Open Studio Manchester
Un-learning with Students Past and Present
22 . – 24 . 5 . 2017
The Open Studio emerged from several conversa- tions around the Bauhaus as a crucible of the modern art school and the relevance of its pedagogic approaches for future generations. As learning about and with materials is a process at the heart of the Bauhaus we made the decision to focus on material traces that might trigger conversations and future possibilities.
Our fundamental premise, in common with that of the Bauhaus, is that knowledge is not created through an encounter between minds furnished with preformed concepts and theories, but grows from our practical and observational engagement with the world around us. Education here is a process of discovery that will continue to shape our understanding of the world as we encounter new people, places and situations.
Here we wanted to move beyond art-historical models and conventional research methods. Our concern was to spotlight Bauhaus teaching as an ongoing process rather than a special curriculum or menu card of teaching resources; to bring to life the educational and reformist perspectives of the early 20th century and ask how these principles might resonate between past, present and future.
By proposing an approach that requires us to un-learn, this pilot project shares an anthropological sphere; to see, hear and feel the familiar as if encountering it for the first time. This is moving away from the current educational systems and methods, beyond art historical interpretations and conventions of practice-led research.
Manchester School of Art
Knowing from the Inside: Anthropology, Art, Architecture & Design (KFI), University Aberdeen
Judith Winter (Manchester School of Art)
Questions for Judith Winter
You have created a pilot project for students at Manchester School of Art to come for a short visit to the Bauhaus Dessau. What were your plans for your studio?
Judith Winter: I wanted this pilot to be very open and to allow detours and chance encounters to infuence responses to the site. At the heart of this experience was this idea of un-learning and the principle that knowledge is not created through preformed concepts and theories, but grows from our practical and observational engagement with the world around us. Here I hoped to echo the principles of the Vorkurs, the preliminary course, where “experimentation means learning through experience” (Josef Albers, 1941). Our ongoing discussions were triggered by the material experimentation that existed in each location (concrete, metals, glass, pigment, wood, Triolin etc.). In the evening we had planned to work together in the studio space, but instead we decided to lie down in the historic building and listen to sound recordings of Walter Gropius and Josef Albers circa 1968. These were selected around three themes: learning with materials, the Bauhaus as an open and living endeavour, Utopia – a message to future generations.
Through the Open Studio it was interesting to think about how history and future remained connected through our physical handling of materials and imaginative capacities. The activity brought to life the historical and theoretical questions around educational reform and how these may resonate in our present time. Many of the students were questioning the cur- rent systems that privilege theory and language over perceptual acuity, haptic and sensory learning.
In which way do you use the Foundation’s theme of the year, Substance?
Throughout this journey we were gathering new questions that were formed through continuous search and generated through our physical and sensory understanding of spaces. Our experiences began with real physical matter with a tangible presence.
My thoughts about substance also pay attention to Josef Albers, who urged students to listen to materials and material relationships. So it was as if sub- stance also asked questions of the maker. This is not so much mastery of materials but a dialogue with materials. Therefore, substances are not passive matter onto which forms and meaning can simply be imposed. Rather every material has its own particular life that is constantly in forming or in conversation. Substances change in different situations, through new uses, relationships and values, and they also change the maker. It is in the handling, playing and experimenting that this life makes itself known to experience and future possibility. Here I think our understanding of substance beyond just the theoretical also recasts material experimentation as a critical process.