal small gatherings with a glass of wine at an opening or the like are strictly forbidden. This contributes to an overall condition in which the social is constantly sacrificed for other purposes. The institution can’t see the importance of such social meetings.

KATRINE: No, also the accessibility to the administration department has become strikingly worse. All the doors in the school have to be opened with a key card, and this way they can control where one is allowed to enter and where one is not. For example, the administration department is inaccessible to the students, making it impossible to get hold of a student counsellor or administrator without an appointment, and you also must agree on which door they will use to let you in. This too creates opportunities for monitoring the students.

ANE: It was extremely interesting to hear this from the students. After my visit to KMD I began to envisage a different, self-organized school. I imagined that this school could exist inside a big university. Universities have after all become so gigantic that perhaps no one would notice a small, alternative institution hidden within it; a “temporary autonomous zone,” as Hakim Bey would call it. [1]1
Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone (New York: Autonomedia, 1991).
So, I wrote a script about such a school. It had to be secret from everyone except those who went there, and it had to have some ideals, for example, that students, teachers, and administration should be equal and be on the same side and collaborate. I shot the film at the art academies in Oslo and Bergen with former and current students and teachers as the actors.

Ane Hjort Guttu, Manifesto (still), 2021. Film, 27 minutes. Photo: Patrick Säfström.

A Kitchen in the Wall

SVEINUNG: I first knew about the details of Ane’s script in the autumn of 2019. I was looking for a way to explore social meeting places in art education, the spaces where informal and often relatively unplanned dialogues take place. The description in the script of a kitchen hidden in a wall gave me very specific ideas and a curiosity about how it could function in reality.

MATHIJS: And this is how you proposed to create such a kitchen together with bachelors and masters students from the Bergen art department, as a kind of workshop. You invited Maik Riebort, an artist and boat builder, to collaborate in the workshop and the musician Mari Kvien Brunvoll for a concert during the first dinner event when the construction of the kitchen was completed. From the very start, this kitchen has functioned as a meeting place and space for initiatives—not only a prop for the film, it was also a fully functioning kitchen where students could cook and gather.

SVEINUNG: Yes. We placed it in the paint workshop at the school, where it functioned as a wall. It has been used a lot, both as wall and kitchen, but of course it’s illegal. It will be exciting to see how long we can keep it.

One of the things I really appreciate in this whole collaboration is how this kitchen has allowed for all sorts of interaction outside and beyond the initiators’ control. I do hope it will live its own life in the institution, and I am interested in this object’s many different roles in the ecology of art: as exhibition architecture, prop, sculpture, and utility object. We have tried to express this in “Ghost in the Machine,” where it functions as a screening wall for the film on one side and a kitchen on the other. Throughout the exhibition period, students have had social events in the kitchen, and in between these, it becomes sculpture again, then the doors are almost closed and the light shines out through the crack in the door.

MATHIJS: The film introduces viewers to a group of people who have concentrated their efforts on developing a new kind of art school, hidden within the existing system. This group seems undefined in detail, but it consists of students, teachers and professors, a dean and administration, and a cleaner who is also the alternative school’s rector. This group is never given a name or formulated as an identity. We don’t know if it’s a guerrilla movement, an underground organization, or merely an innocent exercise. What we see is the playful structure of the group: they are democratic, flexible and, most importantly, passionate.

ANE: I’ve made several films about individuals trapped in restrictive systems who try to rebel or find a way out of them. Manifesto is the first that is about a group of people, a collective. I think it was very liberating to work with a group. The film is not realistic, and such a secret guerrilla group would likely encounter a host of difficulties, including divisions within the group. I see the situation in the film more as a metaphor, a symbolic gathering of firebrands who burn for a truer, more democratic education.

On the whole, there is something deeply paradoxical in an education created by the Bologna process and various state and commercial guidelines about quality assurance, throughput compatibility, supply and demand, etc., where the purpose should be to educate free, critical artists. The rector in the film says that “the only possible relationship to Academia today is a criminal one.” This is a moderated quote taken from the American philosopher Fred Moten, who sees the university as an institution that produces, maintains, and perpetuates class divisions and racism.

