Intentions of SUMMIT - Interview with Irit Rogoff and Florian Schneider

This interview with Irit Rogoff and Florian Schneider on SUMMIT and its background has been realized for Idea arts+society magazine #26.

The "SUMMIT non-aligned initiatives in education culture" takes further the issues discussed in the project “Academy”, which concluded last autumn at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and MuhKa in Antwerp. The project itself had from the very beginning the character of an open process, and therefore its different stages – the exhibitions in Hamburg, Antwerp and Eindhoven, or the Academy book are part of a wider discussion around ideas of education and knowledge production/transmission. You were mentioning, Irit, in your “Academy as Potentiality” text from the book, that you – and the participants involved in the project – have given yourself the authorization, common today as an art practice, to perform different roles, such as curator/theorist/archivist/artist and to use any format, from the exhibition to the think tank or to the social service, in order for the ideas you’re bringing forth not to be limited to the constraints of specific institutional frameworks, and to be explored in their full possibilities. From this perspective, how is the format of the meeting in Berlin meant to work in creating a sense of urgency for the participants, how will it go beyond gathering together or creating links between current practitioners in the fields of culture or political activism, who are all proposing different initiatives in education?

Irit Rogoff: For SUMMIT to have the chance to be more than a networking exercise , it needs to do two things; a. identify a moment in which ‘education’ is both the focal point of a political discourse around the ‘Bologna’ accord as well as b. a moment in which ‘education’ is being recognized as a model for a transformative practice within cultural practices. The duality of perceiving ‘education’ as the site of simultaneously a political crisis and as a set of cultural possibilities, is what gives SUMMIT its currency. In a sense this moment has been declared to be one of pedagogical ‘emergency’ within the education profession as well as within critical culture and we are trying to shift the thinking of it to an ‘urgency’. By this we mean the need to position ourselves beyond a response to a set of political and bureaucratic demands that we might oppose or criticize, but rather as trying to think what we might actually wish for, or insist on as being crucial for a much broader platform of education which we produce rather than respond to. Because ‘education’ is by definition processual, because it is the site of shared gatherings, comings and goings, because within its protocols lie the possibility of not just marking social injustices but of actually making them significant for a broader understanding of who we are and how we think or better still for who we might be and how we might think – for all these reasons ‘education’ gathers us in its potentialities and provides us with a less instrumentalised space from which to think ourselves.

In the context of SUMMIT we have been thinking not so much of the sharing of information about what we do, as about articulating a new vocabulary for a broadly shared project of ‘education’ as the site of our transformations and becomings. To this end, we have invited some participants to offer one concept they believe to be crucial to the broadening of this shared platform. This forum which will run for an hour a day throughout SUMMIT is called ‘urgent thought’. We have also curated a series of encounters between various people of may not always have access to one another because they do not share the same professional base ; these include proactive discussions of ‘rethinking the art academy’, ‘learning from architecture’ as well asterms such as ‘hospitality’ or ‘organising’ which have untapped pedagogical potential. Perhaps the most important aspect of the program has been asking everyone who is coming to bring up an issue they find is crucial and setting these up in sessions that will form workshops and caucuses. In this way, the agenda of the summit will come together through the issues that participants bring with them.

Florian, you were making a very interesting analysis of the contradictions and uses of the notion of “collaboration”, showing how it overcame its initial pejorative sense, to become synonymous with cooperation, to be used as plain teamwork by human resource managers around the world, and to be re-used by pedagogues, activists or internet users in unexpected and imaginative ways. Is SUMMIT set to provoke such creative forms of collaboration, which can determine the participants to find a common ground on the basis of which an action plan can be developed (as stated in the SUMMIT intentions)? Is thus collaboration one of the key ideas onto which the Summit is built?

Florian Schneider: The question of "working together" belongs definetely to the main challenges we are currently facing not only in terms of SUMMIT, its preparations, the way in which it is designed and set up, but also in the wider framework of a general debate about education and knowledge production.

During the course of the preparations it became obvious that a gathering like SUMMIT cannot be based on a concept of representation that would provide each participant a proper, maybe even comfortable place within a fixed hierarchy from where to speak and act, from where to build relationships and intervene into certain processes. We are neither officially legimitated to call for such an event nor does any of the delegates speak on behalf of an interest group, a professional organization or a branch, let alone a nation state.

SUMMIT is an experimental setup which necessarily ignores the logics of representation and replaces them with certain notions of access, self-authorization and collaboration, which we analyzed as main characteristics of emerging new subjectivities that are constitutive for the concepts of "activism" and "participation". The question is: How can we find new ways of analyzing, recognizing, decision making and working together without a common ground from where to operate? Across the wide range of delegates and contributors to SUMMIT from migrant labor organizers to art school teachers, from precarious workers in the creative industries to curators and even museum directors it seems rather improbable to identify a shared set of beliefs and aspirations. Nevertheless I see an enormous potential for all sorts of unlikely encounters, possible links, connections and collaborations precisely because of such diversity and heterogenity which ultimately refers to the very conditions under which we are working today.

