Argos aims to circulate writing about topical matters of public and political import that is local, critical and accessible. We believe critical intellectual conversation should be heard here in Aotearoa-New Zealand, not simply published for credit in international fora for more limited and specialised audiences. Of particular interest to us is writing that grounds its concern with the public or political good of place-making in theory or philosophy.

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Conversations with mark

Conversations with mark

Collective statement of intent

As a response to the current climate of privatised knowledge and stimulated competitiveness, we propose to redefine our education within Elam by constructing a new pedagogy around learning and sharing knowledge. The intention of this collective is to work in a double bind with the development of individual practices, whereby members will feel empowered to direct their own learning.

The collective will physically take the form of a shared work-space, teamed with a number of various scheduled workshops, seminars, field trips, reading groups and other ways knowledge can be shared, open for everyone to attend.

We are excited to explore new ways of learning, conscious of our privileged position as art school students. We wish to demonstrate the benefits of interdisciplinary, group and collaborative work as we feel these are not focused on in the current system. The collective aims to challenge the competitive individualism of the current university construct.

August 2012

R
Do you want to talk about your aims?

E
Last semester, quite a few people were producing more politically-driven art, and more and more talk started about the competitiveness within the university.

B
We kept talking about how frustrating it was that there were so many things happening around and outside the university that we all wanted to attend, but no one could go to all of them . . . if we somehow all worked together, we could go to all of them without necessarily breaking ourselves.

E
And in trying to discuss everything with everyone, there’s that element of sacrificing your own project. Like, I should be doing my own shit right now instead of talking about this.

A
That was one of the things we definitely wanted to change within the university. Just being able to be there for each other, and help each other do the best we can and learn as much as we can, rather than going off in our own worlds.

E
And prioritising other people’s learning as much as we do our own, which isn’t emphasised enough within the system. In saying that, Elam’s a pretty good example of somewhere where it is emphasised a bit more. Considering crit[ique]s and stuff, you’re really relying on your peers sometimes. But that’s a good thing to draw from, because of how much you can learn from your peers. Why don’t we just emphasise the fuck out of that?

B
We’re encouraged to leave school, collaborate, and work together as a part of this great team, but it’s not recognised by the institution as a way of learning.

E
From a broader point of view, if you think about society’s expectations of a successful individual, it’s about contributing to the economy. That’s how you become a contributing member of society: your work makes money, you’re successful and you have a career. And that’s really individualistic. If we can think about our education in a much more open way, as something more than just creating a career for ourselves, it’s a really good stepping stone in thinking about the wider social responsibilities we have. And the things we can do in society if we all work together . . . if we all hold hands and . . . [laughs]

L
It’s taking control of our own learning, and putting the emphasis on learning. Tertiary [education] is a step that is expected if you have the privilege to go here, and the learning tends to become secondary to the degree. But when we have such limited time and we spend $6,500 a year, why not make the learning our actual emphasis? Rather than just a step to . . . ‘art’.

G
Or a step to getting a grade.

L
If we talk about getting rid of competitiveness and focusing on learning, yet we’re still competing with each other for marks, it detracts from everything we’re doing. So it just makes sense to try to eradicate or fight that together. And when you get rid of that you can actually focus on something. It’s not a façade. You don’t have these backstage thoughts, like, oh, I’ve still gotta get my individual mark. To rid ourselves of that is really freeing.

E
Totally. I mean you can say that you don’t care about your individual grade but it’s always gonna be in the back of your mind in some way.

G
In terms of research too, you’re always stockpiling, to make it look like you’ve done more work — whether you’re learning what’s in there or not. There’s a lot of generosity when you’re working collectively. When you stop thinking about yourself and start thinking of others, then you give more to others.

R
Should we talk about individual projects, like Night School?

A
It’s from 7-11 each night, Monday to Wednesday, and Thursday is making day. Mondays we’ve got world politics and film studies. On Tuesdays we’ve got contemporary art class. And Wednesday is New Zealand night. We’re doing official languages of New Zealand—so we did te reo for a couple of weeks, and then we did New Zealand sign language. And then we also have New Zealand history, and occasionally we do New Zealand art history as well. Pack it all in there. It’s been real successful. We’re trying to get as many people to come as possible. But attendances have been pretty good.

B
Translating that back into Monday and Friday studio has been a bit difficult though. It’s hard to just say, oh yeah, this is what we learned this week . . .

L
I think of the role of the artist as the educator, in that they think they have an idea or a material experiment that’s worth talking about or worth being shown. So why not pare that back so that the role of the artist becomes educating that idea, however abstract that is, to an audience? And then [with Night School] it’s paring that back so far that it’s just the artist as the teacher. So instead of trying to hide that idea or objectify it, you’re literally just presenting that. That’s really nice and it makes us realise what’s important.