Ane Hjort Guttu, Manifesto (still), 2021. Film, 27 minutes. Photo: Patrick Säfström.

The End of Art Education

MATHIJS: In the spring of 2020, while simultaneously working on the film script, you wrote an article in the Nordic online art magazine Kunstkritikk titled “The End of Art Education as We Know It” where you describe how higher education in the Nordic region has changed significantly over the last fifteen years, including art academies. I feel this is an important part of the project. The problematic examples described in the film are not just the story of one poorly executed building project, they are international concerns shared by many artists and educators.

ANE: I think it applies to the whole field of education, but art education is a particularly clear example because in principle it is so unquantifiable and so incompatible with European educational policy. There are few analyses of what an optimal art education is. When you look at well-known and “successful” schools of art throughout history, from Kazimir Malevich and Marc Chagall’s UNOVIS and Bauhaus in the 1920s to Nova Scotia College of Art and Design or California Institute of the Arts in the 1970s, you discover that they tended to be temporary, often forced to move around, and with relatively few resources but with a high degree of sociality and engagement from students and teachers. Unfortunately, these schools have not been models for the development of art education in Europe. Instead, neoliberal theories of innovation and creative economies have been applied to aesthetic educations, which in turn generate these architectural environments and the schools’ managerial operation.

MATHIJS: Through interviews and observational shots, Manifesto follows a clear documentary-style format and aesthetic, yet the narrative is completely fictional and even becomes a bit absurd. Both the film and the storyline seem to thrive on fiction as a disguise for reality. Can the power of fiction benefit today’s educational landscape? Can fiction be a tool for reimagining art education?

ANE: As I mentioned, I am very interested in types of parallel conceptions and realities, activities that are disguised, rebellion that looks like compliance or people who refuse to produce. In Manifesto, there are a number of examples of how the rebels hide their real activity, often behind typical “fine art” conventions: a kitchen is hidden in a gallery wall, the secret course plans look like large drawings, and the cleaner-rector is hidden behind a “pseudo-dean.” Even the school is hidden inside another school.

One reason for this urge to conceal oneself is, of course, the requirement of visibility or image. In the new controlling regime of art education, the image is almost privileged over reality: if the students behave like images of students, then everything is fine. The new architecture of higher education has been created for the camera lens and invites visual effects like reflections, bird’s-eye and worm’s-eye perspectives, and the observation of people’s activity through architectural grids. Any resistance to this image-regime becomes potentially political. We can see Katrine’s hunt for a cardboard box to sit in as a kind of resistance. Invisibility, non-productivity, darkness, sleeping—all these can be political positions. It is enough to mention Jacques Rancière’s studies of the labor movement’s night schools, [2]2
Jacques Rancière, Proletarian Nights: The Workers’ Dream in Nineteenth-Century France (New York: Verso, 2012).
Jonathan Crary’s analysis of the capitalist assaults on sleep in 24:7, [3]3
Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (New York: Verso, 2014).
or Jenny Odell’s critique of the “attention economy” in How to Do Nothing. [4]4
Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (New York: Melville House, 2019).
That is why the HSE attack on comfortable furniture that Katrine talks about is so symptomatic: one should preferably not be seen lying relaxed at school.

SVEINUNG: My experience is that a strange internal struggle is being waged among those who are trying to maintain the artistic and professional level of the institution, those who are responsible for the buildings, and those who control the educational process on behalf of the appropriating authorities. Within this struggle, staff and students make use of small loopholes they find in the regulations and procedures to engage in activities they are otherwise denied. This can be called camouflage, but it is perhaps just as much a symptom of how the systems have become hypersensitive. When a teacher is represented as almost revolutionary because he or she makes soup with the students, that says more about the system than about the soup.

ANE: In general artists have used fiction as social criticism, and this has perhaps been particularly effective under oppressive regimes. I feel that we are in fact living under such a repressive educational regime now that it is difficult, for example, to conceive of an alternative art education outside the institutions. In Norway, we have seen in the recent past that all attempts at innovative art schools have been forced into formats such as bachelor courses or “profession schools,” with all the guidelines and requirements such a designation entails. For me, it is in fact more logical now to imagine that we must hide in the belly of the beast.

