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TkH (Walking Theory)

Goat Tracks of Self-Organized Critical Education[1]

‘TkH (Walking Theory)’ platform for performing arts theory and practice started its work on October 3, 2000 in Belgrade, a few days before the fall of the regime of Slobodan Miloševic, and amidst an enthusiastic atmosphere of political, social and cultural upheaval. On the other hand it appeared, within a generally “theory-phobic” atmosphere as a joint effort to set and perform a hard theoretical platform for critical work, across the realms of performing arts, culture, theory and education. ‘TkH’ has conducted and presented its research in these ten years through different practices: the ‘TkH Journal for Performing Arts Theory’; educational projects and theoretical performances; public actions including symposia and conferences; the web platform tkh-generator.net; ‘illegal_cinema’; collaborations on the independent scene; and engagement in cultural policy issues. [2]

The main lack within the local art education—apart from its being traditional in every aspect—is its generally theory-phobic and anti-intellectual attitude. Within this context—still predominant across academia in Serbia—theory is viewed as something practiced in research institutes and that castrates the art practice. Hence, the initial step of ‘TkH’ was to conceive a self-organized educational program. The program was initiated by Ana Vujanovic (then a student of Theater Studies), and Miško Šuvakovic (Professor of Aesthetics), with Bojana Cvejic, Bojan Djordjev, Siniša Ilic, Jelena Novak, Ksenija Stevanovic and Jasna Veliškovic also taking part. The program was carried out as a post-pedagogical model of work based on research in such theoretical and artistic fields as performance art, experimental music, post-dramatic theater, and opera and dance, which, at the time, were not integrated into the curricula of the state universities and private schools. The focus was also on changes in the status of “the student,” who ceases to be merely a receiver of knowledge, and becomes an active actor in an actual artworld.

Independent critical education and collective self-education of artists and theorists was, from the very beginning, the central practice of ‘TkH’. However, in the beginning, it was done at primary level, and was based on the need to overcome a lack of institutional education in our local context. Later on, this problematic was reflected upon more systematically, and since 2006 ‘TkH’ is fully engaged in the issue.

The first step towards a reflection on the methodologies of education that we practice was formalization of the initial program and its transformation into a ‘Performing Arts Theory Studio’, (2001–2002). Within the informal program, the collaborators of ‘TkH’ have organized a research-based series of workshops, which served for our own investigation and education within the field of contemporary theories and arts. Within the ‘PATS’, we have organized and delivered a more official four-part program for and with fifteen young theorists, artists, and students. The curriculum and the topics were suggested by the ‘TkH’ collaborators who had already gone through the workshops, and lectures and discussions were prepared by both us and the students, who constantly shifted the roles.

In 2006, ‘TkH’ launched an independent educational project conducted as the research ‘s-o-s project’ (Self-Managed Educational Systems in the Arts) and later its practical extensions, ‘Knowledge Smuggling!’ and ‘Deschooling Classroom’. All the projects explore the procedures of non-institutional, critical and collective self-education as an alternative to the overwhelming commodification of knowledge by institutions of higher education.

‘s-o-s project’
‘s-o-s project’ (2006–2007), was an initiative of Ana Vujanovic and Marta Popivoda—then a relatively new collaborator of ‘TkH’. It was conceived as an open system of theoretical research, public lessons and textual production that implemented the practices of post-pedagogy in the fields of art theory, cultural activism, and educational method. Its goal was to shape critical alternatives to official educational institutions in the direction of self-education as a collective practice. Its key concepts were: artistic education, knowledge production, self-education, self-management, open source procedures in education, and the commodification of knowledge. This project was presented and developed through the talks at documenta 12, (Kassel); Summit of Non-Aligned Initiatives in Education Culture, (Berlin); PAF, (St. Erme); Tanzquartier and spiel:platz/dietheater Konzerthaus, (Vienna); and at the East Dance Academy, (Zagreb).

The ‘s-o-s’ group was composed of ‘TkH’ col­laborators Bojan Djordjev, Siniša Ilic, Marta Popivoda and Ana Vujanovic; curators from Kontekst Gallery, Ivana Marjanovic and Vida Kneševic; and independent theoreticians Ana Vilenica and Iva Nenic. It was a reading and research group that also organized public actions in order to present, rethink and comment on the content of the books studied—using the methodology from those books to present their key concepts. The problematics of power relations and “stultification” in education, where the etymology of the notion “education” itself implies an ideology of the teacher-student relationship, as conducted in ‘The Ignorant Schoolmaster’ by Jacques Rancière, was presented and discussed through public reading sessions. The format is in accordance to the Rancière’s insistence on the books rather than professors’ interpretations as a source of knowledge. The concept of post-pedagogy and affective learning by Gregory Ulmer in ‘Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy from Jacques Derrida to Joseph Beuys’, was presented through a multimedia theoretical performance that activated performance proper, video, audio, live action and ambiance as means of learning in the age of media. Finally, Ivan Illich’s concept of unmediated, peer-to-peer learning outside institutions from his book ‘Deschooling Society’, was presented through a public chat session on the Internet, and later elaborated in practical projects ‘Knowledge Smuggling!’ and ‘Deschooling Classroom’. [3]

