Blogs Field Guide Amara Antilla

Amara Antilla has worked with various cultural institutions in the US and Asia, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Duolun Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai with curatorial and education programs. She is co-founder of Recess, an informal summer discussion series in Minneapolis.

Lessons Learned 3: Chris Kennedy

Christopher Lee Kennedy spoke with me about School of the Future, on July 26, 2010, a  collaborative experiment in unschooling that took place this summer at a park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  They offered classes that ranged from guerrilla gardening and how to make your own biodiesel to a crash course in radical library sciences. Chris Kennedy is […]

Rendering of School of the Future by Architecture Team from Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture and Planning, June 2010

Christopher Lee Kennedy spoke with me about School of the Future, on July 26, 2010, a  collaborative experiment in unschooling that took place this summer at a park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  They offered classes that ranged from guerrilla gardening and how to make your own biodiesel to a crash course in radical library sciences.

Chris Kennedy is the Director of the Institute for Applied Aesthetics an experimental school for research and learning in Brooklyn.  Kennedy holds a degree in Environmental Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Masters of Arts in Education from New York University. His most recent projects have included Urban Epiphyte a participatory project exploring issues of psychogeography and ecology and Groups and Spaces, a research platform exploring the working models of independent art spaces and collaboratives. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Educational Psychology at University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Amara Antilla: How did School of the Future come about?

Chris Kennedy: For me School of the Future has its roots in my personal desire to create a platform for research on learning and applied aesthetics; social practices that have their roots in public space, people and social issues. Back in January, Cassie Thornton had been working on a project to activate vacant spaces that had emerged from the recent depression called Community Stimulus Package with an organization called TrustArt. TrustArt connected Cassie to the NYC Parks Department who let her select a park to do her project in a place called Sgt. Dougherty Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. All this developed as Cassie formed the Teaching Artist Union with other teaching artists from around NYC.

That fall I had just returned from a series of trips and residencies where I was exploring the inner workings of independent art spaces under the auspices of the Institute for Applied Aesthetics. I decided to take a studio next to Cassie’s that November and on a cold night we decided to draft a contract. Not just any old contract, but a merger transaction that joined both of our organizations together – the Teaching Artist Union and the Institute for Applied Aesthetics. We sealed the contract with some glitter and red lipstick and from then on – we were one entity – the School of the Future.

After the merger, we began a collaborative process that we are both still negotiating; sometimes chaotic, sometimes beautiful, scary, crazy and many things in-between. Cassie had conceived of School of the Future as being a project of the Teaching Artist Union. A response to the challenges facing teaching artists in NYC. As such, the first inception of School of the Future – was an artist-run school for teaching artists.

We explored the notion of a school district for artist-run schools under the auspices of the Demonstration District (a demonstration school and school district combined) and other models ranging from skill shares to straight up Free Skools. Our journey landed us somewhere in the middle – with a somewhat more defined system that still remained open and yet allowed for a form to take shape. We dubbed the School of the Future an experiment in unschooling – an intergenerational free school housed in Sgt. Dougherty Park.

AA: How did you engage other artists in this process of creating an artist-run school?

CK: Once our system had been defined we proceeded to shape the programmatic aspects of the school by first asking artists, community members around the park and people in general – “What do you want to learn”. From this a long list of learning deficits was generated. Our next step was to ask artists and community members to respond to these learning deficits by proposing an art project, a class, an experiment or moment. A calendar then emerged – one that is still morphing.

In the end we consider School of the Future an ongoing experiment in teaching and learning through art. The building of the school, is the school. A perpetual process – ever evolving, ever changing.

AA: Lets talk about learning deficits.

