Re: [-empyre-] what is being done? (educatIon): introducing Chris Molinski and Illiyana Nedkova

Greetings from Sofia,

Echoing Chris Molinski's view that art education is not an alternative, I would like to suggest that education is primarily a curatorial issue and thus part of every curatorial practice. Indeed, issues of contemporary art education have recently gained in urgency and relevance in the UK, at least. Alongside the curator, the art educator has emerged from obscurity and assumed a stellar position in institutions up and down the country. What is being done? From governmentally funded education initiatives to corporate community projects, a range of activities at galleries, even artworks disguised as guided tours around biennales.

A more pertinent question would be – what is to be done to avoid considering art (education) as Roger M. Buergel puts it "a repair business for removing misery and injustice from the world." (See Gregory Williams, Heir Unapparent: Gregory Williams on Roger M. Buergel, In ArtForum, February 2004). I would raise another concern – what is to be done to avoid misusing art (education) for generating funds for funds' sake?

What follows is an overview of a few projects as an invitation to critically evaluate what is being done; to assess their significance for both artists and audiences involved. Art education has long ceased to be confined to the publicly funded sector in the UK. Since 2003 London’s Frieze Art Fair – probably the most successful of the new breed of contemporary art fairs – has been running Frieze Education. In 2006 this programme of artist-led, practical sessions for families and young people was expanded thanks to Deutsche Bank’s community investment programme run by its Corporate Social Responsibility UK unit in conjunction with Camden Arts Centre which describes itself as London’s only international art and education space.

With four artists employed to work on site at the fair, these free sessions were spectacularly popular and fully booked in 2006.The sessions were carefully planned with the artist team to capture an insightful experience of the fair and encourage creativity and critical thinking. It would be interesting to be able to investigate whether those young people participating have improved their understanding of the business world; whether they raised their aspirations and skills as to aim higher in school and in life as prescribed in Deutsche Bank’s statement. Another point for reflection would be the overwhelming demand for such activities in the context of the art market place while similar initiatives at the white cube still remain underattended.

If Frieze Education is once a year, Spin is an all year round opportunity or an exclusive members’ club set up to help its members ‘get to the heart of contemporary art’. Spin was also launched in 2003, by the National Galleries of Scotland and its dedicated Education Department, funded directly by the devolved government of Scotland. Spin is run in conjunction with Glasgow City Council and Contemporary Art Society – the UK charity that promotes the collection of contemporary art by both museums and individuals. Spin’s yearly membership fee, its monthly guided tours (often by the exhibiting artists or curators) at contemporary art exhibitions in Edinburgh and Glasgow, plus occasional Spin-offs at international art fairs and biennales has proven to be a very successful commercial model adapted by public bodies. 

One of the forthcoming Spin-offs is the members’ visit to the Threshold artspace in Perth – the home of Scotland’s only collection of digital (public) art always on view through a daily programme of specially commissioned 22-channel video installations, interactive soundscapes, live Internet transmissions, single-channel video art and art games projections. Spin members will be treated to a guest curator’s walking tour of the artspace and a private view of NY Fresh – a programme featuring works by emerging New York artists – all new additions to the artspace collection guest-curated by Anne Barlow, Artistic Director of New York’s Art in General. This tour is only an extension of the fortnightly curator’s tours specially tailored for non-visual arts specialists, primarily classical music lovers following their attendance of a lunchtime concert. The Threshold artspace itself is located at the threshold of the new Perth Concert Hall with all the multiple screens, projections, speakers, sensors and cameras embedded in the fabric of the building. This symbiosis between music and visuals arts under one roof makes these educational tours highly appropriate and very popular.

While Spin pampers its members in specially orchestrated private views, the curator’s tours of the Threshold artspace convert a concert-going audience into visual arts aficionados. In other contexts, artists are hijacking the formats of education and outreach programmes for their own artistic means. Bulgarian artist Luchezar Boyadjiev ‘specialises’ in offering guided tours to audiences at various international art exhibitions, connecting artworks from different shows through his often-humorous analyses. Typically, Boyadjiev’s ‘artwork’ for Singapore Biennale 2006 was an unusual service: a series of live performances or guided tours about other artworks at the biennale. The tours were conducted by the artist himself and a ‘franchise’ of recruited volunteers (aka ‘Guiding Agents of Belief’), trained to guide in Boyadjiev-style through the biennale.

These artist’s guided tours are relational artworks which could be judged on the basis of the ‘inter-human relations which they represent, produce or prompt’ (from Nicholas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics, France, les presse du reel, 1998). Boyadjiev’s tours are also a prime example of how to tackle 'the global complex of cultural translation that seems to be somehow embedded in art and its mediation’ (Roger M. Buergel, Three Leitmotifs of documenta12). Often the artist would re-organize the exhibitions' interconnections, invent interpretations, joke around and comment as he wishes. As this happens mostly after the opening, his fellow artists are unable to answer back.

