Portal to the Institution Investigating our Institutional Bodies

Written by Samantha Hookway (HDK-Valand), Danielle Heath (HDK-Valand) and Xavier Gorgol (ERG) — with contributions by Nonto Tshabalala (HDK-Valand), Emmanuelle Nsunda (ERG), Sylvain Souklaye (ISBA)

Edited by John Moseley and Eva Weinmayr

Members of working group: Xavier Gorgol, Danielle Heath, Samantha Hookway, Emmanuelle Nsunda, Sylvain Souklaye, Nonto Tshabalala

  • institutional body
  • entering institutions
  • scores
  • pedagogy
  • group work support
  • methods

An Institutional body or the body of an institution?, an animated sketch by Samantha Hookway. The animation includes a quote from André Alves sent via WhatsApp which is an excerpt of Alves’ Sunday Recording #4 sent to Hookway on May 17, 2021. This was merely meant to be a sketch and an aesthetic quest seeking to understand what just could be an institutional body. Is the body forming simultaneously as; or despite; the institution’s formation? Or are they forming each other together? Were some of the contemplations that transpired during its making. 2

Intro

This work explores the complexities of “the institutional body” i.e., the bodies forming the institution as well as the bodies formed by the institution(s). It is developed by the working group that formed in the framework of the Teaching To Transgress Toolbox Programme (TTTT)1

TTTT collectively addresses questions of inclusive learning in a time when tendencies towards polarization and discrimination in wider society perceptibly influence on attitudes and behaviours within education in general, and in our classrooms in particular.

In seeking to foster inclusive pedagogies, the programme aims to question purported neutrality and equality in schooling systems, as well as production and consumption in the arts. The programme is open to people from various backgrounds, fields, abilities, gender identifications, sexualities, ethnicities and religions to collectively explore intersectional and decolonial approaches that can activate and help spread embodied and theoretical knowledges in arts pedagogy.

The initial idea of this particular working group was to map the assumptions and expectations held by the art institution’s different actors (caretaker, administrator, teacher, programme leader, student) and experiment via role-playing and pedagogical exercises designed to help us comprehend the art institution as a collective body, and increase mutual understanding and empathy between the institution’s different actors. Our initial questions were refined and adjusted over time and through the range of people affiliated with this working group. However, they began as follows:

Would it be possible to use play and performative reenactment as an artistic strategy to develop institutional policy? Could we employ the speculative strategy “What if?” to develop a community of practice at the art school? For example, what if we created methods of exploring the many roles found in the institution i.e. What if students and staff could discuss the administrative or visionary load of the Head of Department and vice versa? Would this lead to a mutual increase in empathy as we came to understand the different roles (the limbs) and how they interacted in the (functioning) body of an institution? Would an understanding of each other’s duties and responsibilities lead to a better sense of the power structures these tasks and roles produce?

With these questions in mind, we set off to search for insights into our bodies within the institution.

Our approach to the work process was additive and collective. We leaned towards being open, and we championed multiple voices and formats, seeking a more democratic, bottom-up approach to a multinational institutional project. We were ready to respond openly and enact the criticality through our openness.

Vinciane Despret, philosopher and critical thinker, much of whose work has been about how observers and the observed interact, said:

I am so glad that I participated in the “pro” mode in this experience, so that I never tried to start this little machine, a little bitter, that is the critical spirit. I am not disputing the value of the critical spirit, which is a value of denunciation and imagination of other possible worlds etc., but there is often something a little bitter in the critical spirit, especially when one is involved in the situation. But I'm so glad I didn't start that little machine because I learned so much because I was part of the joy of the people and I let myself get on board […] (Despret 2020, translated by Xavier Gorgol)

Hence, there were more doors unlocked along our journey than we closed and, in the end, we gathered these openings here on this webpage, a tool allowing others to open, expose, ponder and explore further.

Roadmap

This page is organized as a portal to the work of our collaboration. It introduces and links to (i) the “Scores” – a set of three pedagogical exercises that we developed, (ii) “Outside Insights” – a video and an interview, and (iii) the panel discussion “Institutional Pathologies”.

(i) Scores

Our work led us to develop three pedagogical exercises that we called “scores,” deriving the name from scores used by musicians and, latterly, dancers and performance artists. These represent our method when it came to answering the initial question: would it be possible to increase understanding of roles via performative and empathy-building exercises and would this be a viable artistic strategy for developing institutional policy? We found that it could, and could also support further self-criticism and development. The scores are the muscles of our findings, and we hope they can be useful in a variety of institutional contexts to implement inclusive and intersectional practices.

