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, 02 / Rosa Mercedes

On the occasion of the film festival “Reconstructing Realities,” the Broadway Cinematheque in Hong Kong will show the film “How to live in FRG” (1990) from Harun Farocki.
The screening will take place on Saturday, July 11, 2:30 pm (local time) at the Goethe Institut Hong Kong.
Online booklet:

Reconstructing Realities – A Film Programme to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Berlinale Forum

The screening will be followed by the talk “Harun Farocki’s Imitations of Life” with Doreen Mende, co-founder of the Harun Farocki Institut.
Time: Jul 11, 2020 04:00 pm Hong Kong SAR / 10:00 am Berlin time
Language: English

The talk will be held on Zoom, registration here:
After registration, you will receive an email with the link and the login information to join the talk.

July 8th, 2020, HaFI

Avery F. Gordon, in an interview conducted by Katherine Hite and Daniela Jara in Memory Studies:  “Non-participation is one modality of what I call being in-difference. Being in-difference is a political consciousness and a sensuous knowledge, a standpoint and a mindset for living on better terms than we’re offered, for living as if you had the necessity and the freedom to do so, for living in the acknowledgement that, despite the overwhelming power of all the systems of domination which are trying to kill us, they never quite become us. They are, as Cedric J Robinson used to say, only one condition of our existence or being. Running away, living apart, squatting, communing, feral trading, bartering, self-managed currencies, human, debt, labour, knowledge strikes, boycott, divestment, non-policing, throwing your shoe at an occupying president: the ways of non-participation in the given order of things are many, varied and hard to summarize. And they are taken up for a variety of reasons, including the failure or irrelevance of states and the US–European post–World War II social movement model.”

July 7th, 2020, Tom

Denise Ferreira da Silva via Canadian Art: “Visuality or rather visualizability—being available via social media and accessible through electronic gadgets—seems to have become the main (if not the sole) criterion for reality, which becomes crucial for the ethical-political demands for the protection of black lives, for state accountability and for justice. If that is so, the only way is through these conditions of representation. I mean, the creative move first takes the visualizable as it is, that is, as a twice removed re/composition (at the same time a live streaming, news reporting and documenting) of the scene of violence which only tells us that it happens. It exposes the excess that is the state’s use of total violence, of law enforcement as technique of racial subjugation, while simultaneously removing the black person (the father, the sister, the friend) out of the scene of violence and its visualization. It does so by restoring the dimensions of their existence that the camera cannot capture. That is, the creative move must protect (as an ethical gesture) the black person (keeping her obscurity) in the excess that is the very visualization of the scene of total violence.”

June 28th, 2020, Tom
moreless news