CK: The meaning of the clouds in the sky / Design science methodology / What is a 21st century education? / Basic Polish for morning greetings, hopping, restaurants, etc. / The history and methods of backpacking / Filmmaking / Anything they didn’t teach me in high school / Web science / How to make terrariums / Grant writing / Sustainable Living / How to date a woman or man? / Greco-Roman wrestling / Africa / How to produce organic tea / How to sound proof my apartment/ Wonders of Jamaica Ave. / Sculpture, photography, metalwork / Creative writing, comparative literature, sociology, history, philosophy, languages / How to DO GOOD and live a comfortable lifestyle? / Welding, nailing, sawing/  How to write a book / Woodworking / Botany / How to be less awkward in public / How to be green and just without just changing my purchasing habits / How to convert a Diesel van to run on veggie oil / DJ / Live production/ Ableton Live / Logic Pro / Physics / How to make others happy / Start a revolution / How do I balance my life? / How to regain my historical perspective / How to start my own clothing line without doing any of the sewing / What sort of curriculum and how is it presented in the school of the future / Relativity / A lot of things / How to manage all the things I want to learn / Where to affordably dock my boat in New York City / How to become a 21st Century thinker, creator and entrepreneur / How to make it socially acceptable for me to make eye contact and smile at the person across from me on the subway / How to create community art / How to fall in love with the right people / How to paint, draw and sculpt masterpieces / Construction for the utilization of small spaces, furniture building, web design, canvas stretching, book making / Time management and organizing / Ukulele / How to empower my imagination / Who are the Americans? / What it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man / What is love now? / How to sing / How School of the Future and Free @rt Sch001 can collaborate / How to teach / How to not fall in love with the wrong people / How to play the accordion / Basic construction skills for people who would probably be bad at construction / How to restore old cars and make them look and drive bad ass / How to understand my role in gentrification and the future of my neighborhood / How to cut my own friend’s hair / How to create and use electricity to remove myself from the ConEd grid! / Second Life’s aesthetics / How to build community wireless networks / To listen to myself, how I love me and built my happiness, then help to others too / Screenprinting / I would like to learn to make a kiln out of salvaged urban material / How to sail / How to draw better / What and How you are creating your School of the Future / How to Reupholster furniture! / I want to learn how to make ads / How to use free photoediting programs such as GIMP, Photo Filtre to their full potential / Black and white digital photography / How to use in-camera and free photoediting programs to replicate darkroom work / Handball / How to make a master stetic salon for women / Webquest Entrepreneurship / Networking / Design in social media / How to love again / General theory of relativity re-hash / Woodworking / Harmonizing / How to fix my bike / Play the ukulele / Creating mobile applications / Cinematography / How to get my husband’s work visa without paying a lawyer 5k / Cooking for special diets – gluten, kosher, vegan / How to building sustainable solidarity economies / How to turn a gender studies BA and a disparate set of skills into a job at a time when no one can find jobs / How to build Patrick Blanc-style vertical garden walls / Everything / How to make perfect french macaroons / How to make authentic ritual / How to be happy / Italian Realizing projects: how to get from idea stage to execution / How to be financially ethical, successful and responsible / How to build a green roof / How to be a better writer / Gardening, lectures, dance, photography / Portuguese / Culturally specific idiosyncrasies from all over the world / The meaning of life / Sustainable design history of Brooklyn / How to pickle things / The guitar / The lives of the saints / How to be who i am completely / How to farm heirloom carrots /Logic and logical arguments / How to build and make everything around me / Survival skills / Sustainability / Skills to succeed in the workforce / How to make a clock – mechanics and all / How I can start a school of the future in LA / Woodworking and metal working / How to play an instrument / How to help and contribute on a global level / How to think creatively / Crochet / Spanish / Myconology / LEED building / Welding / Organic gardening / Project management / Hair coloring / Sculpting / How to make wine / How to be a more capable gardener / How to sleep less / How to make really delicious Kombucha / How to speak better Spanish / How to be more self-disciplined / How to be more brave / As much as possible / Screenprinting / Connecting emerging ideas in Quantum Physics with everyday life / How to be happy / 21st century learning / World history of poetry / Building preservation and maintenance: from locks to boilers / Dog training / Tree knowledge / How to make a collaborative art piece / Urban gardening / Relief printing/ Surface rubbing / Recycled portable furniture / Yoga for back / Massage / Leather tanning / Arabic / The Cold War seems relevant even in today’s politics. Why? / What does it take to remedy selfishness? / How can that state be maintained and perpetuated in all branches of life? / I want to know how other teachers are encouraging students to make their own decisions as a part of the learning process, and how successful they are. / Building a wind power turbine / Starting off in electronics from day one / I want to know how to work on my brakes, clean my chain, and generally make my bike ride like a Cadillac / I would like to learn the use of basic tools or building: sawing wood, hammering etc / Mold making of various prototypes, Plastic, metal, (Plus… if possible on how a plastic bag is created) / Myco-remediation (mushrooms eat oil spills) / Cartoon drawing / Cooking / How to make model airplanes / How to knit / How to play baseball with my son / How to relieve stress / I want some kids to school me on the court / In exchange for being a mother’s helper, I’d like to work on my spanish If someone has a young kid learning to read, I’d love to work at their pace / How to fix my motorcycle / Queer history / How to mosaic / How to speak English / How to verbalize better / Quilting / Bike repair and maintenance / Building / Square dancing / Japanese / How people join into a new community / Logistics of reactivating public space / Serious economics: How to not be fucked by money / Fonts / Analysis of revisionist history / Bike trailers / Local dance moves / How to show up in a new neighborhood and make friends / How to deal with Post Partum depressions / Basketball / How to grill meat / How to make a tin can telephone that works / Monument making / Handball / Spanish / Hip-Hop dance / How the long term community feels about artists working on projects in their neighborhood / Filmmaking / Canning and picking vegetables / Native plants nutrition / DIY health / How to build things with what I already have / The art of conversation: telling jokes, stories, salutating / Writing stories / Confidence / About how other people live / Small arts and crafts / Other people’s opinions and stories / Guitar / Reading / Discussion / Group lectures on theory, art, design, architecture, politics, philosophy / How do teaching artists approach community and place? Who are you here in this neighborhood?