Learn more about scores and how we used them here: Methods of Address while Becoming Institutional Bodies

(ii) Panel Discussion – Institutional Pathologies

A panel discussion with the Head of Department from erg, Brussels and HDK-Valand, Göteborg (both TTTT partner institutions) and the Head of Sands School in the UK, exploring the institutional body from a leadership perspective. See Institutional Pathologies.

(iii) Outside Insights

Some of our explorations of the institutional body went beyond the TTTT programme borders. While looking out the windows of our institutions, we sought to expose ourselves to a variety of institutional situations. Here we share two of those exposures.

One includes an audio interview between Sylvain Souklaye and indigenous American photojournalist Adam Sings in the Timber. This conversation revealed how schooling and institutionalization have affected indigenous people in the United States and how his photography aims to take back their narrative.

Our overall project was underway during summer 2020’s upsurge of Black Lives Matter activism across the world in the wake of George Floyd’s death. This is part of the history of this inquiry – so much so, that, in fact, statements supporting BLM popped into our inboxes from many art institutions while we were preparing for the TTTT June workshop week. Noting that, institutional bodies and bodies being institutionalized were at play here, we conducted a small video experiment in which we listened to these emails and evaluated the emotional tone of each institution’s communication.

Find details of these two explorations here: Outside Insights


  1. [Teaching to Transgress Toolbox (TTTT) is an EU-funded Strategic Partnership between three European art schools, HDK-Valand Academy of Art and Design in Gothenburg, École de Recherche Graphique (erg) in Brussels and Institut Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ISBA) in Besançon (2019–22). ttttoolbox.net

  2. The animated sketch is a rolling image that that transitions between a figure, or a body, and a drawing of an architectural façade. It is looping and can be watched for a few seconds or in its entirety. The lines are grey and pencil like, the colors that are used as “flashes” across the screen are bright magenta and dark turquoise. The sketch transitions between a building with a façade of white columns to a genderless figure where two rectangular windows shift to round eyes. Towards the end of the sequence, the figure bats their turquoise painted eyelids and reveals their red cheek (makeup, shame, or heat – the viewer is unsure). The figure is fully dressed while fully emerged from the building but through the animated looping effect the figure also sinks back into the architecture. The institution both births and envelops the figure. Light turquoise messenger bubbles flash along between the building and the figure dancing between their individual existence which is an excerpt of a message sent between two friends who also labor inside HDK-Valand. The string of message reads the following sequence with double forward slashes dividing the message within different bubbles and along the time sequence of the animation: Here is the Sunday after a week that, strangely enough, either felt as a couple of hours or a couple of months, // so fast, focused and without variations it was. // A week that resulted in a large number of strikethrough in the “to do” list, so many, that the my reality seems to exist out of chronos and only in kairós, in the time of the opportune moment of action, in the event. // For that to happen, the body must remain in a state of astounding rigidity. That kind of tense rigor that is simultaneously static and sensitive. The simplest touch, a rolling marble for instance, would be enough to project the body in the air, like a cat jump, alarmed by the surprising awareness of an existing world outside the mind. // The thought of a bath with salts haunts me all week long without ever filling the bathtub. What’s the point of having heated water for free and giving no use to it. I realize that midnight is approaching, tomorrow, I tell myself, tomorrow // I’ll sink. // I don't know what destiny I gave to my home and office keys. // Is that worse than not knowing if the office feels more to home than my flat? Tomorrow I will confirm if I’ve left them at the office next door. That room is warmer and has two consecutive double windows - two! - and on weekends, I take meditation followed by nap there. // That office only opens with a physical key, no chip cards - even if the reader is there, without purpose and without beep.// Or maybe I lost them in the hallway, on the way to the toilet that shares walls with our office. // I had the impression to hear a knock on the door. Perhaps someone found my keys. Or maybe they wanted to protest my punches on the wall whenever the toilet door is thrusted against the wall. The knock did not come twice. // Perhaps they were not knocks, but the noises of trucks feeding the restaurants every day all day.// Have I ever lost keys? // It is hard, after a week like this, not to see in this loss the omen of new doors coming forth. // The week ended with my first job application in 7 years. // At some point, in relation to counting back, numbers start looking the same. As Xuto’s song about cancer recalls, the time left is less than the time of a blooming flower. 

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