Alternative Art Schools — Part 2 — School of the Damned

Published Sep, 2015

By Shona Macpherson

There is always going to be the question of how to teach art, and what makes a good art education. After four years of studying art for undergrad I sometimes still find myself bemused as to what I learnt or achieved from it. I know that some of the things were; an idea of the areas I was interested in and areas I wanted to pursue. A sense of how to carry out independent research and be committed to pursuing it. At the beginning of my second year our head of year announced that the aim for the year was to ‘throw everything up in the air’ and ‘to see what landed’ without much explanation or discussion. This left us slightly confused and incredulous, and with more questions than answers at that point. And as Andrew Graham Dixon said in a talk recently, art schools such as Goldsmiths sometimes just tell the students to ‘look at a Duchamp and then go and make some stuff for a few months’. It seems there is no accepted single mode of studying art, and we’re mostly still trying to work it out.

New models and alternative art schools such as School of The Damned are tackling these issues head on, and showing us along the way what the necessities are. Students need to be totally immersed in the fast changing art scene, and that they need to be connected directly to what is actually happening around them. It also needs to be dynamic and flexible and student-led; all these things hopefully bridging the gap between the safe confines of the art school and the reality of ‘life after art school’.

Like Open School East and other alternative art schools, School Of The Damned is a year long free Masters equivalent course, but unlike them, SOTD don’t have a venue and don’t have any funding at all. They’re proving that its possible to create the kind of supportive network and the abundance of opportunities that you would hope from any master course without any financial input. They rely on the help of different organisations to use different spaces for their monthly meet ups and also for various different exhibitions and events throughout the year, in turn creating dialogues and contacts.

I asked this years students, just before their first group show opened, a few questions about their experience of alternative art schools and SOTD so far:

Zoe Anspach / Robert Carter / Melanie Coles / Michael Crowe / Penelope Diaz / Jack Fisher /Victoria Fornieles / Robert Fung / Kyle Galloway / Jake Kent / Kate Mahony / Katy Morrison / Phillip Reeves / Anastasia Shin / Rebecca Townrow / Matt Welch / Mitt Wheeldon / Elise Wortley

What would you say are the most important factors (aside from it being free) that make alternative art schools and SOTD different from a normal masters course?

The school tries not to offer something niche — but create something that we believe should be universal: Free education, a critical Artist network engaged with the conditions it exists within and a malleable structure which is productive for artists practices. The give-and-give within the school’s labour exchange is a good example of this malleable structure, as is the boundless developing ‘syllabus’ to which we just re-introduced the Good Job Talks. These are artist talks initiated by Good Job and are part of our curriculum but are also open to the public. We meet together once a month but during our time apart the course is being democratically run by us, the students and board of invited academic advisors. It’s also important to note we follow the lunar year, the course starts in February and we meet every month until our end of year show around January the following year.

Would you say there is an ‘in-house’ style?

No, there’s a very broad range of practices on the course at the moment, as with the previous years. I think the variation between the years will be more visible this year with SOTD moving from The Horse Hospital to our new home at The Function Room, Euston and pursuing new developments to the course structure as well as intending to exhibit together as often as possible.

Do the ex-students have a lot of input in the running and structure of the course, or is mainly current students that define that?

The previous year group selected us and passed on the baton so to speak. They outlined the course structure that had worked for them, set up the first monthly session, inviting Derek Horton (one of our academic advisors) and Dominic Allan, aka Dominic From Luton and after that it was up to us. The monthly session works well, especially as students travel from Manchester, Leeds and Nottingham. Finally there is the manifesto, available online it outlines the course to any prospective students. This is an archived contribution from each year of SOTD and can certainly be seen as a steering force. A third manifesto will be produced by ourselves this year. We want to maintain a strong bond with the alumni, their input and advice is always welcome however we, as current students, democratically decide the structure of the course.

What happens at monthly meet ups?

The monthly meet ups have developed and changed slightly since this year began. Now we have the Good Job Artist Talk, scheduled for the last Saturday of the month, following by our full day session on the Sunday, both hosted at The Function Room. The day session is attended by the student body alongside two invited guests and consists of 3–4 critiques: students volunteer to show when it is most suitable for them and the individual crits happen in the style they choose. There is also a short reading seminar, discussing texts set by the guests.

What are you all working towards at the moment?

As mentioned we intend to exhibit together as often as possible this year, these exhibitions have a strong focus on the way we work as a group, building dialogues and developing our relationships, networks & individual practices.

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