Human Chess-to-the-Death Match, Douglas Paulson and Santo Tolone (with help from Flux Factory)

AA: Where do you draw the line between education and entertainment?

CK: Sometimes I think its fun not to draw a line at all – but rather to play with the line. We are very much interested in the “performance of education” at School of the Future. I am the Head Librarian and Cassie is the Student Body Coordinator of School of the Future. We love playing with the roles and tropes of school with a make your own costume rack always available for anyone who wants to play along. By playing with these roles we can tap into memories of teachers, principals, bullies, sporting heroes and share our experiences and stories of what school was like and how it affected you as a person. Through this process we can create a collective narrative of what our school experience has been – what it means and where it should go.

I do object in many ways to the hyper commercialization of education – Microsoft sponsored classrooms, HP Cafeterias, Nestle vending machines etc. And the rampant reliance on technology to solve our educational problems. More computers, more networking and increased reliance on the internet is not going to provide any long-term solutions – but instead it will extend learning needs into new forms and realms. What we need is to invigorate a visceral connection to place – to our bodies – to people around us.

AA: Is the location of your project important?  How did your ‘school house as park’  shape the nature of your program?

CK: School of the Future is in Sgt. Dougherty Park — a forgotten park on the ecological hell mouth situated next to a superfund site  – and near the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

One of the primary focuses for School of the Future is experimenting with a theory of situated learning – a concept pioneered by Jean Lave and Etienne Wegner in the 80s and early 90s. They posit a theory of learning through social processes governed by the immediate environment, the local history and shared repertoire of people in and around the area. School of the Future embraces situated learning as a vehicle for integrating the site into the project. Each artist and community member has been invited to respond to the site in some way.

This has taken the form of guerilla gardening tactics, a biking tour of Newtown Creek, an ongoing project called Re-Building the City and a Poetry in the Dark class in which the façade of the BQE (a massive highway on-ramp) has been transformed into a canvas for text and poetry via chalk. In this sense the location and site specificity of the park has defined the project in many ways.

Its isolation itself requires a kind of commitment from students and faculty that allows for more intimate exchanges and opportunities for play that extend well past the hour – hour and half limit given to most classes or projects of this nature. Sgt. Dougherty is seen also as a demonstration site for how to activate underutilized public spaces using the resources and collective knowledge of people in the local neighborhood.