M
How did working as mark affect your understanding of learning?

A
Learning takes the verb form of education—it’s just something that happens—but education describes the way things are arranged outside of the act. And if you’re having to determine those sorts of structures yourself, then it becomes really clear that for education to work there has to be a teacher-student relationship, there’s some kind of authority there. You have to agree to sit down and listen to somebody else. And if there’s no authority then it becomes difficult, sometimes, organising yourself.

B
Yeah, but the authority doesn’t need to be understood as a singular authority. All the structures and stuff [which mark developed], we came to by talking about, so the authority became decided on by the group.

G
There was a lot more subconscious learning. So you didn’t actually sit down and [say], oh, I’m going to learn this today. But looking back on it, I learned how to be in a group and how to work with others, and we figured a lot of stuff out that didn’t need to be said or sat down and taught in a lesson. It was a much more practical way of doing it as well, it wasn’t just all in theory. We were making it and doing it, making things happen.

E
And a lot of the time there wasn’t a predetermined end goal. Whereas today [working individually] I find that I’ll sit down and read someone and say, I’m going to try and figure out this theory today, in my head, and then have an idea by the end of it. But [in mark] everyone comes together with all these predetermined ideas but then they get lost in dialogue. Which is real nice; there’s heaps of space—and then something new is created that’s unpredictable.

A
Also when you’re learning by yourself, a lot of the time you’re not really sure if you have learned or what you’ve learned, but having five other brains there . . . they tell you when you’ve learned something. Or they explain what they’ve learned, or reframe an idea that maybe you missed when you were doing it by yourself, or that you didn’t value when you were doing it by yourself.

L
It’s helpful to think of it as sharing. If I want to know about contemporary art things, I’ll go to B. If I want to learn about political theory, I’ll go to G. And if I need to talk about my feelings, I’ll go to A [laughs]. It’s no secret that we all have our different interests within a bigger umbrella. The difference of learning in a group is that you share everything. You don’t go and do your learning and then go home and do your own thing. You’re just always sharing and there are always conversations going on.

A
Yeah, and sharing different ways of learning, I mean we all learn differently. It’s really good to take on another person’s format.

E
Yeah, an obvious example of that is how the ways of talking about things can change. You might try to describe or communicate something and someone else might feed it back to you in a new way. It’s almost like something completely new—

A
Completely new but familiar—

E
Yeah, circles around itself in a nice way.

B
I feel like learning as a group is way more complex than learning as an individual. And you can’t be lazy and get away with it. I guess you get to know yourself, the more you work, and you can pretty much just switch off and do what you need to do. And it’s quite easy to tell yourself that you’ve learned something. But learning through other people and with other people, you have to be able to communicate everything in a way that suits everyone.

A
That’s what I was trying to say at the beginning of this, the whole idea of learning as about being alive, engaging with your brain, your consciousness and yourself as a living thing. We have these different ideas, but when you’re with other people you have to use your language to communicate them. Which really helps you to concretise the learning as well.

mark1
M
What do you think it means to teach?

A
I think L had it spot on before when she said that we should think of it as sharing.

A
Sharing and convincing and having to believe what you’re being told are better ways of understanding learning. You could be a teacher, as in a dispenser of information, like a vending machine is a dispenser of food, but it could just fall straight out the slot and land on the floor. You could just miss it completely. But if you’re there, handing it over the counter . . . Like at KFC, they don’t leave the food on the counter for you to pick up. It’s just company policy. They leave their hand on it and watch you, and you walk up, and you take your item and draw it away from them, but you have to come into contact somehow.

E
‘Cause it’s an exchange, right? It’s not just being thrown out there. And that comes down to thinking about education as well. It’s not just absorbing information, but it’s facilitating a space for things to be figured out or experimented with.

A
And really caring for the other end.

A
There’s a massive level of faith that you have to put into it. You have to really trust the teacher to be able to get anything from it. You have to have faith that what you’re being convinced of is actually something of value that you can take away.

B
It’s the same on the other end. You have to have a certain amount of faith in something to want to share it with people—

A
Yeah exactly. Goes both ways—

B
Assumes you’re getting the good stuff.

markchair
M
What about teaching in a collaborative environment, as opposed to having the one authority figure at the front of the lecture theatre and then a whole lot of individuals?

A
I guess it acknowledges that we all have something to give.

B
Something that’s totally different to a lecture set up is the real human interaction that’s so important that is just taken out of the university lecture style of education. Whereas if you’re having an intense conversation with a group of people you need to trust them, you need to be able to interact socially on some level with them . . .