We can only speculate that if conducted within the context of a major exhibition or a biennale in Scotland, Boyadjiev’s artwork would have received one of the Scottish Art Education Awards.This initiative is one of several organised by the Visual Arts Department of the Scottish Arts Council to recognise and encourage the importance of visual arts education. The Council embodies the principle of arms-length public funding which is soon to be replaced in favour of direct government support through the Minister of Sports and Culture. While in transition, the Council has funded several new education posts in visual arts organisations. Only a few years ago two Scottish galleries had dedicated posts for art educators, but now this number has grown fivefold, including galleries in Skye, the Western Isles, Stirling and Glasgow.

The Council has also supported the recent appointment of an ‘uber-arts educator’ – a co-ordinator for the Scottish branch of engage – the UK association for gallery education (also with an international membership) promoting good practice in making visual arts accessible and enjoyable to a wide audience. The fact that such an international members' association has been established is indicative of the significance of art education in the publicly funded art establishment. The need for engage services by the growing membership base seems to be on the rise. These include an educator locator; engage-ments news bulletin; the forum around issues of gallery education, and the rigorously compiled case studies under the rubric 'what works'. 'Collect & Share' is more than another engage service. It is an Europe-wide lifelong learning programme in which engage is collaborating with leading museums and galleries.

Finally, it is my belief that it is the responsibility of the curator (who often doubles as the art educator) to be crucially aware of what is being done in contemporary art education; to adhere to the best practice and to constantly question the need and means of spreading the artists' message around.




Iliyana Nedkova
Co-Director | Co-Owner | ARC Projects |

Creative Director New Media | Horsecross |
Hon Cultural Attache |
PhD Candidate in Curatorial Theory and Practice | | m:+359 (0)88 6288 368 | skype:inedkova
post: 3F1, 27 Rossie Place | Edinburgh | EH7 5SD | Scotland
currently working from: 38 Ravnets Street | Sofia | 1298 | Bulgaria

On 9 Jan 2007, at 21:06, Christina McPhee wrote:

dear list,

it's my pleasure to introduce to you two curators who've been extraordinary in their new approaches to education and art in the public space, Illiyana Nedkova (SCT) and Chris Molinski (US).

Described as 'a curator of taste and critical discernment', Iliyana is a Sofia-born Edinburgh-based curator, producer and critic of contemporary art and design. Currently, Creative Director New Media at Horsecross, Perth where she is responsible for curating the Threshold artspace, Scotland's first dedicated gallery for digital public art. A founding Co-Director of ARC: Art Research Communication (with Chris Byrne), a curatorial practice working nationally and internationally with artists, exhibitions, art fairs, editions and critical context. Latest ARC Projects include the international symposium of curating new media Art Place Technology, Liverpool and a series of limited editions by artists Susan Collins, Alla Georgieva, Pravdoliub Ivanov, Ivan Moudov and Dan Perjovschi.

Over twenty new Horsecross commissions by artists from 11 different countries have been premiered at Threshold artspace since September 2005. New shows are continuously produced and exhibited as part of the evolving Threshold collection of artists’ films, video, digital photography, visual poetry, interactive titles, sound toys, Internet art and computer games. The Threshold artspace features nine unique spaces available for artists’ interventions including an interactive entrance box; a ‘canvas’ of 22 screens dominating the foyer; a playground with flexible screens and interactivity; a trail of sound boxes embedded in the floor; a surprise audiovisual treat tucked away in public toilets; copper-clad roof of the concert hall for an added visual delight. Threshold artspace unique locations are linked together by an ‘intelligent’ control system and open source software which allows artworks to be displayed and experienced up to 14 hours a day throughout the year.

I first met Illi at the Cybersonica Festival at the ICA in London in 2002.

Chris directs The Art Gallery of Knoxville, a community space devoted to discussions of new and emerging art in Knoxville, Tennessee. Recent exhibitions have involved collaborations with the Center for Urban Pedagogy, Max Neuhaus, and the exhibition "Distribution Religion" with Critical Artware, People Powered, and Temporary Services.

I've been intrigued in Chris's work ever since he 'appropriated' an entire month of the -empyre- list discussion into a printed book as an art 'object' for an exhibition/project last year called "Building an Archive". -empyre- was shown with On Kawara, Felix Gonsalez-Torres, and Sean MIcka.

Like Illiyana, Chris has been developing what I might call, after Edward Soja, ' a third space' for critical art practice in the public sphere. By creatively remixing the lessons of the situationists with the ethos of
a new regenerative 'commons'.

Please welcome Chris and Illi to -empyre- soft-skinned space.


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