Panorama of timeline made during the Future History of Education workshop at Trade School, February 2010

AA: Can you talk about your experience working or learning within the higher education system?

CK: I have $91,670 dollars of student loan debt owed to Citibank Corporation. I receive a student loan statement in the mail, via email and as a text message each month to remind me. Often – I speak to a loan officer named Peggy who lives outside of Dallas-Ft. Worth. She has 2 kids and doesn’t like her job. Sometimes we talk about the weather, sometimes popular culture.

Every third week of the month a kid from NYU calls me up and asks for an alumni donation. They also want to make sure they have my address even though they asked me one month ago and I told them I had no intention of moving. Rensselaer Polytechnic hasn’t called me in a while but I receive offers for credit cards each month with the logo on the card – and maybe some kind of discount.

There is much value to the world of higher education and much to be desired. My own personal experience has not been a great one – but one I appreciate nonetheless. My hope is that in the future, Universities take time to work more on facilitating experiences with people outside of the campus world – to experiment with models of participation and engagement. Jon Rubin’s Waffle Shop comes to mind; the Rural Studio at Auburn University; the Urban Landscape Lab at Columbia; City Lab at UCLA and others still are progressing this model to new realms.

AA: Does the current education system prepare people to be active, informed members of a global society?

CK: The University world seems to be embracing a design-thinking approach to community engagement. What I hope comes from this is a sense of autonomous and ever expanding ideation about how to think through problems – how to use creative methods to engage in these problems – and how to let students and teachers make mistakes and fail. Not to look for press or more funding, or research monies from NSF and foundations – but to authentically allow students to live and work with the mission of the school itself.

More than this – we need to use higher education as a vehicle for risks – for authentic experiences with groups of people, with other institutions. We need to build confidence in students – to take them away from computer screens and in put them in front of the people they live next to in their own neighborhood.

We should be teaching students how to live in the world – how to grow food, how to build houses, how to find water, how to care for our bodies. But instead we tend toward hyper specialization in the hopes that we can find an industry niche – a safe job so that maybe we can buy luxury goods at some point – have kids and feel secure.

I wish someone had left me with a simple task: Find the people you respect in your community. Be with them. Play with them. Find a way to be accountable to each other; to be a tribe. Together – be healthy and do what you love. And through this – find trust and security. Pursue this and you’ll be just fine.

Lessons Learned 2: Piero Golia

Lessons Learned continues with an interview featuring Los Angeles based artist, Piero Golia.  I asked him to talk about the Mountain School of Art (MSA^), a tuition-free school that he co-founded in 2005.  The Mountain School of Art sees itself as a cultural institution promoting a unique and rigorous blend of pedagogy. Operating out of […]

Dan Graham Lecture in the Mountain Bar, 2010

Lessons Learned continues with an interview featuring Los Angeles based artist, Piero Golia.  I asked him to talk about the Mountain School of Art (MSA^), a tuition-free school that he co-founded in 2005.  The Mountain School of Art sees itself as a cultural institution promoting a unique and rigorous blend of pedagogy. Operating out of a bar in LA’s Chinatown they offer an intensive curriculum of seminars, fieldtrips, and studio visits. Notable faculty include Paul McCarthy, Hans Ulric Obrist, Pierre Huyghe and Simone Forti.

Piero Golia was born in Naples, Italy in 1974. It may be a cliché to call Golia a “Renaissance man,” but most labels don’t adequately describe his practice. Recent projects range from borrowing one million dollars from a bank for few hours in order to take a picture of it twice (Two Million Dollars, 2007) and in another piece melting down his Saab – after a car accident – into the shape of a unicorn in order to pay off some debts (Untitled (Y3AT35SIE1029489), 2003). His work has been included in the California Biennial, Orange County Museum of Arts, 2008; the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2007; Uncertain States of America, Serpentine Gallery, London 2005, and Performa 05, New York, 2005 among others.

Below is an excerpt from conversation between Piero Golia and myself that took place on July 27, 2010.

Amara Antilla: I would like to start at the beginning back in 2005.  How did the Mountain School of Art (MSA^) come about?  What were your motivations and goals at that time?