SUMMIT is definetely a collaborative environment which can be used in order to generate some more fragments of a contemporary theory of collaboration. The theme of collaboration intersects with questions of "interest", "hospitality", "seriousness", "curiosity" etc. on which we are planning a series of specific workshops. Collaboration becomes a very practical challenge as soon as we start to draft a declaration or an action plan which needs to pose the question of collaboration again in a collaborative fashion: how can certain aspects of a resolution, certain demands, commitments or just what we wish for -- how can that link up to each other without imposing a common agenda or claiming a territory which would render itself impossible in the moment you name it?

Can you name some of the participants who are coordinating different moments during the four days of the event?

Irit Rogoff: The 6 of us who have been the organizing committee (Irit Rogoff, Florian Schneider, Nora Sternfeld, Kodwo Eshun, Susanne Lang and Nicolas Siepen) have floated the project and invited in some others who we thought could generate a conversation. These include Jeebesh Bagchi from Delhi, Franco Berradi from Bologna, Avery Gordon from Santa Barbara, Oliver Marchart from Vienna, Beatrice von Bismarck from Berlin, Reem Fadda from Ramallah, Eyal Weizman from London, Jan Verwoert from Berlin, Munir Fasheh from Boston and many others. Beyond these we have received several hundred participants have registered on the website and have proposed topics and issues and we hope to accommodate almost all of them within the discussions. A particularly interesting part of the program and one not usually associated with education, is a series of sessions on labour union organization and the link with education. Unlike a conventional conference we are not determining the subjects and inviting people to talk about them but trying to create a platform on which many unexpected people and issues could emerge and connect. While not all of us are directly involved in education in the professional sense almost everyone involved is dealing with the dissemination of ideas in one way or another and all of us are trying to make thought as active in the world as possible.

At the moment you are designing a system to allow for remote participation as well. Also the participants who will be in Berlin are coming from different places and contexts and will probably, in a way or another, take back with them the theoretical threads and potential action strategies that are to be debated at the Summit. How important is for you that the Summit represents a node from which ideas are disseminated further, are the eventual outcomes – even the unforeseen ones and the ones which will remain largely “unseen” – as important as the actual thoughts and proposals discussed in Berlin?

Florian Schneider: The concept of remote participation, no matter if before, during or after SUMMIT is definetely one of the crucial aspects of the SUMMIT design. Due to a lack of ressources we cannot make sure that everybody who might be interested is able to attend the event in Berlin. So the proposal to participate remotely comes out of a certain necessity but it means much more: The website is developped as a multi-user and multi-media webblog which allows all the registered delegates to submit, publish and promote their projects, ideas and proposals. The website is the public interface that enables collaborative drafting of the declaration, based on discussions on forums and message boards. It allows delegates to contact each others directly and collaborate before, during and after the actual gathering. There will be audio and video recordings of the SUMMIT sessions, chats and IRC channels for communications in real time. Last but not least we understand the website as a entry point for a ressource center that provides access to tools, knowledge and experiences and supports both institutional and non-institutional initiatives in education and culture.

Rather than as an event we understand SUMMIT as a process that is just starting with the gathering end of May in Berlin. We are planning follow-up meetings, publications and a variety of activities in different contexts.

Are you expecting any (side) effects on the level of the “official” strategy, any reaction from those who are currently designing the practical set of rules according to which education actually takes place in Europe, or is there no intention/hope to change things at that stage, but rather to focus exclusively on the alternative projects, which are rejecting traditional models and hierarchies?

Irit Rogoff: I think in the first instance we are hoping to get a discussion going and to open up ‘education’ away from the purely professional field. SUMMIT will end with a declaration which will be drafted collectively by all those who would like to take part in issuing a set of aims and aspirations. We will then communicate the declaration for example to the European Ministers of Education at their next meeting and see whether some of the vocabulary we are putting forth will filter through to their discussions. At another level we will try and get the declaration and a short description of the project into various media dealing with both education and culture and to coirculate these to the many foundations who see themselves as linking education and the arts across Europe. We will raise the issue of dissemination at the SUMMIT itself and hope that all those gathered there will be disseminating our efforts through their networks as well. Since what we are hoping to produce is not a blueprint for ‘education reform’ but rather a form of consciousness raising about the very possibilities of how it could be more than it is perceived to be -- more of a stage for social interaction and transformation, than induction into prescribed knowledges and disciplines and professions – then we understand that the main impact will not be within mainstream education profession but rather in raising an awareness of other practices to their educational potential.