The digital classroom and the digital studio (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 32)

This is the thirty-second instalment of a collaborative effort by the Journal of Visual Culture and the Harun Farocki Institut, initiated by the COVID-19 crisis. The call sent to JVC’s editorial board, and a wide selection of previous contributors and members of its extended communities, described the task as follows: “There is a lot of spontaneous, ad hoc opinion-making and premature commentary around, as to be expected. However, the ethics and politics of artistic and theoretical practice to be pursued in this situation should oblige us to stay cautious and to intervene with care in the discussion. As one of JVC’s editors, Brooke Belisle, explains: ‘We are not looking for sensationalism, but rather, moments of reflection that: make connections between what’s happening now and the larger intellectual contexts that our readership shares; offer small ways to be reflective and to draw on tools we have and things we know instead of just feeling numb and overwhelmed; help serve as intellectual community for one another while we are isolated; support the work of being thoughtful and trying to find/make meaning…which is always a collective endeavour, even if we are forced to be apart.'” TH



UCU (University & College Union) strike at the Royal College of Art, London


The Digital Classroom and the Digital Studio

By Juliet Jacques

Recently, my colleagues and comrades Pil & Galia Kollectiv contributed a piece to this series about how the Covid-19 crisis means ‘Art will now emerge from bedrooms, quarantined hotel rooms and parks as a default rather than as the consequence of failure to attain the historical conditions of studio practice or by vanguard choice.’ Pil teaches with me at the Royal College of Art, and was on the picket line with me in March, just before the UK began its fatally belated lockdown, striking against the consequences of neoliberalism in the art school: casualisation of labour, unsafe workloads, falling pay, and pay gaps relating to ethnicity and gender. One of the things we discussed, stood outside in the freezing cold, was the possibility of the institution forcing staff and students to move to online learning and how much that might diminish not just our employment rights but our pedagogical horizons. Before the strike even ended, the pandemic forced the issue: we might not yet have been asked to record lectures that can be paid for once but recycled endlessly, but we have been forced to teach students whose bedrooms are now their studios, running tutorials and seminar groups via Skype or Zoom. What have been the pitfalls, and have there been potentialities?

After a brief moment of optimism that the crisis might bring about the end of the UK’s heavily mediatised Culture War politics, if not the collapse of capitalism, it now seems that the post-Covid 19 world will probably be as Michel Houellebecq asserted: “the same but worse”. In the shadow of that crushing election defeat in December, ending our hopes of a Labour government that would address the catastrophic state of British arts education, the main issues behind the strike – the precarity for teachers and exploitation of students – have already been exacerbated. Art schools are laying off tutors on fixed-term contracts, with the fate of visiting lecturers (who are effectively on zero-hour contracts) still unclear; the RCA have unconditionally suspended fifty of 190 students who withheld their tuition fees ‘in response to the RCA’s handling of the outbreak of Coronavirus, their inaction on the UCU strikes at the beginning of the year, and their decision to move all learning online without consulting the student body’. (The RCA have even threatened to report non-paying international students to the Home Office.) Several of my Skype tutorials have been spent encouraging students not to quit – not always unsuccessfully – as they struggle to adapt to losing their studios and being expected to adjust their practice for a digital degree show, without any reduction in their exorbitant fees.

For the students, losing their Crit sessions, where a group take it in turns to assess each other’s work, moving between studios as they go, has been tough, losing that point where individual creativity and community collaboration meet. The conditions best suit those making work that can most easily be shared online – moving image, or text – and the most rewarding points of these traduced conditions have been the seminars I’ve done with Critical Writing MA students. Using Zoom, I ran three classes on identity, the first covering transgender writing, the second looking at patriotism, and the third exploring the links between colonialism, anti-immigrant rhetoric and government policy. The patriotism class was the most interesting, partly because the students hadn’t often been encouraged to think of patriotism (and especially Englishness) as a form of identity politics, but also because the conversation took place in a space that was global: here and in my tutorials, students called in from Europe, Asia and Australia, but given the lockdown, all were kind of nowhere places, the distinctions between them blurring into the little boxes that lit up whenever someone interjected. In a sense, this is exciting, introducing a new kind of equality between the participants, with interesting implications for the national identity politics being discussed. But what is lost is the creative and personal development that comes with moving to a different country: being immersed in a foreign culture brings about a perspective shift both for the individual who moves, but also for those they meet, and these exchanges cannot be replicated online.

In an interview I did for my podcast Suite (212) – another thing moved from a studio to Skype in lockdown – Oreet Ashery talked about the impact of Covid-19 on Ruskin students, and how the digital shift has benefitted (or at least not actively de-privileged for a change) people with disabilities, or those who aren’t privileged enough to be able to relocate like the RCA’s many international students, and how a blend of physical and digital learning is likely in future. On the face of it, this seems positive – despite the extra work this will engender for tutors, unlikely to be paid more for it. In a country in which everything that can be has been privatised, and in which every last penny has been squeezed out of students (especially international ones, who are the least likely to return for the first post-pandemic academic year), the further corporate/tech takeover of higher education is a huge concern. For such a development to be good, it really needed to happen after a revolution in the ideological climate – the one we were trying to bring about in December. For the art school to survive, let alone thrive, in the future that Houellebecq predicts, we will have to adjust not only our tactics for working and teaching, but also for industrial action.

Juliet Jacques (b. Redhill, Surrey, 1981) is a writer and filmmaker based in London. She has published two books, most recently Trans: A Memoir (Verso, 2015). Her short fiction and essays have been included in several anthologies; her journalism and criticism has been published in Granta, Sight & Sound, Frieze, The Guardian, The London Review of Books and many other places. She has made four short films, one with artist Ker Wallwork, which have screened in galleries and festivals across the world.


June 26th, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022

Vasyl Cherepanyn (Visual Culture Research Centre, Kyiv) on Putin’s “World War Z” and the West’s deadly “foot-dragging”, via Project Syndicate: “The main feature of this Western condition is constant belatedness. The West has always been too late, incapable of acting ahead and instead just reacting to what has already happened. As a Ukrainian joke went at the time, ‘While the European Union was taking a decision, Russia took Crimea.’ Then as now, Ukrainians wondered, ‘What is the West’s red line? What will compel the West to act instead of waiting and discussing when to intervene?’”

Barbara Wurm on Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravičius, killed in Mariupol, via Die Welt: “Kvedaravičius unfolded a whole spectrum of visual anthropology over a decade with only three films [Barzakh, Mariupolis, Parthenon]. It now awaits evaluation and exploration. The time will come. The films themselves make possible an infinite immersion in the matter of the world, between dream and reality, horror and everyday life, facts and phenomenal imagology.”

April 5th, 2022

Statement by #AfricansFromUA on Equal Treatment via e-flux notes: “Non-Ukrainian nationals from the war in Ukraine arriving in Germany have been facing very different terms of treatment—both in different federal states and cities but also within the very same city throughout time and different facilities. While some received so called ‘Fictitious Certificates’ for one year without further procedures others were pressured to submit an asylum application with their finger prints registered and passports seized. Again others were given a so called “Duldung” including the threat of deportation.”

April 5th, 2022
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