[Note: The conversations have been edited for clarity, length, and grammatical mistakes. They have also been edited thematically, however the dates of these utterances are noted above each section.]
16 April 2020
Nima: I have been reading a lot these days about how people respond to these kinds of inquiries - how they are trying to rearticulate what they were doing in the past and how they are approaching the future, especially in artmaking and education. Some are following institutional methods in terms of following the same course, putting it online. I understand this has to happen in terms of how institutions expect and want to continue a sense of normalcy in terms of the activities and evaluation in art. But it’s also good to think about these fundamental questions in terms of the more abstract foundational questions.
Sanaz: Does anyone have other perspectives on how different institutions have worked before, any online sources? How are they handling resources in terms of their current programming or forthcoming programs that have been paused? Resources for the artists who have been involved with the project that have been put on hold, how are they managing? If you have any observations from your networks that you could share...
Mikhel: Mine are all very pessimistic, I think about the financial crash of 2008, when we witnessed a bunch of institutions severing relationships with artists, like commercial gallerists, for example, with written contracts with artists to be delivered and signed who just abandoned these connections and left the artists out on their own with no funds. And I am curious to see essentially the same thing repeating, especially within the types of institutions I have worked with like educational institutions. I talked with people both at OCAD and ACAD and it's dire in both of these art colleges, there will certainly not be new hires for several years to come and they have already started cutting off support to art historical and critical pedagogical faculty.
Institutions may be going to be on the lines of a trade school. A model where students will come in and essentially will have no ability to take courses outside of their specialization. At the same time there are smaller institutions that are planning to step up. So, in Calgary there are a number of small art studios that run courses and are approaching some of these people to come in and do small history and theory courses. So there is a glass blowing studio that teaches glass blowing for much cheaper than if you go to college or university and they are inviting in art historians and curators to teach this summer.
They are optimistic about new models coming out of this crisis that can keep the freedom of our critical thinkers.
Varda: Based on some of the things I have been reading from last week and one of the courses that I was TAing, the pandemic is going to be used in multiple ways politically to further manipulate and violate the rights of people who don’t have privilege, e.g.financial security or insurance. It is going to be used to make way for more authoritarian regimes, disbanding civil libertarians.
Right now, all of the work that is being done is more like a response that is happening. You know we have to control the virus and this and that and there are articles about what would be happening after the pandemic, but there is no holistic study that is taking place. I think these are just slices that people are developing and writing about from their own position. Soyou have a very narrow vision, a tunnel vision and also you are responding to the crisis in a more emotional state than a constructive and/or policy manner … we have not seen policies for the next five years how we are going to deal with the crisis or how we are going to come out of this. And I think this is something we should be looking at as a group and invite more people in to make it a much wider group of art historians and editors, students from different fields and discipline. I want to think from a fresh perspective, I want to hear the perspective of people who don’t have money but those who survive in some way. I want to be proactive and I want to do something. In one of the classes, the professor said that the 1960s was the time when everyone was writing a manifesto and, you know what? This is something that we need. We need to come up with our own document of how we envision things and how we demand certain things which is our right, to voice them, and be heard. I am just putting it out there .. it's very ambitious…but it is out there.
Kanwal: What Isolation and living in quarantine has taught me is how little we need:how much less I can live on and how many things we buy that we don’t really need.I really feel that if all we need to learn something from this whole fiasco or pandemic, is that we let go of the consumerism that we hold so tightly - stop buying things.I think that would be the biggest impact.
Sanaz: I recently read an article by Martha Rosler, she had this interesting timeline of the proliferation of the MFA programs in the United States and the relationship between how at some point artists thought that if they go and get an MFA and teach in the universities, they can go against the market, and won’t need to market their work but rather can have a teaching practice alongside.
Fast forward four decades, we see that there is immense saturation of MFA graduates and artists who come with degrees and sometimes $80,000 in debt. And they still don’t have any secure jobs in the universities, or a secure future working in the arts and culture sector. I think it's definitely related to what you said Kanwal, I think we can reframe it through the lens of academia and artists working in university settings. How does the money flow and what sorts of markets are we operating both as artists/researchers, and academics. The crisis in academia worries me. The precariousness of virtual teaching and how some of the universities are already planning to cut the salaries by doing so. They already had been planning (before pandemic) to invest on virtual teaching - less hires and more students.