Piero Golia: Not sure about why people always ask about goals and motivations, usually this is something I don’t think about.  I never consider this when starting something.  I think in the school’s case, everything sort of just happened. One day in 2005, Eric and I were talking about it and here we are now.

AA: Are you saying that you typically don’t articulate the goals of a project before executing it? How much of what happens is improvised and how much is really planned?

PG: It’s funny, I think somebody told me Freud once said that if it weren’t for accidents, artists would still be making Greek marble sculptures.  I don’t believe in planning, I feel very weird when I hear people and mainly artist being sure of what they do and why they do it.  If you know everything already to me it seems like you just playing a script.  Its just fiction it’s not reality, I love reality.

AA: That reminds me of something Guy Debord said, “the more he contemplates, the less he lives.”  Do you think education is always the best tool for accessing reality?

PG: Guy Debord was a very intelligent man, he was just lacking a little in patience, but a real visionary. Just the other day for the first time I saw a copy of “Memoires” in person, sand paper cover, 1950’s, wow. So fantastic. Reality it’s a very complex thing and it’s very difficult to get a good definition of it. When Eric and I started MSA^ we just wanted to start a school, a “real” one. I never understood why people were talking about MSA^ as something special.  To me it was just a school, or what I thought at the time an art school was.  I’m an Engineer so I never went to art school and it’s not till this year when I had to teach at UCLA that I realized the differences.  Anyways I think if we stick to the basics, meaning just doing what is necessary to be done in terms of needs, then things come out naturally and not as a fiction to be played out. I remember in a previous conversation you mentioned to me a few schools that emerged in the past years. But then when I actually look at their program or the way they operate I don’t feel the “institution”. There is a bit of selfishness, not sure schools are about individuals or they shouldn’t be.  It’s all confusing.

Calendar of Events, 2006

AA: How do you decide what those needs are?

PG: I think there is just one thing: having good people coming to talk.  Everything else I would consider “over structured” meaning, too heavy and slow to control.  At MSA^ we have a super simple structure and this helps us to be very fast and effective in terms of programming and arrangements.

AA: So the size of MSA^ allows you to have greater flexibility?  Do you think it is important to maintain this intimate scale?

PG: I think the size is fundamental for having an intimate experience. A small number of students fosters dialogue that’s way more interesting then a talk. A talk is mono-directional and a dialogue instead is multi-directional, this helps with the expansion of ideas… I think it’s very important to stay small.

AA: Is your student body mainly made up of artists?

PG: Part of our class is made of artists, but during the years we have had architects, musicians, writers, and choreographers, even a biologist!!

AA: I also want to come back to your point about how fashionable pedagogy has become in art recently.  You said the motivation behind these projects is careerism.

PG: I don’t know if it is about careerism, maybe more about ego, but for this they will have to deal about it with God.  This is getting too close to morality and we are here for theory and not for morality.  I think we should talk about good not evil.

Richard Jackson and Paul McCarthy with Students, 2010

AA: What is good?

PG: I wish I knew. This would make things much easier. Back to our discussion about planning, I don’t think you ever know what is right from the beginning.

AA: Can you elaborate?

PG: I’m not sure but I’ve heard about few schools coming out in the last few years.  I don’t know everything about all of them. But there were some great models in the past such as the Black Mountain College or Nova Scotia, and more recently I know Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno and Dominique Gonzalez Foerster tried one.

AA: Yes the Temporary School.  What do you think about that project?

PG: The Temporary School is different from MSA^, theirs was a poetic project, and we are more about functionality.  I do respect Pierre very much as an artist. And he has come to talk at MSA^ few times, and our students loved him.

AA: On the topic of the educational turn in art practice, part of me doesn’t see a problem in the proliferation.  If in fact scale is an important factor, what should stop multiple artists from starting their own schools so that in each city there can be a space for dialogue much like at MSA^?