‘Knowledge Smuggling!’
‘Knowledge Smuggling!’ (2008–2009), was designed by Marta Popivoda as a long-term self-educational project in performing arts, critical theory, digital technology and free culture, which followed an intense winter school that took place in January 2008 in our space in Magacin in Kraljevica Marka 4. Through it we attempted to open a temporary crack in the local knowledge market and to intervene in the existing system of production and knowledge exchange—smuggling knowledge from official educational institutions into the sphere of individual needs and cultural spaces that were as free as possible. This initiative was also our reaction to the implementation of the Bologna declaration in Serbia, which meant fast production and commodification of knowledge and, in a material sense, the end of the tradition of free education in Serbia.

The program was practically realized through weekly open work sessions of self-educational groups: ‘Free Software–Skill Exchange’, ‘Walking Critique’ and ‘Free Improvisation in Music’. Apart from their regular work at Magacin, bigger public events such as workshops, lectures, books presentations and laboratories have been organized from time to time, i.e. when modest budgets have allowed for it.

‘Deschooling Classroom’
‘Deschooling Classroom’ (2009–2012), is a large-scale regional project organized by ‘TkH’ and Kontrapunkt from Skopje in Macedonia, whose co-authors are Marta Popivoda, Ana Vujanovic and Iskra Geshoska. The project promotes open, critical, collaborative and cross-disciplinary formats of cultural production through critical reflection on the educational systems of former Yugoslavia. Methodologically, it moves away from concepts of hierarchical models of education, individual authorship and expertise, and advocates collective educational structures where working groups facilitate horizontal production, exchange and the distribution of knowledge. The organization of activities is similar to ‘Knowledge Smuggling!’ but on higher production level. Apart from the regular self-educational work of the groups in Belgrade and Skopje, there are several public events such as lectures, presentations, discussions, open day and open week programs, and summer schools, along with collective cultural productions and a self-educational toolbox. So far, some seventy participants from Serbia and Macedonia have taken part in the project, including around thirty invited guests such as Boris Buden, Chto delat?, Bojana Cvejic, Marina Gršinic, Jasna Koteska, Bojana Kunst, Aldo Milohnic, Matteo Pasquinelli, Jacques Rancière, Gerald Raunig, Jan Ritsema, Florian Schneider, Igor Štromajer, and Miško Šuvakovic. The curriculum of all the programs and the lists of guests and collaborators are created by the participants themselves. This open structure does not always “work well” and we face the fact that we all have to learn how to create, use, and benefit from structures that are different from the traditional ones. But we hope through this that we make the possibilities of self-educational, collective initiatives highly visible in the region, and hopefully, more broadly applicable as an open set of tools for critical and intervening practices in the cultural field. [4]

At the very end it is important to explain the terms self-education and self-management, and the specific practice that we research and undertake. First of all, in Serbian language the term “self” from those coined phrases has nothing to do with a philosophical notion of the self; it is rather more equivalent to “auto” or “do-it-yourself.” On the other hand, the emphasis here is on collective self-education. It is viewed as an intervening political practice in the social field as opposed to a private practice of auto-didacticism. Our projects actually tend to empower the independent cultural scenes and their new political actors by rethinking the socialist legacy of collectivism within a capitalist context governed by the principles of the individual, (or the entrepreneur). Hence, when we refer to self-management we refer to the workers’ self-management (or autogestion) as an organizational model of economics whereby workers have decision-making power. It cancels the division between those who make decisions and those who execute them; those who produce and those who decide upon the product(ion).

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon first conceptualized autogestion in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century it was developed in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (as an official model of cooperative socialist economy), in Spain and Argentina (as ‘fábricas recuperadas’, or “recovered factories”), and to some extent within countries such as France, Russia and the USA. Self-management is sometimes analyzed philosophically through its provocative etymological combination of “self” and “management,” but we would rather insist that its auto-gestion etymology is less about a philosophical self—’soi-même’ or ‘sopstvo’—and more about organizational “do-it-yourself.” We believe that workers’ self-management may be rethought and re-appropriated today as an alternative organizational model by collective self-organized cultural and artistic initiatives that emerge from bottom but not to “up.”

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[1] This contribution comprises excerpts from different texts about TkH, our conceptual framework, political standpoints, and projects. It is written by Bojana Cvejic, Bojan Djordjev, Marta Popivoda, Miško Šuvakovic and Ana Vujanovic. This text has been edited by Ana Vujanovic (in 2011).

[2] See also: www.tkh-generator.net

[3] For detailed dossier of the s-o-s project and a contextual background of the TkH’s self-education research see TkH Journal for Performing Arts Theory issue nos. 13, 14, 2007, and 15, 2008
See also: Bojan Djordjev, Marta Popivoda and Ana Vujanovic, “Self-managed educational system in arts: An attempt at cracking the codes of knowledge production,” Maska Journal for Performing Arts no. 103–104, 2007

[4] See also: www.deschoolingclassroom.tkh-generator.net

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