E
That whole lecture scenario makes it really easy to understand what’s happening, the drive to commodify education or knowledge. You have this person who’s employed to offload this thing to consumers, instead of trying to make this thing grow together. Can’t say it without sounding like a hippie, but . . . you know? Sharing a real concern for the commons and appreciation for what happens when we’re all on the same level, as opposed to having these hierarchies.

M
Do you want to talk about your final grades from last year?

E
Yeah, so they gave us all individual grades, which was kind of hard, and kind of unexpected. We knew that officially they couldn’t give us all the same grade, but [we hoped] that maybe they would just . . . Give us the same grade [laughs]

G
Or similar.

A
But by doing this they didn’t recognise the merit of the project as a whole.

E
It was like them rubbing something in our faces. Like, aw, good try guys, but B-, A, A-, C . . .

G
The marks were just ridiculous as well. There’s no way that [A and I] did any more than you guys did. I don’t understand it at all.

B
The thing I found really frustrating was how affecting the marks were. We got them back and I was like, don’t even care. And then everyone shared and I was like, why do I care?

L
I think we cared more that they were different. Well I did. Just seeing them, I was like, really?

E
I was happier that you guys got more than a B- because I thought that collectively we deserved (well fuck it, who gives a shit) but when I heard you guys got better than that I was like, ok, rad, someone deserves something better.

L
And it was just that we worked harder than anyone else. And I’m not being an asshole when I say that. We were at school all the time.

M
But did you still end up feeling like it did reflect on you as an individual?

A
I took it really hard. And I think it really affected me. I tried to re-evaluate my own individual practice just because of this grade. And that was bad. [I’ve] stopped doing that now, because I realised that it was just kind of bullshit.

A
For art practices in general, a grade, like an A- or a B, is arbitrary anyway. So to put us in the position where we’re supposed to take it personally . . . That’s what they were saying, by giving an individual grade. It seems like they’re reinforcing what’s so nuts about [grading] in the first place.

B
Yeah, I had the worst semester grades-wise that I’ve had at Elam, and learned ten times more than I had in any other semester, so I was like, well . . . obviously something’s not quite right here.

M
Do you think we need a marking system in the university?

B
Not this one.

E
Nah.

A
I don’t understand why we’ve got the A, B, C range of grades, I find that really weird. Maybe [we just need] a pass and a fail?

E
Yeah. They’re reinforcing competitiveness and individualism. Giving a grade segregates people. A pass/fail system would be much better because you’d want everyone to pass, right? So there wouldn’t be the hoarding of information that you get. Especially in something super-competitive – I can only assume that in Med school or Law School, it’s like, don’t talk to me, ever. I’m studying. I need to get an A.

L
Don’t look at what I’m reading. It’ll help you too.

E
Get out all the books before everyone has a chance.

L
Recall wars.

mark3
M
Do you think that’s because at Elam there are already other systems of evaluation in place? Do you think you need evaluation at all?

B
We need criticality more than we need evaluation.

A
Yeah, evaluation could just be something to trip up on. It doesn’t really serve us. It might serve someone whose area of study leads on to a clear profession. It makes sense that you would wanna pick the best doctor for a hospital or whatever. But [if you’re] studying at Elam, you’ve got no identifiable profession ahead of you, and if the purpose of it is just to break you down emotionally . . .

E
Turn you against each other . . . [laughs]

A
I’m quite into rubrics. Maybe not the ones that we have in place, but [I like] the idea of a rubric, where you can be doing really well in this area, but need a bit of help in that area, so you can see that and help yourself grow.

E
‘Cause it’s great as a concept right? And if the sole purpose of that was about your education[al improvement], that’s amazing. But the problem is that you tick these boxes and then you get an average and then that’s your grade at [that] moment. As opposed to like, let’s work on this.

B
And the value given to the different sections, and the way those sections are chosen, is pretty fucked. There’s so many things missed out, which you then don’t really have the encouragement to be thinking about.

E
In saying that, the rubric took [Elam] a lot of time to work out. And I know that, aside from real grading, the tutors have our best interests at heart when they [devise and implement] the rubrics. You’ve gotta give them some credit.

mark rubric
M
[Referring to mark’s own rubric] But [the Elam one] doesn’t have things like [Boris Groys’ concept of] ‘heart’?

B
Heart would be such a good thing to be worth 20%! Do you really care about what you’re doing? It’s about what you want from a student body, but the things that could be encouraged through a rubric . . . the potential for that is so exciting.

E
I think social responsibility should be on it. Imagine the people who would come out of Elam . . .

B
So responsible! [laughs]

ellagrace diagram