PG: I don’t think a school is part of an art practice, I think that’s where the confusion is. I think some people misunderstood and wanted to play education as a medium because they noticed it was successful for others. But education is not a media, it’s education. It’s just for the students and not for educators/artist’s personal research. Do you think it’s part of being a good mechanic to explain to clients how to fix their own cars?  No, there are good mechanics and there are good schools for mechanics. I think the problem is when people who are not good mechanics, try to make you feel they know how to fix your car.  A bad artist stays a bad artist, no matter how many schools he can start.

AA: So you see a separation from your work coordinating MSA^ and your art practice?

PG: Obviously. I’m a very honest man.

Franz Ackermann Poster, 2006

AA: Dialogue seems to be the foundation of MSA^’s educational program.  Does action or art making also play a role?

PG: No action or art making, it’s a school…

AA: If MSA^ is not the site for action or producing objects where is the appropriate place for that?

PG: The artist’s studio, it’s not art student’s business.

AA: I am interested in what made you decide to take a teaching position at UCLA?  Did you consider teaching from within the framework of MSA^?

PG: I do not teach at MSA^, this is something Eric and I decided from the beginning. Don’t you think it would look weird to start your own school and also teach in it? I took the UCLA job because I was sure this would impress my mother, but then it lasted just a quarter. I think it’s very important for an artist to teach, it’s a part of his social duty, but this is different from his own practice, it’s more about sharing something, but not part of an art work.

AA: Can you tell me about the New Atlantis Enterprises (NEA)?

PG: A land where “generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendor, piety and public spirit” were the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants.  (Sir Francis Bacon, New Atlantis).

AA: You call it “a community conducting innovative research in the public interest at the request of individual donors and foundations.”  Can you share any recent research requests you’ve had?

PG: We try to keep NAE jobs quite private, maybe that’s why we are in business.  I also think this is a separate story. I think we shouldn’t confuse people with too many different things.  I don’t think NAE has anything to do with MSA^, usually I’m pretty much always right but this time I may be wrong, you never know.  This is the problem in life, nothing is right or at least nothing is for sure.

Lessons Learned 1: Huong Ngo

  Lessons Learned 1: Huong Ngo  Lessons Learned is a series of posts that seek to activate critical debates about radical education strategies on and off the Field through conversations with artists who are rethinking in a similar way, how, where, and with whom learning happens.  The following is an excerpt from an interview with […]


Huong Ngo, Expanded Mind Map Created During a Workshop at the Whitney ISP, 2009

Lessons Learned 1: Huong Ngo

 Lessons Learned is a series of posts that seek to activate critical debates about radical education strategies on and off the Field through conversations with artists who are rethinking in a similar way, how, where, and with whom learning happens.  The following is an excerpt from an interview with Huong Ngo that took place on June 1oth, 2010.

Huong Ngo was born in Hong Kong, grew up in North Carolina, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Her practice blurs the line between artist, educator, and designer, and her research focuses on the relationship between craft revival and radical pedagogy.  She has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the Soap Factory, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the National Gallery in Prague. Ngo has also received awards and residencies from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. She currently teaches at Parsons the New School for Design and Pratt Institute. This summer, she will be participating in the project called Radical Citizenship, which is taking place on Governor’s Island, NY and is organized by Mary Walling Blackburn. She will also be leading a class called “Cottage Industry” at the School of the Future, a temporary unschool in a Brooklyn park, and will feature an audio interview with a Québec artisan as part of the project Bike Box, organized by Sabine Gruffat and Bill Brown. Ngo’s deepest desire is for radical aesthetics to invade the classroom, and education to resume its subversive role in the practice of freedom.

Amara: How is New York this summer?  It sounds like you are busy with some interesting projects.

Huong Ngo: Yeah. It’s great. I just got done teaching last month and have been working on projects and traveling since then.  NY is good. We’ve found an amazing community that is really into education.

Amara: Tell me about this education community.  Has it always been there or is this something new?

Huong Ngo: The community here is a combination of artists, educators, home schoolers, designers, intellectuals, writers, interested peoples. Of course it’s a fluid group. Some are people who started schools or were a part of artist-run schools like Secret School, Trade School, and School of the Future. In particular, I’ve been collaborating with Chris Kennedy on Conversations at the Commons, which has been a platform for people to get together and share research on radical education. This research that I’ve presented at the Whitney ISP Pedagogy group will also be part of a collaboration with Hong-An Truong this summer on Governor’s Island, and a project with students in the US and Iraq in the fall. Another project I’m working on, Cottage Industry came from conversations and research about craft and the economy.

