Sunday, 17 February 2013

I'm sceptical about attitudes of 'alternativeness' in general

Piotr Krzymowski talks to Daniella Russo about her participation in’s Summer School 2012 and her current practise

Piotr Krzymowski: In the series of interviews that I’m making with the participants of’s first Summer School Lecture from behind the screen (previeous interview with Julia Parks) I am particularly interested in the educational structures of artists-run spaces as well as challenges of non-institutional, very often described as “alternative” modes of knowledge production. Could you perhaps start with telling me a little bit about your educational background? This starts like a job interview, I promise it’s not (laughs)…

Daniella Russo: I finished my BA in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 2011. I’m not thinking about doing an MA at the moment, mostly due to very practical reasons. Also, right now I am happy working outside of the institution and don’t feel I need it to make sense of what I’m doing…

PK: And how did you come across

DR: I went to a couple of their events before joining the Summer School. I was interested in working with them, so I applied for an internship. I heard back from Maxa Zoller telling me about the programme and that is how I ended up participating and volunteering as her assistant. Was it similar for you?

PK: I also had a chance to go to couple of their events before. But it was a friend of mine who told me about the Summer School. So I decided to apply for the volunteer position. At the interview I found out that I wasn’t really suitable for the two positions they were advertising (laughs). However, they offered me to edit this blog, which was a nice surprise and has been a great experience… I was at times breathless, but I absolutely enjoyed it. How did you manage to participate and assist at the same time?

DR: Despite an intensive eight weeks, it wasn’t a problem both assisting and participating, it was necessary for it to run… I also didn’t feel that our so called “roles” really affected the overall collective experience of the course…

PK: I didn’t really see you much at the film workshops though...

DR: (laughs) That was a conscious decision… I don’t have much of an attachment to the materiality of 16mm film, nor do I have much interest in exploring it as a medium. I’m a lot more attracted to the immediacy of moving images, and more widespread user technologies and everyday tools, such as smartphone cameras. I don’t consider myself a filmmaker either… I didn’t feel there was any problem with me not participating in those worksh­ops, as’s Summer School wasn’t a course in the conventional sense. It was more of a process to help shape one’s own knowledge production. You don’t have to take on everything – but when you do, a certain responsibility to act comes with this.

PK: And 16mm film doesn’t hold the potentiality of the every-day for you?

DR: I don’t think that 16mm was ever that accessible as a technology for me – neither is the process of image production in film immediate. Maybe I’m too impatient? Anyhow, I feel that we see more images than we create today… I’m more interested in where these images come from, how the technologies which create them are treated by different people. I’m also interested in the huge processes of labour which exist behind these technologies. Here’s an example… an employee at an iphone factory in Shenzhen (China) took a cute photo of herself on a new iphone before packaging it to be exported. Later, the person who bought it found the picture and posted it online that then immediately went viral. The young girl then became the image of the production of the object upon which she appears.

PK: I love that story!

But I would like to know a little more about your experiences of both BA and Summer School. How different were they? When I was interviewing Julia Parks, who also participated in the programme and studied at CSM, we both pointed towards the lack of community and solidarity among students as well as a missing framework for collaborative learning and practice in art academies.

DR: Institutions are generally penalized for being slow. And they are.

PK: Slow as dinosaurs!

DR: (laughs) Exactly… depends on the dinosaur... it can be frustrating at such institutions.
I began working collaboratively during my last year of CSM, so this type of practice wasn’t new to me when I joined However, in great contrast to CSM, the Summer School assumed collaboration to be a very natural method of working and exchanging ideas.

PK: Before I started making notes of our conversation I asked you about the temporality of such experiences. Very often those collaborative moments have their own durability and expiry date. We spoke a lot about sustainability during the Summer School, but we didn’t really manage to sustain the learning process that we started. Or perhaps we carry on, but in a different shape and dimension?

DR: I don’t think this temporality is a problem. Whatever you do and learn you sustain and recycle with whatever follows afterwards. But we ought to pass on the knowledge, so other instances of solidarity can be formed. This doesn’t have to mean working with the same group of people either, which is something that I learned particularly through Augusto Boal and Paulo Friere.

PK: And what do you think could be done so we would start thinking about initiatives such as’s Summer School not as alternatives to institutionalized education, not even an extension or a supplement, but as a part of it. So we don’t struggle so much against the institutions, but together with them? Was Lecture from behind the screen an alternative for you?

DR: I think is perhaps alternative in its attempts to teach ‘thinking’ both collaboratively and individually, which larger institutions perhaps aren’t so concerned with. Being smaller, it actually has time to spend with all of its participants. is also alternative in that it is transparent about its financial structure. Its funding comes from its membership-based film lab, and occasionally from the British Arts Council. In it turn creates a certain degree of flexibility and openness in operation for those involved. Although, I’m sceptical about attitudes of ‘alternativeness’ in general - they run the risk of leading a group away from the wider public realm…they could also lead to elitism. I also think there’s a danger of these ‘alternative’ groups falling into hypocrisy...for instance, the majority of the participants on the Summer School course all had some previous experience of art based on university education – in the end these groups are not that ‘alternative’ as they’re essentially operating within the same spheres as major institutions. Also, as they needed to cover the cost of the programme, there was a fee involved - so courses such as the Summer School are perhaps not an option, let alone an ‘alternative’, for some. These issues were being openly troubleshooted throughout. What do you think of the term?

PK: I am very much interested in the term and I think it needs a context and some kind of clarification. Why alternative? Are we only turning away from institutions? Or maybe there is a chance to turn towards them again? I don’t think it is enough to use this term simply in opposition to institutions… I am more interested in a relationship between both rather then the separation.

Also, for me the experience of the Summer School was very much about getting to know each other and using this in the learning process. We maybe weren’t experts, but what we knew was a huge amount of expertise…

DR: Sure…Dmitri Vilensky, from the collective Chto Delat emphasised the importance of local knowledge, and one’s immediate surroundings acting a resource for learning. Thomas Hirschhorn, another speaker of the Summer School, also encourages an evaluative approach to art based on an idea of something possessing an ‘energy’, as opposed to being subjected to individual preference, i.e. taste.

PK: And how did you use the knowledge you got from Tell us something about your recent projects…

DR: I did a show…..I was involved in a project titled SRC STORES (link), which took place in a TV repair shop in SE5. The project was an attempt to channel online image currency within the context of the maintenance of the screen, as well as the image, as attended by human labour. The show was underpinned by the maxim ‘the universe likes speed’, the images displayed presented both an illusion of global accessibility and consumer comfort, alongside human intimacy, pain, and disruption.

PK: I can very much see the influence of Maxa’s new forms of thinking “in time” and “through the body”… (laughs)

DR: (laughs)


glorious MAS, 2013

still from SRC STORES, 2012

both courtesy of the artist

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