Ane Hjort Guttu, Manifesto (still), 2021. Film, 27 minutes. Photo: Patrick Säfström.

MATHIJS: Throughout the film, I sense a longing to discover the unexpected, but also to be educated in a place that runs a bigger risk of failing. Is today’s art education too safe, too predictable? Whose responsibility is that? Amid the strategies of hiding, secrecy, and camouflage, is the most “criminal act” as an art student perhaps being too obedient?

ANE: The motivation for the secrecy and camouflage in the film is the wish to be able to sustain a decent art education. These people are not engaging in criminal activity for the sake of excitement. In the doctoral dissertation of the Norwegian sociologist Jo Ese, “Defending the University,” Ese reviews all the different strategies that staff and students in the universities have developed to avoid demands from above. His conclusion is that these strategies have been developed to give students a better education, one that is more in keeping with what the professional field deems as required and goes against the recommendations of university management. He mentions an example where supervisors give their doctoral fellows ten hours of supervision instead of the predetermined two because they think it is necessary. This is also the goal of the activists in the film. Their view is that an art education that promotes criticality, solidarity, sociality, independent thinking, risk etc. is not possible within the existing regime. They have to create their own school to be able to offer this to the students.

MATHIJS: The exhibition program for Ghost in the Machine, although strongly affected by COVID restrictions, was filled with events. Hosted by both students and actors from the film, there were drawing workshops, dinners, bar nights, and concerts, all taking place in the kitchen. This wide variety of “kitchen meetings” resonated with a scene in the film in which the students question who has the right or power to play the role of the teacher.

The film seems to support the idea that knowledge should be shared by all: students teach, and everyone is invited to participate in courses. Can we today envisage an art education governed by these rules and with its own logic? Can there be a place where another hierarchy or world is possible?

Ane Hjort Guttu, Manifesto (still), 2021. Film, 27 minutes. Photo: Patrick Säfström.

ANE: We should absolutely envisage that. And many of us have this as an ideal when we teach. But as I said, I doubt whether it is possible in Europe today to create an alternative kind of art education that is stable, and which is available to many. It’s easy to establish expensive private schools and give admission to those who can pay for it, but not as simple to offer free education with an alternative pedagogical approach. I think we can make a difference; we can be more aware of admission procedures, power structures, and exclusion mechanisms, and we can ask critical questions and create alternative forms of teaching within this system. And that is important. But it’s naive to think that we will be allowed to create a genuinely socially critical type of education that shakes up factual power structures and privileges. Schools reflect society’s priorities in an incredibly precise way, and this also applies to art schools.

KATRINE: It’s important to think about what the academy of art really should do. If we want art education to range wide, then it’s important to relate all the structures art students pass through before they are accepted, and not least whom these structures exclude and what voices the art scene thus never hears. For example, admission to the art academies in the Nordic countries is in practice determined by having attended a private preparatory school. These schools are often expensive and therefore not accessible by everyone. It is the responsibility of the art academies to solve this problem.

I dream of an art education where the students can have more influence on the schooling: the course options, the structure of the teaching, and how the school’s budget is distributed. I also think it’s important to imagine what the ideal art academy could look like. Not least because that helps to create the small rebellious acts like hiding from the watchmen at night, starting a student gallery in the toilets, or initiating critique classes.

SVEINUNG: I think your question should rather be directed the opposite way: can we refrain from imagining a different system and a different world? That said, I don’t think you can imagine your way to change. It’s rather something we cultivate collectively, and it requires a community, not just individual goals and rights.

—Ane Hjort Guttu, Sveining R. Unneland, Katrine Østergaard, and Mathjis van Geest

Ane Hjort Guttu is an artist, writer, and curator based in Oslo. She holds a position as professor at Oslo National Academy of the Arts – Department of Fine Art.

Sveinung Rudjord Unneland is a visual artist based in Bergen, Norway. He is currently a research fellow at the Bergen Art Academy.

Katrine Østergaard is an artist currently based in Bergen. She recently graduated from Bergen Art Academy – Department of Contemporary Art.

Mathijs van Geest is an artist and since 2018 director of Hordaland Art Centre, a regional art center in Bergen.

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