Amara: Can you talk a little about the cottage industry historically?

Huong Ngo: Well, I’m looking at it from a WPA/Craft Revival historical perspective, in which many crafts were taught along with entrepreneurial skills to people in rural places. I am interested in aesthetic knowledge that is transferred along with something else. In the case of the historic cottage industry, that something else is a business savvy, a deep understanding of materials, a history of the craft, and much more. The Cottage Industry class (which you’ve caught me in the beginning phase of) is an update – looking at what knowledge can be transferred and what new models can be generated as a group through the contemplation of the historic cottage industry model. I’m interested in exploring the role of craft in our current industrialized/globalized/capitalist society, what it means to make and sell your work from a Marxist perspective, and what the local economy means to a contemporary cottage industry.

On the surface, a cottage industry is screwed. Out-marketed, out-produced, undercut. But from a recent interview with a Québec artisan, I realized that it’s actually industries, local cultures, national economies that are screwed. Monopoly and homogeneity are shortsighted, while variety and cooperation are real survival mechanisms.

Cottage Industry is part survival contemplation for artists. How do we survive? How can entrepreneurship be healthy and sustainable? Can we subvert capitalism while being a part of it? All of these questions I have and would like to explore.

Amara: I am interested in the connection you are making between the transmission of knowledge and the active production of something very material, hand-made and artisan. Can you talk more about this shift between theory and praxis?

Huong Ngo: The theory is really a part of the praxis. When it comes to objects that are handmade, the theory often finds itself in ‘how’ the object is made, presented. The praxis is that process.

Amara: So through this process of ‘making’ you are opening up a larger conversation; where art becomes a lens through which to view other issues.

Huong Ngo: I am definitely on the side of teaching art to understand the world.

Amara: Is it important to keep your projects within an artistic context?

Huong Ngo: Absolutely not. In fact, I prefer to have them outside the realm. The difference is that inside of the artistic realm, audiences are often more attentive and open to those ideas. They put themselves in a new mental place to receive them. Do you think passers-by would be interested in Marina Abramovic if she was sitting in a dress in Washington Square Park. Maybe some, but you wouldn’t have quite so many people talking about the meanings of the performer, the audience, the body, the mind, as you have with her at the MoMA. I think it is important, as an artist and a viewer, to have both experiences.

Amara: Can a class taught in Washington Square Park be as effective as a class taught inside a museum or a university? Is education what people really want in these common spaces?

Huong Ngo: It’s a good question. I think a lot of it is expectation. We have an expectation that a class at a university is of great value, so we give it our time and complete attention. Universities also tend to discourage anything that might be distracting to that experience of learning. At Washington Square Park, we have an expectation to relax and enjoy leisure time. Museums are somewhere in between, where leisure, entertainment, and education mix. Interrupting those spaces creates a moment to rethink how we value those spaces and question whether the university really is the right place to learn everything or whether the park is a place where learning can occur.

Huong Ngo, Mind Map: Research for Craft & Radical Education, 2010

Amara: I am thinking more specifically now, how do you perform the act of teaching, what strategies, or materials inform your practice?

Huong Ngo: Just as learning is more sustainable if there is a need, so is teaching. I find that I have to have a desire for teaching that goes beyond practical concerns–I need to know how people learn or I have a question and I want to discuss it with my students or I get excited to try out a new way to introduce an issue and motivate a creative response. The same goes for my creative practice, of which teaching is most definitely a part. It begins with a need–a question that determines my creative and pedagogical approach, from which I might begin to understand.

Amara: Could you give a little background on the mind maps we are looking at. To me they seem like a useful tool, illuminating the non-linear nature of learning and history making.

Huong Ngo: They are definitely process documents that change after each discussion that I have about the topic. I think it’s valuable just to see them and acknowledge the messiness of piecing together histories. Also, I really wanted them to be an invitation for further